A year ago to the day our family left our home of South Korea on a trip that would take us over 90 thousand kilometers and 6 continents over nearly 10 months. It seems like a decade ago that we stepped out the door on that day on June 16th 2019, and all the experiences we had along the way seem like they happened in a different lifetime. Maybe even to different people.
Traveling changes you. Through it and through the people you meet, one gains a heightened sense of awareness, adaptability and tolerance of a larger world. Through international education, Lisa and I have been on an overseas trip for nearly 20 years now, but for our daughter Ava, the trip was a great ‘leveler’ and brought her a new found sense of humility which is great for the budding teenager. For us as a family though, we have not seen a vision or had an epiphany that brought us Nirvana or a moment of enlightenment. Keillor was right: “In the end, there are no answers. Only stories.”
It’s in these stories that our travels live on. “Remember when..” is a common starter one of us will lead with, out of the blue, as the others join in and reminisce with growing smiles. Dinner time conversations are accompanied with more grist and I can die happy knowing we lived a year of our lives to the fullest and didn’t let it slip by the wayside of complacency or fall victim to the rigamarole of life’s routines.
Our daughter’s learning continues. Since finishing 4th grade, Ava has taken a keen interest in music and despite completing her yearly curriculum, has started songwriting and recording for fun. She enrolled in a ‘School of Rock’ class that meets twice a week with a private teacher for one session and a group jam session for the other. She is currently learning ‘The White Stripes’, 1-4-5 music theory and has an upcoming master class with a Led Zeppelin theme. She has some open mic video sessions coming up and despite her surfer/snowboarder father offering to play accompanying guitar to her singing, I apparently present a high risk of embarrassing her. A budding teenager she is definitely turning out to be.
Thank you to all of our friends and readers around the world. To our readers: thanks for all your commentary and to all our friends who put us up at their houses and apartments: we can’t begin to thank you enough for your hospitality and friendship. In a time where the world seems increasingly divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’ political factions and growing movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’, the bonds of love that we strengthened with friends (new and old) remind us that there is good in the world. Still, we have much more work to do for the causes of justice, equality and tolerance. The need for education has never been higher.
I think back to when we first conceived of a living a year abroad and what an insurmountable task planning such a trip would have been. The challenges of health care, storage, our pets, let alone designing a curriculum and saving for such an endeavor seemed next to impossible. But, over the course of 4 years we outlined, researched, prepared, saved and we went. While we were at it, Lisa suggested I write about the experience.
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Number of kilometers we traveled. Lisa has an app called ‘Polar Steps’ that tracked many of the logistics and made it easy to keep us up to date with our trip.
Distance in Km from London to Buenos Aires This was our longest flight as we flew from Germany to London and then down to Buenos Aires on a flight that left December 28th and arrived in Buenos Aires on December 29th. Just over 14 hours flight time.
Distance in Kilometers we Drove in Morocco We drove one big ‘loop’ in Morocco that started in Casablanca and took us to Mekenes, Chefchaouen, Fez, Merzouga, Ouarzazate, Marrakesh, Essaouria and back to Casablanca over 3 weeks. Average driving time per day was 6 hours on travel days but our longest driving day was 10 hours.
Kilometers Traveled at Sea Aboard the ‘Azamara Pursuit’. This 2 week cruise ship was the most indulgent form of travel we spent money on, but it was worth every penny. From Buenos Aires, we went to Montevideo, and down the coast to Ushuaia, over to the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica, back up the coast to Puerto Madryn then Punto Del Este in Uruguay and back to Argentina.
Distinctly different places we slept. These included Airbnbs, high and low end hotels and friends that we stayed with/at around the world. We stayed at Airbnbs the most as they were budget friendly, but we used Hotels.com and Booking.com quite a bit to also use their complimentary free night after 9 stays.
Free Hotels Nights We redeemed 10 free nights of accommodation through Hilton honors and Hotels.com. They were 7 free nights of Hilton stays in Rio De Janeiro, Vienna and Serbia with 3 free nights of Hotels.com that were averaged across the amount of money spent per night on the platform.
Average Cost Per Night We filtered for rooms between $50 and $70 per night to keep costs down. Traveling to destinations during their ‘off’ season was key as was using Airbnb which generally had cheaper accommodation but we found some youth hostels with our own bathroom in the $40-$50 range.
Non-refundable payment we ‘lost’. When COVID-19 ended our trip a month early, we could not make it to Bonaire where we paid $550 for 9 days of accommodation, which was a splurge for us. The non-refundable rate can be used up to December 31st, 2020, but we doubt that we’ll get back there in time.
Number of blog posts. These chronicled topics including travel, education, technology, memoirs, parenting and homeschooling since our trip started on June 17th. We started our ‘wordpress’ blog the summer before and coincidentally wrote 42 posts on trip planning.
1 Number of education conferences attended on our year abroad. This was not professional per se, but was rather a hiring conference that secured us jobs in Lima for the upcoming school year. We had planned to go to another conference in London as ‘back up’ in case we didn’t get hired, but cancelled this so we could travel to Antarctica.
Number of ‘Youtube’ videos made. Making videos was time consuming and lack of consistent internet meant long wait times for uploading before pushing out new content. Ava got quite good at narrating them when we started a Mongolia series in October of 2018, but after Antarctica in January 2020, we abandoned video production as even our best videos didn’t get enough views to justify continued use.
Highest amount of monthly viewers on ‘Pinterest’. I’d pin posts from our blog to our travel boards here and use ‘tailwinds’ to re-share daily to groups.
Subscribers to our blog. It was a slow but steady uptick and I was happy when friends and readers commented on posts, in which case, we always wrote back.
Number of Instagram posts. Instagram was a nice microblogging platform which was our go-to site for putting out new content quickly. 395 subscribers followed our trip around the world.
Number of ‘Twitter’ followers. We didn’t share much on Twitter, but I often joined webinars and chats from other travel bloggers on how to engage your readers with new content and search engine optimization.
8 Families we stayed with around the world for a total of 42 days. Macs in Budapest for 14 days, Fossgreens in Dar Es Salaam for 5 days, Kent in Nairobi for 3 days, Pavs in Cairo for 4 days, Vaughn and Ally in Amman for 5 days, Cabalunas in Muscat for 4 days, Smiths in Dubai for 6 days, Persauds in Curitiba for 5 days.
Friends we didn’t stay with, but met. Anita and Karen during a day trip to Helsinki from Tallinn. The Hawken family in Budapest. Steven Ashcraft from our school in Thailand met Gary in Vienna for a softball tournament. The Kumars from our early days at SSIS met us for dinner while we were in Cairo. Our friend Lori from South Korea and Vietnam who joined us for Christmas in Berlin. Jim and Michelle from South Korea who met us for dinner in Dubai. The Greenes who we worked with us in South Korea, and met us for dinner in their apartment complex. ‘Johnno’ who joined us in Rio De Janiero, and Jackie and her husband who joined us for lunch in Lima.
Number of Concerts Attended. Seeing live music over the summer has been a family tradition and we were glad to continue it on our trip. We started by seeing Bon Jovi in Warsaw, Poland and then went to two separate days of the Sziget music festival in Budapest in which we saw Ed Sheeran, 21 Pilots and the Foo Fighters. Finally, Brett and I took a train to see ‘Metallica’ play in Vienna.
Number of trains taken around Europe. Budva, Montenegro to Belgrade Serbia, Gdansk, Poland to Krakow Poland, Krakow Poland to Wroclaw Poland. Trains were only slightly more expensive than buses and the dining cars made for a nice place to play cards and pass the time while nibbling on food.
Buses taken. Kotor to Budva, Budva to Bar, Tallinn to Riga, Riga to Vilnius, Vilnius to Warsaw, Warsaw to Gdansk, Wroclaw to Prague, Prague to Cesky Krumlov, Cesky Krumlov to Bratislava, Bratislava to Budapest, Arusha to Nairobi, Buenos Aires to Rosario, Rosario to Cordoba, Cordoba to Buenos Aires, Colonia to Montevideo, Montevideo to Villa Seranna, Villa Seranna to Punto Del Este, Punto Del Este to La Pedrera, La Pedrera to Montevideo, Montevideo to Colonia, Sao Paulo to Parachay, Parachay to Rio De Janiero, Lima to Paracas, Paracas to Huachaina, Huachina to Nazca, Nazca to Arequipa, Arequipa to Lima.
Number of cars we rented. Our first car rental was for 3 weeks in Morocco. Then, we met our friends the ‘Macs’ and rented a van for 1 week in Canary Islands. We also rented a car for 2 weeks in Cypress, a car for 1 week in Jordan, a car for 1 week in Israel and finally a 1 day car rental in the United States to drive us from Salt Lake City to Ontario airport in Ontario, California.
Number of ferries we took. While in Tallinn, Estonia, we took a round trip ferry to Helsinki, Finland to meet some friends and come back later that afternoon. We also also took a 1 way ferry to Stone Town on Zanzibar, but flew back and took a round trip ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia in Uruguay.
Number of electric scooter rentals. These were primarily in Europe, but with some were in Brazil with friends. The ‘big 3’ for us were Lime, Bird and Hive and saved our legs for walking around tourist spots.
Number of flights we took. Seoul to Kotor, Belgrade to Istanbul, Istanbul to Tallinn, Budapest to Istanbul, Istanbul to Dar Es Salaam, Stone Town to Arusha, Nairobi to Dubai, Dubai to Casablanca, Casablanca to Lisbon, Lisbon to Tenerife, Tenerife to Brussels, Brussels to Malta, Malta to Istanbul, Istanbul to Muscat, Muscat to Dubai, Dubai to Cairo, Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Lebanon, Lebanon to Larnaca, Larnaca to Amman, Tel Aviv to Berlin, Berlin to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, Iguazu Falls to Curitiba, Curitiba to Sao Paulo, Rio De Janiero to Lima, Lima to Salt Lake City.
Flights from the number above that we got free on points for all three of us. Belgrade to Istanbul and onto Tallinn on Turkish Airways, Budapest to Istanbul and onto Dar Es Salaam on United, Malta to Istanbul and onto Muscat on United, Rio De Janiero to Lima on United.
Complimentaryflights we received. While standing in line waiting to be evacuated from Lima, Peru we received notification that we had been selected to join the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints for a repatriation flight back to Salt Lake City. Saved us $7,000.
Number of Ubers we took. Uber was our global ride sharing platform and prevented us from getting price gouged by taxi drivers. Uber operated in most countries of the world that we traveled to, but ‘Bolt’ was the only ride sharing platform in Malta.
Different forms of transportation. These included traveling by camel, donkey, cruise ship, ferry, water taxi, subway, train, trolley/tram, jet plane, prop plane, speed boat, car, pick-up truck, bus, safari-car, minivan, horse, electric scooter, funicular, cable car, gondola, shore boat, dune buggy and lots of walking. Interestingly, we didn’t ride a motorcycle or bicycle once.
Number of countries we transited through. Russia was a quick overnight en route to Montenegro. We touched Bosnia on the train to Belgrade and flew through Istanbul, Turkey 3 times. Our bus from Lithuania to Warsaw took us just over the border of Belarus and we had stop overs in Portugal and Belgium on flights around Europe. We also had stop overs in Lebanon, Palestine and London, but did not visit them.
Number of countries that we visited. After starting in South Korea and ending in the United States we were fortunate to visit Montenegro, Serbia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Tanzania, Kenya, Spain, Morocco, Malta, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Cypress, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Antarctica, Brazil and Peru.
Number of countries we missed. Lebanon was on our list, but anti-government protests diverted our two weeks there to nearby Cypress. We also missed the Falkland Islands on our Antarctica cruise because of rough seas and we had to shave just over a month off our trip due to COVID-19 which caused us to miss Colombia, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
Longest time in one country. We spent nearly a month in Tanzania. We flew into Dar Es Salaam, spent 2.5 weeks on Zanzibar island and then a week in north on safari.
Shortest time in one country. We took a ferry from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland to visit 2 friends of ours. The same day ferry was just 100$ for all 3 of us. Fun fact: Finland boasts 1 sauna for every 2 people in the country!
Longest time without packing. Repacking our bag was exhausting so it was nice to settle in when we could. The two week stay in one place was a tie between Budapest and our 2 week cruise on the Azamara pursuit.
Continents visited. These included Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, Antarctica and North America. Ava was bummed we weren’t going to visit Australia, but as Lisa and I have both lived there as foreign exchange students, we’ve seen a lot of the ‘land down under’ and thought we could send Ava there to study when she gets older.
Wonders of the World Visited. Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Petra in Jordan, Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Jersualem’s Old City in Palestine, Great Migration of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in Tanzania and Kenya, Natural Harbor of Rio De Janeiro, Polar Ice Caps in Antarctica, Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. We missed Machu Picchu when were were forced to evacuate Peru due to COVID-19.
Currency and Costs
Polish Zlotty cost of a slow train ride from Warsaw to Gdansk. This train ride in Poland came to about 30$ The trains were comfortable and easy to get around but the ‘fast’ train was about 50$ and shaved one and a half hours off the trip, but as we had nothing but time, we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Health Insurance Costs for a Year. Our previous employer had health insurance for us through the end of July, but after that, we bought travelers health insurance through ‘World Nomads’ for coverage outside the US and on the open exchange for the two months were were home in the United States. Total hospital or Dr. visits on our year abroad? Zero.
Average Cost of Speeding Ticket in Moroccan Dirhams. Morocco led the trip by highest number of speeding tickets, in which case we got 3. They were actually bribes and we ended up paying less if we declined the paperwork! With 150 Dirhams amounting to $15 USD, we didn’t mind it much.
Cost of Argentinian Steak Dinner. Despite using the Peso, Argentina’s currency uses the same US dollar sign symbol. We had more than a few steak dinners that came to this amount ($40 USD) which included delectable chimchurri sauce, a variety of meats and a nice wine or IPA.
Serbian Dinars we couldn’t exchange. Serbia uses a closed currency which means you can’t exchange it back to any other currency unless at a bank downtown, so when we got to the airport, we were stuck with the amount we pulled out of ATMs (about $160 USD) Luckily, one of the travel shops sold wireless, noise cancelling headphones so I got a set that doubled as an early birthday present with this leftover money.
Jordanian Dinars for road-side Cardamom Coffee. This was one of the more peculiar coffee drinks we had on our trip and got one with our friend Vaughan en route to a Wadi hike. This coffee is the most pungent we’ve ever had and the spices make it taste like drinking a cup of ‘potpourri’. Not bad for only $1.50
Price for a 2 Week cruise down to Antarctica from Buenos Aires Argentina in USD. This included berths, unlimited food and drinks, gym access and $1,000 of onboard credit.
Cost in Egyptian Pounds to Charter a Driver for the Southern Pyramids. This amounted to $80 USD and we had a driver drive us to the Saqqara or ‘step’ pyramid, the Red and Bent Pyramids south of Giza plateau in Cairo. These pyramids were great for exploring!
Cost of Sending a Package in Tanzanian Shillings from Zanzibar to the United States. Tanzanian Shillings pronounced ‘Tish’ are the local currency but USD are also widely accepted, so when paying, you have to say ‘Tish’ or ‘Dollars’. In this case, sending a package from a post office in Zanzibar (that, coincidentally was next to Freddy Mercury’s childhood home), was $6 USD.
This was one of our first experiences in Peru. Being driven around the sand dunes at high speeds and then taking a snowboard down the sand for a painful face plant doesn’t sound like most people’s idea of ‘fun’, but for us, it was fantastic.
99: Mall Hopping in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Although it may sound lame, visiting the malls in Dubai was a nice respite from the heat. Inside these megaliths, we experienced comfort food, massive aquariums, and even saw our first indoor ski hill!
98: Sleeping in a Pod Hotel in Moscow, Russia
Although this was a short stop over on the way to Montenegro, crawling into a tube with a charging station, reading lamp and warm blanket was a novel experience.
97: Waking up to Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
One morning while camping in the national park, we awoke in our tent to a sound outside and stuck our heads out to see a herd of Zebras surrounding us which was a lot more relaxing than waking up to the roar of lions, which we heard later on a morning in Kenya.
96: Sampling the World’s Best Chocolates in Vilnius, Lithuania
We went into the Sokolades chocolate shop in Vilnius just because we had to use the bathroom. We stayed to sample their delicious cacao treats and went back again and again to have some of the best chocolate of our life.
95: Picnicking with friends in Budapest, Hungary
We met up with two family friends of ours from our Vietnam years and spent the day at Margaret island flying kites, throwing the frisbee and having a snack lunch in the sun while the kids played, husbands snuck away for a beer at the refreshment kiosk. Magic day.
94: Day Trip to Helsinki, Finland
While staying in Tallinn, we took the ferry over to visit our friends Anita and Karen in Finland who took us for electric scooter rides around the city culminating in the city’s famous new library.
93: Beach Hopping in Budva, Montenegro
Every day was a new beach in Budva. We would head out for the sand after breakfast and search out falafel or gyro wraps for lunch before heading back to our apartment for an afternoon nap and break from the sun.
92: Seeing Metallica Live in Vienna, Austria
My friend Brett and I went to Vienna for two nights to see the gods of thrash metal. My third time seeing the Metallicats in a fandom that has spanned 3 countries in which I’ve seen them and a timeline going back to high school when I first saw them after the debut of their black album.
91: Train Trip from Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia
We had a full day of taking a bus to a seemingly abandoned train station that was in fact functional and the start of a 10 hour train trip through some of eastern Europe’s most beautiful valleys and mountain ranges.
90: Tide Pooling in Nungwi, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania
One morning we woke up to extreme low tide while we were on Zanzibar for two and a half weeks. Lisa and I cobbled together a science lesson that had a unit’s worth of content in a short couple of hours. And it was fun too!
89: Watching Extreme Beach Volleyball in Tel Aviv, Israel
Watching expert beach volleyball players in Santa Monica or Venice is impressive enough, but the Israelis play volleyball…with their feet! Seeing teams volley a three kick delivery back over the net was beyond amazing.
88: Craft Beer Sampling in Tallinn, Estonia
Lisa had read that Estonia is a new destination for beer lovers around the world. While there, we had some of the best kriek and IPAs of our lives. Who would have thought this tiny Baltic country would be such a treasure?
87: Swimming by Day, Barbecuing by Night at the Tigre River Delta, Argentina
We stayed at a house on stilts in Tigre for 4 days and cooled off with a daily swim in the river followed by a grilled dinner of whatever we could purchase from the local Almacen (market) boat.
86: Seeing the Murals of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany
The remainders of the wall which cross the city serve as artist’s reliefs who use the concrete as a canvas to speak out against oppression, corruption and advocate for change.
85: Visiting Portuguese Ruins in Colonia, Uruguay
This little town between Montevideo and Buenos Aires was more than a little stop over. We spent a few days here exploring the ruins including the old slave quarters and merchant shops that have endured.
84: Playing Music Into the Night in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco
Our Touareg hosts in Merzouga taught us musical beats using primitive instruments that we belted out around the fires in a fantastic crash of sound. We stayed in a luxury camp, if even for a night, to make us feel like royalty.
83: Visiting our New School in Lima, Peru
We visited our school for two days while in Peru in early March. The facilities were amazing, Ava made some new friends and we met the wonderful people we were going to be working with in the near future. With distance learning a possibility until December, who knows when we’ll see them in person?
82: Taking in the Views from Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Rio just might be the most beautiful city in the world. The catch is to buy tickets on a day when it’s not too cloudy and buying them in advance so you can avoid the crowds. We were one of the first groups up and the vantage point was spectacular.
81: Snorkeling with Sea Lions, Puerto Madryn, Argentina
This little beach town was a stop on our cruise back up the coast and gave us the opportunity to swim face to face with sea lions. The visibility was terrible, and water freezing cold but the wildlife more than made up for it!
80: Visiting the Valley of the Kings and Queens, Luxor, Egypt
We splurged on a nice hotel and then used it as a base to see the valley of the Kings and Queens on the other side of the river. Going inside tombs that was thousands of years old made us feel like modern day archeologists.
79: Exploring the Souks of Muscat, Oman
We drove to downtown Muscat and explored the souks by the bay followed by a city tour. Afterwards, we quenched our thirst with lemonade and some of the best hummus and pita bread that we had in the middle east!
78: Visiting ‘Game of Thrones’ filming Sites in Essaouria, Morocco
This little beach side town has a beautiful old fort which HBO’s series used for shooting locations. Essaouria had a great fish market down by the harbor and also had a nice esplanade that we walked multiple days in order to find a tasty lunch spot.
77: Visiting Eva Peron’s Grave at Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Don’t cry for me, Argentina!” as the famous phrase goes is the person behind it. Peron is entombed at this famous resting place for most of Argentina’s elite and whose family has the wealth to afford an expensive mausoleum here.
76: Copacabana Beach, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
What was better than visiting Copacabana was getting four free nights on points and upgraded to a suite on the top floor at the Hilton. The big decision of the day- to hang out on the beach or roof top pool?
75: Los Gigantes, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Although this sprinkling of islands is off the coast of west Africa, Spain lays claim to them. Our apartment that we stayed at with friends sat at the base of these huge cliffs and was a humbling experience every day.
74: Coffee with Friends in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Our friends ‘The Fossgreens’ came over from Dar Es Salaam to spend a few days with us in the capital of the island, Stone Town. Here, old merchant shops have been gentrified into modern eateries while still clinging to their past.
73: Photographing the Painted Facades in Gdansk, Poland
Gdansk is a college town, but has some of the most beautifully painted houses and shop fronts. The canals are especially interesting so we rented a boat and gave Ava her first driving lesson.
72: Seeing ‘The Kiss’ in Vienna, Austria
Gustav Klimt is one of the art world’s famous artists. Although the museum had some interesting modern instillation work, some of Klimt’s work that we had only seen in art books were here on display. His most notable is ‘The Kiss’.
71: Watching the USA Women’s Team Win the World Cup, Riga, Latvia
We were in Riga when the United States team played and won the world cup of soccer. We found a pub that had some tasty burgers and spent the afternoon and evening cheering Megan Rapinoe and showing our daughter how strong women can be.
70: Seeing Jon Bon Jovi, Warsaw, Poland
Our arrival in Warsaw coincided with this 80’s crooner who is still rocking hard. His band played some favorites from ‘Slippery When Wet’ and ‘New Jersey’ and Ava had a ball!
69: Visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia
Thomas Edison gets all the love from the US education system, but Serbian inventor Tesla was a much better scientist. His alternating current was far superior to direct current and it was great seeing his early inventions, models and Tesla coils.
68: Exploring the Ancient City of Jerash, Jordan
This roman city was at a historic crossroads of roads between Damascus, Jerusalem and many other ancient cities. The intactness of the hippodromes and porticos made for one of the most amazing ruins we’d ever seen in the world.
67: Craft Beer Sampling in Bratislava, Slovakia
This little town had a great restaurant and craft beer scene. One evening at a pub, I met a guy who graduated from my high school back in White Bear Lake, Minnesota just two years before me so we were instant friends. Small world!
66: River Rafting in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
We rented a river raft, got driven a few hours outside of town and spent the afternoon making our way back. The best part was cruising down the flume shoots in a controlled white water experience.
65: Desert Camping in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Although it was early December and we froze our butts off, spending a night in the red desert was worth it. Watching the sun go down and having tea while playing cards with our Bedouin hosts and hearing their plans to add more wives to their harem reminded us we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
64: Road Trip from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, United States
It was serendipitous that we got a flight back to the states to the Mormon capital of Salt Lake City completely for free on April 4th. Even more amazing was the beautiful drive from this mountain city through the hills down through the desert.
63: Thrift Store Shopping, Tel Aviv, Israel
Tel Aviv was a great city for so many reasons- the food, the sun, and the beach make it worth the trip alone. However, the thrift store shops made it really fun and we were able to stock up on cold weather gear for Germany and Antarctica.
62: Scuba Diving in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Even though the water was cold, it was good to be back in the water with my boy Brett with whom I’ve done hundreds of dives with in southeast Asia. In the Canary Islands we saw some giant stingrays and huge schools of jacks.
61: Exploring the Medina, Fez, Morocco
The old medinas (walled forts with public markets) are a staple of most medium to large Moroccan cities but the one in Fez was one of our favorites. The tannery and shop owners were some of the hardest vendors with whom to bargain.
60: Gnome Hunting in Wroclaw, Poland
The small town of Wroclaw had hundreds of cast iron ‘gnomes’ about 8 to 10 inches in height that were scattered around the old town. Spotting them and keeping a running tally was a fun family competition.
59: Escape Room in Tallinn, Estonia
We’ve been to more than a dozen escape rooms in Europe and Asia but this ‘Harry Potter’ themed one where we went for my birthday before a Thai dinner in Tallinn was one of our favorites and most memorable days of our trip.
58: Visiting Old Film Sets in Ouarzazate, Morocco
When in Ouarzazate, Morocco, we happened upon the ‘Atlas Studios’ filming sets that were used to film a number of feature films and TV shoes such as Kundun, Gladiator and the ‘Game of Thrones’ series.
57: Visiting the Jewish Ghetto, Riga, Latvia
There was an amazing museum made out of the ghetto that was basically an internment camp for jews who were about to be shipped off to the concentration camps in eastern Europe. The artifacts and memorabilia made for great testimonials and instillation art.
56: Drinking Cachaca Rum, Paraty, Brazil
Even though it rained on us the entire time, sampling rum from one of Brazil’s last sugar cane distilleries was very warming after spending the morning swimming in waterfalls.
55: Hiking Around Kotor, Montenegro
Our first stop on a year abroad was this tiny town. After 4 days we got over our jet lag and spent the days hiking, walks to beach, and visits to the local market for fresh fruit.
54: The Roman City of Volubilis, Mekenes, Morocco
This old city has endured and ended up being more than a stop to break up the long drives across the country. Volubilis has some beautiful arches, and esplanades to inspire people of any age.
53: The Ethnographic Museum, Riga, Latvia
This open air museum is a collection of homestead cabins, barns and buildings that took us back in time when horse drawn carriages, looms were in vogue to show us how early settlers lived.
52: Baobab Trees at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
The Dr. Seuss like baobab trees are a mainstay of this national park and we were surprised how giant they were. In Tarangire national park, we got up close to huge herds of elephants.
51: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany
A stark reminder on a nation divided in history. This historic crossing was used to cross from east into west Germany and was heavily fortified. Makes you wonder how many people lost their lives nearby in a last ditch run for freedom or when spies were traded like baseball cards.
50: Fishing Trip off the Montenegro Coast, Montenegro
While in Budva, I chartered a fishing boat for a day out that brought home a bag of small fish for dinner that evening. Although our apartment smelled like fish guts for 2 days afterwards, I knew my father would be proud.
49: The Hippy Commune in Villa Seranna, Uruguay
This stay in the rural campo was all about vegan dishes, walks to the local lake to feed the geese and spending the evening in the hot tub staring up at the stars. A gentle breed of people were our neighbors here.
48: Horseback Riding in Curitiba, Brazil
Staying with our friends in Curitiba and catching up over meals, trips to the weekend craft fair and visiting their school which was beyond great. Ava joined the girls for a morning of riding, which is a common tradition in Brazil.
46: Wine Tasting by Mount Olympos, Cypress
Cypress had some amazing wine and we sampled some at a winery right at the base of the greek god mainstay of Mount Olympos. I wonder if this is where the phrase: ‘nectar of the gods’ caught on.
45: Flying Over the Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru
These animistic geoglyphs look like nothing from the ground, but cruising overhead on a bumpy plane ride as the plane banked and your stomach churned was a test of of one’s fortitude and strength of their constitution.
44: Catching a World Wonder of Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Looming large over the city as if to give it a warm embrace or welcome those in need, this 30 meter state doesn’t disappoint those who take the tram or make the long hike up.
43: Seeing Art and Modern Architecture in Museuo Del Arte, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Equally as amazing as the artwork inside, Lino Bo Bardi’s museum which is supported by two massive beams and an open air administrative center is a testament to what buildings can look like.
42: Visiting Crusader Forts in Akko, Israel
This old city up the coast had a hidden labyrinth of tunnels underneath it for smuggling people in and out of the city during its occupation. The roman era aqueducts were the longest we’ve seen in the world.
41: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Zanzibar, Tanzania
We took a boat trip to a nearby island on Zanzibar’s east coast for some of the clearest water we’ve every seen. A few days later, I went a little deeper on SCUBA to see some of the more elusive denzins of the deep.
40: Paragliding in Budva, Montenegro
We sprung for Ava to go paragliding behind a boat one afternoon at the beach in Budva and she loved it. She took the ‘Go Pro’ and got some good footage as well.
39: Floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan
The high salinity gives floating in the Dead Sea a surreal experience. Floating upright at chest level and lying on your back and being able to stick your arms and legs out of the water is one of life’s unique bucket list items.
38: Thanksgiving in Limassol, Cyprus
Although we intended to be in Lebanon at this time, anti government protests diverted us to this island country in their off-season. We found some good rotisserie chicken, made stuffing, mashed potatoes and 2 pies to give a taste of home.
37: Getting Jobs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Going to the GRC fair in Dubai to meet potential employers was a nerve racking experience. In the end, we had wonderful conversations with administrators from FDR- The American School of Lima, Peru that resulted in jobs (and relief that the search was over) for the upcoming school year.
36: Seeing the Carnival Parade, Montevideo, Uruguay
When we arrived in Montevideo, we walked into the start of the month long, carnival celebration. The opening parade in Plaza Independencia had elaborate floats and dancers adorned with body paint and outfits that were out of this world.
35: Antiquing in Marrakesh, Morocco
“We have to come back here and go shopping!” was a common refrain when we were in Marrakesh. The souks had the most beautiful lamps, furniture, carpets and decorations and we didn’t buy any of it. Still, one can dream.
34: Street Buskers, Worldwide
From Djemma El Fna in Marrakech, to the Plaza de Armas, in Argentina and on to Alexanderplatz station in Berlin, we were entertained by the singers, dancers, bubble makers, musicians and performance artists that shared their talents with the public.
33: Family Dinner, Marrakech, Morocco
We enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip in the home of the brother of a family friend. ‘Salah’ invited us over for a pork tagine that was cooked to perfection.
32: Khan’s Barbecue, Arusha, Tanzania
An auto parts store by day and a busy place to grab a plate full of grilled goodness by night. We were licking our fingers clean after enjoying Papa Khan’s secret recipe chicken that was grilled to perfection and went back a second night.
31: Meeting Antarctic Scientists, Deception Island, Antarctica
It was blind luck that a crew member knew a scientist on nearby Deception Island when we were visiting this old whaling station. So, the researchers came aborad to present on the work they did and challenges of living in such a remote location. Ava even got in a question during the Q and A session!
30: Airlines Lounges, Istanbul, Turkey
We flew Turkish airlines a lot on our trip and thus went through Istanbul more than any city of the world- 3 separate times! The middle east has some fantastic airline lounges and if you have priority pass, baklava and Turkish delight can sweeten your layover.
29: Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt
We had just watched the old version of ‘Death on the Nile’ which was filmed heavily around the columns of the Temple of Karnak on the east bank of the Nile. Around this modern city of Luxor, its ruins are still very much alive.
28: Camping at Kilimanjaro, Kenya
Although the wildlife of Amboseli National Park wasn’t as impressive as the Masaai Mara or Serengeti National Parks, the backdrop of Africa’s highest peak completed our “Out of Africa” moment.
27: Argentinian Steak Houses in Buenos Aires, Argentina
We had our first Argentinian steak at San Telmo market after arriving in South America after a long flight and it couldn’t have been tastier. Fried cheese with ‘Chimchurri’ salsa is a staple of the country; along with a nice wine.
26: Birdwatching at Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Boarding jon boats to skirt around Lake Narivasha brought us face to face with flamingos, pelicans and cormorants all drying their wings after a morning of fishing.
25: Tiny Beers, Rooftops, Morocco
There is something about sipping a cold beer on a hot day, made even better by rooftop views of the local Medinas. These little gems were like finding a needle in a haystack, in a country that is typically “dry.”
24: Photographing Murals, Belgrade, Serbia
More than any other city in the world (other than Berlin for the Wall) Belgrade had beautiful graffiti art and improvised street murals. Every day we went out and added to our growing street art collection.
23: Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic
The vendors and street artists mingle with statues lining the bridge across this iconic landmark. A walk over the river rewarded us with a walk up to the local castle overlooking the city.
22: Pinball Museum, Krakow, Poland
Just down the street from our flat in Krakow was a game room that had 30 to 40 vintage pinball and arcade games. A 10$ entry fee gave you unlimited play for 24 hours, so we went back, again and again.
21: Reuniting with Friends, Worldwide
Seeing old friends was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. With everyone with met or stayed with, we picked up right where we left off despite not seeing other for years. In a profession where good people come and go quickly, meeting up with those you love is the best reason for travel!
20: Softball Game, Vienna, Austria
After seeing Metallica the night before and getting only a few hours of sleep, we walked to a nearby park complete with baseball diamond and played in a slow-pitch softball tournament with teams comprised of international school teachers from all over Europe.
19: Camel Safari, Sahara Desert, Morocco
We met our guide and rode dromedaries over the dunes towards the Algerian border while the sun went down behind us. It’s not every day you get to travel through the desert as people have done for thousands of years.
18: Fort Hopping, Valetta, Malta
The peninsulas in Valetta were all fortified as defensive positions for thousands of years. Their strategic use as a harbor and staging place across the Mediterranean was used going back to a time when Greeks ruled the sea.
17: Photoshoots in Chefchaouen, Morocco
This Moroccan city uses the most beautiful cerulean blue to paint its walls and give it the most unique feel. We spent every day doing instagram shots where every alley and pedestrian path was a masterpiece.
16: Christmas Markets of Berlin, Germany
In our 5 days in Germany for Christmas, we spent every day we could exploring the dozens of markets around Alexanderplatz station sampling gluwine, chocolate and sausages with sauerkraut.
15: Our Last Day in Seoul, South Korea
Despite looking forward to a big trip and eager to get on the road, our last night at our apartment in South Korea gave us a beautiful sunset and a reminder of all the fond memories and wonderful people we’ve met while living there for 4 years.
14: Seeing Religion’s Epicenter in Jerusalem, Palestine
Visiting the western wall, dome of the rock, El Asqua mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were sites that we learned about as far back as Sunday school. Each of these sites gives devotes a sense of solidarity about their most cherished beliefs.
13: Surfing at Punto Del Este, Uruguay
We spent just over a week at Punto Del Este and La Pedrera in Uruguay and spent nearly every day at the beach so we bought Ava a boogie board and lots of sunscreen. A beach vendor sold us tacos for lunch every day that we still miss to this day.
12: Peering Over Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
We visited the falls on both sides and we’re glad we did. The Argentinian side had more people and a more extensive hiking trail network but Brazil had better facilities and views.
This heavy experience was one Lisa and I took turn visiting so the other could watch Ava and spare her the lesson until she gets to high school and learns that evil happens when good people do nothing.
10: Exploring Petra, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Spending a day at Wadi Rum to see the Nabatean kingdom of Petra was amazing. It was a long hike into the canyon, but the views of the library open up like in “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade” and makes one feel like a modern day explorer.
9: Seeing Rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
Ava has fallen in love with Rhinos and cared about them deeply after learning of their plight due to poaching. We went to 8 national parks in Tanzania and Kenya and this was the only park where we saw not one, but many rhinoceroses. I hope they survive so future children can see them.
8: Live Music at Sziget Festival, Budapest, Hungary
We went to this famous outdoor music festival for 2 days and saw Ed Sheeran, 21 Pilots and Foo Fighters just to name some of the headline acts. The vibe was friendly and getting our groove on is a summer tradition we’ve enjoyed for years!
6: Being Evacuated from Lima, Peru
We made a 17 hour bus trip back to Lima when the president shut down the country due to COVID-19 and we were stranded for nearly 3 weeks, unable to go out with the exceptions of groceries, the pharmacy or the bank. Getting a flight out to Salt Lake City on April 4th was a godsend.
5: Boat Trip with Friends in Gulf of Oman, Oman
Our friends had bought a boat and took us on a day trip to a deserted beach. We carried our gear to the beach and set up a camp with a shade tarp. The adults talked in the shade while the kids played and the dog found new bones to chew. As the sun went down we played ‘keep away’ in the ocean in one of our favorite afternoons on our trip.
4: Pyramid Hopping in Giza Plateau, Egypt
We thought the pyramids would be cool, but it was a serious understatement. The size and scale was an awe-inspiring experience but we really enjoyed a day trip to the ‘Step’, ‘Red’ and ‘Bent’ pyramids just south near the nile where we could climb inside to the antechambers!
3: On Safari in the Maasai Mara, Kenya
Maasai Mara was the last national park of east Africa and it didn’t disappoint. We witnessed two lions kill a zebra before our eyes and wildebeest cross the famed ‘Mara River’ eluding enormous crocodiles.
2: Cruising on the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ Iceberg Alley, Antarctica
A two week cruise to the southern continent was not only relaxing, but informative. Every day, we had wonderful buffet meals with access to a spa, gym, and afternoon games to make warming up after a brisk trip outside to see whales, penguins and icebergs worth every penny.
1: Reuniting with Family in Los Angeles, California
After 15 months away from home, we arrived in Ontario airport and were scooped up by our parents for a summer that could best be described as a long awaited reunion. Ava had some much needed ‘grandparent time’ and we spent summer days playing card games, cooking for one another, and savoring every moment and giving thanks for the people in our lives.
“Mr. Johnston, my name is Elizabeth and I’m calling from the United States embassy here in Peru to see if you’d like a free flight home to the states for you and your family.” The voice said on the other line.
“I’m sorry.” I said in disbelief. “Who is this?“
“I work for the embassy here and I’m calling to inform you that your family has been selected to fill extra seats on a charter flight for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints who are repatriating dozens of their missionaries from Peru back home. If you accept, the flight will be free and you’ll be flown to Salt Lake City.“
“But, I’m not even religious!“
“No one’s perfect sir. They’ve offered to repatriate Americans on their under booked flight.”
Just before the phone rang, we had been standing outside the US embassy in downtown Lima for hours along with 400 other Americans trying to frantically get home. Just a day before that, the Peruvian president announced that in addition to the lockdown, men and women would be permitted on the street only on alternating days and the coming weekend would be the last for flights back home. Our strategy up till then was to wait for an email announcing we had gotten on a flight, but after nearly 3 weeks, we heard nothing.
We decided to gamble and just ‘show up’ at the embassy hoping to get on a standby flight the next day which were open seats for passengers that had not made it to the embassy or had not received the message that they were selected. Up till this point, I had rated the embassy’s efforts to get us home as a generous ‘7’ on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a complete shit show, and 10 being an absolute cluster-fuck. Two weeks ago, as many as 80 people were being selected for standby flights, but as the system administration improved, only 10 to 20 seats were filled with standby travelers prioritized in order of who was first in line. There was no way we’d get on a standby flight that day, but after meeting with embassy officials, we were hopeful of getting out the next day or the day after that before being trapped indefinitely. We had abandoned our comfortable apartment in Miraflores for a stay in the ‘El Polo’ hotel across the street from the embassy where we could queue up in the morning for a better shot at getting on a standby flight. Curfew lifted at 5:00 am but people were lining up as early as 4 in the morning. Staying at a local hotel meant Lisa and I could alternate waiting in line before embassy officials made rounds at 10:00. That was our plan before the phone call came.
When I told Elizabeth we were waiting in line, she came out to meet us and confirm both our contact details and that this was in fact not a scam. We got some ramen noodle soup packets from the local convenience store for dinner before it closed at 4:00pm as our hotel had suspended all food services.
Leaving Lima Via Military Base
The next morning, we chartered a taxi to pick us up at 5:30am and drive us 40 minutes through a dozen checkpoints to the church who had chartered a bus which was taken by police escort to the military base near Jorge Chavez International airport. Upon pulling in, we were greeted by a Marine that walked us through the procedure of going through a makeshift customs office wherein we’d sit in chairs in an airplane hangar, distancing from one another and the officials would come to us to check passports. After a hour and half wait, we walked to a LATAM plane on the tarmac and boarded a 9 hour flight with the Mormons to take us home.
Arriving in Salt Lake City
I always wondered what it would be like returning to our native country after 15 months abroad. I was starting to think that our arrival would be met with our parents and a mini ticker tape parade of people that would recognize us as world famous travel bloggers. “Isn’t that….is that them?” they’d say pointing in our direction as we strode proudly to the baggage claim. I had a prepared speech of what I’d say to the customs official when he or she would ask why I filled in the word ‘a lot‘ in the box for: “Which countries have you traveled to prior to this visit?”
Alas, this was not to be. Instead, we were met by a friendly TSA official who checked our passports and waved us through rather unceremoniously like we were any other passengers. Which we were.
What surprised me the most about being back home was the appearance of how everything seemed so ‘normal’ compared to life in Peru. We had read that the US was practicing social distancing and encouraging face mask usage, but enforcement was spotty and dependent on regional mayors and local governors. We immediately drove to a ‘Target’ store to stock up on underwear which we left behind after the evacuation in Arrequipa and lightning cables which were showing wear; both of which were not available in Lima. Back in Peru, the national guard was on nearly every street corner ushering you either home or to the pharmacy, grocery store or bank. Walking you dog was prohibited. A bike ride was sent home. Here in the states, people seemed to be driving around freely and walking the streets like it was just an ordinary time. Even in times of crisis, the ‘land of the free’ trumps public health and wellbeing.
Salt Lake City might just be the most beautiful city in the country. Unlike Denver which has the beautiful rocky mountains to the west, Salt Lake City is surrounded by snow capped mountains in a giant bowl, at the bottom of which sits great Salt Lake. The next morning we took the most beautiful drive from this elevated city of God past dozens of billboards extolling Jesus’s virtues slowly downhill to the sweltery city of sin known as Las Vegas. The contrast between the two places couldn’t have been starker and I wondered how many Mormon teenagers did Vegas weekends of debauchery before a mission or if they were too pious for such affairs.
We pulled into Ontario International Airport to drop off our rental car and were soon in the arms my parents Shirley and Gary to officially announce we were home. Soon after, we were reunited with our two cats, had a home cooked meal and had begun the two week process of self quarantine with all the comforts of home such as a well stocked library, cable TV and afternoon card games with grandma and grandma. We resumed our routines of daily exercise and online learning to fill our mornings and afternoons and spent the evenings watching Trump’s coronavirus briefings followed closely by journalists trying to make sense of his blundering statements.
In a few days, we’d make the 2 hour drive to Lisa’s parents house and spend the next 10 weeks driving back and forth between the two, waiting for this pandemic to pass and life to get back to normal.
Almost exactly 23 years ago I was making my way from Ecuador to Peru where my friend Pete and I would hike the breathtaking (literally and metaphorically), Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
With a sense of excitement, wonder and bit of trepidation we arrived to the bus station in Guayaquil for our pre-dawn departure to Lima, only to find out that all forms of transportation had been halted due to the severe flooding that was caused by El Nino unleashing deadly downpours that triggered severe landslides and raging rivers across the country. With stories coming in of entire roads slipping off the steep mountains, we realized that Machu Picchu would become a dream destination for another day. Last week as we traveled deeper into the Peruvian countryside, my hopes for reaching the fabled city were once again dashed.
Just two weeks ago, when we left Rio for Peru, Brazil was just reporting their first cases of the Corona Virus and Donald Trump was touting Spring weather as the magical cure all. After a few days of exploring and apartment hunting in Lima, Peru recorded its first 6 cases. Meanwhile, stories from back “home” were that of growing concern and I began to think that we should start to consider what impact this would have on the final two months of our trip. On the day that we arrived in Arequipa, just a week after arriving in Peru, we learned that the USA was banning all travel from Europe and fellow travelers began to see their tour companies cancelling their trips. That day we sought out information from local travel agencies, including our own, to see if there would be any issues with continuing our planned travels to Cusco and Machu Picchu and we were assured that everything was going ahead as scheduled. Late that night we found out that our flights into Colombia had been cancelled, so we decided that it was time to end this amazing journey and head home after nearly 10 months. After a few hours, we had cancelled all the bookings we could and went to bed dreaming about coming home.
At 6:00 AM the next morning, we received a knock on our door telling us that our bus would be coming to pick us up to take us to Lima, which was a total surprise to us. From the time we went to bed on Sunday night to us scrambling out the door the next morning, we had found out that the president of Peru enacted a state of emergency and the entire country was going on lockdown at midnight, wherever we were at that time we would need to shelter in place for 15 days. In the few minutes we had before our bus came to pick us up, we tried to purchase tickets out of Arequipa so we could get to the airport in time to get a flight out of the country, but all flights were already full or cancelled for the day so our best bet was to hop on the bus and hope we got to Lima on time.
Peru is famous for many things, including its cuisine, fine alpaca wools and deadly mountain roads. Our 17 hour journey from Arequipa had us racing down the coastal foothills of the Andes, known as the Devil’s Spine, where narrow roads were carved into steep cliffs and I tried not to look out the window. Our bus driver was trying to get us all back to Lima before roadblocks were put in place, so we made only one quick stop to pick up snacks and we were back on our way. Just before midnight, our bus rolled into Lima where we were met with empty streets and military roadblocks. After the crazy trip, we were feeling thankful that we made it to Lima and we weren’t stuck in some small mountain town in Peru.
Over the next few days, the reality of our situation began to unfold. In our haste to leave our hotel in Arequipa, we were not able to pick up the laundry we had sent out the day before, so we each had two pairs of underpants and Ava only had one outfit and a set of jammies. During the lockdown, the only stores that are open are pharmacies, banks and the grocery stores. One person from each family/household is allowed to go out to pick things up and then must return directly home. There are no private vehicles permitted and there is a strict curfew from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM. We have seen various individuals trying to tout these restrictions, by walking their dog, going for a jog or walking with another person, and they are promptly sent home by the many police and military that are guarding the streets. Peru is not messing around.
After a few days in our Hotel the amazing staff of FDR, our new school, moved us into a two bedroom apartment. This was a welcome move, as it gave us a bit more space to shelter in place. I will tell you, it feels like we have spent the last 282 days preparing for this moment. We are already used to living together in tight spaces, on limited resources, far from our family all while homeschooling Ava and diligently washing our hands so that we don’t fall victim to travellers’ diarrhea. We got this.
We are currently in day 9 of our lockdown here in Lima and we continue to wait for news about flights that will take us home. Until then, we continue to follow the rhythms of the day. This morning I was woken up by the singing of birds on our balcony and a peacefulness filled the air, not the norm in a city of 10 million people. I take a few minutes to listen for the waves crashing on the cliffs below and they guide my breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I can hear the baby from the apartment across the hall, welcoming the day with her coos and cries, until the reassuring voice of her mom soothes her back to sleep. After our breakfast, our upstairs neighbor sits on his balcony and serenades us with his acoustic guitar and butterscotch voice. He spends all day playing some of our favorites like he has sneaked a peek out our playlists, however I am not sure he has actually made it through an entire song. Yesterday, he sang well into the early evening hours and Ava commented on his endurance. I told her that this was a perfect time to get in those 10,000 hours of practice and she smiled. In the afternoons, one of us escapes into the outdoors to pick up staples for the day. This is our opportunity to soak in some sunshine and to spend a few minutes admiring the waves as they crash into the shore. With everyone cooking at home, dinner becomes a fusion of aromas between 6 and 8 pm in our apartment complex. The breeze brings in scents of fresh baked bread, slow cooked stews, grilled meats and baked treats. I imagine the tendrils of aroma greeting each other in the hallways, where we can not. Each evening at 8:00 the citizens of Peru stand on their balconies and cheer for the teams of doctors and nurses that are battling for those that are in the hospitals. They cheer for the delivery men and clerks, who are working endlessly to keep the markets stocked, so that we can feel secure that there will be food on the table the next day. They cheer the police and military men that are standing sentry hour after hour, isolated so that we can stay safe in our homes with our families.
Every evening grants us new hope as we awake the following morning by emails from our embassy assuring us that flights home are coming soon and we might just be on them. Our twitter feed of #stuckinperu just showed this morning a slew of people that flew out yesterday and were safely home in the US of A. Like the people in ‘Casablanca’, we all sit waiting, anxiously for any news, any opportunity and any hope that our number is called next.
Yesterday, the coronovirus finally caught up with us in Peru.
Since the virus started in Wuhan in China back in December, the pandemic seemed largely confined to east Asia. Our friends in China and South Korea reported local quarantine procedures, testing and self isolation. Schools that went on holiday back for the lunar new year took an extended holiday of a few extra weeks of distance learning hoping the lockdown would slow the spread of the virus. It appears to have worked and many of our friends who have left these countries have gone back in the hopes of going back to work soon. President Moon of South Korea wants to share how they slowed infections with aggressive testing.
Meanwhile, things in the West have gone batshit crazy. In the last 2 weeks, country after country have reported new cases which has had a cascading affect of denying entry to travelers from infected areas, shutting borders and hoarding supplies. Entire sports franchises are not in operation. Conferences and concerts have been postponed. A trillion dollars of wealth has evaporated from the stock market. Flights have been reduced and Trump’s travel ban from Europe has caused a deluge of incoming US passengers that have inundated airports and now risk infecting one another in these high density areas and taking the virus home to middle America. With layoffs and bankruptcies on the near horizon, coupled with the fact that most Americans have no or unaffordable healthcare and live paycheck to paycheck, economists are forecasting a recession that may decimate the world economy.
For us, these troubles seemed like a world away. Upon landing in Lima just over a week ago, we visited our new school to be while visiting potential apartments and casing our local neighborhood. Our school in Peru was in session as of Monday the 9th, but the edtech department was ramping up its professional development of distance learning tools. The next day, a local school closed in Lima with one infected person, by the end of the week, our school was shut down and would commence online learning. But life would continue as normal. So we thought.
On Wednesday, we took a series of ‘Peru hop’ busses that would take us south from Lima to Paracas, from Huacachina to Nazca and then hopefully from Arequipa to Cuzco to see the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. We thought that the rural setting and hand washing would keep us safe.
Upon boarding an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa, our guide, Christian told us that the Peruvian government was starting to set up checkpoints and administer random temperature checks at road side stops so we should be prepared for that. Villagers, normally embracing tourist busses whole hog are now shunning the crowds and their tourist dollars to keep their local communities safe. Upon arriving in Arequipa the next morning, our British traveling companions told us their tour company had cancelled their Machu Picchu tour and the window of getting a flight back to the UK before lockdown was rapidly shrinking. If they didn’t commit, they risked being stranded. That afternoon we got an email from LATAM saying our flights to Colombia had been cancelled and since our flights to the Caribbean were through Bogota, we’d have to conclude a year of travel a little early.
So It Begins for Us
Yesterday morning at 6:00 am, we had a knock at our door. The receptionist from ‘Casa De Avila’ in Arequipa said a representative from our tour company ‘Peru Hop’ was in the lobby asking us if we were ready to leave for Lima.
“Not today.” I said. “We’re planning on going to Cusco tomorrow.”
“All travel is shutting down today.” He told me. “This is the last bus back to Lima. If you don’t take it, you’ll have to stay here.Where you are at midnight tonight is where you’ll have to be quarantined for 2 weeks as said by the Peruvian government.”
Rousing Lisa from her sleep, we had only a minute to debate (while half awake) whether or not to board a long haul bus back to Lima or risk getting stranded in the small mountain town of Arequipa. On top of that, we were battling a touch of food poisoning that gave us diarrhea for the past three days. (Luckily, no fever, cough or cold) In the end, we decided that being in the capital of Lima would offer better access to flights and other services need we be evacuated.
Ten minutes later, we were packed and out the door not even picking up our laundry and boarded a 17 hour bus for Lima with only two five minute stops. The food poisoning kept Ava vomiting all morning in the bus’s bathroom and the diarrhea kept Lisa and I visiting as well. We were hangry and tired when we pulled into Lima at 11:30 pm so we splurged on a nice hotel and booked a room for 3 nights. After some late night room service, we were fast asleep.
Lima Becomes a Ghost Town
This morning, we woke up to a very changed city and things were moving fast. Initially, our hotel told us we could walk the street if we had passports in hand, but by noon today, police were only allowing singles for pedestrian travel. Staff at our hotel have been keeping their distance and we’ve been self-quarantined to our room. On the street, all shops are closed with the exception of pharmacies and grocery stores and the streets are completely empty. It’s kind of creepy.
By mid day, or school in Lima had reached out to us and kindly offered to put us up in a school apartment for 2 weeks until the travel ban lifted and save us a ton of money on hotel fees. By mid-afternoon were getting updates from the embassy, enrolled in STEP and had news trickling in from Whatsapp groups and Twitter hashtags. Multiple nationalities were stranded all over the country with little to no heads up and no way to get to the capital. We were lucky.
Homeschooling Goes Free
One silver lining to this crisis is the number of homeschooling resources that have gone free. Since another casualty of this pandemic is public education and New York and California have joined the growing list of states that have shut down school for online learning, many companies have offered to share their resources.
Scholastic– Online catalog of literacy resources. Great books for students and teaching guides for parents.
Brainpop– Multiple topics to create a rigorous well-rounded curriculum.
Rio might just be the most beautiful city in the world.
Like many beachside cities, it sports its crown jewel beaches with namesakes like Copacabana and Ipanema but the allure is the geology which makes it special. Looking similar to the karst limestone formations of northern Vietnam or southern Thailand, Rio sits in a cradle of black augen gneiss estimated to be half a billion years old. As the rock cycle goes, these metamorphic rocks are some of the oldest and hardest in the world and still are prone to weathering and erosion but still, they’ve endured.
Brazilians have adapted to life here by not going over, but under the rock. For the last century, the citizens of Rio have tunneled through and under the monoliths with hybrid EPB boring machines that are sensitive to the softer rock deposits but tough enough to drill through the incredibly hard gneiss. Living amongst and around the mountains gives the city an aesthetic feel of respect for the landscape much like in Hong Kong, but the reality is that land and rock is extremely unmalleable and humans bend to its will, not vice versa. “We were here before you.” the mountains around Rio seem to say to its citizens. “And we’ll be here long after you’re gone.”
Old Friends Curitiba
We met up and stayed with our friends Ryan and Sarah who are the new rockstars at the local international school in Curitiba along with their two daughters whom Ava got to rekindle an old friendship with that has spanned 6 years and 2 continents. Every night was a sleepover for the girls and they even managed to do some horseback riding at their local stable. During the day, we took trips to the weekend market and the city parks to muck around the rainforest. Seeing friends in faraway places has been one of the highlights of our trip.
As the girls played and texted to each other into the night (despite sleeping right next to one another) I couldn’t help but notice the subtleties of our daughter growing up. For the last few months, Ava has been spending more time combing her hair, taking a sincere interest in pimples and face wash, and we have been having to remind her to apply deodorant on a daily basis. Puberty is around the corner, as announced by eye rolls, ‘duh’s’, and all the joys of becoming a teenager are around the corner. Pretty soon, she’ll be asking for designer clothes and her own iPhone and will want to walk ahead of us in public places.
Brewing Cachaça in Paraty
Because the letter ‘t’ has a ‘ch’ sound in Portuguese, ‘Para-tee’ actually sounds like ‘Para-chee‘. This little Portuguese outpost has been known for 150 years and is the premier city for cachaça distillation. Made from sugarcane juice, it’s the main alcoholic ingredient for caipirinhas, the local drink which is made of the sugar cane alcohol, limes and tastes a bit like a mojito. While in Paraty, we took a jeep tour to one of the local distilleries, swam in waterfalls and got rained on every day.
The Road to Rio
Rio De Janeiro was our last stop in Brazil, and we’ve been looking forward to it for months. Back in December, we booked a free, four night stay completely on points at the Hilton Copacabana and Lisa’s diamond status got us an upgrade to an executive suite on the top floor overlooking the beach and sugarloaf mountain along with free breakfast. Ordinarily, a standard room goes for $250 a night and a suite two times that price, so if even for a few nights, we felt like royalty. In the evenings, we got access to the executive lounge with snacks, drinks and dinner so we ate 2 of our 3 meals each day for free and our weekly spending was next to nothing. There was a big tour group staying at the hotel and I managed to talk with some of the guests in the lobby and elevators:
“So where are you guys off to next?” I asked.
“Buenos Aires tomorrow.” A kindly man with ‘John’ on his name tag replied. “We’ve had something like 8 flights in the last 3 weeks and we’re so exhausted. Still, there is so many great things to see.” with a smile on his face looking like a cat who ate the canary. “Travel is a great teacher.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” I said.
On our first sunny afternoon, we sprawled out on beach chairs and within 5 minutes, I bargained a vendor from $25 down to $5 for a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I’d lost a week ago and 5 minutes later, we had 2 caipirinhas in our hands that I bargained down to $6 for the pair. During the day, we took day trips up to Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the redeemer and got to see magnificent views from one of the ‘7 Wonders of the World’. Our time in Rio was beautiful.
Black History Month Comes to a Close
While in Brazil, we finished reading ‘Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry‘ and our expose on racism in the United States in early 20th century America by Mildred Taylor. Hard to believe after so long, racism still runs deep for many people in the south. Back in the 90’s, schools in Louisiana banned the book because they deemed it inappropriate and school districts in Florida banned it because it contained the word ‘nigger’. The good thing about teaching your child on a sabbatical year is that you are not beholden to any bureaucratic oversight; especially in the age of Betsy DeVos. If anyone was going to screw up our child, it was going to be us.
Ava has also taken a renewed interest in ‘Prodigy’ a game based math program to keep her skills sharp which we support with multiplication and division times tables when we can.
With our flight to Peru tomorrow, we’ll start Ava’s 7th and last book of her 4th grade reading curriculum and her last process writing piece on informational writing. With 7 weeks left of our trip, the end is near, but like John said, ‘There are so many great things to see.”
For me personally, I’m holding out hope for a biscuit cat.
As soon as we stepped out of the airport in Iguazu Falls, we were in the rainforest.
Hot, humid and muggy. Despite the road being paved into town, it was dense jungle on either side with signs announcing ‘Tapir Crossing’ and ‘Leopard Crossing’. We were in a whole different biome for our last few days in Argentina.
Argentinian Side of the Falls
We walked to the bus station the next morning and got round trip tickets to the park for 200 pesos each. To get to the park was a 20 minute drive from town and after passing through the park entrance there were a series of trails that you could hike down to see the falls from different perspectives. We hiked the ‘lower trail’ which had more steps and less traffic and had better vantage points, but with the heat and humidity, our shirts were soaked and our inner thighs badly chaffed.
Arriving at the top of the falls on the Argentine side, we walked to the ‘Garganta Del Diablo’ or ‘The Devil’s Throat’ where visitors peer over the edge and clamor for selfies. For the last 3 weeks, we hadn’t encountered many tourists so we felt a bit out of place in such an international community. Since we crossed into Uruguay weeks ago, we had only met 1 german at our hostel and a retired couple from Minnesota at the bus station in Colonia. Last week was in Argentina’s northern college towns of Rosario and Cordoba and most locals asked us ‘Why would you want to come here?‘
The bum rush to the falls overlook was a beautiful but hurried affair. There were rows three people deep who elbowed their ways through the forest of selfie sticks to put on their best face for their social media feeds. An elderly woman who was taking her time enjoying the view of 1.5 million gallons thundering over the side was shamed by others who thought she was taking too long and getting in their shots. Being around such disingenuous and unoriginal mania made me feel gross, but being there yourself, you realize you’re part of the problem. It’a not enough to take in a beautiful painting, landscape or work of art anymore. Now, you have to ‘prove’ you were there.
Finding our Budget Groove
With two months of our trip left, we’ve had to be more conscientious of our budget and are planning very much like a teacher in the last month of school where every lesson is accounted for. Daily travel costs can skyrocket on visits to national parks, hotel payments or the odd flight so staying within a budget has become a challenge. Here are some strategies that have helped us during long term travel:
Paying off our credit card on a weekly instead of monthly basis. This has allowed us to make sure if we have a high spend week, to curtail it the following week or the week before.
Set up Automatic Transfers. I have the bulk of our trip budget money in a high yield savings account that sends $1,200 to our Bank of America account each Thursday. If we run out of money for the week, we just chill in our apartment and do walking tours. I don’t pay off our credit card balances until the new transfer comes through.
Utilize Travel Rewards. I recently got a free flight on points from Rio De Janiero to Lima on points through our Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and also received a $250 travel credit from our new Bank of America credit card. So far, we’ve gotten 12 free flights with travel rewards since we started in June.
Crossing into Brazil
Just under a year ago, Brazil made it much easier for Americans to travel to Brazil. Before, there was a tedious visa application process, but now there is no cost and no application-not even an arrival card. We paid our airport pickup ‘Manuel’ $15 to drive us across the border to our hotel and it was the easiest border crossing we’ve had yet on our trip and took 40 minutes from doorstep to doorstep. (Best $15 I’ve ever spent.) Driving over the river, the concrete bumpers on either side of the road turned from blue and white (the Argentinian flag) to yellow and green (the Brazilian flag) until we got to customs where we were shooed through in Portuguese.
Since we landed in Buenos Aires December 29th, our Spanish has been getting pretty good. Whereas Lisa is fluent, I’m proficient and have no trouble reading or speaking, but as in English, listening is my weak suit. Northern Argentinians have a peculiar Spanish dialect and seem to ‘zzz’ their double ‘L’s. Llamado or ‘ya-maado’ turns to ‘xuh-maado’ and ‘llegar’ or ‘yay-gar’ sounds like ‘xay-gar’. Portuguese is heavy on ‘xuh’ sounds and I wonder if the proximity to Brazil is what brought these tones over the border slowly over time.
The last time we were in a Portuguese speaking country was back in 2006 when we visited Lisa’s Peace Corps host family in Mozambique and we were the star attraction to the local villagers. The son of the house, ‘Rene’ took me on a 6 hour pub crawl through the dankest cantinas around Macia during which I survived on the 3 following Portuguese phrases: “It is hot outside today.”, “How are you?” and “mmmmh” to which I said when someone was telling an unintelligible story of which I could not understand. Rene was proud to show off his new friend (and the only ‘Mullungu’ within 100 miles) and I was proud to prove that I could hang with the best of them.
Brazilian Side of the Falls
Visiting the falls the next day from the Brazilian side was a completely different experience. The infrastructure was much better than in Argentina and there was easier and free public transportation from the visitor center to the trail head. We saw coatis, a monkey, a myriad of geckos and lizards including a baby iguana. A few hours at the falls were met afterwards with a cool splash in our hotel’s swimming pool which is a luxury we haven’t had in months.
Tonight, we’re having our first ‘Churrasqueira’ or Brazilian BBQ. Brazilian style BBQ is an ‘all you can eat‘ dining experience when a small flag or puck at the table announces to the waiters to bring skewers meat to you and slice off a piece. Turn the puck over, they leave you alone. I’ve had Brazilian BBQ twice (one in Vietnam and once in Thailand) and they’ve ranked in my ‘Top 10 Life Experiences‘ alongside falling in love with Lisa and the birth of our daughter.
For our family, getting asked the question of ‘Where are you from?‘ isn’t a very straightforward answer.
Being a third culture kid, Ava has grown up contending with this question her whole life and her response depends greatly on the mood. Telling people she was from ‘Vietnam‘ or ‘South Korea‘ (where she’s lived her whole life) has always been met with quizzical looks and skepticism from people looking for Asian features and, not finding any, unleash a barrage of even more questions. Over time, she’s whittled down her answer to the succinct: “Well, I was born in California, but I’ve grown up in Vietnam and now live in South Korea.” Sometimes she just answers ‘California’ when she doesn’t want to get into it, because, let’s face it- when you tell strangers where you’re from, you’re really learn where they’re from. People size Lisa and I up as either military or missionaries so we have our scripts as well:
“Well, I guess you could say that we’re from California although we don’t actually live there. We’ve been based in east Asia for the last 17 years across Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea as school teachers, but we’re now on a sabbatical year of travel that we’re about 8 months into and we’ll start work soon in Lima Peru.” I candidly say. The ensuing back and forth brings up and puts down a few questions, such as how we did it, where we’ve been, what resources we’re using to teach our daughter and maybe even some tips for how to get started in international teaching.
Overtime though, the novelty of repeating this same conversation over the last 8 months has worn off and we’ve retreated more and more into the solace of our hostel rooms rather than engage with the 20 year old crowds in public spaces to spare ourselves from sounding like broken records by saying the same thing over and over. Not having permanent roots anywhere means you’re really from both everywhere and nowhere, and I wonder if this nomadic, drifting lifestyle will give Ava a world class education or an existential crisis later on in life.
Montevideo: The Uruguayan Capital
Our first pass through Montevideo was met with the start of Carnival, the world’s largest party. When we checked out of our hotel room after a quick one night stay, we left early in the morning for the bus station and people were still drinking on the streets at 5:30 am. It was high season and would be until the party ended mid February with blow out bashes in other parts of South America such as Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
After spending the last 2 weeks in the campo, coming back to Montevideo was a nice respite to see some of the sights we missed on our first, one night stopover. The highlight for all of us was barbecue grill at ‘Mercado Del Puerto’ followed by the ‘Museo Del Andes de 1972‘
Museum of the Andes
The Museum of the Andes in an independent museum made by a Norwegian ‘Jorg Thomsen’ who wanted to memorialize the plane crash of 1972 made famous by the book ‘Alive’ which chronicled the story of Air Force Flight 571 that resulted in the deaths of 29 people but also brought 16 of them back to the living world. The survivors endured freezing cold, an avalanche and resorted to cannibalism of the corpses to meet their nutritional intake. My only knowledge of this was from the movie ‘Alive‘ starring Ethan Hawke back in the 80’s, but the museum proved the reality of what happened was slightly different than what Hollywood chose to tell.
Mr. Thomson was on site and gave us a tour that housed artifacts from the survivors and the dead along with plane wreckage, aerial photographs and testimony from friends. The ingenuity of the survivors was breathtaking. They fashioned snow goggles to prevent blindness, engineered water collection devices to conserve calories and even used wiring and seat covers for coats. The most striking part of the museum was how the 16 survivors were embraced whole heartedly when they were rescued and not overly judged or condemned by reporters, the public or even parents of the deceased of whose children they ate to stay alive.
“What if that happened to you?” I asked Ava as we watched the movie that night.
“What do you mean?” She asked back.
“If we were on that flight together, and I died and you had no food, could you eat me?“
“No! That’s disgusting.”
“Yes it is. But I would want to give my body to you to stay alive. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second and would want you to live.I hope it’s a decision you never have to make.”
Colonia Del Sacramento
Colonia Del Sacramento is a charming two hour bus ride from Montevideo west along the coast and is more than just a place to ‘kill some time’. It’s speckled Portuguese and Spanish past dots the peninsula and the new town rises out of the old town’s 300 year old ruins presenting visitors with decadent restaurants, hotels and brew pubs.
Tomorrow, we’d take a ferry back into northern Argentina and towards Iguazu falls. Until then, we’d make some pasta tonight in our little Posada and perhaps watch some movies that swept the Oscars last night such as ‘Parasite‘ or ‘1917‘. Lisa and I watched ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘ last night after the little girl went to bed and we got a glimpse of tinseltown at the tail end of its golden years. Isn’t that always the case, thinking the best years of our lives are always behind us when they’re all around us, all the time?
“Let me get this straight.” I asked Lisa. “We’re getting dropped off on the side of the road at kilometer marker number 145 on route 8 and from there, we’ll just………..walk to Villa Serrana?”
“Well, hopefully, there will be a taxi. The owners of the next place we’re staying at told us there should be a taxi or just some local that can give us a ride.”
“We’re going to the middle of nowhere. Aren’t we?” I said with a wry smile.
Into the Campo
The onus for us wanting to visit Uruguay started with the late Anthony Bourdain and his series ‘No Reservations‘ which visited this tiny South American country and featured its amazing people, food and culture. Anthony gorged on meat, drank local 70-30 (a ratio of 70% cheap red wine and 30% coca cola which tastes better than it sounds) and visited tiny beach communities up and down the coast. We hoped to retrace parts of his voyage, meet a real ‘gaucho’ or cowboy, and see some spots he missed for ourselves.
Getting to Villa Serrana in the ‘campo’ or countryside as they say locally, was going to be the most challenging. We purchased a ticket to take us on route 8 northeast of ‘Minas’ and simply told the driver to let us off on the side of the road at a specific mile marker. “No problemo” he responded. In east Africa, our bus from Arusha to Nairobi routinely dropped people off at non-descript points and walked from the road to their nearby village. This wasn’t much different.
We met our host ‘Robert’ and his pickup truck on the side of the road and threw our bags in the bed and a 10 minute drive later, we arrived at the ‘Octagon Om Shianti‘ which is a hippy enclave that specializes in vegan dishes, yoga and the mystic arts. Finding a place serving exclusively vegan and vegetarian food in meat heavy Uruguay was a challenge, but we were rewarded with goat cheese, peach and rocket pizza, pumpkin raviolis, and homemade banana bread. Eat your heart out Bourdain.
We spent the days at the local lake and feeding its small population of geese followed by trips to the almacen in the afternoon and nights soaking in the wood fired, homemade hot tub under the night stars- only in rural Namibia have we seen more brilliant nights. The almacen was fun as there was a resident horse (only in Uruguay) that lapped up Ava’s discarded apple cores while neighing in delight.
The husband of the cook managed a horse sanctuary that he took us to visit one afternoon. Apparently when horses get sick, become too old, or break a leg, they are often euthanized to lighten the financial strain on the owners, cutting short their potentially long lives. The husband, who introduced himself to us as ‘Libre‘ or free, started a facebook page that advertised a place for horse owners to ‘retire’ their unwanted horses (or as a cheaper, seasonal alternative for barnyard stabling) and has grown to take care of 54 horses in total which reside in a 1000 acre paradise of hilly rocks, trees and scrub where they can roam free, graze, get lost in the woods, receive health care as needed and socialize for the first time in most of their lives.Libre told us of all the projects he had going on in the reserve such as a new infirmary pen he was building, and the sordid tales of horses that were abused, neglected and how he nursed them back to health with time, love and a little determination. Of all the humans we’ve met on our trip, Libre might just be the most humane. Turns out we met a real gaucho after all.
Punto Del Este
When we arrived at Punta Del Este, Ava used Christmas money from her aunt Dorthy to buy a boogie board and her money from Grandma Shirley to buy a rash guard so we went surfing every day. Being in the water reminded me of how much I missed surfing in California just before Lisa and I moved overseas in 02 and the water felt like SoCal in August, refreshing, not too chilly.
Surfing is just as much about patience as it is physical strength. I told Ava that 80% of the time is watching the waves come in, trying to position yourself just right to drop in the middle of set and the other 20% is riding and paddling back out. By noon each day, the winds picked up and the water got choppy which thinned the surfers and allowed us to get in the lineup with few people around us. When Ava tired and went to shore for a rest, I braved the largest swells, even mustering some barrel rolls and hand drag spins. Not bad for a 43 year old.
“Snowboarders can strap in and ride kilometer runs for minutes. Surfers have to work for 5 seconds of Nirvana.”
Building the Perfect Community in Minecraft
It’s a beautiful thing to be young and unchained by the responsibilities of a job, mortgage or life elsewhere when you can visit a place and say: “Let’s live here for a while.” Everyplace felt like this in Uruguay. From its safety, low cost of living, surf that pumps and gentle people, we were often caught saying to ourselves: “Fuck it. Let’s retire here.”
Turns out that our daughter was well ahead of us on building the idyllic community of her dreams in the world of ‘Minecraft’. At the end of grade 3, her teacher Ms. Sally assigned a project on ‘Communities and Societies’ combining the math skills of surface area and perimeter. Many of her peers abandoned the project over the summer but Ava has been going strong, watching ‘how to’ youtube videos and completing many of her buildings over the last 8 months. Minecraft has some great applications for creativity, collaboration and I’ve used it myself when modeling human body systems in the science classroom.
La Pedrera is a small community of surfers who showed up for the powerful lefts and rights off the coast and then never bothered to leave. Most people walked around town shirtless, barefoot and sporting a minimum of 5 tattoos. Our hostel, ‘Piedra Alta‘ was a block from the beach and had a row of surfboards in the entry way and a broken down, volkswagen bus out front in which one of the hostel managers slept every night. Piedra Alta had amazing coffee at breakfast and plentiful servings of ‘Dulce Del Leche‘ as one of its breakfast spreads. Dulce Del Leche is a local favorite and is the result of heating condensed sweet milk until it caramelizes into a sweet spread that tastes like a combination of peanut butter and honey. Everything you put it on becomes instantly better. It puts the crack in crackers and instantly turns stale bread rolls stellar. I imagine this product was discovered by accident when someone left the stove top on long ago and was hard pressed for a late night snack.
At night, the main strip in La Pedrera shuts down at 8:00 pm and turns into a walking street where hipsters emerge from afternoon siesta to sell their wares ranging from paintings, hand woven bracelets and necklaces sporting minerals and feathers with curative properties. Local bands come out to fill the air, stray dogs look for handouts and residents swap surf riding sessions and look to fill their basic necessities; namely a place to sleep, enough food to fill their reserves and maybe enough money for a ticket home at season’s end.
Every day was spent at the beach and was a sun stoked paradise. While there, we met ‘Costa’, a beach vendor that sold 5 tacos for $15 so we could surf from 10 to 4 followed by an ice cream back in town before our afternoon siesta and night out with live music back at the hostel. Just when I thought we were too sunburned or rashed up from the day before to go out again, we woke up renewed and healed, determined to brave a new day.
“Just one more wave!” was Ava’s response to everything while at the beach in La Pedrera. Asking her come in and reapply sunscreen, drink water, call it day or just eat, was met with ‘one more’, ‘one more’, ‘one more’. It’s the best thing a parent can hear, and when you hear it, you know then you’ve instilled a love of something in your child that might someday blossom into a passion, hobby or career. Bobbing out there in the lineup, we sat affixed, eagle-eyed on the horizon, counting the minutes between sets, and trying to wait for for the smoothest, cleanest wave before committing. “The sets come in every 4 minutes.” I said. “The third wave is the best. This is a beach break, so look over your shoulder to see which way it breaks and turn away from its break to ride it as long as you can.”
Our new home of Lima, Peru has waves and surf schools all within an easy reach so I’m looking forward to seeing Ava graduate from foam boards to her very own fiberglass model one day. I imagine her and her old man floating out there past the breakers on the weekend, having daddy-daughter moments that give respite to the hullabaloo of teenage drama and midlife back pain, all the while our eyes looking west, waiting and watching to see whatever the tide brings each of us.