A New Beginning

The New Year is here and our family is at the midway point of our travels.

Our initial focus on South America was to have our kids learn Spanish, allow us a significant amount of time to volunteer and to gain a sense of community in a foreign locale…reasons detailed in this blog’s very first entry. The remainder of our travels will be in the Mediterranean, tracing the origins of Western Civilization, learning about Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture and crossing items off our collective “bucket list.” The two mismatched halves of this year-long family adventure could be summed up through our kids’ educational experience: a six month Spanish language course and a six month Western Civilization seminar.

In May of 2008 we made the decision to embark on this journey. We held a family meeting to reach a consensus on what, when, where and how we would spend our time. Three years earlier, from March 2005 through August 2005, we did a similar trip, traveling for six months through most of Central America and Spain. On that trip we just gave the kids their marching orders and went, learning a lot along the way about what we liked and disliked about long-term travel.

During our family consensus meeting, each person wrote down their top five answers for the following three categories: 1) destinations they’d most like to visit, 2) the biggest dislikes from our 2005 trip and 3) the things they wanted most out of the upcoming trip. In the first category there was a fair amount of consensus regarding top destinations: Italy got 4 votes, Peru and Greece got 3 votes and Egypt and Israel got 2 votes apiece. In the second category, there was unanimous agreement that our 2005 trip involved too much packing and unpacking and moving too quickly from place to place. This led perfectly into the third category, where we all wanted to volunteer and enjoy a sense of community and feel like we really got to know a place instead of moving frantically around the country. While it's true that both kids stated this preference, number one on both of their “want to do” lists was seeing lots of exotic animals: dolphins, caimans, tortoises, camels, condors, and sea lions, to name a few. It should be mentioned that in planning this trip, everything was “on the table” except for one thing: learning Spanish. My wife was adamant that for at least half the time, the kids would be immersed in the Spanish language. For her, this was a deal breaker.

While consensus was achieved, the kids had some interesting answers worth mentioning. My daughter’s number one destination was the Galapagos, effectively guaranteeing that we visit those islands. Both my son and daughter expressed a desire to avoid “dirty and disgusting” places and both listed the very same Nicaraguan town as an example. In 2005 we arrived in San Carlos after an all-night, bug-infested ferry passage on Lake Nicaragua. San Carlos is located where the lake feeds the San Juan River on its way to the Caribbean. The combination of the river, the lake and a proposed canal to the Pacific coast port town of San Juan Del Sur very nearly replaced the future Panama Canal as the sole trans-isthmus waterway between North and South America. Because the US Congress preferred Panama over Nicaragua, San Carlos has remained a filthy, unattractive town that has left a collective scar on our memory.

We’ve also used these preferences from our meeting as a guide along the way. We altered our Bolivia trip to include a last-minute visit to the Amazonian pampas because of the kids’ preference for seeing lots of animals. Looking forward, we’ve thrown in 10 day Kenya/Tanzania safari (“en route” to the Mediterranean) so that we can experience some East African wildlife, as well.

That’s the plan, how it came about and now we’re halfway through it: Half a year volunteering in South America and the next six months touring the Mediterranean. Stay tuned.

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