In the meantime, I will leave you with this selfie - Emilia begrudgingly let me take it at the airport so I would leave her alone. :)
Well two days ago, Emilia set off for her French adventure. It was her first time flying unaccompanied to any destination, let alone international, and she did us proud. She now gets to enjoy 3 weeks in Normandy and one week in Paris, courtesy of some French friends of ours.
But that doesn't mean that the rest of us are sitting around doing nothing - although, let me add, Matthew would be quite content sitting down playing his "new" Xbox One most days. We have some plans to go fruit picking and camping and want to visit a local mine and fort. With only 4 weeks of summer holidays left, it is going to go fast.
In the meantime, I will leave you with this selfie - Emilia begrudgingly let me take it at the airport so I would leave her alone. :)
The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is stunning. We have been spending our time between Tulum and Akumal and our lifestyle revolves around water. We have the luxury of the beach, the pools and the cenotes surrounding us in every direction we look.
It wouldn't be an adventure if something didn't go wrong and this time our concern revolves around my health. I have been visiting the doctor to see if we get whatever is bothering me resolved. On the plus side we seem to have found a very good mechanic named Jesus who is currently working on our VW Kombi to see if he cannot repair a few things for us.
Life is good!
We spent an enjoyable boat ride cruising on the waterways in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. We saw birds, manta rays, monkeys and even a crocodile.
Travelling with kids around countries like Ecuador and Colombia is not the norm, not by any stretch of the imagination. But the longer we are on the road, the more travelling families we meet. While it may not be the norm at present; the tide is turning and more and more families are taking the plunge, moving out of their comfort zone and exploring the beauty this amazing world has to offer.
Termed world schooling, we are giving our kids (Emilia 10 and Matthew 5) an alternative education, an opportunity to learn from the world around them. They can learn about Ecuador from a book or they can experience the diverse backdrops the country has to offer. They can read about the troubles of Colombia or they can come to the country to understand that it is a beautiful country, worth visiting despite its colourful history.
We choose to partake in slow travel – we spend a number of months or even years in some cases in a country to understand what makes it tick, and each of these countries we visit becomes our home for a limited period. We have ‘settled’ in countries such as China, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia and our journey is not over yet. In a few weeks, we will cross over to Central America and start the slow return to Canada, our home for as long as we choose to stay.
And again we are not alone. We enjoy catching up with other travelling families on the road, as few and far between that might be. More common in well-known countries like Peru, we are yet to meet other travelling families in Colombia, but I have no doubt they are here somewhere. The people we meet on our travel journey is what, in reality, enriches our travel.
As a ghostwriter, I choose to write for clients on the road and earn money as we travel. To save on accommodation, we offer our services as a volunteer which creates many new travel experiences. Today we are managing a hostel just on the outskirts of San Gil, Colombia; one month ago we were helping set up a permaculture and eco-hostel in the heart of the coffee district in Colombia; in a month who knows where we will end up. That is all part of the journey too.
Not everything has gone according to plan on our trip. We have broken down on numerous occasions, been ‘robbed’ by mechanics charging through the nose for shoddy work and even had all four of our tyres slashed. But we persevere as that too is all part of the experience.
Long term travel is not easy; in fact, some days it is more difficult than we would like to imagine. But the rewards are worth the heartache and the hard work that needs to be done to make it happen. We aren’t on a permanent holiday as many would like to believe; we are just living our lives like everyone else. We just choose to do it out of the confines of a traditional lifestyle. We might not do it forever, but at the moment it suits us.
“What will you do once you get back to Canada?” is a common question asked of us. Our response is always the same; we have no idea. That too is part of the fun – the not knowing. That space provides much room for adventure and we like that a lot.
(Originally published on Helium Whale.)
Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse - it did. We broke down multiple times in Peru, ended up spending every single $ we had, couldn't find a place to live, had to have emergency dental treatment not once but twice, faced enormous fees to finally get our vehicle back on the road...and on top of it all we had to find the money for our exit fees which ran to over US$2,000. Sounds like a very bad plot for a movie, right? This happened to our family recently and we contemplated quitting our long term travel plans more than once. But the sad fact was that while we didn't have the money to stay, we didn't have the money to leave either. Stranded in Arequipa, Peru was pretty much the size of it. And as I write this, we are still here - in Arequipa that is - but hopefully not for much longer.
And boy did we learn a lot from this experience.
1. You learn who you can count on. I am not too proud to admit that things got pretty rough there for a while but it was the ones who stood by us while we slowly kept sinking deeper and deeper into the hole and enabled us to laugh about it and keep our focus that maintained our trust. It was the ones who reached out to us, even if it was just a message or words of comfort, that taught us the true value of friendship and family. Believe me, we couldn't have gotten through this period without all of those kind words and messages of support.
2. You can't travel long term if your heart is not in it. Our heart was in it, then not, then in it, then not - for a period of many months we stopped enjoying our travel yet couldn't seem to find any way out of it. We got disheartened, sad, mad and frustrated. Then we regrouped again and again - every time something happened we went through the cycle. Hopefully we have come out the stronger for it. We love to travel and hated losing our passion for travel to a set of bad circumstances.
3. You can always change your plans. Our original plan was to go to Bolivia - we had arrangements made with friends, volunteer positions set up and ready to go, free accommodation en route. We were ready - except we couldn't afford to leave. So after toing and froing we decided to cut 5 countries off the itinerary - that was 5 border issues we didn't have to deal with, 5 countries we didn't have to source accommodation for - immediately our hearts felt lighter. It was never about seeing as many countries as we could, it was always about being able to provide a wonderful educational experience for our family as a whole. So we turned around and focused on Ecuador.
4. You are stronger than you think. While at times we didn't feel very strong, in reality we were. We faced being penniless and homeless in a foreign country with two kids - and you know what - we survived. We worked and worked hard to better our unfortunate position - we tried to stay strong and quite often we failed. But you know what we stuck it out - we made it through sanity (just) intact!
5. You are more resourceful than you think. We got to our last cent many times during this situation. As the van sucked our savings dry we had no backup. As a freelance writer, the money flows sporadically and when clients are slow to pay then I can't afford to eat. My husband got a job, I started working for a local travel company - every little bit helped.
6. Amazing opportunities can open up. We made some amazing new friends in Arequipa and visited some wonderful sights. I got a delicious gig reviewing some of the local restaurants in Arequipa on behalf of Peru This Week. Emilia and I even got to enjoy a cooking class together. None of this would have happened if it weren't for the problems we faced. I am not saying I am glad they happened - but I am thankful for the opportunities that arose as a result. Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.
7. Things will get better. Yes they will, it may take 6 or 7 or even 8 months or even longer but they will. We knew that deep down but we faced seemingly insurmountable problems that at times despite all reasoning there was no way around. While our problems have not fully sorted themselves out, we are moving forward. It is just at a much slower pace than we would've liked.
8. No one has it all figured it. I am not one to put on a brave face when things go wrong but nor am I one to get down in the dumps or seriously depressed unless I have good cause to do so. No one person I know has a perfect life - everyone is faced with some kind of relationship issue, money problem, family drama, whatever it may be. The only way we got through it was by talking about it. No good comes of anything when you pretend things are rosy 24/7 and you never know that one person who may be listening might just be able to help.
9. Regret is wasted. So the mechanics we encountered along the way didn't really know what they were doing and took our money without properly servicing our vehicle. So we spent thousands of dollars on our vehicle which we have no way to recoup. So...so...so...what! We lived to tell the tale. We aren't focused on money per se - we are only focused on money at the moment so we have a way to leave the country and continue on our way to Ecuador. If we don't have the money at the border they won't let us leave. If we don't have money for gas we can't drive there. The rest will sort itself out.
10. There is no point in trying to control everything. We don't thankfully - but if we did our problems would've been a lot worse. We are go with the flow types naturally and usually things don't faze us. But of course when you have kids there has to be some sort of plan. We had no way of controlling this situation at all. I could earn more but I couldn't earn enough to make things better. Every day we stayed was costing us more in fines. We had to take a big leap of faith - one which we are still hanging onto as we speak.
11. Adventure is a lifestyle. So we got off track. So we cut 5 countries off of the program. Our experiences to date have not been too shabby. We are raising two wonderfully strong and independent children in a foreign country. We didn't even speak the language when we came (not that we can now mind you). But this foreignness is our version of normal - going to a supermarket in Peru does not seem weird to us. Our life is an adventure everyday and we choose to make the most of it.
12. A bad travel experience will not put you off travel. As much as we liked Arequipa, it was seriously sucking us dry, whichever way we turned. But you know what, we are excited to get back on the road and hang out in Ecuador for a couple of months. We feel like we have earned our own private beach retreat. Bring it on.
13. You can always help others. When things are low and you have no money you can still help others. We did not one, but two, GlobeDrops for non-profit organisations in need due to the support and kindness of others. Gratitude is a big part of what we do and we are truly grateful for every day we get to travel and live life on our own terms. So we do what we can and give what we can - even when we are experiencing massive problems of our own. There is always something you can do for others.
14. You learn to cherish the little things. Not that we really needed it - but we got a reminder like no other. We made do with the basics - we had our gas stove and that was all that we needed. Who needs a fridge or a microwave or a TV? We appreciate when we have hot water because sometimes we have no water. We appreciate when we have electricity because for mysterious reasons that can go off too. And we appreciate our ability to plug into wifi whenever we can - that is truly a lifeline to the rest of the world. We appreciated a roof over our head (sleeping in the van is not easy or comfortable) and we cherished our friends more than ever.
15. The world really is a beautiful place. Yes we were stranded and verging on the homeless. Rent was so much more than we had prepared for. Dental bills were overdue. But there was no better place to be than right where we were. The weather in Arequipa was gorgeous and sunny, the views of the nearby volcanoes were spectacular. And we had each other.
Walking around Santa Catalina, the city within a city, is an enjoyable experience and you can't help but appreciate the history as you wander within the grounds of what is still a working monastery.
The monastery only accepted women from upper class families and, at its height, the monastery housed 450 people (approximately 1/3 nuns and the rest servants). The dowry which was paid by the families for the women to enter the monastery was the equivalent of US$150,000 and they also had to bring a list of 25 other items including clothing, a statue, a painting and a lamp.
There are approximately 20 nuns living within the walls of the monastery today.
Machu Picchu is a must-visit destination for those visiting Peru, without a doubt.
Unless you live under a rock or are not a fan of travelling, then you will have surely heard of Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca site, named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in an Internet poll and designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
Set amongst an amazing mountainous backdrop, Machu Picchu is indeed a sight to behold. Built in around 1450 and abandoned during the Spanish conquest, the estate was hidden from the outside world until its discovery by Hiram Bingham, an American historian in 1911.
Fast forward to 2015 and it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in South America and the most visited attraction in the whole of Peru.
What is amazing about Machu Picchu is that it sits so neatly in amongst its surroundings. It seems so serene, yet surreal, at the same time and certainly needs a few hours of exploration to appreciate.
Machu Picchu is open every day, all year-round, however peak season is generally somewhere between June and September, with July and August being the busiest. Note that the rainy season is from October to April however Machu Picchu is always a popular tourist destination regardless of the weather.
Please note that tickets to Machu Picchu must be booked in advance - they are not sold at the gate. Entry is also limited to 2,000 visitors a day, so once sold out, you have no choice but to wait until another day.
How To Get There
To get to Machu Picchu you have a variety of options.
Train from Ollantaytambo
You can catch a bus, collectivo (a minibus) or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then one of the trains to Machu Picchu Pueblo (or Aguas Calientes), the town nearest to the site itself. This was our preferred method and we really enjoyed the scenic train ride along the Urubamba River both to and from the ruins. If you know your dates make sure to book a little way in advance as the trains can sell out during the busy season. The train takes approximately 2 hours to get to Machu Picchu Pueblo. Both Peru Rail (www.perurail.com) and Inka Rail (www.inkarail.com) service this line.
Train from Cusco
Peru Rail does offer the option of a train direct from Cusco in three classes: Expedition, Vistadome, Hiram Bingham all at varying prices. You can book online direct at www.perurail.com. This journey will take approximately three and a half hours.
If you choose to hike you have a number of options.
The Inca Trail is the most popular of hikes and takes a few days of your time. It must be booked through a reputative tour agency and the hike is limited to only 800 vistors per day. It often sells out months in advance although if it is sold out, dont panic as there are other hiking options.
This 5 day, 4 night hike is the second most popular trek to Machu Picchu. It connects Mollepata to Machu Picchu and will take you through snowcapped mountains and tropical rain forests. It is not currently limited in numbers like the Inca Trail.
These seem to range from 4-8 days and take you through the ruins of the same name. It is still rated from moderate to difficult in terms of fitness, so be prepared for some strenuous activity whichever trek you opt for.
The Lares trek takes 3-5 days and passes through the hot springs of Lares providing welcome respite. You also pass by many high altitude lakes and mountains ending near the ruins of Ollantaytambo where you will need to board the train for the final stretch.
Whichever way you choose to get to Machu Picchu Pueblo, be prepared for an early morning rise. You can opt to walk up the mountain (about a 90 minute hike) or take the bus (a 20 minute ride), but either way you will want to depart early so you have plenty of time to explore. The buses start leaving for Machu Picchu at 5.30am and there will be long queues to board. Do not expect to jump on a bus immediately, you will be extremely disappointed.
If it is your intention to climb Huayna Picchu, you will need to book your ticket in advance as there is only a limited number of tickets available each day (400 at the time of publication). The views I am told are worth it but the climb is quite strenuous. If heights are not your strong point, then it is best you leave this one to those who like a bit more of an adreneline rush.
Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes)
The town of Machu Picchu Pueblo is only small however you can choose to visit the thermal springs located on the edge of town or visit the handicraft market. There are also plenty of accommodation and dining options ranging from the excellent to the dire, so read reviews accordingly.
Visiting Machu Picchu is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is well worth the effort of getting there. Despite the large number of tourists who visit you can still appreciate the vast ruins relatively interrupted.
Have you been to Machu Picchu?
Heading out on the road this summer or even some beautiful season changing travelling in the fall, and have little ones you're bringing along? Here are 10 tips for a successful road trip.
I can't emphasize this enough! It does not matter if everyone had three full plates at the hotel buffet breakfast, 20 minutes down the road someone will be asking for snacks. Granola bars, cheese sticks, raisins/nuts/seeds, and fruit or raw veggies make for quick and easy snacks while travelling. Fill up water bottles before you're out on the road too to save from buying overpriced roadside bottled water.
2. Coloring books/crayons/workbooks/puzzle books
I had a backpack for each child in front of them so they could get out what they needed, and they kept the pencil case between them so they could share.
3. Kid friendly music
We hit up the library before we left and borrowed a handful of CDs including some children pop mixes, classic children's songs and lullaby CDs for nap time travelling. If you have them on your phone or tablet, that will also work great.
4. iPads/tablets/portable DVD players/other media
We made a deal the day of leaving to leave the tablets at home and bring portable DVD players for the car and hotel. We brought a few favorites and a few new ones they never knew about and it would guarantee an hour of good behavior. We had kid safe earphones so they could watch their own movie choice, or turn it down low and sit it between them if they wanted to watch the same one.
5. Car games
The only ones our kids know so far are I Spy and the Silent Game (ok, that one was more for mommy and daddy's benefit) but it kept them entertained for periods of time. If your kids are a little older, Animal, Vegetable or Mineral (20 questions), License Plate Game or Telling a Story, Word by Word are great for keeping them occupied.
6. Favorite small toys from home
My girls are big into Polly Pocket dolls, so I filled up a resealable freezer bag with dolls and accessories. It would work with small cars, action figures, small puzzles or games.
7. New small toys/items
When you have left the last rest stop before your final destination of the day, and the kids and begging for supper (even though they have been eating every 30 minutes), now is the time to pull out something new. I packed a couple new coloring books, board books, DVDs, and a few new small sensory stimulating toys. You don't need to spend much, but a small initial investment can make for some calm road tripping.
8. Plan your day on the road
Make sure everyone has a good breakfast, it will help get the day started right. You'll need to plan for lots of bathroom breaks and feeding stops if you have little ones or you breastfeed. Also figure out when the best time would be for a run around activity. Sometimes right after breakfast is the best time to go to an attraction before leaving town, able to get in early before the crowds, get out before lunch time, and if all goes right, kiddos will be ready for a nap after a snack. Or head out on the road right after breakfast and use your lunchtime stop as your additional activity for the day. Find a cool playground, go for a short hike, or check out a quaint little town to get the kids out of the car and moving for a bit.
9. Roadside rest stops
Most roadside stops are commercial gas stations and restaurants, but if you don't need to fill up be on the look out for a rest stop with a green space. We found lots of nice ones in Quebec, with green space to run around and play tag, tables to have a quick picnic, and some have small playground areas.
10. Relax and take a deep breath
Yes, there will be some arguments, you might take a few wrong turns, you might of booked a hotel for the wrong weekend (yes I did that) but in the end you will see and experience lots of cool stuff beautiful scenery. So take it all in and watch your children's wide eyes and excited expressions when you go over a large bridge or down into a scenic valley. They love all the little things along the way like horses in a field or a large roadside attraction.
Amber Davies is an introverted, work at home, homeschooling mama of two amazing, highly spirited girls. Join her on Pitter Patter and Constant Chatter while they learn, explore, travel, and even struggle on their exciting journey.
When you travel on a long term basis and world school at the same time, you are bound to get asked a lot of questions. While we do try to answer these frequently asked questions, when they arise, we have decided for ease to list some of them here.
How long have you been travelling as a family?
I guess the simple answer to that is as long as we have been a family. My husband and I travelled extensively before we met and when our daughter and son came along, we just never found a place that felt like home so travelling became the norm for us. We are currently coming up to over 10 years of travelling.
How do you afford to keep travelling?
That is a tricky one to answer. We partake in what we term slow travel – we generally spend a long period of time at each destination so we have the ability and capacity to earn money as we go. I am an online ghostwriter and e-book publisher and my husband is an experienced hotel manager and English teacher. We manage to make it work for the most part.
Do your kids go to school?
While world schooling is a big part of what we do – facilitating learning from the world around us, we dip in out of online programs such as Time4Learning, Minecraft Homeschool and Reading Eggs. History is brought to life with excursions to such interesting places as Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. Emilia has been to school in Australia, Canada and Peru and has participated in dancing classes, singing classes and writing groups. When in Cusco we joined up with a hiking group for regular outings – we believe that a solid education is found from all parts of life and not just in the classroom.
Where have you travelled to?
For us it is not so much the number of countries we have visited but the experience we get from each destination. We have lived in China, Canada and Australia on a long term basis and have travelled to the United States and Thailand as well. We aim to add many more destinations as we head home to Canada in our VW Kombi.
Where is home?
While Michelle is originally from Australia and Matt from Canada, at the moment we don’t have a permanent base but that may change in the future. We are hoping to settle in Canada for a while once our South America to North America journey ends to regroup however we may find another more suitable alternative along the way. For the most part we don’t tend to plan too far ahead.
Arequipa, Peru is a wonderful family-friendly destination and during our time here we have discovered many fun things to do with the kids. Here are some of our favourites.
My 10 year old daughter and I did a cooking class with the amazing restaurant, Zingaro, and we got to try our hand at making Causita de Pollo and Lomo Saltado. I also had the pleasure of trying my hand at making a Pisco Sour - a definite favourite of mine. We definitely enjoyed the experience and of course were able to sit down and relish in our work once the meal was cooked. There are a few cooking opportunities available around town but we especially liked this one as Zingaro is a quality restaurant and we enjoyed the "behind the scenes" experience it gave us. This experience was actually part of a half day tour with Peru Inside Out which also takes in the local market and the volcanic rock quarry.
Mundo Alpaca is a great place to wander around with kids - they have llamas and alpacas there to see, an informative area to view the wool and the dying and weaving process as well as a museum of wool processing machinery all set in a lovely garden complete with art gallery and cafe.
La Cueva del Pirata Minigolf
Located in Parque Lambramani, four floors down, we discovered this pirate glow in the dark minigolf course. Featuring 18 holes, the kids had fun trying to putt the balls and sink a hole in one. A fun way to spend an hour, the course costs 12 soles per person.
Parque Los Ccoritos
As the weather in Arequipa is so agreeable, it makes sense that you would want to spend much of your time oors. Parque Los Ccoritos is a great little park for dinosaurs lovers featuring dinosaurs, swings, slides and much more to keep the kids amused. We went on a week day and it was extremely quiet, although saying that, not everything was open. We were told however it got very busy on the weekends so pick your days wisely.
Selva Alegre Park
Selva Alegre Park is a lovely park in walking distance from Plaza de Armas. You can choose to take a picnic and just hang out in the grounds, purchase some Queso Helado at the gates and enjoy it on a park bench, play on the climbing equipment or rent a boat and paddle around the lake. Quite often on weekends, there are food fairs or markets there providing an opportunity to sample the local food and other delicacies.
City Bus Tour
You can't miss the Arequipa city bus tours - there seem to be many companies offering the same tourist route but admittedly it is a lot of fun for the whole family. The tour takes four hours and for 25 soles this is a real bargain, however if you enter the Fundador Mansion and Sabandia Mill, you will be expected to pay the entrance fee for those on top of the tour. Starting at the main square, the tour will take you from the historic district to Yanahuara, Cayma, Sachacha and beyond giving you a good feel for the city of Arequipa.
While the city bus tour does take you to Sabandia Mill, it is also possible to see it on your own and spend an extended visit there. Sabandia Mill was Arequipa's first stone mill built in 1785 and restored in 1973, after which it was subsequently opened to the public. You can picnic in the grounds, go horse riding, see the animals in the petting zoo or just relax while enjoying the views of El Misti in the background.
Chocolate Making Classes
Chaqchao Chocolate Factory offers chocolate workshops to kids aged 7 and up, who are accompanied by their parents. The smell of their chocolate kitchen is enough to tempt anyone and their store offers a fun range of chocolate goodies to purchase. Even visiting their store or enjoying a hot chocolate in their upstairs cafe, is a fun way to spend an hour or two if you choose not to partake in their classes.
Santa Catalina Monastery
Whether you choose to go during the day or in the evening, Santa Catalina is an enjoyable destination for the whole family. While not seemingly kid friendly at first glance, kids will enjoy wandering around this picturesque mini-city and learning about the history of this fascinating place.
Parque Aquatico de Tingo
We always try to source out a swimming pool wherever we go and the kids definitely favoured the one at Tingo. It had a lovely pool for kids complete with water slides of all sizes and was cheap to enter. Admittedly it was out of town a bit, but definitely worth the visit in our opinion. The only issue we had was the pool was not heated but they had fun nonetheless. Note that swimming caps are necessary in order to enter the water, generally a non-issue as you can purchase them there on the premises.
Mono Blanco Aventura
Mono Blanco Aventura is the name of a centre on La Marina filled with a myriad of climbing walls for kids of all ages (and adults as well). There is a section where the kids can just free climb "for fun" or there is the harder wall where the kids need to be harnessed with a helmet. Definite fun for all ages and good value as well. We visited on a Monday when the centre opened at 4pm so it is definitely worth contacting them ahead of time to check their schedule.
Arequipa is really a family-friendly city and we spent countless hours just wandering around the streets and seeing what we could find. If you have anything you would add to this list, let us know.
A book in the making