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Starting at the top left we have September, a mom and part-time software consultant, then John, an aerospace engineer, and below the sign are Jordan, age 8 at the beginning of the trip, and Katrina, age 11.
Here are our countries visited, along with approximate dates:
June: Iceland for a few days
June: On bicycles: England, France
July: On bicycles: Switzerland (oops…broken leg, time to put the bicycles in storage at a train station. Trains, buses and ferries from now on)
July: Through Austria to the Czech Republic
August: Poland, Sweden, Denmark
September: Germany, back to Switzerland to send the bicycles home, Italy, Greece
October: Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania
November: Mauritius, Singapore, Japan
December: China, Hong Kong, Thailand
January: More Thailand, Cambodia
February: Costa Rica, Panama
March: Bolivia, Chile, Argentina
April: Back to Bolivia, Peru
We enjoyed living abroad so much that we decided that once we had children, and when the children were old enough, we wanted to spend a year outside of the U.S. and experience the world together.September is standing at the entrance to a temple that’s next to our apartment. She’s just barely pregnant with Katrina in this picture.
Over the next few months we would toss items into the boxes whenever we had a spurt of packing enthusiasm. A couple of nights before we were to step on the plane came the moment of truth. How were we ever going to fit all this stuff into our tiny bicycle panniers? Between clothes, sleeping bags, school books, first-aid supplies, dishes, and more, we had a lot of tough choices to make!This is a picture of what we actually brought with us. The four large cases contain our two tandem bicycles. Down on the floor are our four small bike panniers, and on top of the bicycle cases you can see two of our four large panniers. That’s it…anything that didn’t fit had to stay home.
We wanted the kids to read lots of books over the year and so September became Amazon.com’s favorite customer. In this picture you can see twelve piles of books; each pile has a “Katrina” stack and a
“Jordan” stack. We bought books for the kids that covered roughly the areas we were planning to visit. For example, before we went to China we had Katrina read books such as Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, by Ji-li Jiang, or before we went to Southeast Asia we had Jordan read the book The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam, by by Quang Nhuong Huynh. September’s mother FedEx-ed a package of books to us once a month, wherever we happened to be.
Our emphasis on books backfired. Katrina and Jordan both love to read, and they would get so absorbed in their books that they would forget to notice their surroundings. We are floating in a punt on a river through beautiful Oxford, but the kids hardly know it.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, but Katrina and Jordan aren’t paying attention. We had just received a shipment of books that morning – I had a co-worker who had a friend in Rome who received our FedEx package for us and met us on a street corner to give us the books. You can see that Katrina and Jordan are at the beginning of their new books, and they’re not about to look up and take note that they are actually in Italy.
In addition to math and reading, the third and final part of our home-school program was to have the children write in journals. We are camping in Salisbury, England, and you can see that the kids have their pajamas on. It’s actually about 9:00 at night, but it stays light very late in England in the month of June. Jordan wrote his journal on an AlphaSmart keyboard, and Katrina had an old Palm Pilot with a detachable keyboard. John is adjusting the brakes on Purple Pedal Power, one of our tandems.
American Cemetery, Normandy, France
One of the goals of having the kids read so many books is so that they would be interested in the places we were planning to go. Before we went to the northern coast of France, we read books about World War II and the Normandy Invasion. For example, Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories: World War II helped us learn about D-Day, and Claire Bishop’s Twenty and Ten, the story of twenty schoolchildren in northern France who hid ten Jewish children from the occupying Nazis, illustrated why the D-Day invasion was necessary in the first place.
Click here for the list of Katrina’s Books. And why don’t we have a list of Jordan’s books? Seriously, do you think the entire Captain Underpants series really deserves a mention?
We were in the middle of a “Desert Safari” in Dubai, a state in the United Arab Emirates. A “Desert Safari” really means that someone in a four-wheel drive takes you out into the middle of the desert and leaves you there for the night (with a barrel of water) and you hope that they can find you again in the morning. To answer the hotel question, the answer is that we really didn’t have the budget to stay in “hotels” at all. We did our best to keep costs down, and often that meant camping.Budget Accommodations
We became very flexible about our sleeping arrangements , and eventually learned to just sleep wherever we happened to be. In this picture we are on an overnight ferry from Italy to Greece. We couldn’t afford to say in one of the ship’s cabins, so we just set up camp between two rows of seats. We draped our tent footprint over the seats for a bit of privacy.
Staying in HostelsWhen we were cycling in Europe we camped every night, but after we were done with the cycling portion of our trip we mainly stayed in hostels. A hostel is like a hotel, except instead of renting a room, you rent a bed. The bathroom is typically down the hall, and some hostels have shared kitchens so that you can save money by cooking your own food. Because we are a family of four we usually filled all the beds in a room and therefore got a room to ourselves. In this picture we are all working on our journals.
Burmese Village in Northern ThailandThis is another example of having to simply show up in a location with no advanced notice. This village is in Thailand, near the Burmese border. We’ve been on a trek through the hill country with a guide, and there is simply no way in this region to phone in advance and let people know that you’re coming. But again, people in areas like this are accustomed to taking in travelers when they show up. Notice the solar panel in the background. This solar panel powers the village’s one TV set.
Piranhas for Dinner! Amazon rainforest, BoliviaWe learned to be very flexible about what we actually ate. In this case we’re in the Amazon basin and have just returned from fishing for piranhas, and what we caught is now part of our dinner. Jordan looks especially pleased with his dining options.
We never had quite enough room for our stuff – notice the box of cereal strapped to the back of the bike! This picture is taken in Normandy, France.Subway in Prague, Czech Republic
We didn’t make it all the way to Istanbul by bicycle – that story will come in a bit.
When we were no longer traveling by bicycle, we often traveled by train.
Bus station in Mombo, TanzaniaIn much of the world, there are no trains. Especially in the developing world, most long-distance transport is by bus. This is a typical bus station in Tanzania. As soon as the bus stops, vendors selling snacks rush up to the windows to try to make a sale. These vendors are selling hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and other things to eat. Landing in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia
Occasionally we traveled by small plane. We’ve just been dropped off at a small airstrip in the Amazon Basin in Bolivia. You can see the passengers’ luggage being unloaded from the plane.“Tuk-tuk” in Siem Riep, Cambodia
Tuk-tuks are the transportation of choice in much of Southeast Asia. Tuk-tuks are absolutely amazing. Here is a 90-cc motorcycle hauling its driver as well as five passengers! (I’m taking the picture here.) The additional person in the tuk-tuk is September’s mother, who came to visit us for a month in Thailand and Cambodia.
On a Trek in Northern ThailandOnce we even traveled by elephant. Katrina managed to make friends with this elephant before she traveled on it – she spent a lot of time chatting with it and bringing it bouquets of weeds. It definitely paid off – Katrina and Jordan’s elephant treated them very nicely on the whole trip, whereas the elephant that was carrying the parents did everything he could to get rid of us, such as walking under low branches and picking up trunkfuls of dirt and spraying us with it. I think Katrina taught us a good lesson here!
“The Cruise Ship of Pain” Yangzi River, ChinaOur family has always wanted to go on a cruise, and here was our chance! We signed up for a cruise on a boat designed for local Chinese tourists, and I’m not sure we were quite ready for the standards of the ship. We splurged and got a cabin with a bathroom in it, but unfortunately, every time we would flush the toilet, water would come spraying out of the ancient plumbing, covering the walls and floor with water. We kept missing mealtimes because all of the announcements were in Chinese, and though it was the middle of a very frosty December, there was absolutely no heat on board.
After returning home, we learned from one of our Chinese neighbors that in China, it is forbidden for anyone to heat their home south of the Yangzi river. I guess this cruise ship wasn’t taking any chances!
Cargo Ship to the Southern Tip of South America (Chile)Another way we traveled was by cargo ship. We took this cargo ship to the southern tip of South America, through the fjords of southern Chile. Not only was it cheaper than flying, but we got to experience the legendary rough waters near the Strait of Magellan. We ended up staying on this cargo ship two more days than planned because the ship was unable to cross the rough waters at various times in our journey. Take a close look at Katrina and Jordan: long before this point we had traded in our bicycle panniers for actual suitcases.
Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaSometimes the best way to get from Point A to Point B is to hire a driver and a vehicle. This truck is called a Unimog, and is made by Mercedes-Benz. In this picture were are on the salt flats of Bolivia. At certain times of the year the salt flats are covered with a few inches of water, making some spectacular scenery. When we were in the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, I had contracted with a guide named Patrick to take us over the Andes mountains into Chile. We worked out an arrangement in which Patrick would provide all of our meals along the way.
Patrick had been an investment banker in a previous life, and September was rather distrustful of his skills as a guide. She remarked, “What’s he going to do if we get into trouble? Put in a sell order for 1,000 shares of Microsoft?” She announced one afternoon in La Paz that she was going “shopping,” and she came back with a mountain of food for our journey. We didn’t really need the food, as Patrick was supposed to provide it, and so to make fun of September I started calling the food our Armageddon supplies, to prepare us for some end-of-the-world scenario. In these food supplies were some large bags of peanut M&Ms, and so these became known as our Armageddon Pills. It turns out that we did need the food – we got stranded out on the salt flats and ended up relying on those peanut M&Ms for sustenance. In honor of September’s cunning, I’ve named the chapter in the book that tells this story “Armageddon Pills.”
Amazon Rainforest, BoliviaAnother method of travel was by canoe. We are on a tributary to the Amazon River in this picture. There are no roads in this region, and so the only practical method of getting from place to place is by canoe. This is our guide, Rene, who deemed me a hopeless city-boy, and insisted on calling me John-Rambo.
So much fun!This particular playground was in a tiny village in the mountains – a village with just a few houses and a small restaurant. In the playground was a giant boulder with ropes permanently attached to it. The kids loved to climb up and down this boulder, holding onto the ropes. It was so much fun, until…
Not so much fun…Katrina was rappelling down the boulder and the rope broke. She came tumbling down to the ground and reported that she could no longer walk.
Zermatt doesn’t allow any cars, and so I carried her down the mountain trail for 45 minutes until we reached the town. You can see the tiny village in the background of the picture.
Some townspeople helped us find the doctor’s office, and we learned that Katrina had broken her leg – take a look at the nasty fracture in the tibia!
We had been cycling and camping up to this point in the trip, but camping just isn’t practical with a broken leg. We rented an apartment in Zermatt for a week until Katrina’s wrist healed enough so that she could walk short distances on crutches.
Plan B, Cesky Krumlov, Czech RepublicIt was clear that our cycling had come to an end. We couldn’t afford to stay indoors in Western Europe, so we headed to the Eastern Europe where we could afford to stay in hostels. Katrina couldn’t walk very far on crutches and it was difficult to find a wheelchair in many towns, and so I ended up carrying her on my shoulders for most of the summer. If you look closely you can see that Katrina still has a brace on her wrist. Rushing through the train station
Imagine trying to transfer trains in 5 minutes with four suitcases, two backpacks, and a child who can’t walk! We learned to be very flexible about how we got from place to place.
Visits to doctorsOver the course of a year we ended up visiting doctors in many countries. Because of Katrina’s broken leg we saw doctors in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. We had to get Hepatitis-A booster shots and fill a prescription in Turkey, and in Japan Jordan developed asthma so bad that we had to take him to see a doctor. By the time we reached Costa Rica it was time to have the kids’ teeth cleaned, and so we found a dentist that spoke English and catered to foreigners. In some of these countries the doctors and hospitals didn’t charge us a cent. “Just have a nice trip!” they would say.
Katrina’s Journal, April 24
“Today we got up really early. We were in for a hard day. We walked uphill for about five or ten minutes and then we all found a steady pace, and kept climbing, up, up, up.
“What is really amazing are the porters who carry the tourists’ things, though our family carried almost everything that we needed, except food and tents. The porters have packs three times as big as mine, and practically run uphill. When they get to the top of a mountain peak they play soccer until the tourists catch up.“After a while Dad decided to hike with Mom and Jordan, because Jordan was throwing up. Dad thought it was because of altitude sickness and because Jordan didn’t have any breakfast.
Jordan got sicker and sicker with altitude sickness but there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t turn around and hike back because we had already been on the trail for two days and it was just as far no matter which way we went.
“I went on with P, and finally we reached the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, which is about 14,000 feet high.”
Two days later at Machu PicchuJordan is still looking a bit woozy with altitude sickness, but through sheer stubborness he finished the four-day trek.