We are halfway through our year-long trip around the world with our two children in tow. We have had some wonderful times and some not so wonderful times. Over the holidays, I was feeling very sad and lonely. I missed my family and our loud, crazy, coffee-fueled, wine-filled Thanksgiving. I missed having lunch with my girl friends. Even though I am traveling with Chris and the kids, I missed interaction with other people. And sometimes we get on each other's nerves since we are together in very close proximity all day every day.
A few weeks ago I was really irritated with traveling and constantly looking for an appropriate place to stay that was within our budget and figuring out where to get groceries at each different town we visit. At the same time, I was dreading going back to "real life" because that means getting an actual job, and I haven't had one of those in almost two years, and I don't want to give up my nights and weekends and holidays with my kids. Then I put on my big girl panties and told myself I was fortunate to have a roof over my head every night and money to buy food to feed my family and a professional degree that would allow me to find a job without much difficulty. So Chris and I have both started the job search process, and we are trying not to let that get us out of the "nomadic" spirit. Here is a recap of the places we have been in the last few months:
The last RTW round-up I did was in October, and we were in Iguazu, Falls, Argentina. I loved Argentina. It was my favorite South American country, and I left there wanting to go back. While I loved Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia, I felt I had seen all I had set out to see there. In Argentina, there was so much we did not get to do, and we all want to go back to Bariloche, the chocolate capital of South America. This was one of my favorite stops! When Chris started his job search at international schools, I asked him to investigate if there were any available posts in Bariloche. I could totally see myself living in Argentina.
When we were in Ushuaia, Argentina, we got really crazy and booked a last minute trip to Antarctica. The best way to see the frozen continent is to casually walk into a travel agency in Ushuaia and see if they have any empty cabins in the cruise ships leaving over the next few days. Chris and Kara loved Antarctica more than I did. Tristan and I loved it too, but we preferred to see it from the warmth of the ship lounge. We did manage to make a few landings, but they were short. We all got seasick crossing through the Drake Passage on the way to and on the way back. We actually handled it a bit better on the way back even though we sailed through a hurricane-strength storm for almost 48 hours.
Chile was a little disappointing after Argentina. We went to a small town called Pucon, where we visited some of the best hot springs ever. Nevertheless, the house we rented was freezing cold and had no heating and no wifi even though both of these were advertised. We learned to confirm amenities even though they are listed on Air BnB after this. Then we went to Valparaiso which I had been really excited about because I had just finished reading I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin and I loved the movie Il Postino (an Italian film about Pablo Neruda's postman while the poet is exiled in Italy). I felt let down because Valparaiso was a very dirty city, and it is difficult to navigate on foot. The people were very nice, but I had clearly romanticized the town and it did not live up to my impossible expectations.
We spent a few days in Easter Island, which was a lovely experience. The downside was that Kara and I got a flu-like respiratory illness while we were here, but we still managed to have a nice time. The island is clean and breezy and the food is great though expensive even for Chile standards. Around this time is when my mood took a turn downward. After Easter Island, we went to the island of Moorea, French Polynesia. The weather was not cooperative in FP. We only had a couple days of sun. We spent the first half of our week in a house on the opposite end of the tourist area and the second half in a nice resort in an overwater bungalow (thank goodness for last minute deals again!). Well, we were bitten by mosquitos in the first house and Kara and I got dengue fever a few days after arriving. I highly recommend against getting dengue fever. We had headaches, agonizing bone pain, fever, fatigue, and weakness. We were bed-ridden for about two days. Kara was lagging about a day or so behind me, so she had to travel to New Zealand while ill. I am not usually a low-mood person, so I am wondering if the dengue fever precipitated the dark mood I experienced afterwards. Depression is listed as a symptom. That virus messes with your brain!
We spent three weeks in New Zealand. Kara and I were already on the mend though we were not feeling completely recovered. Chris was happy to be in an English-speaking country, and I was happy to be in Middle-Earth. We rented a car in New Zealand, and I highly recommend this as the way to travel down there. In South Island, we spent a few days in Queenstown, which we loved. We watched the third Hobbit movie down there, and we went to a place called the Fear Factory, which is a haunted house and really scary. We took a cruise through Milford Sound which was very beautiful and also went on a dolphin cruise when we were in Dunedin. While in the town of Greymouth, exactly two weeks after the dengue, I developed a rash, horrible joint-pain, abdominal pain, lip-swelling, and weakness. I of course started googling the crap out of my symptoms because I was terrified this had something to do with the dengue. After much self-diagnosing research, I think I had Henoch Schonlein Purpura (HSP), which is an immune-mediated reaction, usually to a virus. As a pediatrician, I have seen HSP many times before in children, so I was caught off-guard by my age. Whether it was HSP or not, it definitely was some kind of immune-complex mediated reaction to the dengue virus. So the dengue did rear its ugly head.
The highlight of our trip to New Zealand was renting a house on four acres near Rotoroa. From there, we took a few day trips including one to the Hobbiton movie set. The kids had a blast at the Rotoroa house, especially since Tristan for once had room to run around. By the time we went to visit the Hobbiton movie set, my joints did not hurt as much and I was actually able to enjoy the experience.
We left New Zealand and flew to Bangkok, Thailand, where we spent two weeks. We did some fun stuff like take the kids to KidZania and take cooking classes. We also got back into the swing of homeschooling which we did not do while we were in Tahiti and New Zealand. I started the job search process in Bangkok and was feeling really depressed about it. I desperately wanted to back "home" (USA), but I did not want to go back to work outside the home. My outlook changed while in Cambodia.
After our two weeks in Thailand, we went to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This country has carved itself into a special niche in my heart. I was uplifted to see the strong entrepreneurial, self-less, and welcoming spirit of a people that just two generations ago were affected by one of the worst genocides in the history of humankind. The temples of Angkor were beautiful and an insight into the history of Cambodia. Our hosts in our home stay in Siem Reap and the young man that drove us around in his tuk tuk were kind, helpful, and patient with us. We also visited the War Museum and I left horrified yet humbled and inspired by what I saw and learned there.
We also spent a few days in Phnom Penh, where we rented an apartment from a Cambodian multi-lingual engineer. He and his wife also owned a restaurant in Phnom Penh which was delicious. The apartment was away from the tourist area. The first night, we went to a local hot pot restaurant around the corner from our apartment. At first, we did not know what it was. We just saw an assortment of meats (brains, squid, and other stuff) and vegetables on skewers at a table in front of the restaurant. With a lot of pointing, big hand movements, and speaking slowly, we finally figured out that you had to pick the meats/vegetables from the table, put them on a tray, take them to your table, and cook them in the hot pot. I think we provided entertainment for the locals. We did not know that you had to take the meats/vegetables off the skewers first. I think I ate a pork rind that I thought was a rice cake. Then we had a hard time taking the noodles out of the pot. Kara dropped some of the hot water on herself and dropped her bowl in the hot pot! A sweet old lady at the table next to ours came over and taught us how to do it after that.
When we told our landlord about our dining experience the next day, he gave us a look as if we were crazy and then politely said we should avoid eating at those restaurants because we could get sick. "They are not clean," he said. We did not get sick. In fact, we have not had any food-related illness this trip at all. We have had altitude sickness, flu, dengue, and bizarre immunological reactions, but no gastroenteritis!
The highlight of our visit in Phnom Penh was the trip to the Killing Fields. What an emotional experience! The site is a memorial to the millions of victims of the genocides perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot's regime. Pol Pot and Hitler could have been drinking buddies.
I was impressed by the number of restaurants and organizations developed in Cambodia to help the people. In Siem Reap, we ate at a restaurant called Manrum, which serves as a training restaurant for marginalized youth. Here, we learned about Child Safe, and its effort to keep children in Siem Reap safe from abuse and trafficking. In Phnom Penh, we ate at a restaurant called Daughters of Cambodia Sugar and Spice, which served as a training restaurant for women escaping the horrors of the sex industry.
My mood improved after our stay in Cambodia. I don't know if it was the after-effects of the dengue lifting or resetting my perspective after everything I saw in Cambodia. I am in a better place emotionally. I am enjoying the traveling for the incredible experience that it is. I am looking for a job with enthusiasm. I will make wiser choices about my work-life balance. I will continue writing stories.
Right now, we are in Vietnam. After spending a few days in Saigon and the Mekong Delta, we rented a beautiful villa in foodie-paradise, Hoi An, for the bargain price of $50 per night! I enjoyed the slower pace of Hoi An after the bustle of Phnom Penh and Saigon. After Hoi An, we spent a few nights in Hue (at another wonderful homestay with a local family), and we are currently in Hanoi.
You can follow our adventures at the Thomson Family Adventure Blog. We provide them with a weekly article about our round the world trip.
I am writing as we travel and we are homeschooling the kids. If you have any questions about our trip or any suggestions for a round the world trip, let me know in the comments section!