I awoke today to the sound of rain. Coming from the UK this is something that I should be used to but it felt different, maybe in the way that a holiday cocktail tastes great on the beach but when you try and recreate it at home it is just not the same but more likely it is because for the first time in a month on our gap year we can really relax.
South America, Brazil and especially some of cities we have visited have a reputation for KRE (A joyful new TLA we recently discovered for ‘kidnap, ransom and extortion’!) as well as petty everyday crime like mugging, pick pocketing etc. While I am sure there is an increased threat and these things do happen only bad news sells newspapers (maybe it is our fault in wanting to read about other people’s misfortunes as apparently only 30% of reporting is good news!) and you don’t hear about the many fantastic, friendly, helpful people you meet.
Saying that we have been taking plenty of sensible precautions and are not rolling out of nightclubs at 4am for a stroll along Copacabana beach with all our money in one bulging wallet and a big camera looking like a mobile neon billboard shouting ‘MUG ME’. Our hand washed clothes have not seen an iron since departing so we look suitably ‘poor’, or as much as you can when just being in countries where pale white skin and being in a tourist destination shouts ‘rich’. Playing to our advantage is having young children. We have even been told by locals that this makes it safer for us and judging by the number of helpful ‘you don’t want to go there’s etc. we have had, even if just in sign language, I would agree.
Only a couple of times have we become tourist victims (that we know about). In Rio market shopping for breakfast I paid $R10 (£3.30) for a pack of strawberries that Zoe had selected before discovering a few stalls down packs for R$3, while ours were much nicer looking and ‘organico’ I suspect we paid a large gullible tourist premium. This also prompted a chat with Zoe not to pick up things and look like you really, really want them, please, please Dad, especially when there is no price shown! On the ferry down here I bought a bottle of water to break a R$50 note and was given change for R$20, when I counted it and looked at her she bold as brass got out the extra R$30 and gave it to me, classic and so brazen I almost laughed.
Touch wood, we have been lucky, or earned our luck and no real problems so far. What we have discovered is a Brazil where even with embarrassingly little Portuguese you can get by and enjoy an amazing country and friendly people pretty easily. Taxi’s put their meter’s on, people hawking their wares are not at all pushy and we have seen little of the annoyances you can get in many countries. What is most striking is the lack of tourists, even Lonely Planet recommendations are not overrun by foreigners which is a pleasant surprise. Considering that winter in Brazil is like a perfect summer in the UK but with a warm sea, endless sandy beaches etc. it should be so much busier.
After 4 weeks of 24/7 watchful parenting we can finally relax our guard a bit as we are on a small, remote island where everyone knows each other and there are only a few pousadas (guest houses). The kids can pop down the beach by themselves and we are confident that they won’t go in the water if we have told them not to (not something I would have said 4 weeks ago). The pleasant surprise of meeting two other families with young children that they can play with is icing on the cake.
UK working life now seems like a distant memory (a big thanks to the office for leaving me alone! UPDATE – fate, as soon I as wrote this there was an IT emergency!) but time has also flown by. Luckily we had no concrete plans only a feeling of what we wanted to achieve otherwise we might be disappointed with our lack of progress. To give you an idea we are only now getting our packing down to a fine art (OK, at least it doesn’t take 3 hours and a complete repack each time), things are starting to find their places which makes it easier to check and zips and pockets are staying done up.
When Zoe lost her Kindle she was mortified as were Ben and Lara. She had it out on the coach back to Rio but it was not in her bag when we checked in to the apartment. I returned to find her sobbing but was quietly pleased as it could be a formative experience for them and ensure they took greater care in the future. I did feel a bit of a cad when I discovered it in my bag 10 minutes later, I had zero recollection of putting it there but I must have done it subconsciously when she went to the loo and left it lying on the seat ready to be picked up by anyone passing! ‘Idiot checks’ when we leave anywhere are becoming second nature.
Everything takes much longer than we are used to at home. I spent almost a whole day on flaky WiFi in Ilha Grande trying to book a flight out of Brasilia, helped by Google Translate but thwarted at the last moment after the transaction had been authorised and I had entered all our details and selected seats etc.. I managed to call my credit card company on Skype and they said the money had been taken and put back two minutes later (5 times)!??! Only on the 3rd credit card (thanks Amex) did it finally go through. We expected to spend time on booking travel and accommodation but hoped the internet might speed it up. Wrong. You just get more choice, too much choice, although the benefit is you now have reviews to steer you away from the real dives (I can’t believe the kids only saw their first cockroach a few days ago in Salvador, maybe we are still spoiling them!).
The other big time consumers are getting kids ready, eating and researching the next destination along with cheap transport options. This can leave little time for much else so our plans to find nice places and stay a while if we liked them is definitely the way to go as dashing to a new destination every day would be far too stressful.
I watched the kids play in the waves yesterday for a good hour or two (difficult to tell how long without a watch and the sun behind clouds) and they had a hoot being swept off their feet and being dragged along before scrambling up, ‘saving’ each other and taking on the next wave. Even Lara and her new friend Sally had a go letting the waves chase them, eliciting squeals of delight. Definitely an activity requiring parental supervision although I only got to my feet once when Zoe got washing machined. Swimming lessons are going well and they are getting plenty of exercise, other parts of home schooling are taking a backseat during summer holidays.
Toys and TV do not appear to be missed which is a relief and they are great at finding things to do with whatever stick, leaf, coconut or tree that crosses their path. I have always believed that, even with the best intentions, we give them too much, reinforced by the number of toys we had to pack when we moved. Not only is this a waste of money and clutter I worry that we are restricting their development in the most formative years. Do we stifle the development of imagination and creativity or risk creating future couch potatoes with our consumerism and entertainment on a plate? Toy and TV detox was always a big goal for us and I think well on the way to mission accomplished.
So are they happy with traveling? At this stage it is just a long holiday but the signs are good. Friends and family are missed but emails from home and comments on the blog are well received, eagerly devoured and replied to. We are encouraging them to be proactive in writing but it is tricky when the beach etc. beckons and the parental logic of ‘you have to make an effort first’ is difficult to process.
So far they have stayed healthy and life has been very comfortable with beds to sleep in and food they often recognise. We encourage them to try something new each day and only Lara ‘I want chippies’ Clark manages to resist most of the time. Dad thinks that when they are tired they will sleep anywhere and if they are hungry they will eat rice and beans if that is all that is available (manioc might be a step to far as it’s like trying to eat saw dust!). Mum does not have as much faith in this logic! Should be interesting as we venture up the Amazon by boat and into poorer parts of the world where we intend to stay with local families.
My main aim of traveling was to spend more time with Ben, Zoe and Lara before they turn into Harry Enfield’s ‘Kevin’ and just grunt between using the parental ATM and Taxi service. This is going well and I have already seen more of them than in the previous 6 months. Still work to do on getting more one on one time but this will be easier once we are in safer locations and don’t have to travel as a pack.
Spontaneous bear hugs from Ben in the middle of a full restaurant is lovely but maybe I am a too reserved a Brit to not feel that this is slightly over exuberant!?!
The adventure has started well.