Nine months, nine countries – South America in photos and stats!

11th April 2013. Nine months today since our family of five touched down in Rio de Janeiro on a BA flight from Heathrow, London to begin our Family Gap Year travelling around the world.

Our journey so far…

We’ve almost done a (kind of squashed) figure of 8 around the continent, flown or boated to islands in the Pacific and Atlantic and are now in Santiago, enjoying our last days before flying to Easter Island (part of Chile) and then on to Tahiti in French Polynesia.

Nine months, Nine countries. Our Family Gap Year journey so far...

Nine months, Nine countries. Our Family Gap Year journey so far…

We’ve been to More

Flat Stanley’s Andes Adventure

Flat Stanley has travelled with me in South America for eight months now…..

We said goodbye to Miss Jane, Mrs M and Miss Place at the end of year 2, last July, spent our summer hopping around in Brazil , journeyed the length of the Amazon to Columbia, Peru and the Napo River to Ecuador!

We took a bus way up into the Andes Mountains to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where we learned Spanish and then flew out to the Galápagos Islands.

Quito and Waterfall near Otavalo, Ecuador

You might remember these photos in Quito and at a waterfall near Otavalo, Ecuador

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Settled in Quito! Almost feels like home!

We rent a gorgeous apartment in Quito for the next two weeks in the city, situated in a pleasant suburb just up the slopes from the Mariscal New Town in a wide quiet street. From the street there are great views over the city, the apartment is tucked behind a secure wall and gate, loads of character and is attached to the owner, Sandra’s home. She’s always on hand to help us should we need it and even calls us when its raining to see if we’d like her to call a taxi for us. There is a huge lounge and dining room, good kitchen, separate TV area, three bedrooms, huge bathroom and even an ironing room which is a fleeting novelty for me!

quito apartment collage

Our lovely home for two weeks in Quito

Monday 22nd October 2012

Exhausted from our first day of filming and late night in our new career as movie stars (!) we have a lazy late start in our new apartment, eventually wandering out for great cake and coffee in a local bakery. Then an outing to the supermarket to stock up on provisions! You cannot imagine what a treat this is for everyone and we get terribly excited filling our trolley!!! More

Travellers In(n) Quito

We spent almost a month in Quito (a big chunk of our family gap year), busy attending Spanish school and enjoying just being in one place. Here’s the account of our arrival and  first two weeks staying at the lovely Travellers Inn…..

Monday 8th October 2012

We leave Coca and the Amazon rainforest on a bus that leaves at 12.30pm and is supposed to take around  7 hours, climbing up into  the high Andes, from little above sea level to nearly 3000 meters.  When I bought tickets two days ago, why, oh why didn’t I make sure this bus went via  Loreto, South West of Coca, and not Nueva Loja, North East of Coca and up near the Columbia border? (Martin reminds me that I went for the $9 bus fare rather than the $10 one!)

In the shiny new Coca bus station going from booth to booth, I clear forgot to check the route although I asked what time it arrived in Quito and was told 8pm which sounded pretty good to me!

We board to find no air con and no working toilet but the seats are comfy and there’s hardly anyone on board – excellent!

Not excellent.

The girls snooze on the long journey!

The bus pulls out of the terminal and immediately pulls over for half of the population of Coca province  to board. Then it proceeds to drop off and pick up passengers every hundred meters or so for approximately 2 hours. Often vendors get on and sell sweets, empanadas, fruit, pens and some get on and stand at the front and seem to be preaching to anyone who’ll listen, then they hand out sweets, no doubt to the converted! More

My World School – four months in, at school in the Galapagos!

My Mum’s cousin Val is the head teacher at a school back home. She’s read some of our blogs and showed some of our photos to all the children in assembly.

They sent us some questions and these were mine :

Zoe – What do you do when you get bored? What games do you play? We are all jealous that you don’t have to go to school. How is World School school going? Have you been on any more adventures like your jungle journey to the beach?

We decided to use the questions to do our next blogs!

When I get bored, I have a Kindle so sometimes I read. I really like to draw or make stuff and now I have just got some new paints. We have pencils and paper. In Quito we got some scissors, sellotape and glue and more drawing paper!

Reading on a long bus trip – once I thought I lost mine on a bus which was awful but we found it  safely put away in Dad’s bag!

I have beads and elastic too and we make necklaces and bracelets – sometimes for ourselves but often as presents. we got more beads in Otavalo,where we visited a massive craft market. Its a place where lots of people wear traditional clothes.The men even have long black plaits!  I have got quite good at plaiting! We play on iPhone apps too, or play travel games like Rumicub, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo and sometimes cards.

This traditional lady in Otavalo was as interested in us as we were in her and she wanted to touch our hair!

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Galapagos Volunteering – Part Three

The horror of being involved with getting the kids ready for school! Maybe I am a lone Dad who finds this part of the day a touch frustrating but I suspect this may be a common problem even in the more perfect of Stepford households. I feel lucky at home that we have had au-pairs to herd the fruit flies out of the door and Mo who loves this ‘quality time’ with the children when she can. Suffice to say that asking a child to put their shoes on 20 times makes me think of Einstein’s quote about doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, yep I am going mad…

So the toys go out of my pram but with the help of a taxi we make it. The headmistress seems happy to see us and we get the obligatory peck on the cheek, smile and burst of Spanish which my brain fails to translate and I hope is nothing more than ‘good luck, you’ll need it’. The kids are gone, no need for embarrassing parental delivery to the door and we head to the classrooms we were shown yesterday. How will the kids fit in? Will they enjoy it? Get anything out of it? What about us?

Outside the new school

Us at our new school

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Galapagos Volunteering – Part One

Map of Galapagos Islands (Ecuador, South America)

Map of Galapagos Islands (Ecuador, South America). We are on San Cristobal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a long time since I blogged and I have missed it! Mo has been hogging the computer with her excellent Amazon Diary but I have plenty of posts planned so I won’t be as quiet.

We spent a few weeks in Quito learning Spanish, the success of which we will soon find out as we are in at the deep end with a month volunteering in the Galapagos. Apart from our one way flights to Rio the ‘volunteering’ was the only thing we booked well in advance. My preference was to try and find projects while in country but Mo was insistent we book something, perhaps she thought this was the only way to ensure we did give something back and not just spend our time on idyllic beaches drinking cocktails between swims and massages?!? More

Amazing Amazon Animals – not everything you expect!

The children at Woodridge school have followed our journey and sent us some questions! They asked me to tell them about more amazing animals & insects I’ve seen, after they enjoyed my posts about hairy caterpillars and piranhas.

We’ve travelled through the Amazon rainforest from Belem in Brazil on the Atlantic Ocean, through Columbia and Peru into Ecuador by river.

Our journey through the Amazon Rainforest on the Amazon and Coca Rivers

It’s been an amazing journey – hot, fun, tiring, lots of bugs, lots and lots of water, lots and lots of trees and getting sick!

The Amazon rainforest has more insects, birds and animal species than anywhere else in the world but when you travel there, what you expect to see and what you actually see can turn out a bit differently!

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Halloween and El Dia de Los Difuntos in Quito

With apologies to those enjoying our blog in date order, I’m fast forwarding to say an almost timely Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Ecuador!

Halloween is certainly recognised in Ecuador. It’s the eve of All Saints Day after all and this is a Catholic country. But without much of the Halloween hype we’ve come to know back home.

Much more important is this Friday, November 2nd – the Day of the Dead, or more respectfully El Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Departed) which, together with All Saints Day today, is a National holiday and a special time of year when families gather together and pay respect to their elders and those loved ones who’ve passed away, visiting and tending to family graves together, socialising with other families around them, young children playing at the gravesides.

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Rio Napo – Diary Days 8-9 Vencedores (Peru) and Nuevo Rocaforte (Ecuador)

Our last days with Gerson and the crew on our little boat are suddenly nearly over as we make good time and near the Peru Ecuador border. We still have little idea where we’re going to end up or how we’re going to make it to Coca (Puerto Franciso de Orellana) where we’ll end our river journey. We’re not sure but we hope that our Peruvian boat and crew can at least cross the border and take us as far as Nuevo Rocaforte – the Ecuadorian border town, some 25km up stream from the Peruvian border town of Pantoja!

Misty dawn as we leave Ango Terra

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