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The End

Perhaps we should have planned something big for our last week in order to go out with a bang, but as it turned out we spent most of our time in the car. We were dazzled by the light and empty landscapes of Namibia for days before turning east and making the final slog to Johannesburg. Thank goodness for books on tape is all I have to say. With one interesting dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant (crocodile or zebra anyone?) and culturally enriching stops at the Mandela House and Apartheid Museum, we flew home via Dubai, a long and painful flight if ever there was one. We hit the ground running, plunging into car and school registrations, home repairs and preparations for sleep-away camp. As long as the planning and build up is for a trip like ours, when it ends it is OVER. Within days it felt like a hazy dream.

But we did it! I’m so proud of us! In part I am relieved; we made it with no serious illnesses, no broken bones, no theft, no major losses aside from sunglasses, two hats, and one stuffy (rest in peace, Crabby, wherever you are.) Aside from one jerk of a customs man in Turkey, we received nothing but human kindness along the way and met some delightful folks. At the same time we mourn that this extraordinary year of freedom is over as we head back to the structure of school and work. We won’t be able to take a year off again with our 9 and 12 year olds.

What do we have to show for it? A depleted bank account, many passport stamps, some big life experiences, photos, memories of beautiful places and some not so beautiful. The best souvenir by far is the mighty resiliency of our kids; they’ve risen to the occasion in all sorts of surroundings and situations. They’re unfazed by dodgy urban bus stations or persistent touts, they’re comfortable and poised chatting with just about anyone who crosses our path. I feared they might get jaded or spoiled, but it didn’t come to pass; they were as excited to see and learn new things in the end as in the beginning and at least one kid hopes to travel more. Best of all is the whopping amount of perspective gained. Seeing shacks alongside the train tracks in Sri Lanka or the sprawl of Soweto couldn’t help but make an impression, of course, but so did attending school in New Zealand and watching street life in Hanoi. I dearly hope it sticks with them. I’m so grateful we had this chance to make their world so big.

A round up of the past ten months then, diligently compiled by Miles.

Total distance: 52,760 miles

Stops: 112

Countries: 20 (Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, UAE, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa)

Where we spent the shortest amount of time: Zimbabwe (about 3 hours)

Where we spent the longest amount of time: New Zealand (3 months)

Modes of travel: plane, taxi, metro, bus, sleeper bus, funicular, tram, ferry, train, tuk-tuk/bajaj, motorboat, bicycle, bicycle rickshaw, cable car, car, elephant, traghetto/gondola and foot!!

A year’s worth of field trips including: Museu Picasso, Sagrada Familia, Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona Zoo, Palau Guell, Teatro Salvador Dali, MUHBA Plaça del Rei, Patheon, Colosseum, the ruins at the Forum, Vatican Museum, Italian cooking class, Castel St. Angelo, Villa Borghese, Explora (Il Museo dei Bambini di Roma!), Uffizi, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Genoa vs. Florence soccer game, Leonardo da Vinci Museum, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Bascilica St. Marco, Museo di Storia Naturale, Palazzo Mocenigo, gondola ride, Acropolis, National Acheological Museum, Acropolis Museum, Asclepion, Delos, Ephesus, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Grand Bazaar, cruise on the Bosphorus, Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Basilica Cistern, Antalya Museum, Goreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia Home Cooking School, Heritage House, Atlantis/Aquaventure Water Park, Desert Safari (and dune bashing!) Colombo National Museum, Sigiriya, the ruins at Polonnawaru, Dambulla Rock Temple, Kaudulla National Park, Udawalawe National Park, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, blue whale watching, Singapore Street Food Tour, National Museum, Peranakan Museum, Legoland Malaysia, Singapore Zoo, Singapore Night Safari, Sarawak Musuem, Semenggoh Rehabilitation Center, Bako National Park, Guning Gading National Park, Textile Museum, cooking class, Kuching Cat Museum, Puri Lukasan Museum, snorkeling, batik class, Indonesian shadow puppet performance, offering class, Balinese cooking class, Puru Ulun Danu Temple, Australia Zoo, Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Noosa National Park, Quake City, Antarctic Center, Wild Bird Center, Puzzling World, Oamaru Penguin Colony, Routeburn Great Walk, Kaikoura Dolphin Swim, Abel Tasman Great Walk, Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand), Weta Cave tour, Zealandia, Hobbiton Movie Set Tour, Tongariro Alpine Crossing, surf lessons, Skyline Luge, Agrodome, Wat Po (Emerald Buddha), Grand Palace, Bangkok Food Tour, Siam Museum, Amulet market, Big Brother Mouse book party, Living Land Farm rice tour, Pak Ou (Buddha Caves), Laos National Museum, Halong Bay, Hanoi Street Food Tour, Vietnamese cooking class, Ethnology Museum, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Tomb of Tu Duc, water puppet performance, Hue’s Forbidden City/Citadel, National Pagoda, ‘Dar Reality’ Tour, Usambara Mountains, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, Oldupai Gorge, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadigadi National Park, Living Desert Tour, Dune 45, Mandela House, Apartheid Museum


What trip is next? A girl has got to dream! Perhaps Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Patagonia, Costa Rica, or Morocco. There is always more to see but for now, we’ll take some time to regroup and reenergize. Thanks for following along.

African road trip, part 2

As I type, we have a week left to our trip. A week! I’ve taken plenty of week-long vacations, but now a week feels like a blink. Twelve years in the scheming, a year in the serious planning, and now it’s almost done. We’re still here, enjoying our time in Africa, but also we’re partly there, back home, thinking about seeing friends and family, the logistics of dentists appointments, new shoes, back to school, etc. I foresee a period of adjustment to come, but in the meantime I’ll tell you more about our road trip.

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African Road Trip, part 1

We left Kwara after that last extraordinary morning with the cheetah cubs practically weeping at the thought of going back to taking care of ourselves. Then we got to the airport and saw our new chariot for the next and last month of travel.

I know, isn’t it cool?

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A Close Encounter with Cheetah Cubs

Before we got to Kwara, we heard that there had been a mother cheetah (with four cubs!!!) in the area. We spent all our game drives channeling our happy cat thoughts in hopes of spotting her. We were on our last game drive and about to give up when out tracker, AT, called from his perch on the hood of the car, “Cheetah!” Our guide Tom veered of the track toward a small termite mound with a furry head poking through the bushes on top of it. It was the mumma cheetah and her cubs sitting in the early morning sunshine! There were only three of the cubs on the termite mound, the fourth missing. They were as small as a house cat, with fluffy silver tufts of fur on their backs. I could have died, they were so stinking cute.
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The Big Splurge

We were plenty happy to bid goodbye to bus travel after our last leg to Livingstone, Zambia which was a perfectly nice bus with big windows on a good road where they so kindly played not one but two profanity laden horror movies for our entertainment, which we all could have done without. We were in Livingstone to check out Victoria Falls but also to celebrate Vance’s birthday, which we did by walking across the bridge to Zimbabwe and having lunch on the shady verandah at the grand Victoria Falls Hotel, with a view of the bridge and the rising mist from the falls past manicured lawns. The falls were in full force, and we were glad we packed rain coats as the spray was drenching. They’re big, those Victoria Falls, and it’s impossible to take in the span at once from ground level, but we were all suitably impressed.

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Zanzibar and Zany Train Travel

The island of Zanzibar has a rich history spanning centuries and a mishmash of cultures from the days when it was a major trading power in wood, ivory, spices and slaves — but most of it was lost on us. Tired after our safari, we flew there and decamped to a pretty hotel on the eastern shore with few ambitions other than to catch up on sleep and school work, and maybe bank a little extra rest for the crazy travel leg ahead. Sure, we rambled up and down the beach a few times (where middens of plastic trash reminded me that my unbelievably dazzling palm fringed white sand paradise was the nearby fishing village’s dump.) We spent one morning very happily traveling by traditional dhow out to a good snorkeling spot and had lunch at the iconic Rock restaurant.  Otherwise we were fairly useless, splashing in the pool and lounging in our shady sitting area so it’s kind of pathetic to report our plan for resting up backfired a bit.

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On Safari

I had been humming that old Toto song (I bless the rains down in Af-ri-caaaa) for weeks as our theme song, until I got here and realized to my disappointment that Mt Kilimanjaro does not only not “rise like Olympus above the Serengeti” it isn’t even remotely visible. All that awkward phrasing for nothing kind of killed the song for me, but that is the only disappointment I’ve suffered. I don’t like to play favorites, I mean, we’ve had some pretty great weeks on this trip. Diving on the Great Barrier Reef? Hiking the Routeburn in New Zealand? Eating all that pizza, pasta and gelato in Rome? Good times! This past week though, has just been spectacular.

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At long last, Africa!

Delirious after a grueling flight, we spent most of our drive from the airport into Dar Es Salaam — which was a long time because the traffic in Dar is really awful — freaking out over the fact that we were actually in Africa. I mean, who watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as a kid and didn’t dream of coming here? I had a fabulous teacher in high school, Dr. Hackett, who had travelled through Africa and climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in the 1960’s after doing his doctoral research sailing around the Indian Ocean (he was such a bad ass!) He exhorted us to go and see Africa while there was still something to see. “You can go up the Eiffel Tower in a wheel chair when you’re 80!” he would say, and in the half dozen times I’ve gone up the Eiifel Tower the past 25 years I’ve thought of him and his words with a tinge of regret every single time, but finally I made it. We’re here.

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The Pho Report

We arrived in Hanoi after a 15 hour overnight train ride from Da Nang (not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, but not the worst either.) We pulled into the station a bit groggy at 5:30 am, but Hanoi was already hopping with folks out walking, playing badminton, and jiving to Zumba-like group aerobics in the park. In our neighborhood in the old part of town, the business of food production was well underway with greens being rinsed and meat chopped by folks squatting next to cutting boards and bowls out on the sidewalk. 7:00 am saw us joining the line for a breakfast bowl of beef pho, which we ate sitting on little plastic stools at a low plastic table. We had arrived.

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Beyond Pho

It was sometime this past week that I started to wonder why on earth we chose so many hot places to visit. What would have been so bad about, say, northern Europe? I’m a little tired of feeling sweaty and sticky and, eight months in, have really started to loathe my limited wardrobe. I know, I know, cry you a river. But I do know why I wanted to come to Vietnam. It was all about the food. The damp, chilly winters in Seattle have long fostered our love for a warm bowl of pho, and what’s not to like about a banh mi? It was this article in Bon Appetit that got me thinking about the food beyond those two things, and put Vietnam so firmly onto our itinerary. Read more