I am sitting here writing this blog post nibbling on some biltong and drinking a Rooibos tea. Sure signs that we are now in South Africa and time for my second wrap up. Three months (and a bit) gone already and our first continent done and dusted.
In short, South America has been a blast! Seven countries visited and too many highlights to name them all but Galápagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Iguazú falls and Colca Canyon would be my top 5. That’s a tough one though as Cartagena, Colonia, Atacama Desert and Buenos Aires have been absolutely amazing as well. We took 5825 pictures during our first 3 months and we use DropBox to sync/secure them. I tell you, after 2 weeks of no uploading (Galápagos in particular) you get anxious of loosing your phone/pictures! Anyway, time to get on with my wrap up.
Let’s start with a bit of a “negative” one. There is just no time to read a book, and I downloaded a few I am pretty keen to read. Our days are usually pretty full on and if we take a break and don’t do anything – it is time to read the next travel guide, do research, book stuff and do general admin really. So yes, I read books but they are all travel guides… That’s a bit of a surprise really so far and we were very conscious of getting tired of travelling and took our time and also took regular breaks, e.g. stay in a place for a few more days – but maybe it is time to slow down a bit more? I tell you, travelling is exhausting!
One of the common question we get from friends, family and fellow travellers is: What about school for the kids, are you home schooling them?
No, we don’t formally home school our kids and took them out of school for a year. We think that the kids will learn at least as much on our travels than if they would be back home in school (and that’s nothing against the school!). We regularly do the normal, key school stuff: writing, reading and maths. They write in their travel books first and then write their blog posts you can see/read on this page. By now we wrote 50 posts and a large chunk is from the kids.
We do “applied” maths with them, e.g. calculating entry fees for the family, tips in a restaurant, count scores in card games etc. but also practice basic math with them, like the multiplication table.
They love reading anyway and Amazon Unlimited is paying off big time for us.
And then there are all the other things they now learn on our journey. New languages, new currencies, new continents and countries = geography. The learn about poverty and the conditions other people live in (jeez we are lucky in Germany and NZ!) and see some awesome but also some sad places.
Spending time over Christmas and New Year with family in Colombia and Gela’s & Juan’s wedding at the end was fantastic. The kids still talk about it and we are all looking forward to catching up in Germany again soon.
Not speaking Spanish is clearly a disadvantage but most of the time you can somehow sort stuff out. And we had first my sisters and Juan and later Gesa 🙂
The South American Food is great, especially the steaks. So we didn’t have any issues really but of course you still miss the food you are used to. When we walked into our first supermarket in Cape Town, oh joy! Finally a lot of the stuff we missed again, first and foremost Marmite for me.
Living out of a backpack is not a problem at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to unpack it when we stay in a place for a few days longer but overall no problem. My bag pack is 16 Kg, Jennifer’s 17 Kg and the kids have 2×9 Kg – that’s it. And we still have some stuff we want to leave in Germany a bit later. Surprising with how little stuff you can get by without feeling you miss anything. One thing we forgot was a can opener and otherwise we had to buy a few replacements so far, e.g. a t-shirt and a pair of sandals. One really good thing to have is a water filter, glad we took that one.
Talking of buying stuff, sunscreen is very expensive in most places, like really expensive! We learned that the hard way and now stock up in larger cities where prices are normal.
I promised a post about craft beer, so here we go – this is the kick off at least. Let’s start with the basics, I love a good IPA! To the point that I am a bit of a beer snob and now rather not drink a beer in a pub/restaurant if they don’t have an IPA. I blame some of my old neighbours for that. They are home brewers and introduced me to different brews a few years back and we sampled the odd beer at our Thirsty Thursties. Still don’t like a stout though. Anyway, until that point I was perfectly happy with a lager.
So can you find a good IPA in South America? Yes, but it is bloody hard! To make life easier for our fellow IPA lovers travelling South America, I sampled a lot of beer (and Jennifer helped), here are the top 5: Madriguera Brewing Co – Suricata Rampante (Cartagena), Bold Brewing – Big Break (Sao Paulo), Cerverceria Barbarian – 174 IPA (Cusco), Cerveza 7 Vidas – Juicy IPA (Arequipa), Indica Beer – Oslo NEIPA (Montevideo),
If you are in dire need of an IPA, go for the Rabieta American IPA – it is a decent IPA and you can find it quite easily throughout South America.
You will have seen that we took a lot of pictures of birds. My dad introduced me (and the rest of the family) to this hobby from an early age on. What an awesome passion he passed on to us, a great gift really. My mum said at one point that dad opened her eyes by watching birds and that beforehand she was walking the world blind. Watching, finding, trying to take pictures and trying to identify birds is such a rewarding hobby and you can do it anywhere. And you visit places you probably would have otherwise overlooked.
I quickly learned that back home in NZ “bird watching” has quite a different meaning, so to clarify – when I talk about birds here I refer to the flying kind of birds… And have we seen some amazing and beautiful birds. Hummingbirds, Condor, Blue Footed Booby, Frigate bird, Skimmer, Indian Tern, Flamingoes, Toucan, Kingfisher, …
The kids absolutely love it as well and it is great to see how they take up this hobby!
Throughout our time in South America we had no issues at all around safety. Touch wood it stays that way for the rest of our trip. You hear/read a lot about issues other travellers had and we were cautious. Good thing about travelling with kids is that you are very unlikely to be out at night when the risk of muggings etc. is highest. Bogota and São Paulo were the places we have been most alert and you have a constant niggle in the back of your mind, and you are quite limited on what you can do. Won’t forget our walk in Bogota with our personal police protection. I think with being cautious and using common sense you can avoid most issues but there is still the risk of course being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Andes is one impressive mountain range! We spend a good chunk of time in and around the Andes and seeing them, the snow capped mountains and volcanoes is awesome. I won’t forget our experience with altitude sickness in Cusco though, something to be aware of. We also particularly liked the tradition and history you can see at any corner in the Peruvian part of the Andes. All locals dressed in colourful, traditional clothing and carrying stuff in their large bags around the shoulders was very nice. And as everybody was doing it, it didn’t feel like it was just show for the tourists. They also had the various figures on their roofs (steer, cross, beer, …) which was a symbol on what kind of people occupy the house, very interesting.
As mentioned above, a lot of time is spend researching and then booking of the next part of the journey. I can’t remember how we managed to book travel like this a few years back but we are using a few key apps like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Expedia and the likes to book our stays and flights. Usually be book about a week in advance to give us enough flexibility and so far it works great. Touch wood, we didn’t have any issues with flight cancellation or delays or some really horrible accommodation. I think I mentioned it in another post, the only issue we sometimes have travelling as a family of 5 is with Ubers/Taxis as they are officially only allowed to take 4 people. 99% of the time they don’t care but in some places it caused a bit of a hassle.
One thing working really well for us at the start and then steadily declined was our sport routine. Not that easy to keep this up when you travel. Not a big issue when you are away for 2-3 weeks, after all you are on holidays, but being away for a year – this is not an option. At the start it worked great, we had a few very nice places with gyms or did some exercise in the evening but for some part of our trip we didn’t do anything for weeks – not good. Especially in combination with the bit about craft beer above…
But we are getting the hang of it now again. Getting our 12000 steps a day is never really a problem, quite the opposite. Our Machu Picchu day broke all records on my iWatch at least. Now we are putting in regular exercise sessions in the evening, hope we keep it up.
One lesson we learned is that despite all the prep you do, there will be stuff going wrong. For us the biggest one so far was that we didn’t know and missed during our research that you need original birth certificates for your own kids for some African countries. Luckily for us, we got told by a tour operator for Namibia and our first stop was South Africa which changed the rules in November 2019 as otherwise we could have been in trouble. For Namibia, our next stop, you definitely need them and we likely would have not been allowed into the country without them. We have digital copies on DropBox but that would have not been enough. With the help of friends (and friend of friends, thanks Jim, Hazel and Shane!), we ordered new ones in NZ and got them express couriered to South Africa so that we are now all go for Namibia.
I guess I have to talk about Corona as well, and not the beer this time. I am keeping a close eye on developments and to be fair, I am sure it will impact our travel plans at one point sooner or later. Fortunately we have been travelling through countries which are not affected (so far) and if you take out the screening procedures at airports and hordes of fellow travellers with face masks, it seems business as usual so far. The big question for us is, what next? The plan is heading to Europe after Africa but if things get worse, what are our other options? Nothing we can do at the moment but I am not booking any flights to Europe at this point. Namibia seems to be a great place to be though, lots of space and not a lot of people.
Don’t want to end this post on a sour note though, and to wrap up the wrap up – the main reason we did this somehow crazy step of taking a gap year was to spend more time as a family. And boy, this is worth it and the memories we create are absolutely priceless!