What a Year!What a Year!

Wow what a year it has been! And what a task to wrap it up now, where to start?! Sitting here in our last day of isolation in The Pullman Hotel in Auckland, we at least made it back home in one piece before Christmas. So that part of the plan worked out. Being forced to spend 2 weeks in a hotel room, not so much planned but a small price to pay for a relatively normal life going forward. Having plenty of time in isolation, we even managed to find a place to live, Jennifer is back in her old job from January, and I am hopefully getting back into action soon as well.

Thinking right back at our last few weeks in New Zealand a year ago, one, if not the biggest of our worries was around Jumper, our cool Springer Spaniel. Obviously we couldn’t take him with us, so what to do? In the end we found a great new home for him with my mate Nigel and his family. Now after a year living close to the beach with his buddy Sadie, we are actually having him back and we all can’t wait to see him again!

So after 12 countries explored, countless kilometres travelled by plane, bus, car and countless more walked – let’s start with the big question: Would we do it again? Absolutely – no question. It has been the best year ever. And that despite being a pandemic year which threw a big spanner into our plans. The kids are at an awesome age for such a trip, not too small and not quite teens yet. Would I do things a bit different next time (maybe there is a next time?) – absolutely. We learned a lot, things which worked for us and things which didn’t work, and we had to adapt. But that’s cool and we had no major issue or disaster to deal with. Reading the blog it might seem that it was always smile and sunshine, but of course we had some tough times on our way. But we grew as a family and got through it, that’s all that matters.

We got a lot of comments from friends and family saying how sorry they are for our plans blown to pieces due to Covid, but to be honest, we don’t feel that it impacted us negatively. We had two main goals for this year. 1. Take a year off work and spend time as a family. Big tick for that one. 2. Travel and explore the world. Tick for that one. We certainly had to adjust our plans and scrap our Asia leg off the trip. But as far as planning was concerned, we only planned for South America and a bit for Africa, to then head to Europe and regroup and see what’s next.

That leads to one of the big lessons learned and what I would do differently next time. Our pace was too fast to keep it up for 1 year! I think we would have blown out after 6 months if we would have kept that pace up. For South America and all the things we wanted to see, it was ok but not for Africa, Europe and Asia straight afterwards. Just doesn’t work. If I would do it again, either it would “only” be a 6 month trip, or a one year trip with a much slower pace. You really have to pick what you want to see and experience as you can’t do it all.

So instead we spent much more time in Germany with family. For one we got to know Germany much better and explored parts we haven’t been to before, and we had plenty of time with both Jennifer’s and my family. Usually being on the other side of the world, I in particular feel good about helping out mum (Muttern) with a few things. And she and the kids had the opportunity to spend much more time together than anticipated. So overall not a bad thing at all.

But no regrets due to Corona at all? Certainly not. We have a couple of regrets, Regret #1: We couldn’t finish our safari in Africa and overall didn’t have the chance to really explore Africa more. Absolutely loved South Africa and Cape Town! But our safari in Namibia is definitely unfinished business and we are looking forward to return at some time.
Regret #2: We couldn’t visit a lot of friends we had planned to visit. That’s the bigger one really. We wanted to visit friends in Wales, London, Switzerland, Germany, etc. and due to Covid19, that was just not possible or very limited at least. I guess they have to come to New Zealand now!

But that’s it with the negative Covid impacts. The big bucket list item was to travel through South America and boy, that was a cool time. Luckily we could complete that just before the pandemic hit. Looking at the bright side, even the stop to our safari in Namibia was potentially not such a bad thing. This year was one of the few years with a lot of rain across the country, meaning that it would have been much harder to travel but also to spot the animals we came to see. Instead of congregating at a few water holes, they would have been all over the place. And then there is the much increased risk of Malaria… Last but not least, we found out the hard way on our last night in the 4WD Camper that it was not watertight. That could have been a fun (not!) time. So who knows, maybe a good thing to get on that repatriation flight back to Germany after all.

We had quite a bit of luck during that difficult time as well. For one that we got on a repatriation flight and not got completely stuck somewhere for months like so many other travellers. And then we had a small but nice little apartment ready for us and to make our home for the next 8 months. Again, could have been much worse. The summer in Germany was great and we had such a great time at the Baltic Sea this year. Hard to beat this place if the weather is right!

What are the other lessons learned for us? One big one for me is that people everywhere are just friendly and helpful. It is easy to fear the unknown, different languages, cultures etc. but I can tell you, don’t be – there is no reason. We met so many nice people, only too happy to help out. Maybe it was because we travelled as a family, not sure, but once you ask, we always got help. And sometimes we didn’t even have to ask. So if you see a lost tourist somewhere, just head over and see if you can help. You might be surprised of their story and easily can make their day. I will do that for sure.

On the other hand, we also used common sense. Some parts of South America and Africa, you just don’t go to at all or during night time. Of course we tried to minimise the risk of anything bad happening and just didn’t do a few things we deemed too risky.

A lot of people told us that without speaking Spanish, South America would be difficult. No question, if you speak Spanish, you have a huge advantage and will experience it even more and deeper. But it somehow works without or with very little Spanish as well. And modern technology helps as well, Google Translator is a bliss (if you have a connection). Otherwise start using your hand and feet and you will be fine.

Another lesson learned. You don’t need a lot of stuff to travel! Especially if you follow summer as it was our plan. We started our travel with four bag packs and a little carry on, and even that was plenty. Packed a few things too many in some cases and forgot a few essentials which without them we wouldn’t travel again. But once you are in one place and stop travelling, you just start to accumulate stuff, especially if the weather gets colder. After 8 months in Germany, we had to get an extra suitcase to not leave our stuff behind, crazy!

Next lesson learned, and an important one. You can get a bloody good beer almost everywhere in the world. Don’t know (and don’t want to know), how many new beers I tried over the last year but dry November was certainly not a bad thing for the body. Ready to get into a few nice Christmas brews once out of isolation!

Right, what else for my wrap up. My step average per day is so high, I don’t think I have a chance to keep it up in 2021. I read so many books this year, I also don’t think that I can keep that up for next year. Just great to have time for the things which otherwise somehow fall behind.

The nature in South America and also in Africa is just amazing. Seeing our first hummingbirds in Minca and then the sunbirds in Capetown was just incredible. And don’t get me started with the Galápagos Islands… That’s probably why we loved it in both places so much. But I have to say Europe has its draw cards also, especially the rich history. We have seen so many castles, churches and historic parts of towns, you kind of lose track. For the kids probably not quite as exciting as seeing a Condor soaring past, but they were impressed by Schloss Neuschwanstein, Venice and Rome in particular.

So how did the kids do? In short amazing! Of course we had doubts at the beginning how they would cope. I remember meeting an Israeli family on a vacation on Fiji a few years back. They were at the end of their gap year and the kids struggled quite a bit with homesickness from early on. Fortunately nothing of that with our kids, though they missed their friends and yes, even school. We couldn’t be any prouder of them after this year! They mastered all physical challenges like climbing up Wayna Picchu but also coped with being thrown out of their comfort zone in all sorts of ways very well. That doesn’t mean that we are all not happy to be back and to get some routine into our lives again (even if that means to work again) but they will be confident that they can deal with stuff being thrown at them. Looking at the pictures from a year ago, jeez they grew up and got older. Not Jennifer and I of course, only the kids.

Talking about school, at the beginning we were quite good in doing maths, writing and reading with them. During the summer in Germany that kind of stopped (except the reading) but at the end we picked it up again. Jennifer is doing maths with them every day, and overall I think they will be ok going back to school. Kids (and their parents) in New Zealand are very lucky not having to deal with all the Covid impacts anymore. Following the initial lockdown, things went back to normal pretty quickly. Not so much in Europe and other parts of the world. Over there, kids still have to deal with the fear, uncertainty and changing routines. Not easy for kids I am sure, and to some degree I am happy that our kids sat out this year and spent time with us instead.

That brings me to my final wrap up piece. As a family we made so many memories over the last year. We started looking through and sorting pictures, and jeez, we saw and experienced a lot! So many memories and nothing can take that away from us anymore, and I think it will be great to look back at this year going forward.

So that’s it from me. If you enjoyed reading some of our blog, fantastic. If you are thinking of maybe doing the same someday, let me give you one piece of advise. Fuck it, and get on with it! You will always find good reasons not to do it, may it be around the kids and school, job, money or whatever. For me, my biggest regret would have been to sit there in (quite) a few years in my rocking chair and to think: I wish I would have done it. This would be a very big regret for sure. So get out of your comfort zone, get out there and start dreaming.

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We were all very much looking forward to staying a week in Cartagena in one place without changing hotels, bus rides or flights. And Cartagena didn’t disappoint! Cartagena is widely