We are now one quarter of the way through our 300 day adventure. We have seen and done many amazing things; criss-crossed 3 countries, dipped our toes into two oceans, spotted dozens of exotic creatures, eaten many delicious meals, and sampled several tasty local beverages. We’ve driven 9200km and burnt 1550L of premium unleaded. We’re having the time of our lives but, as it is with most good adventures, it has not been smooth sailing all the time. Here are some of our thoughts on the first quarter of our trip.
The first week and a half we were living out of our duffle bag waiting on our vehicle to arrive from Canada. We knew we’d have some late flights and long taxi rides. We knew we’d have some missed meals and cranky kids. We certainly checked those boxes. In that short period of time we also got to experience getting lost in a taxi, being turned away from a hotel at midnight, and our daughter vomiting all over a guest house.
Long term travel with children is an art form. There are no instruction manuals on how to do it because every child is different and every trip has its own specific circumstances. So far, we have very mixed reviews on the suitability of this type of travel for OUR kids. We have endured countless epic tantrums. Sometimes three or more a day, from each child! During these episodes we can’t even recognize the screaming little monster. The sweet, polite, funny little minions we adored back home can often become completely overshadowed by these rude, selfish, mean little trolls. We love our children, and we always will. But, on this trip, there have been days that we don’t like them.
We are a camping family, who loves to regularly embark on multi-week road trips around Canada and the USA. Camping is something we enjoy, and we are good at it. We know how to cook a good meal on an open fire or gas stove and we can happily tolerate multiple days in close quarters without showers. So why are the kids having such a hard time with THIS trip? Is it because we are in foreign countries where they hear and see very little english? Is it because they are getting very little interaction with other children their age? Is it because they are worried or intimidated by the extended duration of the trip? We’ve had discussions with them about it but we’re honestly not sure. Perhaps it’s the special combination of all of the above, and more.
The good news is that it has been slowly getting better, day by day. With the help and advice of our friends and family we have developed some successful strategies and made some important strides. First, we identify the bad behaviour to the child and then ignore the ensuing tantrum completely whenever possible. Removing their audience often quenches the fight before it gets out of hand. Second, if the tantrum becomes violent (hitting and kicking), we have found that pulling out a camera phone and pretending to record the behaviour shuts it down immediately. Third, when the tantrum ends, we don’t hold a grudge. We make up and have hugs. We remind the child that they are loved and a valued member of the family. We have always preferred positive reinforcement over threats and punishments.
Our kids are picky. Take them out of their element and they become nearly impossible. We can’t even drink the local Apple juice because “it tastes like a different kind of apples”. It was a catastrophe when we discovered that the only peanut butter available in Chile is the crunchy kind. They will happily eat pasta with tomato sauce every meal of every day until they get scurvy. So far, they have ventured far enough out of their comfort zone to eat empanadas (because we told them it was a folded pizza) and churros (because we told them it was a straightened doughnut).
Make no mistake, there is some really good food to be found in South America. Especially if you are of the carnivorous ilk. However, we’ve had no shortage of good, home-cooked comfort-food. Over the past weeks we have been building a well-stocked pantry of ingredients and spices that have allowed MJ to whip up some amazing meals and treats. Curry cream chicken, fajitas, fish tacos, ribs, hearty chili and pasta sauces, blueberry-lemon scones, banana pancakes, chocolate brownie, home-made pizza dough, the list goes on.
Additionally, the abundance of South American junk food has provided a limitless supply of new and delicious snacks and deserts. In South America, you are never more than 100m from the nearest bakery or ice cream shop. We are spoiled, really.
We loath going into grocery stores. It’s as though the kids turn off their brains when they enter the building. We threaten deportation at least once per aisle. Seriously. The bright-side is that we spend less money on cookies because they are the first thing that gets returned to the shelf when the behaviour deteriorates.
We thought a little home schooling would be a piece of cake. We’re only teaching grade 2, right? We have an in-house professional teacher and an engineer and very little distractions. Averie has been a delight. She’s excelling. Liam is… a different story. The kind of story involving tears, tantrums, and threats. At first every school day was a battle, now it’s only every third day. It starts with frustrated whining and builds to pencil-throwing screaming matches. Our teacher quit. The Engineer is now the substitute, and he has frayed nerves and facial twitch. We are slowly learning new strategies to get Liam motivated and keep him engaged. Rewards have not worked. Punishments have not worked. Calm rational conversations or hysterical arm waving have not worked.
Thankfully, we can trick the kids into learning more often than they realize. The endless supply of national parks, museums, and wildlife have provided more education than any workbook or classroom could.
Chile and Argentina are modern, developed nations and the people are helpful and kind. Put them behind the wheel of a vehicle and they become impatient ‘a-holes’. Perhaps they use their signal lights for communicating in morse code, because we can not decipher a consistent manner for their operation. Lanes markings and speed limits are only suggestions. The main highways are deteriorated and pot-hole ridden, despite the collection of tolls. Some highways may alternate between paved and unpaved at seemingly random intervals. But, it’s all part of the adventure.
That said, when you cross the border into Uruguay all trends are reversed. The roads are maintained, the drivers are patient, and you can find your way around a city without fear of being caught in an endless roundabout loop.
Chile and Argentina appear to have a dog problem. Packs of stray dogs roam every corner of these countries from the inner cites to the remote national parks. Their feces litter the ground. Their barking and fighting are the soundtrack of the Andean night. We have had to change sides of the street to avoid the larger packs or aggressive alphas. The strangest part to us is that they do not mostly appear to be “mutts” that have been living and breeding on the streets for generations. These are recognizable breeds of all kinds, same as you’d find in any North American dog park. The exception being they are caked in matted hair and often limping or wounded. They’re always looking sad, hungry and lonely. It’s also not uncommon to see some wearing collars. Are these pets that have been cast out after their novelty wore off? I asked a local; “Why don’t they collect the dogs?” “Yes, they do,” she replied. “They are sterilized and then released again.” Interesting solution; to use their resources to capture the animals and preform surgery on them, only to release them back into the city to starve and fight for survival.
Our chosen mode of travel, Overlanding, suits us. We like to have our own space, even if it can be little cramped. We like to be independent. We never intended to be beholden to bus schedules or hotel check-in times. We love being able to watch the flora and fauna evolve as we slowly creep across the continent. However, Overlanding is not to be confused with camping. Not in the North American sense. We spend most nights in “campgrounds”, but they are not usually in quiet forests with private, segregated sites. We have never had a campfire, or roasted a single marshmallow. South American campgrounds are usually a fenced field with multiple picnic tables, elevated brick BBQ pits, and a shared bathroom structure. They are often in the middle of town, which means noisy, especially on weekends. Sometimes they are operated by the municipality, other times they are literally somebody’s back yard. Sometimes they are seriously expensive ($50) and sometimes they are free. Overlanding also means that we have spent many nights parked at tourist information centres, city parks, and truck stops. Not to mention beaches, docks, and road-side pull outs.
This independence provides freedom, but we’ve learnt it can also breed loneliness. We had envisioned meeting other like-minded Overlanders (families even!) congregated at the national parks, sharing tales of travel over a bonfire and a beer. This has not been the case so far. We’ve only once connected with other Overlanders for even a short portion of the trip. We stumbled across the Wayfairing5, a lovely Australian/Canadian family, in Torres del Paine, who were on the brink of completing the same adventure as us, but in the opposite direction, from Edmonton to South America. We had the privilege of joining them for the final leg of their journey to the southern tip of Patagonia, before they sold their vehicle and flew back to Alberta for Christmas. Liam and Averie became insta-friends with their 3 boys and they all enjoyed a few precious nights of Lego building, board games, and movies before we parted ways.
(Note: the dog in this picture belongs to none of us)
We thought this type of interaction would be more common place, but sadly, it has been very rare so far. We have seldom encountered other Overlanders at the campgrounds, and when we do they are almost always an older Swiss/German/French couple who only open the door of their Unimog to toss out a cigarette butt. We have faith that eventually we will connect with some more good people and perhaps finally get to share those tales of travel over a bonfire and a beer.