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Archive for the ‘Conclusion’ Category

Long White Envelope

Got an LWE today with a letter to inform me that my Peruvian salt pan photograph has been shortlisted in the Wanderlust Photo of the Year competition and thus will be exhibited at Destinations Holiday & Travel Show at Earls Court this February. Only problem is that the awards ceremony is at 4pm on a Friday and I teach until 4pm on Fridays…

I’m more excited because this is a rare tangible outcome of our trip; otherwise daily life tends to go on much as it did before with little direct evidence that we ever went away for a year. I’m not likely to win a camera or a trip to Australia (we used a little point-and-shoot while just about everyone else there will have fancy DSLRs) but at least there’ll be a portion of wall-space devoted to one of our pictures, one choice public morsel plucked from our family round-the-world feast.

Meanwhile, Ellen hasn’t claimed the top spot in the National Geographic Kids’ competition (the winners are printed in the latest issue), but as I tell her, she’s made the top five while I’m only in the top ten. And the winner of Ellen’s competition was over twice as old as she was when she took her photo; there’s plenty of time…

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Family Portraits

Just a quick entry to show off our latest book, a collection of family photos selected by Kirsten. (I’m still planning to do a more detailed blog + photo + souvenir book for each country we visited, but that’ll be a long-term project…)

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Happy New Year 2011!

Long time no write… But perhaps it’s time for an update now we’ve been home for a good seven months. (Is it really that long already? Time does pass more rapidly when you’re not on the move. Relativity, innit?)

Well, we’re certainly doing that thing of ‘one year ago today we were…’ – and we have astonishingly clear recollections of each and every day of our trip, going beyond what is mentioned in the blog. A real sense of being there, inside the picture rather than just looking at it. That hasn’t happened for any other extended period of my life that I can think of.

On the downside, we’ve lost our immunity while away and so we’ve been going down with every cold virus around, often getting two or three bugs back to back. There again, we’ve been spending far more time indoors (given the freezing weather) than during our travels, and three of us can pick up things from being at school all day.

Two photographic successes from our 15,000 images: Ellen’s picture of the landscape seen from the train to Machu Picchu got her shortlisted as one of the best five out of over a thousand entrants in a National Geographic Kids competition, and my serendipitous snap of a man carrying salt through the sepia-toned pans at Maras got me into the best fifteen for the Wanderlust photo contest. Don’t know yet if it’ll make the exhibition at the Destinations Show in London this February.

Ellen’s Peruvian landscape.

Salt pans at Maras, Peru.
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Otherwise, how has our life changed? A lot more walking to and from school, rather than driving (while weather and health permit). No great desire to surround ourselves with clutter – most of our pre-trip possessions remain in the loft, and need sorting/clearing out at some point. And there are so many occasions when items of news from around the world take on an extra resonance; we weren’t that far from the Chilean or the New Zealand miners, for instance. We are also still ‘travelled out’, though, with no burning desire to get away yet (despite the continuing freezing weather), although we miss the long hours of sunshine we had last winter.

‘How do we follow that?’ is still a big question, and one that remains tantalisingly unanswered, for now…

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Square eyes

So what have I been up to since we got back to the UK? Spending even more time in front of a screen than usual, sadly.

I’m back to work, constructing next year’s school timetable – which involves sitting at a computer all day. Then I come home to sort through the 15,000 photographs we took during our trip, selecting the best ones and assembling them into a photobook – i.e. even more sitting at a computer. And when I need a break from it all there’s the World Cup and Wimbledon – on television.

Anyway, earlier today I completed a nice 160-page coffee-table book of our choicest images, and by the wonders of the internet you can have a sneak preview below – you can even purchase a copy if you’re feeling flush.

I use Faststone Image Viewer for browsing, editing and sorting our photos, and BookSmart from blurb for assembling and self-publishing the book. I uploaded the files this morning and in a few weeks I should receive three hardback copies…

The next project is to convert this entire blog (text and all) into a book; early indications are that it will fill two 400-page volumes.

P.S. I’ve been using the Optimum font (as featured in the above book) in print for a good ten years now – it has a certain classical elegance – and I used to see it nowhere else but in Marks & Spencer adverts. But I come back from our trip to find that it’s everywhere nowadays. Tins of Quality Street, Chambers Dictionary, National Trust booklets, even the Wimbledon electronic scoreboard. Suppose I’ll have to find a new font now…

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Terminal one

This is the terminal one; the last blog entry of our trip. We’ll probably do a few dribs and drabs about readjusting to everyday life back at home, but here ends the daily grind of the daily diary.

You set out intending to give an account of your travels and you end up giving an account of yourself. Ten different people could take exactly the same route, have exactly the same experiences, and yet they would still tell ten different versions of that reality. I think it was Borges who wrote of a man who sets out to draw a detailed map of the entire world, only to realise on his deathbed that he has traced the lines of his own face.

But it is also true that if we were to retrace our steps exactly, starting this August, we would be recording such a different trip. You’re at the mercy of circumstance, the weather, the people who cross your path. The Blue Mountains might be gloriously sunny, we’d miss the Flying Wallendas, we wouldn’t be in Bali for the big festivals. We might succeed in riding elephants or catching some fish, we could lose more than just an empty bag from our room.

‘I am not worthy, not qualified’ has been a recurrent regret. My ignorance shames me, and so many privileged moments must have been wasted on me. I am not enough of a naturalist to appreciate all I have seen in jungles and rainforests; I am not enough of a motor racing fan to be drawn to Adelaide’s V8 and Kuala Lumpur’s Grand Prix; I am no diver and yet we have stayed in some enviable locations. How much more would others have made of our itinerary?

Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had an amazing time and we have no regrets whatsoever. It’s surely the richest year (in so many respects, bar the financial) we’ll ever have.

Things I didn’t expect? That, like it or not, you’ll return with a sound track to your trip; that certain songs will henceforth evoke particular places and episodes from your travels. [Taylor Swift – You belong to me; Kid Rock – All summer long; The Black Eyed Peas – I gotta feeling; Iyaz – Replay; Rihanna – Rude boy.]

That I like the wilderness; my favourite spots have been in the middle of nowhere. The beauty, solitude and challenge of the Inca Trail made a powerful impression on me. Easter Island was a very special place to visit and I have vivid recollections of the landscape which easily outweigh the monetary miseries of the time. The Bolivian salt flats, the Red Centre of Australia; both exude a mesmerising ‘otherness’. By contrast, cities the world over are all alike, superficialities aside.

That I’m uncomfortable in upmarket hotels; all the mercenary subservience is unsettling, and tipping is such a headache. First you have to gauge what might be a suitable amount taking into account the current exchange rate and the local cost of living, then you have to arrange to have the right sized notes in your wallet (impossible when you’ve come straight from the airport ATM). And then, just when you think you’ve got it all sussed, three porters whisk your bags away and you can’t provide for all of them. I’d rather just carry my own luggage…

That children are astonishingly resilient and can cope as well as (or even better than) adults in most situations. The girls have the stronger stomachs when it’s a rough sea; if they find a trek tough going then my feet are probably in agony too; they can return from a full day’s exploring and still have energy to play while the adults crash out. Hannah and Ellen have maintained a daily diary since November, while Kirsten and I have shared the blogging load between us. Boring flights, late nights, mosquito bites, scary heights – the girls have taken all the inconveniences, annoyances and challenges that travelling has thrown at us and made light of them.

It’s a sobering thought that this year will probably be the only period in our lives that the four of us are together all day, every day, month after month, with no school or job to come between us. And it’s worked out so well; we’ve had such a happy and (mostly) relaxed time, we haven’t driven each other up the wall, the girls rub along more easily with each other and with us than ever before. I am grateful to have had Kirsten alongside me to share the highs and lows of this adventure; I couldn’t have done this without her (quite literally).

One of our pre-trip puzzlers was whether we would return home fitter or fatter: the answer is fitter (and the adults have lost weight, too), thanks to the active nature of our travels – we’re always off for a swim or popping out on foot to get something or dragging rucksacks from one hotel to the next. Health-wise we’ve been no worse off than we might be at home: okay, maybe not Ellen’s jellyfish sting, but we’ve had fewer colds and not too many tummy upsets, and nothing requiring a visit to a doctor or a hospital.

As for the $64,000 question, the answer is probably not that far away from $64,000, or a bit more than £40,000. (You know, how much did this whole exercise cost, including flights, kit, insurance and everything?) Yes, it’s a lot of money – the fruits of years of frugal living and careful saving – but as I wrote before we left, some people spend this much on a new car or a new kitchen. And for us, a round-the-world trip is the better investment.

I haven’t had time to do the detailed sums yet, but I do know that accommodation has made by far the largest hole in the wallet. We could have economised here, but you have certain minimum standards if you’re travelling with children (for reasons of security, cleanliness and comfort).

What now? Where do we go from here? A round-the-world trip certainly leaves you with the awareness that your life does not have to run the conventional and expected course, and that an alternative mode of existence need not necessarily be dangerous or ill-advised, even with children in tow.

There is also the empowering realisation that ‘if we can do this, then we can easily do X, Y and Z’. But specifying those unknowns is the big one. As I’ve written before, watch this space…

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Homeward bound

Our flight left Singapore a little later than scheduled at 11.30pm, and the girls did well to stay up that late without getting silly or grumpy. We were seated in the next to last row (they don’t even have overhead lockers that far back) and although this is supposed to be a particularly safe place to sit, there was so much fishtailing during the flight – the rear end of the 747 oscillating from side to side.

We had our late supper of chicken or pork and then we settled down to watch a film or a TV compilation. Hannah kept going until three in the morning with a selection of Disney Channel programmes and Ellen opted for a Barbie film before crashing out somewhat earlier.

I chose David Cameron’s Avatar, with all those heroic True Blue warriors, the To’ri… [some mistake, surely?] Then I too snatched a few hours of fitful rest, roused from my sleep in some deep pocket of the night by two French passengers conversing loudly in the aisle to my left. I caught them saying something to the effect that “we’ve woken that gentleman; we’re making too much noise” before I foggily grumbled “Y a des enfants qui dorment”.

Breakfast was served at 4am, or was it 11am? The dawn-tinged sky tells one story, your body clock and stomach another. Neither Ellen nor Hannah had much of an appetite, but we did our best with a pastry, a roll, a lilliputian fruit salad and a bowl of cereal. Incidentally, what a waste to provide a 200ml milk bottle per passenger when the cereal requires perhaps one third of that quantity. That’s roughly 100kg of milk on board, most of which is discarded (and surely they don’t even reuse the unopened but now warmed bottles).

We landed at Heathrow pretty well on time at 5.30am. Being at the back of the aircraft we were among the last off – they didn’t use the rear exit – but then we breezed through customs once we had our bags. Sure enough, there was Grandad waiting to meet us; we pushed the trolley to the carpark, loaded the boot and headed home down the M4.

Hannah wasn’t feeling too great (the lack of sleep, fishtailing, etc.) so we stopped for a break at a service station before completing the journey back to Marlborough. Immediate impressions of England? The green countryside, but not that tropical ricefield green; a more pastel, chalky colour than we were used to. Also the fresh, scented air keeping us comfortably cool (on what was supposed to be the hottest day of the year here); there’s a lot to be said for a temperate climate.

My parents welcomed us back with hugs, a banner over the front door and another RTW cake, this time with a smaller Planet Earth in the centre to reflect our travels shrinking the world for us, and the day continued with many more of those delicious treats we had been dreaming about for months.
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We walked down into town to get some fresh air and to get a few essential items of clothing for the girls; we had forgotten that our shops have such variety and quality of stock.

Back in the house there was a stack of ten months’ redirected mail waiting to be sorted. Magazines, catalogues, bank statements, Christmas cards from friends who forgot that we were away, replacement credit cards. Also the excitement of opening the parcels we had sent home from the USA, from New Zealand, from Australia – blasts from the past such as the girls’ horseshoes from the Vermont stables, Hannah’s first diary, our cushion covers from Lake Titicaca, as well as all our souvenir tickets and leaflets.

The girls eagerly settled into their newly-decorated and furnished bedroom, Hannah lost no time in getting her violin out and playing it (just as she had promised she would do) and Ellen found a stack of books to speed-read her way through. They also loved running around in the garden; it has been too hot to play outside for the last three months of our trip.
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After supper we didn’t have the stamina to stay up much longer; we got the girls to bed and we followed soon after (I was falling asleep on the sofa). At last, the longed-for luxury of a good night’s sleep!

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Kit review

Now we have completed our trip, we are in a position to give our verdict on the items we lugged around the globe. What was vital, what was used only once or twice, what was a complete waste of space.

Couldn’t do without:

  • Osprey Waypoint 60 and Deuter Junior 16 backpacks – they’re tough and they’ve survived 20 flights and numerous bus journeys with scarcely a mark.
  • Jagbag Mummy sheet sleeping bags – not just for camping, but for linenless cabins in Australia.
  • Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes – these are just so brilliant! They kept everything organised in our rucksacks; not just clothes but first aid stuff, all the small bits and bobs, chargers and cables.
  • Digital cameras – we took over 15,000 photos and backed up regularly onto memory sticks and portable hard drives (two backups minimum, just in case). The girls enjoyed having their own cameras and certainly came up with some novel shots and video clips…
  • Video camera – mostly used for filming animals, cultural performances, the girls. The high optical zoom also let us take better close-ups than the other cameras would allow.
  • Netbook (eee pc) – our lifeline for blogging, researching, emailing, booking ahead, checking weather, Skyping, online banking, backing up photos and so much more. However, the small C Drive filled up a few times (causing the machine to grind to a halt) and it was a hassle clearing space on it.
  • Zen mp3 video and music players – saved the girls from so many boring car or plane journeys, although their reliance on the Zens probably dwindled as the trip progressed.
  • TomTom SatNav – saved us so much bother when driving in the USA, New Zealand and Australia (over half our time away). A lot cheaper to bring your own than to rent with the vehicle.
  • SDHC compatible devices (all of the above) – memory cards are resilient and don’t fail at high altitudes. We backed up regularly to hard drives and to Flickr just in case, though.
  • Mains outlet adaptors – we took two varieties; the European round pin type and the adjustable US/Australian flat pin type (parallel or slanting). Do your research before you leave; there are other standards in use around the world.
  • Online backups/copies – we had our immunisation records and counterpart driving licences stolen, but I had scanned copies stored online.
  • Head torches – vital for night walks (jungle, Machu Picchu), as a bedside torch or simply to allow the adults to read after lights-out when sharing a room with the girls. Our original Ebay ones soon disintegrated and we replaced them in Cusco.
  • Dry bags – for storing wet clothes, keeping the rain off electronics, going kayaking, keeping clothes dry in the humid jungle.
  • Stuff sacks – for dirty laundry, grouping head torches, storing mosquito head-nets.
  • Penknife – opening cans of food, removing bottle-tops.
  • Travel sewing kit – there are bound to be buttons that come loose, etc.
  • Ziplock (resealable) bags – we had to buy more, they were so useful for storing coffee, sweets, teabags, small souvenirs and so on.
  • Diamox tablets (for altitude sickness) – as it turns out we didn’t need them, but we saw other people who were badly affected by the altitude and we were glad to have the tablets with us.
  • Malarone tablets (antimalarial) – although we didn’t venture into any areas with recent reported cases of malaria, we took them for safety during our longhouse stay in Borneo. We had no side effects (they’re not nearly as bad as with Lariam, anyway). No point taking chances, especially with children.
  • Plasters, Ibuprofen, thermometer, Imodium – we had far more in our first aid kit, but these items had the most use.
  • DEET mosquito repellent, Soov gel for bites – we ran into mozzies in many parts of the world.
  • Spare glasses – I nearly lost mine at a water park; my main pair has go so scuffed and scratched that I shall switch to the spare pair immediately on my return.
  • Multiple credit/debit cards – we took seven cards between us and there were a few times when only one of these would work. The ATM on Easter Island requires Mastercard (no Visa), we had big problems in Australia with rejected cards, and online banks (Smile especially) were not always helpful in resolving the situation. The FairFX pre-loaded Mastercard was our most reliable option; it is the only card never to let us down during the trip, although we used it less frequently after South America because of the double currency conversion – sterling to US dollars to local currency. (I think they now have an ‘anywhere’ card which might be a better option for the world traveller.)
  • Four changes of clothing – although some go with ‘1 to wear, 1 spare and 1 in the wash’, the fourth change of shirt/underwear gave us more breathing space, especially on side trips (such as the jungle) where the humidity precluded rapid drying.
  • Layered clothing – thermal vest, shirt, microfleece, heavy fleece jacket and breathable rain jacket. Thermal long johns, trousers, waterproof overtrousers. This combination saw us comfortably through the Andes and through our Tasmanian camping trip. We then jettisoned the thermals and the outer fleece once we reached the Red Centre and South East Asia (we didn’t need the microfleece, either).
  • UV tops – we bought these in New Zealand for the girls; essential, given the amount of time they spent swimming on sunny days.
  • Dual-compartment 2-litre clip-top box – for storing biscuits, coffee, etc. so that the ants don’t get in. We bought this in Australia out of necessity…
  • Pocket-sized notebook and biro – indispensable for keeping essential bits of information to hand (flight details, hotel addresses, notes for the day’s blog entry, shopping lists, bank balances, to-do lists, sketch maps)
  • Blu-tack, sticky tape, coloured pens – essential for the girls’ games and craft activities (e.g. setting out their own museum displays)
  • Scissors – likewise. Just don’t leave them in your hand luggage like we did…
  • Plastic film canisters – great for storing leftover/souvenir coins.
  • Nylon cord – for improvising a washing line. Much more adaptable than those twisted cords with suckers on either end; you can string up any length you like and it won’t fall down.
  • Universal sink plug – we didn’t often need it, but it came to the rescue enough times to justify its place.
  • Vegetable peeler and cheese grater – we bought these en route to help us prepare our own meals. Much self-catering accommodation is not fully equipped with such utensils.
  • Sporks – can’t start a fire without one… But seriously, these combined knife/fork/spoon gizmos are ever so handy for a quick and cheap cereal breakfast or noodle lunch or sandwich supper in your hotel room (in combination with a cheap plastic bowl or plate).
  • Sense of humour and sense of perspective

Optional:

  • Lifeventure microfibre travel towels. They’re certainly compact, but we preferred the luxury of big fluffy towels from Australia onwards (we carried them in the coolbag we bought in New Zealand). But if you’re pushed for space, they’re worth having.
  • Palm TX PDA + keyboard – a second device for blogging, handy if you wish to travel light (Inca Trail and jungle trip). But you could use a notebook and pen instead.
  • Gorillapod camera tripod – it got stolen in Bolivia, but we had never used it up to that point. Might be useful for the serious photographer to avoid camera shake.
  • Earplugs – some people find them worthwhile, but we didn’t get on with them at all (although we were greatly in need of them at times).
  • Emergency whistles – though we never got ourselves into situations where they might be necessary.

Don’t bother:

  • Aquapure Traveller water purification bottles – a great idea in principle, but we never used them. Bottled water is available just about everywhere you go.
  • Platypus 1 litre water bottles – ditto, never used them. Once we had our Peruvian bottle holders it was simpler to carry 500ml water bottles instead.
  • Solar charger – it wasn’t very effective, and we were never away from an AC outlet for that long anyway.
  • Plastic gadget for securing doors – never used it, it never seemed to fit the weird assortment of doors you find in other countries, and most doors can be locked or wedged from the inside anyway.
  • Spare passport photos – never needed them. But it depends on your itinerary; visas for certain other countries might require them.
  • Travel Nation – although well reviewed as RTW ticket specialists, we were disappointed in our dealings with them. ‘Unhelpful’ and ‘patronising’ are some of the politer words that come to mind (see our blog entries).

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