Well there you have it: on September 27, 2011 we left Ottawa via train to Toronto on the way to Munich. It is only fitting that we will be leaving San Jose today, heading to Ottawa via Toronto, for the final leg of our 283-day journey.
Before leaving, we took note of a few interesting facts and figures… Some of which have evolved over the course of this adventure. Let’s see how we made out:
40 000 KM OF TRAVEL
The total distance we traveled amounted to 42 324 km, which is the equivalent of circumventing the world 1.1 times. This distance only includes the distance between each of our stopping points, and excludes all of the visiting we did within a region.
570 LBS OF GROSS WEIGHT AT DEPARTURE (LUGGAGE = 190LBS, PERSONS = 380LBS)
660lbs of gross weight upon arrival in Ottawa. Luggage = 295lbs… not counting the many boxes of souvenirs we shipped home. Persons = 365 lbs… Not sure how the family weight came down, since we had yummy typical cuisines and few opportunities to exercise – and the girls both grew at least 2 inches!
277 DAYS ON THE ROAD
We actually spent 283 days on the road. This equates to roughly 2% of Manon’s or my time on Earth or 5% of the kids’ lives.
24 PAIRS OF CLEAN UNDERWEAR
Well, some are not so clean but in total, we are returning home with 21 pairs! Who knows where the missing pairs are? Maybe one pair in Rome, one in Cusco, or even on some Costa Rican beach!
Schooling was a challenge since there were many competing priorities and its not always obvious to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Often, we would say to the kids “ If I was your teacher, would you speak to me that way??” (the answer was always no).
Our main concern was to keep up with French and Math and a bit of English (their spoken English has improved a lot, especially after spending one month with the Australian volunteers in Cusco). For the rest of the subjects, I am sure they took in way more on the road. To wit: despite the fact that I started studying Spanish first, they have both picked up enough Spanish by osmosis to correct my mistakes and engage in simple conversations with the locals.
We completed roughly 95% of the required schoolwork and we will catch-up during the summer months.
We are returning with 14 schoolbooks… that’s mostly because we allowed the kids the pleasure of tearing up their math workbooks as they completed them (and sent some home)!
17 SCRIPTS OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
This is the best statistic of all since we have hardly needed any of our prescription drugs. Four times we needed antibiotics, but for very mundane reasons and these were easily purchased or given for free locally – and twice (during our last week!!), we used our own stock.
The only other prescription drug we needed was the altitude sickness pills that we used a few times as a precautionary measure, particularly when going from sea-level in the Galapagos straight to 3200m in Cusco.
But even better than that is the fact that during our entire voyage, no one vomited, nor suffered from Montezuma’s revenge (guess the local Gods like us!)! No illness due to water of food, no kissing the china bowl and no picking up messes... Yahoo!
We also used very little of the non-prescription drugs we brought along, but made up for this in our Kids’ Gravol consumption. This was certainly the most useful drug to navigate the winding roads of South America: twice, we had a shipment sent to us from Canada.
7 ELECTRONIC DEVICES (5 OF WHICH ARE APPLE)
We currently have in our luggage 6 electronic devices. Our handheld GPS, cell phone and 4 USB keys were stolen while we spent the night stranded in the Guayaquil airport (the luggage was on the plain so it appears the luggage handlers went shopping). We easily replaced the cell phone in Quito, and discovered the GPS in the iPad (with an active SIM card) was better than the GPS, so it all worked out…
However, on the topic of electronic devices – damn those cameras! We purchased 4 of them over the course of this trip: that’s 4 X $400.00, 3 of which were NOT included in our budget… not to mention the time (at least 7 days!) required running around to get the broken ones fixed and to purchase new ones.
The saga goes as follow:
Camera #1: Nikon, bought in Ottawa, lasted 2 months (we expect a refund from the Ottawa store). We mailed this one back to Ottawa from Ecuador, where it ultimately died.
Camera #2: identical to the first Nikon (we had spare batteries, etc. so thought it would be smart to buy the same model again), bought in Madrid, lasted 2 weeks. We needed to go through the Nikon warranty program in Spain to get it fixed, so we left it in Seville and it made its way home to Ottawa, via the friend of a friend who works at the Canadian Embassy in Madrid.
Camera # 3: a Sony Cybershot, bought in Quito on Sunday (it died on a Sunday morning, and we were leaving for Santa Ana on Monday morning. Sony store was the only place that sold decent cameras and that was open). Lasted 6 weeks and broke down in Peru. The Sony warranty is valid in 10 South-American countries – excluding Peru, but including Costa Rica. We therefore dropped it off in a friendly Sony repair center in San Jose, and believe it or not they validated the warranty via e-mail, ordered parts before we arrived in San Jose and fixed the camera in 24h. Now that's service.
Camera # 4: a Panasonic Lumix, purchased in Cusco, – in a camera store that sits within roughly 2 square kilometers of small huts that sell brand name goods… The camera to date works beautifully and takes great pictures.
All that being said, we were able to take over 14 000 beautiful photos and hours of video footage and the only location we have no good photos from is Madrid.
We will now have 4 cameras in Ottawa... and 3 for sale, any takers?
As fare as the Apple products go, we had 1 MacBook (and completely used up ALL its memory capacity), 1 IPad, 1 IPhone and 2 IPods… all of which, we have had absolutely no problems with. Two thumbs up for Apple! Wish they made cameras…
11 COUNTRIES (GERMANY, ITALY, CROATIA, FRANCE, SPAIN, MOROCCO, SWITZERLAND, ECUADOR, PERU, COSTA RICA, CANADA)
We actually saw 13 countries, because we added Gibraltar and Belgium along the way – and both were definitely worth the detour!
6 CAPITAL CITIES (ROME, PARIS, QUITO, LIMA, MADRID, SAN JOSE)
Yep, saw them all and added Zagreb and Brussels for a total of 8. In total we visited over 70 villages and cities... and countless historical sites.
4 (North America, South America, Europe and Africa), but 5 if you count Central America.
1 HAPPY FAMILY
Still one very happy family and despite all the ups and downs of the voyage, we are more united than ever. Something has to be said for spending 8.5 months together, without being separated for no more than +-12 hrs (that’s in total!).
Before leaving, we had also created our “bucket list” for the voyage. We are proud to say we accomplished mostly everything on this list, plus many more wonderful things we couldn’t even have dreamed off! There is much to be said for spontaneity when on a trip like this…
• Play at the Village Astérix
• Visit the Eiffel Tower
• Dive in the Galapagos and visit Lonesome George (the tortoise)
• See Julius Caesar’s Coliseum in Rome
• Trek in Peru’s Sacred Valley and visit Machu Picchu
• Go to Middle Earth – “la Mitad del Mundo” – on the line of the Equator
• Paddle on the Amazon and experience night time in the jungle
The River was the Tambopata but it was in the Amazon and we did sleep there for 4 nights
• Sleep in a tree house in the cloud forest (we certainly spend many weeks in the cloud forest but did not actually sleep in a tree house)
• Visit Christopher Columbus’s tomb in Seville’s cathedral
• Travel on the world’s most difficult train in Equator – the “Nariz del Diablo”, from Riobamba to Sibambe
• Give back to the poorest in Equator and Peru
• Do absolutely nothing for 10 days, preferably by a beach (we actually got to do this for almost two months, if you count Galapagos and Costa Rica)
• See a professional soccer game, say games in Alicante (Spain), Cusco (Peru) and a Fifa world qualifier in San Jose (Costa Rica). El Salvador vs Costa Rica
• Guided tour of the Vatican (we saw the Vatican but did not have a guided tour, and sadly, missed the Sistine Chapel by a few minutes… there’s a reason to return!)
• Visit the Pompidou Modern Art Museum
• Visit the Al-Hambra in Granada
• Drink Arab Tea in the Calle de las teterias in Granada (who would’ve thought we would also do this in Tanger, Morroco)
• Snorkel in company of tropical fish (who would have thought this would have included sharks, turtles, sea lions and giant manta rays?)
• Ride the metro in Paris
• Visit the Versailles and Neuschwanstein castles
• Take the cable car in Quito. Not sure where we got that idea, but Quito does not actually have cable cars… Oops! But we took the metro bus, which was quite an experience – let’s just say that OC Transpo does not pack its busses as tightly than they do in Quito… In Ottawa, you can actually see out the window and breath. In Quito, you sort of hover 3 inches above the ground and make friends with the neighbours, hoping you can make it to the door when your stop comes. We also rode the Teleferico, a cable car that takes you to the top of a mountain to enjoy a splendid view of the city… on clear days, which was not the case when we were there!
• Visit the comic book museum in Poitier – this is the only bucket list item we completely missed… Instead, we used our time in Poitiers to visit Tours and La Rochelle, which were both wonderful.
• Take a boat taxi in Venice - not only did we take the boat taxi on many occasions but we also took a Gondola ride
AND A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS…
Many have asked how we financed this adventure: through my work, I put aside 20% of my salary for 5 years via a corporate “self-funded sabbatical” program (Manon was on a similar system). This provided us with a regular income for the duration of our trip, as well as for the two summer months we will spend at home. Therefore, we could say that the real cost of our trip was for us to have used/less fancy cars, limit our outings to the restaurant, and live with the hand-me-down furniture we’ve had since we bought our house… for 5 years.
Budget-wise, we are coming home with empty pockets but no debts. Break-even. Most budget-line items ended up costing us a bit more than we had planned (lodging, food, and activities), and we had not thought to include over $1000 of postal feels to send home souvenirs! However, our airfare budget came in surprisingly low… Aside from the Santa Barabara Airline disaster between Caracas and Guyaquil, our flights were all comfortable, on-time and with reputable airlines. The trick was to book “multi-city” flights, rather than book one leg at a time. The savings were significant enough to allow us to balance our budget.
It is also incredible to think that it was cheaper for us to live abroad than to live in Ottawa, in our own home (this is in large measure because our house was rented and we sold our cars, so we had very few expenses in Ottawa). Since the trip ended up lasting 8.5 months and we both had 12 months off, the most expensive portion of the sabbatical will be our summer in Ottawa. Thus the reason we decided that I would go back to work after 10.5 months.
It was very refreshing to spend many months (and Christmas) away from the North American marketing machines and big box stores, which were virtually absent in Ecuador in Peru (but much more present in San Jose, Costa Rica) – although the brand we saw the most during our entire trip (including Europe and South America) was… Coca Cola. They were absolutely everywhere, including the most remove villages we visited.
Visiting our friends in Europe was amazing and we left with many magical memories. However, from a purely touristic point of view, the experience of seeing the most renowned buildings and sites of Europe (Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, Venice’s canals, the city of Carcassonne and many more) pales in comparison to the jaw-dropping beauty of the cultures and nature we experienced in South America. We were absolutely mesmerized by the Andes, the Amazon, the Cloud forests and the oceans we had the privilege of exploring. The top destination for the whole family was, hands down, the Galapagos…
We (mostly Manon) wrote in total over 100 blog entries, posted over 3,000 photos, and count some 20 000 visits to our blog. The next step for us is to see if we can make a more permanent version of our blog and have it printed.
The family is divide over going home, 1 person is REALLY looking forward to being back home and seeing friend and family and familiar places, 1 is on the fence, and the other 2 could stay on the road for a while longer… But I won’t tell who’s who.
The hardest part of this whole project was leaving Ottawa. It is surprising the extent to which, once on the road, it was easy to travel together. The Internet was accessible everywhere and our Lonely planet guides gave us sound and fair advice. I also suspect starting to work again will be relatively hard – going back to work also means preparing lunches for the kids, communing to work… the daily grind.
With regards to personal security, we never, ever felt in any danger or threatened in any way. The only negative experience we had were the two thefts at the Guayaquil airport, where our bags were opened on two separate occasions by baggage handlers (lesson learned). Surely, traveling with children gave us a form of “security blanket”, as we avoided obscure places and were tucked in bed early in the evenings (instead of being out and partying). To all the people who warned us about the dangers of South America: everybody we met, everywhere we went, were kind, generous and helpful. From strangers on the street, to store owners, to policemen – everybody went out of their way to help us… and the smaller and more remote the town or village, the friendlier people were.
During our first volunteer program in Puerto Quito (Ecuador), we participated in the family’s cocoa bean harvest. In total, 40 hours of labour allowed to harvest and sun dry 106 lbs of cacao beans – which netted the family a total of $65 when sold to a local bean broker. We decided to ask our friends and family to contribute $50 towards a fundraising effort aiming to purchase equipment that would allow the family to transform these beans into cacao paste, a product whose profit margin is significantly greater. In total, we collected $3 850.00 and this was enough for a 60% down payment on industrial-grade machines that will serve to process the cacao beans collected on our host families’ property (as well as on neighboring farms), thus allowing an entire community to obtain a fairer return on their land and labour. Many, many thanks to all of you who have contributed to this project. Please see below what your contribution has purchased! And remember: you have an open invitation to visit Pedro and his family whenever you please.
Our three volunteering programs gave us the opportunity to live, learn, love and laugh with amazing people from amazing places – this was the glue that stitched together all of our South American adventures and certainly, what will have had the biggest impact on our lives and left us with some of our most wonderful memories. Many thanks to our host families.
This was an amazing journey, many thanks to my three amazing women for the great company. Hoping we can keep some of the magic to ease back into our routine and facilitate the daily grind of ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ (commute, work and sleep). Also, many, many thanks to our families’ support and especially to my brother Jérôme for his administrative support back home.
As they say in Costa Rica: Pura vida… when do I get to go surf again? Damn that was fun!