The past three weeks have been challenging. Difficult even…filled with illness. Lots of change, adjustment, and unknowns. An acquaintance reeling from the loss of her sweet son. Deep, heart-longing for friends. Facing, explaining, and answering my Littles’ questions about the suffering across our world this week. An overabundance of poop –literally. A hair-coloring experience that went comically wrong by not only darkening my roots, but also two inches of skin around my hairline and all the fingers on my left hand. Permanently. (The upside being it reinforced that I am my mother’s daughter. Once, her hair turned purple. Another time it was pink. Yet another, it disintegrated when touched. And those are just a few of the episodes I personally witnessed.) And then there’s the ongoing emotional roller-coaster of traveling, and homeschooling our three kids.
But, we’re five days into the apartment where we’re staying for two months, which means we’re unpacked. Finally. And I go to sleep and wake up, every day, to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore below. And I feel my soul being fed. And feel strong enough to speak the truth, AND see the humor, in the last couple of weeks. And, I got a massage today (that right there is enough to return my optimism to overflowing).
Last night, as we walked home with our groceries, G-man, who is seven, started us all recounting the many places we’ve stayed so far, during this year’s adventure. It was so varied. And hilarious. Places like;
“The apartment in Malaga where we spent New Year’s Eve, but our clocks were off by an hour and we missed it.”
“The hotel room where the ants took over.”
“The Dar in Fez that came with a cook who made fresh smoothies every morning, and we would guess if it was fruit (yum) or veggies (yuck), by the colors.”
“The airport hotel where they wouldn’t let us stay in one room and we had to upgrade to a fancy suite.”
“The hostel where Miss O threw up all over.”
“The overnight train from Madrid to Paris, where the boys shared a berth and the girls shared a berth. And no-one slept.”
As we went through every country, and all the places we slept (or didn’t sleep, depending), my heart filled with gratitude and awe at the last six-and-a-half months! I am living my dream. Dreamboat is living his dream.
We’re actually doing it. Together.
And introducing our kids to the world. Expanding their world-view, empathy, flexibility, and countless other great traits.
And taking a much-needed break from the often overwhelming routine of three-year-old Peanut’s care and therapies.
I am acutely aware of how fortunate, how very blessed we are, especially in light of the heartache and suffering in Boston, Afghanistan, Texas, and Bangalore this week. But, there are no rose-colored glasses allowed when traveling. With three little kids. For a year. So, here’s what the last few weeks have really looked like.
When we landed in Lima, after a couple of long flights where all three children insisted they weren’t tired, it was just after midnight. The pre-arranged, pre-paid taxi wasn’t there. All three children fell asleep and/or cried over the next half hour while we, and all our luggage, lumbered, exhausted, around the airport until we found wi-fi, looked up our new address, obtained local currency, and negotiated a new taxi and fare. And loaded all ten pieces of luggage into the van for the last leg of the night.
Our first ten days in Lima were booked in a small apartment. Which didn’t have sheets for all the beds. That was not a joyous middle-of-the-night arrival. It smelled strongly of mold. And within an hour of waking a short while later, to the double cacophony of pigeon calls echoing around the bathroom walls from the open window, and a piercing car alarm going off right outside our bedroom, we had plugged up TWO bathrooms. This was our introduction to the cultural norm that plumbing here is not made to accommodate toilet paper. (That lesson stuck – pun intended. Even with the kids.)
I have to mention that in the five weeks we’ve now been here, it hasn’t rained. Not once. So, we started out spending our time glorying in the outdoors. That first week we even surfed a couple of times. Yep, you can just call me ‘Surfer Girl’ now. Until one night, we played in the park after dinner, and I was ‘IT’ for a game of tag with the two older kids. Not wanting to be outdone by my kids, I chased them around every palm and bench, AND jumped over flower beds. As I triumphantly caught them, telling myself how young and fit I must look to passersby, I felt an old, unfortunately very familiar, searing pain. I had wrenched my lower back and inflamed two bulging disks. By the following day my back was in excruciating spasms and I was bedridden.
Dreamboat and the kids managed groceries and meals on their own for a few days. And then, things took a definite, downward turn. I was still bed-ridden. And bored. Very bored. (And maybe beginning to feel sorry for myself). Our lease was up on the moldy flat, and someone else was moving in eminently. FOUR other apartments fell through THE morning we had to move out. Dreamboat, who really, really, does not like to pack, packed up all ten pieces of luggage, and some bags of groceries, and moved us all to a hotel. Of course I tried to be helpful by providing suggestions from my bed. You’ll have to ask him whether or not the input was indeed helpful and how pleased he was, or wasn’t, with my efforts. I got a little suspicious as to his state of mind, when I looked up from popping muscle relaxants and trying to hold back the pain-induced tears during the short taxi ride, to notice it was me, all the kids, and nine pieces of luggage. Dreamboat had graciously hopped in a second taxi, with the one bag that wouldn’t fit.
Upon arrival at the hotel, a very sweet porter, seeing my obvious discomfort (isn’t that was doctors always call pain?), practically lifted me from the car and carried me to the elevator. I was so grateful, I think I tipped him in Euro’s, Soles, and Dollars (the next day, after I was lucid enough to find my purse).
In the ten days since then, there have been three additional moves (one where we’re still fighting to get our deposit back after a shower door shattered on Miss O), and a trip (with only one piece of luggage), that included taxi’s, buses, trains, planes, and hiking, to Machu Picchu. And we’ll just say that the hostel we stayed at in Cusco (the starting point to visit Machu Picchu), didn’t have any ‘stars’ anywhere near its name. And that the stains of Peanut throwing up all over the floor just blended with the previous marks. Those of you who know me, will be shocked by the very fact that I stayed in a hostel, as my idea of roughing it is a five-star hotel with only a shower. All five of us got various illnesses there. Whatever bugs we caught, mixed with 11,200ft of elevation, didn’t bode well for this family, or for the small supply of toilet paper, and towels, that came with the room.
The morning of our Machu Picchu trip, Dreamboat woke me as planned at 5:30am. But, he greeted me with the unplanned,
“I can’t do it. There’s no way I can make it.”
Miss O was also unable to get out of bed (or get far from the bathroom).
The doctor we called to come write our permission slips, required by the train company to reschedule, found a heart murmur on Dreamboat.
A HEART murmur.
Although we debated whether the arrhythmia was a scam, we took the doctor’s offered car ride (Yes. You read that correctly. The Dr. was also our taxi service, for a small, additional fee). He took us to a local hospital where he arranged to have a cardiologist ready and waiting to give Dreamboat an echocardiogram.
The efficiency and affordability of quality medical care was pleasantly surprising. In just over an hour we had paid a relatively small sum of US Dollars in cash, for exams from both of the doctors, the prescriptions, formal medical board notes excusing us from travel, and a copy of the reassuring EKG.
The next morning, all of us were well enough to go. (The other four had no choice really. We WERE going to make it to Machu Picchu. It’s been my dream for a long, long time.)
It was magical.
The train and bus rides through the valleys were relaxing, fun, and provided first-row seats to the breathtaking views. Machu Picchu itself was surreal. The preservation of its history is incomparable. The engineering is astounding. The reality of it slowly sunk in over the following days.
Miss O was so amazed by the lack of safety measures, that she kept asking if they ever allowed rentals of the historic site, for birthday climbing parties.
For the first time ever, Peanut tried to climb a rock. He couldn’t. But it was so precious to see him trying, wanting to be like his older siblings. And thank goodness he wasn’t able to, as neither Dreamboat nor I needed one more reason to have a heart attack as we watched the two older kids run and jump with only inches between a safe landing, and a fall of thousands of feet.
We flew back to Lima the following day, with our hearts, and camera card, full to overflowing. The visit has been wonderful content for a home-schooling unit on history, geography, culture and art!
And now, we’ve rejoined our luggage at a lovely eighth floor apartment, overlooking the sea. My back is strong enough that I’ve resumed some workouts, modified to be no-impact, of course. But I feel more balanced, just putting some focus and effort back on my health. We’ve unpacked, filled the kitchen with fresh groceries, overloaded the drains (but not the toilets) with sand from a trip to the beach, and are working our way through lists of more things to see and do.
And, come to find out, while I was out of commission, Dreamboat had started looking for a job again. To perhaps put an early end to this year of adventure. But, he isn’t anymore. Whew.