Backpacking in South America isn’t easy at the best of times. Long bus rides, limited food options, lack of readily available information, logic defying systems and rapid fire Spanish. Add small children to the mix and a whole lot of other issues emerge; can we access food that they like? How do we cope with Jet lag? Will they be safe? Will they get sick? Will we get sick? How will they go on the buses? Can we carry all the stuff including camping gear? Will we get robbed?
These concerns (and more) probably contribute to very few families choosing to backpack South America. In 8 weeks of travelling we didn’t meet any other foreign families with children as young as ours (1 and 4).
So is it all worth it? Worth the difficulties, the expense, the risk, the opportunity costs? What qualifies as “worth it”? Worth it for whom? The adults or the children?
Really, this question is impossible to answer… There have certainly been some intensely stressful moments, but these have been offset by moments of pure joy. Amaya and Sebastian have been exposed to different places, cultures, languages and people. For a time they have become nomads – roaming the lakes and mountains of Patagonia. They are on their way to becoming truly global citizens, with an amplified outlook, comfortable with different viewpoints and ways of life.
And while there were tough moments, there are tough moments at home too. Parenting is challenging! For us it is about choosing to really grasp hold of those magical moments and let them form our narrative of this experience.
The last 4 days have been magical. We have been camping on the edge of a lake near a small town called Villa La Angostura. We are surrounded by gigantic mountains, some of which are volcanoes that occasionally spew ash into the air which creates a surreal misty effect. The lake is fresh and cold, and is fed by icy glacial streams. We are camped in a pine forest and have a cosy fireplace next to our small tent. It is perfect for us.
Amaya and Sebastian are loving it. Amaya’s imagination is limitless and she spends hours by the lake in rapidly evolving, fantastical worlds. Sebastian throws rock after rock into the water, he wades through streams, collects wood for the fire, sits importantly on his log and from time to time is permitted into his big sister’s imaginary world.
Both Shoshanna and I are continually stunned with the beauty of this place and feel immensely happy and at peace to be here.
The last time we were in Santiago was in 2008. Pre-kids, if there ever was such a time… We didn’t really enjoy it. It is a big, dry, dust-bowl of a city, surrounded by monstrous mountains that can only be glimpsed through the smog or heat haze or whatever it is.
The last 7 days have been quite the opposite. Santiago is still big and smoggy and noisy but our experiences were only positive! This is despite crazy jet lag and two needy children.
I think it is actually because of the kids. They have forced us to slow down and not try and wring everything we can out of each day. It doesn’t matter if we repeat activities – we have been to the zoo twice! And we would never have even gone to the zoo or the fantastical “parque de la infancia” (childhood park) or eaten giant fairy floss or multiple ice creams or played in street fountains or had random strangers snapping photos of our kids.
Yes travelling with kids means we can’t lazily sip coffee on the sidewalk or join the New Years Eve festivities or chug back the customary litre bottles of beer in seedy and not so seedy bars, but maybe real joy is found elsewhere.
We are on the road again. Sadly not on bikes, but hopefully just as adventurous. We are travelling through southern Argentina and Chile in a region called the lakes district. It is a magical place on the edge of Patagonia with snow capped conical volcanoes, pristine lakes, racks of lamb slow-cooked over open fires that can be washed down with bottles of Malbec.
We plan to camp, hike and climb, speak oodles of Spanish and have a wonderful family holiday.
So far we have been in Santiago, Chile for about 24 hrs, and though everyone is struggling with devastating jet lag, we have still managed to see a few things…