Tag Archives: family travel

Ingrid and Scott go to School in Bolivia

Homeschooling while travelling

With lots of travel over the past 2 months formal school work had to take a back seat while learning took the shape of experiences and instead.

Ingrid especially like academic work and during times where we have ben doing less of that she has a tendency to become brain bored and start annoying Scott, myself or Paul. Scott on the other hand does not miss formal learning at all. Staying in Samaipata for a month, without any travel would allow us to do another push on school work while living and enjoying rural Bolivia.

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Enjoying the space of our own little house

Its is always a bit of a struggle for all of us to get back into schoolwork after weeks of travel so to prepare the kids and make them positive about getting back into it we sat down and agreed on a Mon- Fri, 9.30-1 school schedule with the children.

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Scotts school with the schedule we made together and sticker reward charts

Ingrid made her weekly schedule with Paul in an excel spreadsheet, while Scott and I set up a plan on the wall with a mix of learning and games that he could choose from each day to earn stickers. Ingrid had 3 x 45 min sessions with 3 15m breaks while school did 30 min sessions mixing play and learning.

A school in the mountains that can’t be found

During our first week in Samaipata, this set up worked really well. Breakfast, school, lunch and then a walk exploring the town and surroundings in the afternoon, going to the market and cooking food together in the house. Paul was setting up Ingrids work and managing to do some job searching at the same time. For me however, school with Scott is all consuming leaving me no time to do anything else.

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A lesson in sewing and home economics…mend and make do!

I enjoy it but after 4 hrs of pushing him through the tasks we are both pretty tired of each other.  Also, after a week of this much intense time together in the little house, we were all starting to get a bit of cabin fever.

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Ingrid and Scott having a break doing junk modelling

Ideally we had wanted to get the kids into local school as soon as possible, but after a week of inquiring we just had the name of a school up in the mountains for which I had found the Facebook page on-line. However, with no address, contact or any way of finding it we almost decided to give up hope.

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The school Facebook page but with no contact details

The fact that the school was up in the mountains somewhere outside the town also seemed really unpractical for us as we would have no way of getting the kids there and back everyday. In the end we agreed that homeschooling for the duration of our time here would be ok and we’d simply take turns job hunting in the 1 cafe in Samaipata with internet in the afternoons. At least we had a nice little house with enough space for use to teach the kids without getting under each others feet.

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Internet access only at cafe 1900 in Samaipata, Bolivia

We visit Communidad Educativa Flor de Montana

Finally after a discussion with the host of our AirBNB house, she managed to find us the number for the school principle Lilliana on Monday night week 2. I Whatsapped her asking if we could visit the school and our children potentially go there for a month. On Tuesday morning we went there to visit and on Wednesday morning Ingrid and Scott had their first full day in Bolivian school.

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The Bolivian school buildings and playing fields

15 min in a taxi, up up up on a dirt road just outside town is Communidad Educativa Flor de Montana. I was a bit sceptical having only seen images of a mud house under construction on Facebook and the barbed wired fence and basic building that greeted us did not install much confidence either. We crossed the big playing field and went up to the house to greet Liliana, the head mistress. The school buildings were rustic, built with adobe mud out of the ground and recycled bottles and old broken windowpanes for windows. The green landscape and views were stunning in the cold and fresh the morning breeze. We could hear the wind in the trees, birds chirping and happy children chattering and I was starting to get a good feeling about this.

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The main school building and view over Samaipata in the background

Scott and Ingrid had both firmly said they would not be going to this school before we got there and they remained apprehensive and shy while Lilliana explained to us that the school was initiated and funded by parents and how recently been fully licensed as a school by the local authorities. She explained the the school ethos was to live happily and creatively in harmony with nature and all living things. Paul and I liked the sound of this but Scott and Ingrid were not interested or impressed.

The magical climbing tree that changes everything

The school has 24 children in 3 classes ages 5-6, 7-8, & 9-11. First we went to see the little preschool class that would be relevant for Scott. On top of the hill in a little room 6 children eagerly eyed up Scott asking him things in Spanish we could not understand. Im not going in said Scott and hid behind me. I managed to have little chat with Scotts teacher in Spanish as she could not speak any English at all. We were still all bit unsure if this could work at all.

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The amazing climbing tree that won Ingrids heart

We left Scotts class to go see Ingrid potential new class mates. By this time Ingrid was grumpy and her body language completely closed off. Before going in Lilliana pointed out to us the amazing school climbing tree and Ingrids face suddenly lit up. Ingrid loves climbing, mountains, trees, monkey bars…almost anything and by the looks of it, this would be an amazing tree to climb.

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Playing in the tree

Up she went high into the tree up in the rickety treehouse and down she swung on the ring hanging from a big branch. When she came down she peered into the class room and said, I love it. Ingrids teacher did not speak any English either but at that point it didn’t matter. The climbing tree had closed the deal and with Ingrid happy and excited, Scott just followed her lead. We agreed to pay the school a fee in exchange for the children to go there for 4 weeks starting the next morning.

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Scott having a go

Early morning start for a fully loaded school bus

The next morning we had an early start to catch the school bus on the town square at 7.30 for a 8.00 school start.

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Walk to the school bus

We had no real idea what they would need to bring but packed the same bags they’d brought to school in Nicaragua with a pencil and a folder to write in, water, some fruit and crackers hoping that would be enough. Excitement and nerves were playing up in the morning but Ingrid excitement about the climbing tree blew any other doubts away and Scott joined her enthusiasm.

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Waiting for the bus

Waiting for the bus at the square in the cold morning air, we recognised 2 children from the day before and introduced ourselves wondering what would happen next. Suddenly a little minibus appeared and the kids all climbed in. Paul got in too and would run back down again after making sure they both got to their class ok.

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This little bus fist 30 people!

Coming back Paul told me in amazement that the little minibus pictured below picked up all 24 kids and 5 teachers along the way and got them all safely to school. Now all we had to do was wait for the kids real verdict when they came back from school in the afternoon.

Mixed reports on their 1st day in Bolivian school

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Ingrid feeling a bit apprehensive on her first day in school

We were waiting eagerly at the square as the bus arrived back at 1 o’clock. As it was a Wednesday, Ingrid would go a full day with extra classes of drama and art in the afternoon and only return at 5.30. Scott on the other hand would come back down with the other little ones at 1. The bus arrived at the square but Scott was not there!! A quick call to Liliana only to find out that Scotts teacher thought he was supposed to stay with Ingrid for the full day and so did not let him on the bus. Scotty was a bit upset as I spoke to him on the phone so I took a taxi up to the school straight away to get him.

When I finally got him in the taxi heading home, he was ok but sad that he had not made any new friends! Scott always makes friends regardless of any language barriers so this really got me worried.

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Talking to Scott about his first day in school

Ingrid on the other hand came back home at 5.30 beaming and starving having had a great time making new friends while not understanding a word in class. Great!

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Ingrid and Anna

In the end they were both happy to go back to school the next day, Scott with some extra words of encouragement and ideas on how to make friends. At the end of day 2 they were both happy and excited about their new school, music class and making pottery as well as new Bolivian friends and Paul and I were happy to finally have some time get into our plans for going back to the UK.

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Ingrid, Anna and Hannah in a group hug

Rock climbing in Bolivia

Sucre – climbing with new friends in Bolivia

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Carlos and Ingrid

We desperately wanted to go climbing in Bolivia as we had not managed to do any climbing at all in Peru. When we were in Peru the catastrophic floods and landslides made it impossible to reach many climbing areas and unsafe to climb in many places. It had been 4 months since our last outdoor climb in Cat Ba Vietnam and we were itching to get back on the rock. At the same time I was wondering if I still would have enough climbing fitness in me to really enjoy it.

 

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Beautiful Ha Long bay Vietnam back in December 2016.

Once we got to Sucre from Potosi and started looking at things to do there, we immediately realised that there is plenty of rock climbing in the Sucre area. Happy days! There are 2 main climbing companies that operate in Sucre and through a friend of climbing friend that met in Lima 2 months earlier, I got in touch with Carlos at ClimbingSucre to se if he could help us out.

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Climbing at base camp Lima

By the time Carlos and I got talking we only had 2 days left in Sucre before our flight to Santa Cruz. Luckily Carlos offered to take us out climbing that same afternoon so that we could fit 2 climbing sessions in before leaving. Perfect! With such a long time since our last climb, to fully enjoy it we would need a proper warmup session before trying any harder climbs. We agreed on 2 half days of climbing at BS1000 and headed off out to Sica Sica crag just a few hours later.

Rock climbing at Sica Sica Crag, Bolivia

With only a handful of climbs in the last year in China, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand x 2, and Vietnam. Ingrid and I were lacking our usual climbing strength, especially in our fingers so we were both hoping to  enjoy climbing some lower grades than usual.

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View over Sucre from Sica Sica crag

Carlos met us at our hostel and a taxi buddy of his picked us all up and drove 10min to the crag at the edge of town. How amazing to have such a big wall to climb right on your door step at almost walking distance from the centre of Sucre. No wonder foreigners have settled here to run climbing businesses.

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Bolivia, Sucre, Sica Sica crag set in a tranquil eucalyptus forest

Getting back on the rock after 4 months break

Ingrid was soo excited she was almost hyper. She was skipping along the steep path up the 20 min ascent from the road to the crag and singing non stop. We soon arrived at the gorgeous crag and enjoyed the great view over Sucre right behind us. The 25m wall has a steep path up one side, perfect for setting up top ropes. Carlos went to set up the ropes, while Ingrid and I got our gear out.

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Ready to climb

As he came back down he was keen to point out that there are a lot of unsafe routes set up by amateurs in Bolivia. 2 routes he pointed out on this wall were set up with unsafe bolts and unless you come here with a guide, you would not know this and perhaps have an accident as a result.  Bolts and drills are hard to come by in Bolivia, and although climb Bolivia pay for some of the routes there guys set up, Carlos also explained he and other climbers have invested a lot of money in bolting routes and buying gear that is more expensive in Bolivia than in most European countries.

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Sore toes

I was not looking forward to unwrapping our smelly shoes that had been hiding in layers of plastic bags in the bottom of Ingrid backpack for months. Happy to find that they were ok and good to use…my feet however were not as pleased. I got another little bag out with what i thought was chalk, only to discover it was a bag of pasta! What a plonker, a days climbing without chalk as Carlos had not brought his either! At least the crag was in the shade so we would hopefully not be climbing too hard or sweating enough to really need it…

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Lovely routes on the Sica Sica crag

We started easy on a couple of 4s on the giant slab and were happy to find that the technique was still in us. We were also pleased to start the 2 days of climbing on a slab as it meant more leg power and less reliance on our weak fingers and arms. Most of the climbs were along flakes and cracks and friction on this sharp sandstone was good all they way. We continued climbing through the 5bs and 5cs  and finished on a couple of lovely long 6as. What a lovely afternoon of climbing.

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Ingrid on top rope at Sica Sica crag Bolivia

Lead climbing on Garcilazo Crag, Bolivia

Day 2 we headed off at 8 and had only a 15 drive to Garcilazo crag. The driver who’s car was running on something other than petrol was struggling to get the car up the hill to our drops off point, but eventually we made it.

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Tricky approach to the Garcilazo crag in Bolivia

Once there I could not see the crag anywhere…turns out that we were on top of it and the approach was s steep scramble down a slippery hill to the impressive wall of exposed sandstone. Luckily Ingrid is like little mountain goat these days so we managed to get there safely in the end. The Garcilazo crag is a high quality vertical sandstone with long cracks, some tough crimpers and a distinct lack of foot holds.

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Typical route on Garcilazo crag in Bolivia

It is south facing so in summer, this shady spot provides great protection form the sun, but as this is winter it was very cold in the shade so I was glad we had brought our hats and puffers. Yann (one of Ingrid climbing coaches back in London) says cold is good for friction said Ingrid with a smile.

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No hanging about, I has asked to lead and that is what I got. I set up the first 5a route and Ingrid second it after me. We were both really suffering with cold fingers, especially the 1st third of every route. It was total agony and  sharp rock on our cold weak fingers made for an uncomfortable start.

Fingers apart, I felt really confident leading this route as it had many options for hands and feet. As the crag is approached from the top, all the ropes can be cleaned from the top as we were leaving, meaning could spend more time climbing and less time cleaning routes.

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Excited and happy to be lead climbing again
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Ingrid working her way up this 6a+

We moved on to top a few other routes of the same line and started to feel the pain building up in our relatively weak finders and feet after months of no climbing. I loved this crag, such a perfectly clean and sharp vertical rock towering up above you and a great mix of comfortable and hared moves. There are also many different routes to climb in a great range of grades from 4 all the way up to 7b+.

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Having a rest before topping out on this long crack

The first few moves on all the route were quite reachy and hard so Ingrid opted to second me while I led. Even I struggled to get the first 2 clips in on all routes and was secretly pleased she opted out of leading today. With more recent climbs in the bags I’m sure she could have led these routes with confidence, but lack of regular climbing does quickly take your top performance and climbing confidence out of you.

 

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Sore fingers after 2 days of climbing

After 4 leads and 2 top ropes my feet were absolutely killing me and Ingrid was getting hungry. Time to head back into Sucre to meet up with Scott and Paul who had been out to se the dinosaur footprints and park.

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Over 5000 dinosaur foot print on this wall
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Having fun in the dinosaur park

 

 

Dynamite sticks & fear deep inside the Potosi mines

Potosi, Bolivia the richest mine in all of world history

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Waiting for the bus in Uyuni

We initially through we would stay in Uyuni for a few days to chill out after our 3 day 4×4 adventure across Salar de Uyuni, but quickly changed our mind. Uyuni is not a particular nice place to hang out, just a transit town where the roads from both Argentina and Chile converge before continuing up towards la Paz and all other cities in Bolivia.

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Uyuni playground had a great slide and not much else

We only managed dinner at a really good pizzeria, a visit to the playground in the morning followed by lunch and a 4 hr bus ride up to 4090m, to Potosi, the old silver mining city but that was just about enough. 

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Beautiful colonial buildings and me looking silly in Potosi!

We could definitely feel the lack of oxygen at this altitude and the pollution from heavy traffic made it even worse. We all suffered light headaches, dehydration, general fatigue and grumpiness. Hostel Realeza was in a good spot right in the heart of the colonial city centre, close to the market and the beautiful town square.

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May 1st march in Potosi, a town full of workers and unions

Our first full day here was May 1st, the whole city of Potosi was closed as different unions of miners, farmers, shop keepers, teachers etc marched through the city centre. A great sight to see all the people out marching for their rights, especially the ladies dressed up in the finery and traditional costumes.

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Ingrid showing off on the monkey bars

After spending the day acclimatising and hanging out at an amazing playground we organised our trip to the mines the following day.

Safety gear for us – dynamite sticks for the miners

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Excited miners – before going into the mines

The main thing to do in Potosi is to visit the old silver mines so this is what we decided to do. There are a few travel agencies offering a mine tour, but we chose Koala tours, the only tour that takes you into an actual working mine rather than a closed down mine. Early departure in a minibus a few blocks up from the main square then a quick stop to get kitted our with protective clothes. Ingrid and Scott were both excited as Paul had explained to them that going into the mines would be a bit like playing Minecraft. Little did we know……

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Getting kitted out with safety cloths before heading into the Potosi mines

We all got protective trousers, coats and welly boots. I was surprised that they had wellies just the right size for the kids. Final touch was a protective hat with a head torch and a heavy battery pack clipped into your belt. Just getting dressed and walking in all the gear was hard, especially for Scott. How would he cope walking like this deep inside the mine…..

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Buying dynamite gifts in the miners shop

Next, the minibus took us to the miners market were we bought gifts to take with us to give to the miners we’d meet inside the tunnels. The guide explained that its the part of our tour fee that goes to the miners and the gifts we bring that keep the working miners happy for tourist to come into the mines to see them working. We bought dynamite sticks, ammonium sulphate, detonators, coca leaves and soft drinks that they mix with 96% alcohol while working. Next stop the actual mines!

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Feeling scared deep inside in the dark Potosi mines

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Cerro Rico at 4400m

After a 15 min drive up the hill we were there. Young coca chewing men covered in dust and dirt were having a break outside the mine entrance as we got a safety briefing from our guide. Every now and then a 2ton cart with dirt and stones came hurtling out of the entrance on old rickety train tracks pushed & pulled by 3 young men. These were the carts we would have to avoid at all cost once inside the tunnels.

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Getting ready to head into the mines
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Last minute safety chat before we head into the mines

With our head torches turned on we went into the tunnels covering our mouths with our buffs to limit inhaling the dangerous mining dust. The tunnels were pitch back and very small,  much smaller than I had imagined. Only Scott could walk upright the rest of us were folded over trying not to trip on the tracks and stones along the tunnel floor.

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Inside the dark mining tunnels

In the distance we could hear carts being loaded and pushed down the tracks. “Out of the way” cried the guide and we all had to jump into a niche along the side of the track to avoid being run over. Every 10 min or so another cart came hurtling at us as we stumbled along the dark tunnel, folded in half and sweating profusely in all our heavy gear.

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Miners hard at work

As we got deeper into the tunnels, the oppressing feeling and slight fear was getting to all of us, especially Ingrid who was looking very uncomfortable stumbling along in the little light from her head light. After 40 min of walking, 450 m deep inside the mountain, where more than 10 000 men work everyday, we finally arrived at a resting station. During our 10 min break the guide told us about the hard life of the miners in Potosi and the gods they worship to stay safe.

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The mining god

Each man work for himself in a syndicated group with their earnings depending on the minerals they find. Around 50 miners die every year in accidents and another 50-100 in lung related diseases, their life expectancy is only 40-50, but working the mines earn them more money than any other job they could possibly do here. 

Time to get out of the mines – we end the tour early

After the 10 min break we were supposed to head further into the tunnels for another hour of exploring the tunnels deep inside the mines. At this point Ingrid and Scott were starting to feel a bit unwell and so I told the guide we had to take the kids out. To be honest, at this point I did not want to go in any further either.

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Feeling uncomfortable deep inside the mine

On the way out we had to wait as carts were filled up with rubble from a shaft in the roof…and all I could think of was the terror of being stuck in the mine behind falling rocks. The guide assured us we were safe, but I certainly did not feel very safe.

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Happy to be out in the fresh air
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Well deserved rest in the fresh air

Once outside, we waited an hour in a little safety shack before the rest of the group returned. Ingrid almost fainted as we sat down, totally overcome by the stress of being inside the mine for over an hour. I too felt unwell and relieved to be out in the fresh air again. Scott and Ingrid both promised then and there to study hard in school so that they never ever would have to work in a mine.

Emergency call to the British Embassy

Stranded in the floods of Northern Peru

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 Enjoying a bit of surfing our 1st day in Huanchaco 

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Kids playing in the park by the beach

We had 2 days on the beach in Huanchaco and a morning of wandering around town before the floods hit us in this town as well! We had tried to follow the unfolding Peru floods on the news, but its amazing how difficult it is to get information without access to the internet.

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Trujillo under water – residents being evacuated

Through the owners of the hotel we found out that Trujillo, where the roof of our hostel caved in just 2 days earlier, had been badly hit with the first of 7 floods the day we left our hostel there. Everyone we met in Huanchaco were concerned about the floods but not expecting it to be a problem in Huanchaco a few km up the coast from Trujillo.

Worst floods in 30 years hit us in Huanchaco

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The river in Huanchaco burst its banks

When the river bursts its bank at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all the houses and business were caught unprepared. As muddy sludge started making its way down the main street, all we could do was to seek refuge on the roof and watch as the water continued to rise. In the distance we could see the sea turning brown from the outlet of the swollen river.

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Watching the events unfold from the roof of our hotel

Mud and sludge filled the streets and the ground floor of our hotel and all the other houses along the water front wiping out electricity, water systems and all the local phone and internet networks.

 

 

I felt completely helpless and yet somehow strangely calm as we watch the water fowling and the sun setting over the flooded streets. Time to get our head torches out, cook some spaghetti on the gas cooker and play a game of cards. We went to bed hoping to get some sleep but sirens, rain and worry kept me awake while the kids slept an unsettled sleep and Paul resting but with a high temperature and in pain day 3 of his tummy bug illness.

Stocking up on water and food

The morning after the floods Paul was feeling worse, I was exhausted and the kids naturally stressed about the flooding and situation all around us. Most of the water had subsided and in the hotel, staff and the owners had spent most of the night trying to clear the ground floor of  the mud and water. No electricity, no water in the taps but at least we had a gas cooker that worked. I set out to find and stock up on supplies. 

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People buying what they can carry
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Empty shelves in the big supermarket as people stock up and no new deliveries are made

With many shops affected by the floods those that were still open were limiting the what you could buy to make sure everyone could get something. I took our big back pack and went round looking for open shops stocking up on water and dry food to last us a few days. Spaghetti, tuna, tomato sauce, biscuits and crackers. I also got some eggs, flour, sugar and milk hey presto pancakes of breakfast to lighten the mood!

After the floods the real nightmare begins

…20-30 cm thick sludge and mud was covering everything where the water had flooded and then subsided…piles of dead fish, plastics, trees and rubble washed up on the beach and streets along with many damaged houses and buildings, some still under water.

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Mud after the flood
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Main street still under water the next day
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Beach filled with rubbish and dead fish
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Once the mud is dry everything is caked in dirt and dust

Watching the news in a little shop I could see that Trujillo and nearby Chiclayo and many other places were still inundated and that all roads in and out of Trujillo and all of Northern Peru remained closed due to landslides and ongoing floods.

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Roads still under water

I realised our plans to go further into the mountains Cajamarca and Chachapoyas would not be realised. Disappointed of course as we had all been looking forward to exploring the less touristy mountains and ruins of northern Peru…but what can you do?

Help! – Emergency call to the British Embassy

While the streets remained unsafe filled with dirt and water, Paul was getting worse, no electricity to help the kids pass time reading on the kindles, watch TV or a film…and as boredom kicks in.the kids decide to spend the morning making and running a beauty salon! I just love my kids!

With no means of leaving the flooded area or ability to check our options to fly out I took a taxi to the local little Airport to see if we could somehow buy tickets to fly out somewhere safe. No such luck….

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Only people with tickets and or ID were allowed to enter the Airport area

Military planes were evacuating people, locals and gringos had been waiting at the tiny airport for up to 36 hrs to get on a plane to get out. With the airport in chaos and no information or help to be found.

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Line for the military evacuation plane

 I returned to Huanchaco disheartened and even more worried. Flights could only be bought on line or through a travel agent, but Internet was not working and all travel agents closed due to the floods….

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7 days without food

When Paul started vomiting and shaking with 40 degrees temp, the following morning and with only $20 left in cash, no way of getting medicine or money and no where we could go I made a call to our travel agent in London on the hotel owners phone to see if they could help us buy some flights to get out …4 tickets suddenly became available to fly out the next day but Paul was way too ill to travel. Next available tickets were for 6 days later and costing us a small fortune….With the thought of 6 more days in the flood zone I feel panic kick in and decide to make contact with the British Embassy in Lima, to ask for advice and medical help in case Paul would get even worse.They tell me there is a place in Trujillo where ATMs are still working and a functioning private clinic we can go in case of an emergency….

After I made it to a shopping centre where there was still cash, Travel Nation confirmed our flights out 6 days later and I managed to find antibiotics for Paul I was feeling a bit better…that only lasted 1 day until Ingrid suddenly turned really ill as well.

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Keeping the mood up and the kids relaxed

This time I could get antibiotics quickly but was still worried sick about Ingrid who was vomiting and had diarrhoea for 2 days not being able to keep liquids down….I was counting down the days till we could leave…..

Unforgettable lessons in life

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Since we started travelling we have, and especially me, practiced being in the moment and not worrying about things that could or might happen. During our 2 weeks in flooded Peru I had to work really hard to keep calm and not get worked up, agitated or frustrated about the situation is which we accidentally found ourselves. The kids are very resilient and adaptable but they take their queue from me and Paul on how to act ad react. Keeping calm and positive was essential for their wellbeing and peace of mind in this very stressful situation.

We got a first hand experience of a huge natural disaster, it is not something I would wish on anyone but its part of life for many people and something we will never forget.

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We were never in a life threatening situation even though some moments felt dangerous and scary. We have talked about it a lot with the kids, made drawings and write ups about it to help process the experience. It has also given us an amazing opportunity to talk about global warming, water flow and rivers, about flooding and city planning, plumbing, recycling, water, volume and the devastating effects of floods.

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We wanted to explore and experience the word, show the kids that life in different parts of the world have different challenges. Ingrid and Scott have learned so much from this experience and felt first hand the fear it causes but also the importance of community and solidarity while helping clear up after the floods. I am glad we have managed to finally leave and sad that we didn’t get to see the beautiful north in its full glory, but looking back, its an experience I wouldn’t change.

Feeling emotional – Peru in floods

Feelings of doubt

Piles of rubbish and dead sea life after the floods

The past few days have been very emotional. For the first time on our trip I have gone through waves of doubt and distress wishing we were back home in the UK…. I hit an all time low just after the roof fell in in our hostel in Trujillo and then seeing Peru in floods with many people in distress on the news realising all the roads were closed and we were trapped.

The floods are still happening although water has started to reside in some areas Trujillo and Chiclayo are still under water, Lima and many many other areas have been hit by flash floods and land slides. Meanwhile, we are glad that we can pay our way to safety in an apartment hotel in nearby Huanchaco

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Taking refuge in Huanchaco

Now a couple of days later, safe from the floods in a flat in Huanchaco, just a few km up along the coast the feelings of doubt have mellowed somewhat. I would not choose to take the kids to a natural disaster zone if I could avoid it but at the same time this is real life, this is most likely the effects of global warming, this is the world we are creating for our children and it is happening right now.

Floods and mud in northern Peru

Feeling and seeing with their own eyes the consequence of global warming and how precarious life is makes you really appreciate the things that matter the most, safety and life itself.

The roof falls in

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The roof starts to fall in

We knew it had been raining a lot more than usual in parts of Peru, all the locals said so. When climbing in at the Base camp, the climbing wall in Lima enquiring about climbing in Cajamarca and Huaraz, the guide told me there is too much rain to climb and that a lot of land slides have made many routes unsafe.

We spent 3 days exploring Lima before heading north on a 10hr night bus to Trujillo for the sun and moon temples with a plan to go forth north east after a few days into the mountains.

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Magic water fountains in Lima

Once in Trujillo we could see on the news that big landslides and floods in the north along many of the big rivers causing the northern region and 811 cities in Peru to declare a sate of emergency. No busses or traffic can travel on the pan American highway that goes along the north coast into Ecuador.

Flooded cities in a state of emergency

The second night of heavy rain, I woke Paul up around 10.30pm when a big chunk of the roof in the middle of our room fell to the floor. The electricity was not working so in the light of our head torches we could se water gushing in through the wall by Ingrids bed and more chunks of the roof falling in, this time on top of the bunk bed Ingrid was sleeping in.

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The roof falls in on Ingrids bed

All the while Scott was happily sleeping in the bottom bunk in one of the other beds in our room. We decided that Paul and Scott would stay the night in our room in the relative safety in the bottom bunks and moved the bed slightly to where the roof looked less likely to collapse. Ingrid was awake and very scared so we quickly moved her into a bed in one of the relatively dry and safe dorm rooms full of excited German youth while Paul and I moved all he bags up onto the beds safe from water on the floor.

Bathroom roof falls in

At this point we did not realise the extent of the flooding in other parts of Trujillo and now also Lima together with many other areas Chosica, Piura, Chiclayo, Ica to mention a few…we only saw it on the news once we have managed to get to Huanchaco, a few km further north the next morning.

Central Trujillo under water for the 6th time in a week

Roads closed – change of plans

As the internet was not working anywhere we could only talk to people and watch the news to try and inform ourselves of the situation and the risks of flooding and damaged roads. We found out through a girl in the hostel that one of the bus companies were not running any services at all as they had had 2 accidents with overturned busses in the past 3 days…

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At the bus terminal

We had bus tickets to go on a mountainous 8hr bus trip to Cajamarca  at 2900m that day, but I was actually relieved to find out that the roads were closed as it made our decision about weather or not to go easy. At the bus office they confirmed no busses were running north or east to Cajamarca due to land slides,. The main road to Lima was also closed as one of the big road tunnels had collapsed.

Enjoying the here and now

Boys go surfing in Huanchaco

Rain is forecasted for another 5 days and more and more towns are hit by the floods as the rivers continue their paths down the mountains. In Huanchaco, we are safe for now staying in a flat a relatively expensive apartment hotel but you can’t put a price on feeling safe, especially when it comes to the kids. Ingrid was really shaken up after the roof fell in and is now after a couple of days of school work, beach and surfing starting to get back to her normal self again.

Huanchaco playpark

We have had to put our plans to go to Cajamarca and Chachapoyas over the next 3 weeks on hold and try to enjoy ourselves here and now while we wait for the roads to open. The logical part of me says this is all part of living in the now and appreciating the things around us rather than planning and wishing for things that may or may not happen while the emotional me would prefer to be somewhere else…

Here and now in Huachaco, the food is good, the flat is good, there is a little playground just across the road a good surfing beach and we are getting back into schoolwork.

Afternoon of school work

All in all things could be a lot worse and our thought go out to the people of Peru who are not as lucky as we are….

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Magical moments among Nicaraguas volcanoes

Nicaragua is the land of volcanoes and lakes so while we enjoyed not doing many touristy things during our stay here, some things are simply unmissable.

Swimming in Laguna de Apoyo – the crater lake

In the centre of the Pacific strip of Nicaraguan territory, along the long volcanic chain that crosses the country from north to south, is a large and extinct crater. In the centre is one of the most beautiful lagoons in Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo.

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Ingrid loves swimming and Scott has found a stick as usual

We went to one of a handful of hostels located here for a day pass to their “beach club”. The entrance fee to spend the day is 6.00 dollars per person and 3.00 dollars for children from 6 to 12 years old. We spent the day relaxing in a sun bed overlooking the lake on one of the spacious terraces. We went kayaking, swimming played ping pong and petanque, all which is included in the entrance fee. Getting here is easy from Granada by chicken bus and taxi or shuttle service that takes you all they way there.

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Ingrid paddle boarding
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Me paddle boarding and Ingrid hitching a ride
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Playing games at the Laguna Beach club

Watching bubbling lava at the awesome Masaya volcano

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You can see the lava churning in the crater

We went with Erick tours out of Granada for a night viewing of the volcano. We spent a few hours exploring Massaya town before heading up the actual volcano just before sunset. There is a bit of a wait to get up to the volcano as they only allow 50 people at a time, but our guide, Alberto, was excellent. He spent the waiting time giving us information on  Nicaragua volcanoes & Masaya and the general history of Nicaragua.

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Lava!! at Masaya Volcano

Once at the top, the lava lights up the whole sky in a magical orange glow! Amazing view of the bubbling lava but strong sulphur fumes means you can only stay 15 min at the top. We were all seriously coughing by then and glad to get off the top of the volcano.

Rooftop ride to swim in the cool waters of Aguas Agrias

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Cool mammas on the roof on our way to the lagoon

In the rural community of Aguas Agrias, located south of the Mombacho Volcano , is a stunning natural lagoon where the locals go to cool off.  Together with friends we took a pick up truck there and enjoyed an epic ride on the roof. We spent a few hours swimming in the cool waters watching the monkeys overhead. Simply wonderful!

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Beautiful natural lagoon in the jungle
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Howler monkeys in the canopy while we were swimming
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The locals come here too
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Scott and Gekko having fun
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Me and Scott enjoying the sunshine

Sunset at the Treehouse

On the way from Aguas Argias we went to the Treehouse for an amazing dinner at sunset. The Treehouse is located half an hours drive from Granada, 200m up in the jungle. 

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Canopy bridge with treehouse on the right

Its is a wonderful place to bring he kids, although some  might think its perhaps a bit dangerous for little ones. The actual house is built into the side of volcano Mombacho, surrounded by howler monkeys, complete with a  fire mans pole, some swings and a 60 metre canopy bridge connecting the main house where you eat to a smaller house where you can sleep in hammocks. The kids have never climbed up 200m so fast before in their life. We stayed for drinks, a communal meal and a truly beautiful sunset.

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Sunset at the Treehouse outside Granada
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Sunset from the Treehouse

Other things we enjoyed in Granada

Pottery practice

Pottery class making our own eggcups out of red clay from are area of san Juan de Oriente. We all had a go under the instruction of the watchful eye of the master, Carlos. We were not very successful, but persuaded him to sell us the little creations we made. Eggcups!

Watching the annual parade at the global poetry festival

The International Poetry Festival celebrates poets from around the world (and is also the largest poetry festival in the world).  We didn’t go to any of the poetry readings but enjoyed the many events that took place in Granada’s open plazas, parks, churches, and markets. The highlight for us was the Carneval which made its way trough the centre of Granada stopping at every street corner for a poetry reading.

Feeling at home in Nicaragua

…and now we have to pack up Casa Ranita & leave

Our time in Granada, Nicaragua is soon coming to an end. Right now we are all really settled in and not looking forward to leaving our little house and all our new friends. Its been amazing to see how quickly Ingrid and Scott both got into their new school life and the normality and familiarity of it all. In many ways it feels just like home.

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Our lovely little 2 bed house in Granada Nicaragua, Casa Ranita

Our Typical day in Granada, Nicaragua

A typical weekday here is not that dissimilar to a day back in the UK.

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Early morning run up to Laguna de Apoyo

Paul and I typically wake up at sunrise around 5.30-6 am. I have a coffee while reading emails and do some travel research while Paul goes for a run before the sun is up and it gets too hot. At 6.30 I wake the kids then we all have breakfast and leave the house about 7.30 for the 2km walk to school which starts at 8.

At this time of day the sun is still low in the sky and the streets are pretty empty. We all really enjoy the the walk along the Calzada and across the main square to get there.

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Our house is at the end of the Calzada in Granada so this is where our walk to school starts
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The Parque central is quiet at this time in the morinng
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We love walking past all the colourful houses on the way to school
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Scott and Ingrids schools are right next to Iglesia Xalteva

Usually I part with Paul and the kids halfway there to head off for a quick coffee before I go to Casa Nica for my 2hr Spanish class.

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Cafe Bristol makes the cheapest and best hot of iced latte in Granada
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Catching up on homework before class
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This is my Spanish school

A lovely school experience in Nicaragua

Already on day one Scott was excited about going to school and making new friends and he has enjoyed going there every day since. The school is bilingual and half the class is made up of Nica children and the other half expat kids who mainly speak English. Its been wonderful for all of us to have the school experience for a month and to meet and get to know the teachers, children and and parents who have been travelling like us and those live here. It was hard to find a school that would accept us for 1 months only, which I wrote about in a previous post, but it one of the best things we have done on this trip so far.

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Sancuanjoche International School – Pre-school

Scotts typical school day in Nicaragua

Scotts school day starts with circle time and Spanish, followed by motor skills, snack & play in the park. After a play outside they focus on social development in Spanish then maths. School lunch is served at 11.30 and Scott loves it!  At the end of the day they do science and play.

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Typical daily schedule for Scott

Scott really enjoys school here and have made so many new friends both with Nica and English speaking children. There are 12 to a class and they all mix  the Spanish & English speakers during breaks to encourage them to practice the other language. His best friends are 2 girls, Brissa a local Nica girl and Gekko, an American girl from Texas.

They hang out every day playing mums and dads, zombies, tag and lots of other crazy games. Last week he went to his first Nica birthday party complete with piñata, clowns, cakes, ice cream and the best party bags ever!

Ingrid also loves school in Nicaragua

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Ingrid happily heading intoschool

Ingrid has made some great friends too, but I think she enjoys access to the school library more than anything else. Every day she gets through 2-3 new books which she reads at home and in reading class and any other free moment at school.

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Ingrids schedule

She is doing great it both English and Maths and is studying both of these with the older children in year 4-5. Spanish is the hard one as she is far behind the rest of the class. However, they have a great system where the other children in her class takes turns helping her translate, read and write in Spanish class so although its a bit more difficult, she is picking it up slowly and its still something she enjoys.

Science is taught with much debate and discussion here, right up Ingrid street. She comes home everyday with new ideas, telling us about all the fun discussions they have had in science class that day. Best of all, she got to see all other kids present their science projects at the school science fair, which she loved. We usually see Ingrids class head back from the park after lunch when we pick Scotty up at 1.

My typical day and Nicaraguan routine

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While the kids are in school, I am in school too enjoying 1-1 lesson with a young Nica girl called Rebecca. The lessons are a mix of slow conversations, grammar run throughs, quiz games and picture cards to practice vocabulary and conversation.

I am by no means fluent yet but have come a long way with a wider vocabulary and the basic grammar and conversations with Rebecca. On the way home I get fresh fruit, vegetables and chiceron from the market.

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Pauls typical day

Meanwhile Paul is deep into catching up on all our admin, planning our next stage of travel and our return to the UK in July. He also goes to the big supermarket at the edge of town to buy the basic groceries.

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Sometimes we have some lunch in one of our favourite spots before picking up Scott at 1. Most of the time though we cook lunch at home after collecting Scott from school. Our favourite food to cook for lunch here is plantain with cheese, nachos and guacamole.

The 2km walk home from school with Scott usually takes up to 1 hour and I love it. There is no stress no reason to hurry him along, we just wander together take in the sights and chat about the day.

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Walking home from school with Scott

After school…lazy afternoons avoiding the heat

After picking Ingrid up at 3, we spend the afternoons in a similar way to what we would do at home. Ingrid typically gets a book out and chills on the bed while Scott plays with his toys or helps me prepare dinner.

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LEGO!
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We  cook all the food from scratch and get the ingredients from the local market

One of his favourite past time these days is helping round he house, either cooking, mopping the floors or doing the washing up. At mealtimes we all help out either setting up and cooking or washing up and tidying up. After some initial resistance, now it all happens without complaints at every meal time.

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Washing up after dinner, Scott loves it and Ingrid hates it

Occasionally we have a playdate after school either at our house or at friends and sometimes later in the afternoon once the temperature starts to drop we go for a walk on the Calzada or head down to the park for a play.

One of the things we love about staying here is all the friends we have made. After 8 months of mostly playing with each other Scott & Ingrid both enjoy the break from each other.In fact we all do!

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Scott and Geco playing lego after school
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Evening stroll

In addition to helping with meals, Scott has to read a book everyday and Ingrid does touch typing and updates her diary. Once all of that it done, the kids watch something on the laptop or play mine craft with Paul, while I do some work on the iPad. Early bed for an early start.

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Ingrid and Scott playing minecraft

After sunset all the locals sit in the cooler air on the street outside their houses enjoying the free light (electricity is very expensive here) and animated conversation. Our neighbour Freddy often invites me to sit down and join them for a chat. A great way to practice my newly acquires Spanish and to get to know the people and the community a bit better. Its a lovely way to spend the evening.

Weekends in Granada, volcanoes and play

The weekends are also very much like our weekends at home. Paul goes out at 5am with a running group while the kids and I have a lazy morning. Ingrid makes pancakes then we do bits and bobs round the house, lego, a creative project, some mine craft.

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Ingrids delicious pancakes

In the afternoon we go exploring, head to the park down by the lake or go for an ice cream.

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There are lots of climbing frames down by the lake, this one has the best monkey bars

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Sunday lunchtime down by lake Nicaragua is full of music and local families hanging out

Sundays are our typical day trip days with visits to volcanoes, museums etc. Our favourite spot so far is Laguna de Apoyo, the volcano crater lake, we you can go swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding in lovely clean and fresh water.

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Paddle boarding with Ingrid at Laguna de Apoyo
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Sunset at the Treehouse outside Granada
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Amazing lava at Masaya Volcano!! So close you can feel the heat!
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Fresh water swimming pool, by Mombacho volcano

Just like home….enjoying the simple things

So, with the exception of adapting the time of our activities to the hot climate here, our days are very similar to many days back home in London. After 8 months of being together 24/7 it is nice to have some time without the kids where we can get on with our plans and think about our return to the UK. Usually this is something we can only really do before the kids wake up or after they go to bed.  When travelling is quite hard to find enough time to get it all done.

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Sunset over Catedral de Granada
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Evening at Iglesia Guadalupe, right next to our house.

We would all be happy to stay here longer, in fact we have talked about it. The town, the country and people are very easy to get on with and to enjoy. Its been nice having the space to be able to do separate things. So far on our travels we have spent most nights together in 1 little room all going to bed and waking up at the same time. The simple pleasure of being able to go to bed and get up at different times, cook if and whenever we want to and even do separate things during the day is not to be take for granted.

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Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world where horse and cart is most often used for transport and work.

There is a great local and expat community with plenty of opportunity to make a real impact in Nicaragua together with the locals. In the end, we have decided to continue to the coast for a few days of surfing before a quick stop with friends in Miami then onwards and upwards to Peru.

We’re thinking that we could always come back to Nicaragua sometime after our round the world trip!

Family time in White Sands, Koh Chang

Change of plans – from floods in Prachuap Kirikahn to sunshine in Koh Chang

Great to see my dad again after 6 months since we last saw each other in Sweden.

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After an afternoon together in Bangkok we were planning to go to Prachuap Kirikan on the south east coast, in a non touristy area that my dad had visited before to chill out for a couple of weeks. img_2136

On the morning of our train, the news headlines were full of reports from flooded southern Thailand with the expectation of 280 mm rain on the one day we would arrive! Quick change of plans as we were about to leave for the train went to the bus station and got tickets to Koh Chang instead.Great to be able to be so flexible!

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Long journey to Koh Chang

Dad took us to a perfect hotel in White Sands beach, Koh Chang where he has stayed before. The only hassle was the length of time it took to get there. Our initial destination was a simple 5 hr train ride away whereas the journey to Koh Chang was much longer. 6 hr bus, 1hr minibus & tuktuk to the ferry, 1 hr waiting about, 1 hr on the ferry then another 30 min to get to the hotel.

We left at 8 in the morning and arrived just before 7 at night. Needless to say we were all tired and grumpy on arrival, but at the same time excited to be with my dad and  have 12 days on the beach together here.

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A perfect spot for well deserved travel break

Alina Grand Hotel is situated at the southern end of White Sands beach, just above the main road, 1 min walk from the beach. We woke up tired but relaxed in a big double room with a view of the great pool at the back of the hotel. Finally a chance to unpack our bags, something we had not done since Australia back in October.

Just the thought of not going anywhere for almost 2 weeks was enough to get us all in the right mood again after a long day of travelling.

A typical day in Koh Chang White Sands beach

A morning stroll followed by breakfast at Monkeys or milk and cereal on the balcony. The room in Alina had a full size fridge in the room, which we used a lot for  our breakfast milk & cereal, drinks and fruits. After breakfast around 9, we had some pool time with Grandpa with swimming, playing on the swings, building lego on the sun beds and reading. 11-13 school time then lunch.img_6814

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We usually hit the beach in the afternoon around 3 when the temperature started to cool down. You get a lovely sunset here which you can enjoy in the calm and beautiful sea or with and ice coffee or beer in the Reagge bar. We found a couple of favourite restaurants where we went for dinner. Paul and I also had our first sunset and dinner without the kids in 6 months here and enjoyed watching the sunset just the 2 of us with a cocktail at Thors.

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Here are some of favourite places to eat and drink in White Sands beach Koh Chang

Best coffee Marin coffee – hot Latte for 70 Thb

Best breakfast in Monkeys, full english for 95 Thb

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Beast lunch Sun and Soul Scott loved the satay here for 90 Thb ( very slow service at dinner time unfortunately)

Best Thai food Nong Bua sea food

Best take away lunch Kai Mun Boogie chicken

Best smoothies & waffles at the White Sands beach night market

Best ice cream Sundays Rock & Sand beach resort

Best bear and Ice coffee on the beach Reagge bar

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Best Bbq dinner at Sea bar on the beach

The  prices of food and drink here was higher than what we had paid anywhere else in Thailand. We typically paid 600-900 Thb for a dinner/lunch for the 4 of us £12-£18, but then again White Sands is a more upmarket area than the places we usually stay. And since the hotel stay was very nice Christmas treat from my dad,  we were more than happy to pay slightly more for the food.

Koh Chang activities beyond White Sands beach

We did 1/2 day snorkelling with hunter 3 island in half a day. 700 Thb per adult and 350 for a child.

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The trip is good value for a nice day out on a boat but do not expect to see many fish. The price includes, transfer from hotel to Bao Bang, lunch and snorkelling masks. The snorkelling spots are quite far out so half the time between 9 and 2 was spent on the boat going out and between the islands.

Compared to other snorkelling we have done the water was not as clear and there were not many fish about. We still had a lovely day out on the boat and would recommend it for a day trip anyway.

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We also took a Songtang trip to Khlong Phlu waterfalls where we had a great time. It is also well worth a visit. We went there on a  cloudy morning padi 400 Thb return trip for the 5 of us from our hotel.

Its a 500 m walk to the waterfall which the kids really enjoyed. Once there you can get into the pool at the bottom and swim with the fish who live there. I took the opportunity to get my hands cleaned from climbing skin by the nibbling fish. A bit freaky but a lot of fun.

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.After almost 2 weeks here we had totally recharged our batteries and were ready to travel to the other side of the world for more adventures.

Rock climbing on amazing Railay beach

Opting for a cheaper stay in Ao Nang

The main reason we went to Krabi in Thailand was so that Ingrid and I could do some longed after rock climbing. We opted to stay on the cheaper mainland area in Ao Nang where we could also afford a place with a pool and got a bonus pingpong table at the same time. From Ao Nang the crags at Railway and Tonsai Railay beach is just  a quick boat ride away.

Choosing a guide to climb with in Railay

There are many climbing companies operating in the area to choose from, some are better than others…. For me the most important thing when choosing who too climb all the way through this trip is safety, official certification and insurance policies as Ingrid is very young. Prices for climbing range from 2000 Thb for a 1/2 day in a group of 4-8 to 4000 for 1/2 day with a private guide and 6000 for a full day with a private guide.

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You can rent just the gear and climb on your own, but with limited time to climb, I prefer to hook up with a guide who can show us the best routes and help us set up ropes and to clean the routes. That way we usually get to climb more and I get the trusted belay I need to do some serious climbing myself.

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We booked 2 x 1/2 days climbing with Real Rocks on Railway beach with a private guide. We paid an additional 500 Thb for Paul and Scott come along in the shuttle and boat so that they could hang out at the beach for the day while Ingrid and I climbed.

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Getting to the 123 crag at and Railay beach

img_8425The Real Rock shuttle picked us up at 7.30 and did the rounds collecting people, then a 20min  boat ride from Krabi Town to Railey beach. Once at the climbing shop the boys went off exploring while we met our guide Wan and got kitted out with ropes, quick draws, slings and helmets.

To get warmed up we started off with some gentle top ropes on the 123 crag. This is the really big crag often used for beginner classes so it was quite crowded through the day. The good thing about this crag is that it had a range of routes suitable for both me and Ingrid. It was also in the shade all day, perfect for climbing in the hot weather here.

Our last outdoor climb climb was over 2 months ago in Yangshuo China so we were feeling a bit rusty to start off with. I was worried about how much my hands and feet would be able to take as well and so with 2 days climbing planned wanted to make sure i left them in a good place for some harder climbing tomorrow.

Ingrid lead climbing at 123 crag Railay

The sand and sea keeps the friction on the rock pretty good with lots of little pockets for your hands and feet. Most of the routes are straight up with little overhang or slabs. A couple of top ropes to start and them I was leading Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde remembering how much I love lead climbing. Ingrid started leading indoors a few months back and now wanted to give it a go on this wall. Wan was great supporting her, giving her the right routes to lead and the confidence to do it.

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As in many situations, in sport or with school I find that Ingrid respond much better to coaching from an outsider than me telling her what to do. In Yangshuo I was amazed at the confidence and grit she showed when being pushed by Alex and Karst climber.

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The same happened here with Wan, and as she was one of the best and most experienced climbers on the crag that day, surrounded by beginner climbers, she pushed her on that bit harder as well. Ingrid lead 3 routes starting with Little Monkey, finishing  and topped 3 while I led 5 and topped 1. The last route was a 25m+ 6a hat she simply took in her stride.(cannot remember which one.

The landscape here is too beautiful, its such a privilege to just be here let along climb. Ingrid is already planning her own climbing trips for when she is  older and can go on her own with her buddies. Seriously need to come back for some more climbing as well.

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We climbed from 9.30-1 then went to the other side of the island for a cooling swim afterwards. Definitely something I recommend. Boat back at 5.30, shuttle just after 6 and back at the hotel for 6.30

Day 2 Climbing Diamond Cave

Day 2to was just Ingrid and me, the boys opted to stay at home. Wan took us to Diamond cave crag which was less busy and offered some shorter but more technical and very enjoyable climbs. The 1st hour here was totally exposed and we were sweating profusely during our first climbs. Slightly higher grades, Ingrid opted not to led, but I lead all day finishing on a couple of great 6bs.

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The other great thing about this place is the amazing coffee right at the bottom of crag where Highland Rock climbers have their “office”.img_5016

A hot latte never tasted so good as it did that day. I am excited watching Ingrid climb today, full of confidence and with fantastic technique. My favourite was watching her conquer the overhang on KFC and  effortlessly out climbing top young men on the routes next to her. We were buzzing after 2 days of real rock and eager to plan our next climb in Chiang Mai a couple of weeks later.

Very long train rides through Vietnam -from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh via Hoi An

Grey, rainy, polluted and not always friendly – cutting our stay in Vietnam short


We did not enjoy Vietnam as much as we did other countries in South East Asia. I think it’s a combination of suffering from travel fatigue, the grey and rainy weather, a lack of genuine friendliness and hospitality in some of the places we visited, a feeling of constantly being ripped off and perhaps also false expectations in comparing Vietnam to Thailand. Therefore, 2 weeks into our Vietnam stay, while in Cat Ba we took the decision to cut our stay here short and head back to spend our last 2 weeks in we Asia back in Thailand.

Bus, boat and train from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh city

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1 hr speed boat to Cat Ba

To get back to the mainland from Cat Ba you have to take a bus, a speed boat and then another 4 hr bus to Ninh Binh. Originally we had planned to stay here for a few days but as we wanted to get out of Vietnam quicker than planned, we only stayed 1 night at the Viet Nhat Hotel before continuing the train further south. Ninh Binh town has nothing to offer in terms of sights really. The main attraction people come here for is the amazing surrounding karst mountains. Due to our long train trip, we opted not to go exploring them and spent the morning doing school work before catching the 16hr night train to Hoi An.

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Catching the  N1 train in Ninh Binh

16 hr night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An

The N1 train at 15.48 was very basic, old, small and rickety. Scott and me slept in the bottom bunks with and ingrid and Paul in the top.

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Snug as a bug in a rug on the top bunk
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Scott in his ilk liners ,  extremely useful for nights like this

There was basic food for sale on board but we know from previous night trains that it’s not very appetising so had brought our own snacks and fruit to last us the journey. Pork baguettes purchased at the hotel, biscuits with sweets for a late night snack did the trick.The worst thing about night trains is always the toilets and this one was no exception. It is dirty and smelly, but when you have to go you just have to go. Grit your teeth, hold your breath and get on with it.

3 days of rain with new friends in Hoi An

We stopped in Hoi An for 3 nights and were looking forward to warmer sunnier weather. Unfortunately it had been, and still was raining much more than usual this time of year. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left the rain did not stop.

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Hoi An market in the rain

The hotel we stayed at, Botanic Garden Villas had great airy rooms, 2 swimming pools and  a pool table. It also offered free cooking course which Ingrid and I attended.

Unfortunately we never got to try out the pool because of the poor weather. We did however discover a great little deli , Dingo Deli with a playground and play room where we spent the afternoon with our new Canadian friends and their 2 children enjoying delicious coffee while the kids played.

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Friands in town

The persistent rain and flooded streets meant that we did not really get the opportunity to properly explore this beautiful town. When the weather is nice I can imagine it’s a great place for cycling and walking, especially round the old town.  It is also a place to get tailor made clothes and shoes at rock bottom prices.

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Hoi An old town by night

We spent our 3 days here doing schoolwork in the mornings and hanging out with our Canadian friends in the afternoons. Great for the kids to have some friends to play with and for Paul and I to have some adult conversation with people other than ourselves.

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It was fun and useful discussing the ups and downs of travelling for a year with kids, great to get some new ideas as how to do it  and  to just talk about all the practical issues and opportunities of leaving your life behind and planning to come back with fresh eyes a year later.

On our last day in Hoi An Dec 30th we had an amazing meal together at Morning Glory and finally got a taste of how amazing the Vietnamese food really can be.

The following day we spent New Year’s Eve on the 16hr , clean and modern, train to Ho Chi Minh city followed by a 6 bus to Phenom Penh. A lot of travel in 24 hrs but  we were keen to spend the first day of the new year in Cambodia leaving a grey and wet Vietnam behind us.

After a total of 26 hr travel we finally arrived in Phenom Penh excited to be back in the warm sunshine surrounded by friendly people eager to see what this country had to offer.

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Tuktuk to our hotel in Phenom Penh 

Climbing round the world with Ingrid, 8

Getting into rock climbing

I first started indoor climbing 15 years ago, enrolling in beginners course in West Way, London  with a friend of mine. Back then I think the male talent had just as much, if not more pull than the climbing itself. It was just the kind of sport I’d been longing to try out, since my days ski bumming round Europe in my early twenties.

My climbing adventure was short and sweet as I stopped 6 months later when I moved south London and had no close access to a good indoor wall. Some time later I met Paul, got married, had Ingrid and Scott. After we bought our 1st house together, 5 years ago in Surbiton, SW London  I got back into climbing again when I discovered the new White Spider climbing wall 10 min bike ride from our house!

 

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Climbing at Swiss cheese crag in Yangshuo China

Before leaving London for our round the world adventure, I used to go to White Spider 2 times a week climbing, hanging out with friends and taking Ingrid to her junior competition squad training sessions.

Passion for climbing

There are so many things I love about climbing, the fitness and strength it requires to be good, the mental part of clearing your mind and focusing only on the climb you are doing and all the great people and friends I have met through climbing. It can be a competitive sport, but you mainly compete against yourself together with other people. In the last 2 years I have also grown to love the outdoor climbing and just having an adventure in the mountains challenging myself and simply enjoying climbing.

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Ingrid, 8 first started coming with me to climb and found she loved it just as much as I do. In the year before we left London she was training very hard in the competition squad, developing technique and strength. In April 2016 she did her first outdoor climb and was totally hooked.  2016 was also the year when I properly started climbing out doors as well and went on my first outdoor trip with my favourite climbing girls to Villa Nueva del Rosario outside Malaga in Spain.

Ingrid leading Do It For Billy Joel on Moody beach, Han La bay Vietnam

Climbing our way round the world

So in planning our round the world trip, we agreed that part of the adventure would be to try and climb in all countries on our trip. The world famous beach of Raily and Tonsai in Thailand were high on the list, as well as the more obscure and less climbed Yangshuo in China. We also had our minds set on climbing in Vietnam and are hoping to find lots of places to climb in Central and South America.

123 wall on Railay, Krabi Thailand

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Diamond wall- diamonds are forever!

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Can you spot Ingrid on the wall!

I was looking at ways to keep climbing fit on our travels, but the weight and size of or bags dictated that we could not bring any gear for training. We have shoes, harnesses and chalk only and so plan to climb with a guide and, or rent gear as we go along.

In places where we struggle to find the time or money to climb outside, we try to find some cool indoor walls to try out. This will help somewhat to keep climbing fit while travelling but I’m sad that my finger strength has already faded away to nothing.

Ingrid climbing Captian Kirk Eats Bruchetta at Swiss cheese and me climbing Blood at  Twin Gate

So I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will be doing some amazing outdoor climbing this year on a lover level than I’d really like, but will enjoy it for what it is. At home I would happily climb 6b+ , 6c and project 7a , while here I’ll be settling for 6-6b+. Ingrid is not pushing the grades either this year due to lack of regular climbing, but is building technique and confidence in lead climbing and all other outdoor climbing. It will be interesting to see the effects of our Christmas Deep Water Soloing when we go climbing next.

Watch this space for our next epic climb!

Great Family Adventures in Cat Ba – a very different Christmas

Exotic food in the smog of Hanoi

Great breakfast at Hanoi 3B Homestay

A lovely welcome by the taxi driver and the 3B homestay in Hanoi set us off on a great start to our 4 week stay in Vietnam.

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Feeling like Christmas at 3B homestay

Paul had booked the penthouse in 3B Honesty which was, clean, big and amazing. First feel of crisp cotton sheets that we’ve had in a long while, soft mattresses and one of the best breakfasts on our trip so far.

2 days in Hanoi with kids

We spent 2 days wondering the streets of Hanoi trough the old quarter, the french quarters, around the lake as well as exploring the many little shops and street stalls.

The first day of wandering around here we were marvelling at the exotic feel of this place, much more like China then Thailand, not quite what we were expecting.

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One of many food stalls where to local hang out and eat

We were surprised to find that the thick grey skies covering Hanoi gave us all a cough and a headache already by lunchtime on day 1. Even more surprising to find that heavy smog and thick air pollution is not mentioned anywhere in the Hanoi travel guides.

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Thick blanket of smog in Hanoi

Exotic and tasty street food in Hanoi

Despite the smog, we enjoyed some of our most exotic food on our trip so far here. Our first lunch was at a little street stall in the old quarter where we had, among other things, shredded pork which a constancy of candy floss that simply melted  away in your mouth.

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Candy floss beef for lunch in Hanoi

In the evening we enjoyed some more tasty street food in the old quarter. Warning! Although the food was good, we got ripped off big time here by the friendly owner who pretended he had no menu to show us, then served us the most expensive food he had and magically producing a menu when he gave us the bill to prove he was entitled to charge us a ridiculous amount of money. Never eat in Hanoi without establishing the price first!

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More street food – BBQ pork ribs!

The following day we had lunch at a little street full of stalls serving food. Scott opted for snail soup, which was interesting but not that tasty.

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Selection of snails for lunch

We had promised the kids we would enjoy some french desserts here so In the afternoon we went hunting for French Patisseries and ended up in an expensive hotel eating creme brûlée and creme caramel. Delicious!

Awful traffic & thick smog – time to get out of Hanoi

Beautiful water puppet theatre in the afternoon followed by traditional Vietnamese style dinner. Although we enjoyed exploring the streets and the food, the noise and smog from the never ending hoards of traffic, make any time spent here pretty grim. We all had headaches, sore thoughts and felt generally ill from the thick layer of smog that covers the city. Its especially hard work spending time here with the kids as you have to focus on keeping them safe from traffic at all times.

Traffic does not stop here you simply have to take a deep breath and walk out into the street hoping the cars and motorbikes will drive around you, which they do most of the time.

Escaping the pollution – Vietnamese home stay in Ba Vi National park

We had planned to go North to Sappa from Hanoi, but we all felt tired from travelling and from the craziness of Hanoi and so opted to go to Ba Vi National Park, close to Hanoi instead. You can get there by local bus, but we paid a taxi 1m dong (£30)to drive us there.

In Ba Vi 1.5 hrs north west of Hanoi, unfortunately the smog was still like thick carpet overhead. Not until we got to the top of Ba Vi mountain could we take a breath of fresh air while gazing dow  at the lid of pollution below.

The homestay was a bit rustic, with little help or service for us and too far away for us to walk or cycle anywhere. It’s so not a homestay we would recommend but it was a good experience all the same.

The kids enjoyed the adventure of sleeping in the cold air under double covers in the bamboo barn while my back ached from the rock hard bed. Although the hosts here were keen to make sure we were looked after, this place lacked any comforts you need as a family to stay here, from hooks or shelves for your clothes to lunch, choice of breakfast and dinner.

The only other place to eat along the busy main road only had dog on the menu, so that was not a success either.

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Dog for dinner? No Thanks!

Back to Hanoi the next day before heading out to the coast, we opted for western lunch to lift our spirits. Its amazing what a simple burger and chips can do when you are feeling a bit run down.

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Beautiful burger

Next stop Cat Ba.

Feeling at home in friendly Chiang Mai

Chilled out Chiang Mai –  a city for all tastes

After a rural homestay north of Chiang Mai we went to stay in Chiang Mai city for a few days to be close to Chiang Mai Climbing Adventures (CMCA) as Ingrid and I were going out climbing with their instructors during their training and certification session.

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Climbing with CMCA at Crazy Horse Buttress Chiang Mai

We opted for a really cheap hotel here, but in a great location close to CMCA, great eateries and both the Saturday and Sunday night markets.

The Anodard hotel was a bit run down and dirty but, for £16 a night for the 4 of us, its still a pretty good deal.

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Den building in our hotel room in Anodard hotel, Chiang Mai

Great food and sites in tourist friendly Chiang Mai

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Monk in a box at Wat Chedi Luang – he is not real!

We didn’t expect to really like staying in Chiang Mai as we had such a lovely time in the rural home stay, but we were positively surprised. We rented bikes and spent a couple of days biking around town visiting temples, markets and the park and were all surprised by how much we liked to vibe here.

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Saturday night food market in Chiang Mai

The streets are full of a lovely mix of locals and tourists of all sorts and along many streets are little restaurants, cafes, juice bars, hostels and tourist information stalls.

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Cup of tea at a street cafe in Chiang Mai

What we like about this place is that no one is hassling you to buy anything or to go anywhere but you feel really free to wander around and just be. The many beautiful sites also makes most walks and bike rides interesting, even if you don’t go in.

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Scott was born in the year of the Rabbit @Wat Chedi Luang
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Wat Chedi Luang
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Amazing meal at Mr Tonys

The food here is also very tasty and can be really cheep if you avoid the more upmarket western places. The 2 places we really loved were Mr Tony and the Coconut Shell the food is amazing and really cheap.The selection of fresh fruit shakes and smoothies is fantastic and a great compliment to any meal any time of the day.

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Scott testing the selection of smoothies for breakfast. Mango is a clear winner.

Home comforts in Chiang Mai

Outside the old town are a few big shopping centres with all shops and conveniences you could ever want. We spent one afternoon going to the cinema, for the British showing of the new Harry Potter movie. Great fun for all of us and nice to have a break with some home comforts. Next stop the mountains of Chiang Dao.

Chiang Mai homestay – a real experience of Thailand

Thai tourist hotspots are good but we prefer low key rural life

After a week of rock climbing in a more touristy part of Thailand, Krabi we decided to go for a more rural environment to hopefully experience more of the real Thailand away from the most obvious tourism.

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Enjoying a bike ride through the rice fields

After 4 months of travelling, we now know that we don’t want to go on ready made tours or organised treks, we don’t want to be bussed around the hill tribes or herded into the crafts villages. We just want to experience a bit of the local life.

Ban Chunsongsang home stay

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Ban Chunsongsang homestay

Ban Chunsongsang is a traditional Thai homestay a 30 minute drive north of Chiang Mai. When we got picked up at the airport and taken out here its seemed a very long way from Chiang Mai. The next morning as we settled in and had a proper look around, we were excited about the remote location. It felt  like the perfect place for us. We had initially planned to stay here 3 nights but quickly extended it to 7.

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Our 2 bedroom house on stilts to the right of Scott

What we like about this place and the other home stays we have stayed at so far is the large common space available to us and the small number of other guests . Many places have only 3-4 rooms  where full occupancy is rare.

The space and quiet atmosphere makes the kids feel at home as they can roam free while playing and exploring in a similar way to what thy would do back home. This make our stay a lot less demanding for Paul and me.In this particular place we have 2 bedrooms (£10 per night each including breakfast), with double beds, fans and mosquito nets and private  bathroom in the open air.

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I love having a shower under clear blue skies in the morning

There is a chill out area under the house with rocking chairs, a hammock, table and chairs and some toys.

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Great shady space to chill out and play under our bedrooms

There is also a large space in the dining area that we use for meals, playing games and doing schoolwork.

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Also on offer are bikes we can use for free, even in the right size for both Ingrid and Scott and a large courtyard where they can play football and bike around safely.

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The spacious drive where Scott loves to cycle about

Thailand home stay – check the reviews in detail before you book

When staying in a home stay you are often confined to eating all your meals there, as it is often located in rural areas with few options of other eateries. In China, we found this to be  problem as the host took advantage of this by making the food at the house very expensive. Now when we book home stays we carefully read reviews and look for comments about the food and all other things important to us. Ban Chunsongsang has an extensive menu with real and delicious Thai food and its very cheap. 50 Baht per meal, roughly £1. The reviews on booking.com and Trip Advisor confirmed this and gave it very good score overall that we agree with.

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Thai style pancakes for breakfast

A typical day in  Thai home stay

We quickly got into a nice pace and routine here of doing little but experiencing a lot. We get up 7-8, have breakfast at 9. Before schoolwork start at 10 Ingrid does yesterdays diary entry and Scott rides his bike. School last from 10-1 then we have lunch here.

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1 of our usual Wednesday Skype sessions with Linda, the kids teacher back in Glasgow

After lunch, around we go out to explore the surrounding areas by bike.

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Bike with seat for Scott on the back

So far we have spent 2 afternoon exploring the surrounding villages, 1 afternoon of climbing and visiting the night market in Chiang Mai,

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Exploring the Chiang Mai night market

1 afternoon fishing and 1 afternoon cycling to the craft village some 10 km away.

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Afternoon of fishing at a local Thai farm close to where we are
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A visit to the umbrella and paper craft village

We also spent another afternoon looking for the nearest pool and then next afternoon enjoying being the only people in it.

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Amazing swim in the nearby Horizon resort

Ingrid loves riding her bike for hours and Scott has a soft seat on the back of mine for our longer trips.

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Bike ride to the local supermarket

We just love floating away on the bikes through villages, rice fields and countryside saying hello  “Sawsdee Kha” to the locals, visiting the quirky shops, the local markets and funny little stalls along the way.

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One of many stands along the road selling meet on skewers
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Ingrid and Scott buying an after school treat for our bike ride

We have another 2 days here, just enough to some more climbing and and do a big bike ride to one of he local markets.

This is the travel we love!