A Family Field Trip Around the World
The school bus can wait. So can the PTA and soccer practice. How one family put “normal” life on hold for a year and let adventure take center stage, traveling to four continents and learning which way the toilet really flushes south of the equator (among other things).
We were so pleased that we booked a six-week tour of other South American countries, with a budget of $92 per person, per day. In Peru, we immersed ourselves in Inca-ology. We'd read Kim MacQuarrie's The Last Days of the Incas as a sort of homework before the trip and were thrilled when we got to feel the astonishingly perfect cuts made by 15th-century stone workers at Machu Picchu. We booked a $20-a-night homestay in an Andean village and ate an unforgettable dinner of quinoa soup around the home's open fire while dozens of guinea pigs—which the family raised for meat—scurried across the dirt floor. We learned about glaciers and trekked on one in El Calafate, Argentina. Along the way, the boys were blogging on our family website (kendrickworldclass.com), which prevented what I called "destination dizziness" and allowed us to work on their writing.
But halfway through the trip, my planning hit a snag. Yes, the scenery was gorgeous in Torres del Paine, Chile, and Bariloche, Argentina. But we spent much of our time hiking, biking, and shopping. As Robb said, "We could have done that in Colorado for a lot less." I realized an important distinction: We weren't on vacation; we were in the midst of an extreme field trip, where the fun (and there always was plenty) was the gravy, not the meal.
Going on Safari
After that leg, we regrouped in San Miguel de Allende. While the boys boned up on math and science (with the help of an expat teacher), I dug around the Internet to prepare for the next destination the family picked: Africa. I also was on the lookout for ways to get beyond obvious subjects to study (such as zoology) and push deeper into culture. Having traveled extensively, I felt comfortable making my own arrangements. Africa was different. Do-it-yourself touring seemed more difficult in the wildlife parks, so I consulted a travel company, Africa Adventure Company. That added to the cost, but it felt necessary.
Through the travel company, we found a volunteer safari where we stayed in basic accommodations and helped with community projects in a small town in Kenya called Kiteghe. We built the foundation of a co-op where the local women could sell their sisal baskets, and the boys helped make posters for a third-grade English class. The title of one: "Dangerous Animals on the Way to School." The boys still talk about what it would be like to run into a hyena on their daily commute.
When the travel agent heard we were on an educational mission, he suggested we visit the Hadza bushmen, in Tanzania. These genial people from the edge of the Great Rift Valley are some of the last true hunter-gatherers on earth, living much the way our ancestors did thousands of years ago. Instead of observing a yawn-inducing museum diorama about early man, we spent a day running through an acacia-tree jungle, chasing the wiry Hadza as they tried to bring down a vervet monkey with their arrows. We felt the smooth twigs from sandpaper trees they used for weapons, tasted a squirrel roasted over a fire made without matches, and even learned a few words of their clicking language. "Nu-beh-uh"-thank you-the boys said when we parted after a fascinating day, "Nu-beh-uh," I repeated as I shook the smiling chief's hand. For more than you realize, I thought to myself.
After Africa, we spent a month in France for French immersion classes and visits that would illuminate art and history. During our 18 days in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, an hour north of Marseilles, we fell into a lovely routine—shopping at the local markets for goodies, then cooking and card playing in the evening. In Paris, we kept to a similar pattern. We always finished a day of sightseeing and brushstroke—analyzing in the Luxembourg Gardens so the boys could romp around and talk to French kids. Then we had dinner in our apartment on the Seine. We found it much cheaper to indulge in French cuisine only at lunch and as a result finished the trip $100 under the $1,200 budget for a week of food and activities, which I thought was a supreme accomplishment.
To satisfy Gus's curiosity of all things World War II, we made a three-day detour to Normandy, where our favorite site was Pointe du Hoc, a spit of land that Army Rangers scaled on D-day to knock out big German guns. The boys loved roaming the place nearly exactly as it was in 1944-crater-pocked from exploding American bombs with broken German bunkers throughout. I didn't realize how much Gus absorbed until we were on the flight from Paris to the U.S. and he was talking to an American businessman and fellow World War II buff. "I looked over the cliff when we were in Pointe du Hoc, and I think what may have helped the Rangers get up was an overhang that prevented the Germans from shooting. I've never heard that before. It's just one of my theories," he said with so much authority I had to smile. I had no idea he had his own D-day theories. Maybe a thesis is next?
I learned something else on the way home—how to make lemonade out of the inevitable travel snafu. On the start of our Atlantic crossing, we got diverted to Iceland because of a chemical spill in our plane's cargo hold. We grumbled about our eight hours in the Reykjavík airport, but after we got home, news broke that a volcano in Iceland had erupted, disrupting flights across the Atlantic. Because we'd had our own Icelandic plane issue, we were immediately hooked. We followed the ash cloud daily, and I capitalized on the boys' interest by studying Iceland's volcanic and geothermal geography. "If it had erupted one day earlier, we might still be stuck there," Jeb said with glee. "We could have gone up to see the volcano ourselves." That might have been a little extreme, even for us. But I sure liked his thinking.