So what were our best experiences and which ones the worst? As we were sitting around the breakfast table on our last day of the trip, each talked about what he liked the best and least. Surprisingly, we all came up with pretty much the same list:
The best of times …:
Everest trek – We all agreed on it as the best time during the five months. Of course it was a great accomplishment to reach base camp, but both Finn and I thought that the week the two of us had together (while waiting for the girls to come back down) was very memorable as well. Spectacular scenery, very friendly people, great hiking … I’m sure we’ll be back yet again.
Beaches of Cape Tribulation – We weren’t all that impressed by the beaches we saw in Queensland, with the notable exception of Cape Tribulation. Wild, uncrowded, beautiful … as one of the guide books put it “where the rainforest meets the sea”.
Helicopter flight above Ayers Rock – We didn’t quite know about Uluru … we had heard everything from “once in a lifetime experience” to “just a big rock”. In our opinion, the combination of the rock and its setting is what makes Ayers Rock so spectacular. It’s all by itself in hundreds (thousands) of square miles of nothingness. And for us, the best way to get a sense of it in that setting was to see it from above.
Snorkelling – Maybe our most expensive day of all … but in the end the trip out to the Great Barrier Reef was worth it.
Bangkok – A great city in every respect … extreme, diverse and interesting. And when we had enough, we came home to the spectacular apartment we had rented and went for a swim in the pool high above the city.
The kids realising how lucky they are – Unlike some of our previous trips, we didn’t see a lot of poverty during these five months. But there were a few moments in Nepal, when the kids seemed to realise how lucky they are to live where we do. I remember one particular evening when we were walking through the backstreets of Kathmandu and saw some kids in ragged cloths that were living on the street and sniffing glue as we walked by. They were about Lara’s age and she grabbed my hand and said “daddy, I am really lucky!”. I know, I know, it sounds like a corny movie scene, but during the trip she even changed her “what do you want to be when you grow up” answer from teacher to doctor … who knows. Finn, by the way, is still firmly on the astronaut track.
… and the worst of times:
Finn being sick at altitude – Almost two weeks into our trek, we were in Dingboche, at 4500 meters altitude and it was very very cold. Finn had been complaining about his stomach and, as it was getting dark outside, was beginning to vomit. Not once, not twice, but pretty much all night long. Altitude sickness? A stomach bug? Something he ate? Throughout the night we felt him getting weaker and by morning we were scared. Should we let him rest for a day? Should we walk down with him? Call a helicopter? It turned out to be a virus in the end and he was able to (barely) walk down by himself. But that night Anna and I were wondering whether we had maybe taken it (him) too far.
The tightness of the camper van – We underestimated how cramped the camper vans would feel after eight weeks. They were the size of a VW bus, mostly well thought out …. but in the end it’s just not enough space for four people and their bags. It would have been fine for a week or two, but eight weeks felt like a long long time in such a constrained space. Looking back, we should have rented a larger model and saved ourselves a lot of frustration.
A bus ride in Darwin – After a nice dinner downtown, we took a public bus back to our camp site in the evening. During the next stop, a group of very drunk aboriginals got on the bus and almost immediately became very aggressive towards a completely innocent passenger … they seemed to have an issue with him being Asian and their vocabulary wasn’t exactly child friendly. Within a minute, one of them got off his chair and started hitting his victim, thank God he was too drunk to be very effective at it. The others were cheering him on. As you can imagine, our kids were pretty shocked at what they saw playing out right in front of them. We got off at the next stop, but Finn was very shaken and wanted to talk about it for a long time afterwards. Even now, two months afterwards, he still brings it up once in a while.
And then there is one that that belongs into both, the best and the worst category:
Being so close to each other for so long – With a few short exceptions (maybe an hour or two), we were never more than a few meters away from each other for more than 150 days in a row. Disagreements turn into arguments faster, which in turn seem to more easily escalate into fights. It’s not that we argued more than we usually do, all of us actually got on quite well with each other. It just seemed that the times we did end up in a fight, the close physical proximity made it hard to “walk away” from them (and each other). On the other hand, all four us us (including the kids) where very aware of what a special chance this trip was to see and experience things together and as a family … creating memories that I’m sure will stick with us for a long time.