Friday, March 16, 2012

Kids, Travels and Memories

     I am a very lucky guy. I wrote earlier that I have been able to travel with my children and my grandchildren to the Third World on a couple of occasions. These are not just trips; they are adventures as all journeys to underdeveloped and less trafficked places tend to be. One thing our whole family agrees about is that the experiences we have had together are among the most memorable and meaningful in of our lives. I took my grandchildren to the Third World to help them appreciate how other people live and to teach them to respect the differences among the peoples of our planet.  I wanted them to have the experience of being on the road without all the accouterments and pleasures and comforts that surround them customarily in their home settings. Mission accomplished, or at least well begun. When the family and I reminisce about times that were important to us, or most exciting, or most bonding, the trips we went on together are at the top of that list.

      Where does one start such an undertaking? Finances are a major issue so someplace close and some place that is not too expensive makes for wise options. For our first family voyage we chose Nicaragua, a country I had not visited earlier. It was a stroke of luck. Little, colorful colonial towns with restaurants sitting right on an open plaza at the center of town where many residents were engaged in one activity or other enabled the kids to move around freely, mix with others and wander about on the square with little worry or inhibition. Travel distances were short and there were surprises all along the way. For the kids, museums and churches and other adult captivating sites were sparse. Open spaces and natural wonders abounded. Climbing the sides of volcanoes up to the rim where one could witness the gases emanating from deep in the earth, bathing in natural hot springs deep in the jungle, helping to release newly hatched turtles and watching them rush into the incoming tide were the kind of natural highlights that made them more intimate with our planet and the activities that go on every day but which are normally beyond their access. Almost every turn in the road became a teaching moment.

     And all along the way in places we visited were stops in small, traditional villages where life moved along at an unfamiliar pace and in different ways. The Third World includes poverty almost by definition. My children and their childrens' world does not. The strolls through tiny streets or muddy roads where folks just seem to be whiling their time away without visible employment and seem to be in possession of few material things was a different view of the world than they were accustomed to.

     On another trip to Central America, we visited islands which only monkeys inhabited and found them to be as curious about us as we were about them. In Panama, we visited Indian tribes who live in the jungle and still hunt for their food. On our most recent, and unquestionably our most expensive, trip we traveled through Southern Africa. Off the beaten path, that world was dramatically different. We went on an exceptionally interesting safari where lions were playing in trees just above our heads and rhinos circled to mark their territories. We danced with villagers and had other rewarding interactions with the people we met. Perhaps the most telling moment of all came the last night of our African journey when we went around the dinner table to share what had been the most interesting highlight of the trip for each of us. My youngest grandson who was about eight at the time did not cite the villages or the plethora of animal life we had seen. His chosen highlight was our trip to Robbin Island where he learned about life in that prison from an ex-inmate, visited the cell where Nelson Mandela was confined and came to understand what Apartheid was all about. Need I say more?

Curious Visitor, Monkey Island, Panama

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