Jun 7, 2013

Questions from Kindergarteners

Recently we were approached by a Kindergarten teacher  who told his students about our adventures.  They were very curious about and had some thoughtful questions.  He sent us this list of questions, and it was so much fun to think about our responses to a group of 5-6 year olds.

When we finished our response, we decided the answers could actually clear things up for most of the grown-up questions that we've received over the years.  It's become very clear to us that no one will truly comprehend what our life has been like on this journey.  Most of the "Western World" has so many misconceptions and strange notions about other cultures and unfamiliar places, which is why we have enjoyed challenging our own understanding of the world and experiencing the world first hand.

Our favorite way to understand a place or another culture   is to immerse ourselves completely.  Even then, it's hard to compare experiences because we all have different approaches and encounter different experiences.  Regardless, here are our answers to some very insightful questions that were provided by Mr. LeClaire's kindergarten class.

What made you want to go on this trip?
We wanted to go on this trip for several reasons. We wanted to learn spanish and learn more about our neighboring countries, even far away places we used to only read about in books. We wanted to learn about cultures that are different than ours, and understand the world’s history better.

Pre-Colombian gold jewelry on display in a museum.

Strange formation from an ancient civilization in Peru

How did you prepare for the trip?

We prepared for this trip by saving money for a long time. We paid off all of our bills and eliminated any extra spending. We got rid of TV, stopped eating out at restaurants, and stopped buying things that we didn't actually need. We also sold most of our stuff.  We did a lot of research to prepare ourselves for what we would need to spend time in other countries and to be independent.

What countries did you visit? Which one was your favorite and why?
In order, so far we have visited: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Our favorite country was probably Guatemala because the people dressed very differently, they were very friendly, and the land was beautiful.

Beautifully colored clothing in Guatemala.

How many days, months and years have you been on the road?

We have been on the road for 411 days, which means than 13.5 months so far.  We plan to be exploring for two years total.

How many miles have you driven on your trip?
We have driven 26,381 miles so far.

Did you visit any farms?
We visited many farms. Farms where they grow plants for coffee, grapes, mangoes, pineapples, sugar cane, avocado, and many other fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before.

A small farm in Ecuador.

Were you ever nervous or scared while on your trip?
There were a few times that we were nervous or scared. There have been a few times where we had to put our car on a raft to cross a river and we were afraid it might sink. There were also a few roads that were very narrow and slippery, with big cliffs on the sides. We had to drive very carefully!

A small car ferry crossing Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

Did you miss your friends and family?

Yes, we missed our friends and family very much. Especially, our young nephews and nieces. They are 4, 5, and 7 years old.

(Follow up question)
How did you stay in contact with people back home?
To stay in contact with people back home, we used emails and a special program called Skype which allowed us to have video phone calls whenever we had an internet signal.

What do the homes look like? Are they different than in America?
In some places the homes look just like they do in America. In other places they look very different because sometimes they are small huts with no doors or windows, made out of mud and sticks. Many houses don't have air-conditioning, so in hotter areas they don't have furniture like we do in America. They sit and sleep in large hammocks because they are more comfortable and keep them cool when there is a breeze. Some homes they sleep on a mattress that is on the dirt floor. Some homes were raised up on stilts because they lived in very wet areas that would flood.  Some homes didn't have electricity or running water and some of them even did all of their cooking on a campfire.  Seeing all of these different homes made us very grateful for warmth, shelter, and access to water.

Modern colonial homes in Colombia.

The inside of a mud hut with wood-burning stove.

How is life on the road different than living at home?

Life on the road can be very different because finding groceries or replacing anything we lose or break can be very difficult. We don't always have a big store  where we can go  find everything we need in one trip. Sometimes we search all over a village or even big cities, just to find one little thing. Sometimes, even finding water that is clean to drink can be difficult. It's because of this, we realize how easy everything can be in our home town.

A roadside market in Bolivia.

Where do you go when you have to go to the bathroom?

When we have to go to the bathroom, we ask people where there is a bathroom that we can use, like at small shops or gas stations. Sometimes we have to pay them money, even for public restrooms. Sometimes we just have to go out in the woods or behind a bush, which can mean having to dig a small hole and then covering it with dirt so that animals don’t find it or step in it.  We call that leaving no trace in nature and we make sure to always take any toilet paper to the trash can.

How did you wash your clothes?
For washing our clothes, most places (even small villages) have a place where you can pay someone to wash your clothes. Sometimes we will hand wash our clothes and then hang them up to dry.  It is hard work and it takes a long time. Usually washing our clothes requires us to stay in one place for several

Guatemalan women washing clothes in a lake.

Clothes drying on a rooftop in Honduras.

What animals did you see that we don't have in the United States?

We saw all of these animals in the wild: howler monkeys (our favorite monkey), spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, colorful frogs, toucans, coatimundi, vicuña, red macaws, tarantulas, crocodiles, tapirs, andean flamingos, condors, and a very rare bird called a quetzal. In animal rescue shelters, we saw the monstrous harpy eagle, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapir, and lots of exotic snakes and spiders. Some of these exotic animals can be found in the United States too, but they are illegally brought here from far away countries, so they can be sold as pets.

Wild andean flamingoes and vicuña in Bolivia.

Spotted leopard in Belize.

A rare male quetzal in Costa Rica.

A howler monkey in Southern Mexico.

The massive Harpy Eagle.

An albino coatimundi.

A tapir in Belize.

Did you ever stop in a country for a long time? Why did you stop and how long did you stay?

We stopped for 3.5 months in Guatemala because we enjoyed the country so much. This is where we got married too, so some of our friends and family flew down there to be at our wedding. In Mexico, we stayed for 4 months because it is such a big country to travel across. Plus we really enjoyed the food and the friendly people in Mexico.

What kind of food did you eat?
In Mexico we ate lots of delicious pastor tacos, fajitas, and seafood. In Central America we ate lots of delicious fruits and vegetables that we have never seen before. In El Salvador we ate Pupusas. In Honduras we ate baleadas. In Nicaragua and Costa Rica we ate Gallo Pinto. In Colombia we ate lots of their delicious pastries and empanadas. In Peru we ate the best ceviche ever. In Ecuador and Peru, we ate lots of alpaca steaks and we tried cuy, which is a rare delicacy. In Argentina and Uruguay we ate lots of grilled steaks and sausages.

Ceviche in Peru.

(Follow up question)
Where did you get your food and where did you eat?
We often bought our food from small corner stores and large fresh markets where farmers sold their fruits and vegetables. We have small portable stoves for camping, so we try to cook for ourselves as much as possible because it saves us money. When we want a treat , we will buy food in small restaurants and from people who sell food in street stalls.

Did you ever not sleep in your truck? Where?

We almost always sleep inside our truck, or in a tent. We have a small bed in there and a fan that keeps us from getting too hot. We also have warm sleeping bags for when the weather is too cold. This saves us money, time  and we think it is more comfortable to have our own bed...it is like having our bedroom on wheels! We have only stayed in hotels a few times, as a treat because we wanted air-conditioning when it was too hot for too long.

Did you see any volcanoes?
We saw lots of volcanoes. Some of the volcanoes looked like regular mountains, only taller. Other volcanoes had erupted years ago, so they had big craters on top and we could drive or climb to the top and look inside. There was one volcano that was erupting while we were camping only 6 miles away! It was blowing out lots of smoke and ash, and at night we could see red glowing lava coming down the side. Luckily, we were in a good spot where we weren't in any danger.

Volcano eruption in Guatemala.

Lava eruptions visible from our campsite.

What did you do for fun inside and outside of the truck?

For fun when the weather was nice, we would go on hikes or explore places on foot. There have been so many amazing places in nature to explore.  In some places we could rent bicycles, rafts or canoes to explore even further.  There are also  plenty of interesting museums to see and exciting festivals to watch. When the weather was bad outside, we would read books inside the truck or use our rain jackets and rain pants to stay dry while exploring. 

What was the coolest plant you saw?
One cool plant in the Amazon was called a "walking tree". It's roots are above the ground like stilts. It can grow new roots closer to the side that receives more sunlight. Then the old roots that get less sunlight, die and fall off. This makes the tree move very slowly towards more light. Eventually the tree ends up in a completely different spot then where it started!

A Walking Tree in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador.

Did you go to any national parks?

We went to as many national parks as possible. We found different national parks in deserts, jungles, high in the mountains, on volcanoes, and on the beach.

What is the coolest thing you have seen or done on the trip?
Good question. The coolest thing that we have done on this trip, is we had a dream and we made our dream come true. We decided that we wanted to do something really big (like a big adventure), so we made a plan, we did lots of research, we focused on our goal, and we were persistent. Even when things seemed impossible, we just worked really hard.   We were able to make that dream come true and now we feel like we can do anything that we focus on. So I guess that means that the coolest thing that we have seen, is that hard work can help us accomplish our goals.   

Crossing the border from Chile to Argentina.