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Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles. Away from home again.

It’s 6.45pm and the sun is about to set on the small sand island of Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The sun is blazing a bright shimmer across the water towards the beach, still powerfully hot and bright, reminding us all of its strength even at this time of day. Tourists – Mexicans and Americans mostly – are gathered, iPhones at the ready, to capture the ball of fire as it falls rapidly from the horizon, sending twirls of pinks, purples and reds across the sky. Beer in hand, I’m also watching.

I’ve been thinking about this ‘final’ blog for some time and this seems as good a time as any to write it. With only a 8,000 kms flight back to London (not including a short hop to Dublin), that’s it for my third round the world trip. I caught the travelling bug as a naive and ponytailed 17 year old, took off again in 2002-3 (mostly to watch the World Cup in Japan and Korea) and again this time with my brilliant wife, Miriam and my brave, funny and awesome young girls, Arielle and Eden.

I sometimes sit back and think, did we achieve what we wanted to from this trip? Well, yes, I think we did. We wanted to show the girls that there’s a big wide world out there – check. We wanted them to understand that the world is not scary but exciting and inspiring and that there is life outside London – I think check. We wanted to spend more time together as a family, to learn and teach each other – yes, check. And, we wanted to share in an experience of a lifetime and gave the girls lots of memories – definitely check.

So after 56,000 miles, 33 flights, 50 taxi rides, 2 campervans, 14 boats and 18 coach journeys we head home. On the way through 11 countries and 4 stop-over countries, we’ve stayed in 42 hotels, 3 rainforest lodges, 3 eco lodges, 1 hotel car park, 1 school, 27 campsites, 2 restaurant car parks, 1 town square, my sister and relatives and countless other hostels, farms, and others. We’ve had many bizarre illnesses, strange allergic reactions and a good few fevers and tummy bugs. We’ve lost money (still don’t know what happened to that cash in Chile), missed and booked the wrong flights (twice, cost a lot of money!), run out of petrol and been stuck in the sand twice!

We tried to learn two languages – Spanish for us all (went ok-ish but should be a lot better after nine months in Spanish speaking countries!) and I’ve been trying to teach the kids Hebrew (going better than Spanish!), we’ve learnt a lot of coding, finished the school curriculum, surfed, snorkelled and swam so much! As Eden says #notgoingbacktoourlocalpoolagain!

We have also met the most brilliant people along the way. Long lost relatives, who the kids have really taken to and I’m happy that they’ve now met so many relatives from my side of the family. Other families doing the same as us, traveling different routes, taking their time, but all with the same shared objectives. And, families who have settled away from home, searching for a different, quieter and more open lifestyle.  And like these folk, it’s not always been easy and certain moments have been very stressful and difficult but having to deal with that, I suppose, is part of the experience.

And while the world seems a lot smaller than in 1992 – anyone under 30 heard of reverse charging an international call? – it still amazes me that you can stay in touch with friends, family and news of home on a handheld screen. But, honestly, it has also been very liberating to leave all that behind for a while and just have the time to wonder, to think, to be still either alone or together, to wake up early and see the sunrise or walk in the warm evening air. That is what I’ll miss the most.

Thanks for following our trip.

Until next time.

PS – title is from The Edge of The Deep Green Sea by The Cure

Marvellous Mexico – Part 2

Amazing campervan home

We are in a campervan, it is pretty cool. Me and my sister sleep on the top, my mum and dad sleep on the bottom. Here are some of the campsites we stayed in:

Sima de Los Cotorras – Sima de Los Cotorras is a big deep hole filled with parrots. When we were there we woke up in the morning really early to see the parrots fly from the hole to the trees. Then we had breakfast, then we went on a rocky and scary path all around the hole. On the way we saw ancient hand paintings. We had to put on harnesses and helmets. A harness is a belt with a string on it with a clip on wire so you do not fall off. On the way to Sima de Los Cotorras we stopped at a waterfall. Me and my mum saw some amazing caterpillars on the walk to the waterfall.

Palenque – Palenque is a Mayan city made out of stone with carvings. When we were there we climbed four small pyramids and one really big pyramid. The view of the city was super cool.

Lake Bacalar – Lake Bacalar is a lake – the campsite had swings in the water. Every day we did school and then had lunch and then we went for a swim. Bacalar was refreshing. One day we went on a kayak. The water was very clear. We tied the kayak to a pole and then we went for a swim by the kayaks.

Selva el Jabali – On the way to Tulum, we stayed in Selva el Jabali campsite. We went to the Grande Cenote. It is a cenote with stalagtites and stalactites and turtles. A cenote is a natural swimming hole sometimes in a cave.

Suyton Cenote – Suytun cenote is a cave with water with stalactites on the ceiling. In the daytime light comes in from a hole in the ceiling. We swam in the water which was cold and deep.

Rio Lagartos – Rio Lagartos is a beach which has flamingoes. The next day when we arrived we saw flamingoes. After, we put on Mayan mud, we put it all over our bodies. When we got back to the campsite we saw a beautiful sunset. The water was light blue.

Isla Mujeres – We arrived in Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres is an island, which means island of the women. Today we saw fish in the shallow water.

 

2 days to go, time to take stock

So here we are, at our final destination – on Isla Mujeres, with two days till we fly home from Cancun. Time to take stock.

What I will miss:

  • Managing quite happily with only as much stuff as we can carry
  • Spending so much time outdoors
  • Meeting new people and seeing the different choices they make about how to live
  • Freedom to do what we want, when we want
  • Getting up close and personal with so much incredible wildlife from Aji the baby sloth in Peru to swimming with sea lions in Baja California to fireflies in Ometepe
  • Kids making up funny peculiar characters that feature in all games and most conversations. Old Mime Guy is a favourite but too hard to explain here.
  • Seeing something new everyday
  • Playing countless games of chess (Miki wins), scrabble (I win), and bananagrams (could go either way)
  • Long lazy breakfasts together with a surfeit of fresh mangos
  • Time
  • Hanging out with my wonderful family everyday.

What I won’t I miss:

  • Hanging out with my wonderful family everyday
  • Packing and unpacking rucksacks every few days
  • Untangling far too many cables and chargers to make sure every electronic device is plugged in. Turns out I’m quite obsessive about this.
  • Not speaking enough Spanish to have proper conversations with people in South and Central America. Should have learnt more before we came away
  • The clothes we’ve been wearing day in, day out for a year. Most are going in the bin.
  • Arguing with the kids about home-schooling
  • Mosquitos, being covered head to toe in repellent and getting bitten anyway.

I was hoping that by now that I’d have made my peace with the end of this journey and be ready to re-enter normality. But I haven’t really. Yes, there’s been trying times, frayed tempers, and the claustrophobia of living in each other’s pockets for a year. But we’ve had adventures every day, seen mind-blowingly wonderful things, and built up enough crazy memories to last a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want this to carry on?

I do know coming home will be ok. I love my life, my family and my friends. I’ve got a new job to look forward to (still in government, but now I’ll be working for the Office for Civil Society on social action) and we’ve talked a lot about how we’re going to try to bring home some essence of this year back into our daily life.

These range from the small (putting up hammocks to recreate that lazy, holiday feeling) to the practical (eating breakfast together everyday, and me and Miki putting aside some of many meetings we go to in the evenings to hang out together more) to the significant (kids sharing a room so we can hopefully offer the other to a refugee via HomesforSyrians).

What it boils down to is carving out time once we’re back at work and school to be together, and acting on the many conversations we’ve had about justice, poverty and helping others.

We’ve been so bloody lucky to have had this year together, to do something outside the norm, to have had such an adventure.

Thank you to my amazing, brave, adventurous, funny husband and daughters. Let’s do this again soon, ok?

Miraculous Mexico – Part 2

Campervan

We have been in our Campervan since the 8th July and these are the campsites we have stayed in:

1. Oaxaca – On the first day of campervanning, we only went to a supermarket to buy supplies and camped in a place 10 minutes outside of Oaxaca.

2. Tehuantepec – On the drive to the next campsite, we stopped at a little swimming hole next to a rock feature that looks like a petrified waterfall.  We camped in a hotel car park.  It felt a bit weird because we had to argue lots before they let us in

3. Sima de Los Cotorras – we stopped at another water feature – an anonymous waterfall with freezing water.  When you went under it felt like stones were being thrown at you.  We camped at a huge sinkhole full of green parrots.  We got up at 06:00 to see them all fly out.  After that, we got into harnesses and walked around the rim of the sinkhole, seeing ten thousand year old cave paintings.  I felt really scared because there was only a teeny bit of rock to walk on!

4. Chiapas de Corzo – That night we parked on the town square.   It felt so odd eating on the street because everyone stared at us! In the morning we went to a huge gorge with spider monkeys and crocodiles.

5. San Cristobal de las Casas – We stayed in a proper campsite for three nights.  It was near a really touristy town that only had endless souvenir shops.  We had falafel for dinner one night.  We also went horse riding to a town called Chamula. In Chamula, we visited a church where people don’t worship Jesus, they worship John the Baptist and they also have odd traditions like sacrificing chickens and lighting lots of candles. Also, they drink soft drinks and burp.  They believe that they are burping out their sins.

6. Palenque – On the drive to the next place, I threw up three times!  Our campsite was near a huge Mayan city called Palenque.  The site had huge temples and intricate carvings still preserved after hundreds of years.  The kings who lived there were called: Pakal – Sunshield, Khan Bah Alarm II – Jaguar Serpent, Precious Peccary and Turtle Macaw Lake.  It felt amazing seeing 700 year old carvings that are still intricately beautiful.  I felt like the Mayans were right next to me.

7.  Lake Bacalar – We camped at a beautiful azure blue lake, swimming, kayaking and doing lots of school.  We also swam at night and swam naked as well.  The water always felt really cool.

8. Tulum – We camped at a small campsite with a swimming pool, very close to some cenotes.  A cenote is a sinkhole filled with water.  A sinkhole is a hole that is created when water drains through the earth and eats away at the earth underneath, until you are eventually left with a large hole.  Another kind of sinkhole forms when the roof of an underground cave falls in and the cave fills with water.  In Mexico, these are called Cenotes. The first cenote was very deep and very cold.  There was a baby crocodile in the water but we didn’t get eaten.  The next morning we swam in a huge cave with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere.  There were also turtles there.  It felt really awesome swimming in a cave.  #nevergoingtoparkroadagain

9. Suytun Cenote – We stayed at another place with cenotes.  The cenotes were underground and get no sunlight so the water is freezing cold.  It felt really creepy underground.

10.  Rio Lagartos – The last place was a beach.  In the morning we took a boat and saw: cormorants, pelicans and… flamingoes. We got really close to them and I took some amazing pictures!  It was really boiling but we cooled off at a local beach.

 

Miraculous Mexico – part 1

Mexico is our very last country on our around the world trip.  We have seen many old things (like the ancient remains of Teotihuacan and the coral reefs of Cabo Pulmo) and new things (such as Mexico City).  This is an account of my time in Mexico so far.

Mexico City

On our first day, we went to Frida Kahlo’s house.  We saw a lot of her art and sculptures as well as her:  painting room, bedroom and kitchen.  After, we took a taxi to an indoor market to eat tostadas, which are crackers but a bit more crispy.  I had mine with prawns, my sister had chicken and my dad had ceviche (raw fish).  My mum, Eden and I bought Frida Kahlo t-shirts!  The next day, we visited the museum of anthropology.  We saw: a statue of the serpent god, the stone of the sun, Mayan dental work and other countless artefacts.  For summer we went to a sushi restaurant for amazing sushi and sashimi.  On Thursday, we went to the ancient remains of Teotihuacan.   First, we took a long ‘Avenue of Death’ to get to the sun pyramid.  It was a very hard climb up the sun pyramid, but at the top, we sacrificed Eden in exchange for rain.  On our way back, we also saw:  the moon pyramid, the butterfly temple and a painting of a puma.  And the next day, I was really ill.

Cabo Pulmo

We stayed with my amazing cousins, Lucas and Lola and their awesome parents, Carmel and Pablo.  Our flight got in at about ten o’clock so we couldn’t go fishing with Lucas and Pablo.  They left at 5am!  After breakfast, we went out to snorkel with…SEA LIONS!!!  They were all on a big rock but some jumped into the turquoise sea to swim with us!  Using the tuna Lucas and Pablo caught, Carmel made amazing tuna sushi, some raw tuna and tuna in bread crumbs.  While we were there, my mum and I went snorkelling and saw:  stripy fish, fish no bigger than my pinky nail, tiny blue fish, butterfly fish, connet fish and scorpion fish.

Copper Canyon

We arrived in Copper Canyon by train and then took a taxi to our hostel.  We couldn’t actually see the canyon there but we did see some cool mountains.  Our next hotel was an odd place in the middle of a village called Barancas.  We took a walk and we saw the gargantuan Copper Canyon.  The next day my mum and I went zip lining across the canyon, going really fast through the huge canyon.  At the end, we were really hot and sweaty.  We took a cable car back to Eden and my dad.

Puebla

Puebla is the place to go if you want to buy Talavera, the beautiful blue patterned tiles.  We went to a Talavera factory to watch how they are sculpted, polished, fired, painted and varnished.  The most common design was a hummingbird surrounded by beautiful patterns.

Oaxaca

In Oaxaca we volunteered at a school for very poor Oaxacan children. We went every morning and did our own school in the afternoon.  We taught the kids English nouns and maths through:  bingo, charades, drawing and snakes and ladders.  Oaxaca is the centre for Alebriges, beautifully painted animal figures.  We saw the figures being carved and painted in a tiny town outside of Oaxaca.  After seeing them being painted, we painted some ourselves.  I did a coyote, Eden did a hummingbird, my mum did an owl and my dad did a fish.  We had grasshoppers for lunch!

That evening, my dad got an allergic reaction, so we had to go to the hospital at 8pm.  Eden and I watched a movie while my dad had injections.  I had a stomach problem in Oaxaca.

We picked up a campervan in Oaxaca but I’ll write about that in my next blog.

 

Marvellous Mexico part 1

Mexico City
We went to Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City. The outside of the house is blue. Frida Kahlo’s house had lots of paintings. She did it by herself on a wheelchair and sometimes on her bed with a mirror. In her house she was born there and lived there.

At the museum of modern art, there is one Frida Kahlo painting, there is also an outside bit with statues.  For dinner it was sushi, me and my sister had prawn tempura.
We went to see wrestling. Wrestling is jumping on people and rolling. Their names were Tiger and Puma and Reaper and Robin.

Teotihuacan
We took the bus to Teotihuacan. It is a very big city made of stones and it is 1500 years old. When we got there we climbed a pyramid. They did sacrifices at the top of the pyramid to worship the gods.

Cabo Pulmo, Baja California
We went to our cousins house to see Lola and Lucas. They live in a desert by the beach. We all did science experiments with colours and mints. At the beach we all did fishing. We went on a small boat and went to a rocky part where we could see sea lions, we swam with them too. Sea lions are heavy and they have whiskers and flippers.

Puebla
Puebla is a small city with hundreds of tile shops. We went to a pottery factory where they made pottery like plates and cups and bowls and tiles. We actually got to see them make it by hand.

Oaxaca
We helped in a school for a week. We did snakes and ladders with maths, maths bingo, animal bingo and made paper airplanes. The next day we went on a school trip to the park, in the park we went on a zipline. I liked making new friends.

We helped in the school in the morning, in the afternoon we had lunch, after that we did our own school. Me and my dad learned about airplanes, cars and train engines. Me and my mum learned about the planet’s in the solar system.

Oaxaca is famous for its alebrijes. Alebrijes are carved animals which are painted with Mexican patterns. We got to paint one ourselves in a  workshop where they made alebrijes and I painted a hummingbird.

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime to the ridiculous to the…

We perhaps should have got the hint about how not set up Mexico is for campervanning by the fact there is only one company – Mexicamper – hiring RVs in the whole of the country. We hired from them, to be told that Mexicamper have exactly one RV. We are currently in Mexico’s sole rentable campervan. Having said that, the van’s amazing. It’s bloody huge, with beds, banquettes, bathroom and brown decor. So 1970s. This is home for 3 weeks as we drive from Oaxaca to Cancun for our (whisper it) flight home on August 9th.

We’re now one week in and have stayed in some, let’s say, unusual places. Campsites are few and far between, to the extent that after driving for 6 hours on our second day until 8.30pm and still an hour from the nearest campsite, we gave up and threw ourselves on the mercy of a hotel with a big car park by the motorway. They told us to bugger off. As did the next hotel. By the third, I took my secret weapon – a tired and teary-eyed Arielle. Did they really expect us to keep driving when the children were so desperate for a safe place to sleep? They did. Until I also offered them lots of money for the privilege of sleeping in their very ugly car park for the night.

Since then though, we’ve stayed in some amazing places and have thanked the Recreational Vehicle gods that we are totally self-sufficient for power, water, toilet and air-con. A visit to Hierves de Agua (a rock formation that looks like a waterfall, with natural swimming holes) and a night on the foreshore of a mountain-ringed lake, making friends with local kids down for a swim.

Then after stopping at a waterfall for our first shower in a few days, we spent a night in Sima de las Cotorras, camped just 50m from an incredibly beautiful 160m deep sink hole filled with parrots. We fell asleep to the sound of their screeching and got up at dawn to watch clouds of them fly out for the day. We then strapped on harnesses to walk along the ledge around the inside of the sink hole to see 10,000 year old paintings made by the local tribespeople. The ledge was about a metre wide and 100 metres up. Nope, not at all scared, if you were wondering.

Yesterday we parked up on the main square of a pretty town and slept there, on the basis that it was probably safer than the dark, secluded public car park. We got friendly waves and bemused looks from the townspeople passing by as we ate dinner on the pavement. It’s quite strange waking up naked with an entire town getting on with its business outside the window. Much like an anxiety dream I’ve had before, but at least the curtains were closed.

Tonight we’re in our first actual proper campsite, just outside the beautiful and strangely hipsterHoxton-like San Cristobal de las Casas. With other campers! And hot showers! And a campfire! All is good with the world.

Coffee in Oaxaca

There is something beautiful about waking up early, going for a run and getting a quick coffee before everyone else really wakes up. It is a time when you feel the warm sunshine air and see the shadows slowly lift on the old colonial single-storey buildings as the town starts to wake up. The buses thunder down the empty streets but the noise doesn’t seem to effect the overall sense of tranquility that shrouds this neat, narrow and old city.

Despite the obvious influx of tourism, expats and gringos learning English in one of Mexico’s most likeable cities, there is an air of tradition that lingers. You’ll find a church every few corners and small street food stalls selling tortillas, quesadillas, flutes with mole and other local specialties and good coffee and hot chocolate wafting from the plethora of local cafes and chocolate stores. The smells take you to local markets where old men and women crouch over huge pots of stews, grass hoppers and fruit juices making it difficult to decide what to eat, sometimes overwhelmed by the choice on offer.

That time in the morning is precious. Getting up and seeing the empty streets is one of my favourite times of the day. The warm air is kinder then before the heat of the midday sun and the light rains and mosquitos emerge with the evening grey clouds and the first mezcal of the day has yet to be poured. The rubbish has been collected and the shops are still closed so the crazy hustle and bustle that takes over the shopping streets has yet to start.

Like may of these cities, Puebla included, these is a strong student vibe here. Posters with revolutionary slogans adorn the walls of old buildings, declaring ‘no passivity, no oppression’ and communist symbols are stencilled in black graffiti ink across the town. And meanwhile there is a strong culture of art, as in much of central and South American – huge murals depicting futuristic events or traditional Mexican skulls cover many buildings.

And yet Oaxaca seems miles away from much of the rest of Mexico which is in parts a troubled society. Apart from the horrendous killings that happen on a daily basis in the so-called ‘war on drugs’, there is huge inequality here as in much of the country. That is why we decided to volunteer for a small charity called ‘Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots’ that supports and educates kids who are from deprived backgrounds. Many live with single mothers or parents who work on the streets or as farm labourers, too poor to buy their kids what they need for school and too poor to take their kids to school as they need them to work . In all honesty, what can you do in a week with these kids, apart from help them with some English and maths and have some fun with them? But every little does help and the centre helps over 600 kids a year from 6 upwards and some stay until university age, so they need volunteers. And as we’ve done a few times on this trip we wanted to show our kids that not everyone comes from good middle-class backgrounds and can afford school books and lunch.

We are fast approaching the last month of our odyssey. One thing I’ll miss is being able to amble through these historical, yet young towns like Oaxaca that is filled with students and backpackers mingling gently with locals in the warm evening air which cascades down from the mountains into the zocalo and plaza Santa Domingo, heating the stone paving stones and seats as the sun falls slowly under the horizon.

Last stop (big boo!) RV-ing to the Yucatan.

 

 

Home schooling, or How do teachers do this everyday?

On good days, I wonder why we ever send our children to high-pressure, under-funded test factories, when we can learn through doing. The kids can tell you how volcanoes work, complete with an exposition on plate tectonics, learnt while looking up at one. We have time to linger on stuff that the kids find interesting, and bugger the curriculum.


So in the last few weeks, that’s meant Eden learning all about the International Space Station and doing science experiments, and Arielle doing a project on healthy eating and the evils of factory farming. Random, perhaps, but we can cover maths and literacy, and still have loads of time to be led by whatever interests the kids. We have conversations about current affairs, inequality, poverty, inspired by what we’re seeing everyday.

And then there are the bad days. You know that Sunday afternoon fight to get the weekly 15 minutes of homework done, which takes two hours of stropping, sulking and tears (mostly yours)? We have days and days and days and days of that. When nothing I say seems to penetrate into the kids’ heads, when every ‘fun new way of learning about fractions’ is met with derision, boredom and cries of “but you’re not a real teacher”. Don’t I know it.

We’ve home-schooled on the beach, up mountains, in libraries, in the rainforest, on trains, planes and buses.

The kids have done projects on crabs, kimonos, glaciers and glow-worms.

They’ve also researched every country we’ve travelled in, its history, geography, nature and politics. Arielle’s explained the horrors of the American War in Vietnam and the Spanish conquest of South America through the medium of comics. Eden has researched how the Andes were formed, and studied the animals, birds and insects of Nicaragua, done best when we wandered through the forest around our hostel on Ometepe counting, identifying, drawing and bar-charting everything we found. The kids’ blogs and films from every country are here.

Miki’s taught both kids how to play chess and backgammon, and speak Ivrit. I’ve been learning coding with Arielle (she was obviously better than me from Day 1), and teaching both kids to sew (which sounds strangely domestic of me). We’ve both been indoctrinating them with our left-wing, liberal politics.

All of this is the formal learning, when we’ve ‘done school’, usually when we’ve stopped somewhere for at least a week so we’ve had a routine of school in the morning and other activities in the afternoon. In between these times, we’ve visited countless museums and galleries, and walked through ancient sites and natural wonders.

Miki and Arielle learnt how to grow, roast and brew coffee in Vietnam; we all did a week’s Spanish course in Argentina; and learnt to hula hoop from wonderful circus friends.

The kids have learnt loom weaving in Japan, silk weaving in Hoi An, and weaving with llama wool from master weavers in the Sacred Valley in Peru.

We’ve learnt about the value of caring from the environment by taking part in a beach clean-up in the Great Barrier Reef; how and why to care for abused animals by working in an animal rescue centre in the Peruvian Amazon; and just how much work it is to be self-sufficient by working on an organic farm for a week in Argentina. The kids have been to school in Sydney with their cousin, played with kids at an after-school centre in Brazil and helped out at a pre-school in an incredibly poor mountain village in Peru. Truly learning by doing.

Added to this is the learning that comes from just being in a new place, a new country, trying new foods, seeing how different people live, experiencing new environments and cultures, learning to make new friends and talk to anyone. The value of this may take some time to express itself – and I hope the impression that this year has made in the kids lasts them a lifetime – but both kids are undoubtedly more aware, sensitive, resilient and open to new things than they were before they left for this trip.

Home schooling. It’s been a trial and a privilege. But going back to regular school may be an even bigger shock to the system.

Better in Baja, long-lost cousins, life-long friends

It’s a tad nerve-wracking going to stay with a long-lost cousin and family, who you haven’t seen for nearly 20 years, in a desert, over an hour from the nearest big town and with no idea if you’ll get along. Added to that our main memories of each other was spending summers together at our grandmother’s apartment in Haifa, Israel when we were younger and constantly arguing, about nothing of course, but these are the things you remember from your teenage years. So, yes I was nervous.

Well all I can say is that it’s bloody brilliant that I have family from both sides scattered in far-flung places, from an uncle in Ecuador to sister, brother in law, niece and cousins in Australia, Mexico, Canada and more. Carmel, Pablo and the beautiful Lucas and Lola live in tranquility, in the rugged, dusty and mesmerising Cabo Pulmo national park that is on the southern tip of Baja California. The protected reserve is where you can snorkel with sea-lions, dive with sharks, dune buggy across enormous sand dunes and walk for miles across pristine beaches and still find more things to do. Yes, the heat is unrelenting and we are told that the hurricanes come thick and fast in late summer, but if you want to sleep under thousands of stars, watch out for snakes, road runners and jack rabbits then this is the place for you.

But back to family affairs. I’ve always admired, ok been jealous of people I know who have taken interesting and unique turns in their lives. I’m not saying we haven’t but it is fascinating to meet people you know who’ve done it and succeeded. Carmel and family live as far away from normality as is possible down there. Electricity comes from the sun, water is brought in once a month, they don’t have an address so can’t get mail and the local school has nine kids – yes nine kids! But it’s not just the location, it’s the way of life. Daily beach trips, fishing, surfing and snorkelling are just how they live and while I know not every day is ideal and there are hardships, I admire their tenacity and openness to living as they want to.

And luckily we all got on – really well. Eden found a new life-long friend in Lola (obviously separated at birth), Arielle and Lucas are bizarrely the same person and well cousins and spouses just got on, like long-lost friends. And we didn’t argue once! I needn’t have worried.

Next stop Copper Canyon, Puebla and Oaxaca.