Round-the-World Trip

Why I Love Travelling, And Why Kids Should Travel Too.

WP_20140626_039 (2)There are many reasons why I love travelling. One of the most important ones is that travelling allows me to feel connected with the world, in a very personal way.

I realized this last night after I became instantly intrigued by a video post on National Geographic called ‘The Human Cost Of Sugar Harvesting’ that I probably would have just ignored a year ago. Why? Because the report is about what happens in Nicaragua, and I was there for a few weeks last year! I vividly remember the sugar cane farms – among banana farms, papaya trees, mango trees, pineapple farms – in that beautiful country, amid one volcanic mountain after another volcanic mountain.

WP_20140620_101 (2)WP_20140626_044Without having been actually in Nicaragua, I would have never been able to appreciate this video/topic in a way that now feels so familiar. Of course I will never be able to know keenly the day-to-day reality, a very sad and seemingly unescapable one, that surrounds these people. But at least I know where it’s happening. Where on earth Nicaragua is. To what kind of people it’s happening. What kind of social, geographic, political environment that these people live in. The language they speak. The dress they put on. The food they eat. The weather in which they carry out their daily lives. How much they pay for their daily grocery. Whether or not there is a cinema or a supermarket nearby. All these trivial knowledge were gained through travelling, seeing, living in the country.

Thanks to the travelling, I could feel so connected to a part of the world that’s so far away from me. I feel engaged. I become more eager to learn more about the place. I appreciate what they are going through. I feel for them. And I think it is an important issue as well as intimate, because it’s impacting the people that I feel I know a bit of.

I can learn as much as I want from a map or a geography lesson, but I will never really learn until I travel. I’m lucky I have a husband who understands and supports. I wish we would pass this contagious passion to my daughter too, so she becomes a real world citizen who feels connected thus cares.

From Home to Home

WP_20150111_012 1 Nina and I spent the last evening of 2014 and the first 16 days of 2015 in China. It’s the first girls-only trip (as the dad had to stay behind to work. Merc !). I was very pleased with it, although I traded the sunny summer of Sydney into the bitter winter of Shanghai/Ningbo.

WP_20150110_011As it was a last-minute decision (literally I booked the tickets two days before the departure) and my main goal was for Nina and my family/extended family to spend some time together, I didn’t plan much. It turned out to be the best plan.

Nina’s Mandarin really took off during the trip. Prior to our trip, her Mandarin was not as strong as her French – she understood all that I said but would reply in French most of time. Why? Because she heard much more French than Mandarin (double at least) at that time. (side note: so quantity does matter.)During the first week in China, I noticed her Mandarin vocabulary started to increase. By Week two, she was speaking Mandarin 99% of time, although still with some interesting accent (like the accent of an adult foreigner speaking Mandarin 🙂 Could she have picked up from her dad?). Immersion is very powerful!


I was really relieved when Nina spent some time with her grandmother and grand-auntie and great grandmother, without drama. After her dramatic (or traumatic) experience with daycare after our RTW, she became so clingy to us, ALL THE TIME, and the whole family became so exhausted. It became so worrying for us that she would never be able to adapt to a new environment without us. I knew that we had to first make a new environment / new person feel safe to Nina before she would even attempt to interact with the rest of the world. But we couldn’t really try in Sydney as we don’t have any extended family around and we don’t want to traumatize our friends. So in Ningbo, after a few days living with my mum/sister’s family, I knew that she was becoming comfortable. Then one day I told Nina that I had to go out to buy something and she would stay with Waipo (grandmother), and I will return shortly. She nodded her head. I expected some change of mind when I reached out to the front door … She went to the door too … But just to open the door for me! I left. And went back after an hour or so, hearing that she was happy all the time.

WP_20150110_012We then went even further. I decided it was a great opportunity for me, and for Nina, to spend a night apart. I went to spend some much-needed ‘me’ time with a dear friend in a heavenly city of Hangzhou (1.5hours train away), and Nina stayed behind with my mum and auntie’s family. It turned out to be just uneventful, for Nina – the best I could ask! Although I attribute some of the credit to the mental preparation I did with Nina (I described to her multiple times exactly what would happen during that day and the night), I know in my heart that Nina is also learning how to respond to a world without her parents. It’s so reassuring.


Throughout the trip, I was also a bit surprised by some of the differences in adults’ approach to children (It never became so obvious to me). In Sydney, whenever an adult wants to offer some food (fruits, candy, etc), he/she will ask the parents first if it’s ok to do so. In China, however, people just offer it. They mean well of course – they are trying to be nice to kids. Sometimes I would say no (for various reason, for example I don’t want Nina to eat candy all day long), that person would actually insist and even try harder for Nina to accept. Most of time I just couldn’t bring myself to say no. To say no is really hard – it could be interpreted as disrespect, causing the other to lose face, or simply being rude. To say no all day is exhausting. Juice? Chocolate? Fruits? Candy? Biscuit? Nuts? Cake? Coconut juice? Popcorn? Beef jerky? So after a few days, I just decided to give up on Nina’s normal meal & tea time routine, and leave her appetite to be guided by her desire, for as long as we were there! She ate an incredible amount of things … fortunately she still loved her meal.

Nina was a constant source of interest for passers-by when we were out and about. There was no single day passing without me having to answer the question ‘oh is she a mix? where is her father from?’.

Despite the cold weather in general, we were lucky to have a few rather warm days and even blue sky (!), and we made the most of it: visited a few beautiful wood-structured old mansions, a 5-century-old private library (one of the oldest surviving libraries of this kind in the world), climbing a mountain, seeing one of the biggest (and perhaps most chaotic) fishing port in action. And of course, we had MANY banquets, and banquets, and banquets.

Most important of all, Nina and I got to spend a lot of time with my family including my grandmother of 92. It’s really a blessing.

3 Amazing Families On The Go

Travelling is all about the experience. As much as it’s about different landscape, it’s about the smell, the colour, the look, and the taste. Above all it’s the people we met that makes the most lasting memories. As we were travelling as a family – which was certainly the minority in the long-term-travel department – we naturally paid closer attention to other families we met. So I decided to dedicate an entry entirely just to some of the amazing families we met.


Family 1 – Cusco/Peru – one big family ready for action

In Cusco, we stayed in an Airbnb house with a very special family for about 10 days. Parents (Bill & Nicole) and 4 kids ranging from 1 to 8 (Liam, Tim, Jeanne, Sam) shared a cosy 2-story colonial house with their guests (they could house as many as 10 guest I believe with 4 guest rooms). Bill & Nicole had to be the most active parents with this amount of little ones under 10 – I simply didn’t know how they managed it, and they managed it so unbelievably well.

Bill and Nicole were both originally from Buffalo/USA. Coming to Cusco when their oldest son was only 1 with no Spanish, they now had 4 kids – active, social, capable and polite – and everyone (except Sam who was just turning 1 so not verbal yet) spoke perfect Spanish as well as English. Bill impressed us one day with his fluent Quechua conversation with a cab driver. All kids were being home-schooled (they had a ‘classroom’ at home)! We were one of their first guests as, back in April, they just started their new adventure as a family: build a business with Airbnb room rental + local experience guide. Their business had been going wild since then as I followed their facebook update. They managed everything by themselves with just help of a cleaning lady coming to their place every day (I believe) – starting the business, receiving and looking after the guests, schooling, guests, outdoor, house chores, getting two outdoor showers built, and everything else with 4 kids. Yet they managed to be constantly on the move. They did walks or rode bicycles almost everyday after schooling.

Right before we left Cusco, they were getting ready for a 4-day trekking with all four kids. This was the real hard core type of trekking that we were talking about here: they had to carry all the gears and supplies for 4 days as there were no shops nor established campsites along the way, they had to set up tents every afternoon and take down every morning, they had to cook using only what you carried (including utensils), and they would be walking constantly well above 4000 metres above sea level- so snow would be present. This was the type of trip that even just with one toddler that I would try to avoid, and they were setting out with 4 kids, including one still being breastfed. Talking about madness!

For a week, they got Liam and Tim to practice setting up and taking down the tent in their backyard, and boys would sleep in the tent at night. A few days later, the boys were perfectly capable of taking care of their own tent, entirely on their own. On the day they hired three horses  – one for Liam, one for Tim, and the other one for carrying supplies. Bill and Nicole would carry one young child each. As the departure date approached, it started to rain heavily and the weather forecast didn’t give any better news. They hesitated – as any rain in the city of Cusco could mean horrendous snow up in the mountain where they were going. But they decided to go anyway. I was eager to hear from them as we arrived in Colombia – and then I saw them posting some awesome photos after they returned from that epic camping trekking trip. They made it!

Family 2 – Copacabana/Bolivia & Bogota/Colombia – It cannot be more international than this

South America is the type of place where you don’t see or hear Chinese often. In Bolivia, it became even less so.  So I was naturally surprised – and delighted – that in the garden of a small boutique hotel in Copacabana/Bolivia I heard a mother speaking to a young child in Mandarin!

Meet one of the most travelled international families I’ve ever known.

Yvonne (Chinese by birth) and Fernando (Venezuelan by birth) lived in Bogota/Colombia with their 3-year-old Luca (born in, guess where, Czech Republic). They were travelling for a month through Bolivia and Chile. Just before coming to Copacabana they did the 3-day jeep trip of the Uyuni circuit which I didn’t attempt to try (we only did the day trip).

We spent quite a few occasions together in the following days before they went back home, including a dinner in a restaurant, an outdoor Jacuzzi feast overlooking Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) where two kids had enormous fun together, feeding llamas, and a dinner cooked by Yvonne (in this most lovely hotel, each room/bungalow came with a kitchen and wood log fire place) and shared over a bottle of Chilean wine, a few beers, and many stories. We felt we had made 2 good friends in an entirely unexpected way.

Who would have thought that after bidding farewell there, we then would meet again in Bogota/Colombia, a destination that even at that point was not part of our plan?! Even more so, knowing we were going there, they insisted to have us stay over at their apartment in Bogota. Yvonne and Luca would be away in Prague (talking about international travel!), Fernando would reside in their sofa while we occupied their master bedroom! Have I mentioned that Colombians were among the most generous and welcoming populations on the planet? Fernando showed us around in the city of Bogota and led us inside a few doors that we would have otherwise never been able to.

Upon our second (brief) stay in Bogota after travelling around Colombia (and loved it), Yvonne and Luca were back, so we were able to spend yet again one day together, visiting the most beautiful school of arts (where Yvonne was studying leather arts), dined and danced in a Japanese themed restaurant with a few chica drinks.

This was a family that played an unmistakably big role in making Bogota such a special place in our trip. This family is still on the move – since then they had relocated to, guess where, Cairo/Egypt! Who knows where we’ll see each other again next.

Family 3 – Isla de Ometepe/Nicaragua – Serene family

A young family with a 6-month-old lived in a remote slice of paradise – on the volcanic island of Ometepe inside the biggest lake in Central America in Nicaragua. They were building their family, as well as their guest-house business, on the farm land that they bought (while still living in USA) and developed over the last 7 years or so from scratch. It was definitely an experience in itself just to get there, but it could easily be one of the most serene/peaceful/natural existences on the planet. With about 100 different fruit trees and many monkeys in the company, days could just be idled away, with plenty of time to reflect or to meditate, or to sip the house-made hibiscus tea. The question is: if some could build such a flourishing farm in such a remote location coming from so far away, what could not be done with some genuine love and persistence?

I have written a separate blog about our 3-day experience there – Finca Mystica, A Destination In Itself.

Where and how to live as a family is certainly a personal choice. By meeting some truly incredible families like the ones above who have chosen to live a different life, in unexpected corner of the world, or in some unconventional fashion, my eyes were certainly opened. Bringing a toddler to travel around the world for 9+ months was not a small deal, but sometimes comparing to these families I felt that was really just breeze.

[D186 – 189] Finca Mystica – A Destination In Itself

[D186 – 189] Isla de Ometepe / Nicaragua


D186, June 21, Granada -> Ometepe

Well, we are right now literally in the middle of nowhere, a farm lodge called Finca Mystica (‘Mystical Farm’) in the volcanic island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Within 10km radiance, there are just 7 human beings: the owners Ryan,  Angela, Jazmine of their 6 mth old; Thomas another guest from France, and we three. The rest are monkeys, fruit trees, trees, water from Nicaragua lake, and the two volcanoes that our island sits on. Its remoteness reminds us of the jungle lodge we stayed in Tasmania.


We had quite a trek today from Granada to get here. Ryan from Finca arranged a car/private taxi to pick us up from Casa del Aqua in Granada to the port of San Jorge (for US30 and less than an hour, we avoided ourselves the hassle of walk+bus+walk+bus/taxi that might take more than 2 hours). From there we took the 2:30pm ferry (a vehicle + passenger ferry that costed us 70 cordobas pp for the one-hour ride). At some point the water was so choppy (freaky to think about esp considering that it’s inside a LAKE, well the biggest lake in entire Central America that is) that water came right up to the second floor of the ferry, and the passengers sitting on window seats got sprayed. But the view was simply surreal: looking towards the Isla de Ometepe, I could see the twin volcanic islands soaring up, towards the iconic volcanic clouds. Once debarking on the port Moyogalpa, we had another smiling driver waiting for us to our taxi/private car arranged by Finca again. Well, this time the 4×4 not only was practical, it was almost the only choice. After 20min of paved road, we started a bumpy unpaved mountain roads for the next 30-45 min (I just couldn’t remember how long exactly it was, it seemed going on forever anyway).  We passed through some houses, cultivated farms, a bit of beaches, a school, a few road side shops, but most of time just forest after forest. Finally after a long private drive way, we were greeted by the most gentle owner family of Ryan, Angela, Jazmine, and their dog and the howler monkeys. The journey itself was part of the experience, definitely the case here.


Howler monkeys reside on the farm land. I don’t know how many they are, but I saw 6 or 7 of them on the mango tree under which I was sitting on the hammock with Nina. They looked at us as intensely as we did them. The baby monkey was jumping around nonstop, while the mummy monkey was watching patiently. Exactly the behaviour of human being.

At night these howling monkeys, well, howled. So loudly that I could almost distinguish from which tree they were.

D187, June 22, Ometepe/ Finca Mystica

There wasn’t much to do really, esp for us who didn’t want to walk for kilometres with Nina in tow. We walked down to the beach – not exactly white sand beach, but black volcano sand/rocks, much finer than the one on Luguna de Apoyo. The water was warm, but not clear – was it natural due to the sediments or colours of sand, or due to pollution brought in by boats? If the canal does come through one day through Lago de Nicaragua, there would be more blessings or problems? Well, there was the possibility of opening up a second canel connecting Pacific with Atlantic (the only one currently is the Panama canal), which would be founded by Chinese. I didn’t really know what to think about this.


There wasn’t much to do around, and I was perfectly happy to just sit around in the hammock, watch birds, clouds, trees, and let time go by.

D188, June 23, Ometepe/ Finca Mystica

Hang around in the finca. Pouring rain whole day, much needed rain for the farmers. Everyone came out to plant seeds as they have been waiting for the rain to start. Ryan told us that they bought the farm/land about 6.5yrs ago. For the first few years, they would work 6mts in US (they are both from there) to earn enough money, and come here for 6 mths to build a bungalow, plant some fruit trees, and go back again. He used to live in Asia, and learnt how to use adobe to build houses, so he designed and built the houses himself with a crew of locals. Three yrs ago, they had enough bungalows (5 for guest rooms, 1 as common area/kitchen/dining/their own room) to start the guest house business. Now they have almost 100 types of fruit trees, including some exotic ones, such as sesame, Granada, star fruit, dragon fruit, nuts. Their rare failure includes durian (haha I wasn’t unhappy). He asked me which bamboo to plant in order to have bamboo shoots. I totally failed it, how do I ever explain 春笋,冬笋 etc (spring bamboo?? winter bamboo??) !!


It’s a total madness to think how they managed to bring all that’s needed for these comfortable bungalows (mattress, flush toilets, furniture, etc) being such a long way (and bumpy way) from anywhere commercial. Looking at the lush farm, I had nothing but admiration to them.

It’s a farm so there were many bugs around. Nico even found a scorpion like creature one morning right next to our bedside table. I guess we learnt to be zen – after all, they live here with a 6-mth-old, and they are thriving.

Nina loved picking up mangos under the tree, or found 2 ripe Granada !! Lemon grass are their footpath border plant, I like the idea.


Ryan and Angela seem to be serene people. Working and living on such a remote place certainly requires special traits. To do so happily, proudly, and successfully is not something everyone could manage. He proudly told me that they employ 12 local people , who in turn feel part of the finca and very proud.

Once here, one doesn’t really have choice but to eat in their restaurant 3 times a day. All food is made from scratch daily, using as many ingredients from the farm as possible, including the daily baked bread, pancake etc. The home-made hibiscus ice tea was awesome, as well as maracuya juice.

At night, it has to be the darkest place I be ever been to. Literally there is no light as soon as I turn off the light of our room. Not even distantly. Nothing. Pitch black. Period. It’s a cloudy night so not even moon light or stars. It’s such an unusual experience.

Yet there is internet, not that you get strong signal, nor consistent, but it’s a working one! They have set up an antenna high enough to receive the signal … from the mainland! I am talking about the mainland that’s 1 hour boat ride away. Hence the quality. But still, there is enough to keep in touch with the rest of the world. Ryan and Angela managed their entire business online after all – they get bookings mostly online, through emails. He told me their bungalows were booked out most of time in the year. Without Internet it’s just unthinkable to have a successful business in such a remote place, regardless how wonderful the place is. Isn’t just amazing to think what technology could do?

So Where Did You Go?

RTW map latestFinally I was able to create a map version of where we disappeared into during that 9 months or so.

Comparing to our rough initial plan (to use the world ‘rough’ would be an overstatement), this map had a lot more dots on it. Although the basic itinerary (which continents for example) remained the same roughly, the exact countries – and places in each country – had changed and evolved so much throughout the trip.

A few notable changes: we added Patagonia in Argentina/ Bolivia (loved it)/Colombia (thank goodness)/Nicaragua; we didn’t go to Chile/Brazil, and we shortened the time in Costa Rica significantly. At times these changes seemed daunting, and other times they were obvious decision. Initially we thought we would stay in each place for a few weeks, and very quickly we realized it was not realistic nor necessary. I will come to some of these changes with more detail in relevant posts.

It’s once again a powerful proof to that good old saying: change is the only constant.

The tool that I used to create this map was an online tool called ‘travellerspoint’. Although it wasted me a few precious late night hours when I tried to create the map for the first time (it just didn’t want to save. Totally No stress!), I did find some interesting merits. For example, it told me that:

  • We travelled 77,279 kilometres
  • Days travelling: 282 days
  • The total distance travelled is roughly equivalent to circling the earth 1.9 times! (so we’ve got a lot of carbon footprint to be accountable for …).
  • Distance travelled by mode of transport:
    • Boat: 593km
    • Train: 1,117km
    • Bus: 3,064km
    • Car: 4,520km
    • Airplane: 67,731km
  • we have visited in total 17 countries (although 2 should be deducted as they were just transits)
  • It even allowed me to export my trip to an excel format, which was quite handy.

Now I will stop sounding like their sales rep, and return at once to the most burning question.

So where exactly did we go??

Here is a map for visual person like myself.

countries travelled

Here is a list for the more brave-hearted (of the places we either spent at least one night or as major transit stops):

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Tokyo, Japan
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
La Capelle-les-Boulogne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Lyon, Rhone-Alpes, France
Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
Hauteluce, Rhone-Alpes, France
Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes, France
Antibes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
London, United Kingdom
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain
Buenos Aires, Argentina (here, bookstore)
Montevideo, Montevideo Department, Uruguay
La Barra, Maldonado, Uruguay
Cabo Polonio, Rocha, Uruguay
La Tuna, Canelones, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina
El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
El Chalten, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
Salta, Salta Province, Argentina
Tilcara, Jujuy Province, Argentina
Tupiza, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Uyuni, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Nuestra Señora de La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Copacabana, Copacabana, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Puno, Puno, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Lima, Peru
Bogota, Colombia
Cartagena, Bolivar, Colombia
Taganga, Magdalena, Colombia
Barichara, Santander department, Colombia
Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador
Lima, Peru
Miami, Florida, United States
Oviedo, Florida, United States
Miami, Florida, United States
San Jose, Costa Rica
La Fortuna, San Jose, Costa Rica
San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Apoyo Lagoon, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Ometepe, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Jose, Costa Rica
Miami, Florida, United States
New York, United States
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
New York, United States
Vienna, Virginia, United States
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
San Diego, California, United States
Pismo Beach, California, United States
Palo Alto, California, United States
San Francisco, California, United States
Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Village, California, United States
Mammoth, California, United States
Lone Pine, California, United States
Los Angeles, California, United States
Pape’ete, Windward Islands, French Polynesia
Moorea, French Polynesia
Atoll Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Auckland, New Zealand
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia