In addition to using our Nikon SLR and iPhones to document our travels, we also brought a small shock-proof, water-resistant Olympus camera. We had originally purchased it for adventure travel, but given that adventuring has taken a backseat to parenting, we’ve found a new use for the camera: we gave it to our son, curious to see how our travels would look from his vantage point.
Our first stop, after alighting in Port Elizabeth and picking up our rental car, was Avoca – an hour’s drive north into South Africa’s citrus-growing Sundays River Valley. S found a family-run farm that offered accommodation in modernized mud huts, cottages, and chalets scattered along the riverbank, which seemed like an excellent starting point for our journey.
Our brief Cape Town “babymoon” last year was our first visit to South Africa. Even as many of our friends raved about the joys of South African travel, we had put off visiting the country much like one would put off traveling to London, Paris, or New York. Big, international, destinations with airline hubs are easy to reach, so it always seemed like we would have plenty of opportunities to go. In fact, when S had suggested South Africa as a possible travel destination early into our Nairobi tour, D shrugged off the suggestion and told her that climbing Kilimanjaro and rafting the Nile were much higher priorities on his list.
We approached our three-week odyssey with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. S had taken both kids to Italy in November, but there she had had her parents’ help, which was absolutely necessary for managing Munchkin’s difficult moments. Also, S and her family had mostly stayed put in one place. This would be our first trip just the four of us – our first time taking both kids on an extended journey, and we packed a lot into each day.
Watching the small island nation where we had spent the previous week grow ever smaller as the plane rose above the Indian Ocean, we experienced a familiar mix of emotions. The reservoir of relaxation we had built up during three weeks of R&R started to recede somewhat as we contemplated the long, difficult trip home: multiple flights and long layovers with two small kids in tow. We arrived back in Kigali late Sunday night, the uncertainty of our government shutdown adding an unpleasant wrinkle to the end of our vacation. And yet, we felt buoyant.
S has visited the Netherlands several times: first on a full day layover on her way back from study abroad in Ghana; then again for a two-week research project for her college thesis; and finally with her parents for a week-long vacation when she was pregnant with Munchkin. Over the course of our six-and-a-half years in the Foreign Service, Amsterdam has become our transit hub of choice, especially considering the dearth of flight options into East Africa. Instead of simply flying through on her way to and from Tuscany, S decided to tack on a one-day layover in Amsterdam to see a close friend and explore a bit deeper one of her favorite European capitals.
Every once in a while we like to look back at the bucket list we threw together at the beginning of our first Foreign Service tour, a few months into our marriage – to check if we can cross off any items and add a few new ones, but also to reflect on the time that has transpired and how it has changed both us and our goals.