When I studied Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University, I learnt how to conduct focus groups. You had to conduct as many interviews as needed to start hearing the same answers, or at least themes, over and over. Typically this happens after about twenty interviews. Perhaps there is a similar rule of thumb for travel. After you have traveled for a certain amount of time, the lessons learnt start to naturally cluster in themes. I felt this way during month eleven of our travels, as we set sail from the Brazilian town of Paraty.
Some of our best travel experiences have been serendipitous, and the result of AirBnB listings. The site not only lists houses, but also other sleeping options. In Thailand, we found an amazing volunteer opportunity this way and in Brazil we found the sailing yacht of Luisa and Gustavo. Seven and Nine had been asking to “sleep on a boat” ever since they first went fishing in Australia, but the rest of the family wasn’t too keen. We looked into a sailing trip in Greece, where island hopping is very popular, but the offerings were outside our budget. So, when I found a yacht in Paraty, captain included, for $100 a night, we decided to go for it.
The bay around historic Paraty is full of small islands and beaches that are best explored by boat. The captain also promised snorkeling, kayaking and fishing. We had just two days on the boat so we set sail right away. It was still raining, but during our unexpected weekend in The Netherlands (link) we had picked up the kids’ rain pants so we were prepared. Just after sunset we anchored in a steamy bay, surrounded by green mountains. Seven insisted to start fishing right away. The only gear on board were lines and lures. Nobody caught anything. Seven said to Gustavo, “You might be a sailor, but you are not a fisherman.” After a home cooked pasta meal we turned in early, the kids fighting for arm and leg space in the rear, while my husband and I snuggled in the front.
There is nothing like waking up in the middle of nature. The jungle around us was still covered with a white blanket of clouds, but the kids were ready to go. Gustavo’s first cigarette was still hanging from his upper lip when the kids started to badger him to kayak. Gustavo was in his early middle years, with black hair and a graying beard, wearing a blue shirt and kaki shorts. Everybody on the boat was barefoot. “Go,” he responded to the request for paddling. He pushed off the surprised Seven and Nine in a dingy with two paddles. “We are on our own now,” they chirped in surprise. WorldTripGirl took the kayak. They all set off for a faraway beach. We heard the boys arguing, their voicing echoing over the water and the dingy made many 360 turns due to their lack of cooperation. Then Gustavo put on some Brazilian music and we heard nothing. “If they capsize and need help, there is nothing I can do,” I realized. To reach them swimming would take a good fifteen minutes, and lifting the anchor at least as long. I found comfort in the fact that they were together, and that they were all good swimmers. It doesn’t mean that I was ever stopped worrying completely, but kids in other countries just have more freedom than we give them in The United States and our kids love it. There comes a point as a parent that you need to trust that the survival skills you taught them will get them through. So, we sipped our morning coffee from plastic mugs and officially graduated in the art of “letting go”, which we had practiced during the course of our trip [read more about sailing in The Netherlands here and on my daughter’s blog about her freedom in Tel Aviv here].
Twenty minutes later the kids returned safely and we all had breakfast. Just like “letting go” has become a major trip theme, “food” also features consistently in our travel memories. Our skipper taught us how to make Dolce de Leche out of condensed milk, even on a boat, which made for great breakfast spread. He also turned out to be a former bar man and he showed later that night how to make proper Caiparinhas. On a remote beach, where the garbage can only be picked up by boat, we tasted the freshest fish from a family restaurant. When I say “we”, I mean my husband and I because the kids skipped the fish and took another solo excursion as Gustavo went with the kids to show them the way to a submerged cave nearby. It turned out that the travel themes of “letting go” and “food” sometimes go hand in hand.