|The Big Trip
2004 by Carol Kloskowski
The father of the family in this piece is the son of my former neighbor who has been my friend for thirty years. I thought it was a facintating story and quite an adventure which I was sure many people would enjoy reading.
Taking a year long vacation traveling around the world would be an impossible dream for most families, but Mark and Monica Hughes, who definitely weren’t millionaires, took their children and did it anyway!
Before they married, Mark and Monica had both been Peace Corps volunteers teaching in nearby small villages in Liberia, West Africa where they fell in love. After their Peace Corps commitments, they traveled throughout Europe for three month before returning home. It was a glorious adventure they would ever forget. Later, married with children, they dreamed of another adventure, this time traveling around the world as a family. Of course, it was just dream. How could any family afford to take a year out of their lives? And if you weren’t rich how would you pay for it? What about your job? What about the kids’ education?
All these seemingly unanswerable questions were answered when Mark, an attorney, merged his law firm, Earth Law, dedicated to preserving the environment, with Earthjustice a similar firm. Once the financial settlement had been made, there was some money and time, while Mark considered his next professional venture, for the family to live their dream.
Serious planning began. First, where did they want to go? The children: Duncan 13, Elliot (called Tote) 11, and Maggie 8, at the time, were each asked to presented their cases for three places they wanted to go. (Remember, dad’s a lawyer). From their presentations and mom and dad’s list, the family whittled out an itinerary around the kitchen table. They found a renter for their house (a bit more money for their traveling expenses), got passports, vaccinations, packed boxes of things to be stored in the basement, and finally found a year-round home for their goldfish.
Next, Monica got together all the materials they would need to home school the children as they traveled. The couple, because of their Peace Corp teaching experience, was looking forward to this experience. So were the children—it was going to be fewer hours than regular school.
Everything accomplished, they left their Colorado home in August of 2000. Their itinerary was extensive—The British Isles, France, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Egypt, India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Malaysia and finally back to the U.S. in August 2001. With a trip budget of only $110 a day, they stayed mainly at hostels or small hotels. Besides flying, they traveled by bus, train, or they walked. They rarely took taxis and only rented a car once. Also, they traveled light—besides a lap top computer, digital camera, personal care items, and a first-aid kit, everyone carried a backpack and a daypack filled with a restricted amount of clothes, shoes, and three books of their choice.
Their comments and journal entries about their trip are definitely not typical tourist guidebook entries.
Edinburgh was charming and medieval. When a cabby refused their tip saying, “You’ll need it; this is a very expensive city,” they discovered he was right.
There are no restaurants with a truly Scottish atmosphere in Glasgow. At least the two Scottish policemen Mark asked couldn’t think of any. “We could have had breakfast at Starbucks, lunched at MacDonald’s and dined at Pizza Hut,” Mark chuckles.
Everywhere they traveled, they visited museums, historical sites, castles, churches, local libraries, and marketplaces. The children’s observations were to be incorporated into their journaling assignment.” Monica admits, “Sometimes getting the journaling done took a lot of prodding but some of things the kids wrote are truly priceless.”
London. After visiting: Lloyd’s of London, St. Paul’s, the Bank of England, The Tower of London, and other attractions, Maggie’s journal entry was, “I played a game with coins, cream containers, coffee sticks, and tea bags on Duncan’s bed.”
Paris. Duncan liked the restaurant where all the kids had wine.
Mark jokes, “After three weeks in Paris, Monica could actually go a whole day without commenting about dog poop on the sidewalks.”
Being cheated while traveling was Mark’s great fear. When he discovered that a Paris bookstore employee had charged him $271 for two books that should have cost $30, he immediately went back to the store. The manager checked his receipts; then in English, she apologized, explaining that they had caught the error, called the bank, and had the charge corrected. The bank had refused to give them Mark’s phone number so they could call and explain what happened to him. Mark left the bookstore smiling, not so worried anymore.
Duncan’s view, “England had accents and royalty. France is an art center and rich, but both seemed normal. Here the Islamic religion is very strange to us. People are called to prayer often. In the market there’s trash and wasted food everywhere.”
Chefchaouen. It’s hard to miss the illegal drugs here, according to Mark. While he was waiting for a coffee, the man next to him in line added hashish to his cigarette. Another man tells him in sign language that his business is hashish.”
The Berber Market. Tote saw deer heads with fur and horns still on them lying on the ground, and a butcher cutting a horse’s skull in half. “I was an inch away. The insides were pink with blood all over them. The Moroccans just walked past casually.”
Tote was impressed with the couches instead of chairs in a “cool” restaurant.
Fees. Mark is sure most tourists walking through the narrow mazes of Fes’s oldest section feel fearful. Guides swarm around, proclaiming the old city is very dangerous, and tourists are certain to get lost without a guide. Refusing their services often brings on shouts of obscenities in whatever language they think the tourist speaks.
Sevill. The youth hostel the family stayed in was built in 1513. For centuries it had been a convent, and then a prison. The Hughes’s were five of the eight guests in a building that could accommodate 120. Smiling, Monica says, “It was great! The children played soccer in the courtyard. Mark worked at a desk in a nook, and I did schoolwork with the children on the balcony.”
Staying in hotels often meant living in the streets. Monica explains, “Lobbies aren’t great places for the kids to play games or do school work. Hotels don’t tolerate running, yelling or whining very well. Most of the hotels we could afford didn’t have lobbies and the rooms were just large enough for beds.”
Mark says, “When it rained we usually spend the day getting rained on while we walked between museums, restaurants, or shops.”
Barcelona. Monica bought a Spanish ham for their Christmas meal with Mark’s uncle who lives in Monaco. Spanish hams are a whole leg with the hoof. She says, “I carried it around town all day, and on the train to France the next day. These hams hang behind the bar in nearly every bodega where they are sliced for tapas.
Venice. Maggie was glad there weren’t any roads. You couldn’t to get whacked by a car. If you’re swimming you could get whacked by a boat though, she thinks.
Maggie found out you can get sick if the floodwater gets on you. The deepest the water got was two and a half feet. (She measured it as part of her math lesson.)
Florence. From Mark’s journal, “I received the wrong change again today. This is the forth time on this trip. Each time it’s been in our favor.”
Tote says of Michelangelo’s David. “It was unrealistic. First, David would be wearing clothes. It seemed like the log was growing around his leg. His hand holding the pebbles was in a bad pose. His finger joints wouldn’t be straight if you were holding pebbles. “I can’t make my hand get into that pose, and his head and hair were ugly.
The “artistic” hit of that day for the kids wasn’t at any museum. It was the discovery that “The Return of the Jedi” was being shown at the hostel that night.
Athens. Marks feelings about Greece. “When I convert our lunch bill into dollars, I cringed. When our hotel turned out to be in the middle of a construction zone, I despaired. When a man in a sandwich shop tentatively spoke English, I was happy.
Snippets of conversation:
Hotel owner: How are you”
Mark: Well, thank you.
Owner: How did you sleep?
Mark: Do they work all night across the street?
Owner: Yes, they say they are in a hurry to finish, after three years.
Mark” The room is okay but you should have mentioned the construction when I called.
Owner: But if I mentioned it, you wouldn’t have come here.
Monica: “I do not believe it is possible for a Greek to cook a bad meal.” Eygpt
Cairo. Mark loves it here, “People were extremely friendly. If we needed directions they’d either tell us (several people have walked a block or two, leaving businesses unattended, to be sure we find our way), or they’d search for someone who spoke English and could translate. One day, at the Bank of Cairo, we tied up half the counter personnel for ten minutes while we were being directed to an address we were looking for.
Duncan liked pyramids but couldn’t figure out why the Queen’s Chamber is called that, when queens are never buried in them. Monica was surprised at how the city crowded right up to the plateau on which the pyramid is located. Mark wondered why the best view of the pyramids is from the windows of a Pizza Hut.
Luxor. While Mark and children went hotel hunting, Monica waited in the train station with their bags. A machinegun toting guard named Mahmound sat next to her. Monica laughs, “We communicated until he exhausted his English and I, my Arabic. Finally, out of desperation to speak English, he sang, “Happy Birthday” to me.
Thekkadi. Going on a guided jungle trek, the family saw lots of monkeys, a group of boars, and fresh elephant prints. Then they met the leeches. Everyone put tobacco powder on their shoes to keep the leeches off, but most everyone spent of the rest of trip putting on more tobacco powder, smashing leeches with their shoes, or whacking leeches off their shoes with sticks. Monica was bitten three times, Duncan once. Tote came home with two leeches in his shoe but no bites. Even the guide was bitten!
Madura. At the Sri Meenakshi Temple, the family was amazed to see a live elephant in front of a shrine. When you held out a coin; the elephant took it with his trunk; blessed your head with his trunk and gave the coin to his owner.
After the temple, the family went to a restaurant that served their lunches on banana leaves instead of plates. They had to eat with their hands.
New Delhi. The family stayed at a nice hotel. Mark admits a clean, quiet, air conditioned room is a treat after their day walking in furnace-hot, polluted air, but he comments, “We were in this most amazing country, yet when we entered this hotel, we also entered a standardized world lacking any aspects that make India unique. Also, the hotel costs for eating, laundry, phone calls and transportation were astronomical.”
The Hughes discovered that New Delhi had a large middle class, owning cars, houses, and computers. They could compare beer brands and ISPs. They idolize movie stars.
Duncan thought New Delhi was like Cairo—dusty, dry, polluted and hot. He says. “The sky was always white and sometimes had a brownish hue.”
When both Duncan and Maggie began running high fevers, a new Indian friend recommended a doctor. There was no waiting in his office. Mark says the doctor was extremely efficient. “He told us to call him at home that night to get the results of the blood tests he took. With the tests, the visit cost $9.60. Mark adds, “An earlier emergency room visit in Kodai, had cost $7.70 complete with medicine.
Agra-Taj Mahal City. The Taj Mahal surpassed all Mark’s expectations--it looked just like the pictures.
Pohara. When a tourist asked Maggie “I’ll bet you miss home, don’t you?” She answered after a long pause, “No, I miss Greece.”
The bus ride from Pokhara to Galeswor was scary and interesting, according to Maggie. “The scary part was being so close to the edge of cliffs. The interesting part was having a goat on the bus.”
Tibet. The Hughes became tour members again. Guides making all the decisions were an adjustment, but a bigger adjustment was to the members of their group. One Belgian, terrified by the group’s cliffside trip, crouched in the bed of the wildly pitching truck taking sips of whiskey from a hip flask and chain-smoking cigarettes, while a Dutch girl made constant high-pitched squeals of fear, and an angry Australian woman continually shouted at the guide because her hotel room didn’t have bath and shower even though nothing like that exists for 100 kilometers.
Lhasa. Mark was amazed when he had heard “La Macarena” in Chinese coming from a kitchen of the Drepung Monastery. He grins, “I like to think there were four or five red-robed monks doing the La Macarena in unison in there.
Mark Tote has come full circle.
Monica: What do you mean?
Mark: He just ate a fish eye. When we were in France he ate blue cheese and cried.
Tote: Is there another one? I just swallowed the first one. I didn’t get a chance to bite it
Banner seen in Chengdu “Cities should be clean like the souls should be pure.
Emei Shan. From Maggie’s journal. “ Elephant Pool Monastery has very dim lights and a lot of monkeys. You have to keep stuff close to you so the monkeys don’t grab any of it.”
Signs seen by the Hughes
Please don’t take food and drink to the frolic hall, cooperation amerce violator for 50 yan.
Please point out money or tickets to the eye.
Please keep sanitation
Pick your steps
No occupying while stabling.
Please flush the closet pot
No spitting everywhere.
Beijing. Tote’s view of the opera there. “At first it seemed like lady singer was making fun of a bad singer. Then it sounded like she was practicing karate. I thought it was insane that we paid to see this, but after a thief started trying to steal something from the main character and doing flips and somersaults, and the lady tried to stab him about a thousand times with her sword that he kept dodging, I thought it was very good.”
Hiking the Great Wall: There were plenty of spots where a slip could prove fatal. Sections of the Wall the family was hiking ran along ridge tops, but occasionally plunged into a valley before soaring up to the next ridge. Because of the sheer drops and stretches with steep, uncertain footing, Mark admits, “It was one of the most frightening hikes I’ve ever taken.” On the way home, the mini-bus the driver asked him for more money than the agreed price. “I didn’t argue; I smiled and gave it to him,” says Mark. “I was just glad to be alive.”
Manila. Duncan thought Malaysia Airlines the best! Nintendo in economy class, free unlimited drinks, and delicious food. Maggie even got a huge bag filled with treats from the pilot.
Flying home Mark admits to being very happy as he contemplated the beauty, adventure, novelty, and mystery of the places and people that have filled their year. The best part of all for him is that he, Monica, had full-filled their dream—they and their children had had this incredible, never-to-be-forgotten trip together.”
Home in America
Back in the U.S., after a year of checking foreign restaurant tabs and rarely finding even a small error, Mark was surprised when the friendly folks in Amana, Iowa, overcharged him $10.
I am the mother of seven, now grandmother of fifteen who loves to write, garden, and dance. I have been a columnist for a Upper Michigan monthly periodical, and have been published in various other periodicals, newspapers, and magazines. I am actively involved as a Friend of the Library and, I still teach, only now it’s religion to 3rd graders.
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