So what do you call it when you leave life aboard in the tropics of Panama to return to Kingston, just as summer comes into full bloom? Trade the vegetable pangas for Costco, the trusty RIB for a 2006 Highlander, and dinners together under the stars for “hey, where is Alex tonight?”?
The best way to describe this would be a Vacation from a Vacation. While life aboard has it’s idyllic moments, it is not an easy life. Only by experiencing this nomadic lifestyle firsthand can one truly appreciate the luxuries of central air, washing machines, dishwashers, and Home Depot 10 minutes away. Without sounding like a poster child for North American consumerism, life ashore is….easy. Easy and seductive; it wasn’t long before we left the water running when brushing our teeth, bought more food than we needed for the following day, and changed our clothes daily.
After so much time aboard it is always fascinating to note the differences ashore, both emotional and physical. What do we miss, what do we regret, and what do we look forward to? It was different for all of us and I was surprised at how quickly we fell into the rhythm of life ashore.
In the spring, with the allure of a Taylor Swift concert and two weeks at horse camp, the Captain was directed to Panama with the intention of leaving Rafiki in a marina and heading north. In fairness, the rainy season in Panama is hot and very wet. Grandmommy was gracious enough to host the “hurricanes” and we started the trip north to Kingston. As is our way, nothing is easy.
We were picked up at 6am on the dock by a panga (curious Panamanian water taxi with an outrageously large outboard and a local with a thirst for speed…), which took us to the mainland. Adhering to the family adage of “pack light and be on time”, everyone had a small backpack and I was carrying a broken water pump to return to Spectra. Who would have thought that a large carbon block with pipes and liquid would give Costa Rican security concern? We took a second panga from Bocas to Almirante where we were met by a minivan to take us to the Costa Rican border. We disembarked and carried our packs across a two hundred foot trellis bridge into Costa Rica. The check-in was the typical series of customs, taxes, immigration, and police, all for a nominal fee. We then boarded a public bus and headed for the 5 hour ride to San Jose, but unbeknownst to us, due to the torrential rain in the past week, the main road was washed out and our five hour ride turned into nine and we finally arrived in San Jose at 8pm, tired but no worse for wear. At least there were no chickens…
Since it was my birthday we were going to go to the Japanese restaurant in the hotel but the sign said it was “formal”. The gentleman at the desk said that it wasn’t really formal and long pants and a dress shirt would suffice. Still too formal for us! Alex did say that since she had a dress and flip-flops she was really semi-formal; formal on top and casual on the bottom, so semi-formal overall. The maitre de wasn’t biting.
The next day our flight to Syracuse was canceled so we over-nighted in Atlanta and continued on the next day. When we finally arrived in Syracuse, Grandmommy was a welcome sight indeed.
The next two months flew by, punctuated by days spent at the barn, making new friends in the neighbourhood, re-engaging with Jack and old friends from years past, lots of gardening, painting, fixing and socializing. Life for us in Kingston is a perpetual holiday, not to be confused with the drudgery of real life. After helping Grandmommy cut, plant, trim and paint, we hosted a party of 27 old friends at the house. This was one of the highlights of the summer and we pulled out all the silver, crystal and china that we could find. It really felt like the old days.
Kathryn went off to horse camp and endured the social trauma of living with other teenage girls for two weeks straight. Mommy and I were a little concerned when the first letter came home, however, you endured and we were regaled with stories of horses and friends for the rest of the summer.
Alex is…Alex. There are not enough hours in the day to meet the social demands of this child! Olivia and Jamie for two weeks in Ottawa, Stella and Anna in Kingston. Mountain bike camp (you fell off a bridge…no broken bones), regular picnics on your bike around Kingston and building projects at Sydenham filled your summer.
Mommy and I headed to Ireland to see Uncle Francis and Aunt Alice and while the weather was damp and cold, the fire, conversation, and brandy inside made the trip very special. When I sit with Francis and Alice, I strongly feel the presence of your Grandfather and those times were very special to me. Mommy headed home to Victoria and Kamloops for a week to see Moma and her brother and had a special time together without the distraction of husband and children.
British Colombia: Reconnecting with family…
One of the highlights of the summer for us was working at Sydenham and we had many bonfires and burnt marshmallows. One afternoon I dropped six trees and cut them into five-foot logs, which you two dragged to the water’s edge. Later that evening your mother and I spiked the logs together to make a cradle which we dragged into the lake. The following day you two filled the cradle with rocks, forming the support for the dock. I bought the lumber and you two screwed it together and proceeded to fasten the 5/4 boards to the studs to finish the dock. While Mommy and I were on the shore building the ladder, we stopped to watch you two, chest deep in water on either side of the dock, spacing the planks and sliding the drill back and forth as you screwed the boards down. A proud father moment and woe is the boy who shows up with soft hands. We finished the summer with a dinner and bonfire with both your uncles and Grandmommy, which was a very special evening for everyone.
We returned to the boat with a certain melancholy, which no one else could understand. We were leaving family, friends (and horses) and all the comforts of home, and the anticipation of adventure wasn’t as strong as the last time we returned. Instead of seeing this as a negative, it is a sign that this trip has run its course and we are ready to set the sails and head home. How lucky are we to have had this time together, to have shared this adventure, and to return on our own terms? There are still many countries to explore, islands to hike and people to meet as we complete the 3000-mile trek home, but the mood has changed. We are now on the home stretch and that changes everyone’s perspective just a little bit. Our challenge will be to live in the minute, cherish each moment and try not to focus on the next chapter.
So what lessons did we learn this summer? What tidbits of knowledge have we accumulated on this adventure that translate back to life ashore? Really, very little. Like raising children, everyone’s experience is different, and it is important not to judge other people’s choices. Many people ask us directly, or sometimes through circuitous discussion, basically how we can afford to do this trip. We usually answer, “By embracing a lifetime of poverty, or spending our children’s inheritance today,” but the reality is is that time is a commodity. The only question we need ask ourselves is are we willing to pay for it? For us, time is more important than new cars, houses or exotic vacations. We are acutely conscious that these years with you are precious, and your mother and I, selfishly, are trying to steal every second we can. I would like to think that we have become less materialistic, more minimalistic, and more serene, however, I am not sure that would be honest. What is clear is that we all cherish our time together and this adventure has brought all of us closer as a family. Our hope is that this lesson will stay with us for a lifetime. We are extremely fortunate, and spending several months back home exposed to realities of sickness, frailty, divorce, frenetic schedules, and some dear friends living unhappy lives, highlights just how incredibly blessed we are. The future is as unclear for us now as it has ever been, but we approach it united and in good spirits; no one can ask more.