For a blog that is supposed to be about other people, my narcissism sure is showing up hard. But… since there have been a decent number of questions, travel blogs have always been a ‘thing’ and I might want to look back on some of this one day… a recap of the Mbiyozo European Adventure.
The Mbiyozos hit the road late August 2014 for a year in Spain. The Mr got a call from a rugby club, my job is remote and there was no good reason to say no. So, off we went – 6 suitcases, 2 carseats, a stroller, 2 month old and 2 year old in tow.
- Where is Vigo? – Vigo is the 11th biggest city in Spain in the top left corner in the Province of Galicia. It has strong Celtic influence and is green, rainy and lush. Gaclicians speak their own dialect and the region is off-the-beaten-path compared to the rest of Spain. This made it wonderfully ‘authentic’ but also not-at-all English. It is the biggest fishing port in Europe and 2nd biggest in the world and the seafood was INSANE.
- Did you learn Spanish? – embarrassingly no. I thought for sure we would, but between working from home and spending most of my time with a toddler and an infant, ‘No habla Espagnol’ got the most usage. Mpho took classes and had more exposure as his teammates were Spanish. Khaya went to Spanish school and ended up with better vocab than both of us.
- How was it? – Great! It was beautiful and people in Vigo are very friendly, if not a little bashful because of the language. People were often apologetic because they could not speak English, when it should have been the other way around! Given the language barrier I did not make many friends. It may have gotten a little bit lonely if we had stayed longer, but given the temporary nature and amount of time we had as a family, visitors we had and travel we did, I never really felt it.
- Is Spain racist? – We were warned about Spain’s reputation for being racist. Of course, I am the family member who can speak with the least authority, but we did not feel it. Mpho did get treated badly once at a train station while alone (the ticket-lady told him rudely to speak Spanish if in Spain, whereas we were always treated like tourists when together). Mpho and the kids were certainly minorities and black people were sparse. Mpho received a whole lot of funny looks, but there is a long list of prospective reasons for that. Let’s analyze:
All in all, our family was welcomed warmly by Mpho’s team, Khaya’s school and the community at large.
Unsurprisingly, the most racist incident occurred on return to Cape Town. While looking for a short term rental, yet again responses to Mbiyozo were few and far between while responses to Hartley were a plenty.
The most impactful behaviour we encountered was the number of people who touched Khaya’s hair. We are talking dozens of times on a trip to the park alone if her hair was in an afro. Predominantly old people patting her warmly, uttering ‘que guapa’. It is never malevolent, but she does get frustrated. Being touched by dozens of strangers makes her feel awkward. We have had to talk to her about it and tell her it happens because she is beautiful, but it is a matter of time before she makes the link to being fetishized. We should all think about that next time we comment about a child – they hear and feel more than we know.
- Where did you travel? See map. We decided to make the most of our time and see as much as possible without pushing the limits too hard with kids. We took advantage of time off throughout the year and ended it all with 2 months on the road.
- How was traveling with kids? Travel is like all else with kids – more challenging but richer. There is no question kids bring limitations – they make everything slower, more cumbersome and less adventurous. If just us, Mpho and I would have jumped on a boat in Greece and seen what happened next, biked through Croatia, camped under the stars, stayed out all night in Barcelona and Berlin and had long, slow meals in France and Italy. Instead we picked safer destinations with less spontaneity and were home by 9pm most nights. That said, we completely loved sharing this time as a family. Even though the memories belong only to Mom and Dad, they are priceless.
- Highlights: this is, of course, the hardest part as so much was awesome:
- Italy – has never disappointed. Cinque Terre was a dream. Amalfi breath-taking and Sperlonga’s beaches and sunsets incomparable.
- Zermatt – a solo work trip but for sure a highlight. The Swiss Alps are magnificent and I fell back in love with skiing.
- Brittany – traveling with my parents is such a privilege, even if it involves family drama. Not only is Brittany awesome, but it meant so much to my Dad to retrace his roots.
- Sweden – is a wonderful place all-around, made extra special because we stayed with friends. Nothing compares to having someone share their life and home with you.
- Poland – I had low/no expectations and went for Auschwitz but was surprised by how delightful Krakow was. So full of history and art and changing so fast.
- Sitges – this beach town outside Barcelona was a dream. That we were there when Barca won the Champions League added some serious spice.
- Misses – yes, there were misses. Nothing can be sunshine and roses all the time. There were challenges throughout – language barrier(s), the rugby team had financial problems, I lost my patience and grace daily, scratched 2 rental cars and hindsight is always 20/20.
- London – I hate London, but love our people there. After much anticipation and work getting Mpho’s visa, we arrived on New Year’s for our god-daughter’s Christening. We had to leave early because our whole family had terrible jet-lag and flu (Vukile got croupe). It was a disaster for us and our hosts.
- Douro River Valley – We were tipped off about the spectacular wine country in Northern Portugal. For Mpho’s birthday, we drove 3 hours and splurged on a 5 star hotel for 2 nights….and left after 1. It was spectacular indeed, but completely inappropriate for babies. To boot, we were on a carb-free, alcohol-free diet (ie no wine or bread), were sleep training Vukile (ie. he had to be in bed before dinner hours) and learned the hard way that we cannot all sleep in the same room. We Airbnb’ed apartments from that point forward.
- Copenhagen – We arrived to 12 degrees in July after 2 weeks in Barcelona. We just were not ready for that.
- Regrets – Of course there are places I wish we had visited. Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and Morocco top my list. But my biggest regret is that I never made it to San Sebastian while in Spain.
- Are you done travel?
No way! / Yes, sort of. Travel is a key part of who I am and what I have to offer. I have been to 54 countries in multiple capacities. It has contributed so much and imparted important personal and professional skills. I will never be done. But my priorities are shifting. I was raised in a true community. I want to provide the same to my children and our priorities for the next stage include doing what is best for them. We will continue to try to achieve the ever-elusive balance, but Khaya is now 3. We started to see the effects of pulling her out of school and routine and introducing her to people only to take them away shortly thereafter. Times are indeed a changing and the next phase may well involved clipped (or more clipped) wings.
- The People
As always, the true highlight of this year was the people we got to share it with. There is no greater privilege than sharing people’s lives and time and we are grateful to everyone that shared theirs with us:
- Vigo Rugby – the whole team for being so warm and welcoming. A special thanks to Mariano for translating everything and all 10 million favours.
- Teachers – Mauro and the Kids Garden staff. Nothing is more appreciated than knowing your kids are in good hands.
- Visitors (in Vigo and en route) – Grace, Chris and Bron, Jiminy, Jenni, Dips and Rabbie, Curt and Colette and family, Maria and Yvan, Ryan and Lena, Kara Von B, Fiona, Chi, The Door and crew. We love you for making the effort and cherish getting to share moments around the world.
- Hosts – Grace, Chris and Bron, SJ and Pontus, Linda, Tuesday and Carlo and Giorgio and Valentina – we are NOT an easy crew to host. Thank you times a million for letting us into your homes and making us feel like family
Cies Island, Vigo
Skiing the Matterhorn
Grace’s Christening, London
Douro River Valley, Portugal
Cinque Terre, Italy
With Jenni in Monaco
Mont St Michel
Collioure, Southern France
Barca, Barca, Barca Barca Barca
Last moment of sunshine in Copenhagen before it poured rain
Reagan-Gorbachev-Mbiyozo. Berlin Wall
Amalfi Coast, Italy. 10 days = 10 days in the ocean. Winning ratio