We arrived home yesterday in one piece after the 24-hour+ journey back. As with all life-changing travels, though, you never really come back entirely. Instead, you leave little pieces of yourself scattered about the world and in the hearts and minds of the people you meet along the way. So, now the trip is over, let me try to answer the question honestly. Can you travel the world alone with kids? Continue reading “Can You Travel the World Alone with Kids?”
No matter how hard you try, you can’t plan the perfect day. You don’t have control over other people, what they’ll say, how they’ll say it, what they’ll do; and how it will affect your mood. You can’t guarantee it won’t rain or that there won’t be any traffic and you’ll arrive on time, that your kids won’t get sick or your flight delayed. In fact, pretty much everything in this life happens in spite of your best intentions and plans. Continue reading “Human Kindness Is Overflowing, Bali”
Sometimes you just have to throw yourself in at the deep end. If you spend your whole life worrying about getting your feet wet, before you know it, the pool will be closed.
After that harrowing trip to Bali, I swore blind I would never travel with these two nasty children of mine again. Yet here we are in Singapore, a couple of weeks later, picking ourselves back up from the fall.
Am I a total glutton for punishment? Yes, I like to do the hard stuff. But, then again, wouldn’t it be a total waste of time and energy coming so far around the world and not making the most of it? Not pushing ourselves just a little further and seeing just a little more?
Diving Right In
We were swimming the other day in Bali when all of a sudden, Cataleya took off her armbands and plunged herself into the big pool. My heart lurched into my mouth. Up she surfaced with a big grin on her face. “I told you I didn’t need my floaters Mamo!”
She did tell me that she didn’t need them, but I refused to listen. I was wrong. There she was taking the plunge and I was trying to hold her back.
To be fair, small children and deep water are a scary combination. Especially when you have more than one kid to keep an eye on and they love to go in opposite directions.
It probably seems totally unrelated but that inspired me to book the trip to Singapore. That, and the fact that she had now fully recovered from her pneumonia–and I wanted the children to see the garden city after Bali’s chaos.
It wasn’t long after take-off that I wanted to stop the plane and get out though. Cataleya was decidedly unimpressed with the fact that she couldn’t make a bed with her seat and Valentino started throwing everything he could get his hands on.
Luckily, the passenger next to us was extraordinarily kind and good-natured, “I love children,” he smiled. I’m not sure if he maintained that sentiment after the flight.
Singapore with Kids
Still, a little over two hours was a drop in the ocean for us and it wasn’t long before we arrived. Despite being a huge airport, we taxied right to where we needed to be. It was the shortest walk I’ve ever had to go and retrieve the baggage and I get the feeling that wasn’t an accident.
Everything in Singapore is perfectly planned. From the traffic lanes to public transport, spotless streets, and polite citizens. In this part of the world, they use Grab not Uber. It’s exactly the same, just a different app. One of the drivers was telling me about some of the measures Singapore has in place to ensure it stays so pristine.
The first of which is fining people for dropping litter, even cigarette butts. But it’s not a one-time fine. If you’re a repeat offender, the fines get more expensive until the third time when you have to do community service helping clean the streets.
This causes a social stigma so great that other people will know you’ve been brandished as a litterbug and publically shamed.
I asked if there were mosquitoes here since I didn’t feel like I had seen any. He said no, not really, not in the dry season at least. The Singapore environment agency has a strict policy of checking establishments and fining them if they come across any possible mosquito breeding grounds.
After the unchecked chaos of Indonesia and the filthy streets, traffic, and lack of rules, Singapore feels a breath of fresh air. Although, I get the feeling that one could also feel a little asphyxiated in a place with so many rules.
The people do seem a little robotic here. Friendly and helpful, correct and polite, but–trained–somehow.
Mount Faber Cable Car
Totally doable and fun with kids, cable cars are always a good way to see a city and entertain little ones. The cable car at Mount Faber is a short ride that gives you the chance to take in the luscious green scenery, waterpark, luxurious hotels, high-rise city backdrop, and the beautiful Sentosa beach.
It all sounds way more perfect on paper. Of course, the relentless Singapore heat and draining humidity isn’t fun for anyone, least of all two little kids. In fact, probably least of all for their mother, who ends up carrying one and pushing the other who can’t walk three steps without complaining.
We made it as far as we could. Found a bar with a pool on the beach, bought an extremely expensive towel, and lunch which neither of the kids ate before Cataleya wanted to leave. The “day” at the beach was more like an expensive glimpse of it, especially given that she refused to take the cable car back (I had bought return tickets) and we had to go in a taxi.
VivoCity Mall, HarbourFront Precinct
The only thing that seems to placate my tired and moody four-year-old is the promise of buying clothes. And, to be honest, after moving around in so much humidity, a good dose of aircon was what we all needed, despite the grains of sand between the toes.
Had someone told me I would be walking around one of Asia’s classiest cities in flip flops I would have died. But, honestly, your standards go out the window somewhat when you have kids–and needs. I have nothing but beachwear in my Bali suitcase, no time to go shopping, and, well, I’m hardly going to go to the Raffles hotel with these two.
Singapore isn’t the same place it was the last time I came either. Three decades or more is enough to change a place. It’s far more cosmopolitan than it was and there is a mixture of dress codes now. There are just as many people dressed in shorts and T-shirts as there are lengthy dresses or fancy heels.
That said, I still bought myself a dress, just to feel a little less like a street urchin, but it certainly wasn’t essential. And Cataleya bought three dresses, none of which are essential and probably all of which won’t get worn again.
I just can’t resist those baby brown eyes and pouty lips when she wants something–and Valentino was overjoyed with his new Crocs, he doesn’t want to take them off.
The walk along the harbour afterward was relaxing and as we waited for our Grab to arrive, I felt somewhat triumphant. We crossed a lot of ground. Both kids were happy and I felt so relaxed in Singapore.
The Singapore Zoo
Thanks so much to Trip Advisor and all the adverts enthusing about how Singapore Zoo is a “must-see” with kids. Nothing that involves miles of walking, hours of queuing and relentless searing heat is fun–with kids or without. I can get my highs that way just standing at immigration in the airport.
Seriously, had I had any prior notion that I would be paying to stand in line, listen to complaints, moans, and tears, wait for over one hour for a tram ride to come all the time drenched in sweat and without seeing a single animal before Cataleya refused to get on and wanted to leave… well, let’s just say, I would have crossed that one off the to-do list with a thick black pen.
The Singapore Zoo is only a place to go for people who enjoy intense heat, are childless or have children who like to walk and don’t mind 100 percent humidity or waiting for hours to see every single animal. I have nothing good to say about it.
Cataleya then as if to make a point, fell over, grazed her knee, and there was no longer any discussion over whether I would carry her. It was now my obligation.
We got to the zoo around 9:30. We left getting close to 13:00. We saw one orangutang. I was almost beaten, Cataleya wouldn’t stop crying and Valentino leaped all around the taxi on the way back.
“Would you like to go shopping?” I said to Cata. The tears immediately stopped and we ended up in another mall.
Pool Time at the Hotel
I spent a reasonable amount of money on this hotel–not a bucketload, but enough to expect more than the shoebox that we are in. On reflection, as one of the most expensive cities in the world, people are perhaps used to residing in confined quarters. When we first entered the room, I was aghast.
I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in such a minuscule hotel room (not true, I totally have, but not at this price or juncture of my life). And not with TWO kids, a travel cot wedged in. It’s sort of OK when the blinds are open and you can see out the window. When they’re closed, it feels like you’re sleeping in a box.
I originally complained that the room didn’t come with half of the facilities listed. But I didn’t realize that everything was hidden inside cupboards. It has everything you need, you just have to open and close the doors again so as not to smack your head on anything while making coffee.
I was so disappointed with the hotel that we stayed outside of it as much as possible. But after the miserable morning at the zoo and general exhaustion from the group, we went back to find its pool (also hidden somewhere on the eighth floor).
It was just what we needed to beat the Singapore heat and the three of us enjoyed a couple of hours floating and splashing, playing and laughing amid the highrise buildings.
Both kids were extremely sleepy but I bundled them into a taxi anyway. I wasn’t coming to Singapore without at least seeing some of its famous street food hawkers.
Ok, so tasting the local cuisine was going to be tricky, sitting down with the whiney kids in the pressing heat to enjoy noodles, spicy soup, and chicken feet was never going to fly.
But, I figured we could compromise.
Of course, I had to buy Cataleya another dress for it, but we got to see China Town, and we even managed to have some Chinese food. Not the authentic street food experience I had read about and was seeing as we walked by, but an air-conditioned restaurant nearby.
You can’t deny yourself everything you want in life because you have kids. But, you have to compromise too. This was one of those moments. As Valentino slept through the meal, exhausted by the heat and length of the day, and Cataleya chewed her way through egg fried rice, I thought about how lucky I was.
There are (many) moments I long for a few minutes alone and there is no such thing as a perfect day. But, they’re also pretty cool kids and this whole summer of travel is changing them for the better. I’m proud. Cataleya spoke to Valentino in Portuguese today, I’m not sure why.
Neither child even blinks when they see a woman dressed in a headscarf or cloack, or a man wearing traditional clothing. The world is already a small place for them.
Valentino and his smile and good nature are winning hearts across Asia. People (mostly women) ask if they can take photos with him as he beams and gives them a high five.
Cataleya with her many moods (and dresses) has peoeple captivated. She’s extremely concerned for the safety of people who travel in lifts. (The hotel elevator in Bali slams shut if you don’t get out within three seconds). Now, she’s taken it upon herself to personally ensure that every passenger in the lift gets in and out safely before we leave. It makes everyone smile. “You’re welcome, you’re welcome,” she says as if expecting a tip.
We’re heading back to Bali tomorrow and I have no idea how all these things we’ve bought will fit into the case.
I’m also not exactly relishing the idea of getting on a plane again with this dynamic duo. But hey, we got to come to this amazing corner of the world. I saw the children interact with a new culture and be compleely at ease with it. And we saw the signs of the animals at Singapore Zoo. What more can you ask for?
At last, the moment I had been waiting for ever since I made that defining mouse click and booked the tickets to Bali. Surfing its luscious, consistent, and powerful waves with no wet suit, just a beaten out rental board, smile, and a light sun-proof T-shirt on my back. Continue reading “Back on Track – Surfing in Seminyak, Bali”
When things get better, I’m going to see a temple, skip through the rice fields or, at the very least, find a patch of land that isn’t built on and loaded with people. I want to roam freely along a fresh terrain that isn’t black with city dirt and doesn’t have mopeds swarming around me like a wasps’ nest. Continue reading “Things to Do with Small, Sick, and Demanding Kids in Bali (That Don’t Involve Steps)”
At four years old, Cataleya is already aiming to steal my throne in the “get sick in foreign countries” awards. I pretty much vomited and ear infectioned my way around the world as a kid. I even had one bizarre disease in Hawaii whereby all of a sudden, I couldn’t walk properly anymore. Continue reading “Our Bali Adventure Continues to Be About as Successful as Brexit”
Valentino is already sleeping and Cataleya’s obsessed with the giant water slides in Bali on YouTube. She can’t wait to leave Portugal and for her life to be one big water park.
Kids have no sense of occasion.
As for me, well, a mixture of nerves, sadness, and excitement. In between tasks today I managed to take out some seven black sacks of garbage. It’s amazing how much you accumulate in a short time especially with kids.
And it’s almost entirely like throwing your money directly into the garbage. Some 90% of the toys and other junk held their attention for more than a fraction of a second. The rest was barely even glanced at.
I’ll try to be more minimalistic in Bali. Perhaps they can play with leaves and flowers instead.
The Long Road Home
But of course, before any of the water parks and enjoying the simpler (and cheaper) things in life, we’ve got the long road home first. Driving across the center of Spain in the scorching heat with its parched lands and lonely villages. A stark contrast to the jagged cliff edges, open ocean, bright white windmills, and rolling green hills that surround us here.
I shall ache inside for the waves. The frothy whiteness as they form a rolling consistent break along the rocks. The little fair in front of our house that we pass by every morning (and end up going to every evening), the smiling ladies in the nameless cafe below, and the kindly people from the laundry.
They’ll never know how much I appreciated them. I think I was their best customer of the summer so far. They even gave me my last wash for free. I nearly cried.
And then there’s Liliana and Gonzalo, Ana, and Cristina, Nora, Mariana; all the personalties that smoothed our transition here and allowed for us to do this.
Tomorrow, I will try to grab one last session in the surf before we leave–even if it means setting out later on the six-and-a-half-hour journey to someplace in La Mancha, home of Don Quijote. I think it’s called Manzanares. Wherever it is, it will be in a lonely baron land, rich in history, and limited on child-friendly food.
Somewhere in my naive and over-hopeful brain, I actually think that it will take that amount of time. Of course, it’s far more likely that with the kids in the back and the incessant calls to stop, eat, pee, and generally not be still, it will take a lot longer than that.
Change of Summer Ride
It’s a shame we can’t initiate the 24-hour-or-so journey to Denpasar Bali from here. Alas, we need to take the jeep home and initiate our trip from Valencia. We have one hell of a set of wheels waiting in Bali though.
A Toyota AGYA, whatever that is, I think it has power steering at least. The rental agency is reputable too–if the car breaks, they’ll happily give you a new one.
I’ve heard lots of stories about driving in Bali and most of them make me nervous. It will be weird driving on the other side of the road and having mopeds with entire families on top passing by and tooting their horns. Weird, stressful–and wonderful at the same time. It will remind me of El Salvador, where taking the roof off a car removes the need for windows or a/c.
What I Mostly Feel Right Now
I feel strange. I feel like the longer I live the less I understand. I can’t contemplate this whole Brexit train wreck or that the UK could have someone like Boris Johnson captaining the ship. It makes me cringe that out of a country with a glorious past and bright future, this is the best we can do.
I’m exhausted too. I don’t think I mentioned that in another post, but working intensely, raising children, and putting it all together is tough. You never really rest. The orders and requests come flying at you 24/7 whether they be proposals, reports, a request for milk and cookies, or mopping up vomit from the floor.
Ericeira Has a Piece of My Heart
This is a charming town with pretty buildings, friendly (but not overly) people and some of the best surf in the world. I love the education system, attitude, and culture. I even found out today that Portugal doesn’t tax earnings in cryptocurrency. I need to explore that in greater depth.
In Cullera, Spain, it took three years for me to be added to a mommies’ WhatsApp group. I’ve since left. There is no way to say this without sounding like an asshole but I will never care enough about the color of the uniforms or the way the children hand presents to the teachers.
In Portugal, in this mini slice of the world, we already went to a party in less than six weeks. There is a burgeoning ex-pat community (with all the negative effects that has on the local economy, driving up prices and making accommodation scarce). But, it has its good things, too.
We spent Sunday with an Italian friend of Cataleya–and her many, many more Italian friends. It was a veritable festival of languages. English, Portuguese, Italian, German. All people brought together to the same place seeking the same thing. Peace, surf, happy kids, and a happy life.
Whatever the future holds I can’t help but keep this piece of Portugal in my heart. And I am so thankful that we took the leap.
It’s entirely fascinating to me how quickly humans can form new relationships and routines. When I close my eyes and think about my life so far, it’s a bitter-sweet collection of memories–and constant relentless change. Continue reading “Time for a Change – Portugal to Bali”