Cork physiotherapist Fi O’Meara, her husband Sam Russell, product design manager at NCAD Dublin and their sons Corin and Daithí Russell packed up their home, work and school in Cork last August.
It’s hard to know when in a year’s journey the return trip begins, but the trip back from Colombia to Spain, and to our motorhome in particular, was certainly a homecoming of sorts.
Bikes and Lego, Barry’s tea and whiskey awaited us with the best kind of cozy familiarity. The journey home was an epic three days of constant travel, involving terrifying drivers, momentarily lost luggage, missed flights and trains, and more queues and bureaucracy than anyone really liked. I’m ashamed to admit that our young boys handled it all with far more patience and dignity than I did, our 10 year old assured me at one point that I would feel better after a cup of the aforementioned tea .
Despite having the richest and most rewarding experiences in Central and South America, it wasn’t until we got back to our van that a motherly part of me sighed in relief that Sam and I had managed to keep our young family alive and healthy for it. wildest part of our trip.
I savored the fact that our beds were now scorpion-free, the children still wore their seat belts, and our conversations no longer included detailed descriptions of the state of our insides. But even with this assurance, returning to European territory, we also felt that our thrilling adventure into the unknown was over.
Luckily, there was still so much to come, albeit of a more familiar European vibe.
In April we explored the mountainous region of the Alpujarras in southern Spain. Cool spring days gave us pleasant hikes through fields of wild lavender and rosemary, goats and almond trees, following the intricate systems of water conduits serving the hillside farms.
Closer to the coast, the dystopian scenes of endless miles of polytunnels showed us where much of Europe’s fruit and vegetables came from. We learned from friends back home of food shortages as a direct result of the unusually wet March this area experienced. Food airline miles were now a concept the boys could easily grasp, seeing this industry grow with their own eyes.
Now that we are back in Europe, we were close at hand and family came to visit us for the most exciting reunions. Grandparents loved “big boys” with their “stretched legs”. In turn, we in turn filled their ears with lavish tales of faraway adventures. We all enjoyed the easy and loving company.
As May approached, we moved to a small seaside village in the heart of a farming community near Cartagena, while the boys attended a local alternative school. Vacationing and traveling through places always felt like we were scratching the surface and so stopping and engaging with ordinary local life was a good way to dig a little deeper into this community rural.
We were all challenged with our still fairly basic but fortunately Spanish, and were rewarded with the warmth and patience of teachers and families. The boys are overwhelmed at first, but quickly settle in, charmed by the freedom this school offers. Classes were regularly held outdoors and the children had the autonomy to choose their learning through various group projects.
Initially intrigued by the seemingly unruly nature of the school, where discipline was certainly looser than at home, the boys quickly embraced their freedom, recognizing that learning in the classroom can take many different forms.
Feeling the lure of the wandering life, we were thrilled to be back in our van in June. Van life is cramped and we’ve all learned the dance we have to do around each other in our tiny, sometimes claustrophobic home. But life is lived outside and free.
Having spent most of the past year physically active and outdoors, the thought of returning to Ireland, where much of our lives are spent indoors, crushes the wildest part of my soul. The time we spent with our boys, free from any other commitments, felt like a rare and special privilege for us as parents.
This unattached year has allowed us to develop our hobbies, to read a lot, to have long conversations with strangers and to immerse ourselves languidly in the natural environment that surrounds us. All of our learning is unquantifiable as it has slipped under our skins in the mountains and siestas, villages and waters everywhere.
But home definitely calls and for this family there are aspects of Irish life that cannot be replaced. We miss our own home, family and friends, our dog, a hug from my dad, the cool Irish swims and the wild, albeit wet, countryside. In particular, I miss the humor of Irish women. A few weeks ago, a text from a neighbor describing the antics of our quirky neighborhood gave me belly laughs like I haven’t in all year. This sudden realization hit me with such a strong sense of homesickness that I almost packed my bags on the spot.
I think we all come back from a long journey with notions – ideas of new found rhythms and rituals. Isn’t that part of the fun of traveling?
Some notions change us forever, some we integrate into our lives and even more we gradually get rid of. But the memories still remain, the knowledge of what is beyond our shores and that helps us put our own lives back home into context.
For now, with a week left until we get home, I’m trying to prepare for the integration of my two selves – the person with all these bubbly notions, and this person at home at Cork which will probably roll their eyes at most of them. Isn’t that in itself an exciting place?
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