When you are a constant nomad where do you call home? This question has been on our minds this past week and a half as we returned to the UK but to be honest such philosophical thoughts took took second place to having a great time with family and friends. There was lots of eating, including my Mum cooking us a "Christmas" dinner (yes I know it's May) complete with turkey, stuffing, mince pies and Christmas pudding. She knows the best way to Steve, my brothers and nephew's hearts is through their stomachs. We fitted in 2 curries, 2 fish and chips, 3 roast dinners, baked beans and lashings of marmite.....all the things we've been missing. We timed it right to catch up with my brother and his family for Sunday lunch on his birthday. The paparazzi have nothing on the McDermotts We hardly saw the girls as they caught up on girlie times with sleepovers with both our sisters. They ended up with a much needed whole new wardrobe thanks to Steve's sister and his family. They spent days and nights with my sister building fairy houses in the wood, making cuddly toys, having tea parties and generally having a magical time. The bluebells were out for a wonderful walk with Clare, my sister. We went to our beloved New Forest and walked whenever we could in the forest just a few hundred metres from my Mum's house. It was wonderful to have a proper talk with my Mum and Clare, FaceTime is great but not a proper replacement for actually seeing them. We also went to Wilton House so the girls could see an English country house, after studying English history. It also brought back lovely memories, as it was where Steve and I had our wedding reception nearly 14 years ago. It was amazing how tall and grownup all our nephews and niece had become while we were away. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to see many friends but we did manage a few local ones. We also met for the first time with fellow travellers and Bocklet truck owners: Marcus and Julie (www.tuckstruck.net) who we've been communicating with by email for the last couple of years. They've just completed a year in Africa and are heading to South America, serendipitously they were back visiting his parent's just 10 miles from my Mum's house. It was a little bit like a blind date when Steve and I walked into the pub having never met in person. We were so busy chatting and exchanging information that lunch turned to dinner and we eventually left 9 1/2 hours later, we didn't even drink as we were driving. It has been great for all of us to get a bit of space from each other, as you can imagine living together 24/7 in a small space is very stressful at times. The girls went off separately with my Auntie Clare and had special time with Grannie, while Steve and I went our own ways for somethings. For South Africa we needed the girl's original birth certificates which were stored somewhere in the garage at our cottage in the New Forest. The house is rented out long term so we didn't see inside. We bought the place about 5 years ago when we lived in Prague to rent out and for us to use during the holidays. It was a an emotional purchase for me, I had always wanted a place in the New Forest close to our families and especially when we lived in Moscow I felt we needed somewhere for the girls and I to call "home". A 17th century thatched cottage, maybe was not the most practical choice but I love the place. It was interesting to see after nearly 2 years away I felt quite different, it still is very special but I wasn't as emotionally attached as I thought I would be. All the while we were still waiting to have confirmation that the truck was actually aboard the boat to South Africa, not still sat at the port outside Beunos Aires. At last we got the email but there was a possible, exciting complication for Steve. He is a passionate Middlesborough supporter along with his family and most of his UK friends. The team had a chance to be promoted to the Premier league if they won a play off game on Monday, the day we were planning to fly out. All plans were on hold until the semi final play off game finished. Once Middlesbrough were in the final we quickly booked a flight that allowed Steve to go to the game and make it to Durban just in time. Steve then spent 3 hours in an online queue to get tickets. He was ecstatic that he was going to see them play, he was taking Nic his nephew and was going to catch up with all his old friends at once. I was really pleased for him, it's not often Middlesborough get to Wembley. We had a great night catching up with some of Steve's oldest friends in London, the next morning the true fans set off to Wembley. The girls and I used the time to do a quick sightseeing bus and river tour to London to finish off their "History of London" homeschooling topic that they have been doing for the last few months. It is amazing that having been to so many capital cities around the world they have never been to London. Apart from the sight seeing, they were sweetly excited to see black cabs and red double-decker buses. Alisha checked every red post box carefully for the monarch initials she was so thrilled to see one from George VII and Queen Victoria's reign. Yep, that's more fish and chips in front of Tower Bridge Unfortunately Middlesborough didn't live up to their enthusiastic fans expectations and lost 2-0. It was a sad party who met us back at the house, before we jumped into a taxi for the airport. We still are not at all sure where we'll settle at the end of this life changing trip. The girls, having been born but never lived in the UK see it as the "mother country". A place of loving relations, interesting history and where they can make themselves easily understood. For Steve and I after nearly 2 decades as expats, where do we feel most is "home"? Good question! At the moment the answer for us all is definitely "the truck".
It seemed strange leaving South America after so long but at least when we arrived at our first stop in Europe, Spain, the language was still the same. It had been a good but long flight and Alisha and Lucy had refused to sleep on the flight as they were too busy watching movies so when we arrived In Madrid they were exhausted.
We then had a four and a half hour drive to Altea La Vella where my parents live. My parents have owned property there for over 35 years and I have been a regular visitor so returning to the small pretty village was like returning to a second home. It had been over a year since we had seen my parents so we were really pleased to see them.As my mum had recently suffered a dislocated shoulder we did not do much in the 5 days we were there but that was just fine with us. We chatted and caught up on things and even had a couple of afternoon siestas as we got over the jet lag.
The weather was fantastic so the girls were able to enjoy the pool and we could sit on the balcony until late in the evening enjoying the view.
We did manage to take a few short strolls along the beach a couple,of kms away but other than that we did not leave the village the whole time we were there.One of the things we enjoyed was going out for dinner most nights. As I know the village so well I always want to revisit certain familiar restaurants. We did not eat anything fancy but had some lovely tapas. One thing I was really keen to have was a great Paella. The restaurant over the road from our apartment, El Mallol, makes a fantastic one so we settled in there for Sunday lunch. It did not disappoint and we even took the left overs away with us for later. I first went to El Mallol nearly 40 years ago and so it is nice to go back. We also know the owners and people who work there who are good friends of the family.
We were fortunate that while we were there it was my Dad's birthday. Alisha was keen to cook him a birthday treat. So we invited my parents over to our apartment where she cooked him pasta bolognese followed by Apple pie and custard. It was a big success and very tasty.Not to be outdone Lucy made a chocolate cake for birthday tea the next day.
While we were in Spain we heard that the ship that the truck was due to be loaded on was stuck outside the port due to a strike in the port. Anyway after 2 days it was all over and the ship docked. It is now on its way to South Africa, hopefully with the truck on board.It was also time for us to move on after too short a stay in Spain so it was back to Madrid to catch our flight to London.
Argentina is gigantic. We had a bit of a problem getting into Argentina the first time as the border was closed because of the snow but once we got in I loved it. It was winter and when spring came Alisha and I picked lots of lovely flowers.
It was very, very, very windy in Patagonia. We went for lots of gigantic hikes for miles and miles up big mountains.
Now we are in a flat in Beunos Aires, the capital of Argentina and we like it here but its very busy. I've discovered that Argentina has the best ice creams. I've also found out Argentina has some great wines, Mummy and Daddy tried lots of them when we went to the wine places. Sometimes they use the grapes to make juice too, which we drank.
Here is a picture of me playing hide and seek with the dogs in the flower meadow at Christmas
"Don't cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you!"
I will miss Argentina a lot, especially the mint-chocolate chip ice-cream.
I liked going to Patagonia, it was really windy. Sometimes we could feel the truck rocking back and forth in the night. Iguazu Falls were really good we got soaking wet, it looked liked we had gone for a swim in the falls but actually it was just the spray. El Chalten has beautiful mountains and we hiked 3 days in a row. 22 km the first day, 22km the second day and 19km on the last. My legs really ached after that.
I really liked Beunos Aires, we saw the Pink Palace where the Precident works. It is also the place where Evita sung from in the movie and we saw her grave. It was a lot smaller than I expected.I would like to comeback to Argentina someday, it has lots to do....and maybe I can have some more of that delicious ice-cream.
We have been in and out of Argentina over the course of the last 8 months. It's a diverse country with so many highlights. High mountains, deserts with amazing red rock formations, forests thick with trailing lichens, impossibly blue lakes, thick jungle with hidden ruins and who could ever forget the stark beauty of the Patagonian plains.
I like the people too, with a diverse bunch of immigrant backgrounds. They may not win any awards for productivity but they are interesting, internationally knowledgable and are very friendly. Family is very important and I loved seeing the multigenerational gatherings,
every Sunday wherever we were in the country, coming together to chat, sip mate and of course grill huge, huge quantities of meat.
As you drive into every town there is a sign saying "Las Malvinas es Argentinas", this refers to the Falkland Islands, a tiny spot on the map in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Argentineans claim ownership of these even though the islands are part of the UK. They even went to war unsuccessfully with England over them over 30 years ago. In a referendum on the island in 2010, 98% of the 2000 people voted to stay British. Streets, neighbourhoods, even whole towns, are named Las Malvinas. Politicians spout rhetoric regularly on the subject, especially at the moment when they are desperately trying to distract voters from the country's economic woes they have caused. You would think this would cause problems for British people travelling through they country but absolutely not. We never encountered a single issue with anyone, even down in Patagonia where many of the soldiers came from. The Argentineans have been some of the most friendly and welcoming people in South America.
Even after so long here, I would be happy to explore for far longer. It has so diverse range of things to see and do here, I know we will come back one day.
The amazingly beautiful but hard Patagonian steppe:Steve I have thoroughly enjoyed Argentina. It's has been the country where we have spent the most time and we have travelled more than 14,000kms which means we have been lucky enough to pretty much see the length and breadth of the country. It's a beautiful country and the scenery is very diverse. We have had to make a few adjustments though. The afternoon siesta when everything closes from 12.30 to at least 4pm takes some getting used to. Also it's a shame to see the economic problems in Argentina. While most of the countries in South America seem to be developing, Argentina is not. She is like the grand old actress, still very beautiful but fading at the edges. This is a shame as the people are fantastic and the country has so much to offer. Food and drink are amazing and the country seems pretty self sufficient in these. But where it struggles is with imported goods so things like telecommunications are not that great in some parts of the country. Overall though I have absolutely loved the country, the varied scenery, the fantastic meat and the great Malbec wines.