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Freedom Seeker

Rated: 3.50 / 5 | 728 listing views Freedom Seeker

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  • Alison Crumling
  • August 12, 2017 01:57:55 AM
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A Little About Us

My journey to early retirement. From how I decided this was the path I needed to take to the steps I am following to prepare and make it happen.

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The Value in Boredom

I look forward to eventually leaving the D.C. area for a variety of reasons, but one of them has nothing to do with the politics or traffic. The other night I listened to Dr. Meg Lowman talk about growing up in rural, upstate New York. She explained there was nothing really around and not much to do, so as kids, they played outside and climbed trees. She developed a love for the trees and, after more than 30 years of traveling the world, spending her time in the treetops, is now considered...

I look forward to eventually leaving the D.C. area for a variety of reasons, but one of them has nothing to do with the politics or traffic. The other night I listened to Dr. Meg Lowman talk about growing up in rural, upstate New York. She explained there was nothing really around and not much to do, so as kids, they played outside and climbed trees. She developed a love for the trees and, after more than 30 years of traveling the world, spending her time in the treetops, is now considered a pioneer of canopy ecology research. She has two children of her own and was a single mom most of their lives, so out of necessity, she brought them with her as she conducted her work. They played in the trees, too.
I think of how parents in the D.C. area are trying to do what's best for their kids, which tends to translate into organized, activity overload. My Facebook feed shows all the sports that we, as parents, spend our weekends watching. We run kids to soccer, baseball, swimming, and basketball practices and between work and these activities, life is chaotic and centered around where the schedule dictates we drive to next. As adults, we shoot each other texts of good intentions to get together, but never find the time because our lives are on automatic pilot, heading to the next activity. And when the kids aren't in sports, they are doing homework or "plugged in" to something. Then, last night, I watch a documentary on kids, who are 15, 16, and 17 from around the world whose cultures are different and so their free time is spent differently. They are forced to find ways to occupy themselves, so they end up looking around and seeing what's going on around them. Walking home from school, they pass by polluted lakes, so they start taking samples. Riding the city bus, they see the smog and want to develop a way to reduce air pollution, so they begin creating a paint that absorbs the toxins.
And in between hearing this talk by Dr. Lowman and seeing this documentary at The Natural History Museum, I have an entirely unrelated conversation with a coworker, who is overwhelmed in his job and says he wonders if we have lost the bubble on focusing on relationships with other people because we are all so "busy". I, myself, wonder how far our kids might end up lagging behind in "thinking" and expanding their minds and opportunities because we, as parents, are so busy trying to constantly engage them. And, free time, without anything planned, can be boring. That's typically when the ear buds go in and the kids watch YouTube instead of getting outside and riding a bike or exploring a park. We tend to forget the value in kids forming social relationships with other kids in the neighborhood and occupying their time by playing or talking with those around them because that is their only option. In the D.C. area, we have the added intensity because in the back of our minds, we feel our kids need to be involved in a ton of things because all their peers are and this will be who they are compared against when they apply for colleges. By getting sucked into this world, we then forget that we are people, too, who still need both down time and social interaction for ourselves, separate from our kids.
Back in the day, when kids were bored, they climbed trees. I think there can be so much value in allowing for boredom. It forces us to use our eyes and our minds. And, allowing our kids to experience some "boredom" may also allow us, as adults, to have some time to get together and foster the relationships we tend to backburner because we just don't have the time. Personally, I miss the type of friendships I had 20 years ago, when free time was spent getting together, talking and laughing, and it didn't take a month to find a slot in the schedule to meet up for a bite to eat.


Finding a Village While On a Boat

I have spent the last couple weeks going through nearly 5000 photos and videos that my daughters and I took during our trip to the Galapagos and Amazon Rain Forest. I will confess that I am still amazed we made it there. I was a little apprehensive that after all my planning for the Alaska vacation that had to be cancelled, something would cause this one to have to be cancelled, too. It doesn't make any sense for me to have been concerned, but I think it was because it was such a huge trip...

I have spent the last couple weeks going through nearly 5000 photos and videos that my daughters and I took during our trip to the Galapagos and Amazon Rain Forest. I will confess that I am still amazed we made it there. I was a little apprehensive that after all my planning for the Alaska vacation that had to be cancelled, something would cause this one to have to be cancelled, too. It doesn't make any sense for me to have been concerned, but I think it was because it was such a huge trip for me. To take my children to South America by myself and not just to visit a city or two, but to really be off the grid for over two weeks, was an enormous feat. And the trip didn't begin very smoothly. We arrived just after 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night into Quito, sitting in the very back of the airplane, waiting for everyone to disembark when Reese says, "I don't feel very well." I know that look and she's smart enough to grab the vomit bag, as we are hoping people hurry up. Only two rows left ahead of us and then Taylor looks at me in panic and says, "I can't find my phone!" Seriously! So now, I have one kid who has started to puke and another I am helping to look under seats and in seats and in bags, as the flight attendant tells us we really need to exit the plane because they have to begin cleaning it. And at that moment, Taylor says, "Ooops, it's in my pocket." She gets the disgusted look from me as we rush off the plane towards customs so I can get in the gigantic line. Meanwhile, Taylor escorts Reese into the bathroom because Reese looks like death. I then remember that I forgot to remind my kids not to drink any water unless it's bottled. It's the first thing I do when they exit the bathroom, and I am thankful Reese didn't decide to rinse her mouth out, even though the thought is a bit gross.
Over an hour goes by before we get through customs so we can retrieve our luggage and, shockingly, no luggage. Not one of the three bags we brought. Thankfully, I had made each of us pack an extra outfit and some basics in our carry-ons, but off to the lost luggage desk we go to find another line. It seems this is a very common occurrence in Quito, since we find half a dozen people from our flight there, too. Let me emphasize that American Airlines lost luggage personnel do not move very quickly in filing claims. At least they know our luggage is still in Denver rather than completely MIA, but it's been an extremely long day by the time we make it to our hotel at 2:00 a.m. to check in. To add insult to injury, we have to be up at 6:00 a.m. so I can follow up about the status of our luggage, get the kids fed, and be ready for our 6:45 a.m. tour pickup to see the city of Quito during our one full day there.
So, it's Saturday and we are up at 6:00 a.m. I am told by the airlines to call back in the evening, which is no problem, since I won't have phone service all day anyway. We do leave for the Galapagos the next day, though, so having our luggage would be really nice. We eat and wait in the lobby for our tour pickup at 6:45 a.m. At 7:15 a.m., I finally get summoned to the front desk because there is a call for me. It's our tour guide saying she is running late because of traffic. Sounds like I am back in D.C.! Well, we aren't going anywhere, so we just sit and wait. By 8:30 a.m., she finally arrives (note, I paid an extra $25 for the pickup) and all I can think is we could have slept in so much longer had I known. Our tour guide apologizes, as she coughs and sneezes because she is sick, so it's hard for her to speak. So, this is going well...thank goodness she drops us off for our first stop at the Middle of the World Museum, where we get to follow around their tour guide, who is fantastic. We then head into historic Quito and parking is a disaster. Taylor starts to crumble, with tears welling up, as she tells me she just wants to go to the hotel. I get it. I used to feel the same "out of sorts" way when I would be in a really different place than home, and Taylor is sensitive to these things. I tell her we'll be heading back in a couple hours, but I understand and she just needs to fight through the feelings right now. Luckily, lunch is our next stop and that helps get us all back on track. Our tour of historic Quito by our paid guide is a bit underwhelming, but, hey, at least we see some of the old churches and buy some really good chocolate. We make it back to our very American feeling hotel, where the highlight for my girls is ordering room service. This is a first for them and I think a much needed distraction from some of the craziness of the start of the trip. Meanwhile, I call the airlines and find out that our bags made it to Miami and should be arriving to Quito that evening by 8:00 p.m.. What a relief! Or so I thought. At 9:30 p.m., I am calling the airport and discover only two of the bags made it and we don't know which two. Now I have no chance of getting the third before we get on the boat for the Galapagos the next day and I am still waiting for the two to be delivered. So, I am already hand washing the few clothes we have with us. At 1:00 a.m., the knock on the door reveals that both the girls' bags have arrived. It's a double edged sword. While my bag would have been nice because the girls can share clothes and I can't, it at least makes for an easier start to the Galapagos portion of the trip for them. Well, off to bed to get to the airport early, so I can buy some items for on the boat in case I don't see my bag until the Amazon!
Thankfully, from here on out, things go much smoother. I must give some kuddos to Ecoventura, my tour company, because they take all my information at the airport and are confident they can work with the airline to get me my bag in the Galapagos, something I thought would be impossible. I do buy a couple overpriced tee shirts and flip flops, just in case, and I have a bathing suit in my carry-on, so things could be worse. I have a great conversation with a married couple on the flight to the Galapagos, who happen to be on our tour company's sister boat to the Letty, which is the boat the girls and I are on. So, already things are becoming more enjoyable. When we make it to the boat, it turns out to be a perfect fit of fellow passengers. Nine kids, eight adults, and immediately everyone is getting along. And, Stacey, another passenger whom I now consider my friend, was nice enough to loan me a stack of clothes just in case there was an issue with my bag arriving. The crew does their welcome cocktail and informs us we're going to jump right into things and will be snorkeling that afternoon. I am REALLY glad I have my bathing suit with me. Having to remove my wet suit in front of all the other passengers, while naked underneath, may have resulted in a completely different dynamic for the remainder of the trip.
And then the magic happens. We get in our wet suits to go snorkeling and as we head towards the appropriate spot, our guide spots a humpback whale breaching in the distance. Next thing you know, our dinghy speeds off so we can get a closer look. It was unbelievable! I never expected to see whales on this trip, let alone on day one! And there was so much more to come. There was the pod of dolphins that we saw the next day leaping out of the water along side our boat, the albatross performing its mating dance ritual in the middle of our path, sea lions swimming all around us as we snorkeled, baby blue footed boobies attacking our feet as we tried to walk by...I have never seen so much diverse wildlife up close and truly wild. It makes you appreciate nature and never want to step foot in a zoo again. And just to conclude on the luggage fiasco, the Captain anchored the boat at the north end of San Cristobal on Monday night just so they could jetty a boat out with my bag. It was amazing! Really, though, in the grand scheme of things, as I told the girls, these problems arise and you can't let it ruin a trip. My girls may have heard a few, choice words blurted out to the airlines over the course of the weekend, but that's all part of the adventure!
I don't think I can really express all the amazing experiences from this trip. There are so many details I have to leave out, otherwise you would be reading a book. The Amazon part of our trip gave an entirely different perspective. It's such a contrast, as you have to really search for animals high in the trees and with telescopes. Our night walk was pretty incredible, though, being able to see all kinds of critters just hanging out on leaves right next to you.
What I hadn't expected to make such an impact on me was the interaction with all the people, though. People who were doing just what I was and taking their kids or grand kids on an amazing adventure to expose them to an experience that is not commonplace. Instead of anyone looking at Facebook, we congregated on the sundeck, during our free time and talked. What a crazy concept these days...perfect strangers congregating and talking to one another. I became friends with everyone on that boat in the Galapagos and the other family that was part of our group in the Amazon. We operated like a village in each place. We kept an eye on each other's kids, we talked at mealtimes, we hiked and swam together. My kids ended up loving the trip. They adjusted to a world very different than the one they are used to in the U.S. I did, as well. We didn't have internet, and phones were merely with us so we could take photographs or video easily. Yet, I felt less alone and more connected with people than I have in ages. We threw ourselves into our surroundings and relationships with our fellow travelers and guides. It gave me a glimpse of how I would prefer to live...among people instead of isolated from them. A bit ironic since we were in the middle of nowhere. For a single parent, like me, I believe my happiness in life will really come from finding my village. Now, I am not saying I need to live in the Galapagos or Amazon, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to witness such amazing areas that exist in our world. As the girls and I spoke with other people in our group in both the Galapagos and Amazon, who had also experienced other areas, the girls told me they are ready to take on an African safari next. Well, it may not be our next trip, since mom's bank account is fairly depleted from this one. But, I imagine in a couple years we'll be off to Africa, while our vaccinations are still valid.