Homeschooling Hits the Road
Both of my boys got their first passport before the age of one. Seriously.
I love to travel and I couldn’t wait to start globe trotting the world with my bambinos in tow. I may have actually filed for passports before I filled for birth certificates.
We finally got the chance to put those passports into practice as my hubs and I took the boys to a highly unlikely and unusual travel destination: Medellín, Colombia.
I was on my way to South America in 2002 when I met my husband. Detour! I never made it, yet continued to have a passion for exploring the continent next door. As Scott and I talked more and more about making international travel a part of our homeschool experience, South America surfaced again given the ease of access and relatively easy Spanish language (as compared to Mandarin, for example).
Medellín, knick-named The City of the Eternal Spring for it’s 70-degree year round weather, is a short, three hour flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s easy! Once known as the most dangerous city in the world due to the horrific drug trafficking wars, today Medellín has earned it’s place as the Most Innovative City in the World due to its recent advances in politics, education and social development.
We liked the idea of visiting a city that was fresh, vibrant and in the midst of transformation. There is a happiness that comes with such energy; and a sense of purpose that is infectious. We wanted to experience this transformation first hand.
Furthermore, Medellín boasts some of the most family-friendly restaurants and attractions you can imagine. Our favorite? The four-story, hands-on science museum, Parque Explora! There are restaurants with coloring rooms, TVs, toys and even waiters who will push your kids on swings as you sit back and sip a very nice bottle of wine for only a few bucks. Seriously.
Oh, and did you know that Medellín sits in the valley of the Andes Mountains? As Jack proudly shares, “The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world, except for the mid-ocean ridge, but that one’s underwater so we can’t see it.” Lol.
Talk about some seriously beautiful scenery, eco-parks and hiking. Wowsa!
An Inauspicious Start
Our trip was planned with fervor on August 2nd and the very first thing we did was check all the passports to make sure they were current. We laughed at the baby-faced photos of our boys and even searched the Internet to make sure we didn’t need to update their photos. You don’t. I was surprised.
However, not as surprised as I was the night before we left for Colombia and I once again retrieved our passports only to discover, with great horror, that our oldest son’s passport was actually EXPIRED. Huh? Hadn’t we just checked this a few months prior? Did I need glasses? Was I reading his passport incorrectly?
I was devastated, panicked, and a good bit overwhelmed. Fortunately, my husband is a great counter balance to my panic attacks and calmly reassured me, “We’ll find a way to figure this out. We always do. Think of this as part of the adventure.”
Boy, I sure do love him.
We located a passport office in Miami that allows for walk-ins and said they might process a passport in one day. Depending on how many other people showed up, cancelled appointments, and the general mood of everyone involved.
It was a slim chance, but we took it, packing the kids up at midnight to drive to Miami for a 7AM arrival. We were #18 in line and the office didn’t even open until 8:30!
If there is ever a time when you need your kids to pull it together and be as mature as humanely possible, it’s when you’re waiting for a cattle call, in the basement parking garage of a government-run establishment, sitting on dirty cement hoping you’ll make the cut. And after two hours of waiting, holding nature’s most urgent call, you get to the front of the line and make it upstairs only to discover you now have a six hour wait, without electronics or food allowed. OMG.
As the hours ticked by, the room became less and less crowded as family after family received their passport documents. At 3PM, our number was finally called and they said they could process our passport. Yay! Now we only had another 1.5 hours to wait.
Jack chose to wait with me, while Scott and Eli went to scout a hotel. We had delayed our trip by a day and would stay the night in Miami. At 4:30PM, Jack’s name was called. He was so elated. As he rose from his hard metal chair and walked across the now almost barren room, even the tough security officers smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
The adventure had begun…
Refreshed from our overnight in Miami, we departed for Medellín at 8:30PM. Aboard the flight, Jack and I sat next to a lovely woman from Medellín, who now lives in Boston. She was going home to visit family and gave us some advice on where to go and what to see. We exchanged WhatsApp numbers and were able to stay in touch throughout our stay.
What many of us might expect at a South American airport is chaos. Visions of shouting, crying babies, strange smells and foreign language might be the image we most easily conjure. I have to say, our experience was the exact opposite. The only family with small children, we were immediately ushered to the front of the immigration line in front of the Colombian citizens. Seriously.
That was easy!
Our next task (finding a taxi at midnight to take us on a 45 minute ride to our residential apartment in Belén) was not so easy.
Did I mention we don’t speak Spanish?
Yeah…so with my usual over-confident gusto I sauntered to the curb where a gaggle of men waited with taxis. We had received no less than six different recommendations on how to safely hail a taxi in Colombia. Um…I wasn’t able to use any of them. As I was baffling the locals with my complete lack of Spanish, a fluent North American walked up and asked, “Hey, are you American?”
Well, everyone standing on the curb was technically “American,” yet I knew what he meant. “Yes,” I replied, “I am American.”
“Do you speak Spanish?” he demanded. “No, but my husband kinda does,” I said with a small amount of defiance.
“Where are you going?” was his next question. “Belén,” I stammered. “What? You’re staying in Belén? Are you sure you got this?” he asked with a wink.
“Sure!” I said resolutely. OMG.
The guy was quite helpful in locating a taxi that would accommodate a family of four with two suitcases and off we went into the dark night: dazed by what we’d gotten ourselves into and amazed at the sprawling city lights in the valley below.
The boys were charmed by their first taxi ride and although it took some work to find the apartment in the maze of city streets, we finally made it to our temporary diggs.
Located on a side street of a one-block, city-square we were politely greeted by the building security officer (one of three who would become our friends). We said a few words of Spanish asking where our apartment would be and then insightfully, my husband had the good sense to ask the officer his name. With that simple gesture we had made a friend. It was a lesson we didn’t quite understand at the moment, yet would soon come to rely on as we fumbled our way around a city that is unaccustomed to tourists.
Exhausted, happy, and excited about what the morning would bring, we carried ourselves up the four flights of stairs to our new home away from home. By 2AM we were settled and fast asleep.
— To Be Continued Next Week —