We did all of our packing the night before and even managed to dismantle your walker on wheels and tape it to our backpacks so we could take it home with us. As we laid in bed, we recalled all of our favorite moments on this great family adventure. On Utila we loved lying in the hammocks at Rubi’s Inn and snorkeling right off the dock, going for evening walks with you in search of a breeze, making custom baleadas and drinking pineapple smoothies. On mainland Honduras, we loved all of our scenic bus trips winding though lush cloud-capped mountains; sleeping on the roof that overlooked Lake Yojoa, the largest in the country; and bundling up and eating strawberries in La Esperenza, Honduras’ highest village. In Gracias, we enjoyed soaking in the hot springs during the day then soaking in the culture during our evening strolls through central park. We loved climbing over the ancient Mayan ruins of Copan and holding the exotic and endangered birds at Macaw Mountain. You spent your first Christmas strolling cobble stone streets blanketed with aromatic pine needles and you shook hands with Santa who traded in his sled for a pickup truck for the liveliest parade in the country. We loved all of our Couchsurfing hosts, Andrea in El Progresso, Andy in Tela, Robert in La Guama, Jorge in Siguatepeque, the Canadian girls in La Esperenza and San Pedro Sula’s David Diaz who gave you a special photo shoot. Etched forever in our minds are the daily bike rides through the sleepy fishing village of Omoa, finding our own remote private beaches and returning every night to our favorite smoothie bar. We will miss the simplicity of El Remate, Guatemala, your four legged and feathered friends, the chocobananas, vivid sunsets and sharing laughs with Granny and Grumpy. We will remember the long overland chicken bus trips through Belize, eating heaping plates of Chinese food and the enormous flight of stairs to our bunk hostel. We will recall fondly the peaceful vibe under the massive shady mango tree in Bacalar and the experience of luxury when discovering our new apartment in Playa Del Carmen where we dined on authentic Mexican tacos, decadent donuts and endless fresh fruit. We will never forget our daily strolls to the beach, rolling around the sand, running in the surf, searching for birds, swimming in the pool, then hunting for the rising moon. With our bags already packed for our early morning departure, we all went to sleep grateful for adventure. Though most people might lose some sleep the night before a long day of travel with an infant, we rested easy knowing our trip home would be a piece of cake for our backpacking baby.
After a feast of leftover French toast and fruit salad, we strapped on our gear, plunked you into the carrier then made our way to our prearranged taxi. The 7am taxi never came and being on the outskirts of town, our next best option was to jump on the collectivo bound for the city center. We have had to wait for over an hour for the 7 peso collectivo but today, luck was on our side as it was waiting for us at the entrance of Lolkatun and whizzed us to our destination faster than a taxi, thanks to priority lanes for buses. After one final jog through the streets with all of our gear, we arrived at the airport shuttle just in time to purchase the final two remaining seats. Asher, my empathetic boy, you must have sensed the growing despair in your parents as we pulled out of the lot because you began waving goodbye to everything tropical, somehow knowing this was the end. As you waved goodbye to the leafy palms, the tropical birds and the vibrant street art, your mother and I waved goodbye to four months of the highest quality family time available. The purpose of this trip was to harvest time, our most rare and valuable commodity, and though our harvest was bountiful, we knew that there would be slim pickings by comparison upon my return to work.
In the airport we had to pay an exit tax since we arrived in Mexico by land but it was smooth sailing through baggage and customs. One of the perks when traveling with a baby is that we are allowed to take food through customs and when one of the guards tried to confiscate our healthy snacks and jar of peanut butter, we simply pointed to you and said “comida por el bebe” and he waved us through, snacks and all. Asher, the air-conditioning in the departures waiting area was turned high, perhaps to prepare everyone for the harsh winter air that awaited us back home, but you ran around barefoot and bare legged, squealing with happiness. Your joy is infectious and it did not take long for everyone to notice the carefree shoeless boy bringing a wave of smiles to the glum ex-vacationers by distracting them from the noise of the existential and transcendental questions rattling in their brains – “why am I going back to work? Why did people settle in such cold climates? How long before my next taste of freedom?” All that running and joy-infecting tuckered you out because as our plane lifted off, after taxiing behind four other planes which you watched with intense interest, you fell fast asleep before we could even level off.
We always board planes last and are amused by the looks of dread as we walk down the aisle scanning the terrible poker faces of the passengers begging the gods to not seat “the baby” near them. Asher, you did not make a peep the entire journey and you were certainly quieter than the lady next to me who slowly crunched on her Pringles, forcing me to repeat my mantra, or the smokers who wheezed out predictable phlegmy coughs like a metronome. You slept for two hours then read your favorite books and played with your favorite toys for the final hour and as the plane touched down, everyone commented on how lucky we were to have such a good travelling baby. Yes, we are grateful, but we believe luck has little to do with it. You travel well because you are an experienced traveler and your mother works tirelessly to meet all of your needs.
Asher, on this trip you travelled more than 6700km by plane, 2100km overland on local collectivos and chicken buses, and 60km by ferry, and as our plane came to a stop and the seat belt lights turned off, we were reminded that “travel does not exist without home. If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world.” Asher, you got us to the front of the customs line once again and your smiling grandparents were waiting on the other side with warm toques and warmer hugs. We enjoyed a delicious meal together, the first in 120 days which I did not have to prepare, and did a load of laundry, the first in 120 days which I did not have to do by hand, then retreated to our beds with a lot more clothes than we were used to. As we laid in bed, we discussed the inexplicable phenomenon of long term budget travel, the fact that when you return, nothing has changed but you. The other phenomenon about long term budget travel, and anything adventurous for that matter, is that it never leaves you. Somewhere, someday, something will remind us of those days under the sun with our baby boy and we will be whisked away like the breeze. All long term budget travelers get itchy feet if they stay put long enough and we know it is only a matter of time before we strap on our packs in search of something wild.
Asher, it is our hope that you will read this book throughout your life and it will inspire you to follow your dreams, to think about your future self, to nourish your adventurous spirit, to live outside the norm, to consume little materially so that you can thrive spiritually, and from time to time, to strap on a pack and hit the road. Not like the new trendy backpackers with their designer rolling suitcases searching for a cheap party, a cheap high and even cheaper shopping. Rather, be like the true backpacker, enriching your life with greater meaning and purpose, living intentionally, living light and living in the moment.
Asher, my boy, backpacking with you brought an entirely new element to our trip and added a new experiential phenomenon upon our return, the realization that travel for us is now more of a desire than a need because who needs to travel the world when the whole world fits inside of your arms?