Family vacations – we all love them, right? I have almost a love/hate relationship with family holiday trips. I do love the sense of adventure, the change in dull routine, seeing new places, trying new things, and above all, getting to spend leisurely time with family. Nevertheless, sometimes these intended times of family bliss and cohesiveness can also be fraught with stress – important things forgotten, getting lost, sickness or injuries, and of course, the ever-present friction in normal familial interactions. We all have our stories we could tell of family vacations gone awry, and at the time the mishaps can be quite stressful – not very conducive to rest and rejuvenation. But then again, they sure do make great stories to tell at family gatherings!
Take for instance, the vacation Chip and I took at Malindi, on the northern coast of Kenya, with another family. We were expecting Joshua, me being about 7 months pregnant. The 2 families had driven to the coast in separate vehicles – we, going in our little Toyota Corolla. It was a fun-filled vacation, with us enjoying non-work-related time with our mentors, Jerry and Ann and their fun kids. Being ‘great with child’, I was filled with sentimentality, anticipating future family vacations with our own progeny. On this trip, the adventure really began on our way home. In those days, we were living in a mountainous region, so the entire trip home from the low-lying coast involved considerable climbing. Not far into our safari home, we noticed the car losing power. This got worse and worse the higher we climbed. We stopped on numerous occasions to have the car checked to try to rectify the problem and though everyone had a different theory as to why the car was losing power, no one seemed able to fix it. One person shook his head as he gazed at the car, saying “It’s as if someone stuffed a potato in your tailpipe”. That should have tipped us off to the problem, but being very ignorant of auto mechanics, we just agreed sadly, also shaking our heads. So, we just pushed on, up the steep hills, with huge, heavy trucks passing us like we were standing still. Well, we almost were! Being heavy with child, I was suffering from the many long stops, the heat, the hassles, the stress. Eventually, it got to be late at night, we had not eaten, and we were stranded about 45 minutes from home. The car just would not go any further…would not or could not endure that last steep climb. To cut a long story short, we managed to get to a closed gas station with a single guard on duty. He took one look at my condition and snapped into action, somehow miraculously contacting our friend, Jerry, whose family had arrived home ages ago – in spite of the fact that there were no cell phones at that time and no land line service in the remote area where we were stranded. Jerry came and rescued us, and we had the car towed the next day. In the end, the sharp mechanic back home, realized the car we were driving, which we had imported from the U.S., had a seized up catalytic converter (because we were using leaded gasoline in the car, unleaded not being available in the country in those days). He jerry-rigged the thing and the car was going as good as new – lots of pep! That’s a vacation we needed a vacation to rest up from!
Then there was the time when on another trip home from family vacation at the coast we had booked an overnight stay at a tented lodge to break up the long trip. What we didn’t know was that we would have to haul all our baby stuff (we had 2 kids by then, one a baby) in a little dinghy across the river to get to the lodge. Rocking precariously in the little boat with all our gear, I was wondering if we would really make it. We did. As was the custom in those days, dinner was not served to families, but the expectation was to feed the kids first, put them to bed, then the adults could dine. So, that’s what we did. Having had a nice leisurely meal in the dining room and strolling back to our tent, along the river path in complete darkness, with only a tiny flashlight to enlighten our path, we suddenly heard a crashing about on our left in the direction of the river. All kinds of mental images of raging buffalo, ravening crocodiles, or other unimaginable horrors flashed through my mind. Something similar must have been coursing through Chip’s mind too because he, being on my left and nearest the river from whence the crashing sound emanated, started instinctively stumbling to his right, nearly pushing me into our neighbor’s tent. We both must have looked like a couple of stumbling drunks, too scared to even speak, only managing a few breathless “Aaaah, aaah’s”, as we struggled to regain our footing. I suspect whatever it was out there had been just as startled by us as we were of it because it took off and we were left with pounding hearts, wondering just how safe these flimsy tents really were.
I’m realizing this narrative is getting too long. I think I’ll write part II for more Fun Family Vacations…stay tuned!