When the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs hit off the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, the impact was so immense that the ground liquified. Like a droplet hitting water, the liquid rock pushed hundreds of miles outwards to form a huge ridged circle and, in the backwash, a gigantic column 10km tall rose in the centre before collapsing into the circular ridge.
These ancient ripples are recreated throughout Mexico, though on a much smaller scale, in the form of ‘reductors’ or ‘topes’ spanning thousands of roads to reduce speeding vehicles. They include temporary rubber bumps manned by police, lines of metal domes often dented and minus a few, flat concrete mounds and, most jarring of all, the unmarked speed bump that comes out of nowhere.
Me and the boys got good at shouting ‘bump!’ as we trundled around in our battered up rental car.
In Mexico City my first impressions of a murky green metropolis quickly lifted when the brightness of day revealed streets lined with jacaranda trees covered in bright purple blossom, lots of verdant parks and bright pink taxis.
But our Airbnb apartment amplified the noise from the bar next door, the arterial road and the men chatting on the step outside. We didn’t sleep well.
The town of Oaxaca was alive with exuberant wedding celebrations in its pretty squares and streets. Houses were painted in the boldest and most irreverent colour combinations I have ever seen and they made my heart sing.
But Robert was in a foul multi-day mood. In a fit of frustration he damaged a chair at our Airbnb and we spent two hours extracting an apology from him.
I skipped going out for dinner that night and sat alone in the broken chair berating my parenting skills and eating peanuts for tea.
At the cliff-side pools high in the mountains the next day, Robert threw another wobbler and hit me several times. I dragged him up the steep path to the tour bus where I shouted at him.
Breaking into heaving sobs and coughs from the altitude and the exertion, I spent 40 minutes sat on my sorry arse in a dusty car park trying to catch my breath and ignore the bus driver who was probably wondering why this angry tourist wasn’t enjoying one of Mexico’s nicest natural wonders.
And then there was the fight in the Stamp Museum.
And the time we took a taxi to a museum on the outskirts of Merida only to find it was closed for the day.
There was the day when we spent most of our time hanging out in the DHL office, the electrical store and the phone shop.
When the washing machine spewed gallons of water all over the kitchen floor.
When we got stopped for speeding.
How we may have been duped over the rental car.
How our bank kept blocking our credit cards.
How we panicked over stockpiling cash for Cuba.
When the car got a flat tyre.
When we realised that accommodation in Nashville, USA, was scarce and expensive because of Memorial Day.
When I got left behind on the metro platform in Mexico City because I didn’t squeeze my way in to the carriage in time.
When Thomas refused to swim in the cenote and we had to lure him in with the promise of cake, ice cream and an in-app purchase.
But, the boys took to horse trekking in the mountains and loved the boat ride over a luminous blue lagoon whilst spotting crocodiles, eagles and flamingoes.
And Fraser and I were flabbergasted one morning to find the boys dressed and eating breakfast at the table without any help from us.
Bizarrely, we got together with friends we’d originally met in Vietnam.
We found the world’s best ice lollies.
And I found the time to teach Robert how to wash clothes by hand.
An honest picture
Because I want to create an honest picture of family travel, I’m describing the bumpy bits. Don’t think of us lying on countless beaches, languishing under a blue and untroubled sky. There are many jolts in our journey, ranging in size and surprise.
Looking back, these bumps seem small and silly though, at the time, they were huge and frustrating.
Will there be a deep impact?
In the mountains north of Oaxaca, we got talking with a couple who were walking across the Serria del Norte. Many years ago, they too travelled extensively with their three children, who are now in their twenties.
I grilled them on how their kids had benefited from the experience of travel. They said they’d grown in confidence and world-wiseness, that they were now quick to adapt, had found empathy and their own true voices.
Perhaps the couple could sense our need for a break from the kids because they spent a long while chatting with the boys whilst we eavesdropped from our hammocks a few steps away.
I listened to the boys’ travelling tales. As I lapped up their descriptions, facts and opinions, a joyous realisation swept over me that, yes, we are doing an extraordinary thing that will shape them beyond our understanding.
What impact will this year away have on our lives? What ripples will it cause? And how far will they reach?