Meet the Culture Trotters: The Esteves Family World Schoolers!
The Esteves Family is a world schooling family that had just begun their adventures when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Join us as they share this first monthly installment about their rocky beginning to world schooling and how it ended with some monkeys!
Traveling the world full time with your family is an adventure all in itself. Throw in a world-wide pandemic and adventure takes on a whole new meaning. I’d like to introduce you to our family! We are the Esteves Family, Dad Robert, Mom Crystal, and kids Alejandro, and Arabella and we are world schoolers! In this episode of our world schooling series for Homeschool.com we’ll share how our family ended up spending the COVID 19 pandemic exploring life in the jungles of Akumal, Mexico. Let’s jump right in!
Don’t miss the video the Culture Trotters share this month with the Spider Monkeys! (at bottom of post)
“Mommy, why are those people wearing masks?” My 7-year-old asks me as we frantically speed through the airport. Like most families with school-aged kids, everything we do is exciting; but it’s never graceful. “I don’t really know; they are probably just worried about airport germs” I reply. My focus is more on getting everyone’s shoes off and electronics out and Arabella’s blue-velvet-with-sequins sombrero through the x-ray machine. (Why did I let her bring that? Oh right, it’s super cute.) We hear about the coronavirus in the news, but it’s in China and not really on our radar. We are heading to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. No virus there, just sunshine, beaches, and all the Mayan culture we can handle. For about three weeks that is what we do.
In the same frantic manner, we make our way to the Valladolid bus station. With Arabella still sporting her “I’m a tourist” sombrero, we hit up a road-side stand for some travel snacks. Without a thought, I buy my two kids fresh-squeezed juice ladled from a large open jar into a plastic baggy, no gloves, no mask, no hand sanitizer, nor any sanitation for that matter. It’s still the good old days when exposing your kids to germs was just building up their immune system. In about two hours the good old days will be long gone.
When we get off the air-conditioned bus, bag-o-juice in hand, COVID-19 catches up with us. In Merida, there is a line of masked medical staff taking everyone’s temperature and pumping globs of hand sanitizer in our already full hands. This hand sanitizer is stickier than any I’ve come across before, and they put enough in our hand for our whole bodies and then some. Maybe we were supposed to rub it on the luggage as well? I’m sure you have all had your fair share of impromptu hand sanitizer “baths” at this point.
Suddenly the pandemic is an integral part of our lives. The whole world is shutting down. Our upcoming itinerary calling for coffee in Colombia and llama-hugging in Peru; now canceled. I hear Merida is a beautiful city full of Maya culture; we spend a month seeing little beyond the colorful tiles in our Airbnb. The temperature stays between 103 and 108° and there has been no rain for 3 months. Everything in our lives becomes guesswork. We wonder how long this will last, is it safe here, or should we head back to the states? Can we even go back to the states? The questions are endless and the answers seem impossible to find…
Just like in the US, each state/city in Mexico has its own set of quarantine rules and laws. For better or worse, Merida goes all out. Our two children–one of which has ADHD–are stuck inside full time, in a crazy hot house, with no toys and only our imaginations to keep us going. For a while, we fill our sweaty days making daily videos for our YouTube channel. On Easter, we had a coronavirus shaped pinata delivered, and took out our pandemic frustrations on it till Mexican candy rains down. Candy, I was only able to get from a woman who took me in some back-of-the-store black market candy room. Who knew that was a thing? (Apparently, candy is ‘non-essential’)
While it’s a bit like playing food roulette, we even figure out how to order groceries and take-out in Spanish. The heat and confinement, however, eventually take their toll, and we decide it is time to make a change.
We find a place in Akumal; a small jungle town in the Riviera Maya about a 4-hour bus ride away. There are two large pools, an outdoor playhouse, and endless dirt roads, and jungle paths to hike. There are pet cats, and dogs, and even a few other children for our kids to play with. The temperature would be a refreshing 15° to 20° cooler. It seems like the perfect place to ride out the rest of this storm. I actually cried when I first read the description (I’m blaming it on heat exhaustion). The trick is getting there. There is so much bad information on the internet about what is actually going on, add in a language barrier and it’s that much more difficult to know what the rules are, or what they will be. On the internet we read stories of a strict lockdown, forcing people off buses at checkpoints to be left on the side of the road. We also heard the virus has not touched Akumal and they are happily welcoming anyone willing to come bring a little business to their town. We decide to gamble that reality is somewhere in-between and attempt to take the bus to Akumal.
Quarantine law in Mérida dictates only one passenger per taxi, so the kids and I ‘mask-up’ and begin our 2-mile trek to the bus station while Robert, wrangling all of our luggage, calls a cab. This proves to be the only real obstacle in our journey. Several sticky squirts of hand sanitizer and one unpleasant trip to the bus bathroom later (kids can never hold it!), we made it to Akumal.
I’m not much of a believer in signs. But I kid you not, as we are driving down the road in our final taxi ride, just minutes from our new quarantine home, the sky opens up and it begins to rain. Three months of no rain and today is the day the drought comes to an end. You be the judge.
Akumal has been everything we hoped for and more. The kids are outside more than they are inside. Surrounded by colorful birds, butterflies, and endless nature to explore. Just down the road, we have discovered a family of four adorable spider monkeys who love to snuggle and play with us. They live on a property where a couple is building a breath-taking home and have unearthed their very own private cenote. With construction currently being shut down, they have graciously let us swim in this amazing freshwater swimming hole any time we like. While out for a walk, we witnessed the migration of hundreds of swallowtail butterflies. Each day holds its own adventure; and Arabella can wear that tacky blue sombrero without anyone knowing.
Next week quarantine will begin to lift. While I’m excited to be one step closer to hugging a llama and not having to cook every single meal, (can I get an amen!) the kids will definitely find it hard to say goodbye to their jungle life and new monkey friends. Who am I kidding? Their Dad is already trying to figure out how to train a monkey to hide in his suitcase.
Join us next month as we share more of our adventures in world schooling!
The Esteves family has recently started world-schooling full time. They live more like locals and less like tourists in an effort to give their kids a more unique and in-depth cultural experience. Share in the adventures on their educational and always entertaining YouTube channel Culture Trotters Get daily photos of their experiences on Instagram @culturetrotters.