In 2008, I was in Mongolia, on the last leg of my ‘big trip’, getting ready to return to Canada. If anyone had told me I’d be back in eight years with a wife and two little ones in tow, leading a group of people that I’d already brought to Africa on trips, I’d have told them they were completely mad.
Colette, Jacques, and Francois joined me this summer as we took a group of motorcyclists across this vast, beautiful, and remote country.
We had practical reasons for doing this. I’m here anyways and if Colette and the boys didn’t come with me, she’s got to fly them to Africa by herself, and that’s a bit of a mission. Furthermore, Francois flies for free until he’s two, as long as he sits on one of our laps, so there was an economical reason for doing so.
Beyond that, we want them to experience as much as possible. We’ll have pictures of them here, even if they don’t remember it and we can all look back on this time.
Handling two of them on a normal day is a lot. Factor in being in the middle of nowhere was going to be quite interesting and Colette was a bit nervous. She was pleasantly surprised. Jacques got used to being in a different place every day, seeing new things, living in a ger, and was able to get into other people’s gers and learn how kids play when they have no toys. He even tasted horse milk.
Jacques had a handful of toys and no iPad while on tour. Language and culture are no barrier when you’re young and he ended up playing with other kids all the time. He’s really into cars and brought a bunch with him, which he ended up giving away by the end of the trip. Francois took his first steps here and he’s now up to 10 before he falls.
The Mongolian people were wonderful with them. When we stopped, they’d grab Francois because they say he looks like a blue-eyed doll and go off with him. At the tourist camps, kitchen staff and wait staff would steal him for a photo and then post it on their FaceBook page. He was a Mongolian internet sensation!
Both boys get exposed to a lot of people and neither are afraid. We don’t teach ‘stranger-danger’. If you look at things rationally, the chances of being abducted by someone you don’t know are astronomically low, so we threw that out of the equation.
Colette noted Jacques offering some kids popcorn and encouraged him to do the same to two older men in traditional costumes. She was looking for a photo op, but it went beyond that. Jacques kept going around to other people, who began taking his pictures and following him, smiling and interacting with him.
An endearing mannerism Jacques picked up in South Africa was referring to everyone older than them is an uncle or an auntie. He won hearts across the country!
We had two vehicles for the family: a small white old land cruiser for me and Jacques, and a big Lexus 470 for Colette and Francois. She had all the snacks so by the afternoon, Jacques was usually ready to join them.
It was fun keeping him occupied by looking at clouds and picking out animal shapes, or imagining where a road would go. He’s big into cars so I’d ask him who made these tracks or if he thought a monster truck had gone by. He loved the river crossings!
When there was a particularly beautiful scene, Colette would sit there with Jacques and they’d take it in. I hope this trip influences his perspective. If he remembers nothing else, I hope he remembers traveling in a weird place is fun and enjoyable. It was a wonderful couple of weeks.
Everyone knew there were going to be two babies on the trip. The fact you’re on the motorcycle and don’t see them every day except for stops helps and it went well. By the end of the trip, Jacques had established unique relationships with everyone.
We’ll be in southern Africa for the next few months then spending three weeks of December in Argentina. We love traveling and showing others places where the natural environment is outstanding and there are few people—the kind of riding that’s unavailable in the rest of the world. Mongolia and Namibia are like that, as is Patagonia.
The amount of change that’s happened makes it hard to plan for the future because we have no idea what’s coming up. We keep chipping away and seeing what emerges. It will be interesting to think about the next eight years!