Anybody there?

The family dynamic has changed as our travels have progressed. The kids have grown up, and we are no longer as protective over them as we were back at home. We push them out into the world to explore: ‘Take your bikes and check out the place for us,’ we say when we arrive in a new town and want to unpack in peace (or have a siesta). We want them to build confidence and independence over this trip, to learn initiative and be at home in a variety of situations. Sometimes they get terribly mouthy though and I wonder if we have gone too far.

We are all a little socially hungry at the moment. Coronavirus means that the flow of travellers that one normally meets on this kind of trip has dried up somewhat. When we stay in a campsite there is a vibe and perhaps some fleeting friendships can be made over that week. Camping long-term is hard work though, and in any case the season is over now, so we mainly stay in rented houses, inserting ourselves for a week or so into some residential area of town where the locals have little interest in hanging out with tourists. Having kids with us, we don’t go out drinking and partying much in the evenings, which closes the door to many chance encounters.

It’s not all barren. Menna meets local girls in her yoga classes, I chat to other surfers, we exchange stories with tourists when we drop into the surf hostels for a drink and to use the skate ramp. Random baristas get a quick life history together with our coffee order.

We don’t see many kids around though, certainly not English speaking ones now term has started and all the sensible international parents have repatriated themselves. Arthur plays football on the beach with local Portuguese kids, getting along as boys do, without needing to exchange any words. Matilda struggles.

So what does this mean? Well, us Nicholls do pretty much everything together. We go surfing, we go on walks, we go on sightseeing trips, we play games in the evening, read books out loud and have film night twice a week. I wind up the kids, play silly pranks on Menna. She tells me off and the kids laugh at me. Menna and Matilda bake bread and cinnamon rolls and go running together on a Sunday. Arthur and I skate around town and have mock fights with bamboo sticks that occasionally get serious. We have all our meals together and argue over what music to play during breakfast.

Arthur and Matilda are inseparable now. They have strange catchphrases and songs they have invented, imaginary games that last for many days. Even when they are arguing furiously and hate each other, they still hang out together. Menna and I have the evenings. We spend long hours discussing life, what we will do in the future and planning the next stage of our travels. We concoct wild visions of the post-apocalyptic future once Covid has decimated 90% of the population. We watch horror films on Netflix.

We have been gathered up, shaken around and thrown on top of each other, and generally we have found it fine – until suddenly one of us has had enough and throws a tantrum. Then we rant and rave for a while, go off for a walk then come back chastened and wanting forgiveness.

This is travelling after all, it’s what we signed up for. It’s intense.

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