Treasures of the trip: A Eugene family shares memorable moments as they travel the globe
By Scott Maben The Register-Guard
Therese Picado's travelog, Nov. 5: "The tea plantations beckoned us to visit during a spectacular midday sunburst. What a lovely panorama, plump green clusters of tea blanketing rolling hills and valleys, thick jungle encroaching its perimeter, workers shaving the tops of the plants, and a dose of mist floating in to soften the scene."
It was another moment to treasure on the trip of a lifetime for Picado of Eugene. The scene was from Malaysia in Southeast Asia as she and her family - husband Steve Curtis and preteen sons Peter and Paul - were about a third of the way through their yearlong journey around the world.
The family left in early July with an itinerary they researched and built during months of planning. They intend to visit 27 countries on four continents, making an effort to take paths less traveled. The family was featured in a Register-Guard story that appeared in Oregon Life on June 26.
So far, the four have explored Mexico and Central America - Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica - over the summer, then moved on to Japan and Southeast Asia this fall.
They snorkeled with multicolored fish, coral and crustaceans in the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia. They took a three-day trek to visit the hill tribes of northern Laos. They enjoyed the colorful chaos of Bangkok, Thailand, and rode elephants at a conservation center in northern Thailand.
And in Central America, a sweet indulgence: chocolate ice cream bars with vanilla ice cream filling at Dos Pinos, "the coolest, most awesome ice cream cooperative in Costa Rica," said Peter, the older of the boys, in a recent e-mail interview with The Register-Guard.
The family, which is chronicling its journey on the Internet (www.picadocurtis.net), has visited ancient ruins, remote villages, tropical beaches and wildlife preserves in the past four months.
They also have had a few close shaves. The family had to evacuate Tulum, Mexico, in the middle of the night as Hurricane Emily bore down on them. Then Peter got sick with amoebic dysentery and salmonella and spent the night in the hospital. It took him five days to recover.
While snorkeling among lemon sharks on an island off of Placencia, Belize, Curtis hit a poisonous coral that caused giant blisters on his hand. He took a dose of prednisone to relive the inflammation.
The scariest incident took place in northern Thailand. Curtis left his passport at a guest house and had to double back to retrieve it. The others, who had gone on ahead, were on a bus that was traveling too fast heading onto a one-lane bridge. An oncoming fuel truck was already on the narrow bridge, forcing the bus to take out three concrete pilings before it came to rest with a front wheel hanging off the bridge over a ravine.
The family also has run into many severe tropical storms that caused considerable damage and loss of life in the places they visited. In addition to Hurricane Emily, they saw the devastation from typhoons in Miyazaki in southern Japan, a couple of monsoons and Tropical Storm Vicente, which caused the worst flooding in northern Thailand in 40 years.
But the highlights have outweighed the few troubles, and the family members listed plenty of high points from their travels.
Picado talked about how much she appreciated learning about new cultures, such as an experience she had in Chichicastanengo, Guatemala. "I will never forget coming upon the steps of the main cathedral, San Tomas, with all its flowers and pervasive incense and Mayan people gathering to worship in a unique blend of Catholicism and ancient Mayan spirituality," she said.
Paul said he enjoyed going to Spanish school in Antigua, Guatemala, as well as a visit in Belize to Barton Creek Cave, where a boa constrictor at the entrance was shot as the family was inside.
He described Fried Bacon, "a rock that looked like bacon strips coming from the cathedral ceilings of this limestone cave," and noted the fun of "swinging off a really cool rope swing after we explored the cave."
Peter said he liked seeing the market in Chichicastanengo and going to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, where he saw three-toed sloths, white necked capuchin monkeys and howler monkeys, and a coati, a "raccoon/mongoose-nosed-like animal."
The brothers identified and documented 78 species of birds and animals they saw in Costa Rica. That added up to one-third of all the local species listed in their small wildlife guide.
At Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean side of the country, the family watched sea turtles lay eggs at night in the pouring rain and took a canal tour to spy keel-billed toucans, small alligators, spider monkeys, parrots, blue morpho butterflies, king fishers, green herons and many other species of birds.
In Japan and Thailand, the family met up with exchange students they have hosted in Eugene.
"It has been an emotional experiencing connecting with these very dear people to us who have enriched our lives and meeting their families," Picado said. "I think it has meant a lot to them that we visited them in their countries and wanted to meet their families. We have been treated like royalty and as if we were an extension of their own family," she said.
Asked what has surprised them most about their trip so far, the family agreed that it was the heat, adding that they never had sweated more profusely and regularly.
The cost of living and transformation of the Yucatan Peninsula also caught them off guard. It was nearly as expensive as the United States and quite developed, the family noted.
Finally, the family said they were amazed to see the same fellow international travelers in Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
"You realize that you're traveling the gringo trail," Picado said.
The family saved up for the trip, which they estimated would cost $35,000 to $40,000, including airfare. But they also are looking for trip sponsors in exchange for local handicraft from the countries they visit and post-trip presentations to interested groups.
"Although we are maintaining a strict budget, funds are still awfully tight and we will need financial support to sustain our venture," Picado said.
After Southeast Asia, including stops in Cambodia and Indonesia's Sumatra, the family will head to India, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They also may visit Egypt. Then it's off to Europe: Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, France and the Netherlands.