In the News! > The Register-Guard, 10.18.06 | © The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A family leaves American comforts behind in a year spent exploring how the rest of the world turns


By Andrea Damewood
The Register-Guard

Not too many American boys get to celebrate their 12th birthday having a goat slaughtered in their honor by Masai tribesmen. Kenya: Paul Picado-Curtis celebrates his 12th birthday in Masai tradition in Enoosaen, in western Kenya.

Kenya: Paul Picado-Curtis celebrates his 12th birthday in Masai tradition in Enoosaen, in western Kenya.

But when your family spends a little more than a year circling the globe, a guy's going to end up having a birthday in some interesting situations, and maybe even get an interesting new name.

Paul Picado-Curtis - Masai name: Lekishon, "the promise of blessing" - his brother, Peter, 14, and their parents, Steve Curtis and Therese Picado, say that while they left footprints on 19 countries and four continents, it was the world that made its mark on them.

Embarking in July 2005 with a rough itinerary and big backpacks, Curtis, 48, Picado, 45, and their two sons returned in time for the school year, but feeling that they learned more in their year abroad than they ever could at home.

They saw a total eclipse of the sun in Cappadocia, Turkey. They rode elephants in India while looking for tigers. They hiked with native guides in northern Laos. They stayed at a small Italian vineyard.

For me, one of the gifts of the trip was living in the moment," Picado said. "For me it was all about people and encounters."

They're going to share it all with a talk and slide show Thursday, featuring stories and Curtis' photos of the lush and exotic locales they saw.

It wasn't all sightseeing though. Priorities on the Picado-Curtis clan's 396-day trip included work on volunteer projects such as creating a sustainable water system in Enoosaen, Kenya, ongoing tsunami relief in Khao Lak, Thailand, and community gardens in Kabale, Uganda.

Now that they're home, Picado and Curtis hope to make a living by making the world a better place.

"We're hoping this could become a permanent change in our lifestyle, based on the transformation we experienced on this trip," Picado said.

Both parents returned home unemployed. Curtis, 48, lost his job several years ago when the Sony compact disc plant shut down. Picado, 45, resigned after she was denied a leave of absence as a public information specialist with the Eugene parks department.

However, the couple has a number of ideas to make ends meet. They want to develop a company called Round the World Enterprises, which could involve anything from writing a book based on their travelogues to becoming consultants for grass-roots development projects.

They have enough resources to make it for a few months, but with their new interest in living simply, that doesn't worry them too much: One of the hardest adjustments they have had was readjusting to the abundance of the United States.

"I came back and thought, `Wow, it's not right that I have all this stuff,' " said Peter, a freshman at South Eugene International High School.

Curtis said that when he first got home, he tried to go shopping at a local grocery store. Instead, he stood in the aisles for about 45 minutes and then left, unable to buy a thing.

"I was so overwhelmed by the choices and how everything was presented," he said. "It was so different, I just dropped the basket and took off."

The family is committed to bicycling and walking everywhere possible - one of the family cars has sat in the garage with a flat tire for months.

For most of the trek, the Picado-Curtises were also joined by friends and family. Curtis' 70-year-old mother was in tow for about nine months, and a friend from church, Marcia Hafner, participated in the Uganda community garden project with them.

While travelling, the family tried to go on the cheap, shunning major tourist destinations in favor of natural wonders and national parks. Travel became their job, Curtis said, and he was the one in charge of budget.

"He's the guy who got really stressed, saying stuff like, `Oh, we're not going to find a hotel,' " said Peter, recounting the many times they quibbled with hoteliers over small sums, such as 50 Thai Baht - a little more than $1.

"Hey, if we're over by $3 a day over a year, that's $1,000," Curtis replied.

The Baht debates worked: The family budgeted $39,490 for the trip, and they spent $39,251.

They were also able to save money by staying a total of 72 days with acquaintances, friends, former homestay students and people they met while travelling.

Before the trip, Picado said she was worried about being away from hospitals. But despite an early scare in Central America, when Peter got amoebic dysentery and salmonella, everyone had developed constitutions of steel by December.

The other "American" fear - that is, of being attacked or robbed abroad - was completely dispelled, Curtis said. While Peter, Paul and Picado all got their passports stolen in Nairobi, Kenya, which they now jokingly call "Nai-robbery," they said they could not believe how safe they generally felt.

"My faith in human kind was basically regenerated on this trip," he said. "There are some incredible, generous people out there."

The Picado-Curtis family presentation and slide show will be from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the City of Eugene Public Works Yard Building 2 Conference Room, 1820 Roosevelt Blvd.
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