Jenss Family Travels: Journey’s End

For the past year, Rainer Jenss and his family have been traveling around the world and blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. This post marks the last dispatch from their journey, and the end to an incredible year. You can see where they’ve traveled by going back through the archive of their posts, or look to the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids. If you have questions for the Jensses, they’ll be writing a few follow up posts in the coming weeks about the transition back home. Email questions here, or leave them in the comments below.

Flashback to April 2007 – I’m staring out into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, perched on a large piece of driftwood that washed up on a desolate strip of beach off the northwestern coast of Bocas del Toro, Panama. In my meditative state, I envision the end our pending yearlong trip around the world finishing up right here on the unspoiled island of Bastimentos. I’m with my friend Greg who claimed this piece of tropical paradise for himself when he bought some property on this archipelago back in 1996.

Now I’m with my family at the last stop of our incredible 52-week adventure, and my premonition proved spot on. I really couldn’t think of a more fitting place to conclude our journey and put this whole trip into perspective. Since we set out last July, we have been housed by people we’d never met before, lived in a camper van, slept in tents, overnighted on trains, and stayed in some of the nicest hotels on the planet. I figured spending our last few days in a hut with pretty much no creature comforts – not even a bathroom (au natural was the only way to go) – would be a perfect setting for us to reflect on the events of the past year and start thinking about a re-entry strategy.

In preparation for our time on the island, we had the assistance of one of the local Ngobe Indians who I had met when I was last here. Joey–his nickname–helped Greg secure his land purchase in the first place and now acts as the caretaker of his property. Without him, there’s almost no way we could have pulled this off. Firstly, Joey lent us a hand in buying all the food and rations we’d need for the week. More importantly, he transported us and all our provisions to the island with his dugout canoe. Then after the 45-minute motor across the Bastimentos Marine Park, he and his wife Maria helped set up all the essentials, including four hammocks. For refrigeration, we used three big blocks of ice in an extra-large cooler which would last us about 4-5 days, while two five-gallon jugs provided us with our fresh water (showers were taken from rainwater collected by a water tower in the backyard).

As Carol was putting up the mosquito netting around our air mattresses, we discovered a pair of bats nesting behind one of the ‘bedroom doors.  Despite some frantic swats of a broom and insect repellent, they still managed to find their way back to our hut at dawn every morning and kindly took off after dusk. I did everything possible to prevent the boys from seeing them flying around their beds, in fear that it might cause some unnecessary alarm. Since a scorpion bit Carol a couple of weeks earlier, the boys were now quite wary of the creepy crawlers that inhabited these parts of Central America and didn’t relish the thought of being outside after the sun went down. So when Tyler spotted yet another scorpion (our third such sighting of the trip) on the floor of the dining area, it certainly didn’t help matters. In fact, I’ve never seen the kids so anxious to go to bed in their lives.

Despite feeling a bit unsettled at night, it was wonderful to have such a relatively undiscovered part of the world pretty much all to ourselves. Even better, we no longer felt like tourists; there were no major sites we had to visit or history to learn; and we didn’t have to worry about missing any major activities. Sure, we did some kayaking along the coastline and snorkeled the protective reef right off the beach, but hanging out as a family just soaking up all the natural beauty and enjoying the warm hospitality and company of the local Indians who lived not too far away was the biggest priority. In fact, we visited the Ngobe community of Salt Creek where Joey and his extended family lives, drinking some beer and talking about various subjects like the news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death, which even made its way to this remote end of the island. The topic of climate change, on the other hand, had not yet arrived. When I tried to explain that a recent storm that destroyed the fishing dock of Joey’s stepfather might have been a result of global warming, they had no idea what I was talking about. I realized I wasn’t there to lecture anyone about the consequences and environmental impact of man’s destructive behavior, I simply wanted to embrace my surroundings and enjoy the people for who they were.

The dinner we had on our final day was perhaps the most memorable of the entire journey. Joey and one of his sons spent a good part of the day catching some tuna and lobster for our farewell meal that his mother Celia would prepare for us. Together with his entire family, we feasted on fresh seafood and rice as guests in their home. It was the company more than the food that made this night so special. The sense of community we shared with these people who come from such a different background was ultimately the lesson we wanted our kids to take away from this around-the-world trip to begin with. I’m sure that over time, this experience will prove beneficial to them in some way.  It sure will be interesting to see how it manifests.

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So, as we packed up Greg’s hut and prepared to leave Bastimentos for the long journey back to the States, I gazed out at the glistening ocean one last time to reflect on what an absolute gift it was to be able to have done this for my family and myself. I also realized that although the trip might be ending, my journey of self-discovery and adventure is far from over. In fact in many ways, it’s only just begun.

Photos: Rainer Jenss


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