Our week back in Los Angeles was spent meeting up with friends & family, taking care of errands, and taking the children to experience new things.
It is always such a joy to meet old friends whom you has know for 10, 20, or even 30 years. For one thing, you realized how fast time has passed. The second is that you also realized how old you have become. We were watching a UCLA basketball game with my college friend and we realized that all those players weren't even born when we were in college! We met with several uncles, aunties and cousins over the week. One of my cousins is only 8 years old. So Olivia, who is eleven, has to call him Uncle Daniel. That was fun.
Quite a bit of time was spent doing errands and preparing the logistics of the 3 months trip to South America. Getting visas, traveler's checks, filling income tax, registering for voting, sorting through one year old mails, and cleaning out old junks and precious photos left in boxes for seven years took up much of the time. Planning it was harder than I expected as some tours are quite expensive and it was difficult finding the right tour operators who are both reliable and economical. Even a small cost per person multiplied by five of us becomes a big number. It reminded me of what a Chinese government official once said, "Any big economic gain divided by 1.3 billion becomes small; any small social problem multiplied by 1.3 billion becomes large."
But in the midst of home schooling and doing chores, we did have some chance to experience new things as a family. The kids got to go ice skating which was made easier because of their previous practice of roller blading. Olivia and Nathan also went skiing! Only in California are you able to drive one hour either to ski or to the beach. Nathan on his first day skiing actually went on the "advanced" slope as a beginner. Although he fell countless times, I admired his bravery.
Almost time for the big trip to South America, crossing eight countries in less than 3 months. Feeling excited...
I found that lonely planet's thorn tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) and online travel journal (lonelyplanet.mytripjournal.com/banners/lp2.html) is a good place to start looking for information. One of the most informative travel journal with good recommendations and reference prices is by someone who traveled for 2 years to all 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 35 countries (lonelyplanet.mytripjournal.com/funchun). Another excellent blog travel journal I found very helpful is by Ben Woo at 20usd.blogspot.com.
Mountain High Ski Resort is an excellent beginner skiing place as it is only a little more than an hour from Los Angeles downtown. (www.mthigh.com)