Once in a while we like to introduce you adventurous families that inspire us. This time we interviewed the Hunter family that inspired us with their fearless trip to the countries of Western Africa with their 6 and 4 years old girls. Kyla told us little about it, about their favourite trip and gave some travel tips.
1. Can you introduce yourself in 5 sentences?
I’m Kyla, my husband is Randy and my two girls are 6 year old Calais (Kal-lay) and four year old Kacela (Kuh-say-luh). We live in Northern Canada and as much as we love our small town we like to escape it as much as possible. I’m an optometrist (eye doctor) with my own practice and two awesome business partners who also love to travel, allowing me to take 10-12 weeks of vacation a year. This gives us lots of time to travel both to family scattered throughout North America, and on our own adventures. Really, travel is what we do for fun, but when we’re not traveling we like to go on family bike rides, or play games together.
2. What was your favourite trip till now as a family? Can you describe it?
Our favourite family trip so far was when the girls were tiny, Kacela was only 6 months old and Calais had just turned 2. We spent a month traveling through Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia. I had a friend living in Hong Kong at the time so we spent a few days with him getting over jet lag and eating some delicious Dim Sum. Then we headed to South East Asia. I booked our first 3 nights in a lovely little hotel in Hanoi, a 2 night cruise on Ha Long Bay, and that was it. I did a ton of research before we left, but we just planned as we went. It was so relaxing and gave us the freedom to really tailor our travels to our needs at the time. With young kids, that can change from day to day! There’s a lot that we didn’t see in both Vietnam and Cambodia, but we were okay with that knowing we’d return at some point. We were happy with what we saw and didn’t feel pressured into “fitting it all in”. The other amazing thing about that trip was it was the first time I realized how much kids can open the doors to local culture. Our little blonde-hair blue-eyed girls were a major hit with the locals and everywhere we went people were stopping to touch them, hold them and talk to us because we were with them. We had far more interaction with people that we would have if we were traveling on our own, and I loved that.
3. Can you describe your most adventurous experience on your travels?
The adventure that sticks out the most in my mind was the bus ride we recently took from Tanguieta in Northern Benin, to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. It was a 400km trip that took us 11.5 hours! We were crammed into a van that should have fit about 15 people max, and instead had 20 of us, plus a man riding on the back managing the roof-top luggage. We stopped at the border to exit Benin, and then about 10km later to enter Burkina Faso. Then, we stopped 11 more times, 9 for roadside passport checks and 2 more times to drop off or pick up people. When we rolled into the largest stop to unload about half of our passengers, the police didn’t like where the driver stopped. They escorted us to their compound and an animated discussion ensued. The driver had to pay a fine, and then park down the road to finish unloading his passengers. Another police man showed up and decided he didn’t like the parking spot where the first police officer had directed us to…so he kicked us out and we had to find a third parking spot! It was a lot of hassle, but amusing to watch. I felt bad for the driver, but that’s just how things go. Rules are flexible and change with the whim of whichever authority figure seems to be around at the time. We ended the last bit of the drive with a chicken in the front seat, so the girls were happy. Local transport can be a lot of fun, but 11.5hrs was a bit much, especially for 6’3”Randy!!
4. How do you prepare for such a trip like yours in West Africa? What did the biggest impression on you (or on the kids) on that trip?
I prepare for a trip like West Africa by researching like crazy!! Ever since our trip to South East Asia I try not to plan too much, but I do love to research. I use Evernote where I can pin blog posts and other information that I find online. I also use Lonely Planet as I find it has the most extensive information. I usually have the eBook on my phone and can highlight the parts I feel are useful. For each city I’d like to visit I have a list of a few possible places to stay, a couple highly recommended places to eat, and the various activities that I’d like to do. Then, when we arrive, I’ve got a bit of a handle on what’s going on but we still have the flexibility to move at our own pace. One thing we did in West Africa that we haven’t done before is hire a local guide. This was absolutely invaluable! I still picked our accommodation, activities, etc, but I relied a lot on his input when making the decisions. I think it was a bit atypical, but it worked for us.
5. What would you recommend to travellers to your country to visit? Any special places/hidden gems only you as a local know?
We live in Western Canada, very close to the Rocky Mountains. Everybody seems to know about Banff, but Jasper, a few hours north of Banff, is my favourite of the two. It’s a lot more laid back and relaxed compared to Banff. And it’s far less commercialized. And if you make it into Edmonton from Jasper, the Duchess Bakery has the most amazing croissants outside of France … actually they might even be better than many of the croissants I’ve eaten in France!!
6. What advice would you give to families that would love to go traveling to Africa, but have too many excuses or fears to do it?
It’s understandable that Africa is a bit out of most people’s comfort zone, especially a family with kids. It’s partly the poverty and perceived amount of crime that comes with that. In reality, most people in Africa are incredibly friendly and love visitors. As with everywhere, you need to be diligent with your things, but I honestly think you’re more likely to get pick-pocketed on the metro in Paris than on the streets in Africa. The other barrier I think is tropical diseases. I’m the complete opposite of an anti-vaxxer, and we get all the vaccinations possible for any given location! For every excuse/fear/barrier there’s a solution. You just have to dig deep and find the solution that’s right for your family. Sure, it might not be the perfect solution, but nothing’s perfect.
Thank you Kyla for sharing your story and adventures with us! I wish you safe travels and lot of fun exploring off the beaten path places!
You can find them on: www.whereistheworld.ca