The Adventurous Baby

This week our baby was seven months old. As she grew inside me last year, I would never have imagined that we would see some much and travel so far in her first few months of existence. With so many changes happening to her, I was sure that she would find the constant shifting confusing and disorientating. Everyone says babies need fixed routines, so I was worried we might be putting her at a disadvantage. It turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. From time zone changes to extremes of weather, from staying in hotels to camper vans, she has seemed incredibly unfazed by our adventurous journey.

She takes it all in her stride

While we’ve been pretty daring by most people’s standards, in the last week we reached new extremes. We went down to Drake Bay, a tiny place in the south of Costa Rica. Heading down there was on the list thanks to its proximity to Isla de Cano, a place that we’d heard was great for scuba diving. Also on the list was Corcovado Nature Reserve, the closest that you can get to walking in an untouched jungle rainforest environment in the country. All the books said that while it was a great place to go, it was tricky to get to and would only be enjoyed by the more adventurous traveller. We decided to give it a go.

Just getting there was quite a challenge. During the rainy season (or if you don’t have a 4X4), it’s only accessible by boat. And not a very big boat at that. After the helpful boat driver stowed our luggage aboard, we chugged away from the dock. The river was a murky brown, flanked by bright greenery. The kind of place you expect to see lurking crocodile eyes peeking out of the water while David Attenborough tells you all about the fragile ecosystem of the mangrove.

At the start of our boat ride

We started off at a leisurely pace. Perfect, I thought. I knew the journey took about an hour, so I envisaged a calm drifting motion, the river rippling either side of us, perhaps spotting some birds along the way. This wasn’t exactly how it went.

Once we were clear of the jetty and the cluster of buildings that made up the small town of Sierpe, he cranked up the engine. Then he did it again. Before long we were haring through the water at breakneck speed, the bottom bouncing over the water. We also appeared to be heading straight for the bank. I’ve never experienced a fast turn in a small boat before. We swerved sharply to one side, the left side (where I was sitting) dipping down low in the water. It felt more like a motorbike journey than a river cruise.

I gripped the seat in front of me and wrapped one arm protectively around the small body strapped to mine. The wind, the noise, she must be terrified. Hardly. She grinned at me, reached up and pulled my sunglasses off my face, then started to chew them. The wind created by our extreme acceleration pressed me back into the seat, but when she turned her head and felt it whoosh against her face, she laughed.

The twisting rivers of Drake Bay

We whipped around bends, whizzed past mud flats (all the birds must have flown away from our noise) and roared by impossibly isolated houses. She started to nod off. As I clung on, her head drooped and fell against me, her eyes closing.

But the worst was yet to come. Once we reached the mouth of the river, there was another half hour on the sea. Just outside the calm flow of the river, there was a barrier of broken waves, churning towards our tiny craft. How would we get through? They weren’t exactly big, but it seemed like it would be rather wet and bumpy to go crashing into them to get into the open sea beyond.

Other animals take their babies on adventures

Our boat started on a slalom course. Weaving around those that already had white tips and expertly bouncing over those that hadn’t, our driver took us on a twisting and turning course to safety. The hull of the boat smacked down as we went over a particularly high wave. She snoozed on.

Once on the open water, we saw rain heading towards us. The weather here can change so fast – from clear skies to a grey downpour in a matter of minutes. Before we knew it our faces were being stung with raindrops, made needle sharp from our speed. I hastily slipped her rain cover to protect her head and the two frog legs sticking out either side of the sling. She stirred, nothing more.

Hanging out in the rainforest

And then there was the problem of disembarking. There are no jetties or piers in Drake Bay, so the only way in or out of a boat is to splash in the shallows. The people manning the boats are clearly experts, and there were two of them at the back holding the boat so we could get off. However, you had to get the timing right, as the incoming swell lifted up the boat and dropped it back onto the sand. Not having the practice that they had, I didn’t do it very well. While starting to step off, they waved me back. I stood there, waiting for the go ahead. As I did, the boat suddenly thumped down and jerked me off my feet. I sat down on the deck of the boat with a bump. Surely she would wake up? But her head stayed pressed to my chest in quiet slumber. As with most of our exciting experiences, I have underestimated her capacity to take it all in her very small stride.

The climate there was also one of our more extreme. It’s pretty much in the middle of a rainforest, so the humidity is around 90% and the temperature doesn’t get lower than 25 degrees for most of the year. We have her travel tent to protect her from the buzzy bugs, and there was a fan to stir up the warm air. Apparently, that was enough. She continues to grow and change, making new sounds and trying new foods each day.

The ‘docks’ to get into the bay

In the first few months after having her the tiniest things seemed impossible. Getting her to sleep was a delicate and quiet process, fraught with problems. I worried about her only sleeping on me during the day, about whether I should put her in another room or not, about the temperature of the room, about swaddling. Every tiny detail was mulled over.

In the last two weeks alone, she’s slept in a different place every two to three days. Over the last four months we’ve endured the chill of the mountains in Japan and the stifling heat of Singapore. She’s snoozed happily in car seats, her sling and a pop-up tent. She’s even slept through the icy glacial weather in New Zealand (the Swedes might be onto something – some of her longest sleeps have been in cooler weather!).

Checking out the flora

Before we get back home she’ll go from this humid forest to the dusty heat of Mexico. We’ll stop by for a Californian summer before heading back. Throughout our entire journey she has baffled and impressed me with her adaptability.

So what makes her so adventurous? So immune to the conditions that the average adult would find difficult? Perhaps the secret is in the simple words of the oh-so-unflappable doctor we saw in Australia for her immunisations. Babies are very resilient, he said with a shrug, as I told him of my fears about temperature changes and what to give her when she started eating food. It certainly seems to be true.

Picnic selfie after a trek in the jungle

Yet I’ve also noticed some of it passing on to me. Back home, when she was napping, I confess I was guilty of Googlitis. I’d search through websites and forums (dangerous places) for issues with sleeping, feeding, nappies, rashes, temperatures, all the tiny things that you can spend far too long worrying about when you have a newborn.

As the months have gone by and she’s stayed her smiley self, I’ve found myself being much more relaxed. The milestones of sleeping through the night and adjusting to nap patterns seem to have happened anyway, and seem to be more of a question of time than anything we’re doing. Now, when she naps, I use the time for things I want to do. At the moment that’s learning Spanish on Duolingo, scribbling ideas for this blog and occasionally some other writing projects.

Perhaps we could all learn something from the resilience of babies. After all, as long as your basic needs are being met, why not smile? I like to think she’s teaching me how to not worry about the small things so much. How to relax and enjoy life. Thanks, baby girl.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

7 thoughts on “The Adventurous Baby

  1. 🙂 What a cutie! I think humans are very resilient. We are such an adaptable species, but so often as individuals we forget that our needs are simple our wants many. Another inspiring post from you. Also, I too am learning Spanish! How has the process been for you?

    1. Absolutely. Good to be reminded that our capabilities are more than we perceive. For me, the Spanish was a bit of an unearthing process, as I lived in Madrid for a year about 13 years ago, so I would learn phrases and some distant part of my memory would remind me that the knowledge was still back there somewhere. Still, we made it around South and Central America with a fair amount of success. How is yours coming along?

      1. I’m not as disciplined as I should be about it, so it happens in fits. My travels in South America and Mexico have immersed me in the language for periods, which helps with the progress.

  2. I’m all for traveling with kids (and babies) in fact, I do it myself:) But how do you justify very real risk of exposing your baby to deseases carried by mosquitos in the tropics, i.e. dengue, or malaria? For those reasons my partner is reluctant to go to tropical countries with baby, so I’m just curious what’s your view on that:)

    1. Where have you been with your kids? Hope you’ve had as much fun as we did! Yes of course that’s a real concern. We chose our countries very carefully, so there wasn’t much of a risk. We avoided India and South East Asia for that reason.

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