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Hitting the Road // Family Style

By Rhea Cortado

It’s a transporting experience to scroll through the daily life of the nomadic Harteau family (consisting of Adam, Emily, and their daughter Colette) but it’s all documented on their Instagram. Since October 2012 they have been chugging along through Central and South America in their Westy, capturing the wholly natural, non-artificially enhanced beauty of the landscapes they pass through. Based on the stunning photographs they take, the place appears frozen in an agrarian age.

Most recently in Peru, they dropped their previously held plans in order to join thousands of pilgrims journeying to a sacred glacier in the mountains where they crossed paths with the wrinkled faces of local women who were cooking their potatoes in an earthen oven. Aside from modern global technological communication that delivers their stories in almost real time, their existence is a refreshing bare-bones pursuit of basic human needs: remodeling cabinets in the van, socializing, cleaning, walking around town and in short, being in the present.

Living on the road can either be a freeing experience or feel something like floating in open sea. We talked to Adam and Emily about how they find grounding in a life on the road, how their partnership brings consistency, and the importance of slowing down.

Was there a significant event or moment that made you and your husband decide to take the leap and go on this trip?

In 2007 we did a 14,000-mile circumnavigation of Canada and the USA. In 2010, we overlanded in Southern Africa, exploring Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Our palates were whet by such adventures and we dreamed of more. While pregnant with Colette, Adam was working as an artist on a film project that would have put us in India and Nepal for several months. When that fell through, we set our sights on our next big trip. We brainstormed a ton of options, then fell in love with the plan to overland the Americas.

As seasoned travelers, do you ever crave stability while on the road; wanting to stay in one place for longer instead of feeling like you’re just passing through?

Our family is our stability—we are a unit. Our home space of the van also is very comforting to us, the energy of our belongings and Emily’s cooking make our home on the road just right for us. We have slowed our pace considerably from when we departed. We planned on being gone for one year, but in Colombia realized we had to slow down to enjoy the experience, rather than simply pass through. The pace we are at now on is very fulfilling and we do not feel rushed, rather we move along when ready.

Do you ever feel like you need more personal space and what do you do?

We each take time to have personal space, but sometimes a shower alone can be a cherished experience! Emily will take solitary runs or yoga sessions, Adam will paddle out for long surf sessions. We do see A LOT of each other, but after 13 years have come to accept that we like each other.

You are also raising your child on the road. How old is Colette and what kind of modern amenities in childcare do you think we take for granted?

Colette is 2 ½, a precocious and sweet co-adventurer that we are beyond blessed to have in our lives. We do not have a fancy stroller, or sound machine to get her to sleep at night, our take on ‘modern amenities’ is a bit out of date. Even in Los Angeles, we did not have a television, so our philosophy tends to be more doing than viewing.

Do you think Colette fully comprehends her experience?

There is no way for her to comprehend her experience like we do as adults, but she is very present and aware of this journey we are on. We take time daily to talk about what we see, smell, hear, taste and feel. She confounds and awes us with her insights and remarks. Colette loves hiking, trying new foods, meeting new people, being at the beach and even paddles out on the front of the longboard to catch some mellow rollers with Papa!

We take for granted the ability to go to the store and get whatever we want. In poorer countries, what do you do when you can’t get a tool or item you need?

You have to be resourceful! In coastal Ecuador, we heard an ominous grind, which ended up to be our gear shift linkage slipping out of place. There was no local delivery mail service, and people recommended we buy the part in Quito, then have it ‘shipped’ via public bus to the town we were in. Adam investigated and decided he could repair it, if only he could get a hold of a welder. We located one, he soldered new metal into the stripped teeth of the linkage, spent an entire day hand-filing the metal into new teeth, fitted it back on and eventually, through ingenuity, persistence and determination, we were back on the road better than ever. If there is a will, there is a way.

You host a 24-hour Bazaar that sells handicrafts from your current location. Tell us more!

24HourBazaar is what the name implies: a bazaar for 24 hours! We curate an assortment of fair-trade, hand-crafted items such as rugs, textiles, blankets, jewelry and clothing directly from the artisans, photograph them, assemble a PDF and email it to our list of clients. Once sent out, the clock starts ticking. We receive orders, shop, and ship accordingly. If you would like to be added to the list, please email us at contact@ouropenroad.com.

From seeing the way that people live in the poorer countries, how do you think they have it right and we have it wrong in the first world?

We first-worlders are much more individualistic in our pursuits. Family is really the central focus in every country we have traveled.

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