What a year!
May 3rd 2017 marks our one-year-anniversary of the day we moved into our camper full-time to embark on a journey of discovery, travel and togetherness! Last May, after selling the house and quitting the corporate job, we decided to set off on an open-ended adventure to drive thru Mexico and Central America. We have covered thousands of miles, countless smiles, completely renovating our lifestyle. We made unforgettable memories and new friends from all over the world. We also admittedly made a few silly mistakes and wrong turns along the way. But who's counting? We have grown a lot. There have been ups and downs, trial by fire, a lot of adjustments, and after one year, this is what we learned:
We don't need much! The Crystal Startship (our rig) is an all-in-one house, transportation vehicle, closet, kitchen, bed(s), library, tool-chest, and fun zone. It is our sanctuary and our livelihood. All together, it weighs roughly 6,000 pounds. We often contemplate our carbon footprint upon this earth, and we think our move into camper life has reduced our environmental impact quite significantly. Life in our 20x10 ft shoe box is really quite simple.
Here are some of the calculations we have come up with: We have cut back our gray water consumption to a minuscule 18 gallons a week- this is all the water that we use for dish-washing, food prep, and hygiene. Bathing in natural bodies of water is a nice treat, and we seek out opportunities to jump into waterfalls, hot springs, and the magnificent ocean whenever we can (and often a better option than public showers.) Our rooftop solar system provides ample power for running our high-efficiency fridge, lights, plus enough for us to power our blender, operate our air compressor and small power tools, and charge up our laptop, phone, and cameras. We avoid processed foods and buy a lot of local produce with our reusable shopping bags. Shopping at small farmers markets puts money directly into the hands of the people who grow the food. We also opt to buy things in bulk, recycling when possible, and seeking out compost piles for our organic waste to help reduce our footprint.
Of course, we are still relying heavily on fossil fuels to travel long distances but here is the ironic part- we actually used less gasoline this past year driving to Costa Rica then we would have living our suburban life in Michigan- considering that Mark used to have a 50-mile-a-day commute and we were a two-car family living in an isolated and semi-rural area. In fact, our mileage this past year has been about on par with what it would be if all we were doing was commuting to and from work. Even after adding 2,000 pounds to the Tacoma with the addition of the camper and utility boxes, we still get an average of 14 miles-to-the-gallon- a big advantage of driving a small quarter-ton truck instead of one of the big rigs.
We always have what we need
Always. The first months of camper life, probably about 25% of what we initially packed with us was either lost or broken. And of course, at first, we mourned these little material losses. But in the end, I think it was the universe's way of telling us that we had too much “stuff.” We also learned to value the things that we have by taking better care of them. Our home is a moving vessle where things shift around, bump up and down, blow in the wind, and occasionally, get rained on. We have learned to make sure that everything is cleaned and put away properly, secured, tied-down, or stored where it belongs. Failure to take care of our posessions promptly resulted in seeing these things get lost or destroyed. Among the lost-but-not forgotten things- we have said goodbye plenty of beautiful glass and ceramic dishes, jars of hard-to-find spices, perfectly good organic eggs, shoes that were forgotten on the bumper, a huge collection of sand toys, an economy sized bottle of Dr Bronners we nearly cried over, and tools that we never put back where they belong. No finger-pointing :) Once you drive away, it's history- you will never find it again no matter how many times you drive up and down the same dirt road.
That being said, it is also extremely useful to install extra latches, locks, bungee cords, and carribeaners to ensure that the things you value stay where you put them! Organization is so important when living and growing together in small quarters.
Another piece of advice: pay attention! It's so easy to get wrapped up in the scenery or the map or the toddler drama, but our absent-minded mistakes sort of seemed to come up as personal reminders or alarms to simply wake up and look around! The universe has incredible mercy in this way. A lot of what we lost was wrapped in a message to just be more present and practice mindfulness. Awakening to a higher state of awareness has prevented the occurance of more serious mishaps for us in the long run.
(PS: we also hope that the little things we lost ended up in the hands of someone who has used and enjoyed them more than we did)
Nothing will ever be “finished”
We are constantly making changes to our truck, our camper, and our lifestyle. At first, we thought we would eventually arrive at this moment in time where all of our projects were complete. However, regular maintenance is needed nearly everyday to keep things running smoothly- this means that Mark is giving the rig some extra love every chance he gets. Daily, he is giving the tires a good look-over to make sure there are no punctures and also that they are wearing evenly and doing an alignment if necessary, adjusting the air pressure in the air bags and tires, making sure that there is enough oil and coolant, no leaks anywhere, the frame and welding looks strong, the charge controller and batteries are in good shape, and that the camper is properly secured with the cables. On a weekly basis, Mark checks the roof to make sure there are no tears that need to be repaired to avoid water damage, and that the solar panels are clean and functioning properly. All this might seem like a lot of work but it prevents small problems from turning into larger issues in the long-term. Along the way, we have added solar power, designed custom cabinetry, repaired our steel frame, and reconfigured our refrigeration system. Everything is a work in progress. And although it seemed like a hindrance at the time, moving into our camper while we were still doing preliminary design work proved to be a blessing in disguise- the longer we lived in it, the more we knew exactly what we wanted and how we wanted it.
There is no such thing as procrastination
We live in the present. Tomorrow we may be in a different country, a different month, a different culture, a different universe basically. Time definitely feels like it moves faster when the terrain is changing everyday. We have learned that the time is NOW- embrace it!
That photo we want to have, a memory for another time in life when we will see it and smile- take it now and have the camera ready- we might not see another sunset like this tomorrow. That unusual food we have never seen before that looks mysteriously delicious and stopped us dead in our tracks with its unbearable smell- try it! We have nothing to lose and we might not have a chance to taste it again. So many of these best snacks are regional or seasonal or just completely distinct to one culture. That compliment we wanted to give to an interesting person who we don't yet know- don't be shy. We may never see this person again. New friends are around every corner if we are willing to open up and start a conversation. That question we have- Ask! There are opportunities all around to learn something new but we may never know the answer if we are too afraid to ask! At first, I think it was our lack of understanding of a new language, but eventually, we just got over it. Who cares if we think we sound weird? It's even more weird to be the only person in the room who is too scared to speak. Yes we made a lot of mistakes but that is how we learned. And without any formal schooling or classes, we are now confident that we can have a basic conversation with pretty much any Spanish-speaker. Maybe not yet the most eloquent, but everything in due time. The important thing is to make the most of every opportunity. Life is extremely fleeting, especially when the road is your home. We have learned that nearly every unfulfilled desire turns into a regret later on. Why not be attentive of these new opportunities to dive right in without abandon?
We can't do everything
Or go everywhere. Maybe this seems a bit contrary to what I just said in number 4- but it's true. We have learned that we have to be discerning with both our time and our money. Every place we have traveled, we are constantly being confronted with so many different new experiences in equally amazing places. And we want to try everything- hiking volcanoes, exploring ruins, renting motorcycles, snorkeling, museums, taking tours, going to festivals, hearing live music. Everything sounds so incredible. And it probably is. But honestly, we just can't do it all. We spent six months traveling through Mexico and we still have a list of things that we want to do there next time. Its one of those predicaments of travel- there is always the unexplored, the unexperienced, the unknown. And eventually, we just learned to accept this. Leave something for the wanderlust, the bucket-list, the next time. Learn to live with that appetite. Stay hungry. Keep traveling. Keep that fire alive and one day, likely in divine timing, you will get to return and do that thing you have been dreaming of.
Savor some alone time
It's important- it really is! One of the biggest draws to Mark quitting his full-time job and us moving into a camper to travel and see the world was that we would have more time together. Full-time family time to raise our son and remember what is really important in life. And it has been such a blessing. But that doesn't negate the fact that our family of three is growing up in an extremely small living space. We are together nearly constantly and we don't really have much privacy. Taking a few minutes out of each day to be alone with our thoughts is one of the healthiest things we can do for our selves and for each other. It doesn't matter what it is we choose to do, having even 30 minutes everyday to do something on our own has proven to have many benefits for our family unit, and our sanity! A short solo hike, time to read a book, practice a few yoga poses, snap a few photos, or to just stare into the horizon and breathe~ whatever it is, it is medicine to the soul and a really effective way for us all to stay centered and happy.
Create a routine
Since we are traveling with a toddler-aged child (Joey turned two only a week after we set off on this adventure) we knew it would be best to establish a routine. I have always seen that young children thrive best with consistency, and even though our lifestyle involves traveling to new foreign places quite often, there is nothing more consistent than having access to two supportive parents 24/7. We intended to create a basic routine so that Joey could feel secure even amidst a lot of changes in his environment. Every morning we wake up and encourage our son to play independently until we are ready to make our morning smoothies, which he loves participating in by prepping the fruit, getting the bowls ready, and "being in charge" of operating the blender. After we have our breakfast, we always have a few hours of outdoor activity together which is usually a hike, or a beach day, or some type of sight-seeing. After lunch, we encourage Joey to take a nap, either in his bed if we are stationed somewhere or in his car seat if we have travel planned for the day. We like to know where we are camping before the sun sets and we avoid driving after dark. We always have dinner together then engage Joey in some quiet activity before sleep, usually reading books or doing arts and crafts. Bedtime is filled with snuggles and kisses. Our routine is simple but it really helps him to know what to expect each day even when we are in a totally new place.
We are pretty spontaneous travelers but we usually have some kind of outline of what we are doing next. We do our research about the places we go and we often have some kind of itinerary. But, if things aren't flowing with ease, we have learned its easier to just be flexible. There are days the kiddo doesn't want a nap and we don't fight him anymore. We arrive at a location without realizing its a national holiday, and decide to stay somewhere more low-key. Or we want to go to some attraction but we end up getting a late start and then the lines are insanely long, and we have to stop and ask ourselves What state of mind are we going to be in after standing in line for two hours? Is it worth it? When in doubt, we like to take in internal inventory: What do our bodies tell us- Are we hungry? Are we tired? Maybe we should just be flexible and see what else comes our way today. Open to the magic of what is and let go of the attachment of what we had planned on doing. Interestingly, sometimes the best places and stories come from abandoning our expectations and being open to something even better.
Keep our vibrations high
This is important all the time- whether we are traveling or not, and no matter where we live- understanding that our attitude shapes our reality 100% of the time and regardless of where we are in the world- has really transformed our experience in life. For us, it has been a potent formula for our success and is an ongoing practice of a skill we are working to master. In the last year, we have relied heavily on this technique for our basic survival on our journey into unknown territory. Without a doubt, we have encountered times of anxiety, stress, and frustration in our transits, but dwelling in that energy has only created a downward spiral of what can go wrong, will go wrong. Keeping a positive attitude in challenging situations can turn even the hardest situations around. In our experience, even just a sincere smile has transended the differences of race, language, and social class. The universe will match the vibration we put out, and even in times of struggle, we try to stay optimistic. Our blog reflects this too- of course nothing ever goes exactly as perfect as we planned, but that's just how life goes sometimes. When we choose to be sharing ~the beauty, the humor, the universal love~ it just allows more abundance to flow. Decide what it is we want to remember about this trip, and then setting the intention of what we choose to give our energy to. And if things decide to go horrendously wrong, we try to just remind ourselves that it will probably be a funny story one day.
We have met so many wonderful people in our travels, hailing from different countries, speaking different tongues, and in totally different phases of life. Some of our favorite memories of this trip are not just from the places we have been, but the people we met, that leave the most lasting impression. From fellow travelers to people kind enough to host us, taking us on tours of their cities, letting us into their worlds, giving us private lessons of a new passtime, or simply opening their doors and sharing their family with ours. No matter where we are in the world, we have really loved the experience of staying connected with some of these people. There are countless places we would love to return to and when we do, we would love to catch up with some of our lovely hosts from the past. And one other thing we have learned- the world is small. We have unexpectedly run into friends from our travels literally months later and thousands of miles from where we first met. You never know where you will see someone randomly, or when. I genuinely hope that one day, when we have roots in a new place, that we will be able to host some of these people in our own backyard and return the hospitality and warmth that was shown to us.
Thank you all for following our adventure this past year! We hope you enjoyed the journey as much as we did.
Want some travel inspiration? Meet some of our traveling friends who keep us inspired every single day by making adventure a way of life!
Another beautiful sunset welcomed us into the splendor of Las Pozas, a natural oasis of cool, clear waterfalls nestled in an endless sea of green. We were falling in love with the lush jungles of the north and took our time diving into this relaxing aquatic paradise.
The water was so pristine and refreshing. A picturesque river with several pools to bathe in all enclosed in the magic of the jungle, wild and full of life. A slice of heaven! We were getting the hang of this lovely new country.
Wild flowers in bloom and jungle spirits inviting us to venture deeper into the shadows the mountain.
A new friend wandered over to our campsite to hang with us! He was so soft and gentle.
Joey had fun being Joey-- luckily there was a lot of room to run around!
A perfect place for us to bathe and do our laundry. And much more fun with a view like this and a happy little helper. Never under-estimate the beautiful simplicity of doing things by hand!
Wow?! Is that my husband? The creature of the blue lagoon- except he looks so clean :)
Follow us in our wanderlust as we voyage through the winding cobblestone streets of Antigua, past the ruins torn by centuries of earthquakes, the contrasts of old and modern, the rainbow of markets, tiendas, plazas, and churches~ a city full of mystery and charm.
Tikal... yet another mysterious ruin of ancient Mayan life. We have visited many in the recent weeks and yet each is so unique and special. From Belize, we entered Guatemala in the northern-most part of the country, a region of densely-forested jungle- and actually the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon. An extremely enchanting land, both isolated and wonder-filled. There is only one place to make this crossing with few roads winding into this lush, remote kingdom. The border crossing went well and we were beginning to feel like we were getting the hang of all this.
At dusk, we arrived at Lago Peten Itza, a large natural lake offering a few places to do wild camping for the night and in close proximity to the site of Tikal. We watched the sunset and chatted with some fellow overlanders we had run into from earlier travels. Amazing how the paths of fellow wanderers continue to cross. We shared a few stories before retiring for the eve of our big adventure. The following morning we planned to awaken early and journey to Tikal. The primal call of the Howler monkeys echoed in the trees at sunrise and the anticipation was glowing in all of us.
It took about thirty minutes to drive into the Reserva Biosphere de Maya. We arrived at the gate of Tikal National Park to buy tickets and purchase a helpful map of the park. From my research, I knew that this was considered one of the Mayan super-sites due to its size, but its hard to actually comprehend exactly how large this place is until you see it. The map gave us a better idea of what this meant- over 3,000 remaining structures exist spanning an area of about 16 kilometers. Massive indeed. It takes approximately 10-20 minutes to hike to each pyramid, through the endlessly green flora, where wild things are hidden from the eye. You could literally take days to explore this place. We knew these "estimates" of time would be doubled at our usual pace- due to our little hiker stopping to point out every single ant (leaf-cutters are pretty cool), special rock, and pile of "monkey poop" along the way. We packed extra snacks, a LOT of water, sunscreen, and camera gear. Our first stop- the grand plaza. You will notice the unique style of these pyramids- much taller and more narrow than the ones we have seen before, perhaps because they are shrouded in such a grand canopy of trees, which themselves resemble gods.
The ancient Kapok tree- sacred to the Maya and considered to be the tree of life.
The view from atop the tallest pyramid of all pre-hispanic archaeolgical sites of the Maya. It is nothing less than incredible that we may explore this ancient city in such a way. Many of these temples take you to such celestial heights. It was so dreamy to stare into the infinite horizon from such an altitude.
Even the lesser-explored monuments proved to be filled with interesting sites and artifacts. Actually, most of the structures remain unexcavated but many are still numbered on the map. Although the process to unveil all of the structures is ongoing, it seems it would be difficult, if not impossible, to unearth them all, simply because most are covered in so much living plant-life, including enormous trees with roots that obviously are growing deep into the structures themselves. I wonder whether the structural integrity of this ancient masonry would even stay intact if these extensive root systems were removed. Either way, it is interesting to view even the pyramids that remain covered by centuries of life-sustaining earth.
Joey remembered to bring "his" camera. (Actually, it's only make-believe, aka a non-functional camera we bought him at a swap-meet in Ensenada, and its also a good way to keep him from "playing" with our much more expensive camera equipment! This, however, is one of his most-prized possessions!)
We didn't mind the lengthy distance between each temple, as it gave us ample time to take in all of the wildlife. The spider monkeys were definitely a favorite- they are extremely cute and entertaining to watch!
And, of course, we kept our eyes peeled for interesting bird-life. We spotted toucans, pilleated wood-peckers, a gray-headed kite, and also an oscillated turkey- an ancient species native to the Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala.
What an amazing day we had. Of course, we didn't get to see everything, but isn't that always the case? We have to be discerning with our time. I really am just so glad that we didn't skip Tikal because honestly, there was a point where we asked ourselves Really, another ruin? But it was so very worth the trip. I am glad that we got to show our son so many incredible places in our travel, because even though he is so young, I have no doubt that every discovery we make together has influenced who he is already. His vocabulary is so rich for a toddler, he still talks about all the pyramids we have seen, the butterflies at El Rosario, the tunnels in Guanajuato, and the cenotes we swam in on the Yucatan. I loved the Jungle Book as a child, and to think that all of this magic is actually a part of his reality- it has made his childhood so special and alive with wonder. I know one day he will treasure all of these memories.
My happy hikers! Another adventure for the books. Thanks for following us along!
"Welcome to paradise" they say to you when you pull up to the immigration office. We crossed into this small unique tropical land in the north, having crossed out of Mexico near Chetumal. Immediately, upon entering Belize, I noticed a diverse population made of people: African, Chinese, Mayan, Mestizos, Mennonites, and of course gringo retirees. English is the official language here, but in practice, the lingua fraca is actually a creole (Belizean Creole is a mix of English and various African languages, similar to other creoles in the Caribbean). Almost everyone in Belize speaks creole as a means of communicating across these diverse cultural backgrounds. Spanish is also widely understood as well. We were intrigued by the complicated history, diverse cultures and natural beauty of this country.
We spent three nights in a village called Crooked Tree. This area is an official wildlife sanctuary and is very tranquil indeed. We were welcomed at the Jacana Inn by Earl and his family and made to feel at home. We spent our days watching the lake with all the birds and enjoying the trade wind blow a steady breeze. I even got to try fishing again, something I hadn't done in many months.
For me the best part of staying in Crooked Tree, besides the peacefulness, was the fantastic bird watching. Notable species we spotted include: Ringed Kingfisher, Jabiru, Wood Stork, Egrets, Pinnated Bittern, Reddish Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Turkey and Black Vultures, Osprey, Black-collared Hawk, Caspian Tern, Cormorants, Scarlet Tanager, Hummingbirds, Parrots, Yellow-throated Warbler and Swallows.
At this point in our journey, we decided that since we only have one month before Victoria's astrology conference in Costa Rica, we had better get a move on. Along the way we would try to spend more time scouting potential places to live and only a few big monuments (Tikal). Our time in Belize was short but sweet. We enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle, open free culture and rich cultural history. We promised to return to this big little country one day to see more!