Saturday, December 24, 2011

Noche Buena at Punta Chivato

by Scott

If there's one dish that Baja is famous for, it's fish tacos. Our first day south of the border, we stopped for roadside fish tacos in San Quintin. Since then, we've been rolling our own, and I've gotten a little bit cocky about it. Unlike New Zealand, my fishing here has been very successful. I tell Heather to just let me know when she wants fish tacos for dinner. I've never failed to deliver. Usually in less than 30 minutes. I'm like the  Dominos of fish tacos. One time, it took one cast. Last night, the fish tacos would have been free.

We were at Punta Chivato on the Sea or Cortez. I spent several hours snorkeling with a spear -- not a spear gun -- that George from Abreojos gave me. I managed to get a scorpion fish. That was my intended target, but I was disappointed when I got it out of the water. It was much smaller than I thought. I hadn't accounted for the magnification under water. Everything looks bigger! Lesson learned. Sorry fish. He did swim away, so I hope he lived. I gave up spear fishing, deciding to wait until evening to get the rod and reel out.

Heading out for a snorkel at Punta Chivato
Later that afternoon, as we were returning from a run, we started collecting firewood near the lighthouse. As we were doing so, a massive feeding frenzy started just off shore. There were fish flying all over the place. We watched until the boil got close enough that we could see the large fish creating the frenzy. I sprinted the quarter mile back to the truck with an armful of firewood. Then, I sprinted the quarter mile back to the point with my fishing pole. My lungs were burning as I made my first cast. The lure had barely hit the water when it was savagely attacked. Seeing the long slender body, I was hoping it was sierra. Unfortunately, it was a 2-foot-long barracuda. We've eaten barracuda once, and I don't have fond memories, so I threw it back. Another cast. Another barracuda. After catching and releasing half a dozen of them, I realized that the sun was getting low. If I was going to catch anything other than barracuda, I needed to go down to my snorkeling spot.

This time, I am walking. I see Heather coming towards me. Every few steps, she stops, bends down, picks something up, and throws it in the water. What is she doing? Skipping stones? No. She tells me I just missed a crazy event. Thousands of mullet have beached themselves. She calls them mullet. Neither of us know what they really are. Sardines? Shad? Who knows. They do have an upturned nose, so for this story, we're going to call them mullet. Some are wounded, some are not, but they're all exhausted. Heather is picking up the those that show a will to live and throws them back. Some swim away, others return to the beach, preferring a slow death in the sand versus being eaten alive.

While Heather is feeding the barracuda, I walk down to the snorkeling spot, passing thousands of soon-to-be-dead mullet. When I reach the reef, it takes only two casts before I hook a fish. I can tell it's not a barracuda. It fights hard and dives deep. Then, everything stops. He's rocked me. This is a term I've just learned. Some fish will lodge themselves in the rocks rather than fight in the open water. That's how I lost my first lure in Abreojos. I tried a few tricks that George had suggested: plucking the line like a guitar string, letting the line go slack. Neither worked. A couple times, the fish took off with the slack line, but quickly rocked himself again. Now, my line is wrapped up at multiple points on the reef.

The sun has already set, and light is fading. I'm willing to lose the fish, but I don't want to lose my lure. I wedge my pole in the rocks, loosen the drag, and start running for the truck. On the way, I see a big tumbleweed. That'll be great for getting the fire started. I pick it up and keep running. Heather sees me coming. That's not a fish. Where's his fishing pole? What is he carrying? Breathing hard, I tell her to go make sure I don't lose the rod and reel. She doesn't ask questions, not even why I'm carrying a tumbleweed.

As Heather runs down the beach in her flip-flops, I get out the inflatable paddleboard and start pumping furiously. The wind is too strong to paddle directly to the reef, so I run down the beach carrying the 10-foot, 30-pound paddleboard. When I finally paddle out to the reef, Heather is standing there with the pole. And a beer. Where did that come from? When I grab the line and try to track it back to the fish, the line ends up wrapped around me. Eventually, I free the line from the rocks, though not from my neck. The fish is still on the line. It's a spotted bass, and he's even more tired than I am.

A more relaxing time before we took the boards in the water
Dangling the fish from the lure in one hand, while paddling with the other hand, I tell Heather she's not going to believe this. In addition to the silver spoon, there's also a mullet in it's mouth! The mullet is still alive, so I throw it back. Heather takes the paddleboard, while I walk back with the fish. And the beer. Halfway down the beach, I look down at my catch. Heather's not going to believe this. He's coughed up a second mullet -- tail first!

It is dark. I have to fillet the fish by headlamp while Heather prepares the fixin's. We eat fresh fish tacos with a cold beer, Tecate's limited edition winter bock, Noche Buena (good night). We laugh as we tell each other our versions of this fish story. Both of us agree -- that was a lot of work for one meal. Was it worth it? Yeah, it was worth it. Noche Buena indeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Breakfast Date in San Ignacio

San Ignacio is a surreal date palm oasis in the middle of the Baja desert.  Most travelers drive right past San Ignacio on their way to the southern part of Baja.  The popular attraction of San Ignacio is the mission church in the town square. What seems to get missed by most visitors is the lagoon that has been formed by damned springs that are next to the town.  In 2003, we blasted through this area on our way south.  We quickly drove into the town square to have a look at the mission. Afterwards, as we were driving out of town, we took a picture of the water oasis - from. our. vehicle!

Since then, San Ignacio has been on our radar, especially after discovering our fondness for dates.  While we were in Australia, we became enamored with Medjool dates (usually imported from Iran).  They were $25/kg so we never bought them, but Scott's employer provided them every Friday (until they didn't).  San Ignacio has dates dropping all over the place -- our tires are covered with them!  We bought 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of dates for $3.  This morning we had date pancakes while we relaxed under the shade of the date palms.  They don't taste exactly like Medjool dates, but I'm not complaining.

Dates drying in town.  Scott enjoying date pancakes with the morning mist over San Ignacio "river/lake"
Our first day in town, we went for a hike onto the mesa overlooking town. When we came back down, we found ourselves in someone's backyard.  We navigated to one of the back-streets and headed in the general direction of the town square, where we were parked.  As we were walking, a little boy biked around us, and we exchanged holas.  After he biked past us, he circled back around.  On his second pass, he yelled "son gringos (you're gringos!)".  "Si (yes)"!  A few minutes later we walked past a man who said, "adonde (where are you going)!?". As in, "why are you white people anywhere but the town square?".  I guess our gringo-ness was definitely out of place.

We camped at Don Chon RV Park for $5/night (70 pesos).  At first, it seemed like a pretty sketchy place. It has no amenities, except for a pit toilet. Frankly, I would rather dig my own hole.  However,  we were pleased to spend 2 days parked right next to this fresh water oasis with amazing scenery.

We SUPed to the source of the San Ignacio "river/lake" -- it was a warm water spring!
While Scott was fishing the first night, he caught a tilapia.  The campground owner came to collect her money and told us the only fish in the lagoon were tilapia and carp.  Scott stopped fishing.  He says that tilapia are generally too small to justify killing/filleting.  Someone is becoming quite the picky fisherman!
"Don Chon RV Park" aka "RV Riverside Park" 
Even though we stayed only a couple of days, I felt sad when we left.  If we didn't feel such a pull to the ocean, I could spend a lot of time in San Ignacio.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Myth of Mexico

by Scott

We're currently in the small fishing village (and surf/windsurf mecca) of Punta Abreojos. It's quite different than other Baja towns of it's size. There's a noticeable lack of litter, paved roads, really nice commercial and personal pickup trucks, and the locals aren't interested in pandering to the gringo tourists. It's great!

Serious money in these trucks in Abreojos
The secret is a very successful fishing co-op. It employs a couple hundred people who catch lobster and collect abalone, both of which are shipped to China. We hear that they make $35-50k per year  -- great for Mexico.

A lot of people think of Mexico as a 3rd world country. It's not. Mexico is by no means rich, especially Baja, but many countries we will be visiting will be far poorer. Here's a partial list of per capita GDP's from the IMF (2010).

I've included the countries we're planning to visit, as well as some places we recently visited, and a few others that we have no plans to visit, but are just plain China. For all the talk about China becoming the world's largest economy and dominating the globe, blah, blah, blah, it's important to recognize that China is still a very poor country, about the same as El Salvador. Mexico, on the other hand, is nearly twice as rich as China!


6 United States 47,123
9  Australia 39,692
11  Canada 39,033
32  New Zealand 27,460
55  Chile 14,982
61  Mexico 14,266
67  Panama 12,397
69  Venezuela 11,889
71  Brazil 11,289
75  Costa Rica 10,732
83  Colombia 9,445
85  Peru 9,281
90  Ecuador 7,951
91  Belize 7,894
93  China 7,518
94  El Salvador 7,442
114  Paraguay 4,915
115  Guatemala 4,871
118  Bolivia 4,584
121  Honduras 4,404
125  Iraq 3,599
131  Nicaragua 2,969
170  Afghanistan 998

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Abreojos... Open Your Eyes

Nine days ago we decided to head to the Pacific side of Baja for Punta Abreojos.  We arrived in the evening and slowly found a camping spot right outside of town.  We managed to park right at the famous surfing point dubbed "Burgers" where we were able to surf for a few days.  I can't believe we've been in the area 9 days already!

Moonrise at Punta Abreojos with the sunset reflecting in our box
We've been in some dolphin-y areas but Abreojos is out of this world.  The dolphins are everywhere.  They are close to shore, slowly bobbing along, and a bit off shore, jumping, playing, and fishing. Along with the dolphins are seals, sea lions, pelicans and more osprey than we've ever seen. This can only mean one thing -- the fish are PLENTIFUL. Scott confirmed this by catching kelp bass, sierra, and corvina.  Fish tacos galore.

While we were camped at "Burgers", a gringo couple (George and Deborah) drove by, gawked at our truck, and stopped to chat.   We talked long enough that they learned that we wanted our toy box painted white (it gets very hot in the sun).  It turns out that they were having some body work done to one of their vehicles, so that evening, George arrived with Francisco to check out our box and give us a price on painting it.  The next day, we drove to George and Deborah's house and had the box painted by Francisco for $60.

It's white now!
The box-painting day was Scott's 41st birthday (12/12). Deborah prepared an amazing birthday dinner -- clam chowder, halibut casserole, and Mississippi mud pie.  It just so happened that they received the most rain they'd seen in 8 years, so we ended up parked at their house for 2 days while the box dried.  Scott became good friends with Gypsy, their 2-year-old Boston terrier, who pulled out an endless supply of toys.  George and Deborah were extremely generous while we squatted at their house.  They made our stay in Abreojos quite memorable (along with the surfing and sea life).  I hope that we can pay it forward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Life of Oscar

By Scott

We received sad news this morning that our cat, Oscar, died. He had been losing weight over the summer, and we were worried about him. Soon after we left this summer, Heather's mom took him to the vet, who suspected cancer.

Oscar was never really "our" cat. He used to be our neighbor's cat when we lived in Vancouver. Then, he became our cat. When we left for Australia, he became Heather's parent's cat. But really, Oscar was never anyone's cat. We were all his people.

When I met Heather, I wasn't much of a cat person. Despite her allergies, she has always adored cats, and thanks to Oscie, I now do too. He was not shy. Soon after moving into our house in Vancouver,  he waltzed into the garage and demanded attention from Heather, who was more than happy to accommodate. This is how he behaved with everyone. He didn't care whether you were a cat lover or not. If you had two good hands and a warm lap, he'd consider you a worthwhile project. Once, I threw down a pair of work gloves while working in the yard. He ran over to them like it was a dream come true -- his own pair of hands.

For the first year, we never fed Oscar. He was not motivated by food at all. He would run across the street to greet us when we returned from a bike ride, or come around to the back door in the evening and meow until we let him in. Eventually, we started having sleepovers. Our house came equipped with doggy doors. We soon unlocked them, and Oscie quickly learned to come and go as he pleased. Once, he even managed to drag a live pigeon, that was nearly as big as he was, through two of those doggy doors before I intervened. The pigeon lived. Oscie was not pleased.

It soon became apparent to our neighbors that Oscar was spending all of his time at our house, yet they were still feeding him. They asked if we wanted to make it official, and we said yes. He continued to come and go as he pleased, coming in to wake us up in the morning for a drink of water. He was never picky about food, but he insisted on drinking water straight from the faucet. I'd stumble out of bed, turn the faucet to a trickle, then go back to bed. When he was finished, he'd curl up in my arm and take a nap until I got up. Then he'd sleep on the bed for another couple hours.

When we decided to move to Australia, we knew we couldn't take Oscar with us. It would have been a brutal plane trip, a couple thousand dollars, and a month-long quarantine. We offered our neighbors the chance to take him back, but they were happy to let Heather fly back with him to her parents' house in Michigan. Oscar wasn't happy about flying, but he loved roaming and hunting in his new domain, sleeping on Gary's head, and earning the name King Oscar from Vickie. We were so grateful that they took him in. Not only was it comforting to know he had a loving home, but we also got to see him when we visited the states.

It's sad that Oscar's gone, but he lived a good life, lived it on his own terms, put smiles on a lot of faces, and died quickly and peacefully. We should all be so fortunate. We'll miss you little buddy.

This was the last time we saw Oscie.  He made us so happy.  He watched us drive away that day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Secret Spot

Big teeth (for crushing shells) and large dorsal spines
Punta La Gringa in BDLA served us well, but we felt it was time to leave after the weather started getting a bit odd, with unpredictable winds blowing from all directions (not at once, but close).  The day before we left, Scott caught his second Baja fish after only a few casts - still using the "small" rod and spoon (la cuchara).  Again, we had to ask someone what it was, and if we could eat it.  Turns out, it's a "Triggerfish" and that we could safely eat it.  I have to admit, it wasn't as tasty as the scorpion fish.  I'm starting to get picky about my pescado (fish) these days.

On the opposite side of the peninsula from BDLA is the famous "seven sisters" surfing region.  We stopped in Santa Rosalillita for a couple of days thinking we might get to surf the famed point break there.  We quickly realized that this wave wasn't going to appear unless a VERY big swell event occurred, so we headed south to a place called "The Wall" at Punta Rosarito -- the most famous of the sisters.  The road in took us over an hour to navigate and it was only about 10 miles.  The surfing was fun, but there was quite the scene of gringos, all hailing from California or Oregon.  It was as if we hadn't left the USA.

My own little pescadero
We left The Wall due to the strong winds. The wind made it impossible to surf, yet we couldn't kite either, due to the offshore direction. We went exploring to find a beach that would work for kiting. We discovered a secret spot we named Playa Del Tigre because we would not have made it without El Tigre's four wheel drive. This was solely due to driver error, as Scott drove straight into a soggy marsh while saying, "I wonder why that other route goes around this section?"

We arrived on a windy day with less than an hour of daylight. Scott got in a short kite session in some nice waves--he thinks he might be the first person to kite here. The wind direction was side-off, the ideal direction, yet the curvature of the sandy beach ensured a safe backstop if anything went wrong. It really could be a dream spot. We don't know yet because the wind hasn't returned, but we'll wait. There's no one else around, it's free, there's a good SUP wave right in front of our truck, and there's surf potential nearby. Scott even managed to paddle out on his SUP with his fishing pole. He quickly caught a rock bass that we enjoyed in some veggie soup. We only left Playa Del Tigre because we were nearly out of water, food, and underwear. Now, we're loaded up and heading back.

Kiting near some abandoned palapas (complete with huge bird's nest on top) at Playa Esmeralda.
A morning SUP session with some glassy baby-waves at Playa Del Tigre.

Link to November photos

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bahia De Los Angeles

We had read and heard about Bahia De Los Angeles (BDLA), but found it hard to believe that it was really as gorgeous as all the hype suggested.  BDLA is a detour off the main highway on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja.  A few days ago we decided to take the detour.  We were blown away when we arrived at Punta La Gringa, our camping spot for the past 4 nights.  This place is magical -- sunrises, sunsets, water, cascading mountains, islands, dolphins, fish, birds.

Sunset and sunrise from our camp at La Gringa
Scott caught his first Baja fish!  It was a "scorpion fish" that turned out to be excellent eating.  We had to ask the local fishermen what it was, and if it was okay to eat.  He said it was one of the best, but that the skin can be toxic to humans when it's alive.  Fortunately, the scorpion fish looked so scary that Scott was carrying it around with his Leatherman pliers.

The fisherman laughed when he saw Scott's fishing gear.  He said that Scott's fishing rod was too small and couldn't believe that he had caught the scorpion fish using a salmon spoon.  All along, we thought Scott's fishing pole was huge -- it is a steelhead rod that my dad gave to Scott for the "big fish" of the sea.  The locals were using huge rods nearly the size of our old windsurfing masts.

After making scorpion fish tacos and filling the night air with yummy smells, Scott stepped outside to find his shoes missing.  Earlier that night a truck with a bunch of people had driven by.  We were convinced they had stolen Scott's stinky, silver Crocs.  This freaked us out. If people were willing to steal our shoes just after sunset, while we were sitting in the truck, we were concerned about our personal safety.

Bahia De Los Angeles from Punta La Gringa
Not to worry.  Earlier in the evening, two coyotes had been circling the truck while I was out watching the sunset, so I decided to grab the headlamp and search a little farther away from the truck.  Sure enough, the coyotes had ran off with his Crocs and left them down the beach. A section of one of the straps was eaten.  Another good lesson for the gringos -- don't leave ANYTHING outside of your truck in the desert.

Link to November photos

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tarantula Sighting

After a day of getting groceries, filling the water tank, doing laundry, washing the truck, and finding internet we camped just off the road to Punta San Carlos (PSC).  PSC was our destination for many years starting in 2000 when we made our first drive down to Baja.  It's funny to look back on that trip and recognize how our travel style has changed.  Our first time, we were so scared driving into Baja that we crossed the border and drove non-stop until hitting the beach at PSC.  I didn't pee all day and Scott peed in a jar.  We only stopped long enough to fill up on gas about 6 hours into our drive.  Gringos estupidos.

Lunch stop near Catavina

After the PSC road, we stopped for a "recreation break" near a placed called El Marmol.  We rode our bikes out to the ruins of a marble (marmol) mine where a schoolhouse had been built entirely of marble.  Neither of us are very big on ruins and really, we never would've made the trek out to the marble schoolhouse except it was a good excuse to get on our bikes.  As we suspected, it was just a pile or rocks that really didn't impress us much.  BUT!!!!  as we were biking out, I saw a tarantula crossing the road.  Check out the video of Mr. Tarantula below.  By the way, Scott was biking so far ahead of me he missed out on the sighting.

Link to November photos

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Cheese Has Run Out, Time To Drive To Civilization

Quatro por quatro -- que Bueno!
After our fantastic run of weather and fun at Punta Baja, we got hit with a day of rain and strong wind.  We hunkered down in the truck and tried to stay immobile for 12 hours straight.  Admittedly, I got a little stir crazy.  It sort of reminded me of our worst weather events in New Zealand.  The next morning, Sunday, we somehow decided (mostly due to some miscommunication), that we would try to drive from the beach back to the nearest town, El Rosario.  It happened to be spitting rain, at the time.  We had heard about what happens to Baja's dirt roads after rain, but we never really internalized the significance of the advice.  As we were told, the desert roads turn to ice.  Seriously.  There is a 2-inch layer of sludge that forms over the dirt that imitates ice.  The truck made it a couple of miles before we pulled off and decided to wait for things to dry.  There were multiple times where the truck was sliding SIDEWAYS.  We are really thankful for the lesson.  Even with 4wd, it's not really worth getting stuck, or worse yet, rolling the truck.  

Before we drove out to Punta Baja, we bought 2 pounds of cheese - un kilo.  That was 7 days ago.  We are nearly out of cheese.  This is always a good sign that we need to head back to civilization.

Link to November photos

Monday, November 14, 2011

Punta Baja is the Sheet

Secluded SUP-land (even got the moon in the pic)
We arrived at Punta Baja 5 days ago and found a beautiful, deserted beach where we have fallen into our new routine.  Morning starts at 6 am (daylight savings helped this). We drink our coffee and mull over our plan for the day.  The plan?  So far, the plan has been to SUP (stand up paddle board) all day until we literally have trouble eating dinner due to exhaustion.  We've taken some walks around the area to explore as well.  One evening we inadvertently picked up a scrappy, but friendly little dog at the fish camp. She followed us 2 miles back to our truck.  She indeed made it back home and then did it again the next evening.

Scrappy little perro who followed us everywhere
When we aren't walking or SUPing/surfing, we are reading Spanish phrase books.  I'm frustrated but determined.  The great thing about Spanish is if you can figure out how to pronounce all of the vowels and consanants you're halfway there.  Unlike English, the words sound exactly how they are spelled! I've got the the "i" down -- it's pronounced "eee".  As in, this place is the sheet.  Both of us have trouble remembering to pronounce "v" as "b".  Today we were out in the water with a guy named Fernando. According to Scott's translation, he works as a night-time security guard at the fish camp. According to my translation, he works in health and social services in nearby El Rosario.

The tequilla is flowing and as we predicted, our route through Baja has been sloooow.  Muy despacio.

So much Tequilla in the grocery store

Link to November photos

We Made It To Baja

The pretty drive along highway 3
It's been a long time coming.  We've been working our way towards Baja for so long that I thought the day would never come.  We crossed the border at a town called Tecate, about 40 miles east of the infamous Tijuana crossing.  We chose Tecate because the drive was reputed to be very pretty through the northern Baja wine country.  Additionally, Tecate is a smaller and safer town than Tijuana. We scared ourselves silly reading about the random drug-related violence in Tijuana.

The border crossing turned out to be perfect.  We parked at the gas station on the USA side so that we could walk across the border to get our tourist visa at the immigration office.  We walked back to our truck (through USA customs, of course) and then crossed the border by vehicle.  As you drive up to the crossing you are given either a green light, which means don't stop, or a red light, which indicates you must pull over for a search.  Supposedly the lights are random.  We got a red light, and had a 30 second search of our toy box.  That was it!

Fidel's "RV Park"
The drive south was very pretty and quite easy.  We stopped in Ensenada (about 2 hours south) for some groceries and then made our way to a campground a little past San Quintin called Fidel's El Pabellon.  (picture).  We made a few "wrong" turns beforehand trying to scope out other options.  The dirt/sand roads in Baja are no joke. 10 miles = 1 hour of driving.  Needless to say, we rolled up to our campground at dark. Fidel's El Pabellon RV Park is $9 for ocean front "secure" parking with hot showers.  During the next day I chatted with Fidel and learned that he's been running the RV park for 20 years.  He's 41 years old, has 3 kids (24, 22, 10), 3 grandkids, and 10 brothers and sisters who all live nearby.  Yep, you read that correctly, he is 41 and has a 24 year old son.  SHEEESH, that's no way to enjoy your teenage years.  When he was married (!!!) and having kids, I was just getting my driver's license.

Clifftop lovely-ness at Punta Baja
We're so glad to be in Baja.  The days are sunny, the food is plentiful and inexpensive, and we are finally adventuring.  We are currently parked at Punta Baja about 40 miles past Fidel's.  It was a 10 mile dirt/sand road out to the beach that took us an hour to navigate.  Poor El Tigre.  When we arrived, we found a fish camp with lots of boats and some houses/shacks.  We asked the only person we could find if we could park for the night on the clifftop overlooking our morning surf spot.  He said "no problema". A couple of days later, we moved about 2 miles down the beach to a different clifftop spot away from the fish camp.

All I know is that our Spanish needs some work.  We are getting by, but it's pretty rough.  Along that note, I was proud of Scott when Fidel mentioned that his "espani" was very good.  We learned that "espani" is what we call "spanglish" - Gringo spanish.  Since espani is really all we aspire to, Scott was pretty happy to hear it.

Link to November photos

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Toy Box

by Scott

While we love the living quarters of El Tigre, the layout is not ideal for gear storage. From the start, we planned to mount a box on the back, with a bike rack mounted on top of the box. The question was where to find a suitable box. We considered many alternatives. We looked at patio boxes. I tried to find a big, old chest freezer. I thought about building my own. Ultimately, we spent the money for a massive custom aluminum box.

The shop that built it caters to the commercial trucking industry, yet at 85" x 33" x 31", it's the biggest single box they've ever built. For our gearhead friends (or english-speaking internet-savvy banditos), a list of toys is at the end of this post. The only items in the truck are the small kites/bars, wetsuits, fishing pole, and guitar. Of course, the bikes are on top of the box. For the banditos that have read this far, in addition to the two locking latches, the box is secured to the frame with a locking hitch pin and a cable lock. The whole thing weighs about 350 pounds, so bring amigos.

  • Kite - Ozone C4 7
  • Kite - Slingshot Rev 9
  • Kite - Slingshot Rev 11
  • Kite Harness - Dakine Tabu
  • Kite Harness - Pro Limit Eve
  • Kiteboard - Airush Switch 132
  • Kite/surfboard - Stretch Ratboy 5'6"
  • Kite/surfboard - Slingshot Tyrant 6'2"
  • Surfboard - T&C V-series 6'4"
  • Surfboard - Santa Cruz Pumpkin Seed 6'6"
  • Surfboard - Channel Islands K-step 6'9"
  • Paddleboards - C4 Waterman Rapid Rider iSUP 10'0" (x2)
  • Paddles - Werner Carve (x2)
  • Wetsuit - Ripcurl 4/3mm 
  • Wetsuit - Quiksilver 3/2mm
  • Wetsuit - Ronstan 3mm Farmer John
  • Wetsuit - Billabong 5/4/3mm
  • Wetsuit - Ripcurl 3/2
  • Mountain bike - Specialized Pitch Pro
  • Mountain bike - Haro Xeon
  • Fishing rod/reel - vintage Wright & McGill/Shakespeare
  • Guitar - Line 6 Variax 700
Other box items
  • 5 air pumps
  • biking accessories
  • spare truck parts
  • spare tire
  • 2 beach chairs

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Truck Preparation

We've spent the past 5 months preparing ourselves and our truck for extended, overland travel through the Americas.  At the time we purchased the truck, we didn't realize how lucky we were to get our hands on a Provan Tiger.  To the untrained eye, a Provan Tiger looks like a slide-in truck camper.  The cool thing is that it's actually an integrated motorhome, where you can walk between the cab and living quarters.  It's everything we ever wanted -- 4x4, diesel, a roomy living space, in a very small footprint.

We've made some major improvements to the truck (1994 turbo diesel Chevy Silverado), as well as the living quarters.  Now that we are in the final weeks of preparing to cross the border, it's been fun to look back on everything we've done.  Almost all of the upgrades were preemptive fixes.  The jist of it is that Scott has done an amazing amount of work to get the truck ready for adventuring in isolated areas.

When I was starting my research on overland travel in the Americas I found a lot of blogs with vehicle modification information.  It was interesting and very informative to see the cost associated with such a venture.  What follows is a very boring list of modifications and cost.

1994 Provan Tiger Camper Modifications ($4500)
  • Instant Water Heater (Removed old 6-gallon water heater) $120
  • Vinyl floor covering (replaced old carpet) $30
  • New/bigger drawers, refaced cabinets, new doors, new hardware $400
  • Exterior shower (scott's absolute favorite addition) $50
  • New foam bed $120
  • Custom 7' x 2.5' x 2.5' aluminum box  $776
  • Re-routed plumbing and electrical
  • Custom battery box $100
  • Towel bars, shoe holders, clothes hooks, etc. (major Ikea-fest) $150
  • 12-volt 4.3 liter NovaKool refrigerator (replaced Dometic 3-way fridge) $1000
  • LED lights (replaced incandescent energy-hogs) $100
  • 135-watt solar panel (in addition to the original 80-watt) $400
  • Xantrex C35 charge controller  $143
  • TriMetric battery monitor TM-2025 $205
  • 2 x Trojan T105 6-volt 235 amp-hour batteries $295

1994 Chevy Silverado K2500 Turbo Diesel Truck Modifications ($6000)
  • Replace upper and lower ball joints $463
  • Replace pitman and idler arms $360
  • New KYB Monomax shocks $240
  • 2 additional leaf springs from Oregon Spring $600
  • 6 new Michelin LTX AT2 tires $1430
  • Diamond Eye 4-inch exhaust (replaced 2.5-inch! exhaust) $500
  • High Efficiency Air Filter $57
  • New radiator thermostat $23
  • Replaced harmonic balancer/pulley $100
  • New high-output water pump and gaskets $220
  • Upgraded radiator fan clutch and fan blade $200
  • New PMD (pump mounted driver) mounted remotely (away from engine) with heat sink $280
  • Synthetic transmission and differential fluid change $400
  • Synthetic engine oil  $60
Other Truck Mods:
  • Stereo/MP3 player $50
  • Husky floor liners in cab $160
  • Custom seat covers $160

Spare Parts (approx cost $500)
  • 5 x Fuel filter $84
  • 5 x Oil filter $70
  • Fuel pump relay $13
  • Fuel pump $86
  • Fuel pump strainer $20
  • Crankcase breather element $52
  • Oil pressure switch $26
  • Radiator hose upper and lower $50
  • Wiper blades $11
  • 4wd actuator $120
  • Serpentine belt $30

Overland/Travel Equipment (approx cost $750)
  • Lug nut cover/lock $25
  • Locks for all of the exterior access doors $10
  • Locks and cables for gear and vehicle $80
  • Ridgid brand cordless oscillator/drill set $136
  • Craftsman 192 piece mechanics tool set $126
  • Lots of other random tools and fix-it stuffs (i.e. DUCT TAPE and adhesives) $100
  • GPS Garmin Nuvi 1450 $170
  • Guidebooks and road atlas' $100

Friday, October 7, 2011

Portland, Oregon Part III - Enjoying the Journey

Spending limited time with family and friends during the past 6 months, has made me realize that being present in the moment is essential. Often times it's hard to put down the to-do list and forget about "the destination" (whatever that is) and really take in the surroundings.  Our nomadic lifestyle makes it hard to really connect with people.  Enjoying moments of camaraderie and friendship has been great for my spiritual wellness.  At times I've felt overwhelmed with family and friend's generosity in hosting us for meals and having us stay at their house.  Not to mention the fact that Holly has let us use her car while she is away.  I can only hope that I will pay-it-forward as we continue our travels south.

Juliet and then Geri hosted us for some great vegetarian fare.  I've done a horrible job at capturing all the delicious meals people have served us.  These two pictures are from almost a month ago when the weather was nice and warm.  Lovely memories.

I don't claim to be new on the live-in-the-moment subject.  Other people have said it much better than I ever could:
Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. 
The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.  
Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.
We stayed at Nooby's house (pictured 1st), then we moved to Holly's condo, before we moved into Andrea's house (pictured 2nd).  All the while, we've been able to use Holly's car.  Like I said, I am overwhelmed with the generosity.

Andrea cooking us eggs for breakfast -- DELICIOUS.  Bruce bought us pizza and we enjoyed hours of fantastic conversation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Portland, Oregon Part II

Portland never ceases to amaze me with all the cool things you can do in the city or just outside the city.  How 'bout a night laying on a hillside watching 1200 swifts (those are birds) roost for the night?  If that's not cool enough, we watched a falcon pick off one of the swifts for his/her dinner.  When nature and good friends collide, I am very happy.

Good friends, drinks, and NATURE!
Last week I had the opportunity to prove that I'm younger than I look.  It didn't work because I barely made it past 11 pm.  Regardless, I had a great time with some friends at The Voice Box belting out songs in our own personal karaoke room.  Nope, we weren't in Japan, just Portland.

Voice Box. Yes, I'm killing a Fergie song.
An hour west of Portland we went to a beer fest in Hood River (aptly named Hops Fest).  We definitely missed our favorite IPA drinking buddy, my dad.  As is common with Hood River, it was sunny and warmish while Portland suffered from it's common ailment -- dark and rainy.

Standing in front of Hops vines.  Scott and Juliet seeing dollar signs?
On a more serious note, we probably won't finish our todo list for at least a week and possibly 2 weeks.  Oh well, I guess we need to find more cool stuff to do in Portland in between chores.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Portland, Oregon

Over the past few months, I've felt so overwhelmed with stories from our USA adventuring that I simply haven't documented anything.

It all started with the 4 months we spent with my family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During this time we visited Scott's family including 3 visits to his brother, Skip, in Indiana and 1 visit to Shane, in Kentucky. Yep, I have a relative in Kentucky! Similarly, I'm sure he says, "Yep, I have a relative that lives in a truck".

We reluctantly left my parents, sister, and our most epic workshop in Ann Arbor to start our drive west. Thank you, Dad, for letting us invade your man-space for nearly 4 months!

The truck, the workshop, and our kitty saying goodbye to us.
You might be asking why we started driving west when our ultimate goal is to head south into Baja, Mexico and beyond. We lived in the Portland, Oregon area from 1995-2008 (I actually didn't arrive until 1997). We would never pass up the opportunity to visit dear friends and as a bonus, sample lots of awesome beers and have endless opportunities to see live music.

Some of my lovely lady-friends (where is Nooby?)
We've been in Portland for 9 days and have spent nearly EVERY day/night enjoying our friends' company. A day hasn't gone by when we didn't say, "Damn, I freakin' love Portland". Our livers seem to be holding up too!

My friend Dan put together a great blog post about his weekend seeing old friends (us included!) and seeing live music last weekend during Musicfest Northwest. The way he described his weekend is how I would describe the entire week for me (except for the "winter" part):
Occasionally a Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday can be so filled with people, places, adventures, and things I love, there is little time to muddle my brain with the guilt, doubt, and mundane details that normally take priority. On those very rare weekends we eat, drink, and pursue fun with such fervor that it's as if there is no tomorrow, no Monday, and certainly no one ominously reminding you that, as in the current epic novel I'm reading... "Winter is coming".
A great development since we've been in Portland is that one of our friends, Holly, offerred up her condo and her car while she is gone! We have to move out of her place in 6 days but we can use her car during the duration of our stay in Portland. El Tigre is taking a hiatus while we are driving around Portland running errands. Any ideas for a unique and thoughtful thank-you gift?

Holly's loft that we are calling home
We are currently working through a very large to-do list. Most of this falls in Scott's lap which presents an interesting dilemma for me -- do I try to help or just stay out of his way? It turns out my role falls somewhere in between...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quick Update on our Progress

I've started many blog posts over the past couple of months and then just never finished them.  I had ambitions of doing something more than just an "update" post - maybe something about what it's been like to spend the past 4 months in Ann Arbor with my parents and sister.  I hope I can write a blog post about that soon (sneak peek: it's been nice sprinkled with lots of truck-stress).

Mom, Dad, and Oscie have put up with us for the past 4 months!

In the meantime, here's a little update.  We have been madly working on the truck to upgrade lots of components, both inside and out.  You know how this goes -- once you decide to fix/change one thing, it's a cascade of 5 more things. As I write this, Scott is working on both the plumbing and the electrical system.  The beginning stages of our work had us researching and purchasing lots of things online.  The credit card was smoking.  That was the easy part.  The hard part is installing everything (Scott has done 99% of it).  I hope to also write a blog post about the upgrades and include some pictures of the truck.  At the moment, it is not picture-worthy.

Yep, that's Scott underneath the truck in a white bunny suit in 95 degree heat
The latest plan is that we will drive out of here next Friday and head to Lexington, KY to visit's Scott's bro.  After a quick weekend visit, we will take El Tigre across the country for our next stop in Portland, Oregon.   I expect that we will be in the Portland vicinity for the month of September.  We have many friends in the Portland area that we can't wait to visit.  We are also excited to slow things down a little and do some adventuring in the northwest.  We probably won't slow down too much, since we have lists and lists of things to do/buy before we cross the border to start the Pan-American journey.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Great Faces, Great Places

El Tigre is now officially a South Dakota resident.  We paid sales tax and got it titled and registered, all for a few hundred dollars.  The "Great Faces, Great Places" state makes if very easy for full-time RVers to give them money.  Admittedly, we slipped a few notches down the cool factor scale by getting rid of the old Colorado plates.

South Dakota license plate:  "Great Faces, Great Places"

After we picked the truck up in Pagosa Springs, and visited our friends in Denver, we drove to Scott's brother's house (Skip and Amy) in Indiana.  Here, we started the laborious process of making El Tigre "our home".  Skip spent countless hours refacing our kitchen cabinets and making new drawers and doors.

Skip and Scott burning the midnight oil in Skip's workshop

Along with all the interior work, Scott ordered $1500 in auto parts that were delivered to my parent's house.  He's working on making El Tigre a lean, mean, cool machine.  He's also becoming an expert on the mechanics of the GM 6.5 L diesel engine -- at least I hope so, as the drive shaft, radiator, water pump, oil cooler, and fan clutch, all of which are sitting in my Dad's barn, probably need to go back in.

One of many auto part deliveries