Tod and Lisa’s Year of Adventure

Life on the Road to Central America

South of the Border September 24, 2007

Filed under: Mexico — todandlisa @ 11:57 am

Well it’s about time we slowed down enough to write an entry. That is one of the trip goals after all! We’ve been in Mexico two weeks now and have overcome our initial doubts about our decision to travel here this way and are beginning to relax a bit more Right now we’re camped overlooking the city of Guanajuato where we are taking language lessons at one of the local schools.

In my experience achieving a goal always has some element of disappointment or anticlimax. Crossing the border was no different. Even though we’ve been on the road a few months crossing the threshold into Mexico has always been seen as the start of the adventure. If adventure is discomfort, difficulty and danger recalled from more comfortable places then those initial days lived up to the name.

Allie and some of her new perra amigas in Las Glorias

There’s a reason we were the only ones in the campgrounds we visited. September is still considered the wet season here and wet comes in several forms. Here it is humidity. Stagnant heat hangs all along the Pacific coast stirred only by the brief afternoon sea breeze, with no comfort coming during the nightly rain and thunder. Lows hit 85 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Think drowning in a sea of your sweat, which made sleep at night extremely difficult. It reminded me of summers in the Midwest without the air conditioning. Because our A/C only runs when we drive, what the weather is doing outside is what we live inside the van.

While we weren’t surprised we did forget how the heat can sap your will or motivation to do much of anything. So it didn’t take long for us to abandon thoughts of a meandering coastal tour and we began spending most of the daylight hours driving south, heading for the central highlands and some relief. San Carlos, Las Glorias, Mazatlan all became brief stops rather than the relaxed easing into the country we had hoped.

Lisa at La Luguna

It was as the hills rose outside Tepic on our way to Guadalajara that Lisa spotted a note in one of our books about a little campground off of the toll road and at the edge of a lake in the center of a volcano. Decision made, we wound our way the few miles through a small town and down into the caldera. La Laguna was another all but empty campground. This time however, it was because it was more of a weekend resort for Mexicans rather than an off season norteamericano haven.

Our one night stay turned into three, as we discovered the joy of sleeping again. Cooler temps overall and the relaxed atmosphere of the lakeshore talked us into sleeping in, reading and walks along the lakeshore. When we were finally ready to go (a German friend we’d made tried to talk us into staying for a month – it’s the best place in Mexico in his opinion), we discovered that a major fiesta was the next day. La Dia de Independencia is the Mexican holiday of independence from Spain and it all started in Dolores Hidalgo, a small town near our destination. Since we didn’t really feel like sharing the roads with the whole country in fiesta mode we decided to stay put, using the time to continue our chill mode. With the passing of the crowds we headed out and further up into the highlands, past Guadalajara and into the colonial towns of the state of Guanajuato. The capital city, also called Guanajuato, came recommended by a few expats we’d met at La Laguna as a funky university town, with cheap eats and an authentic colonial feel.

The city itself is an old silver mining town that is built into a steep ravine. Its tight quarters have prevented the strip mall sprawl that has overtaken so many communities around the world. It has retained the cobblestone streets which are a maze of preferencias (roundabouts) and tunnels. Driving requires a serious sense of humor as you careen along nameless one-way streets avoiding buses and mules. Fortunately we found our tiny little trailer park (four parking spots in a backyard) the first night and haven’t moved the van since. We even managed to haggle our way to a better deal here, getting power, water and banos (toilets and showers) for $10 a night.

Our campsite in Guanajuato

The town is a walker’s paradise with all kinds of nooks, backalleys, stairways and tunnels. The many plazas throughout the city are strewn with benches inviting one to sit for awhile. From our camp, it’s a twenty minute walk to el centro where we take language classes for four hours a day. It became painfully apparent our first days in country how critical our language skills will be in enjoying ourselves here so we figured we’d better get a foundation established sooner rather than later. Guatemala was seven years ago and the Spanish we learned there didn’t come back as fast as we’d hoped. Classes are challenging, requiring a lot of concentration and homework, but we’re starting to see the benefits after the first week so we’re here for at least another week, possibly more.

The school is Escuela Mexicana and has 25 students at the moment, mostly Americans. We take two hours of private instruction, then one hour of grammar and another of practical vocabulary. We met a father and son from Oregon, some teachers on sabbatical from Indiana, and a family living in Puerta Vallarta for a year with their two teenage daughters. The teachers are nice and it is exciting to start thinking in another language again. A joke another traveler told us once was “What do you call someone who can only speak one language?” The answer? “A gringo”. We endeavor to move beyond this.

The view down the street from our school

As it’s Saturday we’re taking advantage of the weekend to familiarize ourselves with the city more, it’s markets and laundries specifically. For $20 we get a backpack full of fresh food to last us the week. Tomorrow we’ll take in more of the local sights that we haven’t got to already. We’ve already made friends with some of the locals and are looking forward to making more connections along the way. While I type, Lisa is trying her hand at making authentic sopa de arroz (Mexican rice) and refried beans.

In all, the initial frustrations were quick to fade and we are feeling more comfortable and are enjoying the differences more as we move through this wonderful landscape.


The Power of E? September 10, 2007

Filed under: Stories — todandlisa @ 10:32 am

The Power of E?


This new laptop, less than two months old, is starting to hiccup.


The problem with a hiccup when you travel internationally is that is becomes something you just deal with. Even a gag can be acceptable. It is only when choking and near death show up that you’re willing to go through the long process of mailing in the computer for repairs.


The hiccup is the “e” key. It only works consistently if you type in a certain way that I prefer not to; namely when you slow down and type about 20 words less per minute than usual.


Granted, I am a really fast typist. When I first learned to type, I would lie in bed at night and type out my thoughts on my belly. I found it amazing that these things inside my head could be transformed into black on white, given a whole new meaning when they are strung together on dead trees. So I practiced everywhere I could….in bed, on my legs in class, you get the idea.


It was just natural for me to type and to type at the rate that the thoughts were being generated. I like not slowing down to consciously register what I’m thinking when I draft something. I let the tapping melody serenade me as I watch the page fill.


But I am beginning to suspect that she  – my computer – is in cahoots with the larger Universe.


She is in league with the other guides on this trip who are trying to teach me something that I said I wanted to learn…I’m certain some part of me wanted to get this, but the other parts are rather irritated now.


I said I wanted to learn to slow down.


I said I wanted to learn to do just those things that truly matter to me, like write.


I said I wanted to learn to not rush.


But of course, just like learning Spanish, I can’t bring myself to actually do it until the situation forces it.


So here I am, in a foreign country with a new computer stubbornly giving me exactly what I asked for.


The Anatomy of a Bad Day

Filed under: Stories — todandlisa @ 10:29 am

The Anatomy of a Bad Day on the Road


We’ve had several requests from friends for some less cheery blog entries. So let us share with you a bad day on the road looks like.


Hmmmm…let’s see…where to begin?


It starts with crossing the California border. Leaving the idyllic Cape Blanco coastline behind, we head into Crescent City and are immediately assaulted by the Disneyland-like billboards and tourist strip malls. These strip malls are even more obnoxious than your average Target, Walmart fare that seem to have consumed our landscapre. With bright garish signs they invite us to see the World-famous Drive Through Tree, Bigfoot Revealed! Visit Paul Bunyon!


I become extremely agitated and suggest we go watch a movie. I really just want to check out from the overstimulation. But Tod sagely advises us to push on towards the campground.


Sensing we’ve entered another reality, we put our heads down and make our way towards a great camping site we’ve heard of on the coast. We can handle most anything if there’s anything if there’s a pot of gold at the end.


Of course, the pot of gold at Gold Bluff was raided and our fabled campground was full. Now for ordinary RVers, this alone would make for a bad day. But not so for us.


Switching into dirtbag mode, we begin scouting the entry road for pullouts to hide in for the night(difficult with Betty). Several spacious, semi-flat pullouts were available, but only if you didn’t want to camp there. Think: Big Brown Sign with a Tent Crossed Out. We toyed with the idea of parking in front of the sign so no one could see it (Tod’s idea), but I convinced Tod that we’d probably get busted then. Surprisingly, he agreed. Alli and Taku’s only input was panting combined with telepathic messages of “Are we there yet? We’re hungry. Don’t make us report you as bad parents on the blog”. Of course, as usual, we ignored them.


By now of course, it is dark. So dark under the trees that even the satellite radio is stuttering along and the headlights are trying to guide us into an UNMARKED pullout that will hypothetically be okay to park in. As we poke our way down the road, it appears. A widespot on the right side of the road where several large trees had fallen over. PERFECT! We’re home.


Topper goes up, books come out and we’re settle in for the evening. Or so we think.


About thirty minutes later, we the hear the crunch of gravel under tires and the squeak of brakes. Trading glances, we know it’s not good.


I restrain the dogs while Tod jumps out in his nicest shirt and boxer shorts. Who does he see but the Grumpy Ranger Jane with a hand on her holster.




“Um, we’re camping.” Tod cleverly replies.




“Uh, we saw the other signs that said no camping but this one didn’t have a sign.” Tod said brightly. Ahh, I’m thinking, the try-to-win-them-over approach.




While this seems odd because there is a campground that we were trying to get into within a California State Park, we think better of pointing out the discrepancy to someone who has a gun and is already upset with us.


Tod fervently apologizes and acts like it was an honest mistake as he crawls back into the van. Moments later under the scrutiny of Grumpy, we’re evicted from our site and headed back for the highway.


A tense darkness hangs in the air; even the satellite radio unhappily chirps along. Ten miles further down highway 101, we found the cozy rest stop the Ranger recommended. It’s ten yards off the highway and almost full. Happy to be anywhere, we pop the top and go to sleep with earplugs in. I remind Tod that it’s a perfect opportunity to practice for Central America as he grunts and rolls over to sleep.


(Oh, did I mention, we did feed the kids before getting evicted. We don’t want you to worry about them).


We wake in the morning after a restless night of traffic noise, thunderstorms and Alli chasing cars in her sleep. Resisting the urge to splurge on breakfast, we move through our morning routine of dog feeding, two course breakfast (oatmeal with dried fruit & fruit smoothie) and camp breakdown. Eager to put miles between us and our disappointment, we decide to head into the Redwoods seeking solace and hiking among the Sequoias.


For those of you that know Northern California, Higway 101 has a tendency to dump you into the strip malls of downtowns. Such is the case in Eureka where we followed Maxim #3: If the opportunity is there, take it….especially as it pertains to shopping. Now, this got us into Chocolate Chip cookie fiasco earlier, but generally it has saved us time and money so we’re not searching for things and driving all over a town.


Flipping through my “Getting Things Done” organizational notebook, we ticked off several pertinent errands in spite of our foul dispositions. Bulk organic grains & breakfast, dog food, dog poop bags, Taku’s expensive-as-gold-but-I’m-worth-it canned dog food, and lastly, a spare cell phone battery for the business.


“ NOW we can go watch a movie” I giddily tell Tod.


“What is it with you and the movies? We never go out to movies at home…..”.


He’s right. Again, it’s some weird attempt at escape within urban rangeland that I must let go of.


Proud of our productivity, we head south to play in the redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants. We stop at the Burlington Campground and get several suggestions on excellent hikes to do in the area, especially along the river. Pondering our options, I notice a small sign that says no dogs. Mentioning it to Helpful Ranger Jane she replies,


“Of course. No dogs are allowed on trails in the California State Parks”


“Are you serious” I ask.


  Absolutely, they are only allowed on the pavement”.


I get visions of someone lurking behind trees waiting to jump out at us if one of the dogs steps foot off asphalt. Sounds relaxing, huh? We opt to move on. Only after Taku decides to tell them how he feels about that law by surreptitiously leaving a deposit near one of the information boards. Yes, we realize the potential for this to generate a mild amount of bad karma, but Taku was insistent on making a statement. I’ve always encouraged the freedom of speech in our kids.


It’s official. The day is not going well.


“This sucks.” Tod says. “We need a change of plans…..maybe we SHOULD go to the coast.”


This calls into play Maxim #2: Know when to change your plans and let go of a goal. I’d always wanted to hit Hopland, our original goal, to see the Solar Living Institute ever since I’d built the stawbale place in Boise. Hopland has the world’s largest strawbale building and has inspired me much during that time. Nonetheless, it had lost it’s charm.


Eager to leave the strip malls of highway 101 behind, we veered off onto Highway 1 to meander along the coastline down to San Fransisco. Visions of the ocean waves were beckoning to us, with their plentiful beach campsites.


After half a mile, the speed has dropped to 15mph.  A sign warns us that we have 40 miles to our destination. A few miles down the road, it dawns on us that the next 100 miles will be at 20 mph on windy coastal roads. All of this for one night of camping.


Internally, we’re both reassessing the situation.


Here comes Maxim #2 again…what is the situational profit/loss margin?


Knowingly we lock eyes and I smile as Tod turns the van around.


“Don’t worry, honey” I assure him. “If we head back now we can probably make a double feature”.


PS. What really made the day salvageable was knowing we could share this story with you. Thanks for being there!


Filed under: USA — todandlisa @ 10:26 am

Blog update


Hi everyone…a quick blog update here….


We had a whirlwind trip through California and into Arizona, visiting Tod’s family and our Friends along the way. We’ve been so busy visiting people that we haven’t had a second to write the blog and get it up….so please know that we are alive and well and are now in Mexico driving from San Carlos south…We will post a couple quick blog entries here  – one we wrote upon entering CA and the other I quickly drafted this morning.


More to be written when we settle in somewhere later this week – so sorry for the delay!


We have been taking photos though and if you want to see them, go to Blogroll on the far right column and click to see the photo gallery.


We love you all – Tod and LIsa