Berlin. What to say. It really is flavour of the month at the moment, and there was a lot of HHLE (high hopes, low expectations) - but to be honest, perhaps a little too much HH and not enough LE. Therefore, I don’t think we liked it as much as we wanted to like it.
Meg managed to find us a pretty convenient location to park up and boondock for the 4 or 5 nights we were planning to stay. From the outset, a friend from The Rally had run the Berlin marathon the day before we arrived, so it was great to grab a few beers with him & his friends (ahhh, different people to talk to!). The bar we met was rather random, on top of a huge multi-storey car park, with a bit of city rooftop garden feel to it. Was this the feel of things to come?
The first day we took a long 5 hour walking tour around the city. Really interesting. You forget just how much Berlin has been through in modern times. From the headquarters of Nazi Germany and the destruction that that saw, to the splitting of the city between Western Powers and Eastern Communist powers (the Berlin wall being the symbol of such), to then the reunification, and the difficulties that that has caused. Much of the Nazi legacy had been wiped out/destroyed (Hitler’s bunker has been purposely covered up by a non-descript car park of a housing estate), but there is the distinct East/West divide to be seen (Trabant tours, East Side gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, etc). Much like a lot of the German cities, there is also a huge amount of graffiti.
What surprised me about the city, was the pretty liberal attitude to much of the buildings. There was a lot of abandoned, semi-abandoned hospitals/churches or equivalent that have now been taken over by permanent squatters. And been allowed to do so. This to me, seems totally against the German image of efficiency and so on? But, I suppose much like any modern city, you have such a diverse mix of nationalities, and income levels, that its actually pleasing that people are able to have some kind of roof over their heads before gentrification totally kicks in.
We had one day just wandering, and another where we went on an ‘alternative’ tour that was pretty disappointing, but one place we did go to, that made me feel very James Bond, was the Liquidrom. It was an indoor spa/sauna place, made out of concrete with music & lights to help create the ambience. I wasn’t quite up for the all naked sauna, or the naked Germans doing group stretching in front of me, but it was definitely something unique.
Overall however, I think Berlin was quite exhausting. I’m sure staying in Mike (under a street lamp on a pretty busy main road) meant we didn’t get great nights’ sleeps, so I think next time it will be in a nice centrally located hotel to really appreciate the place fully. There was so much to see & do, that in the end we probably just soaked up more of the ambience and feel for the place, so next time we need to hunker down and plough through all of the hundreds of worthy museums…
Even though we had booked our Euro tunnel for next week, the usual scenario of the, ’end-of-a-trip-fatigue’ had kicked in as I think Berlin had subconsciously worn us out. As such, we busted through Leipzig in an afternoon (bit of an antique market, and a warehouse district of art spaces), and before we knew it, we were pretty much at the French border. And then, to cap it off, one morning I had a distinct sense that Mike had leaked a lot of oil during the night. It was at that point, that a home countdown had begun and by Sunday night we were already in Dunkirk, and back in the UK by Monday lunchtime. Bosh. Summer Euro tour complete.
The week started with Oktoberfest. That’s a pretty good start to any week.
Our good friend Anne-Meike was living in Munich, so she kindly offered to let us stay for a few nights. Ahh, the luxury (to be honest, one day, we hardly left the apartment). It was Oktoberfest so it was a key destination for us. After trawling through charity shops previously, we both had some ‘appropriate’ attire for the event. The main part of the festival is essentially a massive fun fair in a car park. But, in amongst these are huge aircraft type hangars filled with tables, servers, the odd traditional band, and wasted Germans. As people are permanently standing on tables, it is just one big German music sing-a-long (YMCA & Rick Astley, interspersed with the odd traditional folk song). Speaking zero German, it wasn’t the mingling opportunity anticipated, but a huge bucket list tick.
We’ve had a few country nemesis’ in our time, and the Neuschwanstein Castle is right up there. The first time on the Mongol Rally, the waiting time was so long that we simply couldn’t be bothered, and then during Eurhair trip, it was covered in scaffolding when we went by. This time, we booked in advance, and were determined to see it. Now, a very impressive building from the outside, but the Prince died (in slightly suspicious circumstances) before it was completed inside, so there is actually very little to see. Whilst it was heaving with tourists, being pumped through in groups of 50 in 10 minute intervals, I have to say, its not actually much to write home about (except for the fact that Disney allegedly modelled his castle on it)
Next up, was another Nemesis town. During our first trip together in 2011, our little Citroen Saxo (Mitch) broke down pretty early on, and Ansbach was the town it decided to do so. As such, we spent about 3 or 4 nights there trying to get it fixed. We felt it appropriate as we were in the area, to pop in and say hello for a cup of coffee. It brought back some fond (ish!) memories.
At the end of the week, we got our WWII properly on, and visited both Nuremburg and Dresden. Both pretty significant places on the Nazi map. Nuremburg still had the Nazi Party Rally Grounds that was partly (well, mostly) built before the war started. It was modelled on the Roman Coliseum and had a really impressive museum housed in it. It was really quite creepy as you could sense the plans Hitler had for this place, and the tens of thousands of troops & Nazi supporters that would have filled it (the whole area was part of Hitler’s grand Germania plans).
The final stop was Dresden. The place was pretty much flattened in WWII, but had been rebuilt as it had originally looked. It was impressive, but when you’ve been to Vienna, it’s a bit difficult to give it the credit it probably deserves. However, what did surprise us, was the ‘hipster’ part of town. A lot of cool cafes, bars, a bit of street art, and some really interesting little side alleys with various shops (although, this day and age, a lot of those sort of artsy-magnets-scarfs-handbags-2 pairs of shoes-painted tiles-etc shops that seem to have sprung up). It appears that any city worth its salt this day & age needs to have its historical bit, and then it’s trendy coffee shop with a bit of edgy street art area to juxtapose. I don’t think I’m getting cynical about it, yet there does seem to be a bit of a ‘globalisation of independence’ with the shops, art, fashion, barbers, bread shops, bric-a-brac shops - does that make sense?!
We spent our last couple of days in Budapest ensuring we ticked off most things that we felt we should be seeing - essentially we got on one of those Big Bus tour things. I must admit, it is a rarity for us to do one of these, but Budapest seemed like quite a big city, and the thought of another 25,000 steps in searing heat did not sit well with us. But, typically, what we saw the previous afternoon, was pretty much the main part anyway…
We did however spend some time on the Buda side of the river – this included the castle/palace (now housing museums) and the Fisherman’s Bastion. As per the Pest side, it had some beautiful old buildings, and cobbled streets (although a lot smaller, and really just 99% for tourists).
On our final morning we went to an amazing museum. The ‘terror’ museum completely misled me (I thought it was going to be some kind of London Dungeons type place) – it was all about the oppression the Hungarians suffered; first at the hand of the Nazis, and then by the Russians during their communist reign. It was extremely well done, even being housed in the old secret police headquarters.
After Budapest it was off to Vienna (stopping off briefly at the Heroes’ Momento Park – loads of saved Russian statues now housed in a park. I do love a good Russian monument!). Vienna was another extremely impressive city. It is as grand as Paris with huge old buildings all around the city – not what I remembered when I last visited about 20 years ago. We wandered around for a couple of days, really just soaking it all in (including the very cool mumok in the Museums Quarter). And I finally managed to get a genuine Schnitzel - our list of ‘cities we must return to’ is starting to get a little ridiculous.
Next up, on what was clearly another action packed week, was Ljubljana – the capital city of Slovenia. Now, if ever there was a city that I had never heard of, then this was it. Slovenia I suppose is not really a country you hear much about, but you would have thought, that as a European City we would have heard of it. Nope. Yet, what a fantastic city.
Ljubljana is built under a castle on the hill, and along a small river. It is very much a university town, and as such, has a great vibe about it. It has the standard European square with some old buildings & a church surrounding it, but then loads of cafes, restaurants, etc along each side of the river. We took a short walking tour (thoroughly recommended) and then went street art hunting leading us to the Metelkova commune. Basically squatters in an old army barracks (sounds familiar. Copenhagen anyone?). An interesting experiment, and always adds some interest to cities.
The end of the week, saw us spending a couple of nights at Lake Bled. You’ll probably recognise the lake – it’s the one that has the famous church in the middle of it. We arrived, and were like, ‘oh. It’s that Lake’ (you see a lot of these places when you spend a lot of the day on Instagram!). It was nice to simply relax, get a bit of fresh air, shower, and go for gentle walks.
What a week. What great cities we have on our doorstep. Lucky, lucky people.
After Copenhagen it was time to chill for a few days.
One of Meg’s friends from Shanghai, who we haven’t seen for a few years was living in Herning (c.4 hours from Copenhagen), so we naturally wanted to say hello. On the way to hers we stopped off at a town whose little green men at crossing lights were soldiers, slept under a bridge, and then visited some large statues of 4 men sat on seats overlooking a power station. The randomness of travelling.
We had a couple of days in Herning (Scandinavia’s 11th largest city. Home of Urtzon - designer of the Sydney Opera House) just taking it easy and then it was off to Hamburg. Again, we had a friend of ours (Bruno of SafHair fame, for those following our travels - Mum!) who happened to be there on business. It was only a flying visit, for both of us. We were going to spend a couple of days in Hamburg, and then a few more days in Berlin, but it seems Europe was having a bit of an Indian Summer, and some heatwave was going to hit (now that there is a dog involved in this venture, it was felt that leaving Gogi in Mike during the day, was not a very responsible thing to do).
So, we did some route rejigging and felt we should head South towards Munich instead (via Bratislava & Budapest). We were always planning on being there for Oktoberfest anyway, so it was no big shakes to do Budapest first, and Berlin afterwards.
On our way to Budapest, I made Meg stop off in Colditz for the night. She had never heard of the place, but in the UK it is an extremely infamous WWII prison for Officers (mainly for the numerous escape attempts – including secretly building a glider in a hidden attic). It was great to be there and read about the various methods used by the Allies to try to escape. It was apparently obligatory (& probably still is) for Officers to do all they can to escape from captivity, and was one big game of cat & mouse between them and the Germans (who, I got the impression respected the attempts, as the punishments of being caught didn’t seem too extreme)
We arrived Sunday afternoon into Budapest and managed to get a few hours of walking about to get our bearings of the place. I hadn’t been there for about 15 years so my memory was a little hazy, and I did not remember it being so grand. Strolling along the river, and seeing these huge Baroque buildings lit up reminded me a lot of Paris, Prague, etc. I have a feeling I am going to like this city…
After a day of relaxation, because we always need a day of relaxation - you’d be surprised how exhausting full time travel is - we headed to Gothenburg. Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city, but I’m going to be honest, compared to Stockholm it’s a long, lonely second. We kicked it off with the Saab museum. Jonathan keeps making me go to various car museums, he keeps hoping one will live up to the Ferrari one in Italy, unfortunately this one also did not. After pulling into the city we visited an art museum in an old warehouse (as per usual for us) and then hit the city. We walked, we perused, it was a pretty standard Scandi city, except they have cinnamon rolls as big as your face - a big plus in my books. But, while we had allotted two or three days for Gothenburg we found 1 day was sufficient.
However, Boro was very cool. It seems small Scandinavian cities have found the perfect way to draw more young travellers into their cities: street art. Like Stavanger, Boro opens its walls once a year to artists from all over the world to paint and stencil to their hearts delight. They also had a map that goes over google maps so you can easily see everything without having to wait for a tour guide. We came across more Isaac Cordal pieces, he’s quickly becoming our second favourite artist. It’s fun walking around the cities trying to find his tiny statues of little men in precarious places.
Next we went to Lund. A university city just outside Malmo. Lonely Planet had talked up a clock in the cathedral, likening it to the one in Prague, so we stopped to have a look. Again, Lonely Planet had led us astray as it would be impossible to describe the clock’s actions here without exaggerating. We did however have an excellent kebab and my last cardamom roll before leaving Sweden. Cardamom rolls will be missed.
We just finished watching the Danish series “The Bridge” so we were excited to cross and get a picture of the line where the body was found (FYI there is no line and the border is not in the center of the bridge). Wtf, TV misleads us again! It’s also worth noting the Orelunde Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark, is likely the most expensive bridge in the world to cross. It cost us 50 dollars in Mike. We had to disguise him so they didn’t know it was a camper van, otherwise it would have cost us $110 to cross!!!! That is insane, properly insane. It is a pretty wicked bridge though.
We visited Copenhagen on our EurHair trip and it was our favourite city of the trip, so we were excited to see if it lived up to the memories. Copenhagen is clean, friendly, diverse and delicious. What more could you ask for in a city? We parked up in the burbs right next to a metro station that took us 10 minutes into the city centre, so a bit of an ideal situation. The first day we got in and just had a walk around the new “hip” area and to check out a couple of local design shops, they had lots of good stuff but all of it was out of our price range.
The next day we joined a walking tour. Usually we stick to the “Alternative Tours” but we thought it might be worth learning a bit about Copenhagen as we hadn’t learned much of the history. We joined a massive group on a walking tour, and found it simply wasn’t for us. We were getting a lot of talk, but not a lot of substance so an hour into a THREE hour tour we ducked out. We ducked out at the best bit of Copenhagen though, and strolled through the docks over the river to the food warehouse. I love a food warehouse, loads of stalls all selling different goods from different ethnicities…all delicious. It was so good we returned the next day for lunch as well. After a nap and scrub up van style we headed out for a proper New Nordic meal. Because you can’t go to Copenhagen without sampling the world famous cuisine. New Nordic is super fresh, super seasonal and super local, we were trying it out at Host (the most reasonable priced place we could find). Three course plus desert and loads of mini courses in between, it was delicious and total worth the money. I love having a server explain each dish in detail and often even tell us how we were meant to eat it. We were seated so we could see into the kitchen and it was fascinating to see the chefs work on every tiny detail they put onto the plate. We finished off Copenhagen and our week at the Denmark vs. Armenia football match. Lots of cursing, lots of beer, but per usual not a lot of scoring. Football, I just can’t get behind you.
We arrived into Stockholm, and took the RV park option for the first night (we need them for emptying our toilet, filling up with water, and to take a shower). It really is a business we should be getting into. It’s such easy money. As long as there is a slab of concrete somewhere near’ish a city (or a bus/tram/train stop into the city is also fine if space is at a premium), then you can call it an RV park and charge $30 for not a lot. This one was under a railway bridge, and near a boat repair yard. Glamour or view was not high on the list of selling features. But, fair play to them. It was packed, and I’m sure the owners will be closing down for the winter and going off on a nice winter break somewhere (so, in no way envious..)
The first day, we walked around the city, while Meg got her bearings (I have no bearings, so there’s never any need for me to pay attention to any North or South or landmarks). We first stopped off at the Photography Museum, which had some interesting pieces – I never knew Bryan Adams (yes, of that Robin Hood song fame) was such a famous & accomplished portrait photographer? Next up was Sodermalm. Stockholm’s Williamsburg/Dalston/’hipster’ part of town (they’ve called theirs ‘SoFo’). The usual mix of second hand clothes stores, arty coffee shops, and people in tight trousers with no socks. It’s nice to be an observer there, but I think the required expense to dress and live in these places, means it’s not something I’m rushing towards (although, I have to admit, ‘age’ is probably more the key factor!)
In the morning, we made a break for a parking area right in the centre that apparently allowed RVs to park there, and wasn’t extortionate in fees. And, by the luck of the gods, there was one space available which we gladly took. We then headed off on a museum day. First stop the Vasa Museum. The museum housed an olde ship that sank 1km from the harbour (in 1628). Supposedly it was built just way too big & top heavy, and a gust of wind essentially toppled it over. A little embarrassing. But, in the 1960’s they raised it from the harbour and it’s now fully restored (something like 98% is original) and quite a mighty sight – with a few preserved dead bodies to boot.
After that, it was on to the ABBA museum. Meg took a pass on this one (she’s too young to have grown up with ABBA), but I happily took it all in, and reminisced seeing the various album covers that I remember lying around our house growing up. What was also interesting was that in 2014, 25% of all US top 10 songs were either written or sung by Swedes. After the US, and the UK, they are the next most successful musical country in the world – who knew? Next stop was the ubiquitous modern art museum – not really much to report on this one unfortunately. Pretty standard issue. Overall, Stockholm gets a very pick TICK from us. We both really liked it.
The end of the week was spent visiting Trollhattan (more land skiing events going on, and a rather disappointing Saab car museum), and then Smogen (very attractive, but expensive, little seaside town) as we head towards Gothenburg and our next big city break.
After leaving Geiranger Fjord we headed for Alesund. We had been here 4 years ago, but just enough to see the inside of a hotel room, before having to move off. But, I remember it leaving a big impact on me, so I was excited to see if it lived up to my memories. It does. It’s a gorgeous city. Having burned down over 100 years ago and rebuilt in a sort of Scandi Art Deco, it’s gorgeous. We climbed up to a look out over the city, which gives you an idea of both how beautiful, but how small it is. We also took time to visit the aquarium (I love aquariums, there’s something relaxing about fish). This one was less relaxing, a scuba diver got in a hand fed the fish, which was both fascinating and strange - seeing a man hand a piece of squid to a stingray isn’t something you expect to see.
After leaving Alesund we drove to the Atlantic Road - we were quite disappointed in it last time, but wanted to give a second shot. It was still disappointingly small and short, but gorgeous nonetheless. We drove back and forth several times, took loads of photos, climbed a few muddy hills and then decided it was time to ‘treat yo self’. After three weeks on the road we had a large pile of dirty laundry and a hankering for some oven baked goodies. It turns out it’s equally cheap to rent a small fishing cottage, with a washing machine, in Norway as it is to stop at a campsite and use their laundry facilities, so we delighted in a fisherman’s cottage for a full 24 hours. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Trondheim was next, which is a very cool university town about half way up Norway. It’s the first real city we’ve been in since Bergen over a week ago. We had planned to go to a festival to see the Lumineers play, but it sold out this week and apparently it’s illegal to resell your tickets in Norway, damn. Instead, we took in some “land skiing” - apparently if you have snow 9 months out of the year, for the three months you don’t you want to go ahead and pretend that you still have snow. The guy told us that these were the “premier” land skiiers in the world. Sure…
Trondheim was as far north as we made it four years ago and we had ever intention of making it all the way to the top, however things change. Norway, as we’ve much bemoaned, is very very expensive. So much so that it’s become fun prohibitive. We feel really constrained, so we’ve decided to stop at Trondheim again and head eastwards towards Sweden. As such, we quickly made our way through the very empty middle of Sweden and towards Stockholm.
Our 2nd week on the road, and we’re now getting fully immersed into the Norwegian way of life. Which, surely for any non-Norwegian tourist must involve avoiding spending money at any opportunity. This country really is ridiculous when it comes to the price of things (except potato salad it would seem). At one point, I naively thought that a 6 pack of beer was c.£3.50/$5 which I thought, ‘finally, something in Norway that is cheap’. No. $30 for the 6 pack. Crazy Norway. Crazy.
As such, we have avoided RV parks, and general street parking (as the towns/cities require parking tickets for pretty much any street that is a resident’s permit street). $30 for a patch of grass is a cost we can’t justify.
But anyway, this is what we expected, and in no way detracts from the beautiful country this is, and the honest & charming Norwegian folk.
The week started on a bit of a dampener as we were near Pulpit Rock - the famous edge of the cliff rock jutting out thing - that we wanted to hike up to, but the weather was just not playing ball. We were thinking about waiting it out for a couple more days, but looking at the weather report, and our sanity at being held hostage in Mike for another couple of days, we decided that it was not meant to be, and we should head to Bergen instead. Luckily we did as we heard from some people that there were 3 rescues that day from people getting stranded up there, in the dangerous conditions.
So, the drive to Bergen involved lots of rain, a few ferries and endless tunnels. Man, these people must have spent a fortune building tunnels (there is one that is 26km long!). Just outside of Bergen we stopped off at the Grieg museum. Turns out his grandparents came over from Scotland, so basically he was British. The museum & his house weren’t really much to shout about unfortunately – very little information actually on the composer, and his house was pretty small, so we swept through the 3 rooms in about 10 minutes (pretending to look impressed, and feeling bad for ploughing through it so quickly)
Bergen itself was a cool little city. Nice cobbled streets, quite arty, a great vista up the funicular, the TubaKuba house thing, the old Bryggen area (means wharf) and a surprisingly interesting museum about their period under Nazi occupation. We managed to find a perfect spot to park for a couple of nights near the tram line, and next to a supermarket, so we were pretty sorted.
After Bergen we drove for a couple of days to Geirangerfjord - the famous fjord that has a constant flow of cruise ships parked up. It really was stunning, and even though the hike up & down, to get the best view, took 3 hours, it was probably worth it.
Overall, even though we might be shortening our time in Norway (weather, distance, expense, etc) it really is a beautiful country and when I am a millionaire hopefully I will be back & can drive around in a Tesla electric powered RV…
I wonder how many times we’ve used that as a title, or how many times we’ve uttered that phrase over the years. I imagine quite a lot. After a “trial week” in England, and fixing things that we found went poorly, we were finally ready to head out again and we were making a beeline for Norway.
Why Norway? Well, a few years ago we were here and found it utterly beautiful, and we felt like we didn’t get enough time to see it, so we wanted to return. And we had to go there first because they have the shortest summer & didn’t want to be freezing in Mike as we have no idea how he’s going to do in cold or heat yet. We quickly passed through France, Belgium and Germany and found ourselves in Denmark waiting for a ferry to take us to Norway.
It’s weird having a small vehicle that can do anything a car can do, and that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb everywhere we go. Mike truly is stealth: goal achieved. It’s taking time getting used to being in a tiny vehicle though, and growing pains are expected. We keep running into each other or hitting our heads on the TV when it’s pulled out (& the toilet door is an ongoing drama) - but I’m sure we’ll settle in soon.
After crossing into Norway we headed for an old Nazi fort and the second largest cannon in the world, it was never fired. It was an interesting site, but most of it no longer existed and we were following a map that didn’t really take us anywhere which was a bit of a shame. So, after sleeping on a beautiful point of a cove we hightailed it to Stavanger so we would be able to make their street art tour on Saturday.
We had a brief stop at some giant Viking swords, but found ourselves in a beautiful seaside Norwegian city on a clear day. Stavanger isn’t a large city but it had good character. Every September they have a street art festival that invites artist from around the world to come and decorate the sides of their buildings, it’s fantastic. The tour, while a bit expensive, had loads to see and the guide was full of information. We also took the time to visit the Stavanger Oil Museum (it may sound… dull and painful, but it was actually interesting). They explained what Norway is doing with all their oil money, a country with foresight and long term planning is very refreshing. Norway has invested in the future, recognizing that oil will not always be needed and their reserves will run out in around 30 years. They’ve invested around the world, everywhere but Norway, and you might be interested to know Norway owns a large stake in the shops on Regent Street and the Champs Elysee. They’ve invested in green energy in Africa, and Chinese railroads. You can just look it up online and see exactly how much has been invested and exactly where it’s been invested, very cool. It’s also very cool to be on the road again and I’m looking forward to what Europe has to offer even if it is very different from what we planned.
Our ‘holding pattern’ in weeks 59-60, of sitting around waiting for some items to be sorted in the UK, got confirmed, and so our Pan-American plans are going into a more longer-term holding pattern.
I was going to head back to the UK (now that the positive house selling news had come through), for a bit of property management, so we thought it sounded like the right time to actually re-evaluate our planned route for the next couple of years. It was always the plan from Mexico to head south to Argentina, but as I was going to likely be back in the UK for at least a month or so, and with the Zika virus causing a bit of an unknown, we thought perhaps Central & South America should be put on pause.
So, the few weeks after Mexico City was spent driving back from Acapulco to Ohio (Meg already had a family visit planned, so she got to skip that part of the trip!), and then sorting out the selling of Milton (to a couple from Florida of all places).
Milton has been by far & away the best vehicle we have had on any of our trips. Not only has he been our home, and a place we have spent a huge amount of time, effort & expense to make it as such, he has also given us zero trouble. And I mean zero. Not a flat tyre, not an engine over-heat, not so much as a splutter, or broken anything (aside from the odd loose screw from my home-made cabinets). And for 14 months of full time living, that is a huge achievement. So, it’s with very heavy hearts that we had to sell him and move on to the next vehicle/home/country/continent/ adventure.
However, when one door closes, another opens as they say. And as such, we have introduced a new Milton into this world of ours.
And we name this latest steed, Mike.
Not really too much of a back story to that name. Just that, a) we needed to stick with our ‘Mi__’ theme, b) the number plate was AY07 HUP which sounded a little like ‘aye up’, which is a bit of a Northern British expression, of which Mike is just a solid sounding British name, and c) Mike is only planned as a semi-temporary vehicle, so didn’t want to use too good an ‘Mi’ name on him! (Midas is my next vote)
So, for the last 2 months, myself & Meg have been busily building a 2007 Ford Transit van into our new RV (medium wheel base. Whereas Milton was 7m long, Mike is 5m – and that’s mostly space lost in the living area, so quite a big proportion lost). We decided to start from scratch as it was what I had always wanted to do – to build something to our requirements & experience of what is needed & what isn’t. And, to be honest, looking at the prices of converted vans or purpose built motorhomes, they were just way out of a justifiable price range.
I have actually quite enjoyed turning Mike into a home. Even though I have zero carpentry skills, which has been infuriating to say the least, there is something very satisfying about seeing a little home come together. If I don’t look too closely at mis-judged/mis-measured gaps here and there, I think it is not a bad stab for a first attempt. He has full solar panels, 12v & 240v electricity (with a Bluetooth app so I can anally check on the battery usage on a regular occurrence), a proper kitchen with an IKEA gas hob, fancy Italian fridge and a sink way too big for the space (not great planning in terms of keeping water usage to a minimum). We have rigged some jerry cans for water, along with a little pump & an extendable tap in the sink that can double up as an outside shower. Whilst there wasn’t room/expense/ technical expertise to build a shower, we do have an actual Water Closet with a little porta pottie, so we are pretty much as self sufficient as we were in Milton (and as a bonus, he does about 500 miles on a full tank, so we can get a lot further, and a lot cheaper than we ever did previously).
The sacrifice is that we are obviously in a lot tighter of a space. Whilst the bed is still reasonably comparable, the lack of a dinette does make eating & laptop’ing a lot less convenient. We can still squeeze past each other, but there definitely isn’t the sense of space that we had in Milton. But, this all bodes well for the next vehicle. That middle bear is out there, waiting for us to find him…
People told us we were crazy for going to Mexico, and when we shrugged them off then they told us to at least avoid Mexico City, it’s sooooo dangerous. We went into it with low expectations not really knowing much, but figuring we’re so close we may as well at least have a look. We left Milton at the campsite about an hour outside the city and got ourselves a swanky hotel room near the center of the city. It really was nice, despite being very reasonably priced.
First impressions were of surprise, everything was in bloom. It was lovely. The buildings were old and there was food everywhere, what’s not to love? We set off first to look for a restaurant I had heard about and really wanted to try, it was further than anticipated and not serving lunch but you win some, you lose some. Interestingly the main road through Mexico City shuts down every Sunday so that people can bike or run along its length, I thought that was really cool and progressive. After that we walked to the main square and the cathedral. Both very impressive and large. As always when we visit main squares there was a concert on. Next stop, Bond, James Bond. Spectre’s opening scene was filmed in Mexico City and Jonathan was determined to get a shot in the elevator. We were outed by the doorman, but they still let us wander around which was nice of them.
The next day we set off to a completely different part of the city. Carlos Slim is a Mexican billionaire who owns some telecommunications in Mexico, I think it’s the cell networks… I’m not sure, google it. In fact, google him, his life story is really really interesting - it’s worth the google I promise. Anyways, he built a massive museum to house his private collection of art, not only does it hold an impressive collection but it also is housed in a very cool modern building. We wandered through the higher end parts of town in areas that you would never think were Mexico City, but could just as easily be Miami or Rome, and we commented that the people (as usual) were wrong - Mexico City was very much worth a visit.
Leaving Mexico City we were heading for Acapulco, I was flying to Ohio for some family time and Jonathan was going to sit on a beach whilst I was away. But, as we pulled into Acapulco, we quickly realized this was not the swanky holiday resort of the Frank Sinatra era, but was the Mexico that people had warned us about. It’s a city that time passed by and let fall down. It was not nice, we decided it would have to be an RV park and no where else (and to be honest it was relief, as it was bloody hot and we needed the electrical hook-up for the air con). I flew out the next morning and Jonathan was left to his own devices for two weeks. Exactly how he likes it.
Last week seemed to have it all, so there was a lot of pressure on this week to compete.
After leaving the waterfall, we headed towards Xilitla. To give a little bit of a back story, Xilitla was a place that Meg found on the internet a year or so ago. It’s starting to become a little more known - basically, it has found its way onto Atlas Obscura, but when Meg discovered it, it was a ‘we’re getting married there’ demand. It is a kind of semi-finished sculpture park set amongst the jungle (called Las Pozas). Unsurprisingly, it was an eccentric British artist/poet who built the place, originally as an Orchid playground in the 1940s. But, when they all died one winter, he decided to build concrete structures instead (it is like a skeletal version of Portmeirion - still one of my favourite places in the world).
If there was ever a place of High Hopes, Low Expectations, then this was it!
We arrived in the afternoon, and the place was closed, so we drove to a campsite (well, paying for the privilege of parking in someone’s driveway). As we got married in San Francisco instead (for ease & admin reasons) we had planned to keep some wedding attire with us, and at least get some photos done in Las Pozas. So the next morning I donned a suit & Meg her wedding evening dress, and we spent a good few hours wandering around taking a tonne of photos. It really was an amazing place, with narrow pathways, all leading to some other bizarre structure. You never knew what would be around the corner, with the main prize being a waterfall surrounded by all these stone & concrete walls and half buildings. It was great, and I really hope the photos do it justice?
The next couple of days were spent driving towards Mexico City. We hadn’t really ever planned on visiting the city, as we just had this vision of a mass of people & cars (I think it is still one of the biggest cities in the world), but we couldn’t really avoid it, so why not. Conveniently, there was an Aztec Pyramid an hour outside, so we headed for that as a place to camp up (well, Mesoamerican – is that not Aztec? Showing my complete ignorance here).
The 2 pyramids of Teotihuacan were part of some massive city in the 1st century AD. Who knew? Anyway, they were pyramids, and I’m guessing pretty impressive. It was nice to visit, but we did struggle to eek out more than a couple of hours. Heathens I think is the word…
At the end of the week, we took the bus into Mexico City. As we had some airmiles points that were expiring, we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel for a couple of nights (Chaya B&B by the way – great place, great location). For our first day, we wandered the streets to just get a feel for the place. We visited the Zocalo & took in the main sites off & near it; the palace of fine arts (fancy building & theatre), the Metropolitan Cathedral (big church), the National Palace (another Diego Rivera mural. That man got everywhere), Templo Mayor (a relatively recently discovered pyramid. Didn’t bother walking round it), and most importantly the hotel (the Gran Hotel) that James Bond walked into during Spectre - that was all I cared about, making Meg film & take photos of me in the hotel lobby. Even though Spectre was a pretty poor Bond film, I was more than in my element.
Apparently we walked 22,000 steps in that first day, so we took in a lot in. I must admit, on first impressions, a most impressive city, and definitely glad we visited…
As previously stated (it can’t be stated enough really) we’re happy to finally be on the mainland. This week was a good week, a very very good week. We started off the week in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city. It was the first real city we’ve been in in, well months (since leaving Phoenix really). We decided the best bet was to get an airbnb and park Milton in a safe place. Luckily the cities here are full of parking lots, and we managed to park Milton up two blocks away from our accommodation for just a few bucks.
We wandered through the city which was a lot nicer than we expected. Mexico has a very dark sort of surrealist undertone, in both it’s art and cityscape. We visited the art museum to see the famous, and frankly very horrifying, murals and then ate some local delicacies. We found out there were so many more overlanders in town, so we arranged to meet up with them over mariachis on a plaza. After being serenaded by numerous older, larger gentlemen we moved on to the Lucha Libre - Mexican wrestling. Jonathan had low expectations but I went in hyped. And it lived up to the hype. It was funny, exciting, hard hitting and pretty well acted. And as a bonus, the crowd was getting into it in a classic upstairs/downstairs argument. One man actually threw coins at people, I think yelling that next time they could afford better seats. They had some pretty serious stereotypes in operation, but I’d like to think it was all in good fun.
After leaving Guadalajara we moved on to Guanajuato. This city wasn’t even on our radar until all the overlanders in front of us kept throwing it up on Instagram - we felt like we couldn’t miss it. The drive in was… well it was pretty terrifying. When driving situations get sticky, Jonathan gets flustered and I just try not to throw-up. It was a very steep, very narrow, very slippery road up to our campsite. And what a campsite it was. Overlooking the colourful city, we felt very happy to have made the drive. It’s a charming city, full of coffee, tortas and singers. We took part in a callejoneadas, which is a speciality in Guanajuato, whereby singers lead crowds of people through the narrow streets, singing, telling stories, dancing and cracking jokes. We couldn’t understand everything, but we got the idea and really enjoyed ourselves. The city is built on a ravine and used to have a river running underneath it, but later the river was diverted and the tunnels underneath were turned into roads, so now the city is essentially carless which makes it even better for walking.
After the charm of Guanajuato we were heading back into the highlands, and stopped at a beautiful waterfall called Puentes de Dios, in a tiny town on our way to Xilitla. It was definitely of the gods. Gorgeous, colourful and as bonus, warm. I didn’t get in but Jonathan enjoyed himself flouncing about in waterfalls and swimming in bath water warm pools.
We couldn’t be happier to be on the road again and there’s lots more to come!
We’re back on the road. And it feels good.
To begin the week, we got on the container ferry from La Paz, Baja to Mazatlan on the mainland. The boat was pretty empty (although this week was a national holiday in Mexico, so no doubt that had an impact. And also impacted on some of the places we visited – a mass of people getting away/going home during the holidays), and even though it wasn’t entirely clear where we should be, or when, we managed to get on board. It was an overnight ferry, and we arrived without any issues at all.
Mazatlan was quite a nice town/city. I was expecting just some industrial port town. When we arrived, we parked up on the street, and stayed there for a couple of nights whilst we explored. A massive cruise ship had arrived, and it was strange to see some local ex-pats on the street giving out directions and advice to the arriving hoardes. It didn’t really occur to me that American expats would settle anywhere in Mexico aside from Baja, Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, etc. But, I suppose expats pretty much get everywhere, so why not here? Mazatlan is famous for 2 things: 1) people jumping off some rocks into the sea below - not quite as dramatic as ‘billed’ and 2) the world’s 2nd tallest lighthouse – well, a tiny lighthouse up a high rock, so not quite what we were expecting either (but, definitely ticked off that day’s 10,000 step requirement)
After Mazatlan we followed the coast south towards Puerta Vallarta (PV) and decided to stop off in San Francisco (confusingly known as San Pancho). After being stuck in a traffic jam for about 3 hours, we finally made it, to a tiny little beach, with some lovely little shops & coffee places. Plus, about half of Guadalajara on holiday. We stayed a couple of nights, and whilst not particularly chilled & relaxing (due to the mass of people) we could see this would be a quaint little place during any other normal week. As such, we decided to skip Sayulita & PV which were just down the coast, as we thought they would be much the same - simply bigger, and full of more tourists (we had no interest in seeing another Cabo).
So, it was off inland towards Tequila. YES, that Tequila. Whilst not really a place that was raved about, we really like it. Tiny little cobbled streets, with the typical central American shop fronts dotted along them (selling fake jeans, and lots of stationary). Again, as it was the holiday week it was pretty busy, but that meant lots going on. We had a few drinks in the famous La Capilla bar (voted in top 50 bars of the world in 2014. So the barman was keen to tell us). Not sure why it is famous (imagine a small, old stone barn interior with plastic garden furniture) but there was some local musicians playing, and after a couple of tequilas we were getting into the spirit of the place.
The next day we hiked down towards a little waterfall. Even though, I got a bit spoilt with the one in Baja, it was still a pretty nice way to spend a couple of hours and to wrap up the week.
Wow, in comparison to the last few weeks, we really feel like we are back on the road, and seeing & doing a lot more.
Better karma all round.
This week was much the same as the last few weeks, unfortunately. We pulled into Los Barriles on Monday, which was a cute little town with a massive snowbird population (I imagine the gringos are pretty much half the population). After dragging our feet for so many weeks we were happy to just sit somewhere with wifi, where we can have long hot showers, where I have enough room to shave my legs, to do some yoga on the beach, and where the bars have cold beer on tap – so, if we’re going to waste time, it’s not the worst place to do it!
The problem was that is how we were starting to see it, wasting time. And that’s not want you want. Whilst we still realize we are incredibly lucky to be able to live such a lifestyle, we had incredible itchy feet which is why, on Wednesday night, we decided enough was enough and we were going to go for the mainland on Friday.
And that was that. We packed everything up first thing Thursday morning, and headed for the ferry port in La Paz.
We got into the port high on enthusiasm and excitement only to be shot down. For whatever reason there would be no ferry on this particular Friday, so we would be stuck for the weekend. It was unclear whether we were confirmed for the ferry on Monday, or what time we should return… but, we sorted out all the taxes we needed to pay to import Milton, and analysed the ferry choices. To be honest there wasn’t really much of a choice as TCM (the container ferry rather than the more passenger ferry) was half the price – it also let’s us stay in Milton, and Gogi doesn’t have go into the dog prison. However, all that excitement would have to wait, two more days sitting around La Paz waiting. We stocked up at Walmart and Autozone, and tried to take care of everything we thought we might need. We then looked longingly to the sea, and hoped we’d be able to cross on Monday and start the next leg of our journey.
Come on world.
At the moment, we are kind of having to lounge around as we await news from the UK (not very exciting, or dramatic, but will impact one way or the other on our next plans). This means that there is a lot of ‘killing time’ which is something neither of us like to do, or are very good at. We both enjoy being on the road, and even if we don’t get much done of a day, at least it’s contributing towards the general journey and some kind of end destination. At present, the opposite seems to be happening. We need to be somewhere with mobile signal (and wifi) as well as not being too far from a DHL/FedEx office should any documents need signing. And in Baja, these places are few and far between. As such, we are having to stay within a bit of a radius of Cabo – limiting where we can go, and to be honest, adding a bit of frustration to the mix.
We started on a beautiful little beach just a few miles from Cabo (Playa Santa Maria) and spent a couple of nights enjoying the sun, sand & sea (well, Meg enjoyed the water, I find it pretty boring to be honest. I like being near the water, but not so much the ‘thrill’ of swimming!). Having had a taste of hotel life last week, we spoilt ourselves to 3 nights in a little B&B up on the mountain. It was pretty empty, but had a nice pool and lovely views over the ocean. I just enjoyed having a hot shower every day & watching Ramsey’s Kitchen nightmares (who would have thought there would be a cooking based show, that I would actually like watching? Aside from the Great British Bake Off, naturally)
We then headed back the way we came towards Pescadero/Cerritos. After a couple of failed attempts at reaching one beach (I am now overly cautious about going anywhere near anything sandy) we settled at Playa Cerritos. We don’t seem to be the only ones settling in here - there are 4 or 5 pretty permanent foreigners in RVs living here. It’s a famous surf beach, and has a nice mix of a couple of restaurants, is remote enough to not be crowded, yet has a good vibe with surfers enjoying the waves.
After that we headed back to Cabo for a couple of nights (including one very disturbed night. It seems Friday night in Cabo for the locals involves driving your car to under a bridge off the main road, and just playing the worst 90’s Mexican pop music until the early hours – at 2 am it was too much to handle so drove & parked at the local supermarket). Finally, we thought we’d head towards Los Barriles and stopped off near Santiago at an ‘eco lodge’ (i.e. too remote to have cell signal or toilets!), but which had a beautiful waterfall a short walk away. That is what travelling is about – spending time at these remote little places and swimming around in our own private waterfall and surrounding water. Very nice too.
So, whilst it is a little frustrating to be hanging about, we have to remind ourselves (as we do every time we feel grumpiness coming on), that we are so hugely fortunate, that it is a crime to be anything but grateful for what we have and where we are.
I have every faith that things will sort themselves out soon, and we will be on our merry way again. All will be well. It always is.
We spent the first days of this week in an RV park in La Paz. Not ideal, but we needed the internet to await some financial news from the UK. We feel a bit between a rock and a hard place at the moment, as we sit about killing time awaiting updates from home, which is definitely not our forte.
We’re ready to move on from Baja in a week or so, we feel like we’ve seen it and would really like to have a look at what the mainland has to offer as everyone. On Instagram everyone seems to be having a great time. However, we’re worried about Zika and we’re also a little worried about Milton. Normally we don’t pay much mind to diseases that spring up around the world (we were both in China during swine flu and didn’t think much of it), but so little is known about it and its long term effects, that we’re wondering if we shouldn’t take a ‘better safe than sorry approach’?
As for Milton, our beloved steed, we’re worried about his size, his weight, his terrible gas mileage and his lack of 4-wheel drive. We swing daily like a pendulum, 100% confident in him to make it all the way to Argentina, to thinking there is no way he’s even making it off this peninsula. But he’s so comfortable, he really is a genuine home to us, and we finally have everything perfectly the way we want it, that we can’t imagine giving him up. So, we think about putting him on ship to Argentina, we think of selling him and flying to Europe, and of buying a Sprinter van and shipping that to Argentina. We think about just carrying on as we are, and we think about selling him and buying a truck camper and shipping that to Argentina. All viable options, none of which we can decide upon for more than a 24-hour period.
But, after leaving La Paz we went to the hippy town of Todos Santos. I know we’re supposed to put our noses up at ‘unauthentic’ places, but I have to admit I loved it, and I was very happy to sit down to some sushi, look at tat, and generally feel comfortable and clean for the first time in a while.
We camped out on a beach with the biggest waves I’ve ever seen, ever (and I lived in Hawaii) and they release baby sea turtles on that beach - how any of them survives that surf is genuinely beyond me. Just before we went to bed we thought the surf sounded awfully loud, peeked out the windows and realized we were surrounded by water on 3 sides. Oops.
The next night we went to the local theatre performance, outdoors under the million star sky. They were doing an updated version of Alice in Wonderland and it was a bit of an indictment of social media and modern life, but it was exactly what you would expect from the population of the town, and was genuinely funny. I highly recommend seeing anything about Alice in Wonderland, in a town full of 70 year old hippies, who get the drug jokes quicker than you.
We carried on down the coast, got stuck in sand again, and threw our arms up in the air in frustration. We drove to Cabo to ease our stresses in a hotel, as yes, it was stressful, and the hotel was great. Milton, you really are on a knife edge through no fault of your own.
As seems to be the current situation, we started the week on a beach, and pretty much ended it on another beach. One mustn’t grumble.
After a couple of days lounging about (nursing the Valentine’s Day margaritas if truth be told) at Spatz-a-something-or-other, we thought we’d try another little beach for a night. Unfortunately, that was literally a beach bar (Buenaventura), so we just stopped, grabbed some fish tacos and carried merrily on our way (it was quite a cool little bar, and there were more than a few US snowbirds in there, happily tucking away the tequila at 11am – and you thought our life was easy?). We ended up that evening a few hours down the road in San Carlos.
We spent a couple of nights there doing the usual relaxing & Internet’ing. It is another jump off point for Whale watching and speaking to groups upon their return, they also managed to see quite a handful. It seems they are everywhere. Interestingly, we did meet a French couple in a small converted van, who informed us about options for shipping vehicles over from Europe. Apparently it is very possible to load up a van in Europe, stay on board with it, and sail all the way to Argentina (takes about 4 weeks). With the whole Zika virus being a bit of an unknown for us, we started to seriously mull over whether we would consider doing that. But, as previously stated, we seem to be constantly flitting between alternative vehicle & travel ideas, so this is nothing new for us. We shall see.
After San Carlos we headed into La Paz. What a sight. It was like a proper little city looming over the horizon, with LTE cell phone signal, a Walmart, a Sears, and even a Dominos pizza. It made a massive change to what we had been used to. We did a night just outside the town, and then drove the next day to the beach near the Ferry terminal (called El Tecolote). It was here that we met up with a cross selection of people. Mali Mish were a family of 5 we had been following on Instagram (to date they have around 40k followers), and who are currently living out of a truck camper. Along with the gowandrly family (also 5) living out of a VW van (I don’t know how!) and go.wildly (Chris & his dog). It was great to see them all in action, and how they have managed to (some how) survive in such tiny spaces, yet being properly functioning family units. We also met two separate English couples - one in a Hymer van (Meg was in awe) and one in a converted Land Rover. They were both doing similar trips to us, so hopefully we’ll see them further down the road somewhere. Meeting these last 2 groups, especially, gave us renewed faith that we weren’t the only ones doing this trip at our age. That there were actually people under 65 years old living in RVs after all – phew…
We left the beach at the end of the week, to return to La Paz for some Internet. Naturally some drama struck, as I managed to embed ourselves in the sand. And having clearly not learnt from previous trips, I made it worse by impatiently trying to drive us out - simply burying us deeper. Thankfully the combination of an old German couple (wanting to be very German & efficient & methodical & sloooow about getting us out) mixing with a group of 15 drunk Mexicans (who just wanted to wrap some chains around our bumper and yank us out) we managed to get out after an hour or so of digging, pointing, discussing and eventually JFDI (just f*$#ing doing it). So, rather coyly we drove off & spent the night in the corner nursing our wounded prides…
After easing into Mexico, and I mean really easing into it (there hasn’t even been a cell signal all week), we got our first taste of…. rough roads. It’s partially my fault for not thinking it through, and partially Jonathan’s fault for not listening, but we spent more time than we’d like to on discussing an absolutely awful road to start this week off.
Because we had chosen to go down the Eastern coast of Baja, rather than the Western, there’s a significant gap in civilization. It’s about 25 miles, and the road doesn’t really exist. Fine in a jeep. And e’d get over it in a Saxo. But in Milton? It was hell. No one spoke, not even Gogi. Half way through was Coco’s Corner, where some man had built a little store in the middle of nowhere. Why? I have no idea, but we stopped for some tension relief.
Finally, we reached Guerrero Negro. The first proper town we’d seen since passing through Mexicali at the border. They have a massive salt factory there, and apparently a very large Japanese presence (I assume for the salt?) but we had come for the whales. Ojo de Liebre lies about 10 miles out of town, and then another ten miles through the salt flats, down yet another rubbish road. I held my breath and didn’t make eye contact. Once there, you only pay $10 per car and then you can camp as long as you’d like for free, excellent! We came in with high hopes and low expectations for the whales, genuinely having no idea how many we would see and I got super hyped when I spotted my first one from the car. Little did we know…
We took a passenger boat out the next morning when the lake was calm, and we were… there’s no other way to say it, absolutely surrounded. They were everywhere! The whales come to the lagoons each year to give birth to their calves, and then teach them the ins and outs of life in a safe place, before continuing on their migration to Alaska. It was incredible. At first everyone was constantly snapping their photos, and then by the end of it, you just got used to it and were able to put down your camera and enjoy it. They swam next to our boat (and even under it a few times) and is an experience I highly, highly recommend - and a steal at $40.
Baja has been mostly desert so far, and there are even cacti growing next to the beach, so our next stop was quite a change. San Ignacio is a genuine oasis around a lagoon in the middle of the desert, and a very cool thing to pull into after seeing nothing but dirt for a few hours. After that it was onto the beach for some proper lounging.
My impressions of Baja so far are very different from what I initially expected. I didn’t expect there to be so few people, or so few towns for that matter. And we keep saying to one another the next town will be proper, the next town will have a proper grocery store and a cell signal. But, we’re wrong each time. Very wrong to be honest. Baja is a sparsely populated desert with questionable roads, but it’s beautiful, and a good way to ease into the next few years.
Our time to crossing the border was quickly approaching, so it was time to get some final Milton admin done (& of course read into that, ‘more buying stuff we probably don’t need on Amazon’). First off was the get the brakes done – tick. Grouting any various holes/gaps – tick. Replacing the sink strainer – tick. (thanks to Lou for basically doing that task). And buying a new car stereo – tick. (fed up of either silence or Taylor Swift followed by Adele combo on every station, and wanted something with Bluetooth that we could play our own music/audio tapes as opposed to too much local Mariachi music).
We also did some cheeky truck camper viewings. It had always been discussed that we’d have Baja as our Milton test track, so to speak. To see whether he was too big, to cumbersome, the state of Mexican roads, etc. We still keep going backwards & forwards on whether to trade him down for either a truck + truck camper (i.e. a more rugged base vehicle, and overall a little smaller) or convert a Sprinter type van (more stealthy, better fuel economy….AND something for me to build a little more to our own personal preferences). We saw a couple that we liked, but there’s obvious any additional expense, and just as importantly additional time (to buy, refit, and so on) that we need to take into consideration. Plus, we both seem to be constantly changing our preferred option, so who knows.
But, we did finally make it into Mexico this week.
We camped up near the tiny border town of Los Algodones. We’d originally planned to cross at Mexicali, but as we were camped up literally at that border crossing, and a guy at the camp said it was a doddle to cross over, we just thought why not. Interestingly it has the world’s densest concentration of doctors, dentists & pharmacies (or something like that). Apparently all the old Americans & Canadians cross over for a day trip & simply stock up on pills/dentures/implants that they can’t get or is expensive in the US. Bizarre to see all these people park up their cars, walk across the border, and just go wild in the aisles of the Mexican equivalent of CVS.
Anyway, we crossed over without too much fuss. Got our 6 months worth of visa, and headed South to San Felipe. A little place on the coast that we planned to chill for a few days & acclimatise. We lasted 1 night. It was fine, but just a little cramped, so we carried on South the next day to Puertecitos (via some large cactus) & bathed in some hot springs.
After that it was Gonzaga Bay (peaceful but windy!) via 30 miles of unpaved roads. That was not fun, and something that we need to avoid as Milton will definitely not survive roads like that (15 mph was the max we could do). And then ended up the week in Bahia de Los Angeles. Not really worth the hour’s drive off the main highway if truth be told, but hey, when in Rome.
Overall, quite a busy week, and after 12 months we are now what I would class as “properly on the road”.
We started the week off with a big day, Jonathan’s 40th, I performed as an absolute abysmal wife for the big day basically providing a whole lot of nothing. I’ve been terribly ill and disoriented from a double ear infection and the prescribed medicine to treat it (1000 mg of penicilian twice a day!), that the day suddenly appeared and I had no made no effort it. Poor showing, I promise to do better for his 50th. We celebrated at Joshua Tree, our last stop before seeing my sister and crossing the border. I’m going to be honest, people have ranted and raved and carried on about Joshua Tree, I don’t get it. But then again I never get it when it comes to amazing outdoor adventure places, I’m just not outdoorsy. It was cold and windy, that is what I know. But the stars did put on an impressive display and our new camera was able to properly capture them, so we were pretty excited about that.
The second big day we celebrated this week was Milton’s Gotcha Day, hard to believe we’ve been at this for a year now. It’s even harder to believe what he looked like when we picked up him from the good ol’ boy a year ago. I cringe when I remember the maroon carpet and faux food finish, not to mention the heinous fabric choices. We are constantly talking about trading Milton in, constantly, but it’s really hard to imagine not having him. He’s perfect, he’s very much a very cozy, happy home. We’ve made so many changes and added so many thing I couldn’t imagine starting all over again. He is a beloved part of the team. We’ve put about 20,000 miles on him in the last year, he’s covered the entire country and provided the prefect size home for this adventure, but I am prepared to admit he may not be the perfect size for the next adventure, but I’d never say it within his earshot.
My sister and brother in law were lovely enough to put us up in Phoenix for the final run up to the border, they were also kind enough to put up with the 50 or so odd Amazon deliveries that came to their door in the last few weeks (what did people do before amazon?!). Having a place to relax while we got things in order, looked at other vehicles, guzzied Milton up, stressed over the spread of Zika, and got Gogi prepped was unbelievably helpful. Not to mention they took us to delicious restaurants, entertained us and allowed us to stay even though the cats were not fond of the Gog-mister, he’s terrifying. We depart in a few days, and I’m still not 100% sure what I’m expecting or what the roads are going to look like, to be honest I’m expecting it to be pretty much the same as America, I’m not expecting a Ukrainian border crossing where suddenly we’re not in the first world anymore, but you never know…
Ah, it’s good to be back on the road.
The week started off in LA, in the ‘arts district’. As secret graffiti fans, we booked ourselves onto a little walking tour of the warehouse district, and got a chance to get our first glimpse into a hipster part of LA early on. It’s very much the same as any other ‘becoming gentrified’ part of a run down part of any city, but it certainly had a distinct LA feel to it.
The next day we decided whilst we were being tourists (it had been a long time since either of us had properly been to LA) we would do a Hollywood walking tour. I remember Hollywood being rather grotty if I’m honest, and the tour didn’t do anything to dispel that myth. And it didn’t seem like they were doing anything about trying to tidy the place up. I’m sure there’s some poetic dichotomy or something that I should reference here, but essentially something for the tourists without much class to it. That evening I caught up with some old school friends for a few drinks. In some ways quite depressing to think we left school some 20 odd years ago, but they were both doing well, and it was great to reminisce about the good old days.
After that we had some luxurious days staying with some friends of Meg. The usual mix of a big bed, a large couch and some wifi. We went to see the filming of James Cordon’s Late Late show one day. I was really hoping to be called up as one of the audience to be on TV. As he was local to where I grew up, I thought that might have given me an ‘in’ – I’d even practised my little speech for when I got called upon. Alas, it was one of the few episodes where there was zero audience participation! We also spent an evening watching Honey Honey perform. They are a band whose music has been an integral part of Hairventures trips (they are also a friend of a friend of Megs) – it was great to finally catch them.
After LA we spent a couple of days in San Diego. We’d heard great things about it, and we did get to visit a couple of the cool little districts. However, and truth be told, we were a little citied out. Central coast California is just one big conurbation, and since November we have been in the area, so all we really wanted to do was to find a little open space, park up Milton, have a BBQ and pull out the deckchairs. So, off to The Joshua Tree national park we go.
The most common question people ask full time travellers is, ‘how do you afford it?’, the answer is often convoluted and always different depending on the couple. For us, we’re lucky, Jonathan made wise investments when he was younger and we have enough coming in from these that most of the time it sees us through the month. Hopefully after we cross the border it will be all of the time with some to spare. But every now and then, it doesn’t cover us (or we get nervous and spend a lot of time looking at spreadsheets), or in this case we get married and any financial cushion is blown. Which is why we spent the last 6 weeks in San Luis Obispo. I got a job waiting tables so that we could get our bank balance back up.
I got really lucky, and got a really good job, in a very busy restaurant, at the busiest time of year. To be honest, I don’t mind waiting tables - it’s fast paced, always changing and you come across interesting people a lot of the time. Would I rather be kneading dough? Of course, but making bread simply does not pay the bills.
San Luis has proved a perfect location. Small enough to be able to afford, and big enough to hide ourselves in. Warm weather, no rain and near the sea. We passed a wonderful Christmas (complete with a proper English feast) and a fairly tame New Years, but best of all I hit our financial target, and we were able to move on on schedule. So that’s it, the final schlep before crossing the border. We’re heading down the California coast then turning to Phoenix to catch my sister, and then planning to cross the border the first week of February. It’s all very, very exciting. And a little bit scary.
Whilst awaiting for Meg’s new passport to return we have settled down for a little while in San Luis Obispo. It is made a little ‘famous’ by the Madonna Inn – some gauche, and garish hotel. But, it is also the home of Cal Poly (university) so has a very young feel to it. For example, we believe there is some ruling that no chains are encouraged to open in the historic downtown area, meaning it is full of independent shops & restaurants which gives the place a lot more character that a lot of other US cities.
As Meg has been doing a little work, there’s only really the odd spare day in which to explore. One day we did visit the University to have a walk about. They have this ‘architecture graveyard’ where students’ projects are made into actual buildings (since the 70’s), which are then sort of left to fall into disrepair. It was really interesting to see the different styles that have evolved over the years, and I am actually very jealous that people managed to properly build stuff during their degrees - all I managed to do was write an imaginary business plan for a coffee shop. Not much of a legacy. Another cool thing that was there is the Serenity Swing - a swing, attached to a branch, about 3 miles up a hill. A proper struggle to get up there, and windy as hell once there, but definitely made for some great photos.
However, these last few weeks have been a little bit of a struggle in terms of having to be constantly on the move. As per the rulings (in what seems to be the majority of Californian cities), full time RVers are very much frowned upon. There are signs all over the city clarifying that, “NO overnight camping is allowed”. This means that each night, pretty much, we have to change our parking spot to either try to be a little out of the city, or to find some side street that we think we might be under the radar parked on. This is proving a bit of a kerfuffle. One night in particular there was a bang on the door (at midnight), for 2 local police officers to be quizzing us on what we were doing. Whilst we were in a place out of the city, and it was not illegal to stay there, they certainly weren’t encouraging us to use that spot again. Combine that with yet another knock the next night from someone telling us we were parked on private land, it means our nights are a little restless - we are a little on constant edge waiting for that next knock (& in the mornings, dreading having a ticket on our windscreen). But, as we now enter into the Christmas & holiday season, we are hoping people will have a little bit of the holiday spirit, and be a little lenient. Here’s hoping. We certainly can’t justify the $60 a night to park in an RV park.
On a positive note though, we were featured recently in Passion Passport. An article a day for 4 days about our travels and adventures. It was really enjoyable to write the pieces and to see our work ‘in print’. We hope it inspires some people to take that plunge and hit the road!
p.s. Oh, and Star Wars came out recently. So to be honest, I have been watching that a lot. Big fan. Big fan.
So, thanksgiving has rolled around again. This time last year we were living in London, and celebrating Thanksgiving with friends in true American style (minus the corn that Meg forgot in the microwave). That year had been quite a turning point in both of our lives. I had tried to get back into work (I lasted about 3 months before deciding it definitely wasn’t for me!), and Meg had completed her pastry course in France, and we were now living together in London for a few months. Before we embarked on our big ‘hairventure’ in the new year.
Looking back therefore at the last 12 months, it has been another epic year, and truly a great deal to be thankful for. We had begun our trip in January, and hit the road proper in February. In March we lived in Austin, TX - Meg working for an awesome bakery there (Easy Tiger) and I volunteered for the SxSW festival (an event I’d been meaning to go to for so many years). April & May we travelled across the US again, and ended up settling down a little in New Orleans for some more working & volunteering (& proceeding to fallen totally in love with the city during this time). June & July we hit the road again, before I spent the summer in Guatemala & Costa Rica, and Meg got some work done in Ohio. September & October we got back onto the road, and before we knew it November had arrived, and we had a marriage to tick off. After a lovely week with both of our families, and now officially Mr & Mrs, we can look back and genuinely think we have achieved more in these last 12 months, than many people would have conquered in 5 or even 10 years.
So, to that end, this week is purely just about being grateful. Nothing soppy, nothing romantic, nothing lovey-dovey, but just a straight up ‘Cheers world’…