The time I freaked out like a little baby and Devon put me on a time out by Kenneth Benson

“It’s going to be a great day!” That was what wifey said as we drove out of our camp and onto the main highway heading south from Coban Guatemala toward Guatemala city and eventually into Antigua our destination for the day. It had started off pretty good too, I’ll admit. We had slept in the parking lot of a hotel off of the highway. Parking lot does not do it justice though, it was a gorgeous garden. and we had been lulled to sleep the night before by rain on the pop top. Pulling down the drive toward the highway and making a left should have resulted in a decent wait for traffic to clear, but it was clear both ways so we turned with not so common ease.

The first hour of the drive was gorgeous. A curvy tree lined road with a mix of palm, pine and coffee. It was green and lush. The asphalt was smooth too with hardly a pothole. It seemed like every 100 meters there was a nursery selling every type of tropical plant and flower and tree. It’s funny how so many of the plants in these nurseries are the same as the ones they will sell you at places in the states as house plants and you will try as hard as possible to keep them alive yet never see them get as big or as bold as they do here where they are naturally occurring. 

Hour 2 was a decent of about 4000ft. Gradually the tropics gave way to a desert landscape with dead scrubby bushes and the occasional cacti. The cool mountain air turned more humid and then hot and then a little hotter just for good measure. The vegetation withered. By the end of the second hour we had reached the bottom of our decent and were sweating. Not just because of the heat. The road had gone from good to bad as well. But we were happy and really excited to start the climb around the next bend.

Around that bend we went and the climb started but a mile later abruptly stopped. Being stuck in a traffic jam in Guatemala has an extra level of difficulty and danger that you don’t see in the states. A two lane road does not remain two lanes for long as every truck, car and moto begins to jockey for the front of the line.  The most bold are the busses and semi trucks. Without hesitation they will pass on any side they wish, drive head on into oncoming traffic and then press their way back into line only when absolutely forced to, forcing others to bend at their weight. The SUV’s do the same but at increased speed and the motos zip and weave through the whole mess. This started to wear our nerves after a while especially added to the heat and probably some hunger as well. For an hour and a half we inched forward bit by bit on a clutch burning incline of a road. Fortunately through most of the wait Vega napped.

Finally we cleared the construction that was the catalyst of the whole mess, we were moving again. But it wasn’t long before we hit Guatemala city and landed in another traffic trap as if it were 5pm weekday in LA. All of the same trucks, busses, cars and motos puttered along. It is a testament to rigid emissions standards to be stuck in a Guatemalan traffic jam. We couldn’t roll the windows up due to the heat but having them down felt poisonous. This too eventually passed though, albeit after another hour and a half.

We thought we were home free, only another 30 min to Antigua! For the most part we were, traffic was flowing, and temperatures were cooling. The last 4 miles into Antigua is a steep decent on a one way two lane road that is well paved. Well paved but dangerously steep.  Again standstill traffic! Stopped in traffic like this nose down left me constantly picking out which pole, house or guard rail I would aim toward if the brakes suddenly decided to stop working (we had replaced the lines by some guys in Campeche Mexico in a junk yard). It was a break burning decent rather than a clutch burning ascent. 45 min later we passed the bus that was sideways on the road and facing the wrong direction (Later that night it started to rain a bit and the oil and gas that collected on the road all the day earlier created an intensely slick situation for several other drivers).

Finally 6 and a half hours after starting we arrived at camp. Normally I think this is where the writer would describe how all of that was terrible but to have to do it with a screaming 2 year old in the back seat created exponential stress.  Well our child rules she did great.  She sang, she read books, she talked to her babies and at one point put her left hand on time out for hitting little baby. The drive was horrible all told but could have been much worse had she been in a mood. The downside of this was that arriving at camp tired from the road, sticky with dried sweat and hungry as hell she had all the energy in the world. First order of business for us was food.

While traveling we have definitely preferred being in nature. When we do get into the cities it is shocking at first, even small to medium cities in central America have a frenetic energy that does not sit so well after a hellish drive. Antigua was the same.  Eventually after multiple days and actually multiple visits we have fallen in love with the place but that night it felt crazy. We plopped into the first restaurant we walked past (usually a terrible idea but this time it worked out ok) and ordered some pizza for V and some chicken for us.  Vega was crazy energetic, wanting to run around and get into everything, darting up the stairs or out the door, and neither of had the energy to do anything about it. She is also currently in this stage where she wants her babies to talk to her.  This means that one of us has to hold baby and pretend to make it talk to her.  This is actually not so bad when you feel like doing it but this night neither of us did and she would not shut up about it. During our wait two little kiddos approached begging for money. You get used to this after a while, it is the same here as it was in Asia. Generally we don’t give money to children as it is never known whether they need it or are being forced into begging by their parents. Usually we try and just engage them and that almost always results in smiles, money or no.This time the younger wanted to stay and talk to/play with Vega. The older girl was however all business, and when it was clear we were not going to give she tried to usher her sister away.  At first it was by pulling and then by hitting, it was pretty sad and the more we protested and told her not hit her sister the meaner she got. It was sad hearing her being dragged away from the restaurant crying. Some of the crying was normal for a child who just wants to stay and play and some of it was because her sisters abuses probably hurt.

Finally the pizza came and she settled a bit we took turns eating and feeding her, then marched back to the safety and solace of out van.

There is nothing a great nights sleep can’t cure and our frazzled nerves needed an antidote to the day we’d had. So, the sun being down and all got us as excited as our road weary selves could be. Time for pajamas, milk, stories and BED!

I HAVE TO POOP! She said it louder than she normally does and with a bit more urgency. Fortunately for us we have the porta potty (best $100 ever). I jumped into action, dropped her drawers, sat her on my lap so I could get them all of the way off, (we were just going to do pajamas after anyway) and then sat her on the toilet.  As she sat there on the toilet not pooping I thought to myself, “man I really need to clean out this toilet, it stinks” and “why is she taking so long she seemed like she really needed to go?” and then again ”it really stinks!”

The answer to all of my questions sat smeared across my shorts and leg. She was taking so long because she already went and it stunk so bad because I had shit all over me.

I was done, I’d had my limit. I wanted to scream. At her. It wasn’t her fault of course but I could barely breathe. As a parent it is easy enough to check out of your emotions at these times and do what needs to be done, in this case clean up myself and her and I did. But when all of that was done I was boiling and it boiled out… “I want to go home! I want to sleep in my Bed! I want a shower every f-ing night!!!!!!!

Living in 70 square feet can be a challenge for sure but there is a certainty in either van life or regular life. You will get pooped on, and pooped on after a very long hard day.

I whined like a little baby and my wonderful wife kicked me out of the van effectively putting me on time out and read stories to my daughter.

Sorry folks no photos on this post. Sorry not sorry.

OK just on...

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Guatemala Pt.1 by Kenneth Benson

Guatemala pt. 1

We entered Guatemala today, again doing our border crossing in the mid day heat, when will we learn? Another country away deeper into Central America. The process was semi painless and took about an hour.  It is nice to be in a Spanish speaking area again, we missed it. Belize felt like this strange interlude, beautiful but a little weird.. This border crossing has come with a lot of new emotions and thoughts. For the last several days we have gone back and forth about how far to take this trip and when we should return. It seems that daily we go from wanting to go all the way to the end of the pan-am highway, to wanting to turn around after Nicaragua and spend some time camping in southern Utah. The truth is there is natural beauty everywhere and in our little adventure-mobile we are game to find it. We are currently sitting at the edge of an amazing lake near the ruins of Tikal, watching the dog swim and imagining ALL of the potentials.

Not every day works out as planned and generally it has something to do with the kid, the dog or the car. This time it was the dog. We didn’t get to see the ruins of Tikal. The ruins are actually about an hour drive from where you pay your entrance fee, unlike others we have visited. This meant that Kohbi was banned before we even got to the parking lot. Normally we would have parked and found a shady place to tie her up for a few hours but it wasn’t possible at this site. So it was back to the lake for us where I proceeded to tear out the annoying bumper ferring on the front of the van and inspect the electrical wiring of the secondary battery that has been vexing me for a few months now.

We left El Remate and headed south toward some reputable caving. Our first day in Guatemala we discovered a leaky tire and prior to leaving the lake I put on the spare, so our first stop was to get that repaired. After that we hit the road for a 3 hour journey to the Calendaria Caves. Shortly after leaving town we made a wrong turn and our GPS re-routed us back country through about 20 miles of pot-holed gravel roads and past the city dump. After rejoining the pavement an hour later (Vega lolled to sleep) we discovered the next turn sort of impassable due to the construction of a new bridge and a tractor trailer carrying a front end loader, high centered on the alternate route. We found our own way on a dirt road around some homes that luckily rejoined the road we wanted. After another hour of driving the GPS announced to us that we should board the ferry. Say What!

As we came over a hill it was clear that yes the road ended and we needed a ferry to cross. We waited our turn and and crossed. It wasn’t until we had left the banks of the river that we remembered we had let the dog out to swim and none of our whistling and yelling could convince her to make the swim across the river to meet us. To top it off Vega peed her car seat. Devon had joked with me when we let Kohbi out not to forget her but… Anyway the kind people of Guatemala realized what had happened and boarded Kohbi on the next passenger ferry headed toward us. Quickly we were reunited and on our way again.

Next camp was further south near Chisec. We stopped here so that we could take a tour of the Candalaria Caves. The tour was a 2 hour tube ride through a cave system under the karst-like a landscape. Unbelievably Vega was amazing, floating in cold water and utter darkness, swarmed by bats and surrounded by stalactites that looked like giant vampires hanging from the ceiling, she sang songs and giggled at her echo.

The next day we took the van on a little adventure. We drove from Coban to Lanquin.  The majority of the road was paved to varying degrees but the last 11k was gravel of even more varying condition. The van ran like a champ over some pretty tough terrain.  The main draw of Lanquin is Semac Champey another 9K away, an incredible area of natural beauty filled with tourists :) Semac is part of the “backpacker” route so there were a bunch of 20 something travelers from a bunch of different countries. It is a strange thing to travel for hours through very rural areas and tough roads only to run into a town in the middle of nowhere that is filled with kids on break from this or that, Bob Marley blaring in the background.We felt slightly out of place and kinda old.

Seamac is was gorgeous even if a bit crowded with other tourists. Multiple pools of varying color great for swimming.

We spent the majority of the day there and even snuck in the dog.

After Lanquin we headed back into Coban, stocked up on necessities and found a great little Comedor that had some soccer on (Liverpool vs. Seville). Just outside of Coban we visited a coffee farm.  This one farm was part of a cooperative with 4 other sites across Guatemala. These sites are mainly educational sites offering agricultural education to young adults. This specific farm was coffee.  We took a tour of the farm and learned more in an hour about coffee than I did in 2 years as a manager of a coffee shop.  I got to taste the fruit of the coffee bean right from the plant. It looks like a cranberry, you peel away the pulp to reveal the bean inside that is encased in what they call “miel” which means honey. It looks just like a coffee bean but the bean is almost white and there is a gelatin like layer around the bean that tastes amazingly sweet. We saw the coffee plant in all of it’s stages and the harvest process as well and then sat a drank a cup. After that we parked in a secure parking area at a decent hotel and fell asleep to the rain.,,,,,,

Belize by Kenneth Benson

So pictures first this time, give em what they want...

It was finally time to make our first border crossing into Central America. Up until now we were only a country away. Crossing into our next country seemed like a huge step. While in Mexico even as far in as we were it always seemed like we could just turn around and be home soon. In the span of just a few miles turning around got much more difficult.

We made one last stop in Chetumal Mexico to get a new gas cap having left ours at a Pemex 2 hours north. We had been warned about a scam in which the Mexican border agent will claim that you need to pay $28 per person to exit the country if you were there longer than seven days. This scam was alive and well.  We pulled into the booth and the agent asked for our passports. Next came exactly what we were expecting he asked for “the fee”.  I assured him that we had paid all applicable fees when we entered the country and that there were no additional fees to be collected.  He kept our passports and told me I needed to go to the bank and get the money to pay. After talking to some other folks I dug out our receipts from when we entered the country and returned to the booth and demanded that he stamp our passports and return them. I showed him the receipts and he continued to tell me I needed to pay additional money until another person came into the booth.  This must have been some sort of supervisor because he immediately changed his tune and tried to tell me that I should have told him I already paid. He stamped our passports and we were off.

Entering Belize was simple enough but took some time going from one place to another to get our dog through, fumigation on the car, vehicle permit and insurance etc. We made it through no problems. Our first destination was Corozal only 29 miles or so from the border. We went straight to the public park next to the sea and parked the van.

Belize is hot, so jumping in the water was refreshing I swam with Vega in the sea and we stayed put, free camping in the park. The evening was filled with a lot of Families in the park picnicking and playing volleyball.  Vega of course made friends right away and played in the playground with them until well after dark.  We often wonder what it would be like to have Vega in school in a foreign country, learning a new language and culture.  The language here is English for the most part.  The locals speak Creole which is essentially English but with a thick accent that made it indistinguishable to our ears at first.  It was fun imagining Vega growing up learning that way of speaking.

The next day we headed south to the town of Orange Walk.  We grabbed some tacos and rolled in to our camp site for the next three days.  It was a small cabana place on the “New River”.  We parked right on the bank of the river.  We booked a boat for the next day to take us an hour upstream to the Lamani Ruins then spent the rest of the day organizing and relaxing. The owner of the place told us about a “small” crocodile that lived in the river across from where we were camping, but said not to worry it was only 9 feet or so! And we did in fact have to worry. After being there for a few days it caught on to the fact that our dog loved splashing in the river chasing fish. At one point the owner came out quickly and pointed out the croc stealthily coming across right at our dog.  We quickly called Kohbi out of there and the crocodile turned around and went back to the other side.  For the rest of our time there Kohbi stayed on leash.

The river tour was really relaxing and beautiful. The breeze while moving cooled our skin and we saw a number of birds, Osprey, Kingfisher, Stork, Blue Heron, the Jesus Bird and more. There were bats, fish, no crocs, but a spider monkey that Devon fed and at the ruins 2 different troops of howler monkeys.

That evening when we returned to camp there was another overloading couple there. Kristina and Bernardo. Originally from Venezuela but coming from Texas in their truck and camper with there little puppy Helen. Their website is www.BKexpolore.com, check it out.  They are going all the way to Argentina so should be on the road much longer than us. We started chatting and decided to stick together the next day or two and head out to Caye Caulker..

That night, Bernardo, who was really into fishing and chomping at the bit to get his line in the water ended up biting off more that he could chew and hooked the crocodile! There was no way he was going to pull it in and though he fought it for a bit he finally had to cut the line when the sugar barge came by. He did redeem himself the next day and hooked a giant tarapin that shook his line by making a spectacular jump out of the water for all to see. After that we loaded up and headed off to Belize City to park the cars and make the trip over to the Caye.

Caye Caulker is considered the more backpacker friendly and budget option of the two main islands off of Belize.  We booked a cabana on the beach for $25 a night and set off to explore the island. Caye Caulker was split some years back into two Islands by a hurricane. The gap that was left (The Split) turned out to be a fun place to jump in and do a bit of snorkeling. We grabbed dinner on the backstreet and watched the sunset. The next day we set out to the reef by boat to do some snorkeling and to watch Bernardo and one of our guides do some spear fishing. The snorkeling was gorgeous and the real surprise was Vega hanging in for the entire trip and getting in the water at every stop!

The fishermen snagged us enough snapper for a nice BBQ that night and even a barracuda which we left with our guides. It was a great time having some fellow overlanders to hang with and we were quickly making new friends.  Anyone who knows Vega could probably already guess that she attached herself to Kristina. We even had more than an hour without child where Kristina took Vega for a walk into town! That kind of free time hadn’t happened since Mazatlan. Because we were having a great time and pretty much headed in the same direction we decided to stick together and get off the island heading back to our cars and further south.

In Hopkins Bernardo found a nice little street that ended at the beach and we boondocked there for the night. Best part of this spot was the outdoor shower on the rental house right next to us that we were able to sneak showers from. The next morning we parted ways with our new friends as they were off to Guatemala and we were staying around for another few days to meet up with Devon’s parents.

We made our way further south to Placencia. This place was nice but more of an older ex-pat post. We stayed in the parking lot of a nice hotel for 3 nights with use of the facilities, a nice pool and restaurant. It was HOT in southern Belize and we were glad to start moving a bit more north as Donn and Crarol were coming in soon.

We spent a few nights back in Hopkins and made a day trip to a National Park and did some jungle hiking to a waterfall and swimming hole. We also visited Blue Hole NP. Parked in the lot at the entrance to the hiking trails we spent the evening watching the fireflies descend from the canopy of trees up the mountain and into our camp. We swam in the Blue Hole and cooled our skins after a sweaty jungle hike.

We picked up Donn and Carol on a Monday and had a week to show them all of the places we had found and loved. We took them to the Lamanai Ruins, the Belize Zoo, the Blue Hole and then together we headed off to Ambergris Caye. On the Caye we relaxed, ate good food, swam in the pool, took real showers, did some laundry and went scuba diving! The diving was a highlight of the week. Thanks to Carol for manning the Vega post for the bulk of a day! Devon Donn and I got to dive off of the largest living reef in the world. We did some swim throughs, saw a ton of fish and on our second dive were treated to an amazing experience. We swam among a swarm of nurse sharks, with 3 different Loggerhead Turtles and had a spotted eagle ray swim just arm lengths past us. It couldn’t have been a better diving experience, one of the best so far. Not only did we have a great time with our family Bill Murray got some special treats as well. A new light switch and upgraded bulbs have finally given us headlights after not having any since I can’t remember when (not a huge deal since we don’t drive at night) and a new fan resistor has breathed new life into our cooling system.

We dropped Donn and Carol off at the airport a week after they arrived. It was a strange feeling being on vacation from this long “vacation”. Like a dream within a dream.  There is always that moment near the end of a vacation when you start thinking about going back and mentally prepping yourself for that.  This happened to me in the last few days. I started to daydream about being “home” from vacation only to snap out of it with thermalization that I wasn’t going anywhere except deeper into the jungle, a strange feeling for sure.

Our last stop in Belize was in San Ignacio, the last major town before leaving the country into Guatemala. We were waylaid due to Kohbi getting Bot flies and having to get treated. An overnight stop turned into a three day stay and taught us again the lesson that slowing down opens up your schedule for new experiences.  In search of swimming holes we saw some amazing landscapes that we would have missed. We drove deep into the jungle to the Rio On Pools and spent a day hopping from pool to pool and rock to rock.

Belize is such a different country from Mexico. The language is English but the culture is more difficult to grasp, likely due to the immense diversity of people there.  You have expats, Garifuna, Creole, Latinos Chinese and Maya all melding into one country the size of Massachusetts. The people were generally more stand-offish and despite being able to speak English the basics seemed harder to navigate than in Mexico.  The natural beauty is amazing and well preserved yet the air is filled with smoke from slash and burn agriculture. The rum is delicious.

Next stop, Guatemala.

Mainland Mexico by Kenneth Benson

It has been difficult to find time to write since the last post. For two months we have been moving among so many different places and experiences. I will try and give a glimpse…

El Fuerte

We arrived at the ferry terminal in La Paz around 7pm. Our Spanish is getting pretty good but it is still mildly confusing to go through the process when you only understand “most” of what is being told to you.  Several checkpoints later we were at the curb where Devon and Vega got out of the van and I was directed to take the car and the dog to the boat.  Kohbi was not especially happy about the crate situation as I unloaded her and got her home for the night into place. Next I drove the van into the ferry and down several ramps to what seemed like the bottom of the boat and seemed even more so as I climbed several flights of stairs back to the main deck to wait for my family. After a longer than expected wait for them to shuffle though security we found our cabin, had some dinner and then were rocked to sleep.

The ferry from Baja landed us at the port town of Topolabampo in the state of Sinaloa, several hours north of Mazatlan by car. Many people doing the overland journey ferry directly to Mazatlan and continue from there through Mexico however, Devon very much wanted to see Copper Canyon, Mexico’s Grand Canyon. With a train that tours up through the canyon to small mountain villages with amazing views it sounded like a fine idea. The train stops in El Fuerte, a 2 hour drive inland (supposedly the childhood home of Zorro) then travels up into the Sierra Madres to a place you can see and explore the canyon.

Right off the ferry after not more than a mile I got pulled over for speeding. The officer asked for my license and then proceeded to write the ticket, telling me that I could retrieve my license at the station once I paid the fine… or I could give him 500 pesos and we could be on our way. Welcome to Mexico. 500 Pesos is about $25 and I was going 50 in a 35 so call it a bribe if you want I deserved it and it was by far the cheapest speeding ticket I've ever had. Off to El Fuerte

As we pulled into the town we were diverted to the other side of the road as our side was closed. As we slowly passed the blockade we realized it was due to the police photographing a dead body in what had been our lane. After questioning some locals later and positing that it was probably just a traffic incident they told us no, more likely a drug killing. Interesting and mildly concerning.

We spent the next day exploring the small town. There were some amazing old buildings and supposedly the childhood home of Zorro who’s surname was Vega. We did not feel unsafe at all and arranged with the woman at the campground to watch the van and the dog for the next 3 days, then scheduled a cab to the train for the next morning at 7. That night we fell asleep to and then were awakened multiple times in the night by a lullaby of gunshots. So, dead body and all we bagged our plans to see the canyon and headed to the beach.

It was hard to be too bummed about missing the canyon. Even after meeting a couple who had camped in the place we had, left their vehicle and dog and did the train ride as we had wanted only 2 days behind us, we were still very satisfied we had gone with our gut. On an adventure like this, especially with a 2 year old in tow, it is important to listen to how you feel and not get attached to making things happen just for the sake of it.

Celestino Gasca

Our fleeing from El Fuerte led us south to the coast and through a small village just north of Mazatlan about an hour and to a campground in Celestine Gasca. The beach was pristine, we were the only ones there in the beginning, they had a pool and a the owners of the place had a daughter the same age as Vega. A week went by without really even trying. Several other travelers came and went. We camped, made a few runs in to a slightly bigger town to wander and get supplies. We finally got Kohbi the haircut we had been wanting which was great due to the heat and the sand and the ocean. It was a time to relax and settle into a decidedly new vibe that was Mainland vs. Baja. The experience of our first few days in mainland was so different in so many little ways than what we had become accustomed to in Baja and we needed a little time to adjust ourselves. I’m sure this will be true as we move next into Chiapas or the Yucatan and certainly true as we go beyond to Belize and Guatemala.

Mazatlan

Slowing our pace we killed some time as we were waiting for the Heatons to join up with us in Mazatlan. We went just south and stayed near the beach. When it was time we packed up and headed back. In Mazatlan there is an RV park right down in the tourist district on the beach with direct access. It is hard to believe that among all of the high rise hotels there still remains a place for dirtbags like us.

Patrick and Michelle showed up in the afternoon after a day on a zipline and tequila tour. We were actually a bit nervous having visitors. It had only been a few months but we had found a groove and were a bit worried our agendas wouldn’t mesh. All for naught though we all immediately hit the beach and went in search of some tacos. They were down for street food, walking around, chilling and and more chilling. We checked into our AirBNB which was a bit north of town and a super comfy reprieve from camping (showers and all that). We reconnected with the folks we met in Baja and crashed the fancy hotel they were staying at and hit the pool. One of the highlights was grabbing one of the VW Thing cabs that are all over the city and having them cruise us into Old Mazatlan. Vega loved the open air ride and we all fell in love with the Old Town.  If you ever plan on visiting Mazatlan, missing the old center would be a pity.  We found a hostel there and after the AirBNB we all stayed there a night. We visited Isla de la Piedra for a day and spotted sting rays splashing around where we were swimming (I don’t recommend buying oysters from the beach and making ceviche, I was deathly ill for 24 hours).

It was really nice having Patrick and Michelle visit (thanks for lugging that stupid solar panel around guys). We never really got a chance to hang with them in Klamath aside from a party here or there so it was nice getting to know them better. Vega misses you Michelle! She will still sneak up on us and try to scare us. When we ask what she is doing she says she is sneaking like Michelle.

Morelia

After they left we hit the road again. This was the first time on the trip that we did not have a place to be by a certain time. We could go which direction we pleased and at to whatever place we chose.  We took off inland to Morelia. We made an overnight stop on the shore of Lake Chapala. I had dreams of camping on a beautiful lake in the highlands of Mexico.  There are those lakes but this was not one of them, at least from where we camped. It turned out to be this strange ex-pat retirement RV community on the west end of the lake that was fenced off and not good for swimming anyway. They had a weird playground with scary clown slides. It was just strange. It had a geriatric stepford wives vibe. It could have been the set for a weird 80's movie where old ex-pats suck the blood of young travelers. So, one night there and off we went.

Morelia is a colonial university city and we really loved walking around its cobbled streets.  We stayed in a Hostel for 3 nights and spent our days walking. We checked out a bunch of churches, restaurants, museums and markets. I went on a hunt for a new headlight switch as ours had burned out leaving us without headlights unless I hold on the brights. I was not successful. Despite the proliferation of Volkswagons in Mexico and especially vans our van is just too new.

The Monarchs

From Morelia we took off to the Reserva de la Biósfera Santuario Mariposa. This Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve “is a World Heritage Site containing most of the over-wintering sites of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly.” This was a bucket list item for Devon.

Spending summers in Vermont as a child she watched the Monarchs hatch on the milkweed near her family’s home. Starting in September or October the Eastern/Northeastern Monarchs migrate from southern Canada and the US to this site in central Mexico. We got to the reserve just as they were mating and once the new generation hatched they would start the return trip, arriving back in Vermont around July. This summer we spent two months in “The Study” in Vermont. Making it here to the reserve at the time we did was really special as we felt had made a similar trip to the Monarch.

We hired a guide and went several hours by horseback up into the mountains early in the morning. As we rose higher and higher we started to spot a butterfly here or there. At one point we dismounted and started a short hike. Until this point we were only seeing a few butterflies at a time. As we hiked we started to see more and more until we reached a crest and looked over into a ravine. There were thousands. they were covering the trees and drifting downwind. We were able to sit in silence for a while and just watch (even Vega was amazed and quiet). We hiked even higher and they got thicker and thicker. Mating Monarchs were falling from the sky all around us unable to fly under the doubled weight. There were dead ones all over the ground too, they had finished their journey. I wouldn’t have thought so ahead of time, but seeing the butterflies surpassed seeing the whales in Baja. Maybe it was because we were the only ones there or because of the connection we had with them via the journey. Either way it was incredible.

I hiked most of the way back down as Vega rode with our guide and Devon rode her own horse. When we returned to camp we asked the caretaker of the campsite about the trout farms nearby and he went off and scored us three nice sized fresh trout that we grilled up and ate for dinner.

Teotihuacán

The next day it was off to Mexico City. Our GPS has a habit of always getting us to where we want to go but not always by the most logical route. There is also no accounting for random massive once a month car sales that block off huge sections of the road you want to be on. Before realizing what was happening we were stuck in the middle of a giant car show/sale. When we finally made it out all we could think about was how we were going to get back and buy that sweet 1998 red VW bug that was only $1500 and looked brand new. It seemed a little crazy to do this trip in two separate cars so we passed on the deal of the century.

We finally made it to our campground in Teotihuacán and headed out to see the ruins the next day. These Aztec Ruins were our first experience with the ancient ruins in Mesoamerica. The Temple of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, and just over half the height of the Pyramid of Giza. It was pretty amazing to climb to the top.

We talked about visiting Mexico city the next day but decided against it because leaving the dog for the day in camp just didn’t feel comfortable as there was another dog that lived there that had a reputation for biting visitors dogs, maybe we will hit the city on the way back. So off we went again working further inland and south toward Oaxaca.

Midway in the state of Puebla we veered off of the main road and passed several small villages that subsisted on a nearby marble quarry. We camped in a spectacular site among giant cacti.  This site was remote and we were the only ones there. It was peaceful, quiet and beautiful, very refreshing after being in the city the last few days.

Oaxaca

Our next stop was to be the city of Oaxaca. It was a long but gorgeous drive and we arrived in the city ready to relax and get some renowned great food. Well it was not quite as expected. The campground we were aiming for was closed, the traffic was horrible and we were hungry so ended up stopping at the first place we found that might have wifi so we could search out a new campsite. The food was not good and we left disappointed. We did find a camp just outside of town and headed that way. It turned out to be kind of a waterpark? We were the only ones there and it kind of seemed closed but there was a big field for tent camping and they let us in and ran an extension cord for us. It turned out to be fine although there was an emu roaming the grounds and it turns out Kohbi is deathly afraid of giant chickens. She probably was worried about karmic retribution from her past year spent chicken stalking and spent most of her time in or under the van.

The next day we explored a little bit south and wandered around a big weekend market and finally got some of Oaxaca’s famous Mole’, we then visited a small town where the people are famous for their weaving and I snagged a really nice blanket.

Puerto Escondido and the Oaxaca Coast

Next it was back to the beach! Only 150 miles away, no big deal right? Wrong. It was 150 miles of winding roads and sneaky topes (speed bumps). In that 150 miles we went up and down and up and down from 4000 ft to 7000 ft then down to 2800 ft the back up to 6500 ft before finally going back down to sea level! It was rather hellish. For those that have driven highway 66 from Klamath to Ashland, imagine driving that last 15 mile section into Ashland up and down for 7 hours. The beauty of it was lost to the utter ridiculousness of it. Then to top it all of, when we finally made it into town I passed our campsite and had to make a u-turn resulting in blowing a power steering hose and rinsing the pavement with AT fluid. An easy fix it turned out ,but annoying nonetheless.

Our plan all along was to aim for P.E. and hopefully stay there for a few months, settle in maybe take some Spanish lessons and find a pre-school for Vega. After a few days in Puerto we decided that moving on and seeing more was what we really wanted. Puerto was nice but the beach, though beautiful, had powerful waves and strong undertows. We worked our way south through Zicatela, Mazunte, and Zipolite always with the thought of maybe stopping for a bit but nowhere felt really like the right spot. Plans change.

Our last stop along the coast was a spot just north of Salina Cruz in a small little village at a camp called Cocoleoco.  This camp was near the beach with two right hand breaks and we ended up staying for a week. We met a lot of other travelers, Vega made some new friends and we tried our hands at surfing again, taking a lesson and making a modicum of progress.

San Cristobal de las Casas

Glad to get out of the heat (well not Devon) we headed back inland and to the higher elevations of San Cristobal de las Casas. This town turned out to be one of our favorites in Mexico.  We arrived on the big weekend of Semana Santa (Easter) and the city was vibrant with people and a festival atmosphere.  The campground was really nice and located just a 15 min walk into the center of town.  The center had 2 streets that were closed off to traffic and were walking streets only lined with shops and cafes. The architecture was very reminiscent of for me of walking through Italian towns and the food was excellent. I spent my 42nd birthday here and We shared cake and pizza with a family we met from Canada. David and Ariane are French Canadians who were traveling with their 3 kids and were on their way back north after having been through Guatemala.

We stayed almost a week in S.C.D.L.C. and were on the verge of trying to stay there for a month or more but it seems that whenever we start to consider settling down we are always pulled back into moving on. We can’t quite bring ourselves to do it. Maybe it is the knowledge that this adventure will someday soon be over and settling down will happen eventually. Or maybe we will never want to :)

The Yucatan

Off we went again. Our next major destination was to be the Yucatan peninsula.  The direct route there takes you through Ococingo who’s surrounding areas are Zapatista controlled.  This is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing but they have been know to create roadblocks for hours on the road we planned on traveling. Thinking that sitting in the car with Vega not moving for several hours we decided to take the long way around southeast to the border of Guatemala and then back up to Palenque. Our first stop was Lake Tziscao in the Lago Montebello region or “Parque Natural Ecoturistico Tziscao”. This was a pretty idyllic campsite on a lake, the one that I had been wanting since Mazatlan.  We stayed 2 days while Devon recovered from some stomach issues and then headed further east to Las Nubes. This place was a little disappointing as we essentially camped in a parking lot but the nature surrounding was amazing. Beautiful waterfalls and a turquoise river.

The next day was a big one. While there was no danger of being delayed by Zapatistas, the route around was pretty long.  We left Las Nubes in the morning and the first 6 miles was on a dirt road back to the highway.  I was driving the van like I had the tires I wanted not the ones I actually had and ended up getting a pinch flat by hitting a big rock. Changing to the spare delayed us a bit but we were back on the road without to much heartache.

In Mexico we have picked up a few hitchhikers, usually women or older men carrying massive loads.  In Morelia we picked up a family and were able to get them to the hospital because the older man had gotten a massive cut on his hand. We passed a few people on this route with heavy loads then decided we should really help out if we could so we stopped again on this trip and picked up an older man and his son(?). Turned out the younger one was drunk and wouldn’t shut up so we dropped them off pretty quick, much to their chagrin. Fortunately they got out without making any trouble.

Afterward we drove for several hours through gorgeous jungle with Guatemala just to or right. Due to the proximity to the border though there were many police stops.  Most of the time in Mexico we are just stopped, asked where we are from, where we are going, and then we are waved through.  This was also the case on this road with one exception. At one stop it seemed pretty normal. The man looked in and saw Vega sleeping in the car seat in the back. Normally when police see Vega she seems to be our free ticket out of there but this time he wanted to open up the car.  As he walked around we heard the word “muñeca” which means doll. From what we can guess he thought that Vega might be a doll and that she was filled with drugs.  He opened the door and stared at her until he could tell she was breathing and then flagged us through. Next a man in the road filling pot holes waved a fake gun at us and demanded/asked for money, we just kept driving. The only other incidents were the random giant pot holes and sections of road that were just gone. We arrived in Palenque exhausted and hoping to find easy accommodations. The guest house Devon had picked from our 8 year old Lonely Planet guide was closed and I had pocket deleted iOverlander the day before. We headed to a more touristy district and found a cheap hotel that seemed suitable until Devon found a pile of ash and cigarette butts at the end of the bed and a giant hairball in the shower. We were exhausted so just stayed. the next day we found a great campsite near the ruins. It felt great to be back in our “home” nothing like a skeezy hotel to remind us how lucky we are.

The ruins at Palenque were nice and we took a nice hike in the jungle.  At the campsite there was a group of travelers who had just finished doing a month long horse ride across Mexico. It is amazing to see so money people doing what we are doing and even some that are doing it way cheaper and more simply.  At home when contemplating this trip it seemed at time crazy, but we are not alone in what we are doing and are pretty middle of the road compared to others who are on adventures like this.  It’s not weird or even especially exceptional which is strangely encouraging and has opened our eyes to what more is possible for us in the future.

The next stop toward the Yucatan was Campeche an lovely walled city on the gulf side of the peninsula. We did our first free stealth camping here in a Walmart parking lot. Despite the cramped conditions because we didn’t pop the top we had no troubles.  The trouble came the next day when we started toward Merida. As I got onto the highway the brakes started feeling a little weird, then a little more weird then they were gone, nothing. We coasted to a stop on the side of the road. It is hard to describe the feelings you have when mechanical failures hit you in a foreign land. They can be pretty overwhelming. Fortunately I am married to a therapist and I am starting to just get used to it.

We decided that I would take Vega and walk back into town and try to find help. I had just gotten out of sight of the van when a cab pulled over and picked us up.  He dropped us at the gas station near the on ramp and as I was contemplating the next step I noticed a flat bed tow truck at the pump getting gas. That just happened to be exactly what I needed. I talked to the driver and we were back at the van in no time. The tow truck took us to the tow yard and called some friends. An hour later two guys rolled up and started going to work on their backs under the van.

We spent the entire day at a junkyard. The mechanics found that our metal brake lines had multiple slow leaks and replaced them all. At 8 pm that night they were finished all told $75. So it was off to another night of stealth camping, this time down by the waterfront.

The next day we were off to Merida. Merida was nice, not as nice as Campeche. We tried our had at the city busses, I got started on our taxes and we bought a hammock.

We drove the next day to Chitzen-Itza. We camped at a nice hotel with a pool and Vega and I got to spend a lot of time swimming.  She is becoming quite a fish. The ruins were pretty spectacular to see and the park is well organized.  The highlight though was returning at night. They put on a laser light show on the facade of the largest temple that was visually amazing for all three of us.

At this point we were both getting excited for Belize and kind of just making our way there as fast as possible.  We made it to Cancun but as expected it was not at all to our liking. The beaches are crowded with giant resorts and expensive shops, like a giant strip mall next to the ocean. We stayed one night and headed south to Tulum. Here we found a nice site on the beach south of all the tourist places and swam in the Caribbean Sea. We swam out past where the waves were breaking and then floated up and down with Vega on the swell. When the waves would crash into her face she would wipe her eyes and then yell "did you see that! I went under water!"

It is kind of embarrassing but we decided to skip the Tulum ruins and get as close to the Belize border as fast as possible. Our last nights in Mexico were spent at Lake Bacalar an amazing lake with a dozen or so cenotes and a reef of rocks that apparently produce oxygen, more in a meter of reef than and acre of forest. We swam and relaxed, finished our taxes and prepped ourselves and the dog for crossing the border.

Baja: The Details by Kenneth Benson

This post is meant for anyone who may be considering a trip into Baja.

Days: 37

Border Crossing

Prepping for this trip I read numerous accounts of crossing the border into Tijuana. Even so, the process seemed a bit unclear. Let me just say it was no problem! We've heard of some people racing around Tijuana searching for the immigration office, or trying to get their vehicle importation paperwork done in La Paz. All of that is just delaying the inevitable, if you know you are continuing into mainland Mexico then just get it over with at the border. 

Stay to the right. Park in front of the big building right by where all of the vehicles are going through. Go in fill out your visa paperwork, pay at one window (bank) go back with your receipt and have the other office issue you your visa. Back to the bank for your vehicle permit. Done. Go to Baja and don't worry. It was so easy. 

Note: You are supposed to have Mexican car insurance and we do but no one has looked at it yet.

Once you are done keep staying right and you will go up a giant hill that runs parallel to the border and you are on your way to some lobster tacos.

Driving in Baja

Speed bumps rule in Baja. Be careful they come out of no where and they are no joke. You will get used to the signs but you will at some point fly over one so get ready.

Rolling stops are the rule of the road as well. At 4 way stops no one really stops unless they have to. I felt more in danger of getting rear ended than getting hit in an intersection.

Road conditions in Baja vary. South of Guererro Negro it is mostly great. Before that you will be rolling on roads with little to no shoulders. Please watch for bikers because those crazy bastards are riding on these non shoulder roads with a death wish. 

Gas is pretty ubiquitous with the exception of the first crossing from the west to the east (240 miles of no gas stations) but even then there were people midway selling gas out of 2 liter bottles.

Miles driven - 2800

What I was listening to

 - Dr. Dog: Psychedelic Swamp

 - Wilco: Star Wars

 - The Pixies: Come on Pilgrim

Books Read (cumulative, ok mostly Devon)

 - Game of Thrones 1 & 2: George RR Martin

 - Confederacy of Dunces: JK Toole

 - Where Men Win Glory: John Krakauer

 - The Sheherds Crown: Terry Pratchett

Crime 

 - Stolen Flipflop (coyote) 

Map

A google map of our route and where we camped.  We I get some time I will add additional details like campsite names etc. Baja Map Click Here

Baja by Kenneth Benson

Foreign places are not really new to us. We have been to parts of Asia and Central America but always by plane. There was a totally new and distinct anxiety that came with driving across the US Mexican border, and then on top of that, doing it with a kid.

In prepping for the trip we read all sorts of experiences and heard much advice. People either encouraged or admonished us. But it was essentially unknowable what it would be like for us until we did it ourselves. For anyone thinking of a similar trip we will not admonish you, do it, just don’t be stupid, it's been fine.

With each night the anxiety and worry receded. I had many mornings where I would wake, still in a bit of a fog, and not really understand for just a brief moment that I was NOT just camping in some US campground.

The most unexpected thing was the weather. We thought Mexico = warm, but it was pretty cold. Of course we weren’t that far from California on our first few nights and it is winter. After a couple of days it also started to rain. We awoke one morning south of Ensenada in our first campsite to a campground that was one giant puddle.

To find warmer climates we decided to book it south. We stayed one more night on the Pacific side and then started the climb over winding roads to the Sea of Cortez. This was one of my favorite scenes in Baja. The desert with giant Cardon Cacti and Boojum trees. It was alien. We camped at the height of the crossing in Cataviña and dried ourselves out. That night we were robbed. People warned us about leaving our things out at night. I woke in the morning to find that a coyote had stolen my flip flop. 

That was the worst of the Mexican crime we experienced in Baja, and it wasn’t so bad, they were pretty stinky and I had contemplated throwing them out anyway.

Back on the road we turned south stopping overnight in Gurerro Negro then east again to Bahia Conception, landing at Playa Santispek.

We spent several days here. It was exactly what we had been looking for. Warmth, beach and sun. Our second day on the beach we met another couple (Colby and Christine) who’s boat was docked off shore. They had a daughter just 1 month younger than Vega. Devon went clamming with Christine and then Christine cooked a meal with the clams and some pasta, delicious. The next day we all pilled in the van and spent the day in Mulege, a very nice and quaint town just off the coast.

The next day we said hasta luego and planned to possibly meet again in Mazatlan, then headed further south the next day to the town of Loreto. More time could have been spent here, a picturesque colonial little town but we were fast approaching the day to pick Glenn and Mona up from the airport and needed to get nearer La Paz.

In La Paz we stayed at a bayside RV park walking distance to the center of town. On first experience La Paz seemed like a frenetic city. It only took a couple of days to realize it was just that one street we came in on that was so busy.  Our main goal here was to get supplies, make an appointment to get the car serviced, possible get the dog a good shearing and tint the windows of the van. We had success with all but the shearing, and only because we ran out of time.

To set ourselves up for an easy drive to the Los Cabos airport we moved further south to Los Barilles. Some other campers had recommended Los Barillies so we headed there. It turned out that this was the location for an international kite surfing competition that weekend we arrived so we luckily snagged the last of the camping spots in the RV park. Turned out our neighbors were from Hood River. We played with Vega on the beach and watched the kite surfing.

Two days in Los Barillies and it was off to meet some friends.  Glenn and Mona had rented a small property in Todos Santos for the week for the four of us.  It was a welcome reprieve from “van life” and an even more welcome reunion of friends. Vega loves them (so do we) and we got a small break from full time care of V. :) Can’t thank them enough for putting us up and making the effort to come see Vega (and us).

It was a great week for us. The Todos Santos Music festival was on while we were there so for $50 pesos we got to see live music.  I especially loved it. Jeff Tweedy played which was awesome, but the highlight for me was Mike Mills and Peter Buck from REM playing with Death Cab for cutie covering songs from Murmur. We spent lot of time on the beach at Cerritos. I tried my hand at the Costco long board we have been toeing around with us (minor luck). Twice we visited a beach where the fisherman would come in for the day with their catch.  To get in they had to perfectly time the waves and charge their boats at full speed beaching them on the sand. We bought yellowfin and snapper right off of the boats and had sashimi with the yellowtail. We ate a lot of Guacamole and marveled at how easily we could drain a bottle of Tequila. Devon, Vega and I slept in the upper palapa in the open air.

A highlight was a day trip to Cabo San Lucas for whale watching.  We used Cabotrek a great outfit that deserves anyones business.  Each boat is led by a biologist so information abounds, but also good practices. These guys will if necessary place their boat in the path of bigger boats just to keep them from getting to close to the whales.  Thats good for everyone. When boats get too close the whales just move along and you don’t get to see any of the behaviors you came to see in the first place.  I would highly recommend them. As the week ended it was sad to leave them at the airport, but I have a feeling they will be back soon. After dropping them off it was back to La Paz.

So, the ongoing saga of the Van continued in La Paz, but to a very satisfying end. As I recounted in the last post there were several minor repairs that came up as we were leaving the states. Even with all of that there was still a nagging issue that I could not let go of. For everything I read about the vans I believed that the temperature of ours was running very high, too high.  Each of the mechanics we visited in the states assured me that it was “within parameters” and to stop perseverating over the gauge. But I couldn’t. Even though I had no reason to assume I knew better, it still felt like there was a problem that no one seemed to want to take the time to address. I burned excessive amounts of oil and the oil would be blacker than black 500 miles after an oil change.

We dropped the van off at Geraldo VW and booked a room in a nice little hotel across the street from the shop. I asked that they inspect and repair anything that was really needed and look into my (perceived) cooling issue. As day one came and went, then day two my nature of thinking the worst was tested. 4 days after dropping off the van it was done. 

Repairs done…

  • Dropped and resealed the fuel tank
  • Replaced the power steering lines with lines that I had brought from the states (These lines apparently were not the correct fit, so instead of the typical “we’ve got to order a new part” they made it fit, they welded and created the parts they needed right there in the shop.)
  • Changed the oil
  • Tune up (plugs, wires, cap, valve adjust and air filter)
  • Flushed the cooling system. (they found a small hose that had a blockage and cleared it, fixing my cooling issue and dropping the gauge by 30% to where it normally should be! This is what had eluded every other mechanic. This also was apparently the cause of me burning so much oil and having it go black so quickly)
  • Replaced 1 rear drum and turned the other
  • 4 Wheel Alignment

I was pretty shocked when I saw the list and even more so the price $6300!!! But wait, thats in MX pesos. Again shock when I realized that all of that was $340 US! Anyone who has a VW and needs repairs should make a trip to Baja.

After getting our vehicle, we decided to kill some time before the ferry and head back north to Bahia Magdelena to see some Grey Whales. The drive was nice especially now that my temp gauge was riding just below the mid point and the camping was gorgeous, right on the beach. We did see whales but it was a bit underwhelming compared to the show we were treated to in Cabo.

It was time to head back to La Paz and take the ferry to the mainland. 

We camped for free at Tecalote beach north of La Paz past the ferry terminal. It was super windy though and sand dunes would form over anything left out for more than a few hours. We were sitting in camp as we watched another Westy roll in, with kid bikes on top to boot! Vega made a beeline to the van to meet her new friends.  Forced sociality is something Devon and I are still getting used to but it comes with traveling and even more with traveling in a Westfalia and then double that when you travel with kids.  It’s good for us and in the end it usually turns out that we meet some great folks. Mark and Jen and their girls Gabriella and Charlotte (twins) were our new camp partners for the few days that we waited for the ferry. but finally it was time to move on.

Our first choice of transport across the Sea of Cortez was TMC, due to cost and the ability to stay in our vehicle. TMC is a ferry that is normally intended for commercial use but will allow private vehicles like ours if there is space. When we went to check on getting our ticket we were told that due to the weather women and children were not allowed and they could not say when/if that restriction would be lifted. Our only other option was Baja Ferries where our vehicle would be below deck, we would have to get a cabin and Kohbi would spend the trip in a crate that we would have to supply.

Progress Saved by Kenneth Benson

Warning: It's been a long time since posting so this may be a long one. Feel free to skim or just look at the pictures.

Back in the day when I played my share of video games, aka the 80’s, one of the most satisfying points in the games (almost every game) was when you reach that place where your progress could be saved. From then on you no longer needed to start from the beginning, you could die a thousand virtual deaths and not lose your progress. It was a relief, I'd done it and now I could move on. This same feeling in turn has been one of my favorite parts of life, and has moved even more into my conscious mind on this trip.  When we quit our jobs we had reached a specific point, a goal that had been worked toward for years. Since, these markers happen with more frequency. I believe that these achievement levels and their frequency have been in some way missing from our lives as we lived them in our society. When we were children every birthday was a monumental achievement, we day dreamt about Christmas for months in advance.  When I got my drivers license my progress was saved. Then every year at school and eventually graduation, then college. As an adult these save points grow fewer and farther between and deep down I missed them. I think. We work our 9 to 5’s, maybe we are promoted, or we get married or have kids, but for me, for Devon and for many others out there this is just not enough real tangible challenge and success. We are finding that now. Small successes that feel gigantic. A conversation in Spanish, navigating an unknown city or finding a jewel of a place off of the beaten path. These things are happening every day.  It may grow mundane over time but for now we're feeling it again.

A lot happens in 4 months. After returning to Klamath from Vermont Devon quickly settled right back into her work routine at Dragonfly. Though it was only temporary, and she had been gone for months, she didn’t miss a beat. I navigated the full time dad routine, my time consisting of trying to occupy a growingly curious 2 year old as the days got colder and shorter.

Our return to Klamath was accompanied by a sense of home that was unexpected to both of us. Relying on the generosity of Glenn and Mona for a place(s) to stay we were set up to spend a few months prepping and earning a bit of cash for the next step. It was comforting to reconnect with good friends. When we left Klamath the first time Klamath was out of consideration as a place to return to when/if this adventure ends. In the short time we were "home" it made it back on to the short, list purely by virtue of the people we know and love. We’ll see what happens.

A lot of mini adventures occurred in that short time we were home. Vega had her first real Halloween (Nemo). The van was slowly and steadily worked on by me during nap times getting a second battery system, new tent, racks, awning, top box and some tools and spare parts. I got to see the Timbers play in Portland with Sean and Mike and eventually win the MLS cup. There was some ballsy rear wheel drive snow driving on southern Oregon roads. Low water rafting on the Rogue with Sean and Rachel and a non traditional Thanksgiving dinner with Tri Tip and friends.

To meet up with some other van people and gather advice and ideas for our van and it’s trip further south we attended Descend on Bend. DoB was a van rally organized by @poesidensbeard at Hole in the Ground southeast of Bend OR. This was the second annual gathering. From what I remember hearing the first gathering had about 15 vans. I told Devon it would be a small gathering and that there would be other kids and cool people to put her at ease.  Turned out there were over 100 vans and other overland vehicles this year, an incredible turnout. We were able to see some nice vans and unique set-ups.  There were people there who had made the trip we are making and others who were prepping for it as well. The scenery was stunning and it was the first camping experience as a family in the van.

As the days and weeks went by Devon was thoroughly enjoying her “new” position at Dragonfly as sort of a support therapist.  She spent time in the milieu with the students and covered for other therapists when they were in need of help or out of the office. She really found her groove. Concurrently I was growing more and more anxious and antsy about the upcoming trip.  While her mind was occupied with all sorts of daily Dragonfly details I was hyper focused on the next step. As the departure date crept closer the snow started to fall, by the feet. In the few days before we finally left I was cursing while shoveled snow from the driveway and for the first time in my life put chains on a car. Fortunately on the day of departure the temps warmed enough to allow us out of the city and over the pass to Medford without chains or incident. On Dec 17th we left Klamath for the second time this year to finally begin the trip we have been dreaming about.

Progress Saved…

First stop again was Ashland for a night as we had decided to take a circuitous route to SLC via Portland due to weather. On the 18th we drove north to Portland to stay with Drew and Miranda. On the way we stopped in Salem and met with @vanagonlife Dave to install our new steel, locking center console. Anyone who has a van should really look into getting one of these, we love it and it was great hanging out with Dave for a few hours. In Portland we did the usual, ate good food drank good beer and hung out with great people.

On Monday the 21st we set out early for SLC. We had decided to push through to try and make the 12 hour+ trip in a day.  We pulled out of the driveway before daylight in pouring rain, made it across the Sellwood bridge and were heading toward the ramp for I-5 when the van died at a light. I turned the key and it fired up but died a sputtering death again 2 min later. Again I fired it up and made it into a gas station parking lot. After multiple starts and stalls we decided to get a tow. Devon and Vega headed back to Drew and Miranda’s via Uber and I rode with the truck to Double J Motowerks near the Portland airport. They were able to diagnose the van (failed O2 sensor) by the end of the day and had us on the road by noon the next. Pretty great service especially considering it was a short week due to Christmas.

As we drove from Portland toward SLC on a beautiful sunny day We could not help but wonder on how fortunate we were that the failure happened in Portland.  On top of that the weather for this drive was superb and as we climbed out of the gorge and beyond Pendleton to see the remnants of a snow storm on the side of the road that we would have been driving in just a day earlier left us relieved and almost grateful for the breakdown. Determined to make it to Salt Lake even with our late start we were cruising. As the sun started to set we made it into Ontario Oregon just on the border of Idaho.  We stopped to gas up, get some food and be on our way. Vega protested. She had been doing so well on the trip so far but she had had enough and then after finally wrestling her into her seat I fired up the van and flipped on the the headlights. Nothing, no light. The headlights didn’t work. This had happened before and went away just as quickly but this time it seemed persistent. We gave in to fate and grabbed a Motel 6 for the night.

When we opened the door of the room the next morning there was 6 inches of snow on the the ground and a message from my sister that they had closed I-84 east of Burley. Again, was this fortune? Had we left, we would have certainly been in the middle of a freeway closing snowstorm. But now, in the day, with lights optional we continued and by the time we got to the junction it was open and we were free and clear all the way to SLC.

In Salt Lake we spent Christmas with my family, Thanks Melinda and Shaun for your love and hospitality. I cleaned some ground wires and fixed the lights, built a snow fort with Brett, Zack and Vega. We ate more good food and had a few good beers then loaded up our van again this time with my mother in tow and headed off to Vegas to see my brother, Nicole and Vega’s cousins.

During a short stop in St. George to visit my aunt and uncle our van woes struck again! The temp gauge light started flashing and after immediately pulling over, emptying the back of the van and lifting the engine cover I discovered a perilously low coolant bottle. I topped it off, drove a few miles and checked it again then booked it to Vegas stopping every so often to see if we were losing coolant. We made it to my brothers safely but both our nerves were shot. this van, as much as we love it was single handily making me grey.

Since buying the van the maintenance has primarily fallen on me (Devon says all of it minus the financial support). I have learned a lot in a few short months about how its systems work and this is great for my brain, I like things to obsess about. The problem comes when I, without fail, find the biggest most expensive possible solution to whatever the problem is and then stress about the cost and complexity of the fix. This happened when I drove the van cross country and a CV joint that wasn’t properly tightened sheared its bolts. As bad as that was, I was sure the Transaxle had failed. In Portland I was convinced the Airflow meter had failed which would have been hundreds of dollars more just for the part. And now, in Vegas I managed to convince myself that because I had lost so much coolant with no signs as to where it could have gone that we had a leaky head gasket and were combusting the coolant and that the labor and cost of fixing that was going to put us over the edge. There were definitely thoughts and conversations about selling the van. For those out there that think owning one of these machines is like driving around on a unicorn you are right. It is amazing, and a complete fantasy. They come with an entire set of problems that can occur at any moment. Some would say that this is part of the fun in owning a Westy, well it is and it isn’t. And it certainly takes some getting used to. On Monday I took it to a shop. Having convinced myself that we were in it for a huge bill it was not a pleasant drive. Two hours later I was out having only replaced a leaky coolant level sensor.

Again we were on the road. only one more stop before hitting the border.  My cousin Eric and his partner Stephanie hosted our crew for New Years and sent us on our way into Mexico on Saturday January 2nd.  What a way to start a new year!

Progress Saved. Next achievement Baja

Change Was Good by Kenneth Benson

After a month on the road getting to Vermont and a few weeks to settle in, the change has been good. Everything has slowed down. No more rush to pack up and get moving, and showers as often as we pleased (the outdoor shower on the back of The Study is pretty amazing.)

Our home for most of our time in Vermont was The Study, a small 3 room cabin 50 yards down the hill from the main house.  Originally it was an actual study built to collect and examine the various mushrooms that grow in the area, it has been converted into a small but super cozy living space with a wood burning stove and screened in porch off the back looking out into the woods. In the evenings we would retreat to the study to read to Vega and put her to sleep and then just relax on the back porch until we were tired ourselves. The WiFi didn't reach and there was no TV to distract us so we would sit and talk or read. On rainy nights the tin roof would fill the study with the sound of the rain. As Hilda says "a million assaults on our coziness, thwarted every time".

Some of the daily routines included coffee in the morning, then up the hill to Pine Acres to say good morning to Mimi and Pops. Usually breakfast with them and then they, or any combination of us or whoever else was there, would take Vega and the dogs on a walk to the cabins in the woods. Not currently actual cabins but the stone remnants of the cabins that used to stand there when Devon was a girl. The return route diverted off of the road and followed the power lines and a long line of blackberry bushes ripe for picking. Most days also included a mile walk to the pond for swimming or as it got colder a canoe ride. We would do some chores here and there and spent some time working on the van. Vega was introduced to Little People and would spend hours playing with them or in the sandbox, or picking apples, and mushrooms. Carol is now an expert applesauce canner.

We had almost three months together as a family in Vermont. We saw the seasons start to change, vehicles bought and sold, we watched Vega go from riding in the stroller to the pond or cabins in the woods with occasional stints of walking, to refusing to ride and running the whole way. I had no idea a two year old could run a mile.  She took plenty of random and sudden breaks to drop to the ground and pick up sticks or rocks or whatever else caught her eye but would eventually break out running down the hill again. Vega turned two! She talks a mean streak too.

There were many visits from family. Lauren, Lola and Alice came for two weeks and Vega got some solid cousin time.  My Mom visited for two weeks as well and we took a few little road trips. One through Vermont to The Vermont Country Store and the Joseph Smith Birthplace monument, and another trip with just my mom and me to Palmyra New York so my mother could fulfill a life long wish of visiting the Sacred Grove. Dave, Aunt Linda, Grandma Priem and Sarah came to visit.  We spent some time with Lucien and Marty and got to know that part of the family a bit. But most of all Vega got to spend considerable time with Mimi and Pops (Carol and Don). This post cannot do justice to the generosity and hospitality they extended to us. It had always been a special place for Devon but it is now one for Vega and also for me. THANK YOU!

It's not all sunsets and ice cream cones by Kenneth Benson

There are some good sunsets though

Total miles from Klamath to Vermont, 5,120.

We've been settled in Vermont for the past two and a half weeks, the time has sailed with a decent mix of relaxing, cleaning, house projects, short road trips, morning walks and pond swimming. There hasn’t been much time/motivation for writing but we both have put in a great deal of thought and conversation about the month on the road and our future travels. There are some things that worked well for us and some that didn’t.  We had great weather the entire time but really, it was pure luck, we've seen our friends run up against rainy days, forest fires and even the Plague! WTF?

So here are some things that sucked, but not as bad as the plague… 

  1. It sucks when your child completely pees through her diaper on a 3 hour car ride.  This happened twice. The first time we were actually on the way to a laundry mat so the problem was only temporary. The next time was not quite as lucky. Even tough we rinsed the seat cover and cleaned as best we could we had to spend a day with the smell of urine wafting from the back seat.
  2. As excited as we were to get to Vermont, it sucked having a place we had to be and a time frame to get there.  This created longer than optimal drives, hunger arguments, and more than a few instances of getting to camp, setting up, breaking down in the morning and moving on, again. This rushed us too much and we were not able to enjoy each other or the probably beautiful location we were in.
  3. Along those same lines, as we packed and unpacked we found it challenging to exist with 2 adults, a toddler, a dog and "stuff" in the small space of a Honda Element. Everything had to have such a specific place in the vehicle that at any given moment we were tearing the whole system down just to retrieve some small item or another. I love the Element and everything we needed fit but keeping it organized was especially difficult and frustrating.
  4. It sucked having a dog.  Not always, but there were more than a few times where we really wanted to do something and the dog made it a no go.  Mostly in national parks, but wouldn’t you know it, those are some amazing places where typically you want to do stuff.  We love Kohbi and she did great on the trip but some longer hikes in Glacier were out of the question for us. More on this later.
  5. A few words on the tent.
    1. I hesitate to say that it sucked because we both love that thing. It was our camping set-up all last summer and there are some great memories down by the river in that tent. It is a great place to lay down at the end of the night and was so comfortable and safe feeling. That being said, there are some downsides.  For those considering a tent like this you should know, that while it is easy to set up and take down, anytime you want to go somewhere in your vehicle you have to take it down and set it up again when you get back. This issue came up time and again for us when camped in one location for more than a day. And as I mentioned in "things that sucked" number two, longer stays are the goal for the future. For example, in Glacier we wanted to drive the road to the sun.  Well, we packed up the tent, drove the road and set it up again when we got back. Though we stayed in Glacier for 4 days we packed in the tent and set it up again every day. This was annoying. An annoyance that could be solved if we had it mounted on a trailer and could leave it in camp, but then we'd be pulling a trailer.
    2. Tent annoyance number two, without fail in every campsite at least one person, and usually many, would wander into our camp out of curiosity over the tent. I don’t blame them, they are unique for sure, we saw some on cars driving from point A to B but in all the places we camped we were the only ones with a tent on top. So, someone would wander into camp, ask us about it, want to look inside and we would oblige over and over again. It is great marketing for CVT, but eventually annoying as hell. We never experienced the ground soaking rains that would have made us stoked to be elevated, and there were much more roomier tents in every campsite that awaited their occupants after a long day of exploring.
    3. Annoyance three, climbing down in the middle of the night to pee.
  6. The next thing that sucked was not showering. For two people who worked in wilderness and would go eight days without showering I thought we'd rough it a little better than we did. It is a different ball game when you are sharing a car and a tent, or maybe I just smell way worse than I did when I was in my 20’s.
  7. First come first serve campsites suck. Add to that, state campgrounds that cost way to much and are overused.  Especially when a National Forest campground can be found for cheaper or free, regularly, with amazing surroundings.
  8. Losing stuff sucks. Devon and I are some lucky unlucky people.  In Seattle I gave Devon my wallet when she went with Mary to get some BBQ. We didn’t find it until latter that day under the front seat of Mary's car, lucky.  We lost Devon’s wallet in Missoula realizing it 40 min out of town when we wanted to get ice for our campsite.  We turned around, booked it back into town and retrieved it at the grocery store, cash intact, lucky. I lost my wallet again only to find it the next time we opened the tent. We each lost a pair of shoes.  Devon lost the chin clip to her bike helmet. After trying in vain to find a replacement we decided it was about time to replace her 90’s helmet anyway. We left the old helmet on a bike rack at a grocery store with a free sign on it and within 3 days had lost the new helmet.  We probably had it on the roof at some point and drove off. Two days later I found the old helmets clip.
  9. Sturgis was stupid. We did a drive-by. Just a reason to sell mass amounts of lame t-shirts and beer.

As I write I’m thinking "Wah Wah Wah, am I really complaining about all these things that sucked?" We are still in the midst of an amazing adventure of our own choosing so the reality is that none of it really sucked. Really they are all exactly the things we wanted to know before we set off on the trip into Central America.

So what will be different? In essence we need more space, also we need to move less often and take our time.

Not much we can do about Vega’s diaper situation other than be ultra religious about making sure she has a dry one whenever we start to drive.

The time crunch situation should take care of itself for the next leg of the trip. We have no specific place to be and no timeframe to get there.  This may change a bit as we find job or housesitting opportunities but for the most part we will be moving at our own pace.

The dog.  While it sucked having her with us at times it also has been amazing. Not since before Devon was pregnant has she had so much attention, exercise and excitement.  We have reconnected and even more important Kohbi and Vega are connecting too. We have decided to take her with us, something that was up in the air. But she is fully a member of this tribe hopping family. There will be things along the way that we will miss out on having her with us but there will also be more time available where we can split up and take turns doing some of those things while the other stays behind with the dog. Sorry Glenn, we just can’t leave her behind.

So what about the tent and the cramped car situation?

Both of us have always wanted a Vanagon camper. I always resisted Devon’s hints and prompts at getting one when it would come up during our planning because of the age of the vehicle and the reputation for and possibility of frequent breakdowns. At one point in Klamath we test drove a Eurovan Weekender and the transmission went out on our test drive.  That was when we decided to stick with the Element.

At Badlands NP we were sitting in our camp eating dinner when a Westy pulled in to the site next to us. Before any door opened the top was popped, then out poured two kids and their parents, all falling into what looked like a well rehearsed camp set-up routine. We were JEALOUS. We had packed up the tent earlier to explore the park and had just finished setting it up again but the ease and quickness of the Westfalia setup was amazing. Then it started, that phenomena where when you desire something you start seeing it everywhere. We started seeing Westy’s around every turn.  Still, rationality reigned, and we made it to Vermont without going any further down the rabbit hole other than Vanagon daydreams. For a week after arriving in Vermont, with the internet at my fingertips I avoided “just looking” until one night I couldn’t resist. I went onto the Samba classifieds and there it was, posted just 6 hours before (strange cosmic coincidence #1), a 1988 Vanagon Westfalia and it was only 15 miles away. I fired off an email and before the end of the night we had an appointment to check it out.

In previous discussions about getting a VW I had told Devon that I didn’t trust the mechanics of such an old vehicle and that I would only consider getting one that was nearly perfect. And beyond that, one that had had some major overhauling done to it. Well, this one did.

The seller had purchased the van in 2006 in Salt Lake City (strange coincidence #2). He drove it to the Sundance film festival and then had it shipped to Vermont. After getting it to Vermont, he had almost everything done to it that I told Devon would have to be done to one before ever considering a Vanagon (strange coincidence #3).  It had a new GoWesty engine with less than 5,000 miles, new fuel tank, new brakes, shocks, fuel lines etc., etc., etc. Every year the seller would garage it for the winter, pull it out and service it and refurbish one bit or the other, maybe take it on a short trip and then would find himself too busy to really put it to use before having to garage it for the next winter. This went on for 9 years until he finally decided/admitted that he really just did not have the time to use it the way it was meant to be used and that as much as he didn’t want to he had to sell. This long process for him also worked for us in that he sold it for much less than it was “worth” knowing that even though he could get more for it eventually he didn’t want to wait for “eventually”.

So, introducing "Bill Murray", named after the seller, and the man who did so much to get this vehicle ready for us.

So, we’ve already sold the tent. The Element is up for sale with a lot of interest out here in Vermont. We will still have to break down the van tent when we want to take the van somewhere out of camp but it will take 1 minute vs. 15. We have more space for our stuff, and for all of us, including the dog. Just by the laws of physics we will be taking things slower and enjoying the view. Home is now where we park it.

Neither of us are under the illusion that this decision was one of rationality, it was purely passion and adventure. But hey, the same could be said of this entire adventure, so, we are now driving to Central America in a Vanagon Westfalia, We think we’re pretty cool. We'll think we are cooler if we make it ;)

The U.P., Killbear and Rochester New York by Kenneth Benson

After leaving Wisconsin we headed north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and camped at Monocle Lake just off of the shore of Lake Superior. It was a quiet campground and the weather was stellar. The next day we advanced into Canada, our first of many future border crossings. It was pretty uneventful. Despite having a dog and dog food (apparently you can't take dog food) the border patrol agent barely glanced at us as we entered.  He looked at out passports, seemed annoyed with his job and grumpily waved us through, dog and dog food unnoticed.

We made our way along the North Chanel and Georgian Bay of Lake Huron to our stop for the night, Killbear Provincial Park.  We picked a spot on our atlas with a camping symbol approximately the distance we felt we could travel having no idea that Killbear is a huge park with over 400 campsites in multiple campgrounds and was almost completely full, apparently a top getaway choice for Ontario natives. We got lucky.  It being a Thursday and only wanting to stay one night we snagged a spot just a few sites up from the beach. This was absolutely the biggest campground of the trip and it was full to the brim. The people were friendly though and ever curious about or rooftop tent.

We spent the evening watching a simultaneous setting of the sun and rising of the full moon on a rocky outcropping into the Georgian Bay complete with windswept pines, 50ish other sunset watchers and a stupid drone hovering over our heads sounding like a mosquito buzzing in your ear. It was beautiful, mostly.

A note on drones. While there is a side of me that buzzes with gadgety lust, the reality of these things is going to quickly turn them into an annoyance equal to that pesky mosquito. The proliferation of cameras like the GoPro mounted on the helmets of roughly 30 percent of motorcyclists we have seen on this trip is only the tip of the iceberg. It is already worse than that at the ski hill. The day will come when you are riding with your friends at the local hill and you won't be able to escape the swarm of drones capturing every kids narcissistic fantasy. I will be investing in Daisy Red Ryder stock, it's gonna make a comeback. If it is legal to fly those things through my sunset it should be legal to pick them out of the sky like flies. Kudos to this eagle...

Anyway, the next day we were on to Toronto.  With only one night there we headed into downtown, got stuck in Blue Jays traffic, realized that our vehicle was too tall for any underground parking, Devon broke the passenger side window ;) and we finally parked in time to get a decent dinner in the distillery district.

Our next and last stop before Vermont was with Kris, Mary and fam in Rochester NY for the weekend. Kris is a long time friend/roomie/rock star from way back and was there in the beginning for Devon and me and he was one of the first of my friends to sign off on my cool new girlfriend.  He moved on from SLC, got married, had 2 awesome kids and is currently running his own business, a guitar repair shop in Rochester. Check it out... K-Robin Guitars

Rochester was a pretty cool little town (third biggest in NY). You can certainly see the effects that the loss of some major industries (Kodak and GM) have had on the place.  Unemployment is high as is poverty.  But people are toughing it out and there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. I was super impressed by Rochester's annual Wall Therapy installations. Since 2011 Rochester has been recruiting artists to participate in "an art and community intervention project, using public murals as a means to transform the urban landscape, inspire, and build community." Kris and I spent an afternoon touring around to some of the wall therapy sites he was familiar with.  What an incredible idea.

I snapped a few shots (below) but head to the website to see some amazing art.

Friends by Kenneth Benson

Alyssa reminded me the other day that I had once made the comment to her, "why would anyone live in Wisconsin?" After leaving Minneapolis we made our way across and into Wisconsin. Charlie and Rebecca just happened to be spending a week at this parents house on a lake a few hours north of Madison and were kind enough to invite us along. It had been a few years since spending time with them and for the most part it felt like no time had passed, with the obvious exception of Moonbeam, soon to burst onto the scene.

A huge thank you to Rick, Bobbi, Charlie, Rebecca and Claire for their hospitality. The Duck Lake house was such a needed reprieve from the constant go of the previous week.  We were able to empty out the car, get some laundry done and generally let go of making plans and arrangements for the "next stop".

Of all the beauty we have seen so far on the trip, being in a beautiful place with good friends made for an exceptional experience. Driving to the house was an education in Wisconsin backroads and there were a few illegal u-turns and missed exits. Our map skills are getting better and Vega was again a champ in the car napping and generally being good to hang out with.

When we arrived the house was empty so we made our way down to the boat dock to find Rebecca enjoying some weightlessness. Kohbi got right in of course and proceeded to chase sparkles and squirrels for the next 72 hours. Vega was amped up to jump in so we did, we got on our suits and hopped in the lake. The water was amazing as was the weather and the view. That is how it went for the next 3 days. Breakfast, Lake, Lunch, Lake, Dinner.  There were kayaks, a paddle board and multiple flotation devices.

The Duck Lake community is an interesting gathering of families, many who have been there for generations. One family hosted the annual Duck Lake Open Slalom. Passing on participation having never water skied Devon and I opted to lounge on the shore and swim with Vega. Charlie and Claire amped up the sibling rivalry and entered. Once they completed their runs we headed back to the house for more grilling. The next day Charlie was graced with a special delivery of his second place ribbon.

On Monday the 27th we packed it all up again and along with Charlie, Rebecca and Claire took a short drive a little farther north to meet up with Matt, Alyssa and her family camping at the shore Starrett Lake which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of that whole lakey region.

We have been lucky the entire trip with amazing sunny weather and Starrett was no exception. More swimming, more floating on various devices, and more grilling. Our second day there we set off on a decent bike ride. The lakes in this area are criss crossed with very well kept paved bike paths that wander through the woods. Vega sat for her longest ride yet, 16 miles and we were finally able to pass off the most hideous, scary baby doll, that I am sure will one day make it back to us. Find it yet? It was so comfortable and nice seeing you guys again, safe travels and we will make a point of seeing you again in Duluth.

From now on, whenever I hear someone say they are from, or are going to Wisconsin, my response will be very different and I'm sure, even though I never thought I would, I will be back. I am looking forward to meeting the baby formerly known as Moonbeam. Rebecca and Charlie, you two will be great parents. Alyssa and Rebecca, Vega misses you two and whenever we have gone swimming since her response has been "Alyssa come too? Becca come too?"

From Glacier to the Badlands and beyond by Kenneth Benson

There were so many locations on this first leg of the trip that were cut due to time. Wanting to get to Vermont and spend as much of the summer as possible with "Mimi and Pops” we hade to make some decisions. Off the list went Nelson B.C. Bye bye Yellowstone, Denver, and the San Juan Islands. We 86’d Mt. St. Helens and Whistler. We’ll get to those some day. 

So we are cruising through faster than we would if we had no place to go but that part of the trip will come soon enough.  At that point blog posts will come once a moth because nothing will change. There are two places however that in the last week that have been highlights.  One was always on the list and one was just on the way and actually an afterthought. Our first, and a long time bucket list item for Devon was Glacier National Park. Tucked away in northern Montana it is... anything from here on out will just sound like I am quoting the website, so go there.

If you haven't been, go. Don’t take your dog and hopefully your children cooperate.  Most of the best vistas are accessed by hikes (website fact: over 700 miles of trails), most were hikes we couldn’t take due to the dog, in fact the dog wasn't allowed. We lucked out with a 75 degree overcast day so the dog stayed in the car for our hike to Avalanche Lake Just getting a mile or two off of the main road puts you away from the crowds enough to feel the solitude and magnitude that the landscape can inspire. The "Road to the Sun" is amazing and you can drive it or access it via shuttle. Camping is first come first served so get there early.

Apparently Glacier is now on fire, so if it becomes forever a burnt shadow of its former self then, so sorry you missed it. But seriously you should go soon because it is day by day becoming a shadow of itself and will soon have no actual Glaciers to speak of.


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The Badlands of South Dakota were never really on either of our radars, and while stunningly beautiful it will leave those who have spent any time in southern Utah or even better, grown up with Zion, Bryce and Arches in their backyard a little underwhelmed.  It’s beauty comes from the stark contrast of the landscape that surrounds it. Sorry South Dakota but... Our gas milage sunk to zero because of the incredible headwind that existed across the entire state. Devon couldn't stop wondering why there were no windmills.  We are still wondering, as soon as we passed into MN they were everywhere. We stopped at Sturgis.  This year is the 75th anniversary of the rally and the town is geared up to sell about 100,000 t-shirts next month. The place looked like any spring break town right before the break hits. Two of the most interesting stops on this part of the trip were Devils Tower and the Little Bighorn Battle site, neither in SD.

The Badlands were beautiful though. I can't diss them too much.  We camped in the park, saw some amazing sunsets and dehydrated ourselves hiking in the heat. Pro tip: The rubbermaid food bin makes a great swimming pool for Vega.

Visiting these two parks in such a short space of time gave us a small glimpse of the extreme climates and vistas available to us as we cross the country.  We seem to prefer mountains and rivers to deserts and grasslands, but so do countless others.

We are now in Minneapolis and I wish we could spend a week, but we leave tomorrow. This was just a short stop on the way elsewhere but one that has been recharging. We have discovered that if we go more than five days camping and not staying with friends and their shower that a motel room is more than a luxury it is a necessity.

Neither of us are beginners at the camping don't shower for a week lifestyle. Working in wilderness therapy can create a comfort with certain levels of dirt and gross that most would find offensive. In wilderness though, everyone is dirty, it's the norm. Not so generally out and about. I had a wake up call today as I held Vega's hand in an exceptionally fabulous free kids pool in Souix Falls SD. I was wading with Vega helping her climb the stairs to, and not drown going down, a water slide in the pool. On one of our trips back to the stairs I dipped my hat into the pool and put it on my head. As refreshing as it was, when my eyes opened I got a look from the lifeguard the reminded me how filthy I probably was. Standing there wading in 1 ft water in the grimy tank top and shorts I had been wearing and hiking in for 5 days I must have looked awful and smelled even worse. Thank you Vega, if not for your legitimizing effect I may have been arrested. 

Bedtime Recitations of a two year old by Kenneth Benson

Ive no idea what this trip is going to mean to our daughter. I'm almost sure she will remember no part of it, she's just too young. Yet everyday at some point, usually bedtime, she recounts the trip so far. Sometimes it's a game we play while driving to keep her occupied, sometimes she just talks and talks about one particular part of the trip to me, to Devon or to her doll.

Laying in bed with her in Seattle as she wound down to sleep she began to recite the trip. Tonight she seems so much more like she is telling me a story in a very accurate chronological way. She starts with Mona.

“Mona’s house, tomatoes, splash park, Mona, I sleep at Mona’s house”. "Mona lives in Ashland," I say, “Yeah, Glenn bodia” she responds.

We spent the our first night away in Ashland, with Mona, for one last farewell before we see her and Glenn on the east coast in a few months (right Mona? When exactly is that?). Vega picked tomatoes in the garden, Glenn was in Cambodia. Thanks to whoever it was that decided public parks needed water features for kids. They have been a godsend. So we spent the early evening at the Ashland splash park, until lightning came too close. Glenn and Mona are a huge part of Vega’s life, she talks about them constantly. Guys, If we could make you god parents we would, but I’m pretty sure you need to be Catholic. Anyway the relationship is better than a ceremonial gesture, she chose you. The trip continued.

“Splash park, tattoo, my tattoo, tattoo Mike, ocean, I see ocean, sand, my ocean, Zach, my Zach, tent, camping, Melinda, Shaun, camping, hot dog, tent, ocean, fish, my bucket, swimming pool, I feed fish food”

Our first long drive was Ashland to Tillamook.  There was a stop over in Eugene at, where else, a splash park, then on to our motel on the coast in Netarts OR. Our room had a view of the Pacific across an estuary and Vega wanted only one thing, to climb the railing of the deck to get the best view possible, over and over again.  The next morning we went into Tillamook for what may be the last bit of work on our tattoos for a while. Mike Toth runs a shop in Tillamook and does some amazing work.  We finally got our Vega stars. We each have been working on a pieces for almost two years now, since Vega was born, that incorporated space with the focus on the Vega star.  On our third appointment we finally got the star.

Photo: Melinda

After our appointments we headed out to Cape Lookout State Park to meet my Melinda, Shaun and my nephew Zack. Vega and Zack hit it off and we walked out of the campground to the ocean. Favorite activities included, running full speed at the ocean, getting daddy to fill buckets of water for her to pour in a hole (swimming pool) of her own digging, and putting sand on pretty much anything. We roasted hot dogs over the fire and the waited for the sun and Vega to go down.

It was the first night in our tent, we love our tent.

The next morning on the way out of town we fed the fish at a hatchery just north of the campground.  Giant rainbow trout. With the baby sleepy we made our way to Portland. Thanks to Shaun for the Columbia employee store hook-up for some needed gear.

“I fall down, boom, ouie, my ouie, swimming pool, ocean Caleb, Drew’s house, I ride bikes, bridge, river, my swimming".

Drew put us up for a few nights in Portland. Both Vega and Kohbi were excited to see Caleb (Drew’s Dog). No Caleb, he was out of town. Portland's a great city and Drew lives Sellwood. We explored on foot and on bike.  We rode bikes into downtown via the Springwater Corridor and over the Steel Bridge. We took the dog to the river and let her swim, Vega swam too, and we drank sour beer.

Up until this point the trip was familiar, to us and to Vega. All places we had visited before. Saturday the 11th we set of for Seattle and as we crossed the Columbia I felt the change from a trip we had done many times to one that was new and with an end far distant. We settled in to West Seattle at Mary’s house, spent the afternoon relaxing, looking at the neighbors chickens and bunnies, had a great dinner with some friends and then walked into the main street of West Seattle to a street fair. Vega danced on stage, walked the dog, and generally wowed the crowed with her cuteness.

As we played in the bed after a full day she began her recitation ending with “Mary’s house, I look at Chickens? Bunnies, kids, car wash, pizza, walking, I walk toby, dancing, walking, I sleep Mary’s house”, and finally "Ocean"

And that is pretty much how it goes these evenings.  The story is getting longer, sometimes some things get left out, and sometimes we just pretend she’s a shark.

Goodbye Klamath by Kenneth Benson

I taught Vega to say “I’m homeless” the other day, probably super insensitive to the actual problem of homelessness but true and super cute, Devon prefers "between homes".

It's been 3 days since we packed up our home. A huge thank you to Aunt Rachel for watching Vega two and a half days straight so that Devon and I could tackle the house. All of our things are now contained in our car or a 5x7 storage unit, a pretty amazing feat.  Over and over again as we packed our boxes for delivery to the Pumpkin Patch, the dump, Blue Dot or our storage unit Vega would look it over and proclaim "more stuff!" It's amazing the amount of things you can accumulate (not to mention dirt) and in the days since driving away I have yet to miss a single one. It was so invigorating to rid ourselves of all those many things that cluttered our home and lives.

We are now in Portland and even though we are on our way it's still settling in to our minds what we are actually doing.  I'll have dreams about work, and feel like I am only on vacation. Portland is familiar, so was Ashland and Tillamook. We have yet to venture into new territory, but that will come soon.  The drive time has been a good time to contemplate, and for the first two days most all of our thoughts turned to memories, and our friends in Klamath.

So, as we start this journey we want to thank all of those that were with us these last 5 years. No joke, Klamath would not have been what it was without you.

I remember driving in to Klamath for the first time. From the highway the lake was amazing, I spotted an eagle and the high desert reminded me of Utah. But, as we entered town there was an obvious cloud of depression and poverty. Yards were cluttered, the effects of meth on the city were clear and in your face and the lake was shallow and filled with algae. I remember the distinct feeling of "oh shit, where are we, and what have we done"?

The first year was difficult. Much of it had to do with adjusting to new jobs, making friends and discovering where the good was in what seemed like a lot of not so good. Matt and Alyssa, you were our first friends, things were more comfortable after we discovered we liked you and you started teaching us how to love the area we were in.  Thank you for buying a house and giving up Painter Street for us. The move to Painter made everything a little better. High school football games and camping trips helped us love the area so much more. Dragonfly attracted amazing people and it felt like a small family.  Next Sean moved to town with with his unpredictable Brit girlfriend.  We knew we loved Sean, we had known him for a while, but Rachel was an unknown. Soon though, her sarcasm seemed perfectly aligned with Devon's east coast bitch. Pizza nights and back yard chillin' made summers better. Sean, we slayed some fish! Charlie and Becca you didn't stay long enough! See you and Moonbeam in a few weeks. While Glenn and Mona were always great to us and amazing people to work with and for, we have been so surprised how much we have grown to love them in the last two years since Vega was born.  It has been unexpected and amazing. Thank for your hot tub, your house, motorcycle rides, dinners and mostly for how much you love our little girl. All of these friends and more made Klamath an amazing place to live. Though we constantly contemplated the next step, that "oh shit" feeling consistently faded making our decision and plans harder and harder to hold on to.

In the two years since Vega's birth Klamath opened up and surprised us again.  There is a real and very unique community of young families, entrepreneurs, and adventurists that we had never really interacted with before and it was our loss. Vega (and Leap to some degree) introduced us to Andrew and Christine, Patrick and Michelle, Liam and Sioban, Katherine and Randall, John and Julia, Clay and Danielle, Adam, Cara and Brad, Lannie, Whitney, Judd and Sheri, Tony and Jennette, Josh and Jill, Dr. Warren and so many more who we were really just starting to get to know and could tell that we would have had great friends for life if we would have stuck around a little longer and got out of our bubble. Again it is our loss.

We had so many life changing moments while living here. Klamath is not what you see at first. The lake is large and shallow but the little secret spots on its shores, inlets and outlets to the mountain trails and lakes have a depth that is more than can be seen at first glance.

We will miss you!

Introducing... by Kenneth Benson

Welcome to the site. This is it, so far. There are a few reasons I wanted to create this space.

First, this is going to give me a forum for showing my photography, and allow me to discover, test and tweak my style. I call myself a photographer and I love the art, but I've always been reluctant to show it. I needed to take a leap and put it out there. I will create projects and challenges for myself and dump the results in your lap.

Second, in the same way that i like photography and shy from showing it I also like to write. It's different though. I don't call myself a writer nor do I think I have any special talent. Regardless I'm doing it anyway, because I need to do something new, let me know if I get wordy or weird. I'm already cringing at what's written.

Third we love our friends and family and sharing this experience with them, even through the wires, is important to us.

So what's a Tribehopper? It's a made up word. It is a name we were called and we like it. Shortly before Vega was born we thought it would be fun to see a psychic. It was, and she told us a variety of interesting things that have sparked conversations for the last two years. One thing we especially loved was the idea that for many centuries we had both (all three rather) made it a point to choose different existences that varied in experiences, countries, tribes and families. We would not be satisfied souls unless we sought something new. She called us tribehoppers. So it is, and so shall it be.

Why are we doing the trip? Why not. We love to travel, we've worked hard and saved our money. Vega will be two in September and I can't imagine that there will be a time in her life after the next few years where she will prefer to be with us more than she does now.  Soon will come friends, teachers, coworkers and loves. Now is our time to soak it in, not when we are 65, now. We chose Central and potentially South America, because they are drivable. We considered Asia again because we love it there, but ultimately we wanted a new adventure, to tribehop if you will.

Our home for the next few years.

So the plan is to head south without much of a plan. But first, we will visit loved ones across the states. The first leg starts July 6th. From Klamath and eventually to Newfane Vermont. Vega will swim in the pond Devon swam in as a girl and catch the newt offspring generations removed from those Devon caught. We will cross back to the west for a small bit and then come the new year cross into Baja. What happens after that just depends.

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A home for Bob and Mustache by Kenneth Benson

Back in 2003 or 2004 a friend asked If I wanted to adopt a kitten. A feral neighborhood cat had given birth to a litter underneath her porch. Animal control captured the mother, fixed her, and re-released her into the neighborhood. The smallest of the litter was a bob tail black runt cat, and if I remember correctly Bob had to be bottle feed in the beginning. That was the kitten I wanted, but she came with one stipulation. No one could take bob without taking her brother and protector Mustache, as the 2 had been inseparable. I agreed, two kittens.

That was 12 years ago. These two have been with me since, in numerous apartments and homes, with countless roommates. They lived at a friends house when I was living in my car for a time and with my sister when Devon and I honeymooned . They are truly brother and sister, rubbing heads one minute and swiping at each other the next.

As you all know, Devon, Vega and I are setting out on an adventure, traveling by car for the next year or two across the US and into Central and possibly South America.

It is heartbreaking to think about leaving these two, possibly for good. As horrible as it sounds I even hoped for an unfortunate street crossing or some other “natural” end to occur so that I would not have to abandon them. This unfortunately has led to some serious procrastination in writing this post. They are still here, older but very much alive and well.

I am reaching out to the interwebs to find them a good home, together would be great, but separate would be ok too. Both have lived their lives indoor and out. In Portland they were confined inside to our 1 bedroom apartment for a year and did just fine. But they love to roam the hood.

Mustache is a LARGE male and incredibly loving and gentle. He is great with Vega and patient as she pokes and hugs and pulls. He will sleep on your feet and greet you at the door. He loves dogs once he is familiar with them and will even wrestle with our dog in the front room. He loves to talk.

Bob is more independent. Initially as a kitten she would not let people near her, and would not stand for being held. She spends much of her time outside wandering the neighborhood, coming inside to sleep if it is cold or to eat. She has used quite a few of her nine lives, surviving 2 shootings (Pellets from a wicked neighbor), a Rottweiler attack that opened her belly, and the subsequent infection. Each of these experiences mellowed her a bit and she became incrementally more friendly and approachable each time. She now spends more time inside, will regularly grace us with her presence and and is willing to be held, but on her own terms. She comes running when we've been away and the car pulls in to the driveway. She loves to follow us on walks around the neighborhood. She loves our dog and tolerates our child (from a distance).

We drive away on July 6th. So please if anyone is interested let me know and please share this post with anyone you might know who would make a good home permanently or even just while we are away.