Our travels through Nova Scotia were lacking the excitement we frequently had while traveling Central and South America. For example: the border crossings were quick and anxiety free, the vegetables were all recognizable, and police corruption as well as food poisoning were not daily concerns. In fact, the only trouble I seemed to get into was when I made a goofy turn into a deli and a local hooligan honked his horn at me. With that being said, I will not bore you with a cliche trip overview .
On the other hand, We did get to experience some great surf during the first East Coast hurricane swell of the season. In fact, Nova Scotia has an excellent variety of waves up and down their rocky coast. We were very lucky to have witnessed some of Canada’s best waves working so nicely. Like most surf trips, especially trips on the Atlantic Coast, luck is something that will always come in handy.
TCT (Toyota Cruisers and Trucks) magazine gave us a shout-out in their January 2015 issue. We just wanted to say thanks again for including us in your publication. Click here to view the online magazine. Its a good issue one… Thanks Beau!
The greatest feat of our journey was not surfing epic waves, eating delicious foreign food, or hiking to hard to reach glaciers in the Andes. In fact, the most rewarding part, was when all three of us flew into Newark, New Jersey safe and sound after 15 months of rugged travel, and seeing the face of my smiling father when he picked us up at the airport. We set a huge goal and followed through till the end. That, my friends, feels so damn sweet, and that first jersey bagel we ate, tasted oh so good.
Two and a half years ago we made a serious commitment to save all our money and travel. Although many of our friends and family thought we were nuts to even think about doing something so drastic, their support and skepticism were great motivators to make it happen and actually follow through. When times got tough and our tent smelled bad, we could always count on the comments and backing from our loved ones on our social media outlets. It would have been hard to do this without everyones amazing support.
After spending the holidays with our families, we finally reached our final destination (Cape Cod) where we will fry fresh smelts and remain until, who knows… I must admit, being able to stay in one place for a while is comforting, especially since we are minutes away from surf spots, have access to fresh food from the sea, and being able to view bayside sunsets every night. Rest assured, we do hope to go on an epic journey like this again, hopefully sooner than later. So stay tuned for our next big odyssey. Until then, we will do our best to keep telling tales from the road, and posting the progress of the building of Taco 2 (photos will be posted soon.)
G’mork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
…looking at the blog, reading posts from way back in the beginning, recalling people and memories that had slipped to the back of my mind…
I am in a daze flipping through pictures, in an attempt to reconnect with those moments “on the road.”
People ask, “Are you sad that it is over?”
“I don’t know.”
Sad feels too committed. I would rather wade in the Waters of Unknown Emotion: slightly dangerous, but equally exciting. The Waters of Unknown Emotion- It is like a land you would find in “The NeverEnding Story”, next tothe Swamps of Sadness. The Swamps of Sadness– no way, not going there. That is where the horse died: it just got sucked in and was never to be seen again. Perhaps you will find me basking on the Beach of Nostalgia, the swamp is behind me but the sound of ocean waves is nearby. I am just laying out, soaking in the rays of places and people past, feeling their warmth engulf my body as the sunshine penetrates my skin. My golden tan will hold me over as I envision the frigid winter weather that lay ahead (I am going to be digging myself out of emotional snow banks this winter). Come on, I must defend against the Nothing. Oh, and don’t forget my luckdragon…Lupe. “A fictitious flying dragon with a wingless elongated body, possessing neither magical talent nor immense physical strength, but distinctive in its unfailing serendipity” (www.wordnik.com). Yup. Right on.
Falcor (the luck dragon): Having a luck dragon with you is the only way to go on a quest.
Cold is okay, though. I will adapt, I always do. Shoveling is good exercise.
I try not to make situations too loaded. I do not want to invest too much emotion into an “end” because then it is just that: an end. From the get go, I had a strong desire to view this “trip”, “journey” (or insert your favorite related word) as a continuation of my life. I struggled to feel settled with this idea of “getting away” and then “returning” and was resistant to identify with concepts such as wanderlust, or any other romanticized notion that communicates a sense of escape, dreaming, and my personal favorite, “head in the clouds”. As G’mork stated, “Fantasia has no boundaries.” It is alive in all of us (all the time), but sometimes we need to go a quest to experience it’s true strength. And upon return, we are inspired, invigorated, grateful.
Besides, I identify more with the image of my head hovering above the water’s surface as my legs kick to keep me afloat- sometimes it is relaxing, sometimes it is exhausting. You have to find your rhythm. Although if you hand me some kid of floating device- I am golden. I could float around forever.
The Childlike Empress: Bastian. Why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?
Bastian: But I can’t, I have to keep my feet on the ground!
The Childlike Empress: Call my name. Bastian, please! Save us!
Bastian: All right! I’ll do it! I’ll save you! I will do what I dream!
Can’t it all be a continuum? All experiences will be gently protected under the umbrella of life, as opposed to this concept of leaving reality and then having to “go back” (wait for sound of heavy sighs). In reality, when we refer to reality, or the return to “the real world”, are we not just referencing the concept of responsibility? People have strong opinions regarding the topic of responsibility. I think I may be considered irresponsible for even introducing the topic.
Bastian’s father: I got a call from your math teacher, yesterday. She says that you were drawing horses in your math book.
Bastian: Unicorns. They were unicorns.
Bastian’s Father: What?
I feel your pain, Bastian.
I still don’t know. Can it be a continuum? Will it be a continuum? Or am I just over analyzing all of this? Most likely the latter. I am going with the Einstein quote these days, “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” He was a smart guy.
We are on week 6 in Buenos Aires. The reality of returning to a different way of life (that is how i am framing it today- “a different way of life”) has started to reveal itself. Already I find myself zoning out to CSI, and giddy with excitement about watching Girls (a series I had never seen due to our absence of cable.) Wow, we have HBO! Slowly I plug back in, and part of me hates another part of me for finding comfort in David Caruso’s face, and excitement from Lena Dunham’s escapades.
I am nostalgic for those slow, hot days in Central America when all I had was a papaya and a book. Conversations of “remember that?”, pervade the daily chatter.
As with all losses, there is that transitional space where you have to organize the experience. You need to find a shelf for the books, a box for your letters, a closet for the clothes. The idea of everything being scattered on the floor can be unsettling (as I sit in this rental apartment with my belongings strewn about). It’s a heaping pile of mess and there is nowhere to put all your crap. And in the end you have to accept it (the mess), or be riddled with anxiety. I have a feeling all my crap from the last 15 months will lay out for a while. I have not developed a storage system for an experience such as this. It is new. And with that comes opportunity, perhaps even the possibility of invention!
The book shopkeeper, Mr Coriander- one of the only people to have been to Fantasia and returned, explains:
Bastian: What’s that book about?
Mr. Koreander: Oh, this is something special.
Bastian: Well, what is it?
Mr. Koreander: Look, your books are safe. While you’re reading them you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe
Bastian: But that’s what I like about ’em.
Mr. Koreander: Ahh, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again.
Bastian: What do you mean?
Mr. Koreander: Listen. Have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine, while the giant squid is attacking you?
Mr. Koreander: Weren’t you afraid you couldn’t escape?
Bastian: But it’s only a story.
The sadness, reality that things will be different, hovers and you just leave it there… hovering… until that moment when it kicks in…”things will be different.” Ah-Ha!
Things will be different. I can handle that.
But at the same time, a part of you knows that things will be exactly the same. Ugh (heavy sigh).
And the cycle continues.
So, How long till we get out, again?
“Human passions have mysterious ways, in children as well as grown-ups. Those affected by them can’t explain them, and those who haven’t known them have no understanding of them at all. Some people risk their lives to conquer a mountain peak. No one, not even they themselves, can really explain why. Others ruin themselves trying to win the heart of a certain person who wants nothing to do with them. Still others are destroyed by their devotion to the pleasures of the table. Some are so bent on winning a game of chance that they lose everything they own, and some sacrifice every thing for a dream that can never come true. Some think their only hope of happiness lies in being somewhere else, and spend their whole lives traveling from place to place. And some find no rest until they have become powerful. In short, there are as many different passions as there are people.”
Everyone travels differently, and has a variety of values while on the road. Some things that may be important to you, might not be a necessity for others. Not to mention, different travelers have a variety of different budgets to manage. A big part of travel, camping, and adventure is the wide variety of gear one can purchase before or during a journey, and sometimes its difficult not to go overboard in this category, especially considering all the amazing gear and new technology out there. Some like it fancy, and some like it simple. During our travels we have bumped elbows with a wide range of people. We mingle with everyone from wealthy retirees who drive luxury big budget ex-military vehicles, all the way to lost hooligans peddling their way across countries by unicycle. Me personally, the more time i spend on the road, Its important to keep it simple and cheap, while not sacrificing gear reliability and personal enjoyment. Fancy new technology is always fun to play with, but how much of this do you really want to bring to unfamiliar locations in the third world. Dont get me wrong, I do have and iPhone, lap top, sweet camera, and more than a few nice surfboards. But when push comes to shove, and this stuff gets broken or stolen, I can only hope I don’t get too bent out of shape over it. Which leads me to believe, less is more, keep it simple. I’ve met plenty of travelers who have very little, and having less makes you more free in a certain sense.
With this being said I’ve come up with my personal review of gear that has been more than helpful on a daily basis, and in my opinion, no overlander should venture without. In no particular order…..
1. Bucket ($0.00 – $6) Like a lot of great things in life, the bucket is multi-use. I left home with no bucket, and quickly realized how badly I needed one. The best buckets are usually old 5 gallon spackle buckets which can be found for free at almost any construction site. Besides the obvious of washing clothes and dishes, My bucket is my chair, table, I bring it fishing, fetch water from several underground wells, weapon, collecting firewood, and the list goes on. If you can’t buck-it, fuck-it.
2. Insulated coffee mug ($1 – $10) Us americans like our coffee, and if coffee is not your cup of tea, you can drink a cup of tea. Being from the east coast I like my coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. Its tasty, you get it quick, and the price is reasonable, unlike the racket Starbucks is running. Most if not all Dunkin’ Donuts sells insulated coffee mugs ranging from $3 plastic ones to $10 stainless steel ones. We left NJ with 3 of these. One got lost, the other one blew out, only one remains. I purchased a replacement mug at a supermarket in Nicaragua for $1 and its just as good. I use this everyday, several times a day, for hot and cold drinks.
3. String / rope ($0.00 – $5) Another multi-use item. We live in a truck, mostly on the hot beach. We are sweaty disgusting people who share a bed with a dog. We are constantly washing clothing and bedding out of our bucket. At our campsites we always have a clothes line set up. sometimes we have several lines set up drying clothes, dish rags, wet suits and the list goes on. I also use my string collection to tie down tarps, the awning, lowering my bucket into mysterious wells, and stringing up the hammock to any and everything, blah blah blah. String can be found amongst the rest of the trash that washes upon the beach or you can buy it almost anywhere.
4. Smart phone ($50 and up) This item goes without saying. A smartphone is basically a small computer. Besides stating the obvious that one can email, Skype, and stay connected to family and well-wishers, there are many other great uses. The calculator comes in handy when contemplating exchange rates, maps, entertainment, we know the rest. Ive also used my camera several times to take quick photos of my license and passport, email to myself, then print it our for border crossings. The notes app is good for writing down important info and wifi passwords. Functioning without this would be very difficult.
5. Skobbler app for phone ($0.99) This offline world road map application is probably not considered gear, but its been pretty amazing. For those who don’t know, listen carefully. We downloaded this app in Panama (brought to our attention by southtonowhere.com.) We do not have a cell phone plan, and you do not have to be online, but the map knows your location (via satellite) and you can plan a route, and download maps specific to the country. Being from the states we are extremely spoiled when it comes to road signage and city infrastructure. Its a different story down here, and not to mention several people south of the boarder (mostly in South America) drive with absolutely no regard to safety or the well being of human life. This is highly recommended and has given me the ability to avoid countless anxiety attacks when lost in these confusing cities, as well as saving gas by not getting too lost.
6. Hammock ($10 – 80) The hammock could possibly be one of the greatest inventions ever. They are easy to set up. I have an anchor point on my truck so all I need to do is park near a tree or something to tie off the other end. After a long days drive, or some hours surfing, the hammock is a comfortable way to unwind and relax. Not to mention during those hot nights in Central America, its nice to get out of the tent and spend the night swinging in the wind. After Lupe the dog destroyed my compact camping hammock after having it for several years, I purchased a large cloth 2 person hammock in Cost Rica which is nothing short of amazing. During the drive South of the border there are dozens of opportunities to purchase several different styles of hammocks ranging from different prices. Hammock life means a comfortable relaxing life!
7. Safe ($0.00 – $100) The safe is important for obvious reasons, and it should be large enough to hold all of your really important things. I built my safe out of scrap wood and metal from the shop I worked in at the time of my truck build. It can hold my laptop, folder, camera, phones, and more. Its also important to bolt down your safe to your vehicle somehow. Although we have not had any break ins, its also a good peace of mind knowing your important things are locked up securely. If someone was to break into my truck specifically, they would need a good amount of time and tools to get into my safe. Considering most breakins are a smash, grab and run situation I feel pretty good about my things being safe.
8. Lupe the dog ($125) By no means do I consider our lovable pet a piece of gear, but I put her on the list anyway. We paid $125 at our local high kill rate shelter and saved Lupe’s Life. Im not looking for thanks but it was in fact our best purchase. Besides being part of the family Lupe acts as a great security guard. When a shifty individual approaches she makes her presence known, sending people in the opposite direction very quickly. When a friendly person approaches she is friendly and lovable. Several nights we have camped in questionable spots and when people get close I signal her to bark on command. Most people south of the border use dogs as security, so locals can only assume she is dangerous. Although she farts in the tent, gets fleas, frequents visits to the vet, and requires an expensive high protein diet due to food allergies, we love this dog like our own child and I’m confident she would seriously injure any person that tried to do us any harm. Not to mention Lupe is also a great mediator when Sara and I get into it.
9. Filet knife ($1 – $20) Bringing a knife camping is a no-brainer. But I do recommend a large, sharp, durable knife. I bought one of those big white handle knives that professional fishermen use. It has no case and hangs out in the back of the truck. It cuts through live fish and dead meat, and veggies better watch out, cause Its sharp as hell, and has held up through over a dozen countries. these can be purchased in tackle shops, garage sales, or maybe you can find one in your garage that needs sharpening.
10. Roof top tent ($800 – $5000) The RTT (roof top tent) does not apply to everybody of course. Some sleep inside their rigs on sleeping platforms, campers, or regular camping tents. We were lucky enough to find our Auto Home on NJ Craigslist for $900. This model tent from the factory might run closer to $4000. We put a clean mattress in, rigged up some swimming noodles so the surfboards fit nicely on top, and we’re ready to roll. The tent is extremely comfortable and is about the size of a queen size bed. Camping on the beach provides great views from above, plus scorpions and snakes have a hard time finding us on top of the truck. We decided that spending money on this item would be worth it, we got a good deal on it, also considering we will be spending the next year plus on the road.
Well, let’s backtrack for a moment. We rolled into Assedores, a small village in Northern Nicaragua, on the 18th of February. It was just before sunset. It had been a long day on the road, which included a double border crossing. We were cranky. We navigated the area, searching for a spot to set up camp for the night. We pulled up to Pedro’s, whose hand painted sign of surfboards and tents caught our attention. This should do the trick. I ask, “Podemos acampar aqui?” Two white pick ups with Cali plates had just rolled in, and Pedro informed us that his lot was full with campers and vehicles. Luckily, Hugh, a Canadian expat who happened to be buying water at the time, kindly offered us a spot to park on his nearby farm. It was 2 nights at Hugh’s farm amongst goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. We met David, Carlos, and Sarah, a trio from California, who also stayed on the property. I practiced my Spanish with Layla, the 4 year old daughter of the neighbor. Lupe frolicked amongst the various animals. Dean sampled some weird fruit that he claims is the best thing he has ever eaten.
We drove North, arriving at the village of Jiquillo early in the morning on the 20th. We scoped the small coastal dirt road for a spot to possibly set up shop for a bit. We pulled up to Rancho Esperanza. It seemed perfect. Perhaps, just what we were looking for? It was 4 nights at the Ranch. It was like a vacation. We met travelers from around the world, ate some tasty food, and enjoyed their extensive library consisting of every book a traveler could desire. There was some surf out front, an abundance of hammocks, and Lupe was able to make some friends. Oh, and how about that $2 fried whole fish next door?! That was a game changer.
Popoyo. Well, then there was that day driving from Jiquillo to Popoyo which turned out to be a little tricky. It began with some transit cops pulling us over, outside of Managua, with claims that were not wearing seatbelts. Tough chance, Matlock. We always wear seat belts. We were not budging and homeboy knew he was in the wrong. We continued on our way. Well, the roads in Nicaragua were slightly more rugged then we had anticipated, and our map was definitely not up to date with the latest road construction (or lack there of). From dirt road to dirt road, we searched for the route to Popoyo. I swear it was on the map! We followed the coast through small villages until the road… suddenly…ended. We inquired with some locals. Does this route exist? We are informed that it would take 30 minutes of driving on the beach to reach our destination. Okay, we can potentially handle that. Let’s give it a try…
So, we began. It was smooth traveling consisting of hard packed sand, late afternoon sunlight hovering above soft breaking ocean waves, open windows, and fresh breeze. Everything was cool. That was…until…the sand…started…to get….deeper. Wheels were spinning. We were stuck. Okay, everybody stay calm. 30 minutes, some frantic shoveling, strategic positioning of rocks and we were, once again, ready to roll.
So now the sun was going down quite rapidly. We would need somewhere to camp…PRONTO. We rolled up to a little nook on the beach, slightly hidden amongst some trees. This would do. Lupe would be securidad for the evening. There was a house nearby and we agreed that it was probably best to check-in with the people and inform them that we were sleeping nearby. This is when we met Lionel. Lionel owns the property and he is building a house on it, along with his brother-in-law. Lionel kindly offered us to camp on his land. It was a beautiful ocean front lot, surrounded by secure fencing. We pulled in, set up, and found a temporary home for the evening. We had a conversation with Lionel, in which he shared stories about his life and travels. He proudly told us about his children who are successful professionals in the States. He also informed us that he had just written a book of poems. It was a nice conversation, and we felt thankful for his hospitality. We were up at sunrise and enjoyed our morning coffee on the rocky point out front.
But wait, there was the morning of driving. We leave Lionel’s with Popoyo as the destination, but somehow we found ourselves back on uncharted dirt roads. It appeared that a wrong turn had brought us off course, but, luckily, we managed to find our way to the meeting of “Eagle”. “Eagle” is a retired Floridian who is now living in Nicaragua. We converse, trade some stories, and he kindly put us back on track. Right on, Eagle!
En route to Popoyo. We rolled into town. We think this is the spot? It is quiet….somewhat deserted. We were unable to locate any signs for camping. Hmmmm…..We started asking around. A Spaniard named Paco, who lives at the Mini-mart, offered us help. He directed us to a nearby restaurant and provided assistance in talking to the owner: $4, shower, close to the break. Perfect. There was 1 night there, but some concerns about security had us looking elsewhere.
We arrived at Finca Popoyo. It is a 10 minute walk down the beach from our first spot, in town. Apparently they don’t usually allow campers, and word on the scene is that we are the first. We are proud of this. There were 10 days here. We formed a small camp/community of sorts. Along side of us, there were 4 surfer dudes from Basque country (turns out that they were the white truck with Cali plates at Pedros’ up in Assedores), and 2 hilarious Spaniards who we had met at the ranch in Jiquillio. There were other travelers, as well, who were part off our nice little community. There was Fer, a surfboard shaper from Basque country, and his beautiful, kind girlfriend, Huen. There was Don, a well-traveled, sociable chocolate maker from Asheville, NC. We also met Elijah and Gideon, two easy-going travelers from Cape Cod. Oh, and Jorge! He was the securidad hefe who LOVED our truck. It was easy living with long, quiet days and familiar faces. Well, that is until Lupe got attacked, I got a surfboard to the head, and we all got fleas…but, hey, it is all part of the adventure. There were surf day trips, goose barnicle hunting expeditions, hamburger nights, Tonas aplenty, nightly Spanish lessons consisting of Dean and I attempting to understand the group. Que pass tio? So, we did learn that, while in the States we say, “What’s up, man?” apparently in Spain they say, “What’s up Uncle?” Who knew. So, we learned something.
Popoyo was really good. It was invigorating.
We then found ourselves in Astillero. We were there for 3 nights. It was just the 3 of us (me, Dean, and Lupe). We enjoyed the quiet of Hostel Hammocas. Mario hooked us up with a fan, we had showers, and uncrowded surf. There were only a few other people staying there, and it was a peaceful spot. Midday was hot, but we camped beneath the shade of tamarindo trees and the ocean was nearby. It soon became time, though, to move….onward.
There was Playa Gigante for a night where we reconnected with Becca and Mark, an Australian couple, traveling in their Kombi to South America. We walked the rocky coastline, before sunset, soaking in the vibe of the village before it was time to continue onward.
Our last night was spent in Playa Maderas, outside San Juan Del Sur. The Taco parked beside Cafe Revolution, at a beachside campspot. We both got in the water, connected with some fellow travelers, made final preparations for the next border crossing, and within a day it was decided that we would be moving on to Costa Rica. Our time in Nicaragua had come to an end.
Nicaragua was rather extreme for us. It had it’s challenges, but they seem to be forgotten amongst the many wonders of the country. As I write these words I recognize that ‘challenges’ seems so relative when traveling through a country. I imagine that this also reflects the country, though- this experience of extremes. There were hot afternoons, water impoverished landscapes, skinny dogs, and the faint smell of burning trash in the air. It was common to see men in oxen-drawn carts, children on horseback, and pigs freely roaming the landscape. There was a seriousness in the people. It was not unfriendly, but there was sense that life is tough. You see it in their brow. There were also the big shady tamarindo trees, expansive beaches, powerful surf, and playful children (so many children!)- all symbols of the life and energy present in the small nation. There was a sense that people work hard and they go out of there way to offer assistance. For that we are thankful.
It took me a little bit to warm up to Nicaragua, but now that I have, I have fallen. I hope to see you again someday, Nicaragua.