Piedra Parada: A Globetrotter’s Paradise

Just before heading back to Piedra Parada, I was interviewed as part of a research project on globetrotters conducted by a lovely French Canadian woman, a fellow gypsy-mama named Valarie Bertrand. As per the consent form, the intent of the study is

“To discover and understand the views and perspectives of globetrotters in regards to their motivational factors and subjective wellbeing…While most individuals enjoy the comfort of their home, the stability of their work and the predictability of their life, globetrotters prefer living on a day-to-day basis in a constantly unstable and unpredictable setting. What exactly pushes people to dedicate their life to long-term traveling, then?”

Good question.

Why do I subject myself to peeing in a bottle, moldy showers, communal living, micro closets, a single-burner stove, and driving ten hours straight with a toddler?


It’s pretty simple, really. WATCH OUR PIEDRA PARADA VIDEO and you’ve got the ANSWER.

Click here to watch the video


As I write this, I am sitting along a tranquil green river, relaxing after a hard day of climbing, staring out at the Piedra Parada, a famous 200 meter free-standing rock that looks like a giant guitar pick strumming the wide Patagonian sky. Soleil is helping Tree collect firewood. Kiki is asleep under the hammock.  And, all I can think is…

This is why we’re homeless. This is why we live in a van.


In trying to better understand our ‘push factors,’ Valarie asked me if I knew I was unhappy when I was living in Los Angeles and, therefore, set out to become a nomad. But, the truth is, I didn’t think of myself as particularly tormented.

It wasn’t until we started this Pan-American trip that we realized that we didn’t want to go back to our old way of living–or, rather, back to ‘normal.’


“So, what happened?” Valarie asked.  “How did a trip become a lifestyle? Why did you become permanent nomads?”

It wasn’t one particular incident that changed us, but rather a slow shift in perspective, a redefining of values that happened on the road.

1) A life of less is a life of more

 “Wanna fly? First you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.” –Toni Morrison

Neither Tree nor I were very materialistic to start, but somewhere along the way (maybe Nicaragua?), it really hit home that a life of less stuff means a life of more authentic experience—or, as Tree likes to say, “of doing more rad shit together.”


Logistically, this makes sense. With less stuff to weigh us down—as in, we don’t have a house or the comfy things inside it—we’re able to pick up and follow our heart’s desire in less than an hour (so long as there’s internet, of course). Also, by consuming less, we need less money, which means we don’t need two incomes to pay for the house and all the comfy things inside it.

Ecologically speaking, the nomad life has reduced our carbon footprint, an ethic that’s increasingly important to us. Plus, it makes us feel more accountable to the wellbeing of the planet by virtue of actually engaging it.


Most importantly, though, we get to spend enormous amounts of time together as a family, sharing adventures, getting some fun out of life.  And, what’s better than that?

Family day shot

Granted, I don’t think van life is for everyone–it’s rough–but I do think a life that deepens intimacy, invites adventure, allows integrity, and respects the planet should be.

DSC05701Mama and Sol in hammock

2) Experiencing wild nature

We have a deep biological need to experience the wild.

A few months ago I had a conversation with an old L.A. friend who told me that recently he had been struggling with thoughts of suicide. I asked him if he ever gets outside, meaning outside the city, to experience nature.  “Never,” he said.  My heart ached for him, but I understood.  Before I met Tree, I very rarely got beyond the matrix of freeways, the motherboard of buildings and lights, and the endless suburban sprawl that is Los Angeles.


I read an interview with the British environmental writer, George Monbiot, in Orion magazine last month, and his summation of modern society succinctly captures my sentiments:

“My sense is that people like me are ecologically bored, that we possess the psychological equipment required to navigate a world that is far more challenging than our own—a world of horns and tusks and fangs and claws.  Yet our lives have been reduced to the point at which loading a dishwasher seems to present an interesting challenge.”

Sol eating breakfast, watching the wild horses drink and bathe.

In the last week or so, I’ve seen countless rheas (Patagonia ostriches), jackrabbits, skunks, swans, parrots, and wild horses; still, each time, I am filled with a sense of wonder and excitement.  In the wild, I am routinely awed by the magnificence of our planet and am so grateful for the rare opportunity to be alive.

I wish I could reintroduce my friend to the wild.

See photo below: It seems that in Spanish, risks are “occasional,” whereas in English, “dangers are eventual.”  Somehow this is more true than the translator ever intended.

(Sometimes I do wonder what my husband is getting me into. Rockfall, lightning, pumas, and snakes… lovely. Let’s go.)


Today, I have a more intense and emotional engagement with the living world, and it has strengthened me in ways I could never have imagined.  For instance, rock climbing—a powerful dance of body and mind, a sort of extreme vertical yoga—has been a game-changing gift that has completely reshaped the way I regard my body and experience the outdoors. It’s like I just discovered sex. What!!? We can do THIS with rope and a harness?! Don’t stop! Give me MORE MORE MORE!

Mama climbing 11A

Honestly, I have too much to say about it. The experience deserves its own post.

Sol and Mama- bfeeding

What I can tell you, though, is that from now on, we’ll definitely be weaving our way from crag to crag, from continent-to continent, around-the-world.  Just another reason why I love being a nomad.



3) The kindness of strangers.

 “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  –Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

I’ve always believed in the kindness of strangers, but there’s nothing like traveling through 15 countries in a van to test that hypothesis.

Fortunately, we always seem to meet great people.  This time we met a traveling French couple who were camped not far from us. The girl, Sara, walked over and introduced herself, and we got to talking, so we invited her and her boyfriend Nu Tan (French-Vietnamese) over later that evening to share our campfire. Since we’ve been living in Latin America, I’ve become fluent in Spanish, but my ability to speak French has suffered greatly.  I was looking forward to getting a little tipsy and practicing. Oui, oui!

They came by after we put the baby down in the van to sleep.  I opened a bottle of wine, and Sara brought over some homemade crackers.  Since Tree doesn’t speak French, and lately when I try it comes out half Spanish, the night was filled with a sort of Franco-Spanglish that resembles Sol speak.


As we drank wine and blithely butchered three languages, I finally asked Sara how she made the crackers we were eating.  They were super crunchy, lightly salted discs ‘baked’ over a campfire.  They both laughed, and Nu Tan sheepishly explained that it was a simple recipe they had been living off of for days since they hadn’t been able to catch any fish.

“Flour, d’eau, salt, et comment dis-en anglais? Fumier de vache?” Nu Tan said.

Now, I know my French is rusty, but I was pretty sure he just said that they used manure, which couldn’t be right.

“You cooked the crackers in cow shit?” I asked, wondering if this was one of those lost-in-translation moments where I accidentally insult someone.

“Oui! Bien sur! That’s what it is. Cow shit!” Nu Tan exclaimed.

“We saw it on the National Geographic channel, and it really works. You just use a match,” said Sara.

I could tell Sara and Nu Tan were very proud of themselves, and I was just buzzed enough to dish out the encouragement.

“Wow! Now that’s innovative sustainability! I’m always telling Tree we need to be more creative. I can’t believe you can just light a cow pie on fire and bake a frickin’ biscuit. That’s AMAZING! We gotta try that sometime, right Tree?”

“Yah,” Tree said, as he stuffed the remainder of his cracker under his chair.

Later that night, lying in bed, Tree asked if I was really going to start cooking with cow shit. “Well, you know, having a second burner might be nice,” I said.

(Take note overlanding cooks: THAT is how you get a kitchen upgrade in your vehicle).


The next morning, we saw Nu Tan up early, already fishing. His pole consisted of a long stick and fishing line with a piece of pasta tied to the end.  I was thinking how he looked extra tall and skinny, and then I remembered our conversation the night before. Not the cow pie part, but the part about how they had shared the very last of their provisions with us. And I thought about how kind and generous of spirit that was—to value new friendship more than food. And then I thought about the incredible people in Lima who gave me rides, brought me meals, and helped me take care of Sol when Tree was in the hospital. And about the trucker who siphoned gas out of his tank when we ran out in Venezuela. And the random driver in the Land Cruiser in La Paz, Bolivia, who shepherded us to safety through that crazy-ass city when we were lost, and of all the strangers who have given us directions and warnings and warm smiles.

Family breakfast

So, after coffee, I brought Nu Tand and Sara over a bag of non-cooking-required goodies to eat, and I thanked them for the good conversation, the cow-poo crackers, and the fun “recipe” to tell my friends.

In short, I guess I could have told Valarie that the biggest motivation for becoming globetrotters was that ultimately we realized we could never buy a big enough house, with a wild enough backyard, to fit all of our new friends, as we have now in our nomad “home.”

Kiki in her shoes

We’re back from Piedra Parada now and working our way north.



More fun photos:

Daddy doing yoga


 Sol doing yoga



 Mama and Sol doing acro-yoga


And, then, of course, savasana


Happy hour for Daddy


Happy hour for Mama

Happy  hour for Mama

Happy hour for Sol

DSC05664 DSC05686 

Thank you friends for following the adventure!

Brazos Arriba Family sunset shot


  1. I love this! The climb looks amazing, I have a yoga background and my husband is currently luring me up on the rocks more and more often. I’ve been following your blog for awhile (this might be my first comment) and I have been so inspired by your family. We’re currently contemplating selling our too-big too-expensive house. Thank you!

    • Hey Vickery,

      Thanks for commenting! We love hearing from readers; it inspires us to keep sharing the adventure. I’m glad to hear that you’re putting your yoga skills to the rock. I think it helps, don’t you?

      Stay in touch!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I do hope that you will write a book one day !! I am a voracious reader & your story is so inspiring !! If I had a partner in life, (as you have in Tree), I would “pack it all up”, and be GONE ~~ following the sunbelt in a heart beat !! One day, one day…. I live in So. Cal…. Maybe your “friend” and I… should team up! — lol.
    Bright Blessings … ☼

    • You don’t need a partner in life. The times I thought I did and traveled with them, it didn’t work half as well as when I traveled solo with my two dogs. Leap.

    • Thank you anonymous. I hope I write a book someday, too! The blog (and kind commenters such as yourself) has been very encouraging.

      As for the traveling, I’m with Lorraine. Traveling solo is its own wonderful experience. Don’t let not having a partner hold you back. That being said, I love that Tree and I share a passion for adventure and an incorrigible wanderlust. But who knows? Maybe you’ll find your partner on the road?


  3. Marjorie Auckland says:

    The most beautiful video I’ve ever seen! Soleil is one bad ass chica. I love her so much!! Thank you for sharing your magical life.

  4. Christy Palmisano says:

    Stevie, Thanks for a perfect way to wake up this morning living in ‘your world’ for a few minutes. Outstanding job, remarkable life! XOXOXO, Auntie

  5. Donna Clary says:

    What a great post for Sprinter Life! I perfectly understand your position, sense of adventure and the lessons experienced and learned. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel blessed you two have dared to live this life.

  6. Peggy Ditch-Langdon says:

    Fantastic as usual…thanks

  7. This made me so happy!!!

  8. Tanta Alsy says:

    The pic of Sol in the red hammock is priceless. She is a beauty!

    Keep up inspiring us with your wonderful truths!

  9. Mamatuyas says:

    You two seem to dig into the layers and find the beauty, the passion of living authentically, everywhere. Lovely writing Stevie. The photos are breathtaking, and your lives . . . gorgeous.

    • Thank you. We love and miss you. See you in Buenos Aires!!! I received the confirmation on our apartment. We’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll!

  10. Brenda de Klerk says:

    Blessed….love all of it! safe travels!

  11. Super lovely post girl!!!!! Just waking up to it makes me wanna get outside ! I love y’all.

  12. I call you my adventure friends…..my husband just shakes head and smiles. Rock on you three, what a wonderful existence you have created for yourselves! Thanks for the adventures! Really beautiful!

    • I love that we’re your adventure friends! I wish everyone called us that 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment…it’s always nice to hear from you. ox.

  13. Troy Giancanelli says:

    Wow your daughter is so beautiful, I really took the time to watch your video, I am jealous!! I love to travel and see the world.

  14. Beau Carrillo says:

    Sweet video! Sol is living the dream…! But remember, all dreams end and begin in one place…. Tupungato.

  15. Love this What a Beautiful little person she is Just goes to show you two are doing a Fabulous job!

  16. Great post. I love your perspective on living and Tree s on doing more rad shit

  17. Abuelita says:

    Loving reading this over and over. Thoughts, feelings and descriptions beautifully expressed.

  18. liz Tompkins says:

    Another great post! Thanks for the diversion. I’m curious about what kind of meals you like to cook on just one burner? If you would share such trivial info that would be great. I also love that you make sure you have enough wine and gin to get you through to the next stop!
    Did you hear about the poor family that were just two weeks into their 1 yr sailing trip around the world with two very small children when their boat developed mechanical issues? Soon after their youngest became ill and wasn’t responding to medication so they had to be rescued by the Mexican coast guard. To make a sad story even worse the coast guard was not able to save the boat so it is now sitting on the ocean floor. I felt so bad for these people and hope they will make another go of it sometime. The media is now pestering them and asking dumb questions like “why would you travel with two very young children, isn’t that irresponsible”?

    • Hey Liz,

      I did hear about the Kaufman family. My heart goes out to them, and I, too, really hope that they are able to regroup and get back to their adventures. As for the media and all the schadenfreude-feeding parasites, they are so quick to judge alternative lifestyle choices and, yet, we hear no reflection concerning the over prescription of ADHD meds, or the routine neglect of children due to both parents having to work full-time jobs, or the soaring child obesity rates caused by processed food and lack of exercise–of course not because those are all NORMAL consequences of NORMAL lifestyles. Oy, don’t even get me started. Anyhow, what do I cook? It all depends on what country we’re in and what local ingredients are available, but here’s a few things. If we’re by the ocean, I might cook up fish tacos. If provision are slim, I’ll cook up some egg dish…maybe fried eggs and polenta with sauteed mushrooms and sundried tomatoes. These days I’ve been making a mean lentil-brown rice taco with a corn salsa. If there’s an oven in a hostel, I’ll make a frittata because it stores well and makes great driving/camping food, good hot or cold. We try to eat mostly vegetarian now, but, that being said, one of my favorite one-pot dishes is ground turkey or beef with onion, peppers, tomatoes, other available veggies in a green enchilada sauce served over grains (I like Trader Joes Harvest grains, couscous quinoa garbanzo medley). Curry egg salad sandwiches. Oh, how could I forget, soups! White bean and fennel, quinoa and veggies, spicy greens and lentil, tomato and pepper are my favorites. And, of course, there’s a ton of different pasta variations that are easy one-pan meals.

      I feel like we get by just fine with a single burner, BUT, I often long for more burners and an oven. I miss so many dishes, and I want to experiment and try new things that I just can’t do with my little kitchen.

      Anyhow, hope that answers the question. If not, let me know. I could talk about food for eons. xo.

  19. Solei is so lovely, I’m glad you guys enjoyed piedra parada. It’s also my next stop on holidays!

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