It’s true. We’re leaving South America. Tickets are bought. The van is gone. The Pan-American road trip is coming to an end. Honestly, it’s hard for us to wrap our brains around this enormous, imminent change in our lifestyle. We keep asking ourselves, Is this really happening? Did we make the right choice?
Is this the end of Sprinter Life?
The past six months have been incredibly tumultuous. To give you an idea, we’ve changed our flights no less than four times. Originally, the plan was to stay in South America one more year, spend another summer in Patagonia, hit Ushuia, and then drive up the Pacific Coast again and ship home from Peru or Ecuador, or possibly even Colombia. But then a friend expressed interest in buying the van in Argentina at the end of 2014, and that got our wheels spinning. In the end, the buyer backed out, but the homebound wheels were set in motion. After much deliberation, we realized that it was best for us to temporarily return to the States for a multitude of reasons–some business related, and some logistical (Soleil doesn’t fit in her car seat anymore, and the Sprinter lacks a third seat).
We have little to no idea what the future brings, but one thing’s for sure, there’s no backing out now that we are officially homeless.
Three days ago, we loaded ourselves into the van early in the morning to take Sprinter to the Zarate port outside of Buenos Aires. Our trusted buddy would be boarding a transatlantic ship the very next day to meet his (new) new owner in Jacksonville, Florida, in approximately one month. (Yay Dragon!) This would be our last ride together, and we meant it to be special. Earlier in the week, we gave him a good bath, inside and out, and really spruced him up for the occasion. We were going to say our goodbyes, take lots of pictures–you know, create a little fanfare in appreciation for a job well done.
Really, we couldn’t have asked for a better ride to take us safely through SIXTEEN countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
But ten minutes from the port, Soleil got car sick and barfed all over the place. When we pulled over to clean up, she peed outside the passenger door, I stepped in it and then inadvertently tracked pee back inside.
“Sorry Sprinter! We’ll buff you out again at the port. Don’t you worry, boy,” said Tree, as he side-eyed me with scorn. “Is this how you want to send him off? You and Sol just puke and piss all over him why don’t you!”
Understandably, Tree was getting a little emotional; throughout the years, he and Sprinter have been through many ups and downs together, figuratively speaking and quite literally.
But when we got to the port, they told us that Soleil couldn’t go inside, so I had to wait with her outside the perimeter as Tree navigated sending the Sprinter off by himself. After the insane shit-show at the Panama and Cartagena ports three and a half years ago, we were expecting this to hurt A LOT… FOR MANY, MANY HOURS.
But that’s not how it went down. Instead, Tree drove the van into the port, a guy checked him in, made him sign a paper, gave him a delivery receipt, and then took his keys and told him to leave.
“What? That can’t be it. I need to pay. I’m not going to just leave you with my van.” After some perplexing back and forth conversation with Tree insisting he needed more pain and suffering, someone went to go find an English speaker. “No, sir, this really is it. You pay at the kiosk down the road, and we take care of the rest.”
Wow. Tree was impressed. He shook the guys hand, said thanks, and then turned around to have some special time with his favorite van in the whole wide universe. But, alas, the doors were locked; the keys gone. Crestfallen, Tree took out the GoPro to at least capture their final moment together, but a guard spotted him and said cameras were prohibited.
“Señor, I am sorry, but it is time for you to go.”
The Sprinter’s goodbye did not go as planned, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past four years of traveling in Latin America, it’s to expect the unexpected. Hence Tree’s favorite Peru-ism:
“Todo es posible. Nada es seguro.” [Translation: Everything is possible. Nothing is for sure.]
More than anything else, even more than speaking Spanish, the most valuable lesson we’ve learned is to stay flexible, tack the sails, and adjust (or, better yet, eliminate) expectations as quickly as possible. The trick is to stay honest with yourself and your partner, and accept life on life’s terms whilst (here comes the tricky part) maintaining a good attitude. Sometimes that’s easy, like when we decided to bail on the rain in Pichilemu and head to Easter Island…
..and sometimes it’s painfully heartbreaking, like when we realized we couldn’t travel with Mango and a newborn, and we had to find a new home for Soleil. (Oh wait, that’s not what happened. I meant Mango, we found a new home for Mango!)
From a Darwinian perspective, you either adapt or go extinct, and I’m proud to say we made it through this Pan-American adventure with just a couple of hospital stays, one extra person on board, one less dog (We love and miss you, KIKI!), and a hell of a good time spent.
We fly out of Buenos Aires to Los Angeles on October 12th, 2014. Exactly, four years to the day after we crossed the border into Mexico. (Click to read the throwback blog post: Safe in Mexico). We didn’t plan it that way. The 12th was the only day AeroMexico offered the ‘short’ 17 hour flight instead of the 37 hour one, within a month margin of the Sprinter’s ship date. Only after we booked our flights (for the fourth time) did we realize the crazy coincidence.
But, the truth is, we didn’t plan most of the awesome things that have happened on this ‘trip.’
In fact, when we crossed the border into Mexico four years ago, we had “planned” on traveling for only eighteen months. We had no idea we’d fall in love with the nomad life and turn the trip into a full-time lifestyle. Nor did we plan our impromptu wedding on El Tunco beach, El Salvador.
We never imagined we’d start an NGO or, with all of your help, an affordable Montessori school in Huanchaco for kids without resources, or that we’d fall in love with and foster a street dog–-a Pit mix no less, a breed that used to scare the crap out of me–and (again, with all of your help) send him to a home in the U.S.
He’s real scary, right?
We certainly never planned on having a baby on the road, let alone in Peru, and then overlanding with her–an infant!–a mere four months later.
Nor did we anticipate that we’d never reach our intended destination of Tierra del Fuego or think that would be okay by us.
We never planned on jumping off waterfalls in Honduras…
Or going to the very remote Pacifico of Colombia.
And, most remarkably, we never knew we’d make so many incredible friends along the way, people who we’ll always hold close to our heart like fellow veterans of an astonishingly fun war.
I’m grateful for every crazy moment this journey has gifted us. And I thank all of you, dear readers, for taking the ride with us.
So, needless to say, Tree and I are a mix of emotions.
On the one hand, we are both super excited to spend time with family and friends. Plus, I’m truly looking forward to touring the States with Tree, who knows all of the coolest hideouts, scenic rivers, climbing walls, and wild places in the lower 48.
And, of course, there’s the easy-access healthy food: raw food/vegan cafes, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and every international dining experience you can possibly imagine. Best of all, the odds of us getting food/water poisoned and hurling for a day (or FIVE) are greatly diminished. We may even eradicate the parasites I’m sure we’ve been harboring since Mexico.
Also, we’re in the market for a new nomad home, one equipped with a bathroom, a third seat, and a table, so if that deal goes through, well then whoopee! I won’t have to teach Soleil how to use the funnel after all (Read: A Feminist Manifesto on Overcoming the Biological Burden of Urination: Extreme Sport Potty Training).
Basically, being back in the States will be easy. Everyone speaks our mother tongue, and we won’t t have to do money conversions in our head every time we buy something. The pressure to constantly be on top of our game will go down dramatically.
In exchange, however, we’ll be losing the excitement, the sitting on the edge of your seat awareness, the hyper tuned-in LIVING NOW feeling that you get from foreign travel, particularly the longterm, nomadic overland (or backpacker) variety.
There’s an amped-up level of alertness you absolutely MUST HAVE when you arrive in your twenty-one foot long, ten-foot high, Moby f’n Dick of a van to a major metropolitan city late in the afternoon where you have to deftly navigate to find food and shelter and a place to park where you won’t get robbed, and/or possibly worse, have a window be broken and have to replace it in said cluster-fuck city;
Or when you scale some of the tallest mountain ranges in the world to see Andean Condors with a six-month old baby with altitude sickness; or when you get drunk and drive across the Bolivian Salt Flats that threaten to sink your vehicle and freeze your butt off in a nanosecond;
Or when you drive on The World’s Most Dangerous Road,
Or across scary jungle bridges on the way to Machu Picchu;
Or, on a daily basis, just doing your best to avoid the BAZILLIONS of topes (speed bumps) and potholes and cows and vicuna and crazy-ass Latin American drivers passing on two lane highways on the side of a cliff who think Jesus will protect them on that blind corner.
I’m not going to lie; it’s been intense. Like a cross between Dakar, Survivor, and The Amazing Race for four years straight.
And, yet, only when we rub against life with this burning level of friction do we truly shine.
I’m also really going to miss everything about Argentina, the warmth of Latin American culture as a whole, kissing to greet, trying new flavors, eating the freshest eggs with deep orange yolks, guzzling cheap agua de coco by the gallon, speaking Spanish on a daily basis, the way people of both sexes and all ages know how to help new mothers and be friends with babies and small children, walking everywhere, breastfeeding in public without so much as an awkward glance from strangers, shopping in the open-air markets, and listening to the stories of people who have had life experiences tremendously different than my own.
There’s a lot to miss. It hurts to say goodbye.
And, truth be told, I’m a bit nervous about cultural re-entry to the States. In many ways, I feel feral, been rogue too long. Like I just won’t fit in anymore.
Because really “the trip” has been more in my mind than anywhere else. It’s the way the experiences have shaped me like the wind and currents and rivers shape land and polish rocks. I’m forever changed by them.
Consequently, the Unites States I grew up in will be different than the one I come home to, mostly because I am different. I won’t see it the same. I remember where my head was when I left, and I don’t want to feel that kind of anxiety, vanity, insecurity, and need to consume, nor do I want to take for granted how my actions affect the environment and people in the developing world. Having seen so many spectacular sights on this incredible 30,000 mile journey–a flock of toucans flying across the treetops in Cipo, Brazil; pink flamingos bathing in Sajama, Bolivia; condors riding thermals in Colca Canyon, Peru–I’ve fallen deeper in love with our beautiful planet and truly want to live in a way that respects the miracle of life on it. Along the way, we’ve seen examples of reciprocity between earth and community within indigenous cultures, and we’ve seen that way of life threatened by greed and the exploitation of resources. Depending on the day, I feel both hopeful and uncertain that we can find balance again.
Still, I hope to bring my experiences home with me and do my best to keep a global perspective, not just an American one. For sure it will be a work-in-progress, especially since we have very little idea about what we’re doing next, and quite frankly it’s hard to truly live sustainably within a capitalist (cancerous?) system of economic growth, but I know we’ll strive to create a simple lifestyle that enables us to live out our newfound ideals as best as we can. Until the revolution, that’s all any of us can do, right?
Of course, it’s hard to make plans, knowing what we know about such silly things, but as we’ve been discussing the kind of new experiences we want for ourselves and Soleil, because these too will inevitably leave their impressions on who we become, we envision ourselves spending lots of time outside getting shamefully dirty. We see raft trips on the Deschutes and Rogue Rivers. I picture us bouldering in the Buttermilks and sport climbing Smith Rocks. And I imagine us in places I’ve never been before, untrampled space willed by its proprietary system of interconnectivity and chance–the powers I swore by on the road–because that is where we’ll connect to the wild within, where we’ll go to feel whole again, because…
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” -Shakespeare
Here’s to the next adventure! (Overland Europe? Backpack Asia? We’ll see…) –Stevie