A Tourist in My Own Country

Since we’ve been back in the States, things have not slowed down.

We went from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles to Hood River to Seattle and then back to Hood River, and then we flew down to San Diego and drove to Yuma and then back to LA and then flew back to Hood River, where we are now…for now.

Soleil airport

We flew to San Diego to see the Simkos, which brought our trip full circle.

Four years ago, we stayed with our bestie family while we got injected with too many unnecessary vaccines and purchased too many last minute safety items–malaria prevention meds, stun guns, pepper spray, perimeter alarms, even a baseball bat–as we prepped to cross the border into Mexico.  It’s funny looking back on how nervous we were. Such cute little newbies.

In hindsight, the most useful thing we did to “protect” ourselves was learn to speak Spanish and network with locals and other travelers.  It’s all about kinship and communication, no matter where you go. Thankfully, the rest of the “weapons” just collected dust in the back of the van.

These girls….

Kaden Soleil and Avery

Soleil and Avery bathtime

Soleil soccer

Since we’ve been home, the main draw to go somewhere has been the people we’re visiting. Having been gone for so many years, we’ve wanted to spend time catching up with family and friends–and, honestly, we’ve only just begun this mission.  Our social calendar is booked well into next year. Still, I’ve decided to try to bring the same enthusiasm I had in Latin America “to see and do rad shit” back home with us.  It’s so easy to compare the foreign and exotic with the domestic and familiar and grow bored before we even begin our stateside tour.  So, rather than being a snobby ex-pat itching to leave again, I’m setting out to be a tourist in my own country.  

America, here we come! We’re getting our wild on! We’re ready to navigate your roads, explore your towns, eat your food, learn your language (speaking for Soleil, here), climb your rock walls, surf your beaches, get to know your people, and boon-dock under your big, star-spangled skies.

Hence, while we were in San Diego, we decided to take Soleil to the Scripps Aquarium to see the tide pools. Except when we got there we found out the tickets cost $17 EACH , which means being a tourist here will be much more expensive than it was in Latin America.  So, we took Soleil to Scripps beach instead. Cost of entry: FREE. Fun time had: PRICELESS.

She didn’t seem to mind the change of plans.

Soleil and Mama beach

Soleil running

Soleil and Dada in the water

Then we went to Yuma, Arizona to visit Soleil’s Pa and Nana and do a little motorhome reconnaissance with Tree’s dad, an RV jedi master.

Soleil and Pa hat

Soleil and Pa closeup

Soleil and Pa

While we were there, Pa drove me across the border to Algodones, Mexico a couple of times to get some dental work done. On one of the days, it happened to be Mexican Revolution Day, basically an excuse to get the families together in the street, eat food, dress up, make noise, and celebrate. I’d be lying if I said the smell of carnitas, dust, and churros didn’t pull on my heartstrings.

On the way back through immigration, I was amazed by the incredibly long line of white people, presumably Americans and Canadians, trying to get back into the States.  I had no idea that Algodones was such a popular medical destination. Tens of thousands of people go there during the fall, spring, and winter to see optometrists and dentists, and get chelation and prescriptions filled, and probably more I have no idea about.

Mexico parade

Mexico little girls

Mexico dresses

Mexico Parade 2

We also explored Downtown Yuma, a cool little town if there ever was one.

Downtown Yuma

Every morning and evening these vintage school buses with port-o-potties transport workers to and from Mexico to work the fields in Yuma, America’s winter vegetable capital and overall #3 producer of vegetables in the nation.  The area produces over 175 crops and seeds, so to say that Arizona’s economy leans heavily on this available cheap labor is a bit obvious.

And, yet, in 2010 Arizona passed  the Arizona SB 1070 act into law that requires aliens to carry immigrant registration documents with them at all times (which, incidentally, is already a federal law) and–here comes the part that really bothers me– obligates police to make an attempt to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Obviously this law was not designed with the thousands of white Canadians who winter in Arizona in mind. Police aren’t going to be pulling them over and asking them for their papers. I know that this law was simply a bad response to a broken immigration system, but that doesn’t make it any less racist.

Since then, it’s estimated that Arizona (and other states like Georgia and Alabama who have passed copycat laws) has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tourist, business, and agricultural revenue. 

But it’s not how economically inane the law is that bothers me. What hurts is the culture of exploitation and exclusivity the law encourages in a state that has such an interdependent relationship with Mexicans.  The law seems like such a step back to me, like we’re casting our pearls before swine.  My absolute favorite characteristic of our country is our community of diversity. I’ve been to over 25 countries, and no one does multicultural kinship better than us. It truly is our strength, our crown jewel.  I love that when we’re at our best, we lean into this gift, appreciate the richness in our differences, and embrace our shared humanity.

But I digress. Where was I? I was telling you about how rad Yuma is.  Oh yes, antique stores, book shops, saloons, and sporadic train whistles give an old west feel to the town that I really loved.

Downtown Yuma 2

We even found a town fair replete with microbrews, hot air balloons, and a kiddy train ride

Train Conductor
Mama and Soleil Train3

With Pa and Nana leading the way, we went to the biggest playground I have ever seen in my entire life.  At first I was confused why a town with a median age of 75 years old would be home to this mega-fun kids’ castle, but then it hit me… grandkids. Duh.

The Park 2

Apparently, we’re real big on safety and supervision here in the States.

Soleil Train

Check out this contrast:

Soleil swinging in Argentina (note the concrete, no soft landings in that country)

Soleil swinging Argentina

Soleil swinging in the States (in case you were wondering, there is NOT a smile hiding behind that wall of plastic)

Soleil Safe Swing

Soleil climbing in Brazil

Soleil Climbing Brazil

Soleil climbing in the States

Soleil climbing

Okay, the last one’s not entirely fair.  We just haven’t been climbing in nature here, YET. First stop once we get our RV back from its makeover is Las Vegas! Red Rocks, here we come!

From Yuma, we drove back to LA to spend Thanksgiving with my other Mexican family–Cyndi, Mikey, and Layla.

Along the way, we passed these windmills, and lots of signs by locals rallying against these windmills, which was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.  (And that pretty much sums up how I feel being back in the States).


We stopped off in Cardiff-by-the-Sea to have lunch at our favorite taco stand on the planet.  Yup, even after eating hundreds of amazing street tacos in Mexico, the shrimp, chorizo, and bacon ones from Bull Taco are still the best.

Bull Taco

Soleil and her Abuelita getting ready for the big party on Turkey day.

Soleil and Abuelita Hair

Soleil hair closeup

In the photos below, beautiful Cyndi is finishing up our delicious feast. The house, the food, the company were all exquisite. I’ve learned a lot from Cyndi, too much to recount, but how-to-throw-a-party is probably my most favorite lesson. I grew up in a home that might as well have been surrounded by a mote with crocodiles. Friends were not allowed over–not mine or my sister’s, and my parents didn’t like anyone enough to invite anyway. Cyndi on the other hand runs the kind of house that is always open for business. There never seems to be any food in the fridge, but there’s always something good to eat on the table.  I don’t know how she does it. We call her house ‘the compound’ because for so many of us orphans, it’s home. 

Cyndi cooking

Pretty Cyndi 2

Soleil dancing with her amiga Claudia

Soleil and Claudia

Look at those smiles…gratitude is truly beautiful. Thankgsgiving Girls

Keeping with my promise to go out and do rad stuff, Cyndi and Soleil and I went to All Saints Church in Pasadena to hear Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy industries, speak. Homeboy Industries is a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. His recovery model is fairly simple. When a homie comes to him ready to quit bangin’, he offers him free tattoo removal, a job at one of Homeboy Industries operations (bakery, cafe, silkscreen shop), and boundless compassion. His definition of compassion is one of my favorites: “Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.”

The success of his program is nothing shy of spectacular. In recognition for his incredible contribution to society, Laura Bush invited him and 2 homeboys to the White House for dinner.  I wish I could’ve been a fly on that wall.

Father Gregory Boyle is the Santa-esque guy below signing his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. I bought a copy and immediately started reading it.

Father Greg Boyle

Aside from packing gorgeous prose, heartbreaking stories, and inspirational testaments of faith and love, the book is funny. After working with youth and adult gang members for over 20 years, “G”, as the homies call him, has unofficially been collecting what he calls homie-propisms. Things like homie altar boys frequently mistaking the word “gentiles” for “genitals” while reading from the bible, or accidentally leading the congregation in a responsorial psalm with “The Lord is nothing I shall want” instead of “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.” My favorite though is the phone message left for G by a homie working the front office at Homeboy Industries: “Professor Davis at UC Irvine wants you to give a talk. YOU WILL BE CONSTIPATED.” Concerned,  G later inquired how this prophetic homie knew his bowels would be blocked up and discovered, mercifully, that the homie meant to say “compensated.”

After feeling so disappointed in Arizona’s stupid law–and more so because, according to a Rasmussen Polls report, 60% of Americans agreed with it, with only 30% disagreeing–Gregory Boyle’s story was a salve to my heart. His response to fear was the exact opposite of Arizona’s legislators. He met fear with love and compassion and created kinship in a bullet-torn community:

“No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

Unfortunately Tree had to leave the day after Thanksgiving to go buy our new RV (see here), but Soleil and I were able to celebrate Cyndi’s birthday with her before we left a few days later.

Cyndi's Birthday

Soleil and Abuelita
Now we are back in Hood River where we have to dress like this…

Snow Suit

But we’re warm and cozy in Corrin and Glenn’s house, making wood fires, cooking in Fresh P’s kitchen, and giving “comida a las gallinas,” Soleil’s favorite chore.

Chicken Duties

As a nice surprise, our overlanding friends Luis and Lacey from Lost World Expeditions stopped in for a visit. So, dutifully keeping our commitment to do rad shit, Soleil and I took advantage of the opportunity to take them wine tasting in the Gorge, one of our favorite pastimes.

Wine Tasting Sol and Lacey

Sunshine Mill

Luis and Tree and Soleil with kiss

That’s it for now folks. The 16th of December is my 39th birthday. I’m getting older, but that’s okay. If gaining a couple of wrinkles is part of the awesome life package, I’ll take them with a grateful heart.  -Stevie

Bonus photo, you can thank me later.  I asked Soleil to get ready to take a shower (meaning “get naked”) and she came back wearing her floaty suit and water wings.

When I told her that we don’t wear swimwear in the shower, this happened:

Soleil Shower



  1. Naomi Chance says:

    Happy Birthday Stevie! December 16th is also my daughter’s birthday. I’ll be thinking of you – Happy Birthday – Happy Everyday!

  2. Thank you for sharing…you are soooo alive! Living in the moment I am sure. You must crash every evening with so many days of kinship, adventure…living to the fullest. Keep em comin’

  3. You are all loved. Wherever you are, you are ALWAYS loved. Happy Birthday Honey.

  4. I just bought the book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Sounds good. Thanks. Something I need to work on, compassion 🙂


    • I think you’ll like it. It packages the message of lovingkindness and compassion in very real stories, which speaks a louder truth to me than flowery woo-woo shit. Plus it’s heartbreaking and funny, kind of like life itself.

  5. Air Pockets and Showers: The Vital Expression of Imagination – Sol

  6. I am in total agreement re: favorite characteristic of the US is our diversity. After traveling for over a year, I came to this realization.

  7. Thank you for sharing the story about Father Gregory Boyle. Nothing puts me in the Christmas mood like a beautiful story about compassion. Glad to have you back in Blogland….fills my morning cup of coffee with Ahhhhh.

  8. I just read a definition of compassion: being able to speak to all people, wherever their consciousness is, with no judgements about them; simply be there with them.

    Happy Birthday my Beautiful friend, may you always walk in compassion.

  9. Randy Barnes says:

    We love traveling vicariously with you. Can’t wait to see what the US holds in store:)

  10. Happy, Happy Birthday tooooo YOOUUUUU!!!! X

  11. Claudia Acosta says:

    Soleil’s face in the picture where she’s wearing her rain boots says it all! I love it and miss my little friend.
    Have a wonderful day Stevie.
    Happy Birthday!

  12. Happy Birthday Sugar Plum!!

  13. You write so well, on the political as well as personal level. Regarding the AZ law, I admire how you made your point about a contentious issue in a positive manner without being shrill or insulting. Makes it very easy to agree with you. Well done.

    BTW, the forties are the most awesome years, without a doubt. You have so much to look forward to!

    • Thank you. I wrote and deleted the Arizona law section numerous times. I felt compelled to share my feelings about it, but I didn’t want to take a side, so to speak, and only contribute to the polarity that I’m arguing against. It was tricky. Anyhow, I’m happy you received the message I was intending to send. That always makes me feel good 🙂

  14. Happy Birthday Stevie…so looking forward to hearing about more adventures….

  15. I pay a visit day-to-day a few web sites and blogs to read
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