The Baja California Sur Adventure

The nicest thing about coming to The Baja is the closeness and direct flights available from Salt Lake. In less than four hours, you can be digging your toes into the warm sand, sipping a salt rimmed margarita and watching the waves.

It’s pretty easy to get Gandaulf into Mexico so he gets to vacation with us. He’s such a great traveler. He steals everyone’s heart and I never tire hearing people taking his picture or listen to them comment on how cute he is. He just prances on in his service jacket, ears pinned back, taking care of his mom, always alert. When we get to the beach, it’s all about the ball.

We got to Baja on Sunday. It’s a quick little battery recharge vacation. We spend the day bouncing from the waves to the pool and back again. We found the quaintest little Hotel in Cabo Pulmo called VidaSoul. It’s quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s about an hour drive across the east cape of The Baja. The drive itself is part of the adventure. The directions consist of a few pictures and some approximate mileages of where to turn. It was quite easy to get off track, or miss a turn because in the desert, things are in a constant state of change. A windy day can push a pile of sand to the other side of a turn and the picture may not look like what is actually there now.

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We ended up in the city dump, literally, and I had to use my best Spanish to try to get directions from an old Mexican guy who apparently works there. We missed one of the turns because it no longer looked like the picture or a sign was missing. We made our way back to the correct road and were off again.

The road was a sand wash for the most part and the closer we got to the arroyo it was evident that storms from the past summer had washed out huge sections of the surrounding area. Coming over the rise we could see the hotel was an oasis sitting atop a sand dune and visible from almost anywhere. It’s white and grey exterior poised high atop a pile of sand with the arroyo about 400 yards away. It is right on the beach and very private.

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They call this place The Crossroads. It’s origin was a dream of an expat and her son. This monolith came about from a small shack on the beach with a thatched roof. The owners son designed the whole Hotel with not a detail missed. All the cement was mixed by hand. It took nine years to complete. It has a grand staircase that goes down to a uniquely designed pool which is quite literally a hole dug in the beach. It is surrounded by sand, a few beach lounges and some material strung between some poles for shade. The pool has a bar in the center. In order to get to the bar, the bartender must wade out to the pit in the center. The bridge idea never materialized.

From the pool and the restaurant you can gaze out across the water and watch the whales spouting and playing. You can watch the Mexican hand fishers in their little skiffs. You can take in the crashing waves and the sea breezes. The staff is very attentive and your glass is always topped off, a fresh bottle of water, or a little something from the restaurant. Whatever it was we ordered it never disappointed.

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Chris and I just don’t like the crowds or touristy areas much anymore so VidaSoul was the perfect getaway. Being in the middle of nowhere, they have made a concerted effort to use solar power and keep it eco friendly. They do have a generator that runs most all night in order to keep the AC on and give its guests a comfortable night sleep.

The rooms are quite spacious. VidaSoul offers meal plans that help offset the meal costs. The portion sizes are huge. The bartender makes the best margaritas. The food was fresh and delicious and the drink pours were more than fair. We aren’t in Utah baby! We would highly recommend a visit to this oasis if traveling the road around the coastline of the east cape.

Life on Life’s Terms

The saying, “the best made plans…”, finish as you would. Our lives have taken a slight U turn.

About five years ago, we made the decision to sell off All we own, buy a plane ticket to Ecuador, and “retire”. We worked really hard to save all our pennies… set up ourselves to retire with means enough to live comfortably. We put our business on the market in January 2017, started selling off the “stuff” we have accumulated over the last 25 years and started planning our escape.

At first we had planned a getaway to a nice country, hoped to secure a long term rental then travel out from there. That soon turned into a road trip in a 1998 Land Cruiser we picked up cheap. We spent the next 9 months rigging it up for Overlanding. Again those plans were laid to rest after a quick trip to Iceland, where we rented a VW Krafter van converted into a rudimentary camper van. The focus switched to buying a Sprinter or Transit van and converting it into a camper. Let’s face it… we are a bit older than most who are Overlanding in an SUV. Small things like being able to stand up, get out of the weather, and the ability to cook inside when needed, became key needs.

That brings us to this current year 2018.

The business sale never materialized, even after a young man came in a couple times a month for six months, promising us we would close by the beginning of the year. The beginning of the year came and went. Every attempt he made to secure financing fell away. We were forced to resign ourselves to the fact this could be harder than we originally anticipated. He’s now a salesperson for us.

We did find a great deal on a 2015 Ford Transit van with the eco boost engine, which will give us similar gas mileage to the diesel Sprinter yet we won’t need to worry about any of the diesel emissions garbage they throw on the Sprinter. We were still proceeding as if we would be leaving for our adventure, even though the future was uncertain at best.

I was devastated when I realized that I was bound to Utah for another winter. I really wanted to believe that “the kid” would come through and buy us out. I feel as if the dealership is a means to an end, but also could be my end. The stress levels of being a business owner are sometimes insurmountable for me. Chris is my rock. She always picks me up, dusts me off, and convinces me everything will work out as it should… just get the hell out of the way. If you keep trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, eventually something is bound to give… that something is usually my mental and emotional health.

So today, I am sitting at a small metal table, in the middle of no where, on the east cape of the Baja of Mexico. I dream that this will someday be a big part of our lives. We are watching the whales breach just a couple hundred yards off the beach, Gandaulf is resting with his head on my bare feet, the smell of the salt water and the sound of the waves, lulls me into a trance and rests my uneasy soul. It’s hard to accept life on life’s terms.

Winter Escape

Sometimes, in the cold gray winter months I need to get away. If I can get into the sun, feel the warm sun on my bare arms and breathe clean air… I can recharge my depleted batteries with a little solar energy. Where does one go to accomplish such a task without a full on vacation? Well for me it’s a quick trip to Phoenix Arizona.

It’s something about the desert. Something that draws me in. Something about the solitude one can find in the desert. In an environment as harsh as the desert, one can fill the batteries indeed. All time seems to stand still. Everything around me is in a state of suspended animation. Even in the winter months each tiny plant struggles to eek out an existence in this beautiful but deadly landscape.

I can drift off for hours without noticing time’s passage. My mind empties of all pressing matters, if only for a reserved amount of time. Soon enough I will make my home in such a place.

A Long Time Coming

It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.

What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.

So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?

When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.

The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…

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The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.

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There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.

Utah Desert Solitude…Searching for Swasy’s Leap

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We spent the weekend in the Escalante Staircase National Monument. This is a prehistoric yet wondrously accessible desert in central Utah. If our Commander and creep has his way, this land will be mined out… selling its beauty to the evils of oil and natural gas exploration. Oil fields scattered all over this beautiful landscape. Heavy machinery traveling on the fun back roads we explore in the peace and quiet of this desert.

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At least for now, this is a pristine area that takes you into some of the most ancient exposed rock on earth. The vast panoramas are breathtaking and are the product of millions and millions of years of evolution. More to the point… wind, sand and water. I have traveled to many places in this world and seen many landscapes.
This Utah desert is spectacular and has a history full of intrigue, cowboys, Indians and bandits.

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We set out to find a trail called Swasy’s Leap. It was at the end of some pretty advanced 4WD roads requiring a high clearance vehicle. I can say that the trek in was far easier than the trek out. Funny we never did find where this little bet was waged and the leap was made back in 1800. No problem the 5-6 miles we hiked were rewarding and around every butte was more and more wonder and awe.

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We followed an eighteen year old 4WD Book and a topographical map. The dirt roads go off everywhere. We got off on the road to the trailhead, finally, and maneuvered our Cruzer carefully over the rocky ledges and step downs for 4 miles to the trailhead. The heavy black storm clouds hung around the rocky peaks in the distance, and threatened us with curtains of rain and flashes of lightening. The sun held the storm at bay until we got back to the car and found our remote campsite.

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We unfolded our roof top tent as it got dark with heavy thunder clouds and sought refuge inside the Cruzer as Mother Nature unleashed her fury. We kicked back to wait out the storm and had a well deserved cocktail and laughed at our hike and joked about this kid Swasy, who jumped a crevasse, on his horse, somewhere out there, instead of riding around the damn thing. He got 75 head of cattle for this little stunt, which made him rich and got him written up in the Utah history books.

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The storm passed, gave us a rainbow, and as is usual, the desert sucked up every drop and dried out quickly. We settled in, cooked some dinner and had a fire. Love, love LOVE the desert solitude.

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We were basically “trying out” the remote camping or boon-docking. We have purchased so many new items to get prepared for our upcoming Overlanding adventure. A new Snomaster fridge/freezer, new double battery setup, new suspension and steering components, new Baja full length flat roof rack, we wired and installed a Pure Sine Wave 1750 Watt Inverter. She’s never really been tested out.

I am here to tell you she performed incredibly. The fridge didn’t pull down the AGM spare battery at all. The Inverter worked flawlessly. She stepped up and stepped down rocky trails, got her first brush scratches, rooftop tent was awesome, although a bit hard… but toasty warm.

We spent the weekend talking about how to build out the interior. Wether or not to buy a 4×4 van. The SportsMobiles are very expensive. You can’t drive an ULEV diesel into Central America… the diesel isn’t available, so a lot of the nice big turbo diesel vans are out of the question. Decisions… decisions…

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Iceland: The Ins and Outs

I must admit the “Land of The Midnight Sun” in the Summer is the land of rain, clouds and beauty. We never saw the Northern Lights or the sky full of stars… big deal! The immense beauty of this place was reward enough.

The reason I love to travel, aside from the normal getting away and holiday? Experience.

Iceland did not disappoint. This land of stark contrasts is a photographers dream. I think if everyday were sunny and clear, you would somehow miss the hand of Mother Nature at work. Any good traveler will come prepared for the changing climate… and change it will.

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The end of the Summer months bring fog, misty rain, downpours, wind, clouds and occasional sun. The temperature is a perfect 45-60 degrees. Great for hiking and sleeping.

There are several modes of transport and visiting. You can pay for a room (150-1,000 USD/night) then travel out on daily excursions from Reykjavik. The tour companies are vast and tours range from $50-$1,000 USD or 4.900 to 110.000 ISK. You can climb glaciers, go 4 wheeling, dive in the continental divide, do the Golden Circle in a day, parasail, do a city tour, whale watching, and the list goes on.

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Second, you can rent camping equipment. This can be as simple as a tent and sleeping bag to fully self-contained travel trailers. We chose the middle of the road. We rented a camper van from KuKu Campers out of Reykjavik ($2300€). It came with bed space for 4 adults, running water and a sink, a propane single burner stove, an electric cooler, utensils and plates, bowls and cups for four. The bottom bed can be converted into a table with bench seating but we just left it as a bed. We are avid campers and Delta Medallion Skymile members, so we chose to bring our own sleeping bags, backpack sleeping pads, Jet Boil backpack stove, REI backpack chairs and table without worrying about checked baggage fees. This saved us about $350 US vs renting the same equipment. Note: you will read that you can camp anywhere in Iceland… I am here to tell you that unless you like sleeping on lava, you will take advantage of one of the 170+/- developed campsites ($12-16/pp) If you are in a camper, you must use one of these campgrounds.

Third, you can do a self driving tour. This is a pre-planned tour that makes you drive from point A to point B and stay in pre-arranged hotels. You can choose budget, comfort or luxury accommodations. You also have the choice of how much of Iceland you want to see. Choices range from the entire Ring Road (RTE 1), Northern Iceland or the Southern Coast. These tours range between $2,500 to $6,000 US/pp. this only includes breakfast, car rental and your room for the night. Segway into the next point….

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Food… OMG only the wealthy can afford to eat here. A hamburger with fries…$20.00. A bowl of fish or lamb stew…$25.00. Yes for a bowl of soup. The local favorites, hotdogs… $12.00. A beer…$11-14.00 USD. Petrol/Diesel 2.03-1.87 KIR/liter. We spent $85.00 and bought the staples we needed including hamburgers, produce, bread, milk, cheese, produce for sandwiches, lunch meat, pre-marinated locally caught fish and condiments. We ate on this plus pre-packed food we brought like spaghetti and sauce, canned chicken, backpacker meals, boxed milk and spices. We ate out occasionally and had major sticker shock but justified it by the mode of transport we chose and how much we saved by not staying in hotels. LOL…

We got the “touristy” stuff out of the way the first two days then ventured up towards the Snæfellsbær Peninsula and the West Fjords to escape the crowds and experience the cliffs, birds, oceans and waterfalls. There are hot pots, or hot springs as we call them, all over the island that have showers and toilets. There are swimming pools, which are geothermal which cost between $7-15/pp in just about every town you come to. Note: we never found a single “pit toilet” on Iceland. All facilities were extremely clean! There was very little trash anywhere, including the beeches.

Here are the must haves. Rent a GPS and laugh your ass off as she tells you to turn on Snafelsnesligur. Also rent a mobile WIFI to avoid major frustrations. We started our trip with only the GPS Garmin then three days in we rented the mobile WIFI too. We had 5 paper maps and guide books and a headache from trying to decipher the names and routes in tiny little print because all the road names where 15-25 characters long. Patience and the ability to roll with it will go a long way. Lastly… a good sense of humor and spirit of exploration will eventually get you to your destination.

I hope that this has been inspirational and informative. If Iceland is not on your bucket list, it should be. I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have in planning your own trip. We did hours and hours of research and turned an otherwise expensive travel destination into an affordable one.

Medical Tourism… Everything We Learned and Need to Pass Along

Living in the USA, we all feel entitled, if you will, to everything from beautiful groceries at the market, clean water, good healthcare and creature comforts we seem to feel we need. All of this comes with a huge price to pay.

The world is aware that our crazy commander and creep has made it his mission to take as many of the above away as he can. Of course he is “rich” and can afford medical care, medical insurance and the sky high deductibles that we are forced to sign up for in order to bring down astronomical premiums.

Then you look at treatments like dental work. Even if you do have insurance for this, you will still pay hundreds and hundreds of hard earned dollars in order to get a painful tooth handled. It’s not like you can ignore it until it’s more convenient… therein lies the reason for this post.

Chris broke her back molar a year or so ago and went to the dentist who “patched her up”. Temporary fix $400. Last week she was on a trip for work and the “temporary fix” fell off. She was in immediate pain and called the doc. They quoted her $1200 for a permanent crown. OMG! So $400 plus $1200 is way too much and hard to stomach. Enter Mexico…

For years I have been reading about Medical Tourism. Hundreds of thousands of people travel to other countries for life saving treatments, why not travel for dental work? Why not travel for minor procedures that at home would be outrageous?

A few years back I twisted my knee chasing some howler monkeys on a muddy trail in Costa Rica. It swelled up and became too painful to bear weight. I had travel insurance but they required me to go see a doctor in country.  I took a taxi to the doctor’s office.  It looked like a small storefront shop with a shingle hanging outside with the doctor’s name.  I walked in and was warmly greeted by a young man who spoke perfect english. His office was quaint with a few chairs and a coffee table, a small TV and AC.

He took me right into his exam room which was clean and looked like any exam room you’ve ever been in. He asked me a barrage of questions and then proceeded to examine my injured knee.  He called his assistant in to take me to get an x-ray right in the next room.  Twenty minutes later I walked out of his office with a full explanation of what he felt was wrong and a knee brace and pain medicine… all for $50 USD.  At home the x-ray alone would have been more than $50, PLUS the doctor would have buzzed into the room pulled and pushed on my leg and left the room never to be seen again. In a week or two I would receive a bill for $650 for the inst-care.

To wrap this up, if you are afraid and nervous, that’s fine.  Just as in the US or where ever you may be from, do your homework.  There are hacks everywhere.  There are sites you can access that give you step by step instructions.  They have done research and you can reach out to them if you have questions.  The world is a much smaller… and expensive place.  If you are too scared and need to live in your little comfortable box, I get it.  There’s a lot out there… outside of your little box.  LIVE!

This is the dentist we just used:

www.tijuanamexicodentist.com

More reading and links:

www.medicaltourism.com

www.patientsbeyondborders.com/medical-tourism-statistics-facts

www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_tourism