Lessons Learned ~ 426 days on the road and where to next?

Today I sit in Los Barriles, Baja, Mexico. Exactly where I sat 1 year ago today. It is no new news that our compass appears not just broken but totally deranged, leading us back here and not south to Central America where we were sure you would find us about now. There have been a lot of memorable moments and lessons learned from these last 426 days on the road~ not the least of which is that life is uncertain.

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The Myth of Mexico in the Media

It has been nearly 14 months since we crossed the border south into Mexico. Nearly 14 months of fascinating history, delicious food, gorgeous countryside, and friendly people. Nearly 14 months and thousands of miles covering all of Baja and the vast majority of the mainland. During our time there, we have been disheartened again and again with the negative media regarding this most beloved destination. The myths of Mexico as highlighted in the media are profound.

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The Versatile Blogger Award

What a great life we lead! We slept in a bit this morning after the fun of the 2nd annual La Ventana hot dog crawl and a few too many cocktails. The sun was peeking its way over the horizon on the Sea of Cortez and it was just chilly enough to really enjoy our cup of brew as we meandered the beach watching Aspen chase her coconut. The wander home culminated in the wonderful surprise of seeing Kato & George from 2born2travel had nominated us for the Versatile Blogger Award!

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A Year of Coddiwomple

In 2015 my word for the year ahead was transformation and wow, did we ever do it up right. We sold our house and the majority of our material goods, we moved into our camper and headed south to points unknown in search of a different lifestyle.

2016 found me choosing surprise as my word for the year and, once again, the universe provided. In fact, no one is more surprised than I to find myself not somewhere in southern Central America, but back in Mexico!

For 2017 I may have found the perfect word to truly describe not just the year ahead, but a more general thought on our life in general:

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Gear Review ~ Lodge Dutch Oven

Overlanders depend on their gear. After all, most of us are homeless in the traditional sense. The road is our home, and the gear we travel with can make or break the trip. As very active campers even in our old life, we were quite certain what cooking gear was going to make the list for the PanAm. Although we quibbled over and considered a few items, one item never in doubt was our Lodge Dutch Oven.

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A Bucket List Weekend in Jakarta

Most travelers have a bucket list. I have been lucky enough to have checked quite a few off my personal list, but one place I have not yet reached is Jakarta. The 13,000 islands of Indonesia are astonishing, and having spent a month in serene Bali, my dreams now turn to city life. Enter Jakarta, the massive capital on Java, the mixes cultural influences from around the world.

image via Flickr by Stenly Lam

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A Restless Mind

What drives us, we nomadic types? What causes us to leave stable jobs, lovely homes, friends and family, to throw ourselves out into the world? To force discomfort upon ourselves by the mere act of having no home base, no tribe to reach to for comfort? To live a life outside our comfort zone, both mentally and literally?

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Seeking Home in Puerto Vallarta

Written in cooperation with GoodSearch.

Puerto Vallarta is not new to me. I have spent more time here than anywhere else on Earth but home. While some complain about the vast growth of the city over the years, I find that much of what I love has remained constant over time.

For the vacationer, Puerto Vallarta surely has it all: excellent dining, an endless array of activities, world-class hotels, and fantastic nightlife. In addition to all of the well-known and well-documented choices, I’d like to share a few of my insider tips to make your paradise vacation truly special.

image via Flickr by luckylynda74

Old Town

Old Town, or the Romantic Zone if you prefer the new moniker, is not a secret. Nearly everyone at some point wanders across the bridge to check it out. Sadly, few take the time to discover the hidden gems, such as A Page in the Sun. Part used book exchange, part coffee shop, A Page in the Sun has been a Puerto Vallarta institution for over 20 Luisyears. Now in a new and larger location, it continues to draw us in for breakfast and friendly conversation.

 

Weekend Brunch with a View

Many amazing restaurants in town offer lovely views, but for THE best combination of a killer view and a unique experience, take a cab south of town to Casa Karma. This boutique hotel also offers up gorgeous rooms, but we go for the Bloody Mary bar! Each weekend, the Bar at Casa Karma whips up the most amazing “make your own” Bloody Mary bar we have ever seen. You start out with a delicious Bloody Mary, and you can add as many additions as you like — bacon, artichoke hearts, pickled asparagus, pearl onions, blue cheese-stuffed olives, and the list goes on. Admittedly, this is not a traditional take on brunch. You will certainly leave Casa Karma both pleasantly full and happy.

image via Flickr by cogdogblog

A Dress of Many Colors

One of my frequent stops is Luisa’s clothing store. Located on Juarez Street in the Zona Centro, Luisa has been one of the best seamstresses in Puerto Vallarta for years. Her storefront is artistically packed with dresses and shirts and scarves in every color of the rainbow. While you can go in and simply buy off the rack, the normal procedure is that you choose what you like, try it on for fit, and then Luisa will custom-fit that piece for you. Or, if you want turquoise, not green, for instance, she will simply whip up one just for you. She speaks excellent English, is knowledgeable about events around town, and is a joy to work with. Her clothes are well done, comfortable, and ready in a matter of days for a fair price. I am proud to say I have more than a couple of “Luisa originals.”

 

Of Tacos and Tango

To be truthful, for visitors doing research, El Carboncito is not a secret. However, in all of our trips there, we have rarely seen any tourists, so now the word is officially out. I love tacos, and I especially love tacos al pastor, which is meat slow-cooked on a skewer, served up on a freshly made tortilla with a slice of grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, and fresh salsa. A squeeze of lime is mandatory.
The very best tacos al pastor I have found throughout Mexico come from El Carboncito, on a small side street in central Puerto Vallarta. Sitting in white plastic chairs, surrounded by chattering locals, eating two, or four, of these gems just makes me happy. For THE perfect evening out, so perfect, in fact, and that it is how we spent our anniversary this year, we walked down to El Carboncito’s for tacos, before heading for mojitos and tango at La Bodeguita del Medio. Technically, it’s salsa, not tango, but nonetheless, this is my favorite bar in Puerto Vallarta. I generally am not awake late enough to fully appreciate the dancing that randomly breaks out, but the live salsa band, excellent mojitos, and friendly staff are enough to keep me coming back for more.

image via Flickr by leduardo

 

My Puerto Vallarta doesn’t consist of the typical visitor’s experience. Having visited so many times before, I have experienced first-class resorts, and done the sightseeing. These days, I want to meander side streets and find the true soul of the city.

 

Camping List~ Mainland Mexico

When we re-entered Mexico on the mainland, we crossed at the tiny and simple border of Sonoyta and headed straight to San Carlos. Having visited much of Sonoroa last year, our main goal was mainly to get further south relatively quickly. After Puerto Vallarta, we continued at our typical tortuga pace!

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The DREAM of Location Independence… is it?

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 9

I know, I know.. I”m a day behind in my challenge quest. My adventure challenge turned into a two day jaunt between the mountains, and a surf camp on the Pacific!

Now I am back in the land of the internet and ready to continue my blog challenge! I expected Natalie’s 10 Day challenge to become more, well, challenging as it progressed. In my case, what to write about is getting easier because I am already living a nomadic, location independent life!

And here is what I’ve learned. It’s HARD. Life balance is a mystery to most folks, even if that life involves a 9-5, and relatively set schedule. Something always seems to take a back seat in the quest to make 24 hours last longer. Often that is exercise. Or seeing friends. Or spending time with your significant other.

Magnify these challenges with life on the road. Now, as Natalie states in her video for day 9, there are many ways to live a location independent life. Whereas at this time we are very, very nomadic, our end goal is actually to start making a good enough living to live anywhere we want in the world, at any time we wish.

However, for now I will just address my life as it exists today. These last two days is a mere snippet of what our daily life entails. Travel days are simply hard. We do our best; we have the camper nearly ready to go the night before. We get up early. We eat a quick breakfast. We start the day with a positive mindset. Often, it all goes well. Yesterday, it did not.

Two days ago, we spent over three hours attempting to send money to our house rental in Guatemala… unsuccessfully I might add. We are still trying to work it.

After a lovely evening at Hierve de Aqua, high in the hills of the Oaxaca Valley, we prepared to head towards the state of Chiapas, which requires heading to the Gulf of Mexico, or the Pacific. We chose the Pacific and spent seven hours driving a mere 180 miles, along endlessly scenic, but also endlessly winding roads. The views were stunning, but by hour 5.5, as the heat index rose, and the exhaustion of Mexico driving kicked in, crankiness ensued. By the time we reached camp the temperature on the dash read 102 degrees, and I think the temperature in the truck may have been even hotter as tempers flared.

We had been advised the camp had internet. I needed to check emails and write this post. It didn’t. Aspen was melting into a ball of black fur. Sweat ran like torrential downpour down my body as we got a quick camp set up. I was angry. Angry at the lack of internet. Angry at the 10 minute walk to the actual ocean. Angry at Jim, for no other reason than I couldn’t very well be pissed at Aspen right? Angry at the heat.

And then we took some deep breaths. We had a tequila shot. Then an ice cold beer. We found a place in the shade where the breeze hit and spent some time reading. I took Aspen into the shower to wet her down, and reduce her panting. We chatted with the surfers in residence, mostly about the heat. I started to focus on the joy of not “having” to do anything, at least for now.

Today, we were back on the road. After a warm night, we headed first to the beach so Aspen could fetch coconuts in the Pacific. We once again headed to the verdant green hills to Chiapas state. The feared roadblocks and protests failed to surface, and the road was smooth, and relatively straight. Tempers stayed in check, and the temperature at camp was manageable. Back in the land of Wi-Fi, the laptop once again reigns as I return emails, check work deadlines, and write this post while we catch up with the last couple of weeks of Master Chef.

The life nomadic requires the utmost in flexibility. It requires ordinary challenges made extraordinary with language barriers and cultural differences. It requires discipline and the ability to deal with slow, or nonexistent, internet. It requires patience and tolerance and a very, very strong desire to make it work.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. That dream of “location independent” is real. The ability to choose when and where I work is a treasure like no other. After decades of being forced to pretend to work until my shift was over, after having to go to work the day after Thanksgiving, even when nothing would be happening. Those days are over. Yes, I am now working at 8pm on a Monday night. But I am sitting in Chiapas, Mexico. I am cozy in my camper with my husband, watching Master Chef and dreaming of new dishes to create. Aspen is nestled in for the night, after finishing off a special chew bone reward after being extremely patient herself these last two days.

At some point, my version of location independence is bound to change. I envision a continuation of my globe trotting ways, but perhaps house rentals for several months at a time. Perhaps a set location, with multiple trips each year to exotic destinations. Where the road will lead, I am uncertain. What I AM certain of, is there is no going back!