Jean Francois Ley, known to us as Jeff, was a huge part of our traveling adventure in Sth America. We always imagined that our paths would cross again and we would share our countries of Australia and Switzerland with each other.
It was a huge shock when we received an email from Jeff's girlfriend Sarah telling us Jeff had passed away in January. He will be missed by all who have had the privilege of having had Jeff in their lives.
Jeff is a part of our world traveling family. He will always be remembered and will always hold a special place in our hearts. We went back through all our photos and videos, and relived all the wonderful adventures we had shared together. Many tears were shed as well as many laughs exchanged.
We wanted to share these photos and memories with everyone so we could all take some time out to remember Jeff who was such a wonderful person and acknowledge our connection with each other as our world wide family.
We first met Jeff in Buenos Aires. We were going through a rough patch trying to get our vehicle cleared through Argentine customs. Jeff had just arrived in Buenos Aires, and was beginning his first overseas adventure.
Mike started talking with Jeff recognizing that he seemed a little lost. We had dinner together and our friendship developed from there. We spent about 10 days exploring Buneos Aires together. Jeff and Keira quickly formed a bond. We have many photos of Jeff carrying 4 year old Keira on his shoulders. We often joked that Jeff was closer in age to Keira than us. And Jeff would often joke that Mike and I were his travel parents!! He knew just how to push my buttons by calling me "travel Mom" and would do so with a big smile on his face.
Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay holds more memories for me. Jeff accompanied me to Uruguay when I made a trip across from Buenos Aires to obtain US cash. Jeff watched over me whilst I obtained the cash and made sure I got back on the ferry safely. We spent time in between exploring the town together. We parted ways with Jeff heading north, and us heading south towards Patagonia, hoping our paths would cross again.
CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH
We were all ecstatic when in fact we met up a couple of months later in Southern Argentina. We spotted a much more rugged and thin version of Jeff walking the streets of El Chalten with his backpack in tow. There were many cries of joy and many hugs exchanged. We spent the evening together at our campsite, introducing Jeff to our German travel companions Carina and Kaj. The following day we drove Jeff to the end of the road in Argentina, so he could set off on a 3 day hike, crossing the border into Chile to O'Higgins the southern point of the Carretera Austral. I thought at the time how brave he was to just set off by himself hiking in a foreign country, but Jeff thought nothing of it.
We made tentative plans to meet up again but were unsure if this would in fact take place.
CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH
A couple of weeks later we met up in Cochrane Chile. Jeff jumped in the car with us and we began a 6 week trip together through Chile. A lot of this time was also spent with Kaj and Carina, our German traveling companions, as we all travelled together.
When you are together in a car traveling many miles, camping in remote places, sharing meals and camp chores you quickly come to know each other very well. Often you don't know all the details of the persons past life, that does not seem to matter, as you are living in the present. You get to know the characteristics of a person, their strengths, their weakness and all the most important things about that person. You support each other. Jeff quickly became a part of our family.
Traveling with a 4-5 year old can be quite trying at times, as you are their whole world, and you need to provide everything for them. Jeff was amazing with Keira. He had an ability to detect when I was overwhelmed and needed a break. He would bring me a cup of tea and take Keira off my hands. They would play together for hours. Being so young, there are many parts of the trip that Keira doesn't remember but her memories of Jeff are well formed and held dear.
KEIRA'S 5TH BIRTHDAY
CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH
Experiences we shared were many but I will list a few highlights here:
- Jeff carrying Keira on his shoulders whenever she got tired or whenever she said "uppy uppy" to Jeff. He couldn't say no.
- getting ran off the road into a ditch. Jeff and Mike worked tirelessly together for an hour, building a platform of rocks under our tires to get traction to get us out.
- wild camping in beautiful locations.
- enjoying soaking in hot springs throughout Chile, including watching dolphins whilst soaking.
- sharing Keira's 5th birthday party. Jeff ended up with painted nails and make up supplied by Keira's beauty salon. We also had a band jam on the few musical instruments we had and Keiras new xylophone
- Jeff waking up with frozen underwear and icicles hanging off his tent , it was so cold. Jeff was completely unfazed, waking up with his usual beaming smile
- paddling our feet in the ocean on the island of Chiloe, and celebrating my birthday together
- staying with Hans and Trus, a German couple on their farm near Villarrica
- being caught in the aftermath of ash of a volcanic eruption
- eating chocolate in Bariloche; Jeff bought chocolate fondue for Keira to enjoy.
- we would always encourage Jeff to eat any leftovers of a meal- his response was "I am not a garbage!" It became a joke and something that Keira still remembers him saying.
- Mike and Jeff fishing together- or trying to
- Jeff's patience when trying to figure out problems with our vehicle
- many grocery stops that ended in Rum purchases- I could never trust Mike and Jeff to do the shopping
CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH
Jeff was an amazing man and a really good person. He will be remembered for his kindness, his love of life, his sense of adventure, his thoughtfulness and his smile. He will live on in our memories and he will always be a part of us as we have been so positively impacted by Jeff being a part of our lives.
We love you Jeff.
RAINBOW BEACH, our final destination and our new home town, is in our eyes, paradise!!
It is a small beach community about 3 hours north of Brisbane in the state of Queensland, Australia.
The community has approximately 1250 permanent residents, however this number swells during tourist season as it is a popular holiday destination. The community is surrounded by national parks and it is the gateway to Fraser Island, an International heritage listed island. Due to its position between National Parks it has limited area for physical growth, and the community members have been active in blocking franchises from moving into the area. It's isolation limits job opportunities and attracts only those that like this sort of isolated lifestyle.
There are two other small communities about 30 minutes away and together with Rainbow Beach, Cooloola Cove and Tin Can Bay make up the Cooloola Coast. There is only one road in and out of the area. The next major towns are Gympie and Maryborough which are both 50 mins to an hours drive away.
Rainbow Beach has all the major services covered. There are about 10 different shops, 2 small grocery stores and some restaurants and cafes. There is a larger grocery store about 30 mins away in Cooloola Cove. This is also where dental services are. Major shopping like Kmart, Target, large pet stores, and office supplies we have to drive 1 to 1 1/2 hours for. So life is requiring a little more planning with respect to those needs. This definitely nips impulsive buying! Retail therapy has become the local Vinnies store (secondhand/op shop) which just opened last week. Keira is so happy, as she has become quite the shopper and fashion queen!!!! Her $2 weekly allowance can go a long way.
Rainbow Beach is an outdoor lovers dream. It is a well known for great fishing which draws an influx of fishermen during the winter months.
Other activities in the area include: Fraser Island (an international heritage island), feeding dolphins, whale watching, turtle hatching, surfing, paragliding, parachuting, hiking, fresh water lakes and rivers, If you have a 4 wheel drive, the area is open for exploration. And then there is all that the rest of Queensland has to offer!!
The smallness of the community obviously has positives and negatives. The positive is that everyone knows everyone else and the negative is that everyone knows everyone else!
If someone had asked me 20 years ago what my dream life would be, I would have said "to live by a beach with my family and dog, being able to go for walks along the beach and to live a simple life." It only really dawned on me the other day that we had actually achieved that dream..
Don't get me wrong it is not all roses. We are still faced with the challenges of everyone else that moves to this town, finding and maintaining work, finding a place in the community, finding an affordable home, and being motivated to create your own lifestyle. Some of the resources of a big town are not available but I am impressed with what the community is able to provide for the youth in the area.
So far we have found 2 great swimming holes in creeks and an amazing lake to swim in. The hike into Lake Poona is a half hour hike through rainforest terrain. It is the best swimming pool ever, no chlorine and no cleaning to be done!!
CLICK ON THE FIRST IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH IMAGES
We also took Keira to Steve Irwin's Australia zoo. She got to pat a koala, and multiple kangaroos and also feed kangaroos!
Locally in Tin Can Bay there is a pod of dolphins that have been coming into the bay area for many years now. We were able to go and feed the dolphins and watch them up close.
AUSTRALIA ZOO/DOLPHIN FEEDING
CLICK ON THE FIRST IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE AND THEN SCROLL THROUGH IMAGES.
Mike is working for his employers in the States, and I just signed a contract for an Occupational Therapy job in Gympie. It is an hours drive each way but I will just be doing that 3 days a week, hoping to build up my own private business on the other days.
Each day we have been trying to explore somewhere new. Our day starts at 6 am with a walk on the beach, and includes a swim somewhere along the way.
I know our friends in the USA and all over the world are interested in the differences we have experienced since we got home to Australia. I think the major difference in coming to Rainbow Beach with its smaller community is that we have been able to relax more. This is not so much physically but emotionally and mentally. I didn't realize how much the current political and social climate in the USA was effecting my attitude and demeanor. It is hard to remain positive and calm with the daily reports of shootings including school shootings, the rise in racism and the concern of all of us as citizens watching the unfolding of political decisions. It was like a huge weight had lifted when I set foot on Australian soil. Knowing that I no longer had that nagging in the back of my mind about the safety of Keira at school or that at some stage we may be turned on because we were foreigners, even though US citizens.
Unfortunately, this is not isolated to the USA as the world goes through major changes and Australia is not immune from this. We also have our problems, and I am sure as we become more engrained in society here, those problems will become clearer.
For now, we are trying to embrace a simpler life, concentrating on our family and working out ways to contribute to our immediate community.
WHAT WE MISS:
And the things we miss the most, are our friends who have become our family. Having their daily support to help us get through the challenges and to share in the triumphs. For Mike and I we both miss our work places. I think we had both established a good fit for our level of experience and employers with a mutual respect and a similar work ethic. For Mike he is able to continue his relationships, but misses the daily contact with colleagues.
At this stage, we are glad to have made the move. The biggest positive is having a very happy little girl who is thriving in her current environment.
It is definitely an adjustment for us, maybe long term it won't be for us or we may simply not be able to make a go of it here. So we have a 12 month plan and will re-evaluate then. Will keep you posted.
BELOW ARE OUR TWO NEW VEHICLES- WANDA (ON LEFT), A TOYOTA HILUX) AND LUCY (TOYOA LANDCRUISER) Neither will ever replace Priscilla!!
and of course we have to include our highlights/challenges just to complete the blog:
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF BEING HOME:
MOST VALUED POSSESSION: each other, as we rely on one another facing the new challenges and our new life.
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- waking up everyday knowing that we live by the beach; Keira-swimming at the Lake, feeding dolphins and having some new friends ; Riss- feeding the dolphins; morning walks on the beach
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-getting off the speeding train and taking a breath; Keira- the first day of school; Riss- "filling out multiple forms"- the endless steps needed to re-establish our life; finding things to do indoors when the weather is bad (no shopping or movies for entertainment)
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- dodgy dim sims and any culinary sheep based delicacy!; Keira- gluten free waffle cones and the local ice cream shop; Riss- an abundance of gluten free foods
BEST CAMPING SPOT: haven't camped much yet as we are happy to explore our new environment.
Maddie, our border collie/Aussie Shepherd came into our life and quickly became a member of our family. This post will mostly be pics as a photo speaks a thousand words.
Maddie is definitely Keira's companion and is at Keira's side for many adventures and milestones.
We are really happy that she made the trip to Australia safely. She is loving her new life by the beach.
CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT and THEN RIGHT CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO SCROLL THROUGH IMAGES.
We are looking forward to Maddie being a part of our lives and family for many years to come.
"Where are you from?"
This was a daily if not hourly question posed to us for 25 years in the USA. It was not what we expected to hear when we returned to Australia. I guess we did pick up an American twang after all.
It is good to be back on Australia soil. The connection with your place of birth is strong for anyone no matter what nationality. For me, being by the ocean is replenishing my soul. For Mike it is the connection to the Australian bush.
One of the most striking elements upon returning has been how down to earth Australians really are. People have always described Australians in such a manor and we have really experienced that since our return. People have different roles, like anywhere, but they are still themselves within that role. The people we have encountered don't feel like they have to change their persona to fit the role they are fulfilling. They are just themselves. This is really refreshing.
The birdlife is one of the other highlights. The variety is amazing, but the amount of birds present is really incredible. As soon as the sun rises the chorus of birds begins. Cockatoos, galas, magpies and kookaburras to name just a few. "Sleeping in" is not an option as far as the birdlife is concerned.
And then there are the beaches!! I have referred to myself in the past as a beach snob. It has been reinforced why, since we have been back in Australia. The beaches have to be amongst the best in the world. They are pristine, with very few people, and in most parts there is bushland leading up to the coast. You cannot own coastline, it is all for public use.
Seeing Keira and Maddie playing on the beach and having so much fun has made us feel that at this stage, we have made the right decision. Keira loves the Ocean. Maddie has dug so many holes on the beach that she could have dug to China.
VICTORIA and FAMILY
The first few weeks we spent in Clifton Springs in Victoria with our family. As many of you know, we had not told them of our return. Surprising them was a lot of fun and they were surprised and very happy to have us back after so many years.
Keira was spoiled by her grandparents, Aunt, Uncle and cousin Lexie, and of course loved every minute of it. Maddie was beside herself with joy when we picked her up from Quarantine. She took a few weeks to settle down and needed a lot of reassurance that we were not going to leave her again. She is back to her happy self, wagging her tail and seeking out belly rubs.
I spent time recovering from my back problem, hindered by a cold and sneezing putting my back out again every time I did. Mike worked hard buying us a vehicle and getting it equipped for camping. "Wandajerri" (meaning wombat in an aboriginal language) or "Wanda" for short, is the name given to the car by the former owners. Wanda will never be Priscilla but we hope she will be the source of many more adventures.
THE JOURNEY NORTH
We took 4 days to travel from Victoria to Queensland, traveling 5-6 hours per day with many rest stops for back stretches and dog walks. We really enjoyed the trip (even with the pain I was experiencing). It was nice to be on the road and traveling as a family once more. We had intended to stay in campgrounds along the way, but our wild camping bug drew us to river and bush settings. It was so nice to be out in open spaces and to be surrounded by Australia fauna and flora. Camping in a roof top tent again, felt like home.
It was wonderful to be able to share things we love about Australia with Keira. She got to see kangaroos, emu's with babies, hundreds of cockatoos, galas and rosellas. And also large fruit bats!! She was very excited.
QUEENSLAND- OUR NEW HOME STATE
The Gold Coast in Queensland is a well known tourist destination. It is also home for many Aussies who relish the beach at their door step whilst still having all the commodities of a city.
We are currently staying with our Aussie adopted family, the Robinsons. Mike and I met Cleve and Kristi in when we were all living in Louisville Kentucky. We have been close friends and family to each other ever since. Cleve was the best man at our wedding many years ago.
It has been wonderful to rekindle our friendship and to get to know their 3 kiddos, Kaden, Rhys and Ava. Keira is loving having kid time. Ava and Keira are fast becoming good friends.
My brother Dale, his wife Marion and their two kids Jack and Charlotte also live on the Gold Coast. It has been wonderful to spend time with them also. We look forward to having many adventures together.
So our days have been spent organizing some essentials, and taking some much needed rest. Mike has already began working for his employers and clients in the USA. Walks along the beach, swimming in the pool or the ocean are becoming a part of our daily lives. No complaints here!!
We visited Rainbow Beach for a couple of days. It is about 4 hours drive further North. It was a bit of a shock driving into the town especially after the fast pace of the Gold Coast. It is very isolated and very quiet.
It was great visiting Keira's school. The Rainbow Beach State School has an enrollment of just 85 kids for the upcoming year!! The setting is great. Everyone n the community speaks so highly of the school and the kids that go there.
The region swells after Christmas with an influx of tourists. So it will be a bit of a contrast when we return there to live on January 6th.
So, so far so good. Everything is slowly falling into place.
Seeing Keira and Maddie playing on the beach makes all the craziness of moving all worthwhile.
CHRISTMAS AUSSIE STYLE:
Merry Christmas to everyone!! We will be having a warm weather Christmas this year!!
Below are a few pics from our Xmas morning, which we spent at the beach.
Moving back to Australia was always something we said we would do. Our parents had given up hope of our return after each 5 year period passed.
Now 25 years on, the time had come.
The USA has been our home base for 25 years. It has been not only our place of work, but where we found adventures, security, opportunity and most of all really good people who became our family.
Our journey in the USA began in 1993 when I, Marissa, took a contract as an Occupational Therapist in Florida. I was eager to travel but had no money to do so and needed more experience in my line of work. The USA was recruiting therapists to fill their demand, so I took the chance to travel to and live in another country. This meant parting with my family and Mike who I had been dating for 9 months. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and looking back I am not sure how I got on the plane.
Mike who couldn't live without me, followed me half way round the world (literally) 7 months later. That was some stalking range!!!
We spent 10 months in Florida, then moved to North Carolina, Kentucky, Minnesota and then found a way to New Mexico. New Mexico, "the land of enchantment", or as some people say "the land of entrapment". Either people fall in love with New Mexico or they hate it.
We fell in love with it. To describe New Mexico, I could use one word "diverse". Diverse in landscape, alpine forests to Lakes and high dessert; diverse in culture, from pueblo Indians, hispanics, alternative medicine communities and healers to scientists, artists, and people from all walks of life who have been born in New Mexico or who like us chose New Mexico for its diversity and alternative way of life.
New Mexico really was home. It was where we raised our amazing daughter Keira for 8 years.
As is our way of life, we worked for 1-2 years, saved our money and would take off for extended bouts of travel to various parts of the world. Each time we returned we thought about moving to another location but New Mexico and our family there drew us back in.
In the past year things shifted for us and Australia became a talking point. I won't lie, the current political situation in the USA had a lot to do with it. Also the fear that was so ever present. The school and other random shootings that were becoming a common occurrence were a real concern for us. When Keira at age 8 starting doing lock down drills at school for preparation in case of a school shooting, and we began thinking about escape routes at concerts, community events and even when at everyday places such as going to the bank, it was time to re-evaluate. I also found myself now justifying my presence in the USA. Making sure people knew that I had been in the USA for 25 years and that I am a citizen. There is only so many times that you can hear "Why are you still here, you have somewhere else to go?".
There is so much more I could say but I will stop there. The USA has been good for us and the people we have met and the interactions we have had have been truly amazing.It is and still will continue to be home for us.
We had an eventful last 2 years, with highlights being:
- a month long trip up the West Coast of the USA (see blog entry)
- getting our new family addition- Maddie
- a visit from Els and Gerrit our Dutch traveling companions
- many school events for Keira
- a trip in Maine with our Dutch family- Marco, Miranda, Maartje, Marijn, and Marjolein
- balloon festivals each October
- a visit from Mike's Aussie cousin Kim
- many events at Keira's school
- Keira homeschooling with Marsha
- many "nibble nights" and events with friends
- many camping trips
And our Halloween farewell party before we left, that was a blast!
I will include a few pics.here and see the gallery for additional ones. (you will need to scroll to the end in the gallery to find the USA pics but still working on gathering these)
Our journey back was an adventure in itself. The past 6-8 months before we left were spent planning and preparing. Moving half way across the world after living in a country for 25 years is no easy feat. Completing Maddie, our border collie's, quarantine requirements was certainly a challenge. Our local vet clinic was so supportive and helped us through the process.
We drove across country with our possessions in a rental truck and Maddie in tow. Not an easy task to drive a 16 foot truck in LA traffic!! Other challenges were finding pet friendly accommodation that had parking for such a vehicle, scrubbing our bicycles in the parking lot of the shipping warehouse (told that customs in Aussie would not let them through with any spec of dirt), and having a small glitch in Maddies paperwork even after being diligent and thorough. Each challenge we took on and we seemed to have people at each step who went the extra mile to help us out. Hotel staff that looked the other way and classified Maddie as a service dog; a truck driver that gave us supplies to clean our bikes and a government official vet that took the extra time to get our paperwork in order. Thank you to these people who did little things that meant so much!!
We sent Maddie ahead of us to start her 10 day quarantine in Australia. It was so hard saying good bye to her, knowing what she was about to go through and knowing some of the horror stories of pet travel. We were all on edge until we got word that she had arrived safely.
Disneyland and Universal studios kept us busy for the next 2 days. We had a great time and it was wonderful to have some family time after such a hectic 6 months.
Then the real challenges began.
We started our journey to Hawaii which was to be our stopover with a full afternoon to explore. An hour and a half into the flight the plane was turned around due to a malfunction in a generator. We arrived back in LA with rescue vehicles stationed along the tarmac with lights flashing. Fortunately we landed safely. Unfortunately we had a delay of about 6-7 hours before we could set off again, making for a long day of travel and no time in Hawaii to explore.
We awoke the next morning early to head to the airport for our morning flight to Australia. We were excited to surprise our parents who were unaware of our return. However this was not to be. The airline cancelled the flight due to grounded aircrafts and could not get us out for 5 days. Being stranded in Hawaii at any other time would have been great, but we just wanted to get back to Australia and weren't really in the exploring mood. Problem solving we were able to book ourselves on another flight with a stopover in Auckland for the night. All good!!
The following day we headed to Auckland airport promising Keira a visit to the beach when we got back and excited to be completing the last leg of our journey. And there it all went pear shaped again. I bent over at the baggage check in and my back went out. I tried to make it on the plane but the pain was excruciating and I was unable to get up and down without extreme pain and assistance. Paramedics were called and we decided to return to the hotel and seek out help from a physiotherapist to get my back in alignment again.
Our wonderful friend Genevieve came to our rescue again. Through a Skype call she was able to guide Mike through a treatment to help correct my alignment. (This task she has now performed in Argentina, Costa Rica and now New Zealand) A local physiotherapist also assisted. We got medical clearance for me to fly. Next hurdle overcome.
Calling the airlines we were told that it would cost us $1500 USD to change our flight. That was more than the original flight from Hawaii to Australia and we had already completed the longest leg of the journey. AHHHHHH!!! Problem solving again, we are able to get another flight with another airline for $900 NZD. We are still waiting for compensation from airlines and travel insurance.
Muscle relaxers and pain killers were my saviors on that flight and the airline staff were great. Mike and Keira were amazing and very patient.
The relief we felt when we finally landed was huge!!!
To all the people that helped us with this transition. There are too many to name individually but you know who you are.
Marsha- our everything!! You are amazing and were there every step of the way
Ashlee- Keira's person. Always there for all our milestones as well as all the everyday stuff
Nora, Mike and Francesca- for being our family, our friends and our support
Genevieve- your skills as a therapist are incredible; always there when I need you the most
Leif- the help packing meant so much
Mary, Daniel and Max- nibble nights won't be the same; thanks for all the daily support
Jesse and Breeze- for all the little and big things; party support, paper airplanes, and peas!!
Elizabeth and Tom- years of support and friendship;
Murphy: family and long term friendship; being there for the ups and downs
Sarah, Paul and James: thanks for assisting with Mikes motorcycle; thanks to James for being Keira's oldest friend
Jenn, Charlie Ann and Hayden: for daily support; and adding a little crazy!!
Hope to see you all in the Land Downunder!!
Priscilla, our beloved 1996 Landcruiser, has been a part of our family for 5 years now. Bought locally in Albuquerque, she underwent a transformation from town car to overland vehicle, as Mike spent countless hours preparing her for our South/Central America trip.
Priscilla became not just a car to us, she represented so much more. She was our home for two years; our mode of transport, our bedroom, our kitchen, our living area, but most of all our anchor. She kept us safe, and took us places that most other vehicles could not go. She was our place of comfort, the familiar in an outside world that was always changing and throwing challenges our way. We knew we could always rely on her.
Once we returned to the USA, she continued to be the centering element to our lives. When the regular world got too much, we could always jump in Priscilla and hit the road for an adventure. All our personas would change as we set off on adventures in Priscilla. This sense of happiness, contentment and love of life would fill us. She also represented for us an alternate life that we could take whenever we wanted too. We would often look at each other in hard times and say"we could just pack up Priscilla and go". We almost did on several occasions. So I guess she was also our life raft.
Weird but it felt like Priscilla had a soul!! That she was a real member of our family.
So selling her was really hard for us. And there were a few tears shed. The upside is that she is going to an amazing family, who have many adventures planned in her.
Priscilla will be living in Boulder Colorado with her new family.
We are so happy that Priscilla will continue her life of adventure and hopefully represent to another family all she was to us.
Priscilla was truly a part of our family and she will be missed.
The new owners of Priscilla, The Morrissey's, David and Mo (Maureen) with Priscilla
WOW!!! HOW LIFE GETS AWAY FROM US. HAVEN'T BEEN ON THE BLOG FOR AWHILE AND JUST FOUND TWO ENTRIES I HAD'NT POSTED.
HERE THEY ARE!!
The Gypsies and the Princess are hitting the road again.
We have just set out on a month long trip up which has been a long time coming. Our plan is to travel across Arizona to LA, take Keira to Disneyland, and then head north following the coast. Not sure how far north we will go but that is part of the adventure.
And adventure it has already been. Many of you know the complications we have gone through getting Priscilla fixed. It started on a trip to Carlsbad and Roswell. Having problems with the engine as we arrived back in Albuquerque, we took it back to the mechanics and determined that Priscilla was destined for a new engine. The engine was ordered and after a big delay of 3 weeks, it finally arrived but was in such bad condition that it could not be used. It was back to the drawing board and having an engine rebuild.
The guys at the mechanics worked diligently to get the engine done in time. We received Priscilla back after 2 months at the mechanics, on Friday night at 530pm. We worked til midnight that night with some very good friends helping us to get a new awning on and to get ready for the trip. A big shout out to Daniel, Mary, Ashlee and Noel. You are all awesome and we appreciate you so much. So glad we have you in our lives.
So we are now on the road!! A few challenges have already been thrown at us, just to remind us that traveling is 90% hard work and 10% incredibly amazing. By the way the 10% totally is worth it.
Before we left, we realized that in the time Priscilla was at the mechanics our registration had expired. We couldn't simply renew it as she needed to have an emissions test. And of course the places that did both emissions and the rego, were all unable to accommodate Priscilla height in their testing stations. After a few stops we were able to get an emissions test done and a couple of days later were able to do the rego online. What a learning process that was.
9/2/2018 This was our first big trip that we had taken Maddie on (our beloved Border Collie). We were a little nervous about how it would go, but she was amazing. She took everything in her stride and we quickly realized that so long as we, her people, were with her she was ok.
The trip was great. It was terrific to be on the road again.
We headed for LA and spent a day at Disney, which was the highlight of the trip for Keira. She loved it!!!
THE BIG SUR
The scenery was spectacular along the Big Sur which is a stretch of rugged coastline in central California. Unfortunately part of the road was blocked due to landslides so we didn't get to see it all.
We visited the famous Monterrey Aquarium, which was pretty spectacular. The jellyfish were amazing and probably my favorite part.
THE FARM AND FRIENDS
Another highlight for us was visiting Simon, Kari and their 2 boys Ty and Jamie on their farm just outside San Fransisco. We had met each other in Banos in Ecuador. Their plan then was to return to the farm they had purchased and make a go of living a simple self sustaining life. And they were doing it!!!
Marsha, our amazing friend and adopted family member was also traveling on the West Coast. She was now off on her own adventures in her camper van Betsy, volunteering at two festivals.. We caught up with her for a few hours.
We mostly camped in State park campgrounds as we travelled. At times we wondered if we would find a place to camp for the night as the campsites in California are booked months in advance. There are not many opportunities for free camping and there are quite a few rules in California. With some creative thinking and some convincing we did manage. The campgrounds were a great place for Keira to meet other kids and through her we met some really nice people.
There were many highlights of this trip. I think I will let the photos tell the story.
Mike did some work on the road. Not a bad office to have!!
We went inland in Oregon and visited Crater Lake. It was spectacular and reminded us of parts of southern Chile.
It was still surrounded by a lot of snow so parts of the road were not open. The campground tried to charge us $40 for the night to camp on snow with no facilities open. We were not open to that so found a place outside the park to free camp on a river.
We came across an area of volcanic rock on our way back to the coast. It had quite an eerie feel about it.
ORGEON DUNES NATIONAL RECREATION AREA - SOUTHERN OREGON COAST:
We camped at Honeyman State Park from which we could access the sand dunes. We had many hours of fun hiking the dunes and swimming in the cenotes.
NEWPORT AQUARIUM OREGON:
Keira and I (Marissa) visited the Newport Aquarium. It had all the same things as the Monterrey but on a smaller scale. The bonus was also smaller crowds. We spent about an hour just watching the otters.
Mike in the meantime spent the day in bed recovering from a run in with bad oysters.
As we progressed north the weather got colder and there was no swimming any more.
Washington State was pristine and beautiful. It didn't disappoint. We will definitely go back to explore it more.
The trip came to a conclusion with Keira and I flying home and Mike driving back with Maddie.
It was an amazing trip, giving us a flavor of what that part of the world has to offer.
WHOOPS!!! JUST FOUND A COUPLE OF ENTRIES I DIDN'T POST, SO I ADDED THE PHOTOS AND HERE THEY ARE!!!
An overland expo???
It is so strange that until we started traveling in our own vehicle we had never even heard the term "overlander". Now we had not only adopted this title but we were now going to an expo dedicated to people like us. That is, the slightly insane who decide to travel the world in their own vehicle, exploring new places, braving the elements, camping in a variety of locations , and inevitably spending a lot of time in mechanic service centers.
The Overland Expo in Flagstaff was just that, an expo of vendors showing their products, vehicles and other items related to "overland" life. There were rooftop tents, trailers that folded out to a whole campsite, basic vehicles like Priscilla and the larger more luxurious $2oo.000 plus vehicles. Products like portable toilets, grills, recovery gear, solar options, first aid kits, travel adventure books, and every thing related to motorcycles.
In addition there were a lot of talks, educational sessions, and forums for gathering information. Jackie even did a driving course on a really complex track. She gets an A+ for bravery.
For us, the most beneficial part was meeting fellow travelers and sharing stories. It also gave us a chance to look at possibilities for future vehicles. As much as we hate it, at some point we will have to replace Priscilla. And the biggest highlight, of course was spending time with Jackie and Matt.
We also picked out our favorite vehicles at the expo. Guess which one we each picked from the photos below.
There was also a kids event tent. They completed a variety of activities some of which Keira took part in. Her favorite part did not even take place at the expo itself. In the park where the expo was held, there was an adventure/zipline course. Keira did the kids course which involved zippiness, walking across ladders, logs, and crawling through tunnels all suspended about 15 ft above the ground. She had to wear a safety harness and had to clip herself in and out as she moved through the course. She was so brave and did an incredible job.
We also got our first sponsors at the Expo- "Go Tread." They are a tool designed to provide the traction needed to get vehicles going again when in a sticky situation. We have also used them since as a leveling tool when camping in Priscilla. Looking forward to testing their performance further. see Gotread.com
The Expo definitely got us eager to travel again.
PHOTOS TO COME:
It is hard to believe we have been stationary for almost a year now. We constantly look at each other and our bank balance and consider when we can hit the road again.
Our time in the USA has certainly been interesting and eventful. Our main reason for staying in one place for a while, besides replenishing our bank account, was to give Keira, our 6 (and 3/4) year old daughter a stable base and a chance to make some long term friendships. She has been attending a Montessori school, called Escuela Del Sol in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Keira is thriving in this environment. Her main response to her day is "awesome". It is great to have her in an environment that encourages practical learning, and learning at her own pace. After being on the road so long, this hands on approach fits her well.
Keira continues to be an amazing and well rounded little girl. She loves being outdoors; exploring, collecting rocks and hiking. Her imagination and creativity is vast. Being a typical 6 year old girl she still loves having her own toys, and some of the luxuries of the Western World, like hot showers, and a refrigerator. However, she still asks if water is "potable", remembering that a lot of people in the world don't have safe drinking water, and remembers that most of the children she met did not have toys, and some could not go to school.
The other big adventure we have embarked on is adding a new member to our family. No, I am not pregnant! Around April last year we got "Maddie", a border collie and Aussie Shepherd mix puppy. For those of you who met us on the trip and who know Keira, this has been a long time coming. She has wanted a dog for her "whole life". On the trip she would try to adopt strays everywhere we went. We nicknamed Keira, "The Dog Whisperer", as all dogs would instantly be attracted to her.
Maddie has been great addition to our family. Keira and I took her to puppy classes and we have been really focused on her training and exposing her to a variety of experiences, preparing her for her life on the road. She is a loving dog and is constantly snuggling with us during family cuddle time. Maddie has already began her camping life, sleeping at our feet in the roof top tent and going exploring in the woods with Keira at her side.
Returning to a working life and being in one place has been extremely challenging. Mike and I have managed to create work that still allows us some flexibility, although Mike has been working a little too much.
We have a wonderful group of friends. We have been very conscious of trying to establish a supportive community around us. This has been even more of a focus in the current USA political climate, which is posing another whole set of challenges.
It has been an absolute pleasure to host several groups of travelers who we met in Sth and Central America. Bettina, Rolf and their dog Nera (from Switzerland) who we met in Nicaragua, stayed with us several days; Liam, and Matilde (Aussie and Canadian) we met also in Nicaragua enjoyed a real bed and luxuries like a sofa and a shower for a few days after traveling and sleeping in their car for 3 weeks prior; Elizabeth and Peter (German couple) who we met at a mechanics in Bolivia, again in Cusco Peru and at another mechanics in Ecuador, visited with us around balloon festival time. It was fun to share such a famous world event with them.
We try to travel as much as we can on weekends and during breaks, as the USA and the South West have so much to offer in terms of new adventures. Camping at Heron Lake is one of our favorite destinations. Hiking in the mountains, and desert areas of New Mexico, and visiting galleries of Santa Fe have been some highlights. We even managed a long weekend trip to Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington with friends to visit an organic farm. Sometimes we forget we are still a world away from where we grew up in Geelong, Australia.
Priscilla, our Lancruiser, has still been taking us on camping adventures. She is currently in a mechanics workshop getting some much needed repairs. We will continue to complete repairs and replace some of our well used equipment so we can be ready for more adventures this summer. This will include "The Overland Expo" in Flagstaff in May, where we will meet up with our English friends Jackie and Matt. We are hoping to get some new ideas in order to prepare for future adventures, maybe even an upgrade of a vehicle. Although it is hard to think about taking trips without Priscilla. Also we are planning a month long trip in Priscilla to Central America where we hope to be reunited with Els and Gerrett, our Dutch partners in crime who we shared many travel adventures with in Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
For now, we are taking each day as it comes, trying to save money, enjoying spending time as a family, trying to take a stand for what we believe in, and planning for our next adventures. Our longing for our gypsy life remains with us.
Reflecting on the trip is always fun and an important transitional step for me. I like to look back on our achievements, the challenges, the good and bad times, so I can then move forward taking with me all the important things I have learnt. It also helps me to keep things in perspective as modern first world problems take the forefront.
ASPIRATIONS FOR THE TRIP:
Mike and I had chosen to do this trip for many reasons. The main one being, that we are travelers and that is just what we do, our “gypsy” blood and that yearning for adventure and change will always be with us. Also, Keira at 4 ½ was now old enough to travel, and we wanted to spend quality time with her and as a family before she started her school life. We wanted to expose Keira to new cultures and a world less driven by commercialism and social demands.
My life after having Keira had changed dramatically, mostly for the better. I love being a mother and love my daughter so much. However when you become a parent you loose some of your old self. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it happens.
My priority for the previous 4 ½ years had been Keira and providing her needs. As a mother you do this selflessly and without consideration. Sure there are many times when you could scream at the world, you feel so sleep deprived that you can’t think, and merely taking a shower is your sole reward, but in being honest with yourself you can’t and wouldn’t have it any other way. I transitioned from being an independent person with a real name to being “Keira’s mum”. I know men have a similar experience but I am purely reflecting on my experience here. I am not in anyway being sexist or diminishing Mike’s amazing role in our daughter’s life.
The trip for me was also about having some extra breathing space to rediscover who I now am. May sound cliche but it is true as I felt a little lost before we left.
However with Keira’s increasing independence, I was just starting to feel like I had energy to consider what I may want to do moving forward. I could start to establish some goals that I could realistically achieve.
Mike and I were also interested in exploring the possible option of finding an alternative place to live. We had on several occasions thought seriously about moving out of the “normal” western lifestyle into a more alternative one. I needed a break from all the social rules and commercialism of the modern world. Both Mike and I wanted Keira to get back to basics and to develop an appreciation of the world around her. So a goal for the trip was to look for a possible place to settle.
MEETING OUR ASPIRATIONS:
THE TRIP ITSELF
This was our first trip in a vehicle but it felt right that this was the next phase of travel for us. And after the initial challenge of getting Priscilla (our car) cleared from the port in Buenos Aires it was relatively smooth sailing.
I guess I should backtrack a little and explain where Priscilla got her name. When looking for a name we were considering something Australian that involved travel and a vehicle. We almost instantly thought of an Aussie movie called “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. It is about a group of drag queens who ride on a bus through central Australia performing shows. So not really our family, but really fun! So the name stuck!
So TRANSITION 1: moving from backpacker travel to travel as a family in our own vehicle.
This was an easy transition.
Travelling in Priscilla was amazing. Having your own vehicle opens up another whole aspect of travel. We were able to stop when we wanted, we had our own schedule that we could adapt as we pleased and essentially we had our home with us. Having the option to camp also opened up a whole realm of opportunities. We were able to camp in some amazing places. We could also cook for ourselves, which saved us from repeated illness, and enabled us to have variety in what we ate, and to cater to Keira and my food allergies.
Of course travelling in a vehicle has its challenges too. Mike spent many hours under the hood of Priscilla and many hours were spent in mechanics workshops. But the advantages defiantly outweigh the challenges.
Priscilla really was our home for 15 months, and she is definitely a part of our family. I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to “backpacker” travel. Our major adventures will now always include a vehicle.
The trip itself surpassed our expectations. The sheer beauty of Patagonia, the variety of animal and bird life, the ancient ruins, the various cultures, the pristine beaches, the colonial architecture, the smoking volcanoes and of course the amazing people we met along the way made the trip an epic adventure.
FAMILY TIME/KEIRA'S EXPERIENCE:
Traveling as a family for an extended trip was a new experience for us.
The trip did provide us with ample opportunities to be a family and to be “present” with Keira. These memories will remain with us forever, as will the family bonds that were strengthened through the many challenges we faced.
Of course being together 24 hours a day for 15 months can also be a little suffocating. The extra stresses faced can strain relationships. There were many arguments. There were
times when we disliked each other immensely. But there were also times when we were in pure awe of the other person and how they navigated a difficult situation or opened themselves up to the experiences around them. We now know that through working together or through each of us using our own set of skills we can overcome most challenges.
Keira grew so much on the trip. She transitioned from a toddler to a little girl physically emotionally and developmentally. I love that at the age of 5 she had and at age 6, still has a real understanding of concepts that some adults don’t fully comprehend in their lifetime. She knows that not all people in the world have safe drinking water, or enough water for their daily needs; that not all people have enough to eat; that not all people have flushable toilets and if they do the plumbing can’t handle toilet paper; that hot showers and any shower for that matter is a luxury; that not all kids have an opportunity to be educated; that most kids don’t have store bought toys; that some animals are endangered and the threat caused by human interactions are real; that the world is a truly beautiful place; that people regardless of their culture are essentially the same all over the world; that language differences should not be a barrier and that friends can be made in all places.
Keira’s courage, flexibility and adaptability on the trip amazed me. She would walk into any hostel or campground and would know ¾ of the people before we had made camp. She often boasted that she knew more people than us. It didn’t matter what language another child spoke she would seek them out, introduce herself and begin to play. She took most things in her stride, and would see the good in everybody. Even if we spoke of someone stealing or doing something wrong she would always come up with an explanation as to why this may have occurred. For example, she would say that maybe the man stole because he had to buy seed to grow crops to feed his family. Mike and I learn many things from our 6-year-old daughter.
Being a family travelling In Sth America actually opened up a whole realm of experiences we would not have had travelling as a couple. The culture is very focused on family and children. Keira was often the only white child and so many people were fascinated by her. Mike and I were seen as parents and so instantly had a common bond with the locals. People were more trusting of us because we were a family and would be openly friendly and go out of their way to accomodate us. It also helped with the local authorities and police, as Keira would charm them with her spanish and put on her "cute" face.
We had many amazing experiences, but some of the best were when we just stopped and would just “be” in our environment.
One of my favorite days of the trip, started with a family breakfast, progressed to Keira and I playing in the ocean for an hour jumping and swimming through waves, then drawing pictures in the sand embellishing our drawings with shells and articles we found on the beach, some letter writing in the sand and counting to cover our school goals, and a day ending with Keira and I climbing a tree and sitting in the branches talking and eating coconut bread. This day was close to perfection!
So did we achieve our goal of spending quality time as a family, and providing Keira with a life changing experience? I believe the answer to this is a definite, yes!
The trip was an incredible experience in so many ways. I know this sounds very cliché (again) but for me it was an emotional rollercoaster and a definite “journey”.
The first months were a come down from western life and were about getting into a groove. I was still on overdrive and found it sometime before I could relax.
One thing that I hadn’t quite realized was how much Keira although gaining independence would still need us. Because of our car setup Keira was unable to access most things so required us to do things for her that in the real world with a normal refrigerator and closet she would be doing herself. So the physical demands of motherhood didn’t decrease. But that was ok.
It took me awhile to gain my confidence back in social situations, to feel like I had something worthwhile to offer to a conversation and things to talk about besides “mothering”. Travel is great for this as you have so much in common with other travelers and I began to feel my soul rejuvenating as we connected with like-minded people. I felt like a real person again.
I gradually began to not feel guilty about taking time for me. I pursued Spanish lessons, and blog writing. I began to think about things I may want to try or goals I may want to pursue.
Once we got to the Caribbean coast, I felt new life breathing back into me. The ocean is definitely in my blood. Being near the coast eating fresh foods, swimming and enjoying the sun was wonderful. I got to hang out in a swimsuit all day and had a tan, so felt good about my physical self too.
You would think that travelling in third world countries would be challenge enough but it had not quite taken me outside my personal comfort zone. One huge event for me was trying surfing again. The thought of surfing, a sport that was a whole lifestyle for me in a previous life was scary. What if I couldn’t do it? What was the point of trying when we wouldn’t be living near the coast again?
My daughter, then 5 years old, was my inspiration. She is so brave, and would take new things in her stride. I also wanted to set an example for her and wanted her to see me doing cool stuff and as a person, not just her Mum.
So I surfed! And I did it! I took time out for me and did it! And I had fun!
So did I achieve all I wanted for me on the trip, the answer is yes. And I am determined when we come up for air after settling back in; I will reach for my new goals.
SEEKING A NEW PLACE TO LIVE:
There were many places on the trip that we would have loved to live, but we never found that one ideal place. Most of these locations were remote places with limited access to resources such as schools and social opportunities for Keira.
Our idea of owning and running a hostel, although still an option became less attractive as we witnessed and talked with other ex-pats about their experiences doing this in foreign third world countries. For one, in order to be successful you need to work 24/7, 7 days a week. You need to be present for your guests and need to supervise your staff closely. We met people that had lived in an area, doing great things in the community for 20 years, and still their staff or local people would take advantage or steal from them. You would always been seen as a foreigner and never truly be accepted into the local community. You can own and live in a hostel at the most pristine place but chances are you will not get to enjoy it because of the work demands. These are sad but all true facts.
So our plan now is to return to the western world, provide Keira with her needs for long-term friendships and education, save as much money as we can so we can complete more adventures like this one. A volunteer placement is still on the cards somewhere in the future.
Long term for Mike and I, it will be buying a more comfortable vehicle to be our home and extended travel throughout the world.
For now, life is about accepting that we need to conform a little to modern society in order to survive and thrive within it, whilst still maintaining our integrity, adventurous spirit and values. And so the challenges continue!
Our trip was amazing in so many ways. We are not saying it was the trip of a lifetime because we are hoping to have many more similar adventures.
Thank you all for sharing this one with us.
Stay tuned for a monthly blog aimed at documenting our life in the USA,
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.