Archive for May, 2010

We never really fancied ourselves the RV-ing types. We had the stereotypical view of RV goers, hardened by stays at state park campgrounds, of post retirement age, lazy, TV watching, faux adventurers. Thus the thought of a RV style camper on the back of the truck was a little out of the realm of comfort. At least with the truck separate from the camper it seems a little bit more rough and tumble. Our friend Simmon has one (pictured). Its actually pretty cool. There are lots of good surfer aesthetics to it too… I had just finished reading Allan Weisbecker’s excellent surfer epic In Search of Captain Zero and la casita viajera seemed like the way to go.

And pricey. Super pricey. We had a budget of about $13K for the truck and the camper. We wanted something reliable, but a little bit beat. Character welcome. There is nothing like rolling into a economically depressed town in the middle of nowhere with a flashy, expensive rig to garner some unwanted attention. $13K seemed like an OK amount, doable anyway. Doable until the “cash for clunkers” program. Classic supply and demand. The feds offered $4,500 in rebates to scrap vehicles with lower gas mileage. So basically everyone with even a moderate guzzler that was worth less than that scrapped their ride for a new one, essentially eliminating the supply of low-end trucks. All the buyers looking for used pick-ups were now thrust up a price level, to the $5-$8K price level. The price level we were looking at. Now all the buyers were in the mid-range market because the low-end truck market had virtually vanished. This drove up the prices by $2-$3K in a matter of months. Timing is everything.

We looked and looked… never really even finding something we wanted to look at. Our buddy Aaron suggested that we look at vans instead. Having been previous owners of a 89 Dodge Grand Caravan, inherited from the parents, I liked the idea. It was always good to us. Ok, so there was the saga of Big Red. A beauty of a 79 Chevy, inherited from some multi-cultural, surfer-hippie-vagabond friends. She was not so reliable and didn’t live too long after we got her.

The search shifted. To vans. Particularly Sportsmobiles. Talk about pricey! The nice, but still used, ones run in the $40-100K range. Um yeah… I don’t think so.

Our friend Meredith, having learned of our plans, had loaned us a tattered copy of Wide-Eyed Wanderers. It was fascinating. Like I had been handed a manual to what we were about to embark on. Instantly, I started searching for VW options: Vanagons, Eurovans, Westys. And then I got to the part where they overheat the engine trying to get up a steep hill. They weren’t surfers. They do their fare share of exploring and hiking and such, but they aren’t hard-core outdoor adventurers like we fancied ourselves. More cultural explorers. I wanted 4wd too… No, the VW option just wasn’t going to cut it.

We had been on every possible used vehicle site imaginable. We had looked at hundreds of listings and posts. I joined every camper van forum on the net. No dice.

The aforementioned Mary and Walt were visiting sunny San Diego in anticipation of the pending birth of my nephew Van Moczydlowsky. Mary had just finished chastising Walt and I for not letting her go to Cedar Sinai earlier to harass the parents to be when I lamented to Walt the agony of our futile and seemingly never-ending search. I logged on to Autotrader to demonstrate the hopelessness of the situation.

And there it was. Van-love at first sight, well first internet sight. Kinda like match.com for auto buyers. If she was as pretty in real life as her profile pics then we would be spending a lot of nights together.

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Fast forward to May 2009. We had some vouchers for international travel with American Airlines that were rapidly expiring and a plethora of American Express points from Closed System printing jobs. So… we took Walt and Mary (the Moczydlowsky parents) to Costa Rica. It wasn’t exactly the vacation that we would have normally taken. We don’t usually stay in nice, American style, resorts with pools and bars and manicured grounds. But the limitations of the Amex points dictated that we give up our “slumming-it” ways and suck it up for some serious pampering and luxury. We ended up at the Cala Luna Resort in Playa Langosta (Tamarindo), Costa Rica.

Somewhere around day 5 of the trip we needed a little time alone away from the fam. Mary has this very unique attraction to anything remotely interesting (I heard her first trip to Vegas was something to behold) and feels compelled to tell everyone else about her most recent fascination. Actually, she tells everyone to take this picture and that picture. While I love her dearly, it can be exhausting. Apparently I inherited the “bright, shiny, objects” gene; hopefully I’m better at keeping it to myself?

Anyhow… we decided to have a few cocktails at the hotel bar. The conversation eventually settled on how much fun we were having but how we really wanted to explore rather than be at the resort. We realized that we’ve always had an amazing time in Latin America, whether it was Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, mainland Mexico, Baja… we loved the people, the pace, the food, all of it.

Now is a good time to mention that we had never really had a 100% consensus on the original plan. 6 months in Africa and the World Cup hadn’t exactly sparked the all-in commitment that it would require. So how about something easier? Maybe the booze soaked plans of the southern Caribbean needed some Central American booze induced reality. So what were the realities? We both really like our jobs and neither of us were willing to quit, which makes 6 months a non-starter. And logistical planning in Africa was an oxymoron.

So what if we made a few minor adjustments to the plan?

4 months instead of 6? This was the obvious time limit. Basically, if you think to all the hiring and firings and replacements and new positions you’ve ever had a role in, you’ll realize that it takes four months to replace a good employee (yes we are assuming that we are both good, valued employees). By the time you post it with HR, review resumes, do a couple rounds of interviews, make an offer, negotiate the offer, give the previous employer the customary minimum two weeks notice, train the employee, and start getting real honest to goodness contributions, it is about four months. So that was decided.

Africa… somewhere in the back of our minds the daunting challenge of Africa was already too much. We have busy lives and the sheer planning for traveling a continent we knew virtually nothing about was weighing pretty heavily. Wait, what about these places that we already love, are comfortable with, have friends and connections in and doesn’t require 20 plus hours in the plane to get to. Right then and there we decided. We were going to buy a truck with a camper and we were going to drive to South America (yes we know about the Darien Gap).

We retreated to the friendly confines of our bungalow and private pool knowing that we’d be back to Costa Rica on our terms, totally untethered by Amex points.

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Gary and Keila's Wedding

The story starts in the bar of the Hotel Avila – Caracas, Venezuela… June of 2006. Natalie and I were there with Steve Gott and Scott Crosby for the wedding of our friends Gary and Keila.

For those of you that haven’t spent much time in Latin America, part of the charm is that Central and South American countries aren’t on the same schedule as the USA. Schedules aren’t really schedules. Morning may or may not mean before noon. “On my way” could be 15 minutes to 3 hours. Combine this with the chaos of a wedding, and we had the perfect recipe for lots and lots of waiting around. Luckily, June of 2006 happened to coincide with the World Cup. While Venezuela is more of a baseball country than a soccer one, the hotel bar showed every single game, and as bars do – they happened to serve booze. So we spent a ridiculous amount of time in the bar drinking rum and watching Zinedine Zidane headbutt France out of the finale.

After a few hours of screaming at the television for Landon Donavon to pass the goddamn ball, a lengthy debate about the best sporting event in the world (the World Cup, NCAA Basketball Tournament, or le Tour de France) and questions about the merits of Rum and Tonic as a malaria prevention technique, the plan was hatched; we’d go see the 2010 World Cup in person, in South Africa.

And while we are going to make the trek to Africa we might as well stay for a while and see the continent. Six months ought to do it. We’d buy a camper van and travel the east coast all the way to Egypt, maybe some of the Middle East while we were at it. And thus the grand plan was hatched. Its humble origins, like so many grandiose dreams, bathed in the glow of a bit too much rum in the southern reaches of the Caribbean.

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