Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How much contentment can one guy withstand?

An  American catches something

The daily routine here at Campo Turistico Uno starts with watching the sunrise, staring at the sea and breathing the fresh air. It ends with watching the tide, shrimp boats and marine life and commenting about how much we like it here. In between there is conversation, Internet, a little exploration, showers, naps, more sea gazing, and excellent food.

This evening we went to satisfy our jones for flame grilled chicken at a joint recommended by the campground manager. It was perfect. So were the fish tacos the campground owner made for lunch. And the huevos rancheros she made yesterday. And the burritos before that. And the enchiladas before that. And the shrimp and fish before that. And the tacos from the stand in town. And the produce from the vendor. And the tamal from the lady at the swap meet.

Lou asked, "Have we had any bad food since we've been here?"

"Mmmmm, nope." We haven't even had anything mediocre, except maybe what we made ourselves.

Okay, so the temperature has dropped into the upper 60s, and it's windy on and off. Not storybook paradise weather. But it's warmer than Yuma or Quartzsite or other Arizona snowbird havens. And there's the sea. And the food. And the friendly, gracious people. That's a lot to be happy about.

Next week I'll be going back to El Norte for a while to take care of some business. I hope it won't take long. I'll miss this place.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

You are the most important component

This post is aimed at those for whom living in a vehicle is one of several options rather than the only option. It's for those with time and resources to make considered decisions, and the freedom to modify them.

Vandweller and nomad forums are filled with questions about vehicles, how to fix them up, how to have electricity, what to do about heating, cooling, cooking, cleaning, beds, toilets and on and on. Those things are important, but I think they get in the way of the most fundamental question:
Am I the type of person who could be happy and successful doing this?
Given the best equipment and a sufficient source of money, some nomads will still be miserable. Some will fail. Because a vehicle can only transport and house you. It can't repair you. Living in a vehicle can change you, but it's you who's the agent of change, not the van, not the solar panel, not the composting toilet...

So, what type of person has a better chance of finding nomadic nirvana? I've assembled a list of attributes that, from my experience, are shared by happy, successful nomads. I think a lot of the attributes also apply to the building-dwelling life. (No doubt there are more things that could be on my list. Feel free to add your own.) Rate yourself on a no–somewhat–yes scale. Obviously, more yeses are better.
I have an independent nature 
I'm self-sufficient 
I'm self-directed and self-motivated 
I always have a back-up plan 
I'm not tied to a location 
I'm not tied to a culture 
I'm not tied to the past 
I look forward to new experiences 
I can entertain myself 
I'm curious 
I'm alert 
I like solving problems and have a good track record at it 
I'm good at finding answers 
I have a good bullshit detector 
I adapt easily to changing situations 
I'm usually calm 
I can distinguish between the essential and inconsequential 
I'm comfortable with tools 
I'm not afraid of getting dirty 
I know generally how vehicles and gizmos work 
I can change a flat tire 
I know what to do in emergencies 
I enjoy camping 
I have an adequate sense of direction 
I like myself
If you didn't score many yeses or somewhats, you might want to think more deeply about this whole nomad thing. You might do some work on yourself. Is your temperament changeable? Your personality? Some psychology professionals say yes. Some of the skills on the list can be learned. Knowledge can be gained.

My intent isn't to talk a lot of people out of their nomad plans. It's to prepare them. I try not to say, "Hey gang! Come be a full time nomad! It's perfect for everyone!" Because it isn't. I don't want to see frustrated, anxious, stumbling, unhappy campers. I don't want anyone to regret their decision. I don't want anyone to crash and burn. I want them to have the life that works great for them. For you.

Now with 100% more hammock

We  moved camp to the north side of the cafe to put more room between us and other campers. There's more sand and no wall separating us from the beach. We're slightly closer to the shower and toilets. We also have more shelter from the wind if it returns. Best of all is the shorter stroll to the fabulous meals Victoria makes for us.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

At the swap meet

I got weird reactions in the eastern United States when I used the term swap meet.

"What? A place where you trade beef or something?"

"No, a place where you meet to swap things. As far as I know, it started with California hot rodders wanting to trade car parts. Now you can buy all sorts of things there."

"Oh, a flea market."

"What (I joked)? A place where you buy bugs?"

Thanks to Californians coming to Baja, they say swap meet here. There's one every Saturday north of town, by the recreation center of a gringo real estate development.

I didn't need any merchandise, but I scored some tamales and empanadas. Also, the produce vendor we bought from earlier in the week was there, so we stocked up. We also found some fluently bilingual Yanks to translate when our limited Spanish failed.


There were strong winds the past two days, so the shrimp boats came in from the Sea of Cortez and anchored in the north end of the bay where the water is calmer and mountains block some of the wind.

Pelicans and gulls swarm a boat hoping for a meal

I have mixed feelings about the shrimpers and other commercial fishermen. (Mixed feelings seem to be a theme with me lately.) I love seafood. But the Sea of Cortez (and other waters) is being fished to death.

Friday, November 25, 2016

So, we're driving in Mexico, but legally?

This is my second extended foray into Mexico in my own vehicle. The fifth where I've done any driving. But until I stumbled upon this article, I had never thought about International Driving Permits. Tourist visa? Check. Mexican auto insurance? Check. Passport to get back into the US? Check. But what is this business about International Driving Permits? Well, it's kind of weird. Read the article and learn.

Conflict of interests

On  one hand, I really like the place we're camped and want everyone to know about it. Sharing is good.

On  the other hand, one of the things that makes this place so desirable is there's almost no one else here.

So, as a compromise, here's a clue:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A plan is developing

When people find out I travel full time, they tend to ask what my favorite places are. I haven't had a no-hesitation answer. I like a lot of places.

Also, as winter approaches each year, I toy with the idea of getting a cheap apartment and hibernating until spring. But it's difficult finding month-to-month rentals that aren't dives or expensive vacation properties.

Meanwhile, I'm running out of new places to see in the West. And I can't imagine circumstances that would make me want to explore farther east.

Fish and shrimp: better than turkey

Then, as Lou and I were talking after Thanksgiving dinner about extending our stay here in San Felipe, a little voice in my head said, "Hey, what if you spent winters here, where you not only have quiet, laughably cheap beachfront camping, but also electricity, flush toilets, hot showers, wifi, a great cook, fresh seafood, and a town for supplies? Then you could summer in Colorado, like you did this year. Travel in spring, and for fall there's that camping spot you were offered in San Luis Obispo."

Hmmmm, change from a wanderer to someone with a circuit? I could give it a try. All plans are subject to change, of course.

I'm certain of one thing, though. My no-hesitation favorite place answer is San Felipe. At least at the moment.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What are we doing up at this hour?

There was an amber glow on the horizon when I roused from delicious sleep. I pulled on my pants and a jacket and went outside to be part of the sunrise. It was 5:22.

I took the photo above, then settled into my chair to watch the changing sky, the pelicans and gulls, the water. There was only a slight breeze. It was very quiet. Then, as if we had planned to watch the sunrise together, Lou stepped out of his trailer.

We  talked about the sun, moon, and tide, about the rotation and orbit of Earth. We talked about time, on the cosmic scale. And on the personal scale.

And we talked about the strawberries Lou bought yesterday. "Good Mexican strawberries that actually taste like strawberries. I think I'll have some."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

To market, to market

We were headed to the Calimax supermarket when we spotted a produce stand. Support small businesses when you can, right?

We  got a load of stuff for five dollars. Lou is especially excited about the strawberries.

When we finally got to Calimax, Lou said, "Okay, all I need now is sunscreen and beer."

To which I replied, "That's really all a gringo needs in Mexico."

Good morning

Lou discusses fishing with a Canadian

Pet sharing

One of the campground manager's dogs came by to say good morning. Now, while looking at this picture, try not to yawn yourself.

Monday, November 21, 2016

End of a day

Lou and I drove to San Felipe today and found a great old style palapas-on-the-beach campo (as opposed to a city lot packed with RVs). The Rolling Steel tent is backed in, with the Sea of Cortez outside the rear doors. Then we had fish tacos and clams for a very late lunch—the first of many such meals we'll be having here. We are two happy campers. Literally.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

May 1995

It  was a turbulent time. My marriage had fallen apart that winter. I had quit my job and was freelancing. I was wanting to move away, move on, but I didn't know where.

Although the freelance gig meant a grinding commute through Southern California traffic, and although the company I was working for was an organizational mess and the project boring, it paid ridiculously well. I made the equivalent of a year's salary in two months. I could afford to take off.

So I paid two month's rent and utilities in advance and hit the road with a pile of clothes and a crate of CDs. Twenty-seven days and two speeding tickets later I had driven from California to Maine and back, corner to corner across the United States (and a little slice of Canada), wandering through the Midwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the South. I wanted to see what my options were. What was out there? Could I be happy in, say, Iowa or Pennsylvania or Mississippi? Did some place speak to me?

I didn't get the answers I was seeking. But I learned I liked life on the road. A lot. When retirement came around it didn't take long to remember May of 1995 and to know my golden years would be spent wandering around.

The big breakthrough, though, was realizing I wouldn't need a home base, that I'd be happier without one. Not keeping a house or apartment meant more money for travel and less to worry about "back home."

In Up In the Air, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) returned to his condo after a long period on the road. It felt alien to him. It wasn't his natural environment. It wasn't home. I understood.

I don't know if I could ever feel at home again in a building. My van is my home.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Out of the wilderness

Since Lou and I had errands to do in Yuma, it didn't make much sense to drive back to where we were camped off American Girl Mine Road, on the California side of the Colorado River. Instead, we moved "camp" to the RV parking area of the Cocopah casino between Yuma and Somerton. Then, Monday, we can cross into Mexico at San Luis. That would also put us right on Carretera 2, saving us from having to zig and zag on smaller roads from Los Algodones.

We stayed here a week last December. It's nowhere near as crowded or windy this time. Thumbs up for that. But it's too early for the tamale festival in Somerton, so sadness for that.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lou is here!

Lou arrived this afternoon. It's great to see him again after about three months. We caught up on things and made a mental list of what we need to do before heading to Mexico.

Add international phone/data coverage. Check.

Get Mexican auto insurance. Check.

Reserve a storage unit for things we can't take to Mexico or don't want to. Check.

Still to do: oil change for Lou, get a lock for the storage unit, put things in storage, stock up on supplies, mail that thing to that guy, other stuff.


As I was waiting to pick up my new eyeglasses in Los Algodones, one of the staff was wrapping up a phone call.

"Okey-dokey, gracias, bye-bye."

Okey-dokey? Where had she acquired that bit of American slang? Perhaps from Yankee customers. Or maybe she lives in the US and commutes to Los Algodones.

Whatever. No importa.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Oh yeah, this stuff

It's that time of year in the desert. Van-rocking wind in the middle of the night and into the day. Bring your stuff inside. Grit and sand in the air. Keep the windows and doors closed. Driving tall vehicles becomes dicey. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Los Algodones detours

Hurray, California is rebuilding sections of I-8 (or as Californians would say, the 8) through Imperial County.

Oh no, some of the ramps are shut down, complicating things for people heading to Los Algodones for low cost dental, optical and prescription needs.

Eastbound traffic on I-8 funnels down to one lane and crosses over the median to use one of the westbound lanes. That means eastbound traffic can't exit or return there. Meanwhile, the westbound ramps are still in business as of this writing.

Fortunately, there are clearly marked detours. They don't want snowbirds wandering around lost.

If you're coming from the west, go to the next exit, cross over and get back on the freeway. Then take the usual exit. Inconvenient, but easy.

If you're returning from Los Algodones and want to head east to Yuma or points beyond, there are two options. The first is to cross over the freeway, turn left onto the westbound onramp, get waved through the agricultural inspection station, go to the next exit (Sidewinder Road), cross back over the freeway, and turn left onto the eastbound onramp. If you want to avoid backtracking, and if you want to see something other than the interstate again, you can cross over the freeway and keep going on Araz Road/S24. It parallels the freeway and reconnects with I-8 just before the state line.

Ah, that brings up another closed ramp. If, like me, you like to take 4th Avenue north out of Yuma to connect with I-8, well the westbound onramp is closed, and the detour is along Araz Road/S24.

And 4th Avenue leads to another problem. If you're familiar with Yuma, you know 4th Avenue is one of the main commercial streets. And you know 16th Street is another, and that the intersection of the two can be a pain. Well, it's worse now. A big construction project has lanes closed down. I would avoid the area. Fortunately, there are alternate routes.

I have a love-hate relationship with Yuma. I love that it's rarely cold in the winter. I love that it has all the stores I might need. But I hate how it gets clogged with snowbirds, many of whom drive in ways that make the traffic even worse. And they drive shopping carts the same way. Sigh. But if things go as planed, I'll just be passing through on my way to Baja. Mmmmmm, the Sea of Cortez.

I'm thinking a lot less about getting a drone

Here's a report from the You Don't Want a Drone committee.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A thing I contemplated while staring at the ocean

Sometimes I have profound thoughts while gazing at the sea. But mostly my brain just wanders in realms of pointlessness. Ah, the joys of not needing to think.

An interesting question intruded upon yesterday's water staring: How do they calculate sea level when the level of the sea is always in flux? Waves, tides, rainfall, evaporation, the rotation of the planet... They must do some sort of averaging. So I asked the Google god.

Yup, averaging of a lot of data gathered over a long period.

However, a link at the bottom of that answer reminded me of another question: If the tide is caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, why are there high tides on opposite sides of the Earth? In my limited and easily confused mind, the oceans should only bulge toward the moon. A diagram would look like a lengthwise slice of hard boiled egg. The explanation offered here seems goofy.
The [ocean] bulge on the side of the Earth opposite the moon is caused by the moon "pulling the Earth away" from the water on that side.
Wait. How can the moon pull the Earth but not the water on the opposite side? After all, Earth's gravitational pull is greater because of its greater mass. That's why the moon orbits the Earth instead of the other way around. The moon can pull the oceans because their mass is less than the moon. And because water is slippery.

Ah, but then I found a better, more complete, answer. With a visual aid. Pictures are good.

Not to scale, of course

Ah-ha! Centrifugal force! And the mind-blowing technicality (remember, my mind is easily blown) that the Earth and moon actually orbit each other. It's just that the center of their orbit is inside the Earth. And they both orbit the sun. In an ellipse. While the solar system orbits in the galaxy that's moving through space. Whoa, I'm getting dizzy. I need to sit down. On the beach. And watch the waves.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Before I go

Some people come out to public land to shoot at paint cans and water jugs. Some come to get wasted on beer and cheap Bourbon, or to huff brake cleaner and furniture polish. Some inject drugs and leave the syringes. Some dump furniture and appliances.

Then responsible campers like my friends and I get accused of doing the same things, of leaving our trash, of being public nuisances. So, even though we nomads might never get credit for it, we clean up our campsites before we go. That's my haul in the photo above. I can't do anything about the love seat, though. Or the queen mattress.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lucky number

Ever since I got the Rolling Steel Tent I've had the idea of adding bogus fleet numbers. I finally did it. (It has been a low priority, after all.) I don't know if it will actually help my van pass as a no-threat work truck, but it satisfies my design sense.

Why 013? Because it's my thirteenth vehicle. And because I started my nomadic life in 2013. Why the zero? To be more cryptic.

Adding this to my list

Either I've never heard of Nine Mile Canyon, or I wasn't paying attention. Luckily for me, a post about it showed up on my Facebook feed. Rats. I had passed by both access points during this year's summer ramblings. I'll definitely go next year, even though the Edward Abbeys of the world hate the fact the place is vehicle-accessible.

Also, as I read Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, (e-book in one hand, map in the other) I keep thinking of the places in Utah I need to see again with a more informed eye.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Alone at last

I have a deserved reputation among my van dwelling friends as a guy with very itchy feet. I stay somewhere a couple of days, then take off. So it's surprising to them, and humorous to me, that I'm the last one left in our Pahrump NV camp. There were six of us (briefly eight), but now there's just me. The van driving away in the background is Bob, who probably jokes the most about my constant wandering. I was here a day before he arrived and I'll be here a day after he leaves. Now I can poop without closing the curtain.

Monday, November 7, 2016

When do they call you "homeless?"

This post is inspired by one written by Vanholio in which he tells of the various nomads in the world.
Mainstream US society tries to make something radical and perverse about having "no fixed address."
Society (and some of its laws) don't mind if you constantly wander, as long as you have some building somewhere you claim as "home." Take away that building and, presto, you're a bum, even though your day-to-day life is identical to the constant wanderers who never set foot in their "home."

Take your "home" with you wherever you go? That's radical and perverse. Not wanting to be attached to a building? That's totally beyond most of society's understanding. Therefore it's highly suspicious, and therefore probably criminal.

A threat to society?

By society's standards, I'm homeless. I live in a van, fer crying out loud. That's what losers do. That's what sketchy people do. That's what drug addicts and child molesters do. Society doesn't care that I do it by choice, that I'm retired, that I have money, that I behave myself, that I just want to travel cheaply. No building = homeless.

What about those people in big ass RVs? Funny how no one thinks of them as homeless. Everyone's fine with John and Mary spending their golden years drifting around the continent. Society doesn't think to ask if they have a building somewhere. Because, money.

"Homeless" is actually about class. Exude enough upper-middle-class respectability and people give you a pass. They might even envy your freedom. But do the exact same thing as John and Mary in a low-budget way? The pariah alarms go off. Danger! Danger! Poor people!

Let's do an experiment. Take John and Mary out of their shiny new RV and put them in one that has seen better days. What does society think of them now? Put them in an even more tired RV, and so on, down, down, down the economic scale. When do they cross the line, when does society become uncomfortable with them and start thinking of them as undesirable transients, as poor, as homeless?

Can a lone guy in a self-converted cargo van ever rise above that line? I don't think so. People who figure out I'm not a tradesman, that I'm actually living in the van, will probably put me in the homeless column. People who see me camped on public land on the edge of town definitely will. I'm fine with that. At least until society feels it has to drive me off.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

My love-hate relationship with autumn

Early autumn is great. It's relief from summer heat. It's colorful leaves. Late autumn sucks. There's too little daylight. You need outerwear. The trees are bare. I hate bare trees. They're depressing. It might as well be winter.

However, bare trees are one less thing to bum me out in the desert, since there aren't many trees to begin with. The plants here might threaten to stab you with thorns, but they don't depress you with their nakedness.

Now, about that lack of daylight problem...

Some days are like fabels

I was talking with a fellow boondocker this morning when a jack rabbit bolted by. Cool. Nature.

Then, this afternoon, as if on cue, a tortoise walked by the Rolling Steel Tent. Hare... Tortoise... This is familiar.

It's the first desert tortoise I've seen in the wild, despite all the time I've spent in its habitat. I wanted to get a closer shot of it walking, but even though I carefully circled around, and even though I was, oh, fifteen yards away, it hunkered down, ready to go into full defensive mode.

Hey, man or madam, I'm not going to hurt you

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Welcome to November

Bob made an observation a few days ago. In the fall, it seems like a storm will come through and the temperature will drop five to ten degrees. Then, after the front passes, the temperature will stay in that lower range instead of returning to the previous range. Then another storm will pass through, repeating the process.

Well, here we are, with three storm fronts having passed through Pahrump, and the average daytime temperature has dropped from the 80s to the 60s. Sigh.

I've been spending my days inside the Rolling Steel Tent editing videos. I like to keep the side door open so I don't feel cooped up. I used to have the van parked with the door to the north to keep the sun from roasting me (and to avoid the southerly winds). Today I turned the van around to let in as much sun as possible. The black rugs and other things soak up heat. Hurray for thermal mass.

I'd prefer to head south, but I need to hang with Bob until I finish his videos. However, he'll be going to Oregon for Thanksgiving. I can make a dash south (Baja is still calling) then rejoin him in southern Arizona, wrap up the videos, and return to Mexico.