What About Healthcare?

A very common question we get asked is, “What do you guys do for health insurance?” The short answer is… Nothing.

Once you leave the USA, healthcare becomes much cheaper. It’s actually affordable. Most doctors and dentists, that we’ve come across, have all trained in the USA or Western Europe prior to moving to wherever they are now. For example, in Austria, I had contracted a really bad ear infection while on vacation. I popped into an apothecary to see if I could buy some antibiotics and they told me that I had to see the doctor first. They advised that the office was located just across the street. I entered the office and was seen immediately after filling out a simple form telling them who I was and where I lived. No red tape, only one single half page of information. The doctor spoke English, gave me a three-day antibiotic treatment and sent me on my way. On my way out of the office, the receptionist vehemently apologized to me about me having to pay for services because I wasn’t an EU resident. It cost me $25.00 for the doctor visit and antibiotics. They printed out my receipt so I could file it with my insurance company when I returned home. That was less than my copay in the USA, I wouldn’t even waste the stamp to send it in.

In Japan, Bronson’s crown separated from his tooth. We called around to find an English-speaking dentist who was able to see us in between patients. We were asked if we had any of the three national or private insurance options they offered in Japan. As we did not, we had to pay out of pocket for a temporary crown until we arrived home in the USA. The cost for an emergency treatment and temporary crown without insurance coverage was $70.00. If we had the time to stay and wait for the crown to be cast and adhered, the total cost would have been $200, including the $70 we paid for the initial visit.  When we arrived in the US and spoke to our dentist about it, she was floored. She said that the minimum cost out of pocket she would usually charge would be $500. Not to mention the moulding and crown later.

In Thailand, I ended up jamming my ring finger and it swelled so badly that I couldn’t remove my titanium ring. We had experience with ring removal in our previous jobs and attempted every trick in the book. Because it was made of titanium, you could only cut it with a Dremel or bolt cutters. Unfortunately, we were forced to find a hospital to get my ring cut off. At the hospital it was obvious they had never dealt with titanium rings before. They tried wire cutters, they tried a “ring cutter.” I was in the ER for an hour before this local hospital told me I had to go to the nearest big city and they would be taking me to the O.R. to remove my ring. UM… NO. I explained that we needed bolt cutters or a bone saw and water. Two hours later, and nearly losing my finger due to lack of circulation (literally within half an hour and I would have had to amputate), I was given a nerve block and a maintenance man brought in a pair of bolt cutters. Nobody in the hospital had ever done anything like this before, so Bronson and I took it upon ourselves to get shit done. Bronson grabbed the bolt cutters and prepared to cut the ring off as I watched and videoed the experience. He was able to cut part of the ring off by quickly and forcefully pressing down and cutting at the same time, but then I had to spin the ring around so he could cut the other side to get the ring to fall off. There were metal shards stuck under the ring and having to spin the ring around on my finger literally ripped my skin open. He was able to cut the other side of the ring off and I regained feeling and circulation back in my finger. The entire emergency department watched in awe and when the ring was finally cut off, everyone clapped and cheered. This was my only disappointing medical visit, but I’m glad they let us do what needed to be done without the worry of liability. The entire visit was free.

In Mexico, I ended up having a serious bout of Pneumonia. I suffered with it for over a month and a half before caving in and going to a doctor. I spent weeks prior, taking numerous different antibiotics before having to go to the hospital and get 5-days’ worth of antibiotic injections, a new nebulizer and 2-weeks’ worth of breathing treatments. The nebulizer, 5 different breathing treatment medicines and antibiotics for two weeks, blood cultures, throat swab cultures and 5 days of injections with three follow up visits cost me $140.00 total. I also take levothyroxine daily, and I can get my Rx filled in Mexico literally 100 pills for $15.

In Guatemala, Kaden was cooking dinner and just happened to not pay attention while cutting vegetables. He sliced his finger open with an 8” chef knife. He ran out of the kitchen holding his finger and said “Damnnit!” As I walked up to him to see what was wrong, he said that he cut his finger. When I examined his finger, it was a full thickness cut that we knew was going to require stitches. Kaden looked at his hand, saw the blood and fainted. We lowered him gently to the floor until he regained consciousness. Due to the toque de queda (curfew) in place due to the #Rona, we were required to take an ambulance to the hospital around the corner. Our friend Alfredo had to call the Fire Department for us because there isn’t a designated phone number like 9-1-1 and each municipality has a different phone number.

The Bomberos arrived promptly assessed Kaden in the house and disinfected us as we stepped into the ambulance. Once we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted at the door, the staff was called to their positions. The doctor examined Kaden, numbed him up, gave him 6 stitches, an antibiotic treatment and a tetanus shot. All this cost $160, including the ambulance ride. The ambulance even gave us a ride back home after he was all stitched up. 10 days later, Bronson was cutting our grass with his machete, and ended up slicing his finger open as well, only his was waaaayyyy deeper. Like, you could see the bone and tendons, deeper. It was during daylight and we were able to walk to the hospital around the corner this time. The doctor did the same procedure, but left a side of his finger open to drain. 5 stitches and 40 minutes later and all the same medicines, we were out of the hospital with another $160.00 bill.  

While in Antigua, we also went to see the dentist for a deep cleaning and x-rays. For all three of us, the cost was less than $100.00. I also had to have my bite-guard replaced. In the USA these cost me $900.00 and have to be done every 5 years and take a week or more to receive. I got a brand new one similar quality for $68.00. Health care costs vary in each department, and the department we were in is one of the most expensive because it’s filled with tourists, but still, much cheaper than in the USA.

The two visits in Guatemala and the one in Mexico (amounting to over two years of medical care) with my daily medications and dental visits cost us less for all of these visits than one month of medical insurance premiums that I may or may not use and can never get reimbursed for. No thank you, I’ll keep my money and pay out of pocket. I will say though, we have considered a catastrophic health plan that for a year would only cost $2600 for all three of us or $4500 if we want a comprehensive plan that will cover us for two months out of the year in the USA. There aren’t many countries that require you to have medical insurance, but Costa Rica does. We also have vehicle insurance that covers accidents and medical care up to $5000.00 and credit cards that have a $50,000.00 medical benefit limit. So, no matter what we do, we’re covered.

The next question people ask is, “are you happy with the healthcare you receive?” Absolutely. They have been top notch. I’ve not had any bad experiences with any of these medical professionals with the exception of Thailand, but at least in Thailand they knew they were out of their depth and weren’t afraid to take on new ideas and less orthodox treatments.

People also ask if the care is comparable to the US. I would say yes. Not always top of the line, but at a minimum we’ve not really struggled to find quality health care. The equipment might not be what you expect in the USA. Not as new or state of the art, but it does the job and as a result, costs much less.

Even Veterinarian care is much cheaper down here. Roxy got hit by a car last Christmas and we took her to an emergency vet in Guatemala city where she got antibiotics, x-rays, blood work, and IV and shots they kept her overnight for monitoring and the entire visit was less than $200.00. In the states that easily would have been $400.00 just for the emergency visit. Not including anything else. To get her health certificate, health check-up and all shots and boosters for international travel here cost $175 and was way more complete and thorough, where in the USA we spent over $400 only included a bordatella shot.

Overall, healthcare for animals and humans is much less expensive once you leave the USA. There are lots of medications you can purchase at the pharmacy without having a prescription. If you have a chronic condition that you know you’ll need ongoing medication for, you can likely skip the doctor visit and just show up at a pharmacy and ask them for the medicine you take.

Vehicle Insurance and Registration

Many people would be surprised at how the insurance industry works outside of the United States. There are a couple of countries that you can insure your personal vehicle and have the same kinds of coverage as you would have in the USA. However, those vehicles have to be 10 years old or newer or you can’t insure them. What happens is, you purchase an insurance policy from the country you are going to drive in and they give you the choice of vehicle plan. You can usually pay by the day, week, month, bi annual or yearly rate. Usually the shorter the time, the more expensive the policy. These policies, as long as your vehicle is 10 years old or newer, will cover you like you have coverage in the USA. However, if like us, your vehicle is older than 10 years, most countries will NOT insure your vehicle. You actually take out a policy that covers the other vehicle and driver if you were to get into an accident. Most other countries don’t “require” drivers to carry insurance. Most people can’t afford to register their vehicles, let alone get a driver’s license, so many people are driving uninsured. I always recommend having some sort of insurance, especially since you really don’t know what kinds of driving conditions you’ll encounter on some of these roads.

Our Insurance Policy:

This is the picture taken directly from clements worldwide website.

I did a lot of research about insurance and registration requirements in numerous other countries before we left the USA. The first time we bought a policy it was through a company in Mexico called Chubb. They actually offered excellent coverage and we were able to get the same coverage for our first vehicle as we had in the USA and it was only $548.00 for the entire year. The catch was, our first vehicle was registered as an RV, which dropped the price significantly. When we downsized to our Toyota Landcruiser, it was ineligible for the same type of insurance because its registered as an SUV, not a motorhome, not only did it change our eligibility, it didn’t qualify to be insured at all through any Mexican insurance policy. Not only that, the only coverage we could get through Mexico would be very specific to only cover “the other vehicle” should we be at fault in an accident. This didn’t sit well with me, since I know how Mexico drivers drive and their carelessness. We’d witnessed it for 6 months while driving through Mexico the first time and this entire past year in Guatemala. I won’t be posting any pictures of those because they are particularly gruesome and it’s shown all over the news out here without censorship.

You can actually compare multiple insurance agencies for all types of vehicles in Mexico by using motormexico.com website and no, we are not paid to endorse anyone and we don’t get any compensation to post links, these are just helpful places to start looking.

After a few weeks of internet searching, asking around through other local insurance agencies and calling other countries insurance companies I finally found a company online that not only covers our personal vehicle like it’s covered in the USA, but it covers us WORLDWIDE!!!! We use Clements Worldwide (clements.com). This company offers not only vehicle insurance, but also health insurance worldwide as well. Their rates are actually comparable or better than the USA and they offer better/different coverages. Things like “political violence; theft and damage; collision; act of terrorism; sabotage, riots, strikes and/or civil commotion; malicious damage; insurrection; revolution or rebellion; mutiny and/or coup d’état; war and civil war” are also covered with a $500.00 deductible just to name a few, and in this particular time in this world, we never know what we’ll encounter.  

The only thing I’m not really a fan of, is that the medical coverage is only up to $2k per person per accident. In the USA that’s not much, but when you head south, it’s a decent amount of money. They also cover Accidental Death and Dismemberment but only at $15K per person, or $45K per accident. Our policy has limits of excess liability of $500K which is probably overkill, but with the way we’ve seen people drive, you really never know. Buses pass on blind curves and all too often they go head on with another vehicle or vice versa and a bunch of people get injured or killed, so I’d rather pay up front and hope that never happens. The entire policy costs $1058.00 for the year and includes all types of damage and they pay to repair your vehicle to US standards at any repair shop that falls into that category. They will even ship your vehicle back to the USA for cost if you want to have it repaired in the US, depending on where you are. Labor rates are really cheap outside of the USA, but parts are pretty expensive. You’ll pay almost double the price for parts that you’d pay in the USA, but the labor is about 1/10th of the cost of the USA. You can also opt to pay a little extra to have optional coverage for duty expenses, in case you need parts shipped to you from overseas somewhere, you won’t pay the duty tax and fees on it. We don’t have this, and let me tell you, it would have been nice to have in our most recent differential repair.

Our registration:

We actually checked with the DMV in California (where we’re originally from) and Washington State (our current residence) to see what our best option would be to register our vehicle since we wouldn’t be driving it in the USA again after we get to Mexico. Both of the states said that our best option would be to register it as Non-Operational and keep doing that until we sell the car. This way it still shows active registration, and there are some places that require you to show proof of registration usually if you don’t have the title. We have both, just to be sure. The cost is $34/ year. We keep multiple copies of our original title, registration, passports and licenses because some borders require multiple copies of each as they send them off to multiple destinations when you arrive. This is to ensure that you leave with your car or pay a fine if the vehicle is sold without authorization in another country. I never give them the original unless they SPECIFICALLY ask for it.

There are countries that *REQUIRE proof of registration and just about all *REQUIRE you to purchase some sort of vehicle insurance at the border (like Belize) unless you can furnish proof that you already have coverage. These in-country policies at the border can be very costly. I actually didn’t get our insurance policy until we were already in Belize, and the insurance they required was actually pretty cheap, but only because it only covered the “other vehicle” and not ours. We made sure to be very careful, but with the minor population of the entire country of Belize (less than 400,000 people) there wasn’t much to really worry about.

*when I say require, Gringos are required to show proof of insurance/registration. Not locals, and each country has different rules. For example, if you’re in an accident in Guatemala and the police are called, if they can’t figure out on scene, who is at fault, both driving parties go to jail until they can figure it out and the court system isn’t like the USA from what I understand. Often times, it’s said you can bribe the police officers to let you go, but I wouldn’t go that route, you might just find the one or three cops that aren’t corrupt, that being said, corruption is being cracked down on with this new administration. We luckily haven’t encountered any of it.

If you have any questions that aren’t addressed in this article, drop us an e-mail 8yearsglobal@gmail.com and don’t be afraid to ask!

Guatemala part 4 of ??? Antigua, 7 months and counting…

Gotta love the chicken buses.

Last night, I cried. I cried because I was angry. I cried because I was frustrated. I cried because I have no control or say of when we get our car back. I cried because I’m still here. Here in Antigua, Guatemala. Don’t get me wrong, comparatively to other people who are suffering fates worse than this I realize that my situation is trivial, but nonetheless, it’s not where I want to be and I have no control over that right now. We have been trying to get out of Guatemala with our car to continue our world trip since April. Since the world closed. Every time we come within a day of leaving, something happens. First it was Covid which closed all land borders around the world. Then it was the car, next it was a hurricane, then again the car, then again another hurricane and once again the car.

For those of you who don’t know, we broke some teeth off of our front differential while climbing the wash of Volcan de Fuego back in September. While we were at El Paredón for a month, we had some friends come and take the front axle to try to source parts and repair the diff. Well originally, the 4.10 parts they found didn’t work. So, we decided that if we had to order parts from the USA, we’d just as well re-gear the vehicle to the 4.88 to give us a bit more power for pushing up the hills that we, at some point on this journey, hope to encounter.  Well, when we contacted our friend, he told us that all parts were on back-order for two weeks due to Covid. Fucking Covid. Not only is it ruining lives and killing people, it’s brought industry down to its knees and nobody can get anything they need because manufacturing has all but closed its doors. So, after a three week wait, our parts finally shipped, but then we had to wait another week while it was held up at customs. Customs wouldn’t release the parts until we paid the customs and shipping fee, like the shipping fee from the US wasn’t already paid, but what else were we going to do? Literally it felt a bit like extortion. After paying for that, the parts were brought to our mechanic who was helping us in his off-time, so patience is a virtue, one that I am severely lacking. After getting the parts and beginning to assemble them, they realized that the bearings and spacers were missing from the kit they had sent, so we had to wait an additional two weeks for that. Once all of those arrived and were assembled, our mechanic took it out for a test drive and found slight noises coming from the diff still. So he took it all back out, disassembled everything and took it back to the shop to have the mechanic who set the ring and pinion re-do the entire thing. So, here we are, three months later and still no closer to leaving than we were in September. The only difference is that now, the borders are open, except for Costa Rica (depending on who the border agent is at the time you plan to cross) and we CAN’T leave.

In the meantime, we’re still in Antigua after returning from the beach and spending two months with our friends in Chimaltenango. Our friends were gracious enough to allow us to stay with them while we were waiting for our vehicle to be finished. Well, that was only supposed to last for two weeks, which turned into 4, which turned into two months. I was going crazy being there. It’s been a long time since we lived with anyone and the comings and goings, the noise, the fact that we were urban living… Those things are not things that we’re used to and the stress of not having control of all the stuff with the car was just wearing on us. We lived in the mountains for 13 years before setting out on this adventure. We are not city dwellers, we don’t like noise, we don’t like being in concrete jungles. We thrive in nature. Out in the wilderness in near isolation. That is what we’re good at and it’s what we enjoy. So after two months, we packed up our belongings and moved into another house in Antigua. The streets might be a bit busy, but it’s quiet. The feel is different. Though it’s “urbanized” it is a very colonial town, easy to walk around and surrounded by nature. We literally were able to walk in the first two days of being back in Antigua, more miles than we walked being in Chimaltenango for two full months, even-though we walked to the gym every day.

I love Antigua, don’t get me wrong. One of our friends said it’s like “Hotel California” you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave. It really feels like that right now and I hate feeling trapped. It doesn’t help that we’re just a few weeks from Christmas and I was really hoping to be spending the holiday in Nicaragua with a tiny Christmas tree and baking cookies for Kaden. Living life on the road presents plenty of challenges and since we have always made the holidays a special time for Kaden, it’s something of a tradition that Kaden looks forward to since none of the rest of our lives are based in any kind of tradition, at least we got to celebrate Thanksgiving.

None of these things really would be a big issue, except that we need a timeline. There is paperwork that needs to be done, insurances to buy, covid tests that need to be taken and only 72 hours to cross borders before we have to get them again. If we stay through the end of December, we will have to renew our visas, and Kaden’s Passport expires in January, so he’s not eligible for an extension, not to mention the Embassy here in Guatemala has been closed since June, and we’ve been trying to get his passport renewed since April. All other embassies in central America are open and accepting appointments for passport services. Why not Guatemala? They are only open for emergency travel back to the US or an emergency passport to repatriate. Well, I’m not doing either of those things. Going back to the US is not on our list of things to do right now. And I certainly don’t want to spend my time in Airports that are germ infested with rampant Rona out of control, where I’ll potentially be in contact with Rona only to be picked up by someone who I might end up infecting. That’s not how I want this to play out. I’m safe here and everyone else is safer if they can limit their exposure to others. Since we’re trying to get into Costa Rica and the borders remain closed, we figured Nicaragua is a good place to get Kaden’s passport renewed while we potentially have to wait until March to cross into CR. Since Nicaragua is part of the CA-4 (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua) you get a 90-day tourist visa stamped into your Passport book, and you only have 90 days to explore all of those four countries on the same stamp. You don’t get a new stamp in your passport to renew your time, you just get the days remaining from the time you first entered any of those four countries, hence our visa run to Mexico back in March. Due to covid restrictions of locking down the borders and grounding all flights, Guatemala and the CA-4 had stopped counting the visa days until the borders reopened and countries reopened, which for us just happened October 1. So, we had only used 2 days in march and our remaining 88 days didn’t re-start until October.

On December 16 we will have officially been in Guatemala for one whole year. This is the longest time we’ve spent in any other country outside of the USA. In that one year, we have moved to more places than we had moved to in 13 years in the mountains and we love that. Every time our view gets a little tiresome, or the grass gets a little too long, we pick up and find somewhere else to live. Moving is a lot less cumbersome when it consists of a computer bag and duffel bag of clothing. Of course it’s all made easier when we have our own vehicle, but walking to the market and asking someone if you can use their truck to move your entire house for $10 is much easier and cheaper than trying to rent a u-haul.

While all of these things mount up and push us to our breaking point, (even the ones I didn’t mention) cry as I might, I know that we have each other and I’m not the only one feeling this way. We (usually) have back up plans and no matter what happens or how hard things get, together we always pull through and I’m thankful for that.

Guatemala Part 3 of ??? Visa Run and Chiapas, Mexico

Kaden filling out his immigration form for entry into Mexico

After leaving Pana in March, it was time to hang out in Antigua and wait for the much-anticipated arrival of Semana Santa (which happens usually the first week of April and lasts a full week), but before we could do that we had to do a visa run to the Mexico border to renew our visas. We could have opted to just go to Guatemala City and head in to the immigration office and request an extension, but there was so much of the country we still wanted to explore before heading on to our next country. We were already planning on being up near the Mexico border, so we decided to just do the visa run, and see what we wanted to see in the northern territories.

We moved in to a little townhouse in Antigua that we rented through April (so Kaden would have kids to play with) and a few days after “moving” we set out on the road to explore some places we hadn’t yet seen. We left March 4 and decided to head out with our friend from Guatemala City to do a short, 10-day overlanding trip. Well, his Landrover broke down three times in 40 miles, so he decided to just give us names of his contacts in the areas we were headed to for safety purposes, this way we could get in touch with people nearby if we needed to.

The first night, we met a contact in La Union, he showed us a way to hop the Mexico border without having to stop at a border and go through all the customs and stuff. This was a good option because we weren’t ready to go through the Aduana and all the customs stuff just yet. I literally felt like a spy, secretly meeting someone in a red car at the corner of X and X looking for a man wearing ABC, and following him to a corner where he says “this is as far as I go, when you get to the four corners, turn left, go through the ranch and pay 50 pesos to the rancher and you’ll be allowed passage into Mexico.” We did just that and were at our camping spot in Mexico in a short 15 minutes after finding the dirt road that we were supposed to take through the ranchers land. We missed it the first time because there was a couple of dirt roads that were possible to take and each of them appeared to go in the same direction and there, of course, was no signage.

We set up camp and stayed there for a couple of days before heading back into Guatemala to explore the northern areas of Huehuetenango (Way-way tay-non-go). While on our short overnight trip into Mexico we went to Lagos De Colón. This place is far less known than Lagos De Montebello, however, it is equally beautiful with a much more local flare. It is also a Nature Preserve, you do pay admission to it, however, the place we camped was actually a family’s residence. They open it up for campers and have a couple of little casitas to rent. There is also day use with some palapas with electricity for use as well. You can rent them overnight for something like 50P-100P ($3-$6 USD) per night. Kaden made some friends and taught them how to play UNO and frisbee. They sang songs (in Spanish, none of them spoke any English). They spent time playing hide and go seek, soccer and just chasing after each other.

After spending a couple of days there, we ventured back into Guatemala, using the same route as we used to cross into Mexico. This time we didn’t have to pay the rancher, and there was a lot of traffic back and forth.

Nevermind that we did this totally illegally….

When it finally came time to cross the border into Mexico, since we were already in the northern area, we decided to try crossing at Gracias A Dios. This is open for pedestrians, but there is no SAT office or Aduana for vehicle renewal, cancellation or importation. They will not let you pass with your vehicle. The nearest border you can get a vehicle extension is over in La Mesilla, a 2  hour drive south. It was earlier in the day, so we decided to take our chances and cross at La Mesilla. Well, on the way, we hit numerous road blocks, police checkpoints and traffic from cattle herds crossing the roads or just standing in the roads. The 2 hour drive took almost 5 hours and when we got to the border we arrived 10 minutes after the border closed. No crossing for us until the next day. We turned around and found a hotel that cost $12/ per night. Nothing special, but it had a bathroom with hot water, 2 beds, it was pet friendly and just a two minute drive from the border with private, secured parking.

The next morning, Wednesday March 11 at 8am, we went to the SAT office Aduana and passport control. They explained to me that Covid restrictions would be in place and that the President planned on closing the Country on Monday. I explained that we were just crossing in to Mexico for a Visa run. They said to make sure we were back by Sunday morning at the latest or we would likely not be allowed to reenter Guatemala. After a little confusion with the SAT and renewal process of the vehicle import (mostly on the different agents at the SAT office) we headed in to Mexico. There was no exit fee and because we were traveling in the “zona libre” we didn’t have to get another import permit in Mexico, and the entry was free. We explored Lagunas de Montebello National Park and camped there for a couple of nights before heading back across the border Friday morning.

As soon as we arrived, the SAT officers recognized us (our vehicle is pretty recognizable) and waved us through to the Aduana. When we exited our vehicle, we were required to undergo a new health screenings and the health officials were telling us we needed to quarantine for 2 weeks. I explained to them we had just left and crossed into Mexico for two days just to renew our visas and that we were living in Antigua. They took our temperatures stamped our passports, renewed our vehicle permit and inspected our vehicle and we were on our way. 15 minutes start to finish. We returned on Friday just to make sure we had extra time if the president was planning on border closures, I didn’t want to be stuck out in Mexico when we already rented a house for two months in Guatemala.

When we reentered Guatemala, we checked out other places in Huehuetenango and drove through countless villages. Many of which don’t recognize Guatemalan government as their governing branch. They consider themselves sovereign states. They are scattered throughout the land all throughout Guatemala, but the signs posted speak for themselves. They denounce any form of government rule. Many of them are poor villages, uneducated but hardworking people. They live in shanties and are extorted by the cartels around every turn. They don’t make money, but some suffer violence at the hands of Narco traffickers if they don’t concede parts of their land for use by the cartels. Many people looked at us, very confused as we drove by. They aren’t used to seeing vehicles like ours driving out that way. Mostly small pickup trucks, tuk-tuks, chicken buses and scooters. I think some of it was fear. Fear that we were the latest round of Narcos coming for their money or land. As we waved and passed by, most of them waved back and gave us nods and smiles.

Guatemala part 2 of 4 (or more, who knows?) Panajachel

Kaden at the overlook in San Marcos at Cerro Tzankujil

So we’ve caught up to the first two months in Guatemala. Only 7 (as of this moment… Okay, now it’s 10) more months to catch everyone up on….

After spending a month in Antigua, Sacatepéquez and a month exploring around Petén and Cobán, we decided to head up to Sololá and spend some time at Lake Atitlán; Panajachel to be precise. We chose Pana due to the ability to actually park our car. They have a great camping area, but at the time we had Bronson’s mom visiting and splitting her time between Antigua and Pana. We also had friends coming to visit from the US, so we decided that renting a house would be best. We could park, do laundry, have a yard for the kids to play in and enough space for all 7-10 of us to be comfortable. In an area that relies on public transportation in the form of small Toyota pickups and tuk-tuks, there isn’t much room for our vehicle, albeit, we did see plenty of chicken buses driving through these tiny streets. We however, didn’t want to chance anything. We spent a month in Panajachel and explored all around the lake. While it is possible to drive around this lake, which is literally half the size of Lake Tahoe with similar attributes, the roads are narrow, steep and super windy, and you’re better off in a tuk-tuk. The trip around half of the lake will take you about 3 hours by car. The easiest way and pretty economical way is to either use a public boat to transport you to any of the other tiny villages that dot the lake for $1.75 each trip, or hire a private boat. We hired a private boat for an entire day and it cost us less than $100 for all 7 of us. They took us to every town we wanted to visit, waited for us while we explored, gave us tips about each village and even had guides waiting for us at each village ready to take us wherever we wanted to go. The price included tip. The guides at each stop was extra, but a tuk-tuk driver, personal chauffeur for the time we were in each village ran us about $15/ per tuk-tuk. That was going the expensive route. You can always walk the towns which is free, but some of these places, you’ll be wishing you hired the tuk-tuk. Your calves will burn and it’s the best butt work out since lunges and squats, but in the heat of the day… You’re secretly hoping an empty tuk-tuk drives by so you can wave them down and they can whisk you away to the safety of the cool, refreshing water in the lake.

Panajachel (pronounced Pana-ha-shell) is the biggest town situated on the lake. There you can find a large central market, lots of tiendas (stores) carrying any variety of items and a few larger grocery stores. For those of you who are organic conscious, they have a market for whole foods, though real, fresh milk is hard to find outside of a private ranch. Most milk is like the equivalent of evaporated milk, super-ultra processed for shelf life and rarely do you find any refrigerated milk. They have all the modern food choices that you have in the US, but not as many. They have great restaurants and easy access to all the other villages. It is the main thoroughfare, so it’s quite busy all the time. We were there in February and the weather was pleasant with abundant sunshine. Keep in mind, things we get in the US that are imported are more expensive in Guatemala as they aren’t part of NAFTA. They don’t have trade agreements like the US does (or did until recently). Vehicle parts are expensive, imported fruits and vegetables, clothes…. You name it. If it’s not made here in Guatemala, it’s expensive relative to the US.

While in Pana, there are lots of things to see and do. You can hike a volcano, go zip-lining and see a butterfly sanctuary, walk around Santander (the main tourist street) where you get haggled from every vendor at every store, peruse the central market, visit the other towns that line the lake, even an island in the lake. If playing in the water is the thing you want to do, the best place to do that is at Cerro Tzankujil in San Marcos La Laguna. You pay Q15, which is the equivalent of $1.75 per person and you walk on the trail until you reach a wooden platform where you can jump about 30 feet (10m) to your death. Okay, okay, not really your death, but when you’re staring at it from up there is sure seems like it could be the end of you. There are tree limbs that hang over the water and a ton of rocks at all different heights to jump from. There are benches along the path that you can claim (by leaving your stuff on it) and relax at while taking in the beauty and serenity of the lake. To get there from the town takes a little imagination as the pathway isn’t really clearly laid out, at least it wasn’t when we were there. You take some back alleyways to get there and you feel like you’re trespassing on private property or at the very least you feel like you’re sneaking around just waiting to get caught. But I assure you, these tiny little alleyways are public and they pass just outside of people’s private property, so you’re safe. If you get lost, you can always ask the villagers, you will no doubt, pass by them around every turn and in all of these alleyways.

All of the towns around the lake have something different to offer. Many of them have women weaving the traditional traje (shirts and skirts) that the Mayan men and women wear. It is amazing to see them work. Their clothing is dyed naturally using plants and bugs they find in the wild. They spin cotton by hand here still and the things they make are mostly handmade. There aren’t very many big factories here and they don’t make it a habit to import a lot of stuff because it’s too cost prohibitive for them economically. Most everything that we’ve bought here has been of the highest quality and hand made (even the chocolate, my favorite chocolatier is featured in the last picture, Dina of Dina’s chocolates). I bought a leather purse and got to choose the fabric I wanted to embroider it with. Bronson and Kaden both got leather backpacks and chose their fabric as well. All three bags high quality and handmade by the shop owner who you were able to talk to and personalize your order with. No middleman, no management hierarchy. I asked for him to make a shoulder strap for my purse as it didn’t come with one. He put loops and a leather strap on it for me too. All customizable and for less than picking ONE run of the mill leather bag from any leather store in Anytown, USA.

All in all, Lake Atitlán is quite an amazing place, there is a town for everybody. There are tons of things to see, plenty of delicious foods to choose from and the textiles are beautiful, though my favorite patterns originate in Chichicastenango. That’s where the pattern that all three of us chose for our bags originates, just to give you an idea. Each department has their own unique style and the longer we stay, the more apparent they become. Each style represents a different tribe of Mayan people and each tend to speak a different Mayan language. Guatemala is really a fascinating country with so much to see and do and so much culture to learn about. If you ever venture out to Guatemala, give yourself some time. NOTHING happens fast.

Guatemala part 1 of 4

Bronson being hounded by local Mayan kids. It’s not very often they see fair skinned people around and they were fascinated by him.

While the rest of the US seems to be grappling with issues of race, gender identity, personal beliefs vs rights, and wanting to forget that history ever happened, people keep asking how we are down here in Guatemala. So, here’s our update.

We’ve been in Guatemala since December 16, 2019. As I write this today, it’s June 21, 2020. We had intended on only staying through Semana Santa in April, but then #RONA hit and ruined our plans to go further south. During the first three months, things down here were wonderful. Everything was open, you could move freely anywhere at any time on any day. We spent the first month exploring the northern Petén region of Guatemala which is full of lush jungles, tiny villages and lots of indigenous Mayan people. It has a ton of Mayan Ruins, the most famous being Tikal. It is also a region that is so dense with jungle that Narco traffickers use it as a major trafficking route. Luckily throughout our exploration of the region, we didn’t run into any problems. We drove all the way from the Belize border to the Pan-American highway, took the Pan-Am for about an hour before veering off to another unpaved highway (that was only 28 miles long) to get to Lanquin on the way to Semuc Champey. The drive was beautiful, but the roads were awful. The 28 miles took us 3.5 hours. It was windy, rocky, single lane with passing traffic and by that, I mean micro buses.

This road took us 7 hours and three of those hours were just the last 28 miles, from Poptun to Semuc Champey.

When we arrived in Lanquin, we stayed at this little hotel, about 30 minutes from Semuc Champey which reminded me of Agua Azul in Mexico. A lot of small, cascading waterfalls with lukewarm, turquoise water. It’s a short hike down, and the scenery is phenomenal. There is a hike up to the look-out where you can view the entire cascade, but we didn’t take it because my knee wasn’t feeling like cooperating with us that day. You can walk on the sendero (trail) from the eastern most part to the west part and back up to the parking lot. It’s not really that far, but it’s kind of steep to get down, nothing dangerous. There were lockers you could put your things in, but you have to bring your own lock. There were people in the parking lot trying to sell us things, trying to get us to pay for a guide. Haggling.  This used to bother us, but after being in so many different places and realizing that this is their job, and if they don’t hustle, they don’t put food on the table, it bothered us much less.

After leaving Semuc Champey, we went to Coban, ate lunch and headed to Chimaltenango. We rented a house there for Christmas and were invited to a Christmas celebration by a neighbor around the corner. For two whole weeks, fireworks were being fired off in the streets at all hours, day and night. On Christmas day, we were getting ready to take the dog for a walk, we opened the door and as we were putting her leash on, she freaked out from all the explosions and bolted across a highway where she got hit by a car. We scoured the neighborhood for 6 hours before we finally found her hiding out in some random garden on the side of the highway, a couple of blocks from the house. She had a puncture wound and she was limping, she had crepitus when we would pet her. I decided to take her to an emergency vet. It was 11 pm. The nearest emergency vet was in Guatemala City, nearly an hour away. Kaden was crying hysterically, thinking Roxy was going to die. And honestly, I wasn’t too sure she was going to make it either with the way she was guarding and her shallow breathing. She was in a lot of pain. The good news was, she was fine. The Vet kept her overnight to monitor her, cleaned and glued her puncture which was superficial. No dying for our dog that day, thank our lucky stars.

While in Chimaltenango, we met a lovely family who eventually became like an adopted family to us here in Guatemala. I now have three more brothers another sister and another mother. It’s wonderful to make these connections. We were invited to a parade for New-Year’s day, which we ended up being part of.  From Chimaltenango we went to Antigua where we rented a house for a month, exploring coffee farms, taking tours of neighboring towns, taking in the magical colonial town that is built on old Mayan ruins, and when walking around town, you find random ruins scattered throughout the town literally everywhere on nearly every street. They are not hard to find by any means. The main Mercado (Market) is right across the street from one and backs up to another.

Our new, extended Guatemalan Family




This country packs a lot into such a small country. From vast jungles, to beautiful oceans and mountain towns, desolate tiny villages and enormous cities. There is surely something for everyone; if you’re willing to trade luxury for minor inconvenience.

Money Matters!

credit cards

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network. Since we’ve been traveling out of the USA, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon and our Banks. All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. They have been awesome. Every time I’ve ever had to call, I don’t wait forever to talk to a live human being and they have always been able to resolve any of the issues I’ve had. The problem comes when you change your SIM card while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verifications. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. Capital One asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app and it logged me in on my computer. From there, I went in and changed my contact info and updated with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our bank had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank” it really puts a damper on the trip. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with our bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Mint Mobile

One way we’ve been able to work around it is using Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $300.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. Three-Hundred dollars per YEAR. I had the 12 Gb plan and it was $130 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We also don’t do a lot of streaming, so we don’t really need Unlimited data. With Mint, you pay in advance for a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan. The network is great and we never had a problem connecting while in the USA or Mexico. They also offer a roaming package when you leave the US. When in Canada and Mexico, the rates are very reasonable and international data can be bought in $10 or $20 packages. They charge you per minute (something like $0.02 per minute and something Similar per Mb of data.) Our data, phone and SMS service in Mexico went far. I never had to recharge my international roaming balance while we were there for the month. Once you’re out of Canada or Mexico, Mint still works, but the cost increases significantly. You can really burn through your data on the plan, so if you want to use it and are going somewhere else outside of the US, Canada and Mexico, make sure you turn off your roaming data. Then you can turn it on when you really need to access it. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. We’ve tried using Verizon and getting the daily package, but it’s expensive and nearly NEVER works. You’ll have better luck with T-mobile. In Mexico, T-mobile works on the Telcel and Movistar networks. We get SIM cards for our phones in whatever country we’re in and send our new info home on a VOIP program like Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. This way we can be contacted from home and local companies and new friends can contact us on local numbers. We’ve found it very helpful to have local numbers when you’re staying abroad for an extended period. More about communications in another post later.

ATM's

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge. Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from the bank, plus the ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out as much cash as you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often.

What About Sex?

When we tell people that we’re traveling the world in this ambulance over the course of the next 8 years, a very common question is what we do about having our adult time and how to have sex in such open and close quarters.

The answer? It’s difficult. Constantly having to be quiet, or not move too much to avoid shaking the ambulance and waking the kid. Sometimes we send him out under a palapa in the hammock or in his own tent with the dog and his toys at night so we can have our separation. It’s not ideal, but neither is the way we are living our life to most people. We use stolen moments. For example, if we find a shower (think USA Federal and State parks), we’ll pop in there and do our business. Recently, we’ve been finding it difficult as we travel the interior of Mexico to find places to camp and spread out, so we’ve rented houses for two weeks. That has been helpful because we each have a separate room. Other than that, we make Kaden play outside until we tell him he can come back inside. Or if he’s out and about playing with other kids too busy to notice we’re not there, we take those moments. The short of it is, we find stolen moments and use them when we can. The topic comes up so often, I’ve consorted with other families doing the same thing. Some of them have actually built separate sleeping quarters for themselves away from their kids. That would be awesome, but our configuration doesn’t allow for that and many others in this lifestyle are driving vehicles smaller and more confined than us.

Another question we get is, how do we fund this trip? Are we super wealthy? The answer is: No. Not by a long shot. We have endured a great many hardships to get to where we are, as have most of the people traveling like we are. In the crash of 2006-2008, we lost everything. We lost a home to foreclosure because we moved and couldn’t sell it, changed jobs, filed for bankruptcy, had a baby and moved again to a family-oriented community. We re-built our credit and learned from the last crash, what not to do. We started watching the financial markets and looked into diversifying our investments. The thing we did have going for us was, we had always thrown money into a retirement account. Both of us had been saving for retirement. I started when I was 16, Bronson started when he was 23. When we transferred to public safety, both of us were able to use the money in our retirement accounts and roll it over to purchase an additional 5 years of service. We also took every pay raise and put that money into our retirement accounts. We looked at cost cutting around every corner, and never bought anything on credit. If we couldn’t afford to pay cash, we couldn’t afford it. Every credit card we had was always at 0% interest and would be paid off every month. We would buy things with credit cards to continue to build credit, we just never carried a balance. We’ve been living like this for the last 13 years. When we were both forced to retire, because we had already been living on so much less than we actually took in, the loss of income didn’t hit us very hard. I collect only 23% of what I was making when I was working and Bronson collects 52% of what he was making. We literally average less than 40% of our working salary, and we are still able to afford to travel around the world and not have to work.

Another question is “what about school?” The answer is: “what about it?” Having been on the road, non-stop for the last 8 months, we’ve been doing an online homeschooling program. I originally looked in to numerous state sponsored programs that were free. The problem is they require in person meetings every week and you get your homework assignments for the next week on Friday of the previous week and all assignments are due on the following Friday. We knew going into this that wasn’t going to be an option. Many places we plan on being are not going to have internet connection and I’m not flying home every week to have a meeting with a teacher for an hour. I found a great online private school called Keystone Online. They’re based out of Pennsylvania and the cost is around $2500.00 per year. They have a curriculum to follow and it can be done at your own pace over a 12-month period. It is 100% online and they also send you school books and materials so you don’t have to worry about coming up with a curriculum on your own and trying to register it with your home state. They offer Diplomas when the child has completed high-school and you are assigned a homeroom teacher should you have any questions. A friend of mine recently told us about a program called “out-school” You pay per course and you have numerous courses to choose from and the classes are scheduled on certain days and hours. There are programs like Khan Academy, Southwestern Advantage and International school online. I like Khan academy, they’re free. Southwestern Advantage is $20.00 USD per month, but I think you have to buy the equivalent of the set of encyclopedia Britannica in a set of 6 books. This set of books has 3 different ways to teach your child everything they need to learn in school all the way from Kinder to College. The courses include Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science etc. They also send 6 additional books about anatomy and physiology, space/astrophysics, zoology, earth science and so much more. The subscription also allows you to login to the Southwestern Advantage site which has a parent corner. The parent corner discusses all sorts of issues from scheduling as a new homeschooler, behavioral issues with the children, how to recognize when you the parent need a break and what to do. There’s a whole community out there waiting to help you if you need it. The short of it is, you need to find a program that works for whatever it is that you’re doing. I can e-mail Kaden’s homeroom teacher and tell her what our plans are for the day and have it take the place of his history lesson if I want. The school is very flexible with what you can substitute for learning as long as it fits within the category of Language arts, Science, Math, Social Studies or whatever elective course you’re taking.

The next question we get often, mostly from American and Canadian travelers who go to the same places year after year for decades is “aren’t you scared?” Our answer: “Scared of what?” The same things that happen anywhere you go is the same thing that will happen in your home country, state, city or town or province. It’s all relative. Often times I should have been way more scared to show up to work than to leisurely travel the world with my family. Sure, I may not be able to bring my weapons with me, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to use it for my personal protection. The same thing could be said for me being at home. I could be at home when something bad happens and guess what, I don’t wear my gun on my hip when I’m home. I could “what if” the shit out of the what could happen, but it doesn’t do me much good to overthink it. If I did that I’d never have left my house. The problem we see, as I can really only speak for America, is that our news is so tainted with all the bad shit that happens everywhere. What you don’t see is where those things are happening. It would be like me saying “there was a terrible mass murder in California, don’t go there.” Well folks, California is a big state with nearly 40 million people living in it. It encompasses nearly 164,000 square miles. If this mass murder thing in California happened in Los Angeles, does that mean you shouldn’t visit San Francisco which is 380 miles and 7 hours away? No. We don’t let fear govern our lives. We are smart about the places we go and the things we do. We don’t paint big targets on ourselves by having and showing off expensive stuff. We do our best to blend in where we can. Some places we go, the boys are so light skinned they stick out like a sore thumb and others where I am so dark I stand out. Just be smart about where you plan on going. Map a route to get there. Check resources on the internet and ask other local people. We were just told yesterday by a guy at the suspension shop that traveling south and east from here in Guanajuato is very safe, but still try not to drive at night unless absolutely necessary and if we do, stay on the toll roads. He also said it’s best not to drive at night because sometimes on the toll road, there are corrupt officials that will pull you over and impound your car and you’d have to wait to see a magistrate until the morning to get your vehicle back or pay them your hefty fine on the spot. So, note to self, don’t drive at night unless absolutely necessary. Just be vigilant and do some homework and make sure to have a back-up plan. Sometimes it’s best not to let the officials know you speak Spanish. You have to be able to read people and gauge a situation. Don’t do dumb shit.

The hardest thing about traveling in the interior of Mexico has been the lack of open camping. It seems that everywhere you go there is private property or a city. The streets in these places are pretty narrow once you get off of the Carreterra. We’ve had quite a few near misses that gave us pucker factor for sure. And since losing our ladder and partial solar panel with a hole through our roof under a “Puente” that was rated at 2.5 meters and we’re 2.5 meters tall we’re a little gun-shy about going under some of these bridges and in some tunnels where we can clearly see that tall vehicles have completely scraped the rocks with their roofs. I don’t want to do that again, it was bad enough the first time. Driving this ambulance in these cities is tough. Huge blind spots, you can’t look out to see behind you because you have an entire additional foot of space behind you that is blocked by the ambulance box so you only have mirrors. Usually I’m the one getting out and guiding Bronson to either back up or move into traffic. We can see behind us, but we can’t see to the sides of us and that’s a huge blind spot.

The next hard thing is that we have no personal space. This one is huge for me. I have always been independent. I love having my own space with my own stuff where I can go away and have total and complete quiet. Well, since being on this trip I’ve had none of that. NONE. And neither have they. We get on each other’s nerves all the time. There is some yelling, every now and again the crazy side of me comes out and I look and sound like the devil, but hey, I own that shit.

It’s not easy doing what we’re doing, but we make the best of it. The boys seem to throw their shit everywhere and cannot keep the inside clean. I’m constantly nagging them to pick up their shit and then they are always asking me if I’ve seen their stuff. No, I haven’t seen your stuff, but I guarantee if you always put it back in the same place you’ll never lose it. This concept seems to be lost on the boys and I can’t stand it. I’m constantly sweeping the floors, wiping down the countertops and dusting. I’m not saying I’m perfect. That is so far from the truth it’s not funny. We all have our shortcomings. I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it, the list of my shortcomings would be much longer than the boys combined. Bronson is by far the hardest worker of all of us. He researches everything that could and will go wrong with this vehicle. He’s already researching our next vehicle when we sell the ambulance and trade down to something smaller and more maneuverable. Yes, I said downsize even more. He is a tinkerer, so he’s really good at seeing how things function and can troubleshoot just about anything. Kaden is a sponge, so he’s soaking up a ton of knowledge about vehicle maintenance, school, chores, history, responsibility, self-initiation and getting a first-hand lesson of how pride can get in the way of your ability to learn. I’m the translator, teacher, grocery list maker and shopper, safety officer, finder of everybody’s everything, navigator and interior cleaner. We each have our roles and the longer we’re on the road, the more our roles change and intertwine. It’s important to stay fluid in responsibility. If one of us adults gets hurt, the other has to know how to take on the other roles.

We argue, we yell, we cry, we laugh. We even laugh sometimes because we can’t cry and it won’t do us any good to yell because there’s nobody to yell at and place blame on. We take the good with the bad because we are a family. Together there isn’t anything we can’t get through.

 

Ambulicious

After so much time deciding what kind of vehicle we were going to purchase we thought the Nissan NV would be the vehicle until… We drew out the space in the garage and stood inside it without anything built in. The first thing we noticed was, we barely had enough room to move around in it with just the two of us without our son or cabinetry/bed/kitchen space. I quickly decided it was not going to work for our intended purpose and nixed the idea.

So began our search for a new vehicle… After looking at box trucks, moving vans, military vehicles and such, we decided to look at ambulances. Sure, some of you might think it’s gross, unsanitary ot haunted, but the reality is, they’re not, it’s not. Speaking practically, the box is big. It has all the lights, pump functions, heat and air, full bench seat and rotating jumpseat. They also have mass amounts of “counter” space and the kicker??? Complete internal and external storage built to withstand any type of crash test you could put it through and built to run forever (taking the box and putting it on another chassis, that is).

We searched high and low to find one and managed to locate one that had originally been specked out to a volunteer fire department. Come to find out, that department had only used it as a support vehicle, so it never carried patients.

When we bought it, it came complete with lights, sirens, comms system and PA still working. It had all the EMS decals and some basic original equipment. We saw it online and 3 days later we flew to pick it up and drive it home.

W

e named her Ambu-licious. We retrofitted he interior invluding a new leather RV couch/bed, acacia wood floors, butcher block countertop and leather jumpseat complete with massage and heat.

We sent her to get the engine bullet proofed. By that I mean we sent her off to basically have everything in the engine re-done and beefed up and tuned for horsepower and oxygen efficiency at high altitudes. When she was done with those things, we sent her to get a 4wd system and a 6″ lift.

After all the work was done, we flew out to pick her up. 30 miles out of Salt Lake City, one of the inner cooler hose blew. Of course, it would be THE THINGS that weren’t replaced initially. We turned around and went back to the engine shop, got that replaced and headed back out heading home. Thirty miles out of Salt Lake City, we blew another one. Turned back around and got that one replaced. Now we have new everything under the hood. We made it home and took her out for her maiden voyage camping trip that night.

We drew lots of attention at the campground. We even “showcased” it. People we’re intrigued by it, but it also sparked ideas in many of them.

The next day, we took Ambu-licious to an engineer to work out Solar for her and figure out battery life to run everything without the engine. He’s also custom building a front bull bar with winch. That should be done in a few more weeks.

Unrealistic Expectations: What you don’t see Vs. What you do see

Today I was thumbing through my friends posts on Instagram and Facebook looking at pictures of everyone in their Halloween costumes.  All the smiling faces and perfectly done make-up. I have to say, this year, we KILLED it with our costumes. Not that there aren’t better costumes out there, but we pieced our costumes together (though our little guy insisted on being Master Chief from HALO and I’m not good enough to make that shit) and spent hours perfecting the make-up. It’s awesome to see the finished product, but what about everything not photographed (or maybe is) and the reason we choose not to post them?

I think most of that is due to self preservation. First off, we all want a presence on social media without being too revealing. After all, some things in life are definitely meant to be kept private. More often than not, we really only show what we want people to see. Guilty as charged. All too often pictures are photoshopped or in some instances the phone has a setting that automatically does it making you or your landscape look “perfect.” But here’s the deal, NOBODY/NOTHING IS PERFECT! We typically post things we are happy to let people see, but not the entire scope of how we got that really awesome picture. I’m not just talking about portraits. I’m talking about sitting at the right place at the right time to get the perfect exposure. Adjusting the camera’s settings just to the right ISO, adjusting the aperture and getting just the right angle in hopes of capturing the beauty of which your eye sees.

What you don’t see is the arguing about where the fuck we are and where we’re supposed to be. You don’t see the anger and frustration of the indecisiveness of either party. You don’t see the temper tantrums of a young kid that’s hangry. Yep he turns in to quite the devil child once he gets hungry. You don’t see the disruptions of travel plans and the angst from hundreds of travelers when we’re all on a train at 11 pm heading to Rome when suddenly the train stops and everyone is ushered off the train to busses in order to continue the trip with no explanation, yet we all know the trip is now going to be an additional 3 hours come to find out someone decided to end their life by jumping onto that railroad. I’m sure with that revelation, we can all spare 3 hours. You don’t see our frustration when we’re reading and following a map, but the map is wrong (think Venice, Italy) or there’s no legend to follow so we have to hope we know which direction is North on the damn thing. We may even get lucky to have a local give us directions specifically by the number of turns we have to make and the number of doors we must count to arrive at our final destination. Yet despite their best efforts and our best attempts, we still get lost over and over again while the sun is setting and we have yet to find our hotel. You don’t see the anger we exude when we’re trying to use the GPS to map our location, but the GPS is delayed and so we circle around the same roundabout 4 times waiting for it to catch up and continue to do this while navigating the streets of London and Paris (it started out funny, didn’t end up funny). We’re too busy being pissed and arguing with each other to even think about snapping pictures. What you do see is this:

The issue is, we have expectations. When our expectations are not met, we get irritated. Irritation turns to frustration which turns to anger and eventually a melt down if you can’t get control of yourself and your emotions.

We expect a map to be correct, the GPS to work and track our location. We expect to have cell service or at least wifi, and to have an eventful trip without too much hassle. We expect a level of cleanliness when we book a hotel or home or room. We expect that hotel standards around the world would be the same as in America. We expect to have our meals served with a smile and we expect that we’re going to have to leave a tip. We expect the food we ordered will come in a timely fashion and that we’ll have extra time budgeted so we don’t run out of time to see the things we vacationed to see. We expect when we are seated at a restaurant, the server will come offer us drinks and then take our order when our drinks arrive. We don’t expect to have to ask for any of these things because we’ve been trained as Americans to expect these things will just happen.

When we vacation, we’ve learned to leave our expectations at home. Mostly because if you have too many expectations you’re asking for a trip full of disappointment. A girlfriend of mine once told me that we  “are travelers, not vacationers.” In a way, she’s right. We travel to immerse ourselves into other cultures and learn more history about the places we visit. We venture into areas most tourists won’t go because it’s out of their comfort zone. We talk to locals and ask them where they go to get away from tourists and we go there. We’ve stayed in some pretty dank places and some areas that really had us questioning whether we should cancel our booking and find somewhere else to sleep or just chance sleeping at a train station. We’ve hopped on the back of a random person’s motorbike to catch a ride back in to town with varying degrees of mistrust. But we always have found that we can rely heavily on our instincts to guide us in the right direction.

When you’re walking through the ghetto seeing graffiti, and you spot your “hotel” room you start questioning the area… Then you get up to your room and see the XXX Adult shop across the street, next door to the liquor store and you kind of know it was probably a bad choice. But we still give it a chance, unless there’s something egregious that jumps out at us that makes us run for the hills. We make sure to pack light, just in case we need to get out in a hurry and we generally don’t travel for less than 3 weeks. If it doesn’t fit in our backpacks, it doesn’t go.

You may not see pictures of us arguing, or giving each other the cold shoulder or getting short with our son, but you will see unadulterated pictures of beautiful scenery and us in our natural state of being. Sometimes I don’t want to pose for a picture and sometimes I don’t want to hike up that f%&*ing mountain. I can even be seen flipping off the camera in those instances. We don’t photoshop and we don’t try to show things that aren’t there. We try only to capture the things we see with our eyes. Often, the way we see it through our eyes cannot truly be captured in a photo. So we stop expecting things to be what we want and start accepting the way things truly are wherever we go.