On humility

20 01 2014

Travelling is always somewhat of a humbling experience. You step outside your ordinary, comfortable routine and embark on new territory of unknowns – a new landscape, new friends, and often a new culture, a new language, and new customs. Amidst these novelties, I often return to a state of childhood, eyes wide and ready to see, do, learn and discover all the new things.

This latest adventure has been no exception, and once again, I have found myself humbled on a number of fronts:

1. Mechanical matters

Quite frankly, I know very little about how vehicles work, and I’ll be the first to admit it. However, I know how to check my oil and maybe that’s enough for my ego to sometimes get away on me. But when you drive a vehicle that’s older than you are, it often requires more TLC than that. Driving down the road, there have been various mysterious rumbles that have left me humble, completely dumbfounded as to what it could be. In such a circumstance, I’ll often pull over, look, listen and smell, and call Dad at the earliest convenience. Further, whenever we visit a mechanic, I try to ask as many questions as I can, which is likely a source of annoyance for the mechanic who is just trying to do the job as efficiently as possible. I haven’t had this luxury since entering Mexico though due to the language barrier.

Some of our mechanical troubles have been easily fixed with a bit of 20W50, others a bit more complicated – spark plug cables, or “cables para bujia” so I learned.  But the turned out to be more difficult to source than they were to install, and Joni is back to her usual purr. While I’m still riding the ego boost of changing the spark plug cables by myself, I know my next humbling encounter is never far down the road.

2. The curse of Babel

Hablo un poquito español, or at least enough to get by, but unfortunately it ends there, at least for the time being. So, I’ve become familiar with the experience of being completely unaware of a conversation that is happening in your midst. As we have met and become friends with more locals, this occurrence has become more frequent. It can be an unsettling feeling not to understand, and sometimes a bit of narcissistic paranoia sets in as you wonder, “Are they talking about me?” They probably aren’t. So, sometimes it is still interesting to try to understand, and other times ignorance is bliss, and you can embrace the opportunity to occupy your mind with other matters.

Often, or at least in times of confidence, I will pose my question or request in Spanish. Of course, I have already mentally recited my question or phrase a dozen times beforehand. Sometimes I’m successful and get what I need. Other times, the interaction results in confusion by one or both parties – either they don’t understand me, or they respond and I don’t understand their response. If I’m feeling determined, I might ask for them to repeat it more slowly. Alternatively, I might just say, “Si, gracias,” and walk away identifying all their possible responses.

Regardless of whatever comical or confusing circumstances occur, it is certain that to learn a language, you must take some risks and at times feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed by how much you still have yet to learn.

3. Mother Earth

Since our departure two and half months ago, the landscapes we have seen have been nothing short of extraordinary. From the towering giants in the Redwoods to the vast depths of the Grand Canyon to the thunderous tides of the Pacific, I’ve been amazed, repeatedly. As of late, whilst living on the beach in El Pescadero, the ocean in particular has been a source of humility.

A few days ago, Olivia and I had the opportunity to swim with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, just off shore from La Paz, where they winter. They are the largest known species of fish, spanning as long as 12.5 meters and weighing up to 79,000 pounds. While they are gentle giants, being within arm’s reach of such massive creatures can be a bit unnerving. However, one can be granted piece of mind knowing they are filter feeders that eat plankton rather than people. What an unforgettable experience!

The gentle giants of the Sea of Cortez (Photo credit: http://www.bajainsider.com)

A more commonplace yet equally humbling experience for me these days is being pummelled by waves. Whether swimming or on the fairly rare occurrence of attempted surfing, the feeling is as close as I ever hope to be to taking a ride in a washing machine. This morning, I had a particularly unsettling encounter when we went for a swim. Swimming out wasn’t too bad, and it can be surprisingly easy to swim through the waves if you dive beneath the surface. Further, we were quite enjoying our time riding the large, but soft swells when beyond the break. Only when we decided to head back to shore did we find ourselves repeatedly pummelled by break after break, with barely enough time to catch our breath in between. Not an experience I hope to repeat, but nevertheless a good reminder of how mightily Mother Nature can be.

As the Tao Te Ching reminds us, “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.” Experiences such as these either gently or quite brutally remind me of all that I don’t know and have yet to learn. And this curious, humble and child-like perspective is one that I hope to bring home and maintain long after my travels end. But if it does fade, I am certain that another brush with humility is just around the corner.





Joni’s staples

24 11 2013

Oh, good golly. I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for over three weeks already. We’ve seen and done so much, it’s hard to know where to begin. Our Vanagon Joni has quickly become home for the three of us. We’re living well – cooking wholesome meals on our double propane burners (plenty of oats, quinoa, rice and veggies, carrots, apples, and about a jar of peanut butter every few days…we’re trying to cut back!), singing lots (to our wide-ranging collection of tunes as well as making up our own diddies), exploring the new and changing landscapes, and of course, giggling and laughing (the deep in the belly kind).

In addition to peanut butter, we also have a few other van staples:

  1. The sombrero. I acquired this sombrero at the merch tent at the Ponderosa Music Fest in Rock Creek for a mere $3. In a van that doubles as your home, space is highly valuable, so Olivia rationally pointed out that maybe the sombrero wasn’t the most practical of items. As a result, it was determined that I would have to prove its importance and the 30-day sombrero challenge was born. Originally, the rules were that I would have to wear the sombrero for at least an hour every day for 30 days. Luckily, these rules haven’t been strictly enforced. Nonetheless, the sombrero is not squished into a corner of the van and it makes regular appearances. It goes without saying that we all recognize its significance to our journey and I won’t be forced to give it up.

    Liv & I on our morning stroll to North Head Lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington (just before we crossed the Astoria bridge into Oregon)

    The sombrero makes an appearance on our morning stroll in Cape Disappointment State Park in southern Washington (just before crossing the Astoria bridge into Oregon)

  2. The Firehall Brewery growler. The best of memorabilia from my time working at the Firehall this summer. Now that I’m too far from the Oakanagan to refill it with Stoked Ember or Holy Smoke Stout, my growler is experiencing new brews. And luckily, the Pacific Northwest is renowned for its craft beer, so our trip has also been a bit of a rendezvous of breweries – Elysian (Seattle), Pints (Portland), Deschutes (Bend, OR), Eel River – the first certified organic brewery in the US (Fortuna, CA), Rogue Ales (based in Newport, OR but we visited the pub in San Fran) and most recently, Figueroa Mountain (Santa Barbara, CA). In Seattle, I picked up a nifty beer tasting notebook complete with a flavour wheel to complete for each beer, as well as room for all the stats (ABV, IBU, OG, TG, etc.).
    An impressive 12-sample flight of organic brews at Eel River Brewing

    An impressive 12-sample flight of organic brews at Eel River Brewing

    Jenelle's flight (with a free 7th sample of our server's choice) at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR

    Jenelle’s flight (with a free 7th sample of our server’s favourite) at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR

  3. The musical instruments – a ukelele (Duke the Uke), a harmonica, a melodica, a couple of kazoos, spoons and just about anything else we can find.
  4. Dino. Handmade, fleece, pink and complete with a head and tail. I accumulated this cozy dinosaur costume for a mere $3 from the thrift store in Oliver. No regrets! It has kept me warm many a chilly nights while still in BC as well as interior Oregon. It has also facilitated many laughs.

    Dino and Joni Estevanagon somewhere in Oregon

    Dino and Joni Estevanagon somewhere in Oregon

  5. The Kodak Funsaver. Despite the plethora of camera technology ranging from ultra high quality digital cameras to super convenient phone cameras, nothing quite beats the fun of a disposable film camera, not to mention the anticipation as you wait until the roll of film is finished and developed before seeing the photos. So, of course, we have one of these to try to save some of the fun.
  6. 20W50 motor oil. Quite possibly most important of all. While we’re sipping on craft beers, Joni’s drink of choice is some high grade oil. Originally, we were using a lower grade, but found she wasn’t running so smoothly. Upon consultation with a VW mechanic in Cambria, CA, we were recommended a switch. I’ve just bought a 5-quart jug, so hopefully it will quench Joni’s thirst and keep her running smoothly.

Here’s a few other photos from the Washington and Oregon leg of our journey that might offer the essence of van life…

Striking a pose in Squamish Valley, post-breakfast at Fergie's and pre-departure from Squamish

Striking a pose in Squamish Valley, post-breakfast at Fergie’s and pre-departure from Squamish

Enjoying a picnic in the park (Volunteer Park, Seattle)

Found this cute, elderly couple having a picnic in the park

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Cheese samples, ice cream and a VW "Baby Loaf" to boot at the Tillamook Cheese Factory

Cheese samples, ice cream and a VW “Baby Loaf” made us very happy about our stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in northern OR

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Sipping on one fine cocktail at the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland. Notice the shelves of whiskey and library ladders in the background!

Sipping on a fine cocktail at the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland. Notice the shelves of whiskey and library ladders in the background!

A disgustingly delicous donut with chocolate icing, Oreo crumbs and peanut butter drizzle at Voodoo Donuts in Portland

A disgustingly delicous donut with chocolate icing, Oreo crumbs and peanut butter drizzle at Voodoo Donuts in Portland

Overlooking the Colombia River Gorge just west of Multnomah Falls

Overlooking the Colombia River Gorge just west of Multnomah Falls

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Hot, hot heat

1 06 2012

Yesterday I had a relaxing start to the day – woke up shortly after 8, packed up, had breakfast and went for another soak in the hot springs. I would have been quite content to stay there all day, but places to go and people to see. After 20 more minutes of that windy road, I arrived in Ukiah. I gassed up and called Trini from River Dog Farm about a possible visit when I passed through. Although we had never met, Trini had done some farm sitting at Foxglove in April while Michael was in Australia, and I’d heard remarkable things about her and her organic farm.

Another few hours of driving down the scenic 20 and increasingly unbearable heat, I finally arrived in Guinda. And what a farm! I had been told that she had 5000 chickens, so I thought maybe they just did poultry and eggs. To my surprise, I soon found out that they had 500 acres – which also included 450 pigs, tons of produce, a huge orchard and tons of nut trees (almond and walnut). Trini gave me a complete farm tour. The next day, Saturday, she was heading into Berkley (an hour and a half away) to sell at the farmers’ market there. I was blown away at the scale!  It was so interesting to compare and contrast between a home garden, a larger market garden like Foxglove and what I would call a large-scale organic farm like River Dog. After a delicious fruit smoothie and a bit of gas (compliments of Trini), I was on my way – with a jar of their own almond butter in hand! By now it was about 5:30.

My destination for the night was Nevada City to meet up with my friend Crissy. The heat was still strong and despite my long rest at the farm, I was still feeling it, so  I stopped in Colusa and had my first-ever energy drink – a mango passionfruit Rockstar. I continued on to Yuba City and called my friend from McDonald’s wi-fi. Then, I made the final stretch, but not without a quit roadside stop to put on my clear glasses since it was getting dark. Around 9:30, I finally met up with Crissy at Bitney Springs, just past Rough and Ready (yes, that’s a town!) I followed her to her place, up yet another windy, steep road. This time there was loose gravel too. Thank goodness I had unloaded my stuff in her truck which made the trek a bit easier. I made it! More good riding experience.

I got a night tour of the property. I couldn’t see much of the vista, but it felt beautiful. Then, we chatted a bit before hitting the hay in the VW Westfalia. What a dream van! I better start saving up!

I think I’ve arrived to some kind of heaven!