Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Monument Valley 2019


"Tsé Bii’Ndzisgaii"
Vanlife
We visited the Monument Valley Navajo Nation tribal park, located along the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah on the Colorado Plateau. It preserves the Navajo way of life and holds some of the most striking and recognizable landscape, buttes, mesas and spires in the entire Southwest. The park is entirely within the Navajo Indian Reservation.


The entire Navajo reservation covers one third of the 130,000 square mile Colorado Plateau. The dry desert climate has all four seasons. On this day we could see traces of snow and the skys were mostly cloudy.

The park was established in 1958 as a preserved environment by the Navajo Nation Council. It is truly pristine. They do not allow motorcycles, mountain bikes or hiking. The people that actually live inside the park, or the valley within the rock as it is called in Navajo: "Tsé Bii’Ndzisgaii" have long sustained life through simple living. They have underground aquifers which provide moisture to the crops and adequate grazing for their livestock.

We spent a good part of our day driving the Valley Road. There were very few people and many were choosing to pay for a guided tour which took them to different parts of the park. We had the place to ourselves and could take in all the beauty and quiet splendor.


The mesas and buttes are surrounded by sandy desert and have been filmed and photographed many times over the years. The colors are stunning depending on the time of day and the amount of sunshine. It is a desolate landscape with amazing rock formations rising hundreds of feet. They are the last remnants of the sandstone layers that once covered this entire region. 

“Those who tell the stories, rule the people.”


When the tour vans and buses pulled up to this lookout area, this guy got on his horse and rode out to the point. It's kind of kitschy but I love it just the same. Prior to this we had this little stop all to ourselves and walked out on that point to see a fantastic view. 

"Be still and the earth will speak to you"
The Real Wild West

"Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry.”


photos: (c)b.steichen 2019
quotes: attributed to Navajo sayings


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

La Terraza

It's so difficult to describe being in such a place, a bustling small city which continues to grow and change before our very eyes. Finding old remnants of this once sleepy fishing village are becoming more and more difficult to find. I am incredibly grateful to experience this place, taking time to explore and venture out into the neighborhood. It is here, away from the tourist zone that you see the real pulse and heart.
The people grilling arranchera from a street cart, a man on the corner with a small trailer full of simple wood furniture for sale, the colectivo driver taking a rest in the driver seat, a man chopping huge bags of onions at his corner antojitos stand, they are all part of the landscape. Countless taxis, colectivos, local buses and cars trying to drive far too fast on the crowded streets. This place has an odd sense of home perhaps because I have spent more time here than anywhere I else I have ever traveled to. The days pass by just as fast as my fleeting thoughts, the dreams of what this place used to be and of other new and far away places yet to see and experience.
The sun blazes hot overhead. It arrives early and if I sleep in, I miss my chance to hear the early morning bird calls. As the early morning moves into day, church bells play Cielito Lindo, a man yells out at the nearby colectivo stand, directing riders to head north or south. In the small houses nestled behind our building the dogs bark. We gather vegetables, bananas, and eggs from the corner tienda and purchase fresh juice from the humble juice man down the street. I grab fresh made to order salad from the restaurant across from the yoga school I attend. Later in the day we cook a meal in our room or we get tacos, para llevar from our favorite antojitos stand, visit our favorite Venezuelan restaurant, asian fusion or grab a Sinaloan spatchcock roasted chicken for our evening meal.


We steal time to chat with our friends that own the building where we stay, we talk about all the beautiful flowers they have added to the garden,. We talk about our projects they are working on and love of music, to listen, play and sing.

One year we witnessed a chachalaca's that hatched a pajaro bebé (baby bird) in a nest in the garden. We provided reports to each other, each day of sightings, of where it slept and were honored to watch it grow strong and independent. We are sad when we find it fluttered over the fence, into the property behind the building and fails to thrive after meeting the neighbor dog.
On the terraza or in the jardin, stories are exchanged with other travelers. There is talk about past travels, long hot bus rides in Belize, visiting Tikal in Guatemala, travels through the Yucatan Peninsula to Vallodolid, Merida and Chixulub. We tell stories of time spent in Campeche, Palenque and on to San Cristobal del las Casas.

We once we talked with a traveler who had met our friend at her cafe, way down at the bottom of Belize in Punta Gorda. We are joyous that they had eaten there and know exactly where the turn is for the gravel road to the drum school that we walked down every day to get to town.
We listen to stories of travels in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Costa Rica. We talk to people about their favorite places in South East Asia and Europe. We hear plans of travels to come and take notes to feed our dreams. We say goodbye to people departing for home or travels and wish them safe journeys. In the evening, the sun lowers in the horizon and the night breeze is simply perfect. It is one of my favorite times of the day and I am always thankful. It’s the time of day the birds fly over head to roost in the trees nearby.


On the terraza, I revel in all that is my life, the work I have done to be able to travel and am grateful for every second of it. I wonder if my friends back home have forgotten my laugh. I try not to count the months, that turn into weeks, that turn into days, before I return home for a time and then on to the next adventure.

Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home. - Matsuo Basho

* Some of this content was originally published in 2015

Monday, December 10, 2018

Bougainvillea Everywhere - Playa del Carmen, Mexico 2015

I dreamed about you last night. You were as beautiful as ever, exactly how I remember you with your amazing hair, your smile and your stare. Most always talking hopeful and positive while your life seemed from my view to crumble around you. Forever young indeed and always strikingly gorgeous. You only looked different to me because your usual sun soaked skin was white as milk. You were sitting in a tower of a building that had a thatched roof, and you were looking down at me from a window. 
Someone came to me to tell me that you wanted to see me. I'm not sure who it was. I climbed some stairs up to where you were sitting. I felt as though you had something important to say. I grabbed your milk white hand and your skin felt cold as ice. We walked quietly along the beach together. I asked you if you were really dead and you simply said yes. I saw all your children waving to us. We walked a little more turning on to a beautiful cobble stone path that led us through the shade, away from the blazing sun of the beach. We passed old, lovely trees and there was bougainvillea blooming everywhere.

I forgot to tell you, I miss you and that I loved you. Then you were gone. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Van Build - Ford Transit Connect

Removed passenger seats and installed plywood floor

Living the van-life dream. Last year we bought a Ford Transit Connect passenger van and did a very simple build so that we can travel and sleep in the van. In previous years we had taken a few road trips in our Honda Element and slept in a tent. That worked out pretty well except for the time we were in the Florida Keys where it was way too hot and a storm kicked up which just about sent our tent into the dark lagoon. Another time we were in the brush country of Texas and we woke up to bunch of javalina grazing in our campsite just outside our tent. It's time to get a van, sleep up off the ground and make one of those dreams come true.

Short of throwing a mattress on the floor of the van, we decided on a simple conversion giving us some storage and a decent place to sleep. We removed the two rows of passenger seats and then covered the floor with a 4' x 6' sheet of plywood. Since it is a passenger van we didn't have to insulate the floor or walls.  Then we built a bench with storage and stained all the plywood. We thought we would sit in the back during bad weather or on cool evenings but it's really not that comfortable. It is however a fantastic place to lay down and read.

Building frame for storage and bench
Stained floor/ bench & seat back map holder
Cozy Sleeping

Keeping everything really simple. The bench has two sections that flip up with piano hinges. In general the stuff we keep in this storage area are things that we want ready access to or use on a daily basis. One section by the driver side sliding door holds our camp kitchen stuff and the other one towards the back holds food and supplies. The sleeping is good. We purchased two tri-fold, 4" thick memory foam mattresses and they work out really well. I made fun covers for them that easily pull off to wash. They are super comfortable. During the day we keep one of them folded up and the other one easily flips up to get to our kitchen storage. Our bedding stays towards the back of the van and we still have ample room for our cooler, stepladder, two folding chairs, a small table and our day packs.

This real simple design worked pretty well for us. We made a few small trips in it to see how it went and made a few changes before leaving for winter travels. We made a quick trip to south western Wisconsin and northern Illinois to visit friends. We took a couple of weeks and went to the Badlands, Blackhills and Estes Park. Returned home made a few changes, swapped out some gear and got ready for the next adventure. A good rule to follow is bring only what you need not what you think you need. You can always purchase something along the way if you need to.

On The Road, Needles Highway, South Dakota 2017
The Thule Cargo Box is essential for a small van. We keep most everything up there accept for daily essentials, kitchen items, day packs and our bedding. We use small reusable lightweight bags and storage cubes to hold things. For example we keep cold weather gear packed into its own packing cube so we can grab and go when needed. Those cubes are great for keeping things organized and it keeps us from constantly rummaging around looking for things. Everything goes in a reusable bag. If we need the fan we say grab the yellow bag. It works if you are smart about what you need to bring with you. 

We have made a variety of window coverings and they have all proven to work quite well. The windshield uses a  cheap sunshade made of reflectix. We created back window vents with screen and altered rain gutter guards. The drivers and passenger side doors have sewn window screen that slips over and provides privacy. You can vent the window or open it as much as you want depending on the weather. These windows also have rain guards installed so windows can be cracked open during rainy weather and water stays outside the vehicle. We used cardboard for the way back windows to provide privacy at night along with a dark window curtain on the back hatch window (not pictured) and the sliding doors.  

Back Window Vents
Front Window Screens
Way Back Window Covering
Slider Door Curtains

We dragged our bicycles all over Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, southern California, Utah and Colorado but didn't use them as much as we had hoped. We purchased the Thule swing away bike rack so we can access the back hatch and still keep the bikes on the hitch rack.

Ready to Roll
We have a few limitations with this set up. While the gas mileage is something to boast about, we find that in the evenings when the weather is cool we actually have nowhere comfortable to sit. Can't make a cup of tea or make a snack. Yup its a bit cramped. At night the cooler goes on the driver side seat, my partner in crime sits in the passenger seat and I am in the back sitting on the floor or the bench bed and inventing new yoga poses. It works but we think we can do better. 

Well that's how we roll at least for one more big trip in 2019 back to Arizona and southern California where we don't worry about rain or bugs. We will likely leave the bikes at home this time and will stay a bit longer in each place. We will see how it all unfolds. Our plan going forward after we return back home is to purchase and build out a full size van, insulating it and adding a just a few creature comforts. Stay tuned for that and never stop dreaming.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Mr. Jack's Dog - Punta Gorda - Belize 2015


In this place, even the paper gets wet as I try to write with pen and paper. Bugs feast on our skin with fierceness. The thick humid air makes me tired from doing nothing. I wonder how that is even possible. I can't remember what it is like to feel cold.

We walk the gravel road to the main street which brings us into town for WiFi, electricity, breakfast and socializing. We order up eggs, potato with blackened cheese and cassava and while away the day under the ceiling fan watching the buses come and go. Sending messages to friends and planning where we are headed next. We drink wonderful cold coffee with milk and sugar to balance the lethargy of the insanely humid air. Our friend is an excellent cook and owns a small cafe in town. 

At night, we sit under the beautifully woven thatch of the drum school. It was recently built and is a huge expanse of roof over our heads. There is no electricity here so we wit in the dark, tell stories, and listen to the night sounds. The humidity is relentless and the sky is dark. 
When it's time to sleep, we crawl under a bug net into dampened sheets from the humid air. I hear a rustling outside as some critter has one more go at my fear of things that crawl around in the night. I trust the net will protect me from the scorpions I have seen about, the yellow, red and black.
I awake just before dawn to the howler monkeys as they announce the coming of a new day. This is one of my most awesome memories. Their orchestra is followed by birdsong at first light. When I am not thinking about the snakes and scorpions I am reveling in the welcoming in of a new day.
We watch the preparations for a Black Pot Friday event and we are in awe at the incredible food that this kitchen can produce. What a beautiful hearth. Food that will be presented to customers attending an evening cultural food and drumming event. The menu is fantastic, lots of choices and amazing flavors. There was boil up with roasted tomato sauce, yellow ginger or brown rice with chick peas and coconut milk, stewed chicken, fish roasted in cowfoot leaf, tamale casserole with vegan chili, cornbread, kriol bread and jalapeno cornbread.

The next afternoon, I see Mr Jack's dog running into the thatch and erratically pawing his face. His all too curious nature put him in a situation where he did not win in his encounter with a small porcupine type critter. He comes by for help to remove the sharp quills from his mouth and face but he is in too much pain to sit still. One person consoles Mr Jack's dog while the other tries to remove the quills with a pliers. We remove only 5 bloody quills before he lumbered off back towards his home. There were maybe 30-40 more quills that needed to be removed. We hope that Mr. Jack will have better luck removing the quills. Sadly we didn't see Mr. Jack's dog again that day and early the next morning we walked the gravel road back into to town to head north up the coast to Placencia for some very mellow beach time.