February 17, 2023
FINISHING UP WORK & SHOWERING
Last night (because of our fun night with friends) I didn’t finish my blog that is due today. The Starlink (our internet source) is set up so that the internet turns off at 11:30 pm and turns back on at 5:30 am. We turn it off at night to save our limited battery power while everyone sleeps. So, this morning I woke up at 5:30 am to finish my blog. After writing, I was feeling a bit oily and wanted to take a shower. While we did build a shower in our van and probably have enough water in our 30-gallon tank, in Mexico we only fill our tank with purified drinking water. I cannot get past how wasteful it would be to bathe in drinking water. And this got me thinking about life in the US…
LIFE (FOR ME) GROWING UP IN THE US
I am so grateful for the life that my parents and family have provided for me growing up. My life was not perfect– nobody’s life is– but I was never lacking. All my life, I have lived in a structurally sound home where we had air conditioning that worked in the summer and heat that worked in the winter. Our internet and electricity were on 24/7, even when we were asleep. We had unlimited running water, which could be hotter than we could bear or freezing cold, at just the turn of a handle. We had a refrigerator that deposited ice into our cup at the push of a button. More than that, the water that came out of any tap was potable. (Showers and bathroom sinks included.) I went to a fantastic public school with new books, computers, and teachers who cared about my success. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that this wasn’t the case for everyone, but I was often so caught up in the small dramas of my own life that I didn’t give these situations much thought.
HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
I have had a few experiences that have let me glimpse, at will, what it is like to live without these luxuries. Hiking the AT was my most rugged experience, walking an average of 14 miles a day with all my belongings in a backpack. Beds came in the form of a mat I blew up by mouth and a sleeping bag. My shelter was a tent, which I pitched each night. My bathroom was the woods. My kitchen was a camp stove the size of my palm attached to a gas canister, and a 500 mL metal pot that I used for every meal and cleaned with pine needles. Every town that we came across was a boon, providing showers, washing machines, clean clothes, indoor plumbing, and hot food. Hiking the AT was the epitome of the popular adage, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” I say this, but my journey on the AT was completely voluntary, done for the adventure of it. My backpack, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, camp stove, and tent, even though I got basically all of them secondhand in the beginning, equaled hundreds of dollars in gear. Also, even though Zak and I hiked for an extended period, we knew that it was eventually going to come to an end, and we would return to our regular comforts.
LIVING IN THE VAN
Oftentimes, the US media refers to Vanlife as “glorified homelessness”. While we live perhaps a bit sparser lives than in a stationary home, we have had the resources and time to spend nine months and tens of thousands of dollars building our van so that it would indeed be our home. We have chosen almost every part of our van, and built it to our specifications, including running water, a shower, a stove, microwave, and refrigerator. While this does not have all the comforts of a stationary home in the US, (read: unlimited water, unlimited power, and oven, a washing machine) we are incredibly comfortable and happy. In no way does living in our van begin to define “homelessness”. Again, it is a choice for us to live this way. Living in the van has allowed us to travel freely throughout the US, Canada, and now, Mexico. More than that, it has given us the opportunity to drive through parts of these countries that we would have completely bypassed if we were to have taken a plane to a tourist destination. It has been such a wonderful experience getting to drive through, stay in, and build familiarity with these towns and communities.
TRAVELING IN MEXICO THUS FAR
Usually, if someone is going to travel to Baja, Mexico from the United States, they will fly straight into Cabo, where they will stay in a bougie hotel and interact with locals sparingly. The Spanish used is often more for fun than out of necessity. (An interesting thing, seeing as so many Americans expect foreigners to speak English in the US…) However, since we have been driving through the peninsula, we have been staying at local campgrounds and in small towns, going to local grocery stores, and getting water the way locals do. I am by no means fluent in Spanish, and I have stumbled through a lot of conversations, but we communicate the best we can, and are learning all the time. As we drive, I have noticed that many of the houses/buildings we drive by are abandoned or ramshackle. I haven’t seen a neighborhood of homes that look like my childhood neighborhood in upstate New York. Most cars have loud, and sometimes alarming sounds coming from them. Toilets sometimes flush, and sometimes do not. Drinking water does not come from taps. Instead, locals must go to a local grocery store or an “agua purificada” station to get clean drinking water. However, regardless of these differences in resources, these are truly some of the kindest people we have met in our travels. When we first got to Mexico, I naively made a comment that “poverty like this does not exist in the US”. However, after I said that, I had a friend graciously share their story with me. I learned that poverty like some of what we’re seeing here does exist in the US, I was just privileged enough to be sheltered from it. This was an eye opening and humbling experience, and I am grateful that they opened up about the more private and sometimes painful parts of their life to educate me.
As I experience more of Mexico and certain communities within the US, I am realizing how wasteful many of the things we did in our childhood home was. Not because we were purposefully trying to be wasteful or bad, but just because that was the way things were. It’s what we were used to. Sometimes I would sit and let the seemingly never-ending hot water run on me in the shower for 45 minutes or more. We’re talking about heated drinking water, pouring over me just because. Sometimes we would leave the lights on all night in some part of the house. Sometimes the TV would stay on while nobody watched. However, with these experiences on the road, I am becoming more aware of the privilege we have to use these resources without thought. While conservation can be a sexy topic, it is more poignant when I am meeting people in communities where families and individuals go without– whether inside or outside of the US. This experience is prompting me to think more about the resources I use, and to be grateful for them. I am so blessed for the life I have lived so far and for the experiences and opportunities I have that have given me some more perspective on my life.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Here are some more blogs about our time in Baja: