Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.
What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089
This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.
This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.
We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!
Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!
We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:
Top Five Medical Emergencies:
Best Wildlife Encounters
Best “Locals Only” Activities:
After almost of year of travel, both driving through Mexico and backpacking through Asia, we've decided to share some of our favorite items that we carry with us every day. Packing for long term travel is daunting, and we've made both good and bad decisions. Here are our top ten, okay, eleven things we love having with us, in no particular order:
Eagle Creek Travel Equipment. In 1999 we purchased a couple convertible travel packs, meaning you can wear them on your back or use the wheels and roll them behind you. For us, its critical to be able to either carry the pack, like when you are walking on the beach looking for a place to stay, or roll them, like when you are in airports and on paved roads. Because they open up like regular luggage, they are so much easier to live out of than a regular backpack. Eagle Creek also gets high praise for its durability and warranty which we have used in the past. We are also huge fans of their Pak-It cubes that keep our stuff contained. Thanks to Chris' mom and dad for handing these back down to us. Check 'em out at www.eaglecreek.com.
Watermans Sunscreen. We have basically been living outside for a year, and good sunscreen is key for us. While not cheap, Watermans Sun Cream and Face Stick SPF 55 proved it was worth the price. The sunblock ingredient is zinc oxide (so old skool) so it actually works, unlike most chemical blocks. It also stays on for hours while in the water and we needed surprisingly little of it because it lasted so long. Highly recommend it. Thank you Mike and Tracy Day for recommending Watermans and helping us get a bunch of it!
Sea to Summit Silk/Cotton Sleeping Sheets. One of the best investments we made. Super comfy, light, quick to dry after washing and/or hot nights when the power goes out and there is no fan, which is so very common, especially in Sri Lanka. They also pack up into tiny little stuff sacks. Thanks to Matt Lewis for helping us out there!
Patagonia A/C Yarn Dyed Shirts. Yeah they're expensive, but light, comfy and durable. What button-up shirt could you wear every day for 18 days while rafting down the Grand Canyon and then wear it for three years in an office cubicle, tucked in with a belt, then succumb it to Mexico dirt, then improve the design by removing the sleeves for the SE Asia leg of the tour? Chris' “Canyon Shirt” is like a baby blankie, full of holes, thin as rice paper, but completely lovable. What a man.
Barnes and Noble Nook E-Reader. What a great time in which we live. Guidebooks, novels, and non-fiction classics all on one device, readable in full daylight and the battery lasts forever. Thanks to Katy's mom for the Nook. Thanks to an anonymous good friend who somehow supplied us with over a hundred free e-books. Side note: To date, Katy has read 37 books (not including travel guide books) in the last year!!!!!!
iPad with 3G. In Mexico we had our MacBook but in Asia, we have a first generation iPad with us for entertainment, research, navigation, blogging, photo storage and editing, and storage of important numbers in case of emergencies. This also comes in handy when you are waiting for hours in a scuzzy bus station and want to entertain the locals with pictures of novelty things like snow or mountain biking. Unlike in the US, connecting to the Internet is SO cheap and easy. In every country we've visited, a local cellular SIM card could be purchased for between $1.50 and $5.00 USD. We could then add Internet usage for $5 to $10 USD, and recharge it as needed. This is one of those things that is so much easier in other countries than in the US. The iPad is both a lifesaver and the source of some majorly epic battles in sharing.
Thermarest Compressible Travel Pillows. These pillows have been with us since 2003, when we bike toured the Great Divide, and they still work great! Yes, they are kind of bulky and take up space, but these are lifesavers. Do not set off on eight hour bus ride without one, or you'll be drooling on your Indonesian neighbor instead of your comfy pillow. Also, while Asian guesthouses and homestays seem to usually have good mattresses, they are lacking in good pillows. They're well worth both the price and the weight.
Gold Bond Medicated Powder. Let's face it. It's the tropics. We are in the water a lot. It is hot. It is sticky. Rashguards don't always work. Things chafe. 'Nuff said.
Yoga Mat. Yes, it's sounds bulky, heavy and frivolous and it is. But when we are surfing a lot, it is so nice to have for yoga and stretching. When we are not surfing, it's so nice to have for stretching and yoga for staying in surfing shape. We cut the mat down a bit to fit better in our luggage. It also works great as padding between the surfboards when transporting them in the boardbag.
And most important……Addict Surfboards. Before embarking for Mexico, we needed new shortboards to travel with, so we did some research and found a shaper that we really liked in San Diego. Micah Shannahan of Addict Surfboards listened carefully to us, asked good questions, and understood what type of boards we needed, even if we didn't totally know what type of boards we needed. He set us up with two great all-around Epoxy shortboards to get us going. And, we got to spend a few hours with him at his shaping bay where he just gushed over how stoked he was to shape our boards and how excited he was for our adventure, which made us more stoked and excited. We couldn't do it without these babies!
So whats it really like, traveling around Asia on a budget? We are not planning to much of this trip and doing much of it on the fly and this takes an incredible amount of time, flexibility and patience. Along with a very strong sense of humor. We are definitley on a budget so we are always trying to find a balance between being cheap and being stupid, and this is quite difficult at times. So, we thought we might give you a humorous, yet realistic run down of a typical “travel day”.
Note to readers: Somewhere in this past 26 hours of this post, we picked up some souvenirs, of the stomach bug variety… Never a dull moment!
5pm, Sunday. Although we really loved southern Sumatra, we knew it was time to see some new scenery, so we do our research and decide to go to Java, specifically West Java, for the next portion of our stay in Indonesia. We need to get to Bandarlampung (very southern Sumatra) so we can get a flight to Jakarta. We arrange to share a car and driver with two French guys that we have been staying with. Since we took the bus to the area, we are ready to splurge on a car for the way back and splitting it with two other guys saves us some money. We load up, three large board bags strapped to the top and head out for a six hour drive to Bandarlampung.
6:20pm, Sunday. Our driver neglected to fill up on petrol for the drive, so we stop at a gas station. We wait in line for 20 minutes to get gas.
9pm, Sunday. Our driver is hungry, so we stop at a warung that serves Padang style food. We (me, Chris and the two Frenchies) order four orders of chicken and rice. When we pay, they try to totally take us and charge us three times the amount posted on the menu. Thankfully, we have French men with us and they argue to the end while we sit on the sidelines and watch. Somehow we end up paying nothing. For some reason the driver ends up paying our bill, despite the fact we repeatedly offered to pay the correct amount. The true cost of our dinner was an hour of continuous road-rage inflicted on us by our driver. Seriously scary stuff as his already marginal driving skills quickly deteriorated. We hang on and repeatedly ask him to slow down.
11pm, Sunday. We arrive at one of two hotels near the Bandarlampung airport to crash for the night. FULL. Next hotel. FULL. We learn that it is a big Indonesian holiday weekend and we will have a hard time finding a hotel. Okay, so it looks we are sleeping in the airport tonight. We start figuring out how that will pan out. Who gets to lay on the surfboard bag? Do we need to sleep in shifts? This is looking to be a long night. We go to the airport. CLOSED. Plan C. We convince our now very cranky driver that for an additional $20, he needs to drive us another half hour into the city to find a hotel.
Mindnight, Sunday. We get into the heart of Bandarlampung and check with four different hotels before we find one with available rooms. Completely wired from our stressful evening, we try to get some shut eye in our $20 hotel room, complete with deluxe air conditioning, which struggles to beat the heat as we do.
5:30am, Monday. We need to get to the airport early so the Frenchies can make their 8am flight and so we’ll have a prayer of purchasing tickets for that day as well. We strap everything to the top of the cab. The taxi ride to the airport is fairly uneventful, but it starts raining cats and dogs.
6am, Monday. We buy plane tickets to Jakarta for a 9:30am flight for $120 bucks. Imagine doing this in the US. First, it would be at least $1000. Second, they would be sure that your are a terrorist. We arrange with Germain (French dude) to share a car when we leave the Jakarta airport for West Java. This means he will have to hang out in the Jakarta airport for two hours, but he is game, so we plan on meeting him then.
8am, Monday. Winner breakfast at the airport cafe. Two candy bars and a cup of coffee.
10:30am, Monday. Our flight is delayed 1 hour. It also begins to rain buckets. Torrential rain like we’ve never seen before. We wonder, can planes even get off the ground in this?
11:30am Monday. We touch down in Jakarta. As we leave the airport, we are jumped on by taxi drivers, like white on rice. Germain is nowhere to be found and we suspect he ditched us after our flight was delayed for so long. Plan B. Chris’s luggage is completely soaked and is already starting to grow mildew from being left out in the rain.
12:30pm, Monday. We hang out, get money, eat some very delicious A&W chicken sandwiches (yeah, we are hungry) and assess our options for getting to West Java. A taxi is too expensive ($75), so bus it is. Here we go again.
1:30pm, Monday. We sit and sweat outside of the airport. The bus is an hour late, but it is nice, air conditioned and devoid of thumping Indo techno music.
3:00pm, Monday. A cacophony of “Hello mister, hello mister, where you going? Taxi, taxi, taxi!” assaults us as we get off the bus in Bogor. Complete feeding frenzy of people wanting to take us somewhere. We opt for a break and tour the nearby botanical gardens. But… We need to stash our stuff.
3:30pm Monday. We find a police station to leave our luggage and board bag for an hour while we tour the botanical garden. Of course, the Indonesian police are ecstatic about taking care of our belongings, so we leave our things and walk to the garden.
4:30pm Monday. We walk a portion of the very lovely gardens and, minus a few “hello misters”, we find some peace and quiet for a few minutes. We take a horse buggy ride back to the police station to retrieve our stuff for $5. We try to negotiate the price, but the kid driving the buggy doesn’t budge. It’s a total rip off, but indeed a novelty, weaving through crazy traffic in a rickety buggy.
6:30pm, Monday. Our taxi gets lost trying to find the guesthouse that we requested. It is dark, we are up in the hills, and we have no idea where we are. We check out one place to stay, and it’s no good, so we convince the taxi to take us to another hotel. Taxi driver, not happy. We will clearly pay the price.
7:30pm, Monday. Starving and delirious, we find another hotel for $27. Definitely over our budget, but at this point we are broken. We fork out extra for the taxi driver since he is not too happy that we made him go so far.
8:00pm, Monday. 26 hours later. Bintangs and $5 dinner. Things are looking up.
9:00pm Monday. We think to ourselves… Aren’t we lucky to be doing what we are doing. Wow, another great day in Indonesia!
1. Surfing Is Beautiful
Not only does surfing take you to amazingly beautiful places, it’s also a very aesthetically pleasing activity. It’s hard to explain the feeling of being on a wave, the feel of the board beneath your feet, suspended by an energy pulse in the ocean. It is a paradox of feeling gravity and weightlessness at the same time. Surfing is creative and artistic, powerful and strong, graceful and beautiful, all at the same time. And let’s face it, tan and fit, surfers are a sexy bunch.
2. Surfing is Spiritual
Steven Kotler writes in his book, West of Jesus:
“There have been many theories about the spiritual nature of this sport, and most involve some form of watery communion. At the far end of this spectrum are the surfers who believe that since the ocean was the place where life began on this planet, the act of riding on a wave allows the surfer to momentarily connect with this living memory. In Jungian terms, surfing gives the surfer access to the collective unconscious of the planet. Perhaps it was for this reason that Timothy Leary called surfing our highest evolutionary activity.”
And if Timothy Leary said so! With the risk of sounding pretty woo-woo groovy, it’s been said over and over, that surfing is a Zen experience and surfers everywhere (including myself) have stories of riding waves when “time stopped” and they became one with the wave. Surfers use words like “magical” and “out of body” to describe these moments. Perhaps it is the nature of surfing, because the minute you catch a wave, the rest of the world drops away, you have complete focus and you have no choice but to be 100% committed to nothing else but surfing.
3. Surfing Might Be The Hardest (Physical) Thing You Ever Try To Master
We have a friend who is 61 years old and he has been surfing since he was 8. That’s 53 years of paddling out, paddling into waves, standing up and making turns on the face of the wave. And he will be the first person to say that you will never master surfing. For many people it takes days upon weeks to learn how to even properly stand up, let alone do something even close to cool on a wave. Surely it must be the biggest learning curve of any sport as it resembles an extremely long 2-degree slope – infinite, really. Sure, like anything else, there are plateaus and peaks and valleys, but it’s a helluva hard thing to master.
4. Surfing Helps You Understand Your Place in the Food Chain
Recently, while I was sitting out in the water waiting for waves, I saw a very large “fish” of some sort, lunge through the water and eat another fish. It made a big splash. I always get a little unnerved when I see this kind of thing, even though it’s basic ecology stuff. Small fish eat the tiny fish, medium fish eat the small fish, and big fish eat the medium fish. And the really big fish, they eat a lot of other big things. Surfers talk about “the landlord”, “the man in the gray suit” – those big scary things are out there. The ocean is not the natural human environment. We are just visitors. So, respec’, yo.
5. Surfing Makes You Tough
Have you ever gotten “washing machined” by little waves at the beach? The wave rolls over you and you roll around, flailing your arms, not knowing which way was up. You resurface, gasping for air, with new skin after your natural sand exfoliation treatment. It’s just water, right? How bad can it hurt? Kinda bad sometimes. Similar things happen when surfing but you have a chunk of heavy foam attached to you. You fall off a big wave, go “over the falls”, take your beating. Sometimes you get stuck inside (in the whitewater, trying to paddle back out to calmer water), and it’s like a tortuous water treadmill, duck diving under waves, getting rolled, catching your breath and feverishly paddling as fast as you can. Taking a beating is part of the deal.
6. Surfing Takes You to Amazing Places – And Gives You Another Good Reason to Travel
I can’t underestimate this one. From the Oregon Coast to Indonesia, anywhere there are good waves, there is surfing. And when you’re not surfing, you experience life. Meeting the locals in the water lets you experience their culture as you share a common bond a love for the ocean.
7. Every Single Wave Is Unique
You can travel the world, and find different waves in different places. Some are steep, powerful and barreling. Others are slow, long and mushy. Even if you surf the same area for years, different ocean conditions can produce different waves. There are so many variables in creating waves that it becomes such a dynamic experience. Swell size, swell direction, wind, tides, ocean bathometry, weather, and erosion all change the character of a wave, so every day can be a new adventure.
8. Surfing Teaches You Good Manners
Although surfing is an individual activity, more often than not, you have to surf with other people and you have to play nice in the sandbox. There are unspoken “rules” in surfing – things that you just don’t do. Don’t ever drop in on anyone. Don’t paddle out past the locals first thing. Don’t claim waves. Don’t be an idiot. Share. Some people never learn these things, but it should be one of the first things to learn.
9. Surfing is Healthy
Forget Cross-Fit classes and personal trainers. Unless you are drinking 12 beers a day and snorting coke (we’ve seen the effects of both), surfing is good clean fun. Regular exercise, fresh fish diet, plenty of natural Vitamin D, early morning sessions, strength and flexibility training – surfing can provide all of the above. Not to mention a good daily sinus flushing to clear the passages. Leave the neti pot at home.
10. Working Is Not Healthy
Working for The Man affects you negatively mentally and physically. Sitting at a desk staring at a computer for 8 to 10 hours a day deadens your mind and numbs your ass. True, without work you are not “contributing to society” and we do believe that you should earn it. So, you owe it to yourself to just pack it in and get out and enjoy the world. Forget the surfing part. Just plan, save up the dough and bust a move to live whatever your dreams may be.
For the past eleven days we’ve been living/camping at what Gringos call The Wall (Punta Santa Rosarito) and loving it. Hard to say why we really are enjoying it as much as we are, but it’s been good to us so far. The surf has been small but fun, although the rides have been short compared to Punta San Jacinto. It’s clearly one of those places that can get good – really good and really, really good from what we hear. There is nothing here in terms of development – no buildings, no one lives here, no fences, no cows. The desert landscape is stark as we’re on a low lying windswept point with the only man-made structures being some windbreaks built of stacked cobblestones. Not surprisingly there is no cell service to give us access to the Internet, so we have to get connected while in the nearest town, which is 50 miles away. Nonetheless we are having a blast surfing here and enjoying being out in the middle of nowhere in Baja. Perhaps we’re finally settling in to a groove, finally slowing down to the point where Baja could catch up with us. Perhaps the it is the complete lack of “everything” here that we needed to allow ourselves to really enjoy being ourselves. Perhaps it has just taken nearly a month of living in our measly 98 sq. ft. of indoor living space for us to adapt to such constant tight quarters.
We’re here at The Wall with a few other gringos, most of who are seasoned regulars and have been coming here for 20 years or more. Katy and I enjoy meeting each of them as we all have our individual stories and personalities as travelers that makes us each unique, but we all share the passion of chasing waves. One couple in particular: Glen and Roberta from Pacific Beach, CA are great people and seem to enjoy our company. Glen, a very talented craftsman, makes didgeridoos out of agave stalks with wood working tools and fiberglassing supplies he brings down with him. Back in San Diego he’s a custom surfboard shaper (Glen Horn Surfboards). Roberta is taking advantage of the lonely dirt tracks out here to train for a marathon she’ll be doing next spring. Other folks include another Chris from San Francisco, who has one of the most infectious laughs ever, and Joe a utility worker from San Diego who borrowed his daughter’s VW Van to go where no Bend yuppie Eurovan (triathlon support vehicle) has dared to go – the brutal roads of Baja.
In our daily lives back in the U.S., we strive to live sustainably while still enjoying ourselves. Travelling in Baja has been a refresher course and eye opening as to how little we really do need while still living comfortably. Yes, it is humorous to talk about sustainability while driving a Cummins Dodge diesel truck thousands of miles. True, this is not a carbon-neutral event, but we are using far fewer resources here than we do in our modest lifestyle in the States. Our challenge is to conserve our supplies so that we can stay in place as long as possible without having to go to town to resupply. We know if we can stay here at The Wall long enough we will see a good swell and we don’t want to miss it. Our camper has a 100-watt solar panel for all our electricity consumption. We have a 30-gallon water tank that we fill with Mexican water for our showers and dishwashing, and everything else except drinking water. We have two 5-gallon water jugs with purified drinking water. Our 5-gallon propane tank takes care of our refrigeration and cooking needs, and hot water as needed. We separate our trash into burnable paper stuff, compostable food waste (which gets tossed into the desert), and trash. Recycling is rare in most places in Mexico. With these resources, we are good for at least 12 days or so.
In Mexico there are fewer attempts to hide human impact on the land. Trash disposal here consists of individuals discarding and usually burning trash out in the desert as only the largest towns have any sort of trash collection. For that reason, the impact of 1st World packaging (plastic) is so in-your-face evident on the landscape of this 3rd World country. Due to limited financial resources here in Mexico, average consumption is much less than that of Americans. But in the States we do a much better job of, in some ways, hiding the affects of that consumption.
Food is another basic supply, which we will need to resupply, but one which there is no way for me to conserve. Surfing takes a lot of calories and something about being in the water just boosts the appetite. I have been able to catch a few super tasty fish which helps stretch our food supply. And, seriously, it doesn’t get any better than eating a Halibut caught a mere hour before cooking. I caught a small 20” Halibut here on the first day, which made the best fish tacos ever and helps stretch our food supply. Got skunked for a couple days, then caught a 24” Halibut and a small Calico Bass yesterday. That fish fed us well for two meals so it’s been a fun activity/challenge/past-time getting into the fishing thing. So, living on the beach is treating us well with waves (most days) and fresh fish (some days), which add up to about all we came for.
Oh, the weather. Punta Abreojos gave us the first taste of real warm temps with beach temps of about 80 degrees. Here at The Wall it has varied greatly, mostly dependent on the wind and the sun. The coolest days have been in the high 60’s and the warmest in the mid 70’s. The sun is out most days, but there are usually several morning hours of marine layer that gives us a little reprieve from the sun. There have been a few days it hasn’t completely burned off, but overall its be sunny most of the time. The wind has been mostly onshore with some significant winds, which makes us appreciate our exquisitely constructed cobble stone windbreak.
Clearly I’m feeling a fair amount of longing for fall trail building with my bros in COTA as I added a new development to the stone work in camp. Sitting in camp with no surf drew me to build a trail through the cobbles to the water, complete with rock-armored steps.
Currently we are sitting out a bit of a flat spell as far as the surf goes, and our swell window points to the northwest. So for all you freaky winter lovers up there in the PNW, we find ourselves sitting here rooting for you to get your early winter dumps of snow. Those snow storms for YOU mean surf for US! So get those “Pray For Snow” parties fired up ASAP!