This may be totally stupid, but I have a hostile reaction when people say, “Oh, you’re driving around in an RV. Cool. My grandmother does that.”
This usually happens after I’ve told them of our totally awesome, unconventional, fearless life on the road. After I’ve specifically told them that I live in a big camper van. (Which, OK, technically is an RV but, in my world, is my free-spirit house on wheels.)
In La Manzanilla, Mexico, and its surrounding villages, shoes can be hard to come by.
Especially if you’re poor. And you’re a kid.
So Lucero Castelazo, who now runs her late mother’s place, Casa Maria en La Manzanilla, also carries on Maria’s charitable spirit, collecting and distributing shoes for kids who need them. She gets money from friends and buys discounted shoes from companies in her hometown of Leon, a shoe-manufacturing mecca. Then she hauls them in her white van to La Manzanilla.
When we visited for Christmas, we were lucky enough to be included in a couple of the distribution runs.
At the end of the main road in La Manzanilla, after the farmacia and the paleta shop and the sidewalk stand of charcoal-roasted chicken and the stacks of beach toys and the tiny bodegas and the place with the coldest cerveza, you come to a chain link fence marking the edge of the crocodile preserve.
I love Mexico. LOVE IT. The sun, heat and white-sand beaches take me back to Hawaii, where I grew up. The art is amazing, and the food makes me swoon in delight. I go whenever I get the chance.
I hadn’t been since we started our full-time adventure in The Epic Van more than three years ago and was in dire need of a fix. So, we decided to get out of The Epic Van, take a vacation from our endless vacation, and spend last Christmas with the Castelazo family in La Manzanilla, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Pacific coast south of Puerto Vallarta. We celebrated the holidays early with family and friends in Scottsdale, left The Epic Van in mom’s driveway, and jumped on a plane.
There’s a lot to love in Austin, Texas, and we only had 24 hours. So, we went for it. Here’s our visit hour by hour.
I remember seeing a photo of Lyndon Baines Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, LBJ’s wife Lady Bird and JFK’s widow Jackie by his side. The Kennedys were planning to spend the night at LBJ’s ranch on that day when Camelot died. I was eight years old.
Visiting LBJ’s ranch is a strange mix of nostalgia for simpler times and a fairy tale the president created about his own life as a Texas cattleman. You can visit his birthplace, his first school and a living-history farm that gives you a sense of the hardscrabble times in which he was growing up.
My grandparents were German, German-Swiss they would always point out. So the names, Otto, Ida, Ernst, the faces, the food and the artifacts in Fredricksburg, Texas, have a familiar ring for me.
Best laid plans often don’t work out. Sometimes it’s because you need a colonoscopy. Sometimes it’s more than that.
This life of freedom, of endless road trip, of permanent vacation, hangs by a silver thread of health, ours and that of our family. We’re always acutely aware of it and cherish every day in The Epic Van.
And as we continue to make ambitious travel plans, we recognize that, blowing where the wind takes us, means keeping plans fluid.
That’s how year four of our travels in The Epic Van have begun.
Earlier this month, when we were camped near Florence, Oregon, we stumbled onto the 10th Annual Invitational Rods ‘N Rhodies Car Show, a kaleidoscope of brightly painted, souped-up vintage roadsters.
We wandered up and down Bay Street peeking in the windows and under the hoods, marveling at the beautifully restored 1960 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, called the Copper Caddy, which was featured on Bitchin’ Rides, Season 2.
There were woodies, Thunderbirds, Bel Airs, Mercurys and more, all buffed to a sparkling shine.
We met Gordon Orloff, the owner of a 1934 Ford Panel Truck originally owned by the Wasco County Coroner’s Office. Orloff had painstakingly restored the truck from the wheels up. He believes these historic cars should be driven and has taken it from coast to coast.
A couple of times, it broke down, once right in front of the White House. Once, Orloff got it to a garage, but the owner took one look at it and said, “I can’ let my guys touch that.” Instead, he told Orloff to take the last bay, use any tools he needed and even let him borrow the garage owner’s car to go get parts. That’s how much people love these vehicles.
I’m sharing the love with some pictures. Enjoy.
The Oregon Dunes, the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, stretch 40 miles along the Oregon coast between Florence and Coos Bay. They rise nearly 500 feet above the ocean and were designated a National Recreation Area in 1972.
Imported European beachgrass has created a foredune along the ocean. Behind it, winds create a deflation plain, scouring sand down to the water table and providing tiny oases for plants and animals. Transverse dunes, or ripples on the dune surfaces, are created by shifting summer winds. The largest dunes, called oblique dunes, can be as tall as 180 feet and move inland three to 16 feet each year. Parabola dunes interact with the surrounding forest, sometimes losing ground to the trees, sometimes smothering them, and sometimes leaving pockets of forest called tree islands.
We headed toward the dunes on the John Dellenback Dunes Trail near Eel Creek Campground. The trail meanders about one half-mile through lush rhododendrons, madrone and pines before opening onto the oblique dunes.
A brief rain the night before stabilized the sand and gave us good footing as we climbed to the ridge of the highest dune. We wandered along its curving edge about a mile toward a tree island. If you continue another couple of miles, you can hike all the way to the beach.
We saw shorebirds wading and feeding in pockets of water in the deflation plain, as fog rolled in over the trees at the edges of the dunes.
On our way back, we saw red fescue, described as “globally significant” and in need of protection. Signage notes that, although individual red fescue plants are common, “95 percent of red fescue communities are gone,” lost to competition from invading plants, like European beachgrass.