An absent-minded professor, a man named Javier, and a Fat Rabbit. Will these clues help Paul unlock the mystery of the missing car battery . . .
I thought that quitting my full-time job was going to allow me to spend more time with my wife and so far that has proved to be true. R and I spend just about all day every day together - going to the gym, getting juice, picking up our puppy's poo - and she claims to still like me more than 50% of the time which is her criteria for not filing divorce papers. I like her too. We have a lot of fun talking about what we should eat for lunch, ways we can make money without it actually seeming like work, and who we should invite over that will bring wine so we can watch the sunset.
When I resigned my government job after 18 years I was making an annual salary of more than $150,000. Comprehensive health insurance for me and the family was costing me less than $400 a month while the government picked up the substantial difference. I had a defined benefit retirement plan and was maxing out my 401(k) annually with an employer match. I got 12 paid holidays a year and over 4-weeks of paid vacation. I also got paid sick leave. My commute was a 30-minute bike ride along the Potomac River.
One of the reasons we chose to move to San Miguel de Allende instead of some other place in Mexico is because we thought it would be easy for the kids to make friends. Among the nearly 15,000 foreigners wandering the streets buying bottled water, straw donkeys, and bad pizza, are a fair amount of gringo families relocated from the United States, Canada, and Europe. We figured at least one of those families would have kids that liked our kids; and maybe even have a parent who would become my drinking buddy.
We are renting a house owned by a U.S. expat named Joyce. We love it, as much for its authentic Mexican feel (it does not have stainless steel appliances) as for the obviously thoughtful touches that Joyce added while having it built. This is despite the fact that our neighbors have 30 very vocal roosters that they raise for cockfighting, which is not illegal in Mexico (according to our neighbor and Google).
With a week to go before we left Alexandria we had a lot on our plates. R was dutifully trying to be as professional and thoughtful as possible in grading her end of semester papers. Coconut and J were on winter break and busy making plans and asking for rides to go here and there to say goodbye to their friends. And I was busy at my office trying to summarize and preserve 18 years of files for the colleagues left behind.
We’ve been home for over a year. The transition back to our pre-trip lives was difficult. As we ruminated in Nicaragua, we ruined our lives by hitting the open road for a year. We were no longer satisfied with the perfectly good house, our perfectly stable and financially secure jobs, and the perfectly fine public school education that Coconut and J were receiving. It was all too stifling and we recognized that though our situation is ideal in many ways, we don't want to live the same year for the next 40 years and call it a life. I guess that’s what you would call a midlife crisis.
This is the end. In the words of the somewhat famous and totally unpredictable Jim Morrison of The Doors, this is the end, my only friend, the end.
My family and I just completed a year-long overland adventure through Mexico and Central America. We left Virginia on August 1, 2015 and drove our 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van - which we named Wesley - through Mexico and Central America. We’ve now landed softly at the family lake house in New York’s Catskill Mountains where we will take contemplative walks in the woods and frolic in the clear lake water before launching back at the end of the month into the hard work of being middle class Americans.
After driving nearly 14,000 miles in eleven months to Panama and back, Wesley had delivered us to Laredo, Texas, with 12 days to go 2,000 miles to NJ for my niece's baptism. With our spectacular border crossing in the rear view mirror, we found a Worldschoolers family north of Houston who is in the midst of selling their house and belongings in preparation for their own around- the-world-adventure. Israel, Michelle, and their three boys Joaquin, Jovani, and Judah, were gracious hosts who allowed us to use their beds, eat their food, swim in their pool, and stick around their house for two days while the epoxy we used to seal Wesleys’ leaky engine coolant recovery tank cured. This tank was the part that burst its seams while crossing into the U.S. and Israel talked me into taking the extra day to remove the part from the engine compartment and seal it rather than invest many dollars in extra coolant to keep the tank topped off during our drive home. It was a good call and has spared R and me a lot of anxiety during the long days of driving.
On Monday we crossed the border from Mexico to the United States at Laredo, Texas. This is the same border crossing we used in August 2015 to get from the US to Mexico to begin our year-long overland adventure. We would have liked to take a different route back to see new things but our second choice of crossing, at Brownsville, TX, is only accessible by Mexico Route 101. This road was recently dubbed the most dangerous highway in Mexico by NPR due to the proliferance of kidnappings and carjackings by bandits and organized crime gangs. We thought that being left naked in the desert would be a bad way to end our year of overland travel, though honestly, everything we have with us is threadbare from a year of constant use so would likely have no value to anyone. Only Wesley, our 1985 VW Westfalia, which has a brand new coat of paint and sparkles like a Kristy McNichol smile from “Little Darlings” would attract any attention.
When we first conceived this year-long fairy tale of an overland adventure, we anticipated arriving in Patagonia in Argentina after eleven months and 29 days of driving, hopping in a plane to D.C., and shipping Wesley back to Baltimore. The trip would have a clearly defined beginning – when we left Alexandria – and ending – when we got on a plane to go home.
San Miguel was founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542 and fortified as a Spanish garrison in 1555 to protect the new road from Mexico City to the silver center of Zacatecas. In 1826 it was renamed San Miguel de Allende after favorite son Ignacio Allende who was one of the conspirators that spearheaded the Mexican Revolution from Spain and had his head chopped off for his efforts. Not much else happened in town until 1938 when an art school was founded. The resulting arts scene attracted the famed beatniks who wrote poems and got drunk here in the 1950’s and put the city on the map as a destination for foreigners, which in turn attracted the 35,000 or so ex-pats who live here now. Finally, in 2016, Vanamos arrived in an effort to make more of our own history.
We were young and naive. Before we left on our year long overland trip through Mexico and Central America in our 1985 VW Westfalia camper van, we thought we could follow two very simple "road rules," that our kids would take an interest in learning, and that we would all come back fit and healthy.
Things did not go as planned.
In advance of our year on the road, we presented the Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) system with a thoughtful home school curriculum covering everything from animal migratory patterns to car mechanics that any self-motivated student would be thrilled and excited to study. ACPS stamped its approval and we went merrily on our way. What we didn’t consider was that we would not be bringing any self-motivated students along with us.
Since we left El Salvador on June 9 we have driven Wesely over 1,000 miles across Guatemala and Mexico and I’ve got the driver’s tan to prove it - my left forearm is as red as tomato soup. It’s not our style to blow through places so quickly, but at this point in our year long trip we are focused on getting back to Alexandria for better or for worse. Despite our accelerated pace, we’ve managed to squeeze some fun in between our long driving days.