Meet the Cuy

I don’t know a lot about cars and engines and stuff, but I do know that you need a car with an engine and stuff to do an overland tour of the Americas. So, the first thing that my wife R and I agreed to do after we decided we would drive a VW camper van to South America was buy a VW camper van. To give this thought some context, let me go back a lifetime - to 2008.  That's when we spent the summer in Quito, Ecuador, and the seed for this year-long journey was planted.  R was volunteering with Asylum Access, a non-profit organization providing legal services to refugees and I had taken a leave of absence from my government job to buy ice cream for my daughter (age five) and son (age two), learn something that passes for Spanish, and generally goof off.  R helped some people escape from those that wanted to harm them in Colombia and set them on a path for a new life and I managed to not lose the children and not have them eat anything that did permanent damage.  We each achieved success in our own way!  We called our trip the Adventures of the Cuy.

camper van family in Ecuador

camper van family in Ecuador

maya driving

One weekend during that adventure while we were vacationing at the beach and drinking rum (which is what R and I are prone to do at the beach) we met a single mother with her adolescent children who was WOOFing around the world for a year.  I remember that she and R had an intense conversation while the kids and I dug very deep holes in the beach for fun.  We parted from the woman as friends, but never spoke to her again.  It was one of those circumstances where someone you hardly even know says or does something that profoundly impacts the course of your life - like Brett Favre telling me to buy real, comfortable, jeans.  It happens to me all the time.

After R helped me out of a very deep hole and told me about the conversation, and after about five minutes more of daydreaming (which we are also prone to do, especially when drinking rum on the beach), we decided that we would undertake a similar trip when our daughter Coconut was in the seventh grade - which seemed to me to be far enough in the future to safely agree to do without really committing to anything.  Then I didn't think seriously about our agreement for six years despite all the times R would bring it up, which was pretty often.  It turns out that taking a family off the grid for a year requires someone to give it about six years of thought and planning.

And then finally, as Coconut was starting the sixth grade in September of 2014, it got real.  R reminded me again of our many conversations (at some point I had also agreed that instead of going by airplane from organic farm to organic farm to provide manual labor we should drive an old van through the Americas.  It's possible I may have been drinking rum on the beach when agreeing to this alternative) and said she'd been looking on Craigslist and had found a rusty old van in town that she wanted us to go look at.  Well, it turned out that van was not rusty or old enough, but after a few more visits here and there around the East Coast we finally found our van in rusting armor.  We named it Wesley and just recently got it back from the mechanic where it had been since March.  We drove it around for a couple weeks and everything mechanical seemed to be in working order (that's the extent of my shop talk), so we dropped it off at with a guy to install solar panels to charge our auxiliary battery which will power our electronics, lights, and refrigerator.  We hope to have Wesley back soon so we can actually go camping in it before we set off on our year long trip.  We need to learn the important things like  how cold we can expect our drinks to get and where, strategically, is the best place to keep the toilet paper.  In another post I'll explain Wesley's very cool design and layout, what modifications we made, and how a family of four actually expects to survive while living in it for a year. Until then, meet your crazy adventurers:

R – She’s the brains of the operation. She pitched the idea to take a year off and travel, and stuck to it through all of my efforts to domesticate her. I’d like to put her in a time capsule Vanamos Mom and family gap year with kidsbecause every generation should have someone like her.  She tries to downplay it, says this is not a unique idea and that she’s just tacking on to what others have done before her, but she’s never done it. I’ve never done it. Goodness knows our kids have never done it. It takes some amount of guts to take a family out of its suburban comfort zone, pack it into a VW camper van, and drive it across two continents. But that's R, always climbing towards the stars.  Will we still love her when all is done and done? I bet we will.

Vanamos daugher and family gap year

Coconut – Our daughter is a tough nut to crack. She’s an introvert and bookworm, but will be the first one in line for a daredevil stunt or some other adrenaline-pumping thrill. She’s laid-back and independent and has not revealed much about her feelings towards our upcoming adventure; but every now and then I see the gleam in her eye. Coconut will be turning 13 during this adventure, so we got her a tent as her own space to unwind. It’s roomy enough for her to be alone with her thoughts and maybe even invite one of us in for a game of cards if the mood strikes her.

Vanamos boy and family gap year

Rooster – Our son will turn ten on this adventure. He likes playing sports, bouncing off the walls, and waking up early. We aren’t bringing an alarm clock along because it’s inhumane to set it earlier than Rooster will wake. Though generally shy and humble, he’s confident in what he can do and can sometimes be seen strutting around the barnyard like he owns the place. Rooster is naturally inquisitive and often hilarious. He’s also very practical; he sleeps in his clothes to save time in the morning.

Me – I’m an attorney in a small office at a large government bureaucracy. Over the last several years events in both my personal and professional life have caused me to reflect on where I am, how I got here, and where it’s leading. Some might call it a mid-life crisis, but as someone recently pointed out to me, I’m actually past halfway for a white male of my socio-economic status. Given the incidence of hair loss and couch-potatoness among males in my family, the picture becomes even clearer – time is all I’ve got and I’m running out of time! Of course, time isn’t all I’ve got – I’ve also got a family, a baseball glove, and the complete catalog of studio recordings from the original lineup of Black Sabbath. But you know what I mean.

Vanamos Dad and family gap year