Category Archives: Simple Life

A year later..

Wow ! We can finally say that we made it and so did our van! We are now back in Edmonton, Alberta where we started our journey 361 days ago! I guess it’s time for us to sit down with a glass of wine (or two!) and really take a moment to realize what this adventure did to us.

First, WE LOVE TRAVELLING!  I guess everyone would probably say the same but for us this trip was just what we needed to confirm our desire to continue a life full of new destinations. A life where work and stress would not take the biggest part but the smallest part. A life where you can live your dreams and share your adventures with people likely-minded.  A life full of randomness and less routine. A life where you can smile and breath and just be happy.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

I think we can say that we’ve always been happy but now we are happier! We now know that we need less than average to be happy. It’s a concept that can be difficult to understand and to adhere to in a society like ours. A society where we are always stimulated by stores and advertisements and where spending money and owing lots of things is encouraged. A society where more is never enough and where you have to frequently justify living a simple life. A society where we trash good food for no good reason. A society where we always need new, even if it’s not old yet. We all know that we need money to live  but it was a relief to realize that we could be as happy if not more with less money and things but with more quality time for ourselves.

Quality time also means all the people we spend time with. This last year wouldn’t have been the same without all the people we met here and there and with whom we connected.  People with whom we were able to have great conversations over a beer or a coffee. People to cook and share a meal with. People to cheer for you or to give you advices when you were climbing something hard for your level. People fixing something broken on your van for free or people to  just sit there and talk about simple living. People not judging you for what you wear and do. People we hadn’t seen in a long time, people we might never see again and people that we will never forget. People liking you for who you are. The people and the time spent with them, with you, made this trip richer in many ways and we are grateful for that.

Many people told us that we were lucky to be able to do that kind of travelling but they would never do it. Would never travel 30 000km in a 1978 campervan. Would never be able to spend days without showering or going to a restaurant. We do consider ourselves lucky, not for having had a year off, but for having realized that work & money weren’t the priority. What we did feel was that we were missing out on life and we wanted more for ourselves. We spent years working really hard and we just couldn’t continue down that road without giving it a shot. We couldn’t do any of the things that we’ve dreamed of or knock items off the bucket list. We couldn’t just spend the best years of our lives working to have more money. We couldn’t just wait to be 65 years old to start living. We couldn’t bare the idea of having regrets. Regrets for not having the guts to try it. Van living isn’t for everyone but it was really amazing for us. We tried to not bother too much about the comfort and the commodities we left behind. We just jumped both feet in and we loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy everyday, we hit bumps and obstacles but always learned something from it. I think we are different in a way,in a way that we now know more about who we are and what we want in this life.

Even if we don’t want our life to rotate around money, this last year was kind of a financial exercise for us. Testing how far we could push simple living. How  many compromises and sacrifices we were willing to do. Budgeting has been a big part of this trip and a big challenge and we are glad we had the discipline to stick to it, to report and calculate all our expenses every day, for 361 days. Here it is now !!!

$ Final Budget $

( June 25 2014- June 20 2015)

Initial Budget: $15000
Revenues: $756.21
Real Budget: $15756.21
Transport: $6659.63
Food: $2897.13
Fun:$6422.73 (includes our trip to Thailand)
Grand total: $15 979.49  short $223.28

Even if we spent a little bit more money than initially planned ($223,28), we consider that we succeeded this experimentation.  If we exclude the money related to gas and transport, travel insurance, we spent less than $8500 between the two of us. We would have probably spent double of that without the weekly budget. We are definitely proud of what we accomplished and we will obviously continue budgeting and save money for our future (not that far) projects!

This is our last blog entry for now but it doesn’t represent the end of our adventure. To us, it only means we are starting a new chapter and we are very excited about what life has in store for us.

Thanks again for following us and see you around!

M & E

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Top 10 things to know before coming to Tonsai/Railey [Thailand] in 2015

This post is being written live from our bungalow in Tonsai, Bangkok. We came here to climb for a month, hoping to have a vacation within our year long trip with $15 000 CAD. I wrote it about Tonsai but the exact same applies to Railay. 

We had been hearing before getting here that Tonsai was changing, mostly due to a resort being built using 90% of the beachfront in Tonsai.  What that mean is that as of now, there’s a big wall surrounding the property and that any business that was by the beach was either relocated further up in the jungle or simply closed down, with the exception of Freedom bar and 2 restaurants next to it. Since we were never here before, it’s hard to tell exactly how much has changed but clearly it’s not like it used to be. I know I don’t like that wall and I believe it goes the same way with the locals. 

  
   

Here’s a top 10 of things you need to know before considering a climbing trip to Tonsai. 

  1. Bungalows aren’t cheap. The cheapest will ring you in at 200 baht. This will provide you with a shower(cold water only but that’s all you need really), a toilet(bring your own toilet paper, can be purchased for 15-20 baht for a skinny roll), a queen size bed, bamboo walls and cockroaches are included… Hey apparently they keep spiders out!. If you want fancier, it’s there but it will cost you. At least there’s a mosquito net. They’re very effective if you tuck it in underneath the mattress and don’t rest your body against it while you’re sleeping. After a week in one of those bungalows, we are quite ok. You really feel like you’re living in the jungle and that’s awesome. 
  2. A dinner meal, let’s say Pad Tai, starts at 70 and with meat it’s 80 baht. It’s like they’ve all colluded and the prices are the same pretty much everywhere. We looked everywhere for a way to feed ourselves for 30-40 baht like we did in Bangkok and it’s impossible. Everything, and I mean everything is double what the cost is in Ao Nang. (5-6 min boat ride). May I suggest stopping by a store before crossing over to Tonsai to buy anything you will need.  
  3. Thefore, if you want to cut your cost down, it might very well be worth taking the 100 baht long tail boat ride each way to Ao Nang to buy supplies. If you don’t mind your beer at room temperature, you can buy it there for 50 baht for a big 630ml instead of 100-120 in Tonsai. Eggs in Tonsai are 10 baht each while we were able to buy 30 of them for 87 baht in Ao Nang. We use an electric kettle to boil them at night when electricity is on and eat them as hard boiled eggs in the morning. The biggest grocery store in Ao Nang is Tesco. You will find all your food supplies there. It’s a 20 minute walk up the road from the beach or a cheap taxi fare away. Same price for everyone too… Not a larger price for foreigners. Most items have their English description on the price tag which is convenient when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking at. 
  4. Local shops aren’t willing to negotiate much with their prices or rates. We were able to get a bungalow for 200 instead of 250 by paying upfront for a week but that’s about it. The very same hut we live in was going for 90 baht two years ago. We tried at every resort and only this one was willing to move on the price, even though we were 6 people looking for bungalows together. Forget about getting a deal to rent equipment or at the restaurant. Prices are what they are and they’re pretty high. 
  5. Water. You will be drinking plenty of water so here’s the solution. You buy a big 20L jug for 170 Baht and when you are done, you return it for a 100 baht refund. Effectively getting 20 L of purified water for 70 Baht. It doesn’t say Dasani or Nestle on it but it’s what the locals drink and what they’re serving you in your smoothies.  If you’re going to spend any time with an overnight stay, that’s the only way to go otherwise you will be ruining yourself buying 1.5L for 40 baht or 6 liters for 70-80 baht.   
  6. To many locals, you’re just another tourist with a lot of money. They know you will spend it and don’t really care to give you good, or why not, amazing service. Asking a local climbing guide what the grade of a route is may result you in an answer along the line of “I’m not getting paid to help you, you climb it if you want to know what the grade is.” Unless you hire a guide, you’re on your own. Thankfully regular climbing tourists are friendly as you would expect and you can share knowledge and experience with them. The guidebook is also fairly well done and can be bought locally for 800-900 baht. 
  7. Bring bug spray or plan on buying some locally. “After-bite” isn’t a bad idea either. Many people also bring/use some iodine (aka betadine) to desinfect small wounds.
  8. If you are on a tight budget, going somewhere else than Tonsai might be wise. We are having a hard time spending less than $175 USD/week. We are spending more on a weekly basis here than when we were in the USA. And that’s sharing a big beer daily. If we were to party we would be way over budget. I thinks is fair to say that Tonsai isn’t cheap anymore. 
  9. Deep water soloing is pretty expensive too. We haven’t looked for ourselves yet but from what we have heard, it should be around 1000 baht(over $30USD per person). Sure it includes a sandwich for lunch but it’s still a ton of money per person in Thailand or anywhere for that matter. 
  10. The greatest surprise has to do with Internet. It is readily available at most restaurants and bars with a purchase. Many do not change their passwords every day but since you will probably eat out at least once a day, it shouldn’t be a problem to get your internet fix. 
  11. Bonus: when looking for a place to stay, be aware that some resorts have electricity from 6 PM to midnight while some others have it on for 12 hours, from 6 PM until 6 AM. It’s quite handy when the nights are hot and you want to have the fan on all night. It’s also nice when you have many devices to charge up

As you may have noticed, we aren’t exactly in awe with Tonsai. It’s perfect when you’re having a good time climbing on the beach but coming here isn’t only that. I was in Thailand about 7 years ago and it feels like Thailand is changing. The feeling is that they’re going to milk the tourists for as much as they can. We were laughed at this morning when we preferred waiting for one more person to fill the boat to go to Ao Nang instead of paying 20 Baht more per person. Quite disrespectfull and had we been back home, this idiot would have known my thoughts. 

    My final words would simply be to either lower your expectations if you think that Tonsai is still the sport climbing mekka or just go look elsewhere. The climbs are obviously the same as they were and potentially safer than ever but having to dispense more for a coffee or a beer here than back home is quite shocking and disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is just awesome and I’m glad we came. But what I mean is that we will try a different spot next time. Coming back here for a second time will be a much harder sell than this time around. Perhaps it’s because it’s low season or perhaps it’s because many got the memo already but there are way more island hoppers than there are climbers here right now. 

    We will make the best of it and thankfully we are already having a lot of fun climbing and meeting new people.

    Safe travels everyone. Get in touch with comments if you have any questions. 

    Cheers,

    Matt & Elaine

    Wrapping it up with the USA

    We have been pretty busy lately so we haven’t had time to write a new entry.. We had a special event this week as we celebrated Conrad’s 28 birthday. We had a Karaoke/Margaritas party on the porch at the Heuco Tank village…the four of us and the dogs!! We had so much fun …didn’t know we were that good at singing!!! Kristine baked a delicious chocolate cake and she even bought icing and candles…pretty big deal if you ask me!

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    Birthday boy with his birthday hat 🙂

     

    I(Elaine) used the shower bag for the first time this week. We could say that it was a half-success as the wind blew away the bed sheet hiding while showering. In the end, I did get the job done and we are pretty certain that the neighbor wasn’t home at that moment. I also got a nice gift from Josh, our new Aussie friend, he gave me a coupon for a free shower at the nearby Hacienda, a kind of B&B. I also got another free shower coupon by the manager of the campground and I gave it to Mathieu. I’m just so nice!!! We both enjoyed a short nice hot shower.

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    Now you can see Elaine’s leg, 1 minute later you could see everything 🙂

     

    The campground quickly emptied itself out over the last few week, most people leaving for new adventures. We ended up been the only campers here at the exception of Conrad and Kristine. Some nights, we got lucky and got new arrivals. Pretty exciting, new people to chat with. That’s how we met those guys who did the PCT- Pacific Crest Trail a few months ago. They hiked for 5 months from Mexico to Cananda, total of 2,663 miles or 4,286 km!! Quite the adventure! I’m for sure putting that on my bucket list but I’m not sure if it will make Mathieu’s list.

    Climbing wise, we tried to get as much climbing in as possible, trying to finish all the projects we had. The park has been pretty busy lately due to Spring Break and it has been a bit of a challenge to get in. We waited 5 hours in the van the other day to get into the park. We never made it in as we got discouraged around 3pm and just went back to the campground. In addition to the increase in park’s visitors, the weather wasn’t that great therefore it was a bit harder to get psyched. I finally sent one of my first projects in Hueco: Lobster Claw, an amazing V5. I have been working on it for a while and was starting to get more frustrated than motivated. I’m kind of proud of myself and of all of the things I accomplished here.

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    Playing monopoly on the Ipad while we were waiting for like ever

    On Mathieu’s side, not much happened this last week. He didn’t have much time to work on Baby Face so it will still be a project for our next visit to Hueco Tanks. In the last few days, he started to work another problem called Choir Boys V7. He worked pretty hard on the opening moves but then he hurt his back and had to take a few extra rest days with some Ibuprophene(Glad to report that the back is feeling perfect now).

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    Overall, we are very pleased with all the climbing we have done here. Our time in Heuco Tanks is now over and it’s kind of a bitter sweet feeling as we are sad to leave this amazing place but also excited to take on this last leg of our trip. We also said a temporary good bye to Conrad and Kristine and the dogs, as they are going to Joe’s Valley and we are heading to Houston and then back to Canada. We will see them again in two months on Tonsei Beach in Thailand!!!

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    People suggested that we stop by Carlsbad Caverns National Park on our way to Houston. We did and what an amazing place that was! You can either enter the caverns walking trough the Natural Entrance or by using an elevator that will bring you 800′ down. We used the Natural Entrance and walked throughout the caverns for over 2 miles(3.2km). We spent about 4 hours admiring all the rock formations and walking for narrows passages. Carlsbad Caverns is a world heritage protected site and deserves it very much. It’s really worth your time if you can make it there someday.

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    We then kept on driving across Texas and finally made it to Houston! Texas is a big state! We spent a couple of days there with our friend Jean and his fiance. It was awesome to see him again and to spend time with them. We had awesome food and wine (People that know Jean will for sure agree!) and we even went to a french play!! There is a small french community here in Houston and it was great to be able to support a small french theater troop. We had a very good time and we will for sure come back….some day!

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    After Houston, we hopped back into our van and kept on driving toward Nashville,Tennessee to meet one of my childhood friend, Manon. I haven’t seen her in like 15 years! We spent the evening at her place and had the chance to meet her husband and son, both awesome people!!! It was so nice to spend sometime with her again and talk about how silly we were at 8 years old!!!

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    We are now back on the road, very slowly making our way to Quebec to visit family and friends before our departure to Thailand.

    Quick facts:
    -Matt got a seriously needed haircut
    -Gone girl the movie is really really creepy
    -The plant hasn’t been doing too hot.. Zero leaves eaten since December.
    -We bought a bunch of Military Rations .. perfect for when you’re driving the distance!

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    In memory of the good old army days.. Military rations!

    We would like to inform you guys that we official spent all the 5000$ that we had budgeted for gas. We agreed to reallocate $1000 for the fuel/transport so our weekly budget is dropping quite a bit. So far we have driven around 24 000 km.

    Our  budget for this week is now $165.11 for food & fun.

    March 12- March 18  : Weekly & Totals since we left 38 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $72.50 / $4807.60
    Food: $52.54 / $2565.23
    Fun: $15.00 / $4917.07

    Total for the week without fuel: $67.54
    Total with fuel: $140.34
    Total spent since the beginning: $12290.07

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $3466.14

    March 19- March 25  : Weekly & Totals since we left 39 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $413.38 / $5220.98
    Food: $69.53 / $2634.76
    Fun: $57.83 / $4975.07

    Total for the week without fuel: $127.36
    Total with fuel: $540.74
    Total spent since the beginning: $12830.81

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $2925.40

    E & M

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    The sketchy dam traverse when it’s windy!

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    Take a picture of this picture.. you don’t see Conrad with a beer very often!

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    The girls of Hueco !

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    Yummy cake!

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    The karaoke crew minus E

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    Keno is the shopkeeper’s dog.. super laid back

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    Bella posing and Diva photo bombing it like a pro

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    Killer cactus.. poked right through the sandals

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    Jean with his fiance Kim (and the delicious tomatillo sauce!)

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    Photo Credit Andy Wickstrom

    Only a few weeks left in the USA

    We can unfortunately already start to feel the end of our trip. There’s still a few months left but we only have 3 weeks left in the USA at most, with 1 month in Thailand, next thing you know we will be driving back towards Alberta and resume working. It’s close enough that we are starting to make plans about what we will do once we get back. While Elaine has about 7 weeks of work lined up over the summer at the Cross Cancer Hospital, it’s a bit up the air for myself. The one thing that has been in the back of my mind for a long time is to become a dealer in a casino. Since I have always liked working with the public, I feel like being a dealer will feel more like a hobby than a job. I have looked online a little and it sounds like it can be as good as it seems when you deal to a great group. Furthermore, the skill is quite transferable if we were to get a job on a cruise ship, as it is something we’ve talked about doing someday. The only uncertain thing about it is if there’s enough  money to be made there to allow saving up in a reasonable amount of time. I have also done my fair share of night shift working and I don’t know if that’s something I would really fancy right now. I’ll definitely look at the JobBank website but so far, for as long as I can get in, I should be dealing somewhere in a casino around Edmonton once we get back.

    We sometimes talk about things that we miss, or things that we enjoyed before going on this simple life adventure. I have been saying lately that I’m looking forward to working again to have a greater disposable income. Reason #1: Buy meat! But after some introspection, I’m thinking that what I miss more about our previous life, is the friends of Edmonton. We make good friends along the way here and that’s awesome. But somehow, it’s going to feel good to go back home and hang out with all the people we left behind when we took on this journey. We both also miss going out to the restaurant. I don’t know that we will be going as often as we used to, but going out for breakfast is something we really miss….Urban Dinner, see you soon!!

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    On the climbing front, Elaine sent two of her projects this week. The first one is a super cool roof route called Girls of Juarez V4. She needed to work different betas than the rest of us because of her height but she worked hard and got it.

    There are a lot of problems in Hueco Tanks with knee bar moves and using a Knee Pad makes those move much more enjoyable or simply possible.  We don’t have one but we were able to borrow a Downgrader MINI Strap-On Kneepad from Gabi and Brandon (from www.justgoclimb.com). It’s made by a local company called Send Climbing. During our stay here, we got to try the kneepad from 5.10 too but so far, the Send one is much more comfortable, not pinching or biting the back of your leg.

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    Results of climbing without a knee pad!

     

    The second one is called Denizen and it’s a V4/5, a beautiful line. The problem felt  kind of impossible for her at  first but on her second day,  she was able to figure out the crux and made it to the top. It’s always a good feeling when you finally send a problem you have been working on for a few days. It also cheers you up  and give you the motivation to keep working hard.

    Personally, I ended up sending two V6 this week, including one of the coolest route in Hueco Tanks. The description from Mountain Project goes like this:

    This classic face climb is one of the more notorious highball problems at Hueco. The excellent moves, stellar rock, and memorable finish make this problem a must do for those solid at the grade. Despite the towering height of this problem, the crux is low, and the landing is excellent, so wait for a crowd, layer the pads thick, and go for it! 

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    See spot run

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    Highball…Scary!

    It’s called See Spot Run V6. It has a low crux and the holds are positive as you make your way up, they’re just not jugs and some move are somewhat committing. Thankfully the top out was easier than expected. Unfortunately, I had to witness a friend fall uncontrolled one foot below the top. She had to be helped down the mountain and we hope she heals up quickly. It was quite scary to see it happen. This climb has claimed many victims and Jess might be the latest one.

    The other one is King Cobra V6. After having failed miserably the first week here on this problem, I was given some Beta from the Germans and it went right away.

    Financially, we tried to not spend any money this week. We have to pay for additional travel insurance as somehow we had only purchased travel insurance until May 1st. We found a new company to use and it’s about $1.50 pp/day. It’s not always easy to cut down the spending but so far so good!

    ..because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing..  

                                                                                                            -Dr Seuss

    Our  budget for this week is now $222.75 CAD for food & fun.

    March 5- March 11 : Weekly & Totals since we left 37 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $93.00 / $4735.10
    Food: $37.10 / $2512.69
    Fun: $31.68 / $4902.24

    Total for the week without fuel: $68.78
    Total with fuel: $161.78
    Total spent since the beginning: $12150.03

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $3606.18

    E & M

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    ELaine seeking shelter during a brief shower

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    On the way to the New Meadows…pretty narrow approach

     

    Photo Credit Andy Wikstrom

    Photo Credit Andy Wikstrom

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    On my current project.. Baby Face V7

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    Bat hang starting the best V2 in the world, Nobody Here Gets Out Alive

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    Aiko!

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    Testing out the new shower bag.. it works!

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    Perseverance and good karma

    Another week has gone by and we are so thankful to be here!

    We have been here long enough now to be able to settle into a little routine of our own and to feel at home at Hueco Tank Campground. It’s very enjoyable to drink your morning coffee, watching climbing videos or just chatting, on the porch with fellow climbers.We love this place but the wind…it is so freaking windy here!!! Again today, gust winds up to 40 mph, so powerful that the van gets rocked back and forth when we are parked !!! Crazy!! On top of the wind, Mother Nature has been adding some rain here and there for us in the last week and it’s impossible to trust the weather forecast, as it changes every 5 minutes or so.

    Elaine has been doing a bit of cleaning around the campground lately on her down time. She likes doing it and considers it like a little workout. She has been raking leaves, picking up trash and broken glass in the yard. The manager of the campground noticed it and was happy to propose to trade her work for free accommodation. We got 3 free nights($8)out of this deal! Way to go girlfriend! Due to the cold weather and the rain that we had this week, we were surprisingly willing to pay for a hot shower. Unfortunately for us, the shower is out of service until they get a new water heater. My guess is that we won’t be around long enough to enjoy a hot shower on site. In the meantime, we purchased a solar heated 5 gallons shower bag. Conrad and Kristine have been using one since the beginning of the trip and they swear by it. It’s too cold and windy right now to enjoy an outdoor shower but we tried it out yesterday by washing each other’s hair. It will do the job for sure and we are looking forward to warmer weather to have a full body shower.

    Thanks for the hard work babe!

    Thanks for the hard work babe!

    Otherwise, climbing is occupying the biggest part of our schedule right now. We are usually climbing 2 days and resting 1 day. Rotating with Conrad and Kristine, so 3 of us go climbing while someone stays with the dogs. This park is not dog friendly at all, they don’t allow dogs on trails or on the mountain. Dogs can only be on the pavement, not allowed on the grass or in the bushes. We are all happy to spend our rest day with the Bella and Diva anyway.

    The girls

    The girls

    Having the opportunity to climb here is amazing and meeting strong climbers from all over the world is even more awesome. Elaine has been working hard on a few projects but her skin is still pretty thin. She just cannot push, crimp or throw as much as she would like. She has been feeling frustrated lately and would like to perform better and send harder problems. It’s hard for her to see other girls sending projects that she had been working for couple of days. Patience and perseverance are the keys and she is “kind of” accepting it now. She did send Girls of Texas this week, her third V5 of the trip!! Her leg pain is slowly going away to leave room for new problem like neck and shoulder pain. Nothing serious to worry about for now but it just shows she’s trying hard.

    Elaine working on T-bone Shuffle.. a super cool V4

    Elaine working on T-bone Shuffle.. a super cool V4

    On my side there’s no shortage of projects as the climbs here are just amazing. I have been working hard on the crux of Daily Dick Dose V7 and I finally sent it! Only my second V7 of the trip. It’s a short route while remaining super aesthetic. It’s amazing what putting a little effort into a project will do. It seemed impossible the first time I tried on it and after 3 days of work, it finally went out of nowhere. Baby Martini V6 was also on my list and I happily sent it today. This one is almost a sport climb so long it is. There’s one route I really want to get though and it’s Baby Face V7.

    I feel like the way we look at climbing has changed since we first started this trip. We didn’t use to care for gear all that much, especially when it came to buying climbing shoes. We used to buy the cheapest ones for as long as they were comfortable, thinking that it wouldn’t make that much difference anyways. There is a lot to a shoe and with all that realized, it became obvious that Elaine would need new shoes at some point but we never really talked about it. I think we didn’t want to face the truth, couldn’t justify the expense in our budget and kept reminding ourselves that her shoes were still in good condition… hey there wasn’t any holes in the rubber! And this week, we met Jess and Andy from Designegg! These guys are on a year long climbing trip as well and somehow, Jess kindly offered Elaine a brand new pair of climbing shoes, if they fitted her, as she tought the ones she was wearing were quite pathetic and definitely more for beginners. Guess what, they are a perfect fit! Climbers and the whole community around it are so awesome, we just love haning out with those people. Thanks Jess and we will keep paying forward the Karma! So if you readers ever need some design/photo/logo..anything, please visit them at DesignEgg.org and visit Andy’s photo website. They’re also on Instagram if you’re into that. He takes super awesome shots.

    Here is a picture that Andy took of Elaine on Girls of Juarez V4.

    Photo Credit: Andy Wickstrom

    Photo Credit: Andy Wickstrom

    Other than climbing, our favorite topic of conversation is food… or as we call it: What’s for supper? I’m not sure if you guys are wondering what we are eating but anyway I might as well share it with you. Every day, we need to create meals from whatever we have in the “pantry”. We mentioned before that we became pretty creative about food and stove top cooking but that doesn’t mean that we find it easy. For the last 8 months, we have been using the same 7-8 ingredients for most meals! We play around with spices and switch around the side grain like pasta, quinoa or rice, and Voila! The combinaisons are endless !!!! We only buy vegetables that are on sale, so most of the time it’s tomatoes, potatoes and poblano peppers (Who can afford bell peppers? We have seen those selling for as much as $2 a piece!). Most of our meals are vegetarian so therefore lots of lentils or beans but on random days I’m allowed to buy some meat other than $1 hot dog sausages 🙂 This week was a lucky one as Elaine found raw breaded chicken (like KFC) for $2 in the meat section. We deepfried it and it tasted just as good as it looked! My tastebuds enjoyed every bites.

    DIY deep fried chicken!

    DIY deep fried chicken!

    Here are a few pictures of what our meals look like, Bon Appetit!

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    Thanks for reading us! Budget below, more pics underneath.. cheers!

    Our  budget for this week is now $213.13 CAD for food & fun.

    Feb 26 –Mar 4 : Weekly & Totals since we left 36 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $25 / $4642.10
    Food: $125.06 / $2475.59 (includes propane and shower bag)
    Fun: $10.16 / $4870.56

    Total for the week without fuel: $135.22
    Total with fuel: $160.22
    Total spent since the beginning: $11988.25

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $3767.96

    E & M

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    Given only 70 people are allowed at one time on the mountain, it’s unusual to see that many heads in one location. That’s the warm up boulder area.

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    Elaine working Name Dropper, a traverse.. super fun!

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    Elaine can’t wait to get a real job again!! not really 🙂

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    Conrad playing Hill Climb Racing at the crag.. yup the game is addictive!

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    Hola!

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    Gabi making progress on Denizen (www.justgoclimb.com)

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    Yours truly 🙂

     

    Nothing like loosing your wallet in a foreign country..

    It happened today. We were running errands. Last stop: getting some propane. We had a stressful moment when Elaine realized she had lost the wallet somewhere between the grocery store and the propane shop. We looked everywhere: in every grocery bag, in every little hiding spot we use to stash important stuff but we couldn’t find it. It had to have been left in the cart or something. The only comforting thing is that the passports weren’t part of it, safe and sound. The only thing left to do was to drive back to the grocery store to look for it. YES! someone had returned it with ALL the money($50) and the cards in it!!! Thanks a million to that awesome person!! Faith in humanity is restored, we will keep on paying forward with the good Karma.. you never know when you’ll need it!

    Apart from being notorious for its awesome bouldering and its rock art, Hueco tanks has to be known for the crazy winds it gets. We had for a day straight, winds hovering around 30 miles/hour but gusting well over that. The van was rocking but we managed to get some sleep at night anyways. The wind was one thing, but with it came very cold temperatures… It might have been the coldest temperature we have had to sleep in so far. In fact, there must have been some rain overnight as the one side of the van was covered in ice that night.The following night we treated ourselves to the heat of our furnace which made it super comfortable.

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    I asked the campground host if there were tornadoes frequently happening around here but thankfully, the mountains around are apparently preventing those from forming. On the other hand, it isn’t rare to see decent size dirt devils forming.

    Hueco Tanks is a very organized place compare to all the other places we have climbed at so far. Lots of rules and specific ways to do things. The park and the road are only open from 8 am to 6 pm. The way to access the park is a bit unique. The park is split in two sections. The North Mountain and the rest. On North Mountain, they allow a maximum of 70 people at any given time. That way they can control and “protect” the area and help reduce the human footprint. When you think about it it makes a lot of sense but it’s also a bit of pain. You can reserve your spot in the park and that’s what most people do. They usually reserve their spots 3 months in advance but there is also here some rules that must be respected. Otherwise, with no reservation you can just show up at the main gate and hope they have spots available(aka people with reservations that do not show up). Some enthusiast even drive to the gate at like 6 am(or earlier) and wait for the park to open. We tried that one morning but we aren’t really good at getting up early and didn’t really perform well that day. The other morning, we showed up at 9 am and had to wait 5 hours to get into the park. In the end, it’s really annoying but we got used to it and climbing here is awesome!

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    On busy days you have to wait in line to get in.. Only 70 people allowed for self-guided tours on North Mountain

     

    On top of all the rules, there’s a 17 minutes educational video you MUST watch at least once a year before you’re certified to enter the park. They give you a card that you MUST show every time you want to enter the park. Also, they call the North Mountain a “Self-Guided” area and the video is doing a good job at explaining you what they’re trying to protect, mostly rock art painted by natives a while back.

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    Actual artwork seen there

     

    The problem is that North Mountain is only a third of the size of the park. The only way to access the other parts of the park is to go on Volunteer guided tours which are $2/pp or Professionally guided tours which start at $15/pp but more realistically are at least $25/pp for the day. Although $2 is not that much, it’s not negligible. Furthermore, on volunteer tours, it seems like you don’t have much say with regards to where the volunteer will take you, making working on projects difficult if you and your volunteer aren’t working the same stuff. With all that said, the good thing is that North mountain should have enough stuff for us to keep busy for our whole time here and then some.

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    Climbing wise, we are trying hard to push our limits a bit further and challenge ourselves everyday. Good news! Elaine’s skin is almost back to normal but bad news.. she’s now having some hamstrings pain from heel hooking… She will have to take it easy for a few days.

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    Financially, we are managing to save money even though we have to pay $1.33/pp per night to camp. We’re hopeful that Thailand will be the same way and that we will succeed at living a whole year with our initial $15 000. Perhaps it helps that we’re really good at making sure we don’t get ripped off when we buy stuff, mostly at the grocery store. Once again people, always double-check your receipt and make sure to take advantage of the Scanning code of practice(aka SCOP) if it’s available where you live.

    Oh we had some luck at dumpster diving, in a dumpster we never anticipated to find food. The dumpster of a Subway restaurant! These guys threw out lettuce that was a day past the best before date but was clearly in good shape in an air tight bag. There was also a bunch of slightly bruised tomatoes. Many dumpsters are locked around here but time will tell if we will be able to find some more goodies.

    Party!

    Party!

    The same people we hung out and climbed with in Bishop were all in Hueco Tanks last week. Since it was Solveig’s birthday, everyone got together for a pot luck and for a Margarita party night. The food was delicious but the margaritas were awesome! You wouldn’t know you were drinking Tequila if someone asked you, and even less so the beer added to the mix to add some fizz. I’m pretty sure those were my first margaritas but it sure will not be my last 🙂 I’ll spell out the recipe right here so I don’t forget. Feel free to try it out, it’s delicious.

    1 part frozen limonade concentrate(the ones you add water to. Juice would work too)
    1 part water
    1 part Tequila
    1 part ice
    1 bottle of Corona.

    To make it simple, Rick(a local, former professional bartender) was simply using the whole can of concentrate and using the then empty can to measure everything. Pour some ice in your cup then fill it up with the mix.
    All the people at the campground came out on the porch and we even got some dancing done. It was an great evening with great people!

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    Another tradition among the climbers at Hueco Tanks is to go for the $5 burger night at Crave downtown(40 min from the campground). We had to skip it last week due to our budget but thought we deserved it this week. Drove down with Conrad and Kristine. Unfortunately, as we were ordering our burgers, we found out Elaine couldn’t get the $5 burger with a veggie patty and she would have to pay full price ($13). She just left and waited for us in the van. It is a good deal and the burgers were great but we won’t go back for sure…I can’t just have my girlfriend waiting for me in the van while I eat a burger… Oh and here they don’t cook ground beef thoroughly.. kind of crazy to be asked how cooked you want your beef patty!

    We have been on the road now for 8 months but it really doesn’t feel that long to us. I think the van living suits us very well and makes us happy. We are making do with the little money we allowed ourselves to spend and are satisfied with what we already possessed. We are also becoming pretty creative stove top cooks and sponge bathing is now the new best thing… showers are SO overrated! 😉

    Our  budget for this week is now $208.55 CAD for food & fun.

    Jan 19 –Feb 25 : Weekly & Totals since we left 35 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $44.49 / $4617.10
    Food: $22.19 / $2350.53
    Fun: $44.34 / $4860.40

    Total for the week without fuel: $66.53
    Total with fuel: $111.02
    Total spent since the beginning: $11828.03

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $3928.18

    E & M

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    Partying it up with margaritas!

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    That’s what happens when you wake up at 6:30 am to go climbing.. you don’t. You don’t climb and you just nap in the sun instead.

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    Conrad setting himself up for a nap too!

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    Super intricate problem.. without less than obvious knee bar beta, this would never go.

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    The McFarlanes being silly!

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    Poker night on the porch!.. somehow it wasn’t windy that night!

     

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    Diva likes to nap on our couch

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    Elaine working on Serious Attitude V4.

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    Another of Elaine’s project: Dilated pupils V4



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    “Living it up” in Hueco Tanks state park

    After leaving Joshua Tree we set off towards Arizona and made it to Tucson. The drive was boring in places, roads being straight and flat for dozens of miles at a time(You do the math.. miles are the new way to go!!). The one thing that really stood out though was the cartoon style cactus. You know the green ones with two arms pointing up? They do really exist! They’re huge and they’re super awesome. Based on the sheer amount we saw, these things are like the trees of the desert, super well adapted to their environment.

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    Alexi, our pal from Quebec we met in J-tree told us about free climbing & camping on Mount Lemmon(Not Lemon), just outside of Tucson. It did sound like a good idea so we knew we should try to hit it when we drove by as it is literally on the way to El Paso (where Hueco Tanks state park is). We left Joshua Tree without really planning the climbing part so once we arrived in Tucson, we had to get our hands on some internet to figure out the hows and the where. We took one of the first exit for Tucson and we managed to get some free internet from a Super 8 hotel. After deciding that we were best going to a local outdoor shop to get some beta for the climbing, we had to find a place to park for the night. Problem was that we had already driven past a truck stop a while back and we didn’t think there would be another one before long. We looked to see if Walmart stores were Overnight friendly but unfortunately they weren’t. So we decided we could probably just park behind the hotel as if we were guests and hopefully no one would bother us.

    Thankfully, we went unnoticed for the night! Just before leaving the parking lot, I noticed a guy cleaning what appeared to be an outdoor pool attached to the hotel. I went closer to see if there wouldn’t be a hot tub by any chance and who knows, the gate might be unlocked.. well guess what? There was a hot tub AND the gate was unlocked. Elaine wasn’t so sure about it but because I hadn’t soaked in any kind of pool of water for over a month, I took the chance and went for it after putting my swim suit on. I turned on the jet, sat back and let it soak for a while.. that was simply awesome! Eventually Elaine came out and dipped in as well. That’s dirt bagging it to the max 🙂

    We went to Summit Hut and spoke with Dave who was super helpful. He strongly suggested we go to Cochise Stronghold instead of Mount Lemmon. Day was getting late so Elaine found a super cool hike, ranked #1 around Tucson, called 7 falls(Seven falls Trail). It was a 4.1 miles hike each way with 200m elevation gain. At the end of the hike, you reach a gorgeous waterfall with numerous pools of very cold water. After hiking that far, there was no way I wasn’t going to go in for a dip. I kind of dove in and as Murphy’s law would have it, my glasses came off and ended up at the bottom of the pool. The problem wasn’t that the pool was too deep, the problem was that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go back in that freezing water 🙂 In the end, a lady was able to point them out from the edge of the pool which made the second dip as quick as possible.

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    The next day we went to Cochise Stronghold and spend a single day sport climbing. We ended up hanging out with some friendly locals which made the day that much more enjoyable. The climbing was slabby at times and I realized that the weeks spent in Joshua tree had actually improved my trust in friction between my shoes and the rock. The climbing is located in a national forest and disperse camping is usually allowed. We were able to spend the night in a little pullout and we had a nice Valentine’s dinner in the nature.

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    Cochise Stronghold area

    Our camping spot for the night in Cochise Stronghold

    Our camping spot for the night in Cochise Stronghold

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    Valentine's dinner

    Valentine’s dinner

    We then pushed through to El Paso. It’s a border town with Mexico which is separated by a river with a wall built next to it to prevent illegal immigration. We asked around and it sounds like going over the border to visit Juarez, El Paso’s counterpart, is everything but a good idea. We are currently staying at what was once called Pete’s, Hueco Tanks Climbing shop, which doubles up as a campground as well. It’s quite basic with a port-a-potty, fast internet most of the time, and some tables and chairs but the cost is pretty slick: $4/person for 3 nights. So we are paying $2.66/day to camp here but the distance to the park is minimal. We will just about recoup the cost of the camping by saving on fuel. We are less than 5 minutes away from the park. Coincidentally, the same people that we hung out with in Bishop are all here so it’s nice to hang out with friends we enjoyed spending time with back then.

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    Our new home at Pete’s!

     

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    Gabi on Ghetto Simulator

    The bouldering here is totally awesome. The rock as the name would suggest, is full of Huecos (round pockets/jugs in the rock) and a lot of the climbing is either overhanging or a straight out roof. “Knee bars” and heel hooks will come in handy I’m sure. There’s a bit of a process to enter the park everyday because they only allow 70 people at any time on the North mountain. Reservations are recommended but we didn’t bother. So far we were able to go in without it but it might get tricky during the week ends. I can see us spending most of the time we have left in the USA here as it is truly a unique place. The nights are very cold at the moment.. probably dropping to just above freezing. Days are warm-ish but the wind is notorious at this time of the year which cools them down quite a bit. We heard that it’s so windy at times that the wind will blow your crash pads away. We haven’t experienced that yet but it’s going to happen I’m sure.

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    Elaine’s fingertips are still very low on skin and she’s being careful with her climbing to not draw blood again. Hopefully with some TLC, she’ll be able to go full tilt sooner than later.

    Our  budget for this week is now $200.66 CAD for food & fun.

    Jan 12 –Feb 18 : Weekly & Totals since we left 34 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $175.01 / $4572.61
    Food: $57.58/ $2328.34
    Fun: $64.77 / $4816.06

    Total for the week without fuel: $122.35
    Total with fuel: $297.36
    Total spent since the beginning: $11717.01

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $4039.20

    E & M

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