• Day 72: To New Orleans

    Chris couldn’t handle the awesomeness of the casino, and he woke up very, very early. If you know Chris, you know that this only happens if he has to go to work or if there is a World Cup game on the other side of the world. He found a little park down the road where he could spend a comfortable few hours before we got back on the road. There was an interesting memorial garden right in the bayou (or is this just marshland. I’m still not sure.)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Neither Chris nor I have ever traveled around Louisiana much. Basically it has been New Orleans or bust, and forget all the rest. On this trip, we wanted to see more. That means taking the long way to NOLA through the southern route. This area feels like a place that time forgot. The houses might be a little more modern, but the people are folk. From what I can tell on our few hours of driving through, everyone here fishes on weekdays, has alligator farms, wears ripped t-shirts and old net caps, and notices everything that is not the same as yesterday. We are not the same as yesterday and we were definitely noticed. Not so much in a bad way, but more of a “are you lost” kind of way.

    This is obviously a first impression and not a well-researched analysis. I believe that is the same practice that leads to stereotypes.

    We stopped at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge to see if we could spot some alligators. The wasp/hornet/death drones were too big to ignore so a lot of my time outdoors was spent running and flailing around like a lunatic with Clementine taking the lead. This is one of the few visitor centers that allowed dogs indoors. It could be because there is just one guy working and no actual visitors. In the entryway was a still life depicting the turbulent administration and how it is a cesspool of garbage water.

    Or the janitor just forgot to take the garbage can off the water fountain after he finished mopping the floors. Either way, it spoke to me. Overall it is a small center, but the A/C is pumping and they have an animatronic show. Clementine did not trust the old Cajun woman rowing her boat.

    On the boardwalk outside the visitor’s center we saw our first live alligator! I had to take a photo through the binocular lens, but here it is!

    There was a short scenic drive through the refuge. We saw a few birds and a few alligator eyes. But back on the main road we saw this guy.

    WARNING: Photo of another dead animal

    A wake of vultures is a sure sign that something has happened. The more vultures, the bigger the victim. There were about 20 vultures flocked around this guy. Look at the size of this alligator. I’m sure he didn’t go peacefully and I am sorry for that. RIP big guy.

    I love this scenery. It reminds me a little of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. It smells like marshland. If you have never smelled that, I’m not going to do a good job describing it. It reminds me of catfish, and I expect it’s what ancient dinosaur stomping grounds smelled like.

    I did not take as many photos as I should have and I regret that.

    We got to New Orleans late, tired, and hungry. We found  cute little restaurant about a mile away. I am a 95% pesca-ovo-lacto tarian. That 5% is spent in the south and at my mom’s house. When I go to the south, I have to get fried chicken. It is my last meal. Fried chicken, fresh biscuits, and mac & cheese. I always like to know where the closest hospital is when eating this meal. Unfortunately, this fried chicken was not worth the heart disease. That’s always disappointing.

    When we got back to the airbnb, I think we watched some Expanse episodes and then I crashed. Just like home.

     

     

  • Day 71: Lake Charles, LA

    Getting the window regulator fixed on the van set us back just enough to miss meeting our friend, Marion, in New Orleans. That was very disappointing because she has been working in Burundi for two years and we miss her terribly.

    #ThanksVanagon

    But, we made it to Lake Charles, LA today.

    Once again, we got to a city late and exhausted. First things first…food and bathroom. Then we need to find a place to sleep. We got some food. It was alright.

    Even though it has been a long, hot day and all we want to do is jump in the shower, I am trying to save money and, apparently, I am also into S&M. I decide that tonight we will boondock. Boondocking is rarely comfortable. While researching some possible parking spots, we learn that Lake Charles has one of the highest violent crime rates (rape, murder, robbery…) in the country. Also, no one really recommends jumping in the lake. I guess most people just don’t find polluted waters with alligators to be refreshing. The closest approximation to a suitable campsite that we can find is in the parking lot between two very large casinos.

    It seems quiet, safe, and there are bathrooms. It’s also empty and dark enough that I pop the shower tent and whip out the pump for a much needed shower. How many of you can say you took a shower in a casino parking lot? Don’t be jealous. After my shower, Chris does some exploring of the casinos and their parking lots on his bike and I play fetch with Clem. Overall, it’s no so bad. In the wee early hours of the morn’ it is a little humid and Clem is audibly uncomfortable so I take her for a walk just in time for the sprinklers to come on. Shower #2! I would highly recommend this parking lot for any boondockers in the area. 4 stars. Chris gave it 2 stars. He’s a bit of a prima donna though.

     

  • Day 69-70: Austin, TX

    The plan was to make it to Austin today and hang out there for a day or two. That took about 5+ hours. There wasn’t a whole lot to mention, but here are some highlights.

    Warning: I am fascinated by dead wild animals because I love animals. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s rare, and often inadvisable, to get close to wild animals while they are living. Once you get over the smell, it’s really an incredible thing. Don’t judge! I won’t make the photos large though. You can always click on them to make them bigger, if you want.

    Our trip is full of vultures. They are everywhere, and that is a good thing. When I see a flock (what is a group of vultures called? A carrion? A janitorial…get it? Because they clean) of vultures, I know there is something interesting near by. We saw this poor little guy on our drive today. Aren’t wart hogs just about the cutest ugliest things you have ever seen?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I know. Not much.

    We made it to Austin and got a cool Airbnb near some park. Tonight we will be lazy and have Indian food delivered because we are exhausted.

    Clementine did this for a very long time. I have so many more photos where only her eyes are moving.

    If I haven’t mentioned this before, traveling with a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, in cities and towns, during heat waves is incredibly difficult and stressful. We decided not to stick around Austin for very long, though it seems like a lovely city. The coolest thing we saw was this graffiti park, which is set for demolition. According to reports, there is a plan to relocate it. Rock on, Austin.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Just a man, looking at a city…

     

    P.S. I just found this on google and it’s too fascinating not to share.

    “A group of vultures is called a committee, venue or volt. In flight, a flock of vultures is a kettle, and when the birds are feeding together at a carcass, the group is called a wake”

  • Day 68: Crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico

    Happy Birthday, James!

    Today we woke up, determined at 7a that it was going to be a hot day, and prepared to head on out to see if we could cross the border somewhere. Before we left, I walked Clementine around and found some interesting scat poop. After some research, I believe this is from a wart hog!

    I hate the heat. It is enough to make you want to cry. Our A/C is made up entirely of a spray bottle and a small fan. It does not work well in temps over 83F. But there is not time for complaining because adventure is waiting! There is a little border crossing right here.

    The innocuous kiosk is…jesus it is so hot out. Where is the shade?! Why hasn’t everyone embraced shelters covered in solar panels in this part of the world?? It is now 100 F. The heat index has got to be much higher. I am very close to miserable. Poor, Chris.

    Anyway, the innocuous kiosk is down some road. And that’s as specific as I can get.

    There is one desk inside and two ATM-looking machines. You walk up to the machine, scan your passport, and lift the old school phone receiver. The person asks you a couple of questions, and then tells you to look up at the camera. I am so used to making stupid faces when on this side of the camera that I have to physically shake my head to stop myself. Border Agents tend not to have fantastic senses of humor. They tell me I am good to go and I hang up the phone. When you leave the kiosk, the physical border is about a mile down a dusty, semi-shaded path.

    Clementine is not happy and I feel bad. We have water with us though, and most of it goes to her.

    It will all be better once we get to the river.

    When you reach the Rio Grande, you can either take a boat across for a small fee, or walk over. Walking over is free and makes for a better experience. On the Mexican bank are dozens of people with trucks and donkeys. The closest town is about 2 miles away and for another small fee you can hitch a ride with the truck or on the donkey. We also realize that it’s Cinquo de Mayo. Not a holiday celebrated in Mexico, unless you are a border town, because tourists like to drink. After thinking about it for half a second, we decide to try walking. Did I mention how hot it was? Every few feet we douse Clementine in water. As any good dog owner knows, when travelling with dogs to hot locations, you have to take your shoes off and test the ground to make sure you aren’t burning their little toe beans. Remember playing Hot Lava? The unshaded ground was intolerable, so we jumped from shaded square to shaded square.

    At one point two donkeys laden with loud, drunk, and sunburned tourists came ambling down the path. In their defense, they were smiley and nice. The tourists seemed okay, too. Ba dum tss

    Chris and I both looked at each other and immediately turned around and headed back. While crossing back over, Chris used his excellent Spanish to talk to some of the folks hanging out on the bank of the river. They were gathered for this one woman who was running for a local political position. We wished her luck, Clementine drank lots of water and vomited it back up, and we turned toward the dusty, semi-shaded path back to the van.

    But not before we found this millipede. I love millipedes. Another super great photo.

    Look how picturesque this drive is. I love it.

    No trespassing, guys. I mean it.

    Our home tonight is Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, TX. A perfect place to jump in the water and wash off the sweat of the day.

    We are going to sleep well tonight.

  • Day 67: Marfa, TX to Big Bend National Park

    From Marfa to Big Bend, Texas puts on an impressive display. Our trips are mostly done away from major highways (“Did you click ‘Avoid Highways’ on Google Map route options…yup) unless Chris doesn’t feel like driving (which isn’t too often) or I’m crabby and just want a shower. On the advice from Herman the Marfan German, we took route 67 to 170, which brought us through some of the most picturesque scenery we’ve seen. 170 runs along the US-Mexico border and, hence, the Rio Grande for about one hundred miles. It gives you views like this.

     


    Along the way, you can check out Terlingua, TX (pop. 58) just like Herman the Marfan German recommended. And it would be worth it. According to this sign, Terlingua is the birthplace of the chili cookout. The opaque residents live next to a ghost town.


    If you are wondering “Is that is a pirate ship AND a submarine conning tower in the middle of the desert?” Yes it is. Some people would have stuck around and engaged these residents. Not us because we are melting. My bet is, there are many episodes worth of podcasts in this town.

    The cemetery was crumbling and beautiful. I have never trusted a well-maintained cemetery. It’s too sterile. Makes it hard to imagine the age of the people underneath. Or maybe newer cemeteries hit a little too close to home. In a decrepit cemetery, I can pretend that people only died until the early 1900s and then technology took over and it’s all good now.

    After a respectful visit to the departed, it’s time to go.

    Last one into the Rio Grande is a rotten egg! (It was me)

    We got to Big Bend around 6p-ish. The heat and the driving takes a surprising amount of energy out of you.

    This is the only photo of a road runner that I was able to get.

    Here is a bug that I found fascinating. I took this photo to help identify it. No luck yet. Weird, right? It’s so rich in detail.

    Laundry Day! Chris thinks I have too many black articles of clothing. I disagree. There is definitely room on that line for more.

    Another hot and scenic day for the record books. At night we took a walk around the campground. You know when you walk around at night and shine a flashlight into the depths of a wooded area and you see pairs of ominous glowing eyes staring back at you? That happened tonight, except there were dozens of super tiny pairs of eyes. They were everywhere and it was so off-putting. I finally got enough nerve to look more closely at one and all of those creepy pinprick eyes belonged to some kind of spider. My minutes spent googling tell me that they were probably Wolf Spiders. I didn’t know spider eyes did that and now I have a lot of fodder for my nightmares. We also saw a black widow spider, just chilling on a branch all deadly and nonchalant.

     

     

  • Day ?? – City ?? – Year ??

    That heading is a little misleading, but the sentiment feels very true. I know where we are (Syracuse, NY) and I know the day and year. May 23, 2018, right?

    I know everyone “can’t believe it’s already *fill in month*“, but this time it feels so surreal to be writing this post on July 3rd (Happy Birthday, Uncle Chuck and Tom Cruise!) in my hometown. My amoeba brain cannot comprehend the things we have seen and the places we have been. So much has happened since Marfa and I do plan on writing about all of it. Like the nudist who let us stay at his property in the middle of nowhere, and all of the friends and family we have seen, and this…

    But from here on out, the blog will probably be as scattered as my brain feels.

    Day 67 coming up!

  • Day 66: Marfa, TX

    Both Chris and I had a negative view of Texas before this trip. Vast desert punctuated by large obnoxious cities and people with too large personalities. Sorry, Texas. You are actually quite beautiful and, though we may not agree politically, your people are very friendly. It is extremely rare for someone to come up to me in the U.S. and ask if I’m from out of town and then welcome me. That happened on a few occasions in Texas. The first time it happened, my guards were way up as soon as the man started walking towards us saying “Hey”. I thought, Here we go. He said, “You all are from out of town? Well welcome to Texas! What do you think of it?”

    You have a fine place here, sir.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Brianna introduced us to the existence of Marfa and suggested we check it out. I’m so very glad she did. Marfa would be an anomaly anywhere you put it. I’ve never been to another town like it. I think it’s what happens when creative hipsters go desert crazy. In the middle of Nowhere Texas lives this little enclave of artists, tasty food, and kitsch. Not everyone is rich, but it is very clear that someone with money and a fondness for minimalist art loves this place. James Dean’s last movie, Giant, was filmed here, as were parts of No Country for Old Men (and others). Antonin Scalia died at the Cibolo Creek Ranch just outside Marfa. And the mysterious Marfa ghost lights have been famous since the 19th century (we didn’t see the lights, sadly).

    We are still traveling through a heat wave and camping can be troublesome in these conditions, so we only stayed one night. Herman the German told us that wasn’t enough time. He suggested we stay 1-2 weeks. He also suggested some ways to improve the vanagon. All Germans appreciate a VW. Especially an older one.

    About 20% of the ~2,000 Marfans live below the poverty line. They sell 7oz of lotion at the bookstore for $85 and a $210 handbag. A dichotomy one usually finds in a bigger city. Maybe that’s what Marfa feels like. A big city condensed into a tiny town. A combination of the old desert community with the minimalist art of a Yankee.

    I went to the post office to get a stamp. The guy behind the counter knew everyone in line in front of me and everyone who arrived after me and they all knew each other. Hugs. Kiss Kiss. Handshakes. It was like being in the middle of a big party. I was enjoying the jovial crowd until I got to the counter. It felt like someone had turned off the music right in the middle of a favorite dance number. I don’t think Herman was right. My guess is you have to be here at least a few years to truly understand Marfa.








  • Day 65: Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains NP

    The driver side window broke today and we have to keep it taped shut.

    #vanlife

    Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.

    I like messing with mechanical stuff, and I thought I could fix it. Look at me trying to fix it so we can save ourselves a few hundred dollars. How is a window so expensive to fix?? BAHHHH!

    Luckily for the van, I didn’t have time to hate it for too long because we were on our way to Carlsbad Caverns NP and I have wanted to go there for a couple of decades to watch the bats. Please note that this does not mean I wasn’t in a pissy mood. We were traveling through the southwest during a heat wave in a van with no A/C and one window was not functioning. I’m not a saint, folks.

    When we got there we learned that the bats hadn’t arrived in full force yet and the night before they only saw 20 at the night flight. During migration, over 1,000,000 bats live in the caves! I can only imagine how spectacular those bat flights must be. We saw about 4,000 leave the cave to eat and that was still amazing. I love bats! We decided to come back the next day and hike the caverns.

    Carlsbad is one of the few National Parks we’ve been to that has a dog kennel. Of course, Clementine did not want to go into the kennel and she is a 90lb beast who cannot be forced into a cage if she isn’t feeling like that’s where she wants to be. Chris can be talked into it though, and he crawled into the cage to coax Clem into joining him. Poor Clementine. But, in torturing our dog, we were able to hike all of the trails in the cavern 750 feet underground. I love caves! I imagine that they are like the ocean floor, only without water and fish and sand and…whatever…it’s still like an empty ocean. The silence and the physical pressure of being so far underground makes you feel like you are wearing ear plugs. I found myself saying things out loud just so I didn’t get claustrophobic. The hike was easy until we decided that we would climb up and out the natural entrance. Most people hike in and down and take the elevator back up because it is 1.25 miles and very steep. The equivalent of climbing 79 stories. It is recommended that only those in good physical condition attempt it. It was difficult, I stopped about 79 times, and teenagers ran past me, but I emerged sweaty and victorious. Chris made it too, but he didn’t complain as much as I did.

    A tiny Chris is visible in this photo somewhere.

    A big empty ocean filled with representations of naked body parts.

     

    and ponds shaped like Africa.

    And super happy exhausted hikers!

    After Carlsbad, we headed out to Marfa via Guadalupe Mountains NP. This park is great for hardcore hikers without dogs. We are neither of those things. The view was still beautiful though. Guadalupe Mountains is the 50th most visited park out of 60.

     

  • July 10th: Happy Birthday, Buttons!

    Today is Chris’ 64th birthday! Doesn’t he look great for his age? By the way, that has to be the most backhanded compliment about age. “Wow! You’re this age?! You look amazing for being so close to death!”

    Since I am a horrible girlfriend and didn’t get Chris anything for his birthday, I am going to dedicate this post to him while he sits right next to me and watches the World Cup, eating Blarney Puffs and gazpacho in a pub in Concord, NH. By the way, we are in Concord, NH!

    There aren’t too many people that I can spend every waking minute, for 4 months, through heat waves, in a 60 square foot box that occasionally stops doing the only thing it is meant to do…take us from Point A to Point B. The van has been doing okay the last month though. It helps to park it in my mom’s driveway and not move it. The van seems to like that best. I can respect that.

    But this is a post about Chris, not the vanagon. He is a huge fan of listicles (a word I hate as much as ‘moist’, ‘loaf’, ‘shit hit the fan’, ‘shits and giggles’, ugh…like nails down a chalkboard). And Chris deserves his own listicle. This is not an exhaustive listicle because that would take too long and I need a present now.

    Reasons Why Chris is the Coolest Person on this Planet:

    1. He will go out of his way to make sure that I am happy. And I’m a poop who can get into some pretty poopy moods. Chris is the most understanding, gentle, and loving person I know.
    2. He will sing stupid songs with me and he knows, like, all the words to a ton of Weird Al songs. I have never met anyone else who enjoys the Tenacious Ds and Lonely Islands of the world as much as I do.
    3. I was going to list this first, but that felt like I was objectifying him, so now it goes here. Chris is a good-looking SOB with amazing legs (like rocks!) and a cute butt.
    4. His name is super French. Loooouis Christoooophe LaRooooche. It goes perfectly with my very English sounding name, Briiiiana Elizzzabeth Wentwooorth (Spelling changed for the conspiracy theorist in me. That might keep Google from finding us, right?). We are basically royalty and our parents are very important. Do you even know who we are?!
    5. We have traveled over 26,000 kilometers/16,000 miles and Chris has been behind the wheel for 95% of that. He is a stallion. I just googled it and he is more like an Arctic Tern. Chris is the industrious Arctic Tern to my Cat Dressed Like a Shark Riding a Roomba.
    6. He gets really excited when we pass airports. I’m still not sure why, but it’s adorable. He always says the same thing too, “Oh there’s the airport!” As if he has been looking for the airport near Ramseur, NC his whole life.
    7. It’s is entirely possible that he has been looking for the airport near Ramseur, NC his whole life.
    8. Chris can name all the flags of the world. All of them. Even the super obscure ones like Nauru, Kiribati, and France.
    9. You have never met anyone else who can spend as much time looking at a map. It can be the map of Ikea and bye bye Chris. He’s been doing this since he was a kid. That’s dorky awesome.
    10. Chris will eat or drink whatever you can’t finish, whatever is going bad, whatever just came out on your plate that you haven’t even started yet. Every city should supply a trash bin, recycle bin, compost bin, and a Chris. Welcome to your new home, here is your very own Chris.
    11. Not only does he apologize for being wrong every single time we disagree, but he manages to get me to apologize on the super rare occasion that I feel like maybe I could possibly consider the unlikeliness that I may be wrong sometimes too.
    12. He knows several phrases in several languages. Or he is really proficient at mimicking those languages. Either way, it’s impressive.
    13. Instead of going to college right away, he packed a bag and traveled all over the world by himself on a very tight budget.
    14. He lived in Cuba.
    15. The world has thrown a lot of garbage our way, and even though you want the one you love most to be the most happy, I can’t imagine going through all of it with anyone else.

    I love you so much, Buttons, and I am sorry that I am in an inexplicably poopy mood on your day. You are handling it like a champ though.

    This is my favorite series of photos on the trip so far.


     

    P.S. I’m sure Chris would like me to correct an earlier misstatement. He is 46, not 64.

  • Day 64: White Sands National Monument, NM

    White Sands is my favorite place in the world. There isn’t much to do, and there are only a few colors to the landscape’s palette, but it is like nothing I have ever seen in all my travels. As I learned on this trip, if the sky is overcast, there are even fewer colors. When I first visited White Sands in 2003, I thought it was beautiful because of the simplicity. But every time I revisit, it gets more complex and profound. Not only is it physically demanding trudging up and down the sand dunes, but there are so many different textures and patterns. And if you get turned around, there isn’t a unique tree or creek to reorient you. Trying to distinguish distances, grade, and direction is difficult when everything is just different shades of white. The simplistic surroundings are deceiving and can be disorienting in the most wonderful way.

    Late November 2007, I came back a second time and camped out. There have only been a few times in my life so far where I knew I was in danger. One of the worst was being grossly unprepared for camping out in White Sands in late November. I had a tent, a sleeping bag, and my Razr phone (hot pink). During the day I was able to walk around comfortably in the only outfit I packed…a skirt and a t-shirt (no socks, no hat, no pants). Without the sun, it got down to the 30s. My toes were so cold that I couldn’t feel them and I shivered the entire night. My toes never did warm up. I wanted to call somebody, but there was no cell service. It got so bad that I started to compose a “if you are reading this, then I did not make it through the night” text. I survived though. As soon as the sun came up, I packed up and got out. My toes were so numb, and the sand was so cold. The walk back was very painful and all I had was a pair of sandals. Naturally, I was hooked on this place.

    photos from 2007

     

     

     

     

     

     

    After we lost Madoc, Chris and I traveled around the southwest for a month in an attempt to recenter ourselves. I introduced him to White Sands. We camped out at site 1. That evening a magnificently huge orange moon rose over the mountains. It was magical. Chris and I buried some of Madoc’s ashes under the full moon at the site. It was one of the places I was really looking forward to introducing to him. I think he would have loved it.

    photos from 2017

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    There was no way we weren’t coming back here on this trip. This is the first time I’ve visited when the sky wasn’t a brilliant blue. It made the whole experience seem even more dreamlike. We drove the vanagon and decided to camp out overnight again. There are only 10 sites available and it was not peak season, so we snagged one. Strictly speaking, you are not supposed to sleep in your car, but we didn’t have a tent, so that’s what we did.

    photos from 2018