Monday, March 30, 2015

THE WINTER IN REVIEW

What a trip. 

Yes, I say that every year. And every year I really mean it. As I wade through the thousands of pictures that I've taken over the five months I reminisce as I go - recalling each place, event or situation.  I get lost in it. Making it days rather than hours to bring it all together.

Photo editing and summarizing five months of traveling is a task I find daunting. On the other hand, it is fun to relive our adventures south one more time before moving on.

A mixture of sadness of things past but excitement about what all is to come. 

Thanks for letting me get all sentimental for a moment. 

Now, in the spring sitting here on a real sofa, we have a chance to go over the plans we made in the fall and how they panned out. 

Was this the right trip for us? Yes and no. Of course every winter's travels comes with the good and the bad. Although we live in a van it's still a life with all the ups and downs - just because we are traveling doesn't mean that it is all sunshine and roses. I swear - one day I'm going to retitle this blog to 'A Life Made Complicated'. There are days......

The main difference for us this year was the decision to stay put in one place for the bulk of our time south. Generally we start getting restless after seven days and ten days is really pushing it - so our 74 days in Zihuatanejo was an all out - hands down - record. We really struggled with it. By early January we were itching to see something new and darn tired with all of the critters and humid heat - the tropics is definitely not our ideal environment. Yes, we were looking for heat but - wow - how do people live in that year around!?

How can we complain though, because really, how many people get to spend 2 1/2 months at the beach! And we did have some really good times.....

I took a poll and we all agree that the month of February - our return trip home through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Washington was the best part of our trip. We found a few new places but most of our stops were at our most favourite places. A huge trip down memory lane. Exactly what we needed for this - our sixth and final winter south - for the foreseeable future anyway.

So, here we go - these are the pictures that jumped out at me.


Our winter travels were off to a great start with our stop at Lava Hot Springs the night before and then finding this the next day. Our very own hot springs in the river going by the town of Lava Hot Springs. That combined with a warm fall day made it perfect. The Wood Clan loves natural hot springs!


Not a bad way to spend a day. Just west of Soda Springs, Idaho.


No one said we weren't weird. Who knew that throwing your kids flip flop into the air could be so much fun! Even Rufus got in on the action.


Leaving Canada at the beginning of October meant we could enjoy taking our time moving south through the USA - particularly Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. In previous years we didn't leave until the middle to end of October. By that time the cold and snow was nipping at our heels.


The road south to it wasn't much fun but Flaming Gorge didn't disappoint. Too bad the campgrounds were already closed.


We didn't care too much for Telluride - except for the free gondola of course - but we found a friend and kindred spirit in Juju (originally from France) over craft beer at the Telluride Brewing Company.


They are making some seriously great craft beer and pizza at Colorado Boy in Ridgeway Colorado! A contender for our best pizza ever up against Paya' Deli in Dubois Wyoming and Moonspin Pizza in Thomasville, Georgia. But really, why choose - we stop and detour for great pizza.


Silverton, Colorado - our new favourite walk about town.



Life isn't always a dream. Sometimes things are down right chaotic in the van. 


We played - how many members of the Wood Clan and Torivio Tribe can we fit in the van! 9!
We truly enjoyed visiting with this family in New Mexico, Pat and Pam are raising a great group of kids. To see the whole family visit our post about our time with them here.


Derek and I once again enjoyed our visit to Carlsbad Caverns - which is saying a lot - I'm not really a cave kinda girl. On the other hand - it didn't hold much appeal for Cassia. Now, if the caves had had dinosaur statues......


Nothing much good about our drive through northern Texas where all the oil industry is taking place - especially when the van kept cutting out! But we did capture an amazing sunset.


We can't really say that following our friend Chris right through the city of Monterrey Mexico was a good thing but it definitely was memorable. We are still recovering!


We enjoyed our week long respite at Chris and Juan's in Santiago. Their generosity and hospitality knows no bounds.


From there we headed to the amazing city of Guanajuato. As a lover of cities and past Architect, I couldn't get enough of this place. I'd still be there now if it was possible.


It was here that we met and befriended the Vargas family - again whose generosity and hospitality knew no bounds. We have remained in contact with the girls via facebook.


If there was one place in particular that we wanted to return to from our first winter in Mexico in 2012/2013, it was the city of Patzcuaro and just as important the Patzcuaro Hotel & RV Park. The little cozy cabin is the real draw here complete with a fireplace. We've been here three times now for a total of 18 days. We'll miss it.



We were happy to arrive at our destination for the winter - Zihuatanejo, Mexico. 


There are a few RV parks to choose from at Playa La Ropa with El Manglar being our favourite. For us - full hookups and wifi goes for $12.50 per night. For the larger rigs it is closer to $20.


It was nice to get reacquainted with the friends we had made at El Manglar and Playa La Ropa two years ago - first up - Bernie our Oaxacan cheese guy.


We made fast friends with this local stray just after we arrived. It left a hole in our lives and hearts when Cous Cous disappeared three weeks later.


One of our favourite restaurants on the beach and one of my favourite pictures with Cassia. Those two pina coladas weren't so bad either!


I can only imagine how many hours we spent at the beach! I'd say an average of 3 or 4 hours a day - multiplied by by 74 days - a whooping 296! No wonder we were so tanned!


We won't soon forget all the cats and dogs we visited with and walked at the Zihuatanejo Humane Society. 


Although we aren't the most social people in the world - we did enjoy visiting with our RV parks friends - especially at Christmas and New Years.


And speaking of New Years.....what a show on the beach!


Can you tell it was REALLY hot when this picture was taken. Cassia still misses and talks about her friends Kayden and Keller here with their mom Therese.


For the first time ever, a family member met up with us while on our winter travels. Derek's mom returned to Zihuatanejo after stopping there on a cruise ship 35 years ago. We enjoyed touring her around to all of our favourite places. Another death march to town Audrey?!


The crew from El Manglar - a great group of guys.


And the crew from the beach - more great guys!


Our last stop in Mexico - at the Immigration office dropping off our vehicle import sticker and getting our passports stamped. Thanks again Mexico! For the second time you enchanted us with your beautiful landscape, amazing cities and friendly people. 


Happy to be saying hello from our favourite boondocking spot near Study Butte, Texas. Cassia was thrilled to return to Cassia mountain and is certain she will visit there one day with her husband.


How a five year old creates a fort in a camper van. Inside is complete with pillows, books and toys - and the five year old!


Derek and I hadn't been to Bisbee since 2008. Too bad we'd forgotten how great it was or we'd been back before now. It's unanimous with the Wood Clan that our three days in Bisbee was our favourite part of our winter trip.


Our little gypsy girl fit right in.


A trip south wouldn't be complete unless we stopped at the Shell station at exit 118 by Gila Bend and the Lowe's just up the road in Buckeye.


Our stop at Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge is always a highlight. A touch cooler here in southern Nevada then the day before in central Arizona!


Nevaeh, Cassia's playmate at our friends place in Nampa Idaho. She's one of Rufus's biggest fans.


The last few days heading to the border went mostly smooth - just a few flurries - for that we are thankful. We've had worse weather heading home in March and April.


We have to say that returning to this was definitely a highlight of our winter.

Here are the numbers:

As always I only keep track of our milage, how much we spend on gas, and tolls in Mexico. Oh - and how much we spend on overnights. I used to try to keep track of the rest but gave that up a few years ago.

total miles driven: 7,640 miles (12,295km!!) from Oroville, Washington to our most southern point Zihuatanejo and back to Fintry Provincial Park BC. Hardly anything! Our shortest trip mileage wise in the last four years. Last year to North Carolina and back was well over 11,000 miles!

total gas cost: $2,100 The best winter ever for the gas budget. Thanks mainly I suppose to the low prices in the USA on the way home. The average price on the way down was $3.01/gallon with a high of $3.99 and a low of $2.87. When we arrived into Mexico the price was $1.08/liter which had risen to $1.15/liter on the return north. Back through the USA the average gas price was $2.30/gallon with a high of $2.99 and a low of $1.99. Those numbers could have been lower but we used 87 or better grade. All in all a great year for gas it was cheap compared to last years $3,600!

total toll road cost: $130 In Mexico we have to or choose to take the cuota - toll road. Often, but not always, they are shorter and smoother.

total propane cost: $75 Not much but yes, we only relied on it solely for two months. However, we did cook with it during the months in Mexico.

total overnight cost: $1,283! The most ever! $246 last year! That is an average of $14 per night though and that's not bad. We don't usually stay in RV parks preferring to boondock or stealth camp - but we knew we'd be taking this on when we decided to spend most of the winter in Mexico at one park. For being mere steps a way from a beach like Playa La Ropa with all the services we can hardly complain at $12.50 night.

total craft breweries visited: 12 Not many this year compared to last winter's 44. However, that does knock out grand total of craft breweries visited to 61. The low number this year was due to the fact that we only spent two months in the USA. We did find one craft brewery in Mexico, in Guanajuato - but since it is still new there the prices were steep.

Those are the numbers: 

The highlights for us were: 

+  Soaking at Lava Hot Springs and the natural pool in the river and then driving about 30 miles in two days just dawdling along enjoying the great fall temperatures.

+ I can't say that the Million Dollar highway was my favourite but we sure did enjoy our time visiting the towns of Ridgeway and Silverton.

+ Visiting the World Heritage Site of Guanajuato City in Mexico. WoW.

+ All of our beach days at Playa La Ropa in Zihuatanejo. 

+ Returning yet again to one of our favourite areas in Texas and in fact the USA. From Langtry over to Marathon down to Study Butte/Terlingua and back up to Alpine and Marfa. 

+ Our time in Bisbee. For many reasons Bisbee is our kind of town. We could live there.

Of course the low points were our continued issues with the van's alternator and fuel pump. Unbelievably we got both replaced last winter and then had to do it all over again this winter. All we can say is that the new, pricey Ford fuel pump, is still working. Plus we got the master cylinder changed out in Nampa.

And the of course our expired bank cards......

And that was that.

Teresa




Thursday, March 26, 2015

SPOKANE TO OUR NEW HOME

Following a good, albeit cold, night sleeping on the street in Spokane, we headed out early Friday morning. 

Really early for us - 7:30am. The original plan was to hit Trader Joe's first, but on second thought we scrapped that. We just didn't have it in us to go driving around Spokane and we knew we had a busy day ahead - best to get an early start.

We liked our route so much from the Canadian border to Spokane back at the beginning of October, that we did it in reverse. Strange to be going through almost exactly five months later.


Since we were on the west side of Spokane it didn't take us long to be making our way out - west on the #2. 


We always enjoy travelling through the State of Washington - particularly the eastern side.


Davenport and the Blackbear Motel and Cowboy Cafe was our first stop. Nope - we hadn't gotten far but we needed breakfast and we knew this was the place to stop. Last time was March 21, 2012.


The Cowboy Cafe - one of our favourite restaurants. Our timing was good too - it was about 8:30 am.


Cas was not a fan of this location for a photo as you can see on her face.


Excellent breakfasts at the Cowboy Cafe - Derek had the full breakfast with biscuits and gravy and I had the egg sandwich.


Not much out here but beautiful nonetheless. Particularly with no snow!


At Wilbur we got on the 174 headed north west which would take us to Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam.



The Dam. We stopped here last fall for a good look around so no stopping today.



It wasn't long before we went from this to ....


this. If there was one place I thought we would encounter snow it was here. But nothing...


except for this jet. Amazing that I got a picture of it. Derek and I heard the sound first of course and were looking to see what was causing it. Case closed.



After 5 months on the road it was starting to feel a lot like home!


We stopped for a while at the Walmart in Omak to stock up on some groceries  - mainly dairy - and to spend the rest of our American money. We had fun - new towels and blankets for our new home and some toys for Cassia - large lego blocks and Jenga.

Then a run to the border!

Oroville is the last American city with Osoyoos the first Canadian city.



Our last picture in the USA - waiting to be questioned interrogated.

Not long after this we were invited into the Customs office - hmmmm. Interesting because after all our winters south we've never been asked to come in on the way back into Canada. 

I guess something about the painting on our van, our ages and the fact that we had just come from three months in Mexico sent up a few flags.

That's ok we had nothing to hide. 

However, 2 1/2 hours with a five year old on very uncomfortable wood slatted benches was not ok.

We sat longingly staring out the window watching everyone else drive by including at least 5 snowbird rigs.

I won't go on - but let's just say we were a little grumpy by the time they let us go.

Especially when we looked at the clock and realized it was 3:20pm! I'm pretty sure we arrived somewhere between 1 and 1:30pm.


Still, we were happy to be home! 

If you have been following along for a bit you'll know that getting to our bank was first on our list. Sadly, now that we were so late that wasn't an option as it was about 45 minutes away and closed at 4:00pm. 


On the 97 now between Osoyoos and Oliver. An orchard area.


Riding along side Osoyoos Lake.



By the time we reached Westbank - the last urban area before our park it was late. Much later than anticipated - around 5:30 pm. Our new plan was to stealth camp overnight so that we could go to the bank and grocery store Saturday morning. 
Upon learning that our boss was waiting for us at Fintry, to let us in our new house, we headed there.



We had heard that Westside Road from the south was narrow and winding. That does NOTHING to describe this road! With all the miles we have covered from one end of the USA to the other and even down into Mexico and back TWICE, we have never been on such a bad road. 

And I thought the Millon Dollar Highway was nerve wracking! Ha!

Westside Road is narrow and winding but with steep drop offs and no barricades! 

Too bad I don't have any pictures but really - I had both hands glued to the armrests. 

Good thing it's under construction!

Just as it was getting dark we pulled into our new driveway at Fintry Provincial Park!

We were thrilled - the lights were on!

It was cute and cozy and even better than we imagined. After meeting our boss for the first time and having a look around - we brought in as much of our stuff that we needed for the night. 

It was good to be home.

Those pictures coming up soon!

But first - next post I will do what I always do after our winter trip - post a summary of our travels south - all the facts and figures and our final thoughts.


Teresa


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