Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Joseph Neal Johnson died in his sleep on May 22, 2008, about 10 1/2 months after returning home from this incredible trip. He suffered from epilepsy, though it never held him back from driving a van across an entire continent, getting his PADI dive certification, and living life with a beautiful fierceness.

This blog encapsulates our story through our travels – a source of trial and adventure that I could not be more thankful for. Not a week before Joe passed away I was re-reading this blog, feeling the vibrancy and potency of our lives rush over me in a wave of nostalgia and yearning. This year together was the highlight of my life, something that can never be taken from us. I will never regret a moment of it.

I'm dedicating myself to designing a book about this trip, however long that may take. This man meant the whole world to me. Please, if anyone is reading this, feel free to email me or comment, I would love a collection of photos and stories. Will keep posting about book progress. Miss you Cuy.
Love, Rachel

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And They Lived ______ Ever After...

26,964 miles later, we returned to Los Angeles bathed in sweat that only the Arizona Desert can provoke. Following the same sentimental route of our very first journey with Günther, we've completed the homestretch from Phoenix to LA for hopefully the last time, ever. The life we once knew has evolved into something undeterminable at the moment, a haphazard space of dusty boxes, a generous handful of people we love throughout the city, the ebb and flow of question marks, a loyal van we call home. Our trip for the last year has been an enormous, beautiful, difficult, dynamic undertaking. Our post-trip musings have produced some things we'd like to review for a moment:

Days on the road: 342
Total U.S. states: 35
Total countries: 10
Northermost point: Fairbanks, Alaska
Easternmost: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Southernmost: Panama City, Panama
Stolen property: 1 bike (Vancouver)
Mechanical holdups: 1 axle, 1/2 engine, 1 tire, 1 wheel bearing, 1 brake hose, 1 coolant pipe, 1 radiator fan
Photos taken: 5,813
Friends & family visited: 73
Animals hit: 0
Tickets we talked our way out of: 4
Cops paid off: 1 ($20 to the only cop with an actual radar gun)

Things We've Learned
1) If you want to find out if you really, truly, love somebody, travel with them for a year in a van.
2) The U.S. is the most beautiful country I have seen on the planet.
3) Bats and bears don't actually care that much about killing you.
4) Forget focusing on the destination and experience the journey.
5) Despite warnings, propane burners can be used for personal heating.
6) Fruit picked in the wild tastes 10 times better.
7) Though the South may have lost the war, they won with the deep fryer.
8) Baby goats sometimes look like puppies, but my real dream is to one day snuggle a manatee.
9) Guatemalan women are tougher than the men and burros combined.
10) Flushing toilet paper is a privilege you take for granted as an American.

1) Surfing with friends in clean, warm, uncrowded surf is the most fun thing to do on earth.
2) When encapsulated in an air-tight van, women produce just as much gas as men.
3) Just because a vendor is 8 years old, doesn't mean you have more haggling experience than them.
4) All the people with the worst stories about Central America have never actually been themselves.
5) While capitalism may be the best system for creating wealth for the masses, Central American capitalism is the best system for creating wealth for 5 people.
6) There is no bottom to the dark pit known as Korean thriftiness.
7) A man is not complete until he has repaired his own vehicle. With duct tape.
8) The beauty and enjoyment of a destination is intrinsically linked with the difficulty of reaching it.
9) The Alaskan man is first judged by the quality of his beard, then his character, and finally by his moose pepperoni.
10) A shot of tequila a day keeps the parasites away.

The next step? Ask us a bit later. For now we just want to see our families, pick up the pieces, and figure it all out. Think of it as more of an ellipses...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Limping Home

Upon hitting the northernmost regions of Mexico, our sentimental Günther has protested in the most inconvenient of ways. It seems he's grown quite attached to life south of the border, preferring to bask in the constant sunshine of carefree retiree livin'. We've had to drag him kicking and sputtering through the intense heat of the Sonora desert, relying on the ingenuity of Mexican Mechanics.

In case your experience with Mexican Mechanics is limited, allow me to enlighten you. They are the most rapid, straightforward, and creative repairmen around. Who needs the Capitalistic society of "parts" and "factory settings" when all you really need is a length of recycled hose, some spliced wires, a toggle switch, and a few second-hand clamps? Appointments, estimates, waiting? Try same-day service, 20 bucks, and jerry-rigging galore. It may not be the Volkswagen Dealership Standard, but it certainly beats tooling around Navajoa when all you really want is return to the sweet soil of Home.

Speaking of which, we are a mere day away from the Nogales Arizona border. Strange, yet true. Our main focus right now is marathonning it back to Los Angeles, until we hear the sweet comforting rattle of our tailpipe echoing in the driveway on Fairfax. What comes next is up in the air, as the fine Mexican dust settles and we take time to look at the result of our lives after nearly a year straight on the road.

- Rach

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wreaking Hammock

Enough with the freakish beauty of mexi-mannequins, let's talk about us for a while. For the past 10 days or so we have been reveling in the bounty of Mexico's surf from Guerrero to Michoacan. These 2 bastard step-children of Mexican states are much maligned due to the fact that copious amounts of pot are grown in the mountains and smuggled northward. But, thanks in part to this reality, we have 400kms of pristine, mostly uncrowded surf.

We've been making our way north slowly, stopping for fun surf and some serious hammocking. We're talking 8 hours in a day sometimes... of hammocking that is. Spots like La Ticla have been our highlight where we live for under $20 a day. The daily itinerary is typically something like this:

7:30 - wake up and surf
10:00 - eat breakfast
10:30 - read in hammock
1:00 - eat lunch (preferably in the hammock)
2:00 - surf again (try not to get fried by the unrelenting sun)
4:00 - more hammock
6:30 - surf until sunset
8:30 - order shrimp dinner
10:30 - after losing all hope of dinner ever coming we finally get served the shrimp
11:30 - nigh nigh time
Rinse and repeat.

So basically that's been it. Since most of you probably assume we are making up this whole surfing thing we got our buddy Luciano to take some pics to prove our existence. On film, just as in the water, Rachel looks extra beautiful and thoroughly more impressive than Igor the Goth Surfer. That's me.

Mexico, Land of Tropical Splendor.

- JJ

Friday, June 22, 2007

Back to Mama Ocean

Despite our brief period of feeling "beached out" on the Caribbean side, our return to the Pacific is like returning to the warm, wet embrace of an old friend (did that sound gross?). There's nothing like getting back into the water and onto a surfboard when you've missed it for a few weeks. It's very strange, yet comforting, to revisit familiar territory on our way back north, with a sense of already having mapped out this particular region of the globe.

To avoid sounding redundant, as this is repeat territory, I will give the gift of the random tidbit.

Throughout Mexico, storeowners/visionaries have a special gift that we like to call "mannequinnery." Only they know how to push a product from the realm of "want" to "must-have." I don't know how they do it, you really must experience it yourself to understand. You're welcome.

- Rach

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Take a Oaxaca on the Wild Side

Just as I was about to give up on this brilliant mess of a country, Mexico pulls a classic Luchador comeback and completely redeems itself. For those wondering if my fever has finally overtaken me, I'm fine. I am simply infected with the ridiculously delicious culture of Oaxaca, Mexico D.F. and the highlands. Infected!!! Get it?... Like a fever.... you know, with a temperature and bacteria... Ehh?

All Peter Griffinisms aside, I think I finally realized what we were missing. Actual legitimate cities. We're not talking about fabricated tourism concepts but real, huge, smelly, vital, intellectual, commercial and artistic crossroads. In the last 10 days we've gone from the highly artistic, passionate and political Oaxaca, to Mexico DF, the grandaddy of Mexican cities. DF is a proud cultural epicenter that feels like a slightly friendlier but even more unapologetic version of New York. It goes without saying we loved them both and the blogging batteries are recharged.

Since the cities are so different I won't try to compare the two but instead throw out some general truths that you learn, hopefully quickly, in major Mexican cities:

Transportation - Don't bother driving. Lanes are merely a suggestion, as are stoplights. Although I find it fun in a Nintendo sort of way, it's only a matter of time until your vehicle looks as crappy as the one next to you. Buses and metros, on the other hand, are a steal at 20 cents and go just about everywhere you wouldn't want to take your car.

Food - Every city has their regional speciality that should not be missed. So long as you know your limits. Oaxaca has seven different delicious mole sauces but they will also look you dead in the eye and tell you not to miss their grasshopper rellenos. When all else fails there are always jugos (juices). They blend anything you wish and do it in style. To our fascination we found out that there is also a weekly magazine called "Jugos". I think I should take a job there just so I can see the most creative editor on earth come with 50 pages of content about juice every week.

Architecture - Buildings in DF are more beautiful when guarded by Federales in riot gear. In Oaxaca all structures must have be adorned with at least 5 different layers of paint, exposed brick, and graffiti that all bleeds into aesthetic perfection. Also of note, Rachel has found that unsuspecting Mayan folk in front of buildings make for the best architectural photos.

History - When it comes to pyramids, bigger is better. It doesn't matter if you use it for anything, so long as it's at least a gigantic lounge chair for a ruler. Oh yeah, and when that ruler dies, it's best to cover his skull with precious stones to make sure whoever sees him in the afterlife knows he was super important.

Art - Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera rule the school in Mexico and prove that it's better to not care about patrons and commissions. As Diego could attest, JD Rockerfeller didn't like the same stuff he did. This particular masterpiece of a mural was recreated in the Presidential Palace of DF after "The Rock" destroyed the original in NYC for which he commissioned Rivera site unseen. Why is it that capitalists and communist have so much trouble finding common ground?

and finally....

Entertainment - When in Rome, hop on a train to the other side of the tracks, scalp tickets outside of a stomping coliseum, and enjoy the complete splendor that is Lucha Libre. After the madness subsides, what else can you do but put on a Mystico mask, buy a few more for the road, and marvel at the grotesque way in which oily, sweaty latin men legitimately bring families together.

I hope this was informative and helpful. Just in case you didn't learn anything we would like to leave you with a parting shot of the Mexican Hairless that fearlessly guarded our RV park. BTW, did you know that older Mexicans enjoy this particular breed because their black, sun-trapping, hairless bodies retain heat late into the night, making them an excellent hot water bottle capable of easing the ills of arthritis? And they cry real tears.


Thursday, June 07, 2007


So I've noticed that a few of our friends are disappointed because I haven't blogged in a while. First I have to say, start a blog and tell me how easy it is to keep it up religiously for almost an entire year. On second thought, don't start a blog. There are way too many of them out there already. Unless, of course, you want to divulge some sordid details of your personal life. After all, that's what blogs spawned from and really is the only thing that gets the electronic butts in the seats. Yes JR I'm talking to you. Just let it all out.

After a few weeks back in Mexico I must admit Rach and I are feeling a bit homesick. We have even humoured the thought of bee-lining it for Gringolandia. I know what you are thinking... especially those reading this at work. "Those ungrateful bastards have the trip of a lifetime and they're wasting it by wallowing in homesick misery." Just hear me out. Look, we've been on the road a really long time. Almost eleven months. Though the Yucatan, Chiapas, and basically all of Mexico aren't without their charms, we are just finding it harder to get excited.

Maybe it doesn't help that we only mastered survival Spanish and didn't quite cross-over into "deep personal connection Spanish." Linguistical nuances aside, once you've gone down the whole coast you constantly compare every meal to a previous one that was just a little better and cheaper. Once-charming interactions with the colorfully dressed Mayan street vendors are now windows into a depressingly impoverished existence. In short, cobblestone streets have become simply bumpy, and picturesque beaches have been reduced to just a photo.

Besides being a bit jaded, what it really comes down to is we miss the family and friends that allow us to feel. We miss celebrating successes, supporting in hard times, and just some good old-fashioned hanging out with familiar faces. There! That is my entire case. I hope this blog doesn't burst the "Joe and Rachel are livin' the dream" bubble. And if it does just go ahead and write it off to the fact that Im lying in bed on the 3rd day of a seemingly undefeatable fever.

Oh yeah. These are a bunch of pictures of ruins and charming colonial cities in Mexico. You should visit them some day.