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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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How'd You Do That, Oaxaca

Apr 11, 2016
by John

Many have asked us how are we able to travel, answering is sometimes difficult. We understand that not everyone has disposable income, some have to work several jobs just to break even. We admit that we are extremely fortunate, getting to where we are is a direct result of good luck and hard work. We had known for sometime that we would be making a life change or would be taking a break from traditional living, what we haven't completely spelled out is exactly how we achieved it.

I'm an application developer by trade so working remotely is possible. While I have attempted to limit the amount of work performed during the beginning of our trip, I have completed a few projects that provide some income while we travel. The amount coming in is less than what we are spending so at some point I will need to work more or our trip will come to an end. It's an understanding we had when we set off and one we will reevaluate sometime down the road.

Obviously we have been using savings to cover our deficit so that's what I'll attempt to explain. In the beginning of our marriage we shared a car, realizing the financial benefit we immediately downsized to a single automobile when we started making the necessary changes to save money instead of spending it all. Having only one insurance payment, maintenance costs, state registration, and a single fuel tank to fill was huge. Instead of spending more on other things we diverted the costs we would have incurred from the second vehicle directly into our savings account. This was hard to implement due to competing and demanding schedules. Ultimately I was able to work two full time tech jobs and Mandi her accounting job all while sharing one set of wheels.

After moving into a smallish home, 800 square feet - a palace compared to the van, we made a bunch of other small changes such as bringing our lunch to work, eating out only on special occasions, reducing cable television to only the basic channels (then cutting it off all together), limiting vacations to visiting family or friends, severely reducing purchases to critical replacements and real food only, setting the thermostat to the coldest and hottest we could bear during winter and summer respectably, exercising at home, borrowing or watching movies we already owned, walking to and from work, and working two jobs when possible.

In all honesty the single most effective and difficult change was living on the smaller of our two regular incomes. This allowed us to save the second one in its entirety and all income earned from second and/or odd jobs. It was not easy, we sacrificed a lot of time from our family and friends, one of the largest costs of saving. Would we do it again? In the heartbeat of a hummingbird!

What We Did

We spent roughly 20 days in the Oaxaca area starting at Overlander Oasis in Santa Maria del Tule, moving to a house within the city when Mandi's mom flew in, then a few more nights at Overlander Oasis, before venturing to Hierve el Agua. The events listed in this post are jumbled a little to make it more cohesive.

Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Mandi's mom flew in to visit us so we parked the van and moved into a house about 10 blocks from the Zocalo. Parked the van means we had to leave it at the home owner's parents place once we realized it wouldn't fit at the rental after I grazed a wall with our front bumper. It was unnerving to be without our home on wheels but a nice reprieve to lounge about in what equates to a mansion these days.

Semana Santa had just passed but the city was still filled with artisans and street side markets. It was a great introduction to Mexico for Lee and a culinary treat for all of us. Oaxaca City is what we call a cross between Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, minus the gringos. Our time was spent perusing the streets, catching a dinner show, exploring the surrounding area, playing cards/Rummikub, and gaining weight. It was a great first visit and a wonderful time with Mandi's mom.

Templo de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

Huh, huh. That church has boobs

Templo de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

You think they were compensating for something?

Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico


Teotitlan del Valle

A small Zapotec village full of silk and wool artisanal craftspeople among others, several traditionally steeped over many generations. We hired a wonderful bilingual driver (pepecuaches *at* gmail *dot* com) to help us leisurely explore a few recommendations from Overlander Oasis. Our first stop was Arte Seda, where a silk artisan did her best to educate us despite our poor Spanish. The hand made silk scarves were absolutely beautiful, expectedly priced out of our range.

Arte Seda, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Yum, Mexican Cheetos

After lunch we visited El Tono de la Cochinilla and learned about the process of dying, spinning, and crafting wool rugs. The natural process is quite fascinating and the explanation was fantastic, especially since it was in English for us gringos. A highlight was when a Cochineal, an insect, was squished to show us where the red dye comes from. Mandi and Lee got to try out spinning wool thread while I hid behind my camera. They were even kind enough to show us how the wool being dyed blue is yellow until it is exposed to air. Within a minute it turned green before settling into a beautiful blue. Of course we had to buy a small rug for the van!

El Tono de la Cochinilla, Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

We asked for fiber in our lunch but this is just ridiculous

El Tono de la Cochinilla, Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

You might want to get that checked

El Tono de la Cochinilla, Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Now weave me a damn sweater

El Tono de la Cochinilla, Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

How Ziploc figured out yellow and green make blue

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule

Driving highway 175 from Veracruz was fantastic. Its windy mountain roads and spectacular views made us feel as though we were in Western North Carolina. It was even complete with the misty fog, reminiscent of the Great Smoky Mountains. Overlander Oasis is the home of former Overlanders, Leanne and Calvin, and a paradise for those on the road. The hot shower is phenomenal, the hosts - there are none better.

The revolving door of travelers during our two stays was great. We met Fred & Elisabeth, a New Zealand couple traveling in a 1957 Mercedes Benz sedan pulling a lightweight tent trailer. Sonja & Klaus, a northbound couple in a sweet Sprinter based rig. The Cohen family of 5, rolling in a minivan with a huge ground tent. Bea and Helmut, hardcore motorcyclists who've been driving around the world for almost 5 years.  Jenna & Josh, a couple in a Tundra and Four Wheel Camper we finally got to meet after messaging a few times, they are also class of 2015 Pan-Amers.

Highway 175, Oaxaca, Mexico

Are you sure we're not in the Smokies?

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oasis, Ok maybe so

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

The po po be rollin' sweet in Tule

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Those don't look like Chiclets, give me my 5 pesos back

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico


Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Germans are always working, always

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Awww, Morena is so cute

We had planned to escape the melee of Semana Santa by hiding out and reading books at Overlander Oasis, after a few days we were ripping our jack knife sofa apart to make a more comfortable bed. While we were at it we figured we should improve its usability by making it a bit more modular. The cushions can now be used as an upper bed to take full advantage of the air flow provided by our pop top. The cushions fit in place on the jack knife by aligning the plugs with the corresponding holes, Velcro strips and a snap strap on the back cushion keep them in place. Four one inch square galvanized tubes are used for support when moving the cushions up top, they sit in the original penthouse bed rails. Calvin insisted we also have wood attached to the jack knife frame so we could use it as a second bed (with our camping mats) or platform when we have the cushions up top. We are so glad he did!

Why do one thing when you can do two, we wanted to fix the finish on our counter top and are now sporting a new one complete with white Formica and custom sink cutting board. Thanks again for all of the guidance Calvin, if you wouldn't have helped our sorry asses would probably still be living in front of your house, not that it's a bad place to be.

Two things eventually led to three... Our front end travel was extremely limited and we noticed a brace was hitting our front axle instead of our bump stops which are not aligned properly. The result was a bone jarring teeth shattering jolt each and every time we hit a large bump or pot hole. It was obvious that our front springs didn't have enough, or any, arc so we visited a shop recommended by Leanne and Calvin. Half a day later, and barely over $100 US, we have a click over 1.5 inches of more lift. Both our front and rear springs were adjusted so our beast of a van is a bit more beastly. The ride has significantly improved, significantly. We might be able to tighten our turning radius due to the increased height so we will be looking into our options. We've said it before, doing it over we'd go with the 6 inch lift kit.

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

I thought this van build shit was over

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Dear, I think you've taken the purging a bit too far

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Monk mode

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Foam party!

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sammy Davis Junior only had one eye

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mo' culluh, mo' culluh, mo' culluh

Overlander Oasis, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sometimes you gotta just be on top


A small set of ruins just outside of Santa Maria del Tule. We almost couldn't find them since they are completely surrounded by a Zapotec village. The different geometric patterns in the walls are really neat. Easily explored in an hour, we visited Mitla before heading to Hierve el Agua.

Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico

Phallic much?

Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico

And the winner of the 1st annual carving contest is...

Hierve el Agua

When we first saw pictures of Hierve el Agua we knew we had to see it for ourselves. Basically a petrified waterfall formed by mineral deposits, it was quite the spectacle. We ended up camping near some abandoned or no longer being used rental units all by ourselves for a little over $4 US. The hike down to get a better view of the waterfall is well worth it. Tours buses frequent the site, we imagine weekends could get really busy. At night it was blissfully quiet.

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Hey, that mountain barfed on those trees

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Who's gonna try a first descent?

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Goldie flocks

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Those tires tho

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Say what? (4)
Apr 11, 2016 at 02:28 PM
Nice post and pics (especially the Goldie Flocks) :)
Apr 19, 2016 at 09:34 PM
Thanks Sri!

We took about 100 photos of those bizarre flowers.
Apr 12, 2016 at 08:28 AM
Great post guys! Thanks for sharing.
Apr 19, 2016 at 09:36 PM
Thanks Eric!

We saw some pics of you and a travel trailer, did you sell your van or just up-size a little for family comfort?
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