Van-life: Finding Comfort in Discomfort

Culture, Environment, Food, Health, Self-Love, Travel

The idea of packing up your bags, loading up the car with your best friend and heading Southwest sounds like a dream, until you realize you need to make cooking, bathing, sleeping and all other human necessities happen out of a Kia Sedona.

Before leaving on our 3 month adventure, we did a lot of research on how other people were living out of their cars successfully, visiting natural wonders around the Southwest and planned our route; seeing picturesque landscapes, pimped out vans and happy travelers, we were ready to get out there. Don’t get me wrong, van-life is one of the coolest learning experiences one can enjoy in life and I wish for every person the opportunity, but I do want to highlight some of the challenges or unglamorous realities one faces while living out of a car/living outdoors that put you in positions of discomfort, ultimately helping you grow to become a more resilient, resourceful, life-hacking individual.

You will face:

  • The unforgiving extremities of nature (blazing hot sun, frosty cold altitudes)

From the Sonoran and Mojave desert to the canyon peaks in Colorado, its hard to find homeostasis when your body is adjusting to varying temps and altitudes.

While in the desert we made sure to pack the car with at least 5 gallons of water everywhere we went. You never know if your car will will break down and you’ll be waiting in the sun for hours; this didn’t happen to us but it likely could have!

If it wasn’t the dry desert heat beating down on us one day then it was the bitter cold reminding our fingers and toes how insignificant they are. These discomforts heightened my senses and awareness, the kinda feelings you lose when you live in a thermostat controlled home. By putting yourself in situations of discomfort, you awaken your senses to be receptive to the feelings of being warm, cooling down, resting sore muscles, all of the things that have become a given in your own home.

  • Keeping up with Personal Hygiene

Unless you’re living out of a vehicle with a water system, keeping up with personal hygiene gets tricky. California beaches have outdoor showers for beach goers which made it easier, albeit at times down right creepy to get a solid shower in public. Picture Venice beach, suns down, 12am and we’re showering with flashlights in hand.

Life-hack: If you find yourself a 5 gallon water container and enough privacy you can shower out in nature! We used a window curtain, ran a metal wire through it and attached carabiners on the ends to make a removable curtain; if you find a tree you can tie the water container to a tree and you have yourself a makeshift shower.

After leaving warm weather and outdoor public showers, we just started showering less altogether. What once was showering whenever desired in the comfort of one’s own home became a periodical luxury even if it was a shower in the back of a laundromat that lasted 5 minutes.

  • “Me time” with limited Space

Personal space and me time is hard to come by on the road if you are traveling with a partner, but I would much rather be on the road experiencing natures beauty with another person by my side… at least that’s my mentality until human annoyances get in the way which is expected when you’re sharing small spaces. Be prepared for bettering your communication skills and learning to compromise.

  • Driving long distances

If you want to see the beauty of national parks, other states, diverse landscapes, chances are you’re going to have to drive there.

Make the most out of spending hours in the car by taking photos, discovering new music, making pit stops, listening to podcasts, reading, having meaningful discussion, keeping an eye out for wildlife. Make the time you spend in the car as productive as possible.

  • Working around daylight

Daylight is your #1 friend on the road when you depend on it to scope out campsites, spot wildlife and stay warm, which means you’ll be planning your days around the sun.

Tip: Prep your food for the day and keep it in an easily accessible cooler, that way you can munch while driving. Easy to make foods that don’t require cooking like – sandwiches, fruit, nuts, etc. are great options. Another good reason to pack your food for the day is that once you get to your destination late at night, you won’t have to cook in the dark.

  • No Service, you’re off the grid

A blessing and curse. A chance to disconnect, breathe, be present. But where are we again?

Download maps! Mark your coordinates in your GPS so you’re able to use them offline.

  • Time of the Month for Women

Dealing with personal hygiene is hard enough as it is, add dealing with your monthly cycle on top of it all and things can get difficult.

Lucky for me and many other women who travel often, we have found some of the best goodies on the market for periods like menstrual cups, re-usable cotton pads and period underwear!

The menstrual cup I use is the Diva Cup and it can be left for up to 12 hours before emptying. Um hello full day of hiking a National Park without carrying tampons or having to stop and find a place to put them!(if that is even an option.) Worried about leaking? There’s a solution for that too! My favorite pair of underwear were gifted to me by a friend and made by Thinx, a rad company that uses a highly absorbent fabric to make their life-saving undies to wear on your flow days. (Thank you Sammy for being the first to bring Thinx into my life!)

I never have to worry about my period when I travel thanks to the women who found a problem with how products are designed for them and did something about it. They started their own companies and I am proud to be a supporter of reusable, comfortable, healthy, cost-effective, planet saving products.

  • Cooking

Ahhh besides the fuel you need to get around in a car, it’s easy to forget the fuel your body needs to enjoy your trip to it’s full potential.

I can’t count how many times we’ve forgotten to eat a meal while on the road, and it’s something that affects your trip more than you think.

Too tired to drive? Getting irritable? Try to recall the last time you ate. 4 hours ago? Get on munching the healthy foods and drinking water as soon as you can. Seeing the difference in my mood and outlook after munching on healthy food really puts me in check.

Don’t let being on the road and the challenges that come with it get in the way of your self care and health. Put your basic needs first so you can have the energy, positivity and patience to enjoy every experience.

Van life is worth giving up the comforts of home, routine, security; In exchange for stability you get the discomforts of the road that force you to remember the simple comforts every person needs – water, warmth, healthy foods, clean air, hugs – and come home with a new found appreciation for pretty much everything.

Sea Turtles… Friends or Food?

Culture, Education, Environment, Peace Corps, Travel

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Well, it turns out many people in Nicaragua eat sea turtles and their eggs even though it is illegal, there isn’t much regulation. At first it was really devastating to hear as an environmental education volunteer, and while it’s still devastating, I understand that eating sea turtle eggs is a tradition that has been passed down for generations, specifically on the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific. Since learning about this cultural norm, I’ve been asking many people in my community of all ages why they eat sea turtle eggs and if they are aware that sea turtles are an endangered species. I usually hear a local go on and on about how good the taste of sea turtle eggs are with lime and chili and I definitely cringe every time they tell me this, however, I have also learned that many locals depend on selling turtle eggs as their main source of income.

Sea Turtles serve a vital role in the health of the marine and dune ecosystem by being one of the few marine animals that eat sea grass. This is important because as the sea turtles eat the sea grass they keep it healthy and allow the grass beds to spread across the ocean floor, where other marine species such as crustaceans, shellfish and other fish species develop homes and nests. There has been a big decline in sea grass beds and scientists say this can be due to the decline in sea turtles. So the less sea turtles, the less sea grass beds and ultimately the less biodiversity in the ocean overall.

Shrinking sea turtle populations also effects the health of the dune ecosystems. When sea turtles are ready to lay their eggs, they will find an area on the beach or dune and the unhatched eggs, hatchlings and eggshells leftover provide nutrients to the vegetation growing on the dunes. With more nutrients we get stronger plants, with stronger plants we get stronger roots, which leads to healthier and stronger dune ecosystems that will suffer less erosion. With the rise in consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, our dune ecosystems are suffering immensely.

So how can we conserve one of the oldest species on the planet?

Educational events

Beach patrolling

Relocating eggs to sanctuaries

Turtle liberation events

Campaigns

Eco-tourism

Government Regulation

All of the things listed above support positive behavior change, the most difficult and impactful change that can occur in conservation and development work.

After realizing how much my town enjoyed eating sea turtle eggs, an endangered species, and living close to the pacific coast,  I was conflicted as an environment volunteer; it was a challenge. However, I used this obstacle as inspiration for my sea turtle conservation project that I facilitated with the help of my teachers and a local NGO. A group of 20 students, 3 teachers and myself coordinated a sea turtle conservation day that consisted of an outdoor classroom setting where we showed the students the sea turtle sanctuary and nest area, as well as explained the life cycle of the sea turtles and why they are endangered. By the end of the day, my students and teachers understood how the consumption of turtle eggs correlated to their decline and endangerment as a species; What once stood out to me as a cultural norm that could not be changed turned into an opportunity for education and discussion. 

With strong motivation, creativity, and teamwork I have found the challenges that are presented to you as a Peace Corps volunteer become your best projects and relationship building moments during service.

Grow baby, Grow!

Peace Corps

As Peace Corps Volunteers here in Nicaragua, we are each excited to get to our communities, start making connections and planning projects that will hopefully lead to  long-term sustainable change. We get to our assigned sites with intentions to meet  as many local people as possible like community leaders; the mayor, the school directors and teachers so we can get a feel for their interests and needs to start planning potential projects.

I was most eager to get my hands dirty and start a personal gardening project with a local farmer. Lucky for me, my host uncle has a farm just 2 Kilometers from my home with plenty of fertile soil and cow manure! (an important ingredient to successful gardening) After all the information we received on organic composts, pest control, and veggie gardens, I could not wait to put it all to practice.

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Soliciting the leader of the herd for some quality poop to use for the compost

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Bike ride to the farm

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Tilling the soil (so fertile!)

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Compost mixed and ready in a month

This is a one-month compost pile that consists of dirt, cow manure, dry leaves, green leaves, ash and a bit of water. It should be ready in a month to feed my growing plants!

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Created four beds to plant cucumber and radishes

The tilling of the soil probably took the longest to prepare since the space was covered in weeds before we got to digging. It was a miracle that I was able to convince my host brother and sister to come out to the farm and help me, especially after seeing how dirty I get after a day on the farm. I’ve learned after living with two host families that Nicaraguans are shower enthusiasts and pride themselves on looking and smelling good. I am clearly the family disappointment…

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Pepper plant nursery

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Just a week after planting the cucumber

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Cucumber plant

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3 weeks after planting

At this height my host sister and I installed trellises in the garden so the plant could begin wrapping itself around the string and grow upwards.

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My fourth grade student Angel helping me apply a natural pesticide made from leaves of Neem

 

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A month and a half later and I cultivated my first radish!

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Brought home organic radishes home to share with the host family

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Farm friends

Now that I’ve had a chance to experiment with different gardening techniques I am excited to start the school year in February to teach primary students and teachers how to start a garden of their own at their schools!

 

Nica Pride, Fiestas Patrias

Peace Corps

Young girls and boys dressed in traditional nicaraguan clothes of all colors, marching, music, dancing and a whole lot of pride for this charming country. This is the atmosphere on September 14th during Nicaragua’s Independence Day and September 15th during the Independence day of all of Central America.

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(My adorable students in their dresses dishing out a subtle pout and displaying some national flowers)

Weeks before the holidays you can hear band practice and bombas (fireworks) happening. The schools in our city and cities all over Nicaragua practice for several hours trying to perfect the instrumental version of Despacito and many other popular songs in Latin America at the moment, I was super impressed by how many songs they were able to play and how many I recognized. I’ve been listening to Reggaeton ever since I landed in Nicaragua and I can’t seem to stop… but I’m not complaining!

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(Handmade dresses like these! The people here are so crafty, I can only imagine how long this must have taken.)

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(One of my students, Adriana, rocking her outfit and glasses and her profe (teacher) fan-girling.)

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(Gabriela and Samuel, does this need any further explanation? I think not, they are the cutest.)

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(Student Maria)

It’s weird to think I’ll be celebrating Nicaragua’s Independence Day three times during my service and that I’ll be here for so long but I couldn’t be more excited. Ready for Nicaragua to become my second home; it’s already starting to feel like it 🙂

26 Days in Nicaragua So Far

Peace Corps

It was not too long ago I was day dreaming in one of my last college classes about what Nicaragua was going to feel like, what kind of weather I would experience, what kind of people I would meet. Fast forward a couple of months, I’ve graduated college and have also just landed in Managua, Nicaragua. I brought 2 massive suitcases each weighing precisely 50 pounds (the max limit) and my backpacker’s bag that I somehow managed to squeeze into the plane as a carry-on. Other than these 3 items, I brought heaps of curiosity and an open mind to take on this new adventure. Our first 3-day orientation took place in the hotel directly across the street from the airport in Managua, little did we know this was going to be the most luxurious place we’d stay in for the rest of our 2 years in Nicaragua. During this time, we all made an effort to get to know our group of 38 trainees that make up the TEFL (English) and Environment sector of Nica 70 (the 70th group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua). I knew I had been placed somewhere special after our group one night at dinner ordered water for the table and not only did they not mind my suggestion to order without plastic straws, but rather loved the idea and encouraged it at every meal. A burden I once felt I was by being the voice of ecological reason had been lifted and for a change I felt supported and heard, it felt so right.

Over the course of the next 3 days at the orientation retreat every volunteer was bombarded with safety measures, medical handbooks and kits, cellphone chips, Spanish grammar books, Spanish dictionaries, environmental classroom guides, cultural workbooks and so much more. It was information for hours and hours every day along with language interviews and placement. We also got to meet current volunteers who have been in Nicaragua for a year now; many of them living in several different departments scattered all over Nicaragua. On the third and final day of our retreat we were all sent off to different “pueblitos” or towns in Carazo to move into the homes of families we will be sharing a home and culture with for the next 3 months of pre-service training.

Diriamba, Carazo is the department I am situated in, a fairly populated city with accessible grocery stores, restaurants and bars, the complete opposite of some other sites some Peace Corps trainees are living in. I am living with Doña Yeseñia and her two daughters, Daniela and Alejandra. This family has been totally supportive of my vegan diet and the girls remind me of my sister and I. It feels home-y. There are 4 other volunteers living here in Diriamba and attending language classes with me, Britton, Anna, Henry and Ozzy, my familia and support group. We have become pretty close, that’s kind of what happens when you bond over diarrhea and the lack of running water in your life. We watch movies, go on runs together, get cat-called together and work together and I wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe the cat-calling we could all do without.

We are coming up on week 4 of Pre-Service Training, leaving us with 8 more weeks before our swearing in ceremony when we become official volunteers!