Vanamos – a campervan gap year adventure

Vanamos VW van

We’re riding shotgun with a Northern Virginia family as they drive a Volkswagen camper van to Mexico, Central America, and South America (Central America was too much fun!) to find answers to the questions that keep us awake at night: Is Mexico as lawless as the media portrays? Do teenagers ever smile? Will a 1985 VW Vanagon climb the make it from Virginia to Panama and back? Bookmark this page or Click Here to sign up for our newsletter so you never miss an installment from the Vanamos family.


This is the End – Or is it Just the Beginning?

Paul Carlino : August 10, 2016

This is the end. In the words of the somewhat famous and totally unpredictable Jim Morrison of The Doors, this is the end, my only friend, the end. My family and I just completed a year-long overland adventure through Mexico and Central America. We left Virginia on August 1, 2015 and drove our 1985 Volkswagen more »


Family Road Trip Through the USA

Paul Carlino : July 27, 2016

After driving nearly 14,000 miles in eleven months to Panama and back, Wesley had delivered us to Laredo, Texas, with 12 days to go 2,000 miles to NJ for my niece’s baptism. With our spectacular border crossing in the rear view mirror, we found a Worldschoolers family north of Houston who is in the midst more »


A Spectacular Border Crossing

Paul Carlino : July 20, 2016

On Monday we crossed the border from Mexico to the United States at Laredo, Texas. This is the same border crossing we used in August 2015 to get from the US to Mexico to begin our year-long overland adventure. We would have liked to take a different route back to see new things but our more »


The Hardest Part of Overland Travel – Going Home

Paul Carlino : July 17, 2016

When we first conceived this year-long fairy tale of an overland adventure, we anticipated arriving in Patagonia in Argentina after eleven months and 29 days of driving, hopping in a plane to D.C., and shipping Wesley back to Baltimore.  The trip would have a clearly defined beginning – when we left Alexandria – and ending more »


A Short History of San Miguel de Allende

Paul Carlino : July 9, 2016

San Miguel was founded by a Franciscan monk in 1542 and fortified as a Spanish garrison in 1555 to protect the new road from Mexico City to the silver center of Zacatecas. In 1826 it was renamed San Miguel de Allende after favorite son Ignacio Allende who was one of the conspirators that spearheaded the more »


The Hardest Part III – Exercise

Paul Carlino : July 4, 2016

Posted from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We were young and naive. Before we left on our year long overland trip through Mexico and Central America in our 1985 VW Westfalia camper van, we thought we could follow two very simple “road rules,” that our kids would take an interest in learning, and that we more »


The Hardest Part II – Homeschooling

Paul Carlino : June 28, 2016

Posted from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico We thought leaving behind our responsibilities and driving overland through the Americas in a 1985 VW Westfalia camper van would be endless servings of strawberries and cream. But it has turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. As our new friend Claude said one night more »


One Week and One Thousand Miles

Paul Carlino : June 23, 2016

Since we left El Salvador on June 9 we have driven Wesely over 1,000 miles across Guatemala and Mexico and I’ve got the driver’s tan to prove it – my left forearm is as red as tomato soup. It’s not our style to blow through places so quickly, but at this point in our year more »
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The Hardest Part

Paul Carlino : June 18, 2016

Posted from Puebla, Mexico We thought leaving behind our responsibilities and driving overland through the Americas in a 1985 VW Westfalia camper van would be endless servings of strawberries and cream. But it has turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. I often find myself thinking of what our new friend Claude more »
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Revolution in El Salvador

Paul Carlino : June 9, 2016

We try to avoid cities because we hear they are more dangerous, we know there’s more traffic, and we want to go to sleep at night to the sounds of mountain streams and howling dogs not to the sound of honking horns and howling dogs. Sometimes we make exceptions. After leaving Nicaragua and driving all more »
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The Road Less Traveled – Leaving Nicaragua

Paul Carlino : June 5, 2016

We finally left the comfort of Paul and Marisa’s front yard after spending 11 days going to the beach, riding bikes, going to a rodeo, eating home cooked meals, and making natural skin products. Coconut learned to make kombucha, a fermented non-alcoholic hippie drink, and got her own “scoby” to make more, and we even more »


How to Ruin Your Life

Paul Carlino : May 26, 2016

We were excited to renew our club membership at Hulakai Hotel where we spent a great week on our first pass through Playa Maderas, Nicaragua, in March. So we were all disappointed when we pulled into the parking lot after a hot border crossing from Costa Rica and realized the hotel was closed for renovations more »


Adventure Costa Rica

Paul Carlino : May 19, 2016

We managed to avoid all of the touristy things on our first pass through Costa Rica. But on our second pass, we dropped colones like it is fake money on hotels, eating-out, and all manner of adrenaline-pumping activities. In short, we are acting like we are on vacation, not a budget. On the one hand, more »


Life Advice from Steven Tyler – Our Last Days in Panama

Paul Carlino : May 12, 2016

We began the long drive towards the real lives we put on hold last August in Alexandria, VA at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday after stuffing as much free breakfast as we could into our mouths and pockets. Through no fault of the GPS, I immediately made a wrong turn in what i assume was a more »


The Panama Canal

Paul Carlino : May 4, 2016

Panama City is a big, bustling modern city with an obvious American influence. It boasts the largest mall in Latin America, a Trump tower, and more familiar chain stores and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. It’s also got elements of ferality – that feeling that anything goes – that we have come more »


Adventures on the Caribbean Coast – Part II

Paul Carlino : April 28, 2016

If you look at a map of Panama, you will see that there is one road connecting the northwest corner of the country with the rest of the country, which, as far as we can tell, consists of the Pan-American highway and Panama City. If you actually drive that one road, you will understand why more »


Adventures on the Caribbean Coast – Part I

Paul Carlino : April 25, 2016

After leaving the Buena Finca in Saripiqui, R and I decided to cross from Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola-Guabito border crossing. We felt that this border crossing had some advantages. First, given its remote location in Costa Rica, far from the Pan-American highway, we hoped it would be quicker than crossing at one more »


La Buena Casa

Paul Carlino : April 18, 2016

We were all sad to leave our latest Workaway with Esteban and Tom on the Buena Finca. I think everyone was sad to see us go as well – and not only because I was the one that brought the beer and rum each night. When we arrived almost two weeks ago we thought we more »


Our Five-Star Toilet Rating System

Paul Carlino : April 16, 2016

Traveling with kids is hard. This is particularly true when traveling in developing countries that are hot, dusty, and where the population of ants trails only that of the underprivileged. We try to be accepting of certain local cultural habits and, in fact, even embrace those that suit us. For example, it’s okay to stop more »


This Day in Costa Rican History

Paul Carlino : April 11, 2016

The knowledge we have gained from living out of hotels for the better part of the last eight months has come in handy during our latest Workaway experience because we are helping to design rooms for the ecolodge that Esteban and Tom (our hosts) are building. R, Coconut, J and I have spent a lot more »


Iguana – It’s What’s for Dinner

Paul Carlino : April 6, 2016

As we drove through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, we often saw people standing along the side of the road holding large, spine-backed reptiles bound to a stick. The people  would wave these things at us as we drove past as if they were performing some sort of ceremonial blessing. We realized that the people more »
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Costa Rica is Burning

Paul Carlino : April 4, 2016

The Earth here in Costa Rica is on fire. It’s scorched the fields so that horses and cows eat the charred remains of what may have been grass and the trees look like something from a Tim Burton movie – skeletal fingers attached to skeletal arms pushing up from the grave. I literally watched a more »
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Spring Break

Paul Carlino : April 1, 2016

We arrived in Costa Rica on March 11 and left the same day. This was for no reason other than that my sister was pregnant in New Jersey and we wanted to show up on her doorstep and surprise the baby out of her; everyone we had met so far in Costa Rica – the more »


Club Nicaragua

Paul Carlino : March 10, 2016

HulaKai Hotel was the perfect spot to relax after our two-week turn at forced volunteer farm labor on Ometepe Island. The hotel is set on a point overlooking the sublime Playa Maderas, which is on the southwestern coast of Nicaragua. A healthy dose of day-tripping white people come to the beach to take advantage of more »


Heaven is in our Minds

Paul Carlino : March 7, 2016

This world is big and wild and half-insane and wherever R and I travel we usually leave with the idea that we should move there because it would somehow be better than what we already have and The Kinks are always on the playlist. There have only been a few places where we didn’t feel more »
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Down on the Farm in Nicaragua

Paul Carlino : March 2, 2016

Farm work at our workaway farm in Nicaragua starts at 6:30 a.m. so by the time that we get there around mid-morning, Maria, Angelo, and the others have already put in a half-day of work consisting of making a fire to warm breakfast – which is likely yesterday’s beans and rice – using the pit toilet, more »


Ometepe Island Nicaragua workaway farm

Ometepe Island Workaway

Paul Carlino : February 28, 2016

We have been on Ometepe Island at a Workaway site since Wednesday, February 17. This brain fart was written in the days after we arrived and relates to the time from arrival to Sunday, February 21. It is only being posted now, on Sunday, February 28, because Internet connection on the island is slow, and more »


The History of Rock in Nicaragua

Paul Carlino : February 17, 2016

Almost twenty years ago, when everyone could illegally share music through the popular copyright infringement site “Napster” without fear of serious consequences, the iPod was invented. Around this same time, and with knowledge of these two modern tools that made life better for everyone, R and I were able to acquire over 13,000 songs from more »


In the land of plastic bags and volcanoes

Paul Carlino : February 10, 2016

We crossed the border into Nicaragua on the afternoon of Saturday, January 30, after spending the day driving through Honduras. We chose the border crossing in the mountains near Somoto, Nicaragua, because it was supposedly less chaotic than the border crossing along the coast and we hoped the higher elevation would provide some temperature relief more »
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Rocking and Rolling Honduras to the Tunes of Lou Reed

Paul Carlino : February 7, 2016

Pretend you are a Honduran male who has come to the United States to make money to send to your family in Tegucigulpa. Your wife and three daughters run a small tienda (store) out of the front room of their house and have been paying $3 a week “tax” to the local drug gang that more »


El Salvador – We Didn’t Get Shot

Paul Carlino : February 4, 2016

We had no expectations for El Salvador. In fact, our plan was to drive through it only because we had to so we could get to points further south, otherwise we would have skipped it altogether. R has too many clients who have told her things about the gang situation in El Salvador that if more »


A Hundred Dollars in Water Bottles

Paul Carlino : February 3, 2016

On the second to last day before we left our rented house on the shores of Lake Atitlan, R and her friend went for a massage and Alan took two of his girls horseback riding. That left me home with Coconut, J, and their friend. I suggested that we take the kayaks to the nearby more »


The Battle for Guatemala

Paul Carlino : January 25, 2016

My wife, two kids, and I spent the last week squinting into the sun glistening off the waters of Lago de Atitlan, a caldera lake set in the central highlands of Guatemala. Before that we were a week around Lago de Izabel, a vast lake connected by river to the Caribbean Sea and encompassing wetlands, more »
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The sick times of our lives

Paul Carlino : January 17, 2016

Coconut started coming down with what ails us before New Years’. She was running a high fever, and had muscle aches and a hacking cough. We were camping at the time at a tranquil place on the Rio Chiyo owned by a guy from Philadelphia and his Japanese wife. While we were all having fun more »


Things to Know about Life on the Road

Paul Carlino : January 13, 2016

We left Alexandria, Virginia on August 1, 2015, in our 1985 VW Westphalia and spent nights in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas before finding ourselves at the U.S.-Mexican border in Laredo, Texas. When we crossed into Mexico on August 26, we expected to spend a month making our way to Belize more »


It’s a New Year in Guatemala

Paul Carlino : January 5, 2016

We spent a low key New Years Eve – four Gallo beers and a rum with coconut water – relaxing in the quiet beauty of the Oasis Chiyo in Las Conchas, Guatemala. We brought the noise: J finally got to shoot off the last of the fireworks we purchased in Mexico and those that he more »


San Andres – 20 years later

Paul Carlino : January 4, 2016

In the summer of 1995 I took what I consider my first real solo adventure and came to Guatemala to go to Spanish school in a little village called San Andres, on the Lago Peten Itza. We’ve spent over a week on this lake and hadn’t yet been to San Andres. The area has changed more »
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Not Dead Yet

Paul Carlino : January 3, 2016

We are always the last to leave the party, sometimes even tucking the hosts into bed before turning off the lights and locking the door behind us, and our planned four to five day stay in Flores, Guatemala, proved no different.  We stayed ten nights. Technically, the ten nights we spent in Flores included a more »
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Tikal with kids

Paul Carlino : December 30, 2015

(Ed. Note – I wrote this in a rush on Tuesday morning before we left Flores for the last time and did not get a chance to complete many of the thoughts, or even, the article. Please do not judge my writing on this piece, and please check back in a few days when I more »


Welcome to Guatemala

Paul Carlino : December 24, 2015

We woke on Christmas eve morning to clear blue skies over Lago Peten Itza in El Remate, Guatemala. We’ve rented a studio apartment for the Christmas holiday. It has fabulously high ceilings and floor to top windows, and with its setting on the hillside and sun glistening off the lake, it reminds me of a more »
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Palenque with Kids

Paul Carlino : December 19, 2015

When I was a kid I had a book called “Wonders of the World” and I would sit and stare at the pictures it had of Mayan temples half covered by jungle or poking out of the trees and wonder about the people who lived there and what they were like. I imagined walking through more »


The Long and Winding Road

Paul Carlino : December 18, 2015

We heard several things about the road from San Cristobal to Palenque – none of them that it was an easy drive. That the road was long and winding was no surprise –  it was many moons ago that I anointed Mexico the most mountainous country I’ve driven. We also heard that the number of more »
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A Change in Plans

Paul Carlino : December 14, 2015

We left Alexandria, Virginia, on August 1, with plans to be in Belize City on October 2. Coconut and J’s grandparents wanted to meet us somewhere and Belize in October seemed reasonable, though I’m sure we never looked at a map or actually figured out how many miles away it was and how many hours more »


Crazy Town

Paul Carlino : December 11, 2015

Chiapas state has the most independent-minded indigenous culture in Mexico. Parts of the state were never fully subjugated by the Spaniards, and several tribes continue to deny Catholicism as the national religion and not pose for tourists’ pictures. The state even rejected joining both Mexico and the United Provinces of Central America subsequent to the more »
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Indian style in San Cristobal de las Casas

Paul Carlino : December 9, 2015

Since Mexico gained independence from Spain in the early 1800’s it has survived several invasions by other countries, including the United States in the Mexican-American War, and internal uprisings due to bad government that has caused it to change heads of state more often than the wind changes direction. Many of these civil wars were more »


Three days on the road

Paul Carlino : December 5, 2015

We left Tule on Wednesday under clear, blue skies, and perfect winter morning temperatures – about 68 degrees, for San Cristobal de Las Casas, a colonial city perched at 1,900 meters in the mountains of Chiapas state. Our guidebook estimated a ten hour drive, but we knew better. We planned for 20 hours over four more »


On the road again – kind of

Paul Carlino : December 2, 2015

We left Oaxaca/San Felipe on Saturday. Coconut and J’s last day of school was on Thursday and they were recognized with an ovation by the student body during morning calisthenics. Neither one of them speaks Spanish well enough to tell me the words said by the teachers, so in the end, R and I may more »
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Street dogs mean we’re safe

Paul Carlino : December 1, 2015

The road directly across the street from us goes up, and then it goes up some more – it’s a stairway to heaven strewn with dog shit – and then it turns into a dirt and rutted road that goes down; a lot of the roads here in San Felipe start out as paved roads more »


Spanish Homework

Paul Carlino : November 25, 2015

A few weeks ago R and I decided to experiment by slowing down our journey, settling in one spot, and sending Coconut and J to school to immerse them in Spanish in hopes that they will learn the language. For R and me this arrangement has been great, and it is with mixed emotions that more »


Money for Ping-Pong

Paul Carlino : November 20, 2015

You had to know it would come to this. As soon as you heard we were taking the year off and heading south – me not working, R not working, the kids not working – you had to know that at some point we would be asking for your money. That time has now arrived; more »



35 Responses to “Vanamos – a campervan gap year adventure”

  1. Exciting! Cant wait to hear all about the trip as it unravels.

    Posted by Jim matheson | July 6, 2015, 4:59 pm
    • Thanks for the comment, Jim! I am hoping that your use of the word “unravel” was not prophetic. We are going to do our best to stay in one piece!

      Posted by Paul Carlino | July 6, 2015, 9:58 pm
  2. Sounds amazing!!!!! I know you guys will have an awesome time!! What a great experience to share together as a famy!!! Enjoy the memories and be safe!!!!!

    Posted by Janice | July 6, 2015, 10:05 pm
  3. Your cousin Jen T posted this link… omg, you are SOOO brave! I am going to follow you guys and live vicariously (we have 3 boys, no way could we do this). Bon voyage!

    Posted by Nif | July 7, 2015, 1:54 pm
  4. Good luck! Can’t wait to read about your adventures – and maybe hook up with you along the way. Have a wonderful time. Xoxox

    Posted by Susanne | July 7, 2015, 8:27 pm
  5. What a fun read! I’m hooked (and also rooting for you guys). TEAM AMERICA GO!!!

    Posted by Chris V | July 8, 2015, 9:16 am
  6. Love this! Yes! You all are amazing. We are so going to miss you. What an adventure. Thank goodness we can keep abreast of your crazyfun adventures. Yippee!

    Posted by Mary | July 8, 2015, 4:04 pm
  7. I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences. I truly admire your spirit of adventure and faith in each other. We’ll miss knowing you are just in VA but can’t wait to see “where in the world” you all are!!! Buene suerte en su aventura!

    Posted by Kerri | July 9, 2015, 12:18 am
  8. We are also van-dwellers and love knowing that others are going to take the leap! I hope we meet up someday along the highways and backroads. And I hope that your van is still running when we do. But if not…. that is when the adventure begins!

    Posted by Geneva Saint-Amour | July 9, 2015, 4:55 pm
  9. Nuts! I hope you have a great time. Oh, pls pick up some fresh, organic bananas on the way back because, BANANAS go real well with NUTS!

    Posted by Basat tayfun | July 10, 2015, 3:18 pm
  10. So excited for you all! Thanks for letting us follow along and get inspired to plan an adventure of our own in three years.

    Posted by Jen Atkins | July 15, 2015, 10:23 am
  11. So exciting! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures. I have a feeling E will love reading about them too!

    Posted by Gail McNulty | July 15, 2015, 10:46 am
  12. This is INCREDIBLE!!!! I remember the very beginning of talking about this when we lived in Alexandria five years ago. You guys are making it happen and we are so excited for you! This truly will be an opportunity of a lifetime for you and your kids. I’m jealous…I wish I could talk Alan into doing something like this. I don’t think we are brave enough. We will just have to live vicariously through you. 🙂

    Posted by Angela Batchelder | July 15, 2015, 11:29 am
    • Angela – that’s so true. You were there when this was just a pipe dream that I only shared with a few people. (I figured if I said it out loud, I was going to have to do it.) I’m so emotional when I reflect on the fact that we’re actually DOING THIS!! And I’m so very grateful to Paul for making my dream come true.

      Posted by R | July 16, 2015, 12:20 pm
  13. I just love it. What a great experience for everybody! Jonah I can’t wait to hear about all your adventures! Que disfrutan!

    Posted by Anna Harvin | July 15, 2015, 1:43 pm
  14. Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaim, “Wow, what a ride!”

    Via, I mean, VAN con dios, amigos! We’ll be reading and living vicariously…

    Posted by Brian | July 15, 2015, 2:58 pm
  15. R & P: You know what I love about your family? Ya’ll don’t talk-the-talk, you walk-the-walk. You’ve been living green waaaay before green was even hip. In a world full of materialistic people focused on gathering possessions, your family has always been focused on gathering real world, life changing experiences. This time spent traveling is going to be richer than anything that could ever be bought or taught in school.

    I am over the moon with excitement and admiration for your journey! Maybe one day I’ll be ready to meet you on the road!

    Coconut and Rooster: This journey is going to be irreplaceable! Your so lucky!! This is such a perfect age for you to travel – take in as many sights, sounds, tastes and feelings as you can!

    Coconut, I was happy to hear that you will have your own tent, lol. I cherish my quiet time just like you. I wonder if you will be inspired to write a book about your journey? I’d definitely buy it!

    Much love to your whole family….

    Posted by dawn | July 15, 2015, 7:39 pm
    • Brian I love that you’re living your gospel. It’s similar to our family motto, borrowed from Bill & Ted: “Be excellent to one another. Party on,”

      Posted by R | July 16, 2015, 12:25 pm
    • Oops. That comment was for Brian!

      Dawn – thank you for your kind words. It’s been hard sometimes to live a little contrary to the mainstream, especially once Coconut left the bubble of preschool. It’s good for the soul to connect with people who get it or at least love and support you anyway.

      I’ll expect you to be one of the first to join us when we set up our commune on a beach somewhere south. 🙂

      Posted by R | July 16, 2015, 12:35 pm
  16. Enjoy your trip

    Posted by Chris Schneider | July 16, 2015, 5:26 pm
  17. Paul! I never really keep up well with blogs, but I loved your Ecuador one and am looking forward to a whole year of reading your adventures. Have the time of your life.

    Bronwyn S-J

    Posted by Bronwyn | July 18, 2015, 12:04 pm
  18. You are my heroes.

    Posted by Alan | July 18, 2015, 5:06 pm
  19. You all are the BEST! I love that you are doing this & I look forward to keeping up with your great adventures!!! I may have a contact for you in Nicaragua…if you need one?!

    Posted by Michelle | July 20, 2015, 9:55 am
    • Hey Michelle, Can always use a connection. Send the contact info along. We should be in Nicaragua in November.

      thanks for entertaining Jonah today. I know that he will miss Owen and Andrew.

      Posted by Paul Carlino | July 21, 2015, 8:51 pm
  20. We’re already glued to the screen waiting to see this adventure unfold and cheer you on with our hand-cranked pop corn! Now that you have seen the Goonies and a few seasons of the Walking Dead you can go-forth and prosper! You must feel a little of the butterflies the pioneers experienced before they braved new worlds…and that’s mighty cool company. We’re not sports enthusiasts over here but this could be what it feels like to root for the home team! Love, Your Neighbors PS Please deliver on the Bolivian Hat family photo op!

    Posted by Kelly Vontz | July 21, 2015, 11:47 am
  21. I will be anxiously following your blog. Safe travels. I will keep doing the words and holding down the gym in your absence.

    Posted by Roy | July 22, 2015, 8:34 pm
  22. Rebecca – I’m so sorry I missed you when you came through Williamsburg this morning. Hope your kids enjoyed seeing where it all started for you and Paul. Who knew you’d be driving to South America as a family all these years later?! Thanks for leaving your Vanamos card. Best wishes for an amazing adventure.

    Posted by Ramona Sein | August 3, 2015, 3:24 pm
  23. Hey Spank, you crazy bastard (meant in the most complimentary way)!

    “Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”
    ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman

    Posted by CP | August 5, 2015, 4:00 pm
  24. Hope to meet up with you guys on the road one of these days!

    Posted by Nate | August 14, 2015, 1:06 pm
  25. Living vicariously through your blog! Traveled some of the same ground in 1996!!

    Posted by Maureen McNulty | January 12, 2016, 9:03 pm
  26. hi guys. we went back tortugero . it was nice to see you again. find us on face book
    vanessa blot and rebe smith
    and send me some videos.. especially the long ride I chickened out on 🙂
    pura vida

    Posted by vanessa & Rebecca | May 17, 2016, 7:42 pm

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