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31 Jan

Okay, okay, settle down kiddies. Don’t everybody shout at once. I know this is a very unusual situation, so give me your attention and I’ll explain.


You’ll remember the post I wrote entitled, “Do you like dogs?” The day after I posted it, Richard and I were sitting in our seats eating our dinner, when we noticed 4 puppies playing in the surf. We both remembered hearing a vehicle that had come in sometime during the middle of the night. They were probably the owners of these little ones and believed if they dumped them here us beach folk would find homes for them like so many dogs before them.


Just hanging around

They were all different looking but obviously related; 2 were white with reddish colouration on their heads, one having the same coloured freckles all over, another was black and tan and the last one was chocolate brown and the only one with longish fur.


We have always kept a tub of fresh water outside the van, for any animals or birds that might be in need of water and we were hopeful these pups would smell it and come in for a drink, especially after we saw them lapping ocean water. However, they wouldn’t come near us, the van or the water and every attempt we made to get close to them ended in them running away. Obviously they had been traumatized to some extent and if they saw anyone they would immediately take off running.


There was a small get together a couple of days after the puppies arrived on the beach and we made sure everyone was made aware of them. We knew a couple of the folks on the beach would add them to their feeding rounds. These kind-hearted people purchase food and make sure that the strays, wild and abandoned dogs are fed and either try to get them into Animalandia, adopt them themselves or in some other way find them homes. I’ve been known to put out food once in a while myself, but the idea of adopting one of these grown animals had never crossed our minds.


Now, one of our neighbours on the beach, hadn’t been feeding any of the grown dogs on a regular basis, but could be seen once in a while laying pans of fish trimmings out for the fisherman’s dog. This couple couldn’t bring themselves to ignore the puppies, so they went out of their way to coax them in and make them believe people were safe and were the source of all good things, including food. It took a lot of work to gain their confidence but suffice it to say they were successful beyond their wildest dreams.


Small, pretty and smart

It wasn’t long before these 4 little girls, (it soon became apparent that all 4 were female, which is why they were probably dumped) became the darlings of the beach. They were well behaved, very smart and of course puppies. Let’s face it folks, mammal babies are designed to be cute and these 4 were no exception. Grown men with no interest in any of the wild dogs took to carrying treats in their pockets and everyone on the beach made a fuss of them.


The couple that was caring for these 4 puppies already had 3 dogs waiting for them at home and there was no way they could adopt any more. There seemed to be a concerted effort by a large percentage of the beach population to convince us to adopt one, but we held out. We explained that we lived in our RV full time and relied upon the sufferance of our children and their spouses to give us places to park when we got back to Canada, not to mention they both had dogs of their own. We didn’t feel that we could share what limited space we had with a pet, nor could we impose upon our kids to welcome another animal into the mix.


Everyone understood, but in the meantime, we were playing with these 4 lovely ladies, feeding them treats, watching them grow and were well aware of the problems being faced by our friends as they tried to do the best they could for these girls.


Posters were put up; announcements on the VHF radio net were made, everyone who gave the slightest hint of interest was approached, all to no avail, but hope was still held out as our friends daughter, and her boyfriend plus another couple were coming from Canada to visit for a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, plans were made to get the puppies to Animalandia, for spaying and possible adoption.


She seems to think she should be a lapdog too!

It seems it was love at first sight. Within the first week of the kids visiting, 3 of the puppies were spoken for. Our friends daughter would take one, her friend would take another and her Mother, on the strength of a photo, would take the third. That just left one, but since it was going into Animalandia we didn’t worry about it, until a piece of information came along that made us change our minds. It seems that Animalandia, like every other rescue operation operates on very limited funding, so if after spaying, the dog hasn’t been adopted within 3 months, they are tattooed and then released into the town in hopes they can survive on their own.


We thought long and hard about it, we had many conversations and I think we both said to ourselves that we didn’t want a dog but if the other one did well we could deal with it. Finally I said to Richard that I just couldn’t bear to see this lovely little dog abandoned once again on either our beach or in Loreto and maybe we could figure out how to make this work. I know he was hoping I’d say that because instantly she became our dog.


I was thinking maybe we’d call her Roja, which is Spanish for red, but he said no, when he had lived in Israel, one of his friends had an Irish Setter named Azeet and she had been poisoned. He swore at the time that if he ever had a dog he would name her Azeet, and so that became her name.


Just for all you Googlers out there, we hadn’t realized that Azeet was anything other than just a friend’s dog’s name. Apparently the Setter was named after “Azeet, the Paratrooper Dog” a series of books written for kids in Isreal, which, so we are told, was as famous there as Rin Tin Tin was here.


So there you have it, Azeet has joined our little family and though it’s taking a fair amount of adjustments on all our parts we all seem to be enjoying it. Living quarters just got a bit smaller, but the entertainment value has already made up for it, and if nothing else it means that we’ll be stopping a little more often on our travels. Woo hoo!


Just another stray needing a home.

Oh, and just so you know, dogs aren’t the only strays that end up on our beach. This little lady strolled into a small get together and proceeded to take over. The dogs sitting with us thought she’d make a great snack, and there was joking discussion of having a BBQ, but a couple of the ladies would have objected strongly so discussion turned to finding her a home. In the meantime, she made herself at home, drinking water put out for her and helping herself to the bird feed laying around, completely unfazed by the dogs. When we got up to go, she followed us back to our campsite and so became our problem. We had already adopted Azeet and weren’t in any position to adopt a goat so we decided to take her to the nearest goat rancher.

Richard managed to get her into the back of the Suzuki and the rancher, who was astounded that she was quite content standing in the back of the car was ever so happy to take her off our hands and put her in the pen with all the rest.


Just another day on Rattlesnake Beach!


The place we used to call home.

9 Sep

If you read my post last time, you will be aware that we had visited Campbell River, but I didn’t really tell you much about the place did I?

We moved to Campbell River  December 30, 1987. We had friends who had moved there a few years earlier. This friend had started at the local mill and convinced us that it would be a good idea, employment wise, if we followed him.

It didn’t take that much to convince us, so off we went, kids in tow. Through a series of fortuitous events we ended up buying the place that had been our first and only rental. The owner of the house lived next door, and after 6 months of renting, he was transferred and needed to divest himself of both of his properties. We were only too happy to take him up on the offer.

Float planes of all sorts are common in Campbell River.

The house had windows across the entire front,  it looked east, out over Discovery Passage and across to Quadra Island. Every ship and boat that moved through the pass, including Cruise Ships, were visible from our front windows. Occasionally we could even see pods of Orcas or Pacific White Side Dolphins moving through. Bald Eagles wheeled and dodged (in such large numbers they were commonplace) nesting and perching in nearby trees.

The town was actually known to me since my Dad had visited it years before during a stay at Painter’s Lodge. All I knew was that it was a great place to catch fish and the waters were very dangerous. So, on top of the sheer beauty of the place,  the employment opportunities that were readily available and the need to allow our children to grow up in one place with no disruption, I added in a personal passion and I was sold. I was more than happy to “settle” down for a while.

Campbell River sits at 50 degrees 1’0″ N/125 degrees 15′ 0″W, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. If you look at a map of the Island, we sit on that pointy bit about half way up.  Right behind it is a backyard of logging roads, rivers, streams, caves, lakes, creeks, hills, trails, trees, lots of trees and mountains, some pretty big ones. Big enough to have ski hills on them. Mount Washington, for example which rises 5200 feet and has some of the heaviest falls of snow in all of North America. Damn nice place to ski too!

Painter's Lodge sitting on the north bank of the river mouth

I mentioned caves right? I was wondering if you caught that. This part of Vancouver Island is covered in Karst rock. Karst you say, what the hell is Karst? Karst is a distinctive topography in which the landscape is largely shaped by the dissolving action of water on carbonate bedrock (usually limestone, dolomite, or marble).

Now, to have a “dissolving action of water” one needs to have lots of water and does Campbell River have lots of water? Do bears shit in the woods? The average rainfall in the area is around 50 inches, with 50 more inches of snowfall. That’s the average, some years it rains a lot more than that and the further west you go the more it rains, hence the caves. It’s also the reason why everywhere you look, it’s green, pretty much all year long.

It was a great place to live, work and raise our kids. We boated, fished, caved, skied, camped, hiked and biked everywhere we could. All the while our kids were growing up in a town that was growing and changing as well. It had been a frontier logging and fishing town,  and it was still pretty rough around the edges when we moved there. As time passed, as in all things, the rough edges got knocked off and the town went through a sprucing up. The old girl certainly did clean up well.

Part of the Foreshore path on Tyee Spit

Personally, I think it started with the Fishing Pier. A group of volunteers got together and decided that the Salmon Capital of the World, needed a place where those who had no access to a boat, could wet a line and have a good chance of catching a big chinook.  The Pier was constructed and became an instant and raging success, starting the process that led to the beautification of the downtown, the foreshore path/park and it’s continuation from one end of town to the other, the reclaiming of the Tyee Spit from a run down RV park to a Green Space that’s accessible to everyone, and the Carving Contest that has added grace, art and yes, beauty to all areas of the city.

The back of one of many carvings all around the city

The other side of the same carving. Pretty talented carver, eh?


This is where my kids grew up, this is where Richard and I worked and where we all played but it’s no longer our home, not for any of us. I think like kids everywhere that grow up in a small town there is always that desire to get away and head for something bigger and better. Ours certainly felt that way and not long after they graduated they headed for the bright lights of Victoria. So, Empty Nesters we were and we were rather enjoying it, while we continued to work on our plans for retirement at 55 when fate played a nasty hand.  In 2001 my Mother has a “Catastrophic Stroke” leaving her hospitalized and completely incapacitated, 4 months later my brother-in-law died of Liver Cancer. April of 2004, my Mother finally died from complications of the stroke and a month later, my sister was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. She died a year later.

Richard and I retired the next year. We decided that all we were really doing at that point was marking time, waiting until we hit 55 so Richard could collect his pension. We crunched the numbers and figured we could make it.

So we pulled up what roots we had grown during our years in Campbell River and hit the road. It’s not like we don’t go back to visit though and for me at least, when we finally round that last corner of the old highway and Shelter Bay comes into view there’s something inside me that whispers “Home” and a strange combination of happiness, nostalgia, sadness and completeness comes over me. It may not be where we live now but I think in some ways it will always be “home” to me.

Full timing it on the cheap, Part 2

13 Oct

All right, so how to travel on a budget?

Well, first of all I have to explain about our van. Our gummy is a reconfigured commercial delivery truck, and due to the way Richard built, it still looks that way. There are no windows in the sides, all our light comes from the huge front windows and the large skylights.  It had original decals on the outside that had at sometime been painted over, so we left it that way. For all intents and purposes we became essentially invisible. No one pays much attention to an average looking commercial truck. So….

We can park just about anywhere for free, as long as we don’t over stay our welcome.

Pretty much everyone who RV’s is aware that Wal Mart will allow you to park in their parking lots and if you’re travelling on any  major highway in Canada or the US most rest areas allow an 8 hour  or overnight stay.

Buying strawberries at the local market - 150 pesos per box

When we hit the road, it’s never on to the next RV Park, it’s just on. When we get tired or want to stop to eat or have a coffee, we look for a rest stop, a parking lot, a wide gravel shoulder, a dead end road, or any place where other large trucks are in evidence. No one notices one more truck. We can even park on city streets and have done so, but then we’re not worried about a little graffiti. Just adds to the commercial look.

Now RV Parks have got a lot going for them usually. They have pull throughs, electrical hookups, fresh, clean water, hot showers, sewage dumps, some have Wifi, and laundry facilities. There’s also the social aspect of them. Lots of folks from lots of different places, together for a while, can make for a fun time. They are also expensive when you’re trying to live the way we do on a very strict budge.

Most parks average 25-30 dollars per night, with laundry extra. Since we live in our van full time, there is no way we can afford to stay in these parks, though that doesn’t mean that we don’t use them. When we need to dump our tanks, and we can’t find a free municipal or county one (And there are lots of those) we’ll use one. Most parks charge about $5.00 per dump and will quite happily let you use their facilities as long as you are dumping only grey and black water tanks.

I mention this only because due to our looks, we’ve been questioned a few times as to what we were dumping from our tanks. People see what they want to see and when they see a commercial truck dumping waste I’m sure the first thought must be,”Illegal toxic waste”, hence the questions.

If you live in BC, and don’t stay in RV Parks make sure you pay to dump in them and retain your receipts. ICBC insurance is invalid in Mexico, you need special Mexican insurance to drive there. You can apply to ICBC for a partial refund, based on how long you were out of the country, and you need receipts for this. We hang on to our fuel, and dump receipts which we write the vehicle VIN numbers on and when we get home we submit them to ICBC. It’s never the full amount for the time out of country, but something is always better than nothing right?

Laundry facilities are widely available all through North America, even in Baja and we’ve found that they, on the most part, are cheaper than those available in RV parks.  In Baja, you can take your laundry to a “Lavamatica” where the owners will wash, dry and fold your clothes for about 4-5 dollars a load. The only problem is you have to leave it overnight, but hey, if you’re being a tourist, it just gives you reason to hang around for another day. It’s times like this that you find something spectacular or memorable, even if it’s just having a taco at the local street stand with the rest of the neighbourhood.

The only RV site we ever stay in, is a place called San Quintin. It’s about 150 Km south of Ensenada, and it’s the first glimpse of the beauty to come. It’s a very simple place that offers spectacular views of the west coast beaches, hot showers with brackish water, and a place to dump our tanks.  Richard has mentioned it in his “First Years Accounts”. The cost is $12 per night and this place truly is worth the cost. We generally stay 2 nights both coming and going. The tienda up the road has internet, there’s a place in the local town to get laundry done, and the local fishermen land their boats right on the beach in front of our rig, talk about fresh seafood!

This is our first stop in Baja where we can slow down and relax after driving full bore to get here. After a couple of days of sun, surf, sand and seafood, we are refreshed and relaxed enough to continue our journey south to our destination, Rattlesnake Beach,(Playa Quemada as the locals call it) south of Loreto, Baja Sur.

Rattlesnake beach, our winter home. We're the first white rig on the left hand side.

Once we reach our destination we quickly settle into our usual spot and activities. Living in Baja is extremely cheap compared to Vancouver Island, especially food. The average wage in Baja is less than $150.00 per month so the cost of living is comparable. Fresh food is available either at the local, once a week market, or any of the big or small grocery stores and you are likely to find the cost is about 1/10 of what it costs at home. There are also vendors who bring their products to the Anglo enclaves. Most of that stuff is going to be tourist junk, blankets, beads, and trinkets, but there is usually a vegetable and fruit vendor, if not others selling tortillas, bread, beer, even scallops, clams and lobsters.

The catch of the day

Food is cheap here and I find if I spend $50.00 per week, I’ve been extravagant and we’re going to eat very well!

Now because we live in our van full time, we pay no mortgage, no rent, no pad site fees and we are blessed with 2 daughters, as well as other relatives and friends who have areas big enough and flat enough for us to park our rig. They also like us to come visit and stay for a while, which we do!

Our lives consist of travelling to Baja and spending 4 – 6 months revelling in the warm sunshine, clear waters, abundant, inexpensive fresh food and the friendliness of both the locals and the other travellers we share our beach with. Then back to our own country, slowly taking in the view all the way. Once we get home, we visit with our family and friends who are loath to let us leave, spend a little time on our own travelling to places we haven’t visited before, then preparing to do it all over again.

The story so far…..

17 Sep

We were just a couple of blue collar workers, who met working for the Canadian Coast Guard, fell in love and got married. We moved to Campbell River, B.C., where we bought a home and raised a family. Richard working in the local pulp mill and me, the only female salmon fishing guide on the east coast of Vancouver Island, that however is another story altogether.

We had planned on retiring at 55, and wanted to travel by road.  All of the commercial built RV’s that we looked at were poorly built, too small and crowded, didn’t have a big enough bed, or it was in the wrong place, and they wanted way too much money for them, so Richard decided he could build our own. He did all the work and a fine job he did too. We bought a used 26 foot, 1986 Grumman Step van that had been used as a Frito Lay delivery truck and customize it. All I asked for were a queen size bed and a full working shower and bathroom.

Grummy's smile

From the front, it has captains chairs, including building a platform for the passenger seat because all they come with is a jump seat, if there’s a spot for a passenger at all. The passenger seat swivels completely around and there is a full length and width blackout curtain that zippers and snaps into place with the passenger seat behind it. Looking in, all you can see in the front compartment is a drivers seat so it still looks like a delivery van, You would actually have to look long and hard to notice the cupboards above the front windows and the roller blinds on all 4 windows. Who needs sun visors that are built for giants, when the rollers can be lowered to any height  to reflect the sun.

I guess the first thing folks notice as you move through the curtain, is that there are no windows in the body of the van, but it’s full of light. That’s because there are two skylights that can be opened in any direction, one in the middle of the van the other in the back. Both are 2 feet square, built out of Plexiglas and held in place by cam locks. These are also our emergency exits. We have all the privacy one could want as well as all the light one needs.

Curtain cuts off the rear from the world, and the sun for those who like to sleep late.

On the driver’s side, is a Dickinson marine propane heater. When it’s cold outside, this little baby keeps us warm and toasty. Next is a love seat with lots of dry storage underneath it, then the bathroom. On the wall outside the bathroom is a Bosch demand hot water heater. The bathroom has a fully functioning toilet and shower, but no sink. Inside the bathroom carefully hidden away in it’s own compartment is the water pump which services the toilet, hot water heater and the kitchen sink.

Bright colours, yea! Demand hot water on the left, fireplace on the right

On the passenger side,  the passenger seat can be turned completely around, to face the end of the counter. In the counter sits the Dickinson stove, again propane powered, and the sink. Below the counter sits the 12 volt fridge, cupboards with shelves on sliders, three large sliding drawers, and of course the ubiquitous “cupboard under the sink”. Above all of this sits large cupboards with dishes, more dried goods and the electrical cupboard with a 300 watt inverter in it, because everything is run by two large 123 watt solar panels mounted on the roof. There is also a 1000 watt inverter at the front of the van. We have more than enough power to run all our toys, which includes two Apple laptops, 11 different  LED lights, and the vacuum cleaner. Throughout the Grummy are small but powerful 12 volt fans. Three are set to move air around the rig, and one acts as the stove fan, blowing the smoke from cooking out the skylight.

Bright colours make the inside look so nice. See the bed folding down in the back?

The back compartment looks like it’s only storage, with large cupboards for clothes and lift up lid boxes where the water tanks are. This is actually the bedroom and the queen size bed is the left hand wall. It folds down and fills the entire room, but at night who cares? It’s not like one of us is going to get up and dance.

At the very back is a door that opens into the rear of the van and we have a two foot wide storage area back there for tools,  and other things that we don’t want in the vehicle itself.

Tools bike ladder you name it

I mentioned water tanks earlier. We carry two 25 gallon fibreglass tanks built inside where they can’t freeze. We also have the same amount of storage capacity for black and grey water, so we can boon-dock for up to 10 days at a time before we need to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water.

I told you we had decided that we were going to retire at 55, but at 52, Richard and I were looking at our property tax bill and realized that the house, which had long since been paid for, had appreciated considerably in the last few years. As well, both our daughters were grown and had no intentions of returning to the family house. Both had announced that they would consider themselves failures if they had to move back home to Mommy and Daddy. So we started talking. We had no debts, (thanks to a bequest from my late sister) and working for the next 4 years was only marking time till we could retire. I crunched the numbers and with the value of our home in the bank, plus our RRSP’s, we could make enough interest, if invested wisely, to see us through until we could collect Richard’s pension.

Neither of us had ever put down deep roots and the only reason we had stayed where we were for so long was so the girls could grow up in one place, with life long friends and a feeling of familiarity and continuity.  Selling the house was a simple decision, and neither of the girls were too upset about it. We had always taught them that memories were in the mind, not in things and as long as you’re  alive, and remember, you keep the past alive. The next step was selling everything  we owned.

You see, we planned on moving into our RV and making that our home until such time as we could no longer physically do it , so leaving anything in storage was a waste of money and space. What were we going to do? Come back once a year, open the door to the storage bay and say,”Hi stuff.” ?  All the childhood memorabilia, that we had carefully collected over the years was sorted into boxes for each child and it was all given back. Here was every picture, card, tooth, even the hospital bands from their birth. They took great joy in rediscovering all of the things that had been part of their growing up.

Family heirlooms were offered to any in the family that cared to have them. Some were taken, some not. What wasn’t wanted by anyone, went to auction. We were amazed at how much money we made from just “Stuff”. The only thing we didn’t sell was an original acrylic painting of me, in the early morning,  heading to the fishing grounds, which proudly hangs in our daughters living room.

We set sail on October 18th, 2006 and headed south fast. We were under deadline because Richard had promised his Dad that we would arrive in Juncolito at the same time he arrived to help him fix his car. We made it, fixed the car, then headed off to explore. I should explain that at the same time we were preparing to leave Campbell River, we were also in the process of selling our home and the deal was finalized on October 15th. The realtor told us that we would be able to do the closing, which was to happen on January 5th 2007 from Mexico. We were soon to discover that wasn’t going to happen.

While we hit the paths less travelled, we also tried to find a way to complete the sale of our home via the internet, and phone, which in the Baja was a hit or miss proposition at the best of times. I finally contacted the family lawyers and they suggested we give Power of Attorney to our youngest daughter Elizabeth and she could sign on our behalf. We agreed and were told the only person who could sign the prerequisite forms was the Canadian Consul in San Jose del Cabo as the Mexican legal system was totally different than the Canadian one. So we set out for the bottom of the peninsula and got 30 miles away when the transmission blew.  My stress level started to reach volcanic proportions and I’m sure Richard’s wasn’t doing very well either.

Ruben Montoya, wonder mechanic

We asked around and were told by a retired Baja 1000 racer that the best guy for the job lived in Loreto and so we met Ruben Montoya. He told us to come back a week later and allowed us to live in our rig inside his walled compound, while he fixed it. Ruben was quite the character. He spoke broken English, enough to to make himself understood, but  he was obviously a very smart man. He rebuilt his first car engine at 7 and his first transmission at 11, and when he was finished with our rig it was probably better than new, and a whole lot more heavy duty than anything we could have found at home.

Finally on the road again, we made it down to San Jose del Cabo,  got the papers signed, and shipped off via courier. However we were not finished with the repairs. In what seemed like a continuing saga, we replaced the sway bar bushings, the bushings in the rear leaf springs, the shock absorbers, two new tires, muffler hangers, repaired the leaf springs, new ball joints, got new brake anti rattle clips and had the muffler welded for the second time.

While we spent our time waiting for one repair or another we also found great places to just simply be. Beautiful beaches, great celebrations, wild races, wonderful, friendly people and a place we wanted to come back to.

This is going to be that continuing story. We’re going to tell you about the places we go, people we meet, the food we eat, the fun we’re having and how we managed to retire and continue to have fun on not a lot of money.