During a recent trip to Baja, Mexico, we spent a lazy morning at a café in Todos Santos, drinking smoothies and just for fun—tallying up the costs of traversing the world’s longest road: the Pan American Highway. It would be a massive journey—19,000 miles from Seattle, Washington to Ushuaia, Argentina in Dave, our 1982 VW Westfalia. Plenty of time to be waylaid by breakdowns or disasters; no guarantee that we would make it all the way to the end. Yet, for some reason the idea captivated us and we began to envision it.
We left the café and walked the pleasant, palm-lined route to La Cachora beach where the sand stretched in a broad, glittering causeway. Gusts of wind lashed us as we unfurled our towels and suddenly, Tor let out a shout. A pod of gray whales was on the move! We scrambled for the binoculars and watched, awestruck as they leapt up and slapped their giant flukes on the water again and again.
On the way home, talk returned to the Pan American Highway trip—routes, gear, border crossings. What time of year would be we leave? Would we rebuild Dave’s engine or replace it with a diesel? What suited us better—having indomitable power or taking the slow road?
While exploring the south cape, we came across a secluded cove inhabited by several road-worn vans and adventure vehicles—even a German Unimog. A pair of nomadic campers cheerily fielded our questions. Did they like this beach better than the one over the hill? Yep. What about, uh … bathroom facilities? Just dig a hole and throw in some enzymes! Showers? Hang a solar shower on the back hatch! Where else did they camp on the peninsula? La Ventana, west of La Paz.
We returned to the beach, minds whirling. At the water's edge, I grabbed my mask and snorkel and splashed in. A school of blue spotted box fish emerged from the depths and I trailed them along a ridge, watching as they plucked at a carcass on the seafloor. Cradled by the current I floated, calm and weightless. I dove deep and swam the length of the shoreline, breaching the surface to gape at the stunning vista beyond the water's edge—a pair of gulls soaring in a sapphire sky, malachite mountains dotted with fluttering palms and the occasional red-tiled house. Beneath it all, like a tiny Lego-person, Tor waved from where he sat in the sand, beer in one hand, book in the other.
Back at the house, we swung in rooftop hammocks and read aloud—excerpts from blogs by people whose Pan American Highway journeys were either completed or underway. We discovered that PAH adventurers drive a motley rainbow of vehicles: campers of all flavors, Jeeps, 4Runners, Tacomas, Land Cruisers and Rovers, Mitsubishi Delicas and pimped-out Unimogs and of course—VW Westfalias. The prize for “Most Surprising Vehicle Choice” however, goes to a fellow named Andy, who apparently did it in his 1992 Infiniti M30 convertible. Irrefutable proof that as the songs says, you can go your own way.
A thought suddenly struck us: it wasn’t just the Pan-American Highway adventure that we were after, it was the return to a lifestyle we loved. We just wanted back on the road.
We know Road Life suits us because we lived this way in Mexico from 2011 - 2012. One of our favorite jaunts during that time was an impromptu five-week bus trip traveling across southern Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula to the mountains of Chiapas. Each day was a jumble of newness; how we looked forward to the strange streets, the subtle shifts in sounds, flavors, textures, ambience. Our Spanish went from rough to passable. We Skyped with clients from balconies, lobbies, rooftops, wherever we could get a signal, and never once wished we were anyplace else.
What would it be like this time? We mused. Much has changed since 2011, mostly for the better. We own less and travel lighter. Our freelance skills have increased. Technology has advanced on all fronts. Mindsets have broadened and all sorts of people are taking to the road long-term.
We revisited an idea we had discussed before—a transition to full-time vanlife in Dave, interspersed with house-sitting gigs and long-term rentals. The Pan American Highway could be just the beginning, we realized. Road Life could eventually be our new normal. Whether a full-time lifestyle or, on and off, as time permits—adventure never ceases to await.
On our last afternoon, we explored a row of beach campsites north of Cabo Pulmo. They were little more than trampled-down patches of earth between stands of palm trees and wild rose bushes. Each was large enough for a van, trailer or tent and offered unobstructed views of the sea bracketed by the rocky coast to the north and the palapa roofs of the village to the south. Horses nibbled grasses nearby. Farther out, something gleamed sharply amid the waves—a diving vessel? Sailboat? A whale?
We crunched down a pebbly path to the beach and reclined in the sand, watching as a pair of pelicans bobbed playfully then, dove into the waves. Behind us in the brambles there was a sudden whinny and nicker, the hollow knock of hooves against earth. Look! I cried, pointing to a blue heron as it soared past on a thermal. We craned our necks and watched it fade into the peerless sky. Yes, we agreed. We could definitely camp here.