This is the season to catch up with old friends you haven’t seen in a while through a phone call or one of those chatty Christmas letters. At least that’s the way it used to be. Today with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., you never need to lose touch. But since I’m almost entirely out of the social media loop, I do need to catch up now and again, and so I thought I would use this column to bring me—and you—up to date on people I’ve written about.
Maybe you remember Carola Teixido and Victor Millan, the 30-something couple from Chile who are driving home from Alaska in a 1996 truck camper equipped to run on recycled vegetable oil. When I reported on their adventure in January, they had driven from Alaska to Death Valley.
The original plan was to drive from North to South America in a year, but after 15 months, they haven’t gotten past Yucatan, Mexico. “There are so many things to see and so many experiences to live that we decided not to rush!” said Carola. From Mexico, they plan to go on to Belize and spend four or five months in Central America before putting their truck camper on a ferry to hop from Panama to Colombia.
When I reached them in Yucatán, they had driven 18,614 miles. More than 14,000 miles were covered while running their truck on vegetable oil collected from restaurants.
Acquiring used cooking oil for free was easy in Canada, but difficult in the U.S. because many restaurants sell their used oil to recycling companies. In Mexico, Carola told me, it’s a different story. Cooking oil is treated as garbage and thrown away. To get around that, Carola and Victor are using Facebook and Twitter to contact Mexican restaurants ahead of time and ask them to save their used oil. They are driving on cooking oil not only to save money, but also to promote recycling, which they are doing by contacting the press at every stop in Mexico.
Has the journey been worth it? “We love it,” Carola said in an email. “The best part of the journey has been the change, not to live in a routine.” As they travel from north to south, encountering different customs, food and climate, “we have learned to adapt to all circumstance and be very flexible,” she wrote. Carola and Victor are chronicling their trip at upachalupa.org.
Touring National Parks
Don and Shelly Hafner’s RV itinerary isn’t as adventurous as that of Carola and Victor, but, as I reported last May, they have an ambitious goal of visiting 59 national parks in 59 weeks. When I caught up with them recently at their 44th national park, the Grand Canyon, they had covered 21,000 miles and were on track to complete their goal by July 4. And, most important, they were having a wonderful time.
As Don wrote recently on their website (59nationalparks.com), “We came reluctantly to RVing. We were hotel people. We had never spent one night in an RV, much less owned one.” Nevertheless, they bought a truck and travel trailer for their national park tour, and have become enthusiastic RVers. Traveling in an RV has made it possible to take their dogs along and they are saving money by cooking their own meals. In addition, Don says he is impressed by the RVers he has met. “Staying in an RV park is like living in a small town,” he wrote. “The people are friendly and we watch out for each other.”
Of the 50 or so RV parks they have stayed in, only a few were major disappointments. Don told me his chief complaint is with RV parks that promise Wi-Fi connectivity, but don’t deliver.
Don said Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful park they have seen so far and Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the most surprising. Don said most rankings of national parks put Congaree near the bottom, but “we loved it.” The park is known for its old-growth hardwood forest, and they found the park beautiful, educational and a good place to hike.
One purpose of the trip was to enable Shelly, an accomplished photographer, to take photos. She has honed her skills by shooting everything from wildlife during the day to stars at night. You can see a couple of her beautiful photos here and more of her work by visiting 59nationalparks.com.
Voluntouring in New Orleans
Back in August of 2012, we ran a story about an RV trip to New Orleans and reported on efforts to rebuild the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Well, it will be 10 years since Katrina next August, and while much of the city is doing better than ever, rebuilding is still under way.
The recovery has been especially slow in one of the poorer neighborhoods, the Lower Ninth Ward, where some of the heaviest loss of life and worst damage occurred. Ineffective leadership, confusing regulations, government red tape and a lack of money are among many obstacles cited for the slow recovery. But the effort goes on.
Laura Paul, executive director of lowernine.org, talked to us in 2012 about voluntourism—coming to New Orleans to see the sights and have fun, but also pitch in on the rebuilding effort. You can still take advantage of this opportunity, Paul says.
It seems odd that nearly a decade after the disaster, there are many former residents of the Lower Ninth Ward who are still trying to come home and rebuild, but that’s the case. Lowernine.org provides volunteer labor if property owners can accumulate the building materials and acquire the necessary permits. Thus far, lowernine.org has completed 74 full rebuilds and undertaken more than 200 repair and renovation projects.
Paul said volunteers don’t need special skills. Each job site has skilled oversight to provide training as needed. Volunteers can come for a day, a week or a month. “We’ve worked with volunteers from all over the world,” Paul said. “Travelers love New Orleans and voluntourism is a great way to give back while you are enjoying this beautiful, unique city.”
Graham Hyde, who lives in France, had his first volunteering stint at lowernine.org in 2011 at the age of 69, and he plans to return to New Orleans in the spring. We asked him to describe the experience, and he wrote in an email: “As a volunteer you will get hot, dirty and sometimes wet but at the end of each day, you will get a great satisfaction, knowing that you have made a change in the way people live…So get in your RV, hit the road, park up and volunteer, and like me you will never regret it, and the work that you do will be appreciated and remembered.”
There are RV parks in the vicinity of the Lower Ninth Ward, including French Quarter RV Park, which is 3.5 miles away and in the heart of the tourist area. Others include Pakenham Mobile Home Park in St. Bernard Parish, and Pelican RV Park and Riverboat Travel Park, both about five miles away.
You can find out more about volunteering at lowernine.org.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find “First Glance” online at rvlife.com.