travelog 6

What The Hell Are They Doing...

At first we wanted to "open up" half of North America within one year. We planned to ship our vehicle (PocoLoco) over from Europe to the eastern coast of North America, and then to reach without any detour the American Southwest to begin our "real" journey - in the middle of "our" succulent plants. We intended to visit all the western US-states, the western part of Canada and a part of Alaska. All that within one year!

It worked out to be impossible...

To drive from the port of entry (Portsmouth, Virginia) through the southeastern US-states North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the northern part of Florida (the Panhandle) we required four weeks - as there were so many interesting details to check out (and especially the excellent seafood to enjoy!). For passing the continent from the East to the West through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana (New Orleans sends compliments!) and the eastern part of Texas another two weeks were needed. Around Christmas we arrived in the first cactaceous region: the Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, just at the border to Mexico. Just this area kept us busy for more than 3 weeks.

From that moment on nobody and nothing can push us further on. Here there is a nice place to stay; over there we want to stay a few days or even a week or more. The route we intended to drive (especially the visit to Alaska) becomes blurred, moves in bigger distance - because it's simply not able to be comprehended. The American state of Arizona alone has so many interesting spots to visit, that it is impossible to experience them all within a reasonable amount of time. "El Niņo" - for the Americans responsible not only for the weather - certainly takes a big part of the "responsibility" for the extraordinary spring in this region. Despite of unfamiliar coolness, the gorgeous bloom we encounter in the southern desert areas is just marvellous. We enjoy the optical impressions and we just can't stop taking pictures.

The disillusioning result: A year has not enough weeks!

Starting our trip in the American east we didn't dare to stay overnight outside of an official campground - somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And if we did it once, we were nervous half of the night - if someone would call the police to chase us away!?

We gave up doing so at all! In the American western states there are very useful facilities: the BLM land and the National Forests. These are public lands under the supervision of the Bureau of Land Managment or the US Forest Service. And on these lands it is allowed to stay overnight (unless it is posted otherwise) and to camp for a certain amount of time, if one respects some kind of unwritten regulations (no off-road driving, safe campfires etc.). This reduces the monthly expenses for camping considerably. At first we spent about $300 per month for camping - which decreased to $40 a month. But from time to time, especially when we feel like having a big shower, we "grant" the luxury of a campground stay - mostly in one of the several State Parks. But we keep our distance from visiting KOA-Campgrounds (KOA=Kampgrounds Of America) - they have the reputation of "luxury" campgrounds with the appropriate prices (we heard some examples: $68 PER NIGHT in southern Florida - only to park your truck there!?!). But a lot of American campers go into rapture talking about KOA. Especially they like easy roll-on, easy roll-off - that means nothing else than staying overnight just beside the Interstate. Americans seem to have nothing against noise - but we do!

Therefore we became used to driving the byways. Connections, which sometimes are exaggeratedly called "Scenic Byway" are sometimes only called "Backcountry Byway". Routes, which appear within the road atlas (if they do so) only as dashed lines. Roads, which cannot even be called so. Tracks, which are driven only by the real freaks of the off-roader scene. Sometimes a little bit wider than a cow-track, just wide enough that our PocoLoco can use it. The result is "cool": all the campers, who let their generator roar the whole day and half of the night (to stay within nature is in, but without watching TV?!) are far away, all the questioning people are gone ("what's that?" - "I've never seen something like that!" - "what's the mileage?") and the so-called "fulltimers" and "Snowbirds" don't exist any more (fulltimer = retired, traveling around with a camper the whole year; snowbirds = a little bit nasty expression for retired people traveling down south when the snow arrives at home) - both have nothing else to do than to wait for an interesting vehicle or situation. Even if you are working on some repair, they surround your vehicle and ask and ask...

But here in the middle of nowhere nobody bothers us for several days. We meet a lonely rider on his horse searching for a lost cow, we meet (it's the weekend) one Jeep stuffed with happy off-road freaks hopping down the trail and we meet two bikers on their Enduros. What else? Silence - nature - loneliness - phenomenal visual impressions - smells - a naked bath in a natural (cold) pool - the unique opportunity to observe endemic flora and fauna in their natural environment - of course also snakes, lizards, spiders or the giant Tarantula Wasp (a 2-inch-long wasp, who "uses" the Tarantula spiders as womb) - and also, last but not least, the cute hummingbirds, which we took to our heart!

We enjoy also the campfires, which give us not only warmth and comfort - but we enjoy also the good food from the b-b-q. Therefore we produce our own homemade sauces, dips or with some ingredients-enriched butter. The recipes, stored on our laptop computer (new recipes are continuously added) help us to prepare a matching side-dish with fresh ingredients. Although it's not possible to work always according to the original recipe (improvization is IN), the results taste in most cases strikingly good. And for a good meal also a good glass of wine should not be missing - America offers exceptional wines - that is superfluous to say... Cheers!

Without doubt - it's a new lifestyle, without stress, without being pressed to do something like in the past. The only things, which are sometimes missing, are:

- meetings and good talks with friends (which we try to replace with a regular e-mail contact)

- some kinds of food (good European bread with the typical crust, European cheese etc.)

- cultural events theater, opera, concerts)

The things that keep us "on the go" are the outstanding places still to see and certainly the plants we are searching for - primarily to find them, to see them in their own environment and to write down a kind of documentation. But about this we will tell you in one of our next Travel Notes.

May 1998

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen