Is Seven Inches Enough?

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Before we left Canada to start on this trip, there was considerable discussion amongst our friends as to whether seven inches is really enough? The guys tended to think it would be quite sufficient, while the gals were generally of the opinion that a little longer would be better. We are referring, of course, to the length of the rod in our clothes closet!! Over the seven months that we've been on the road, we've found that, in fact, seven inches is entirely adequate for the sort of clothes that one needs on this kind of trip. Many of our readers have subsequently enquired about the various comforts (or lack thereof) in our van, so we thought we might dedicate this entry of TravelPod to a few specifics about our travelling conditions.

How many clothes are enough? Well, venture into your own clothes closet, measure off seven inches, divide it into two and see how many clothes hangers comfortably fit into the space - that's how we determined how much each of us could bring along! Actually, that's not entirely accurate as we also have a small overhead locker for underwear, socks, bathing suits and t-shirts, and then a locker under the bench seat for extras such as jackets, hiking shoes, and of course our woolly slippers and long underwear to keep us cozy on the cold nights in the highlands (with lots more expected in southern Chile). We're just having to manage without our dress suits, tuxedo, fur coats and that sort of thing!!

Our "home-on-wheels" has everything that we need for this trip - and the best thing is that it's all within arms reach! Our 4' x 4' kitchen/living room/dining area (which we fitted with a soft linoleum flooring and area rug before leaving) is ideal for preparing and eating our meals, complete with a two-ring propane stove, fridge, food lockers, sink (with 50 litre water supply), cupboards for the dishes and a drawer for cutlery, and even a sliding-door cabinet for our favourite glasses and mugs, which we had specially constructed out of smoked grey acrylic. We also had a matching bookshelf custom-made to hold all our Lonely Planet Travel Guides for all the countries we expected to visit. With the passenger seat swivelled around, and both tables swung out, it makes for a very convenient set-up. When the weather permits, we set up our folding picnic table, propane barbeque and luxury lawn chairs under the 10' x 6' foot awning outside - complete with Guatemalan table cloth, wine glasses and candles, we can enjoy gourmet meals! However, we also dine out a lot, so that we get a good sampling of the local cuisines of each country and region.

Before setting out, we had planned on booking into a hotel two nights in every ten. This would enable us to spread out a bit, get a good night's sleep, have hot showers and do a bit of laundry. However, we soon came to realize that we much preferred staying in our own little home where everything is very comfortable and in its place. A one-inch thick memory foam, purchased at the last minute, adds to the coziness of our bed under the pop-up top. And there was no need for us to answer the question "Who'll be on top and who's on the bottom?", as we are still both energetic enough to climb up to the overhead, 4' wide sleeping quarters. Having over one hundred and twenty CDs with us, and a newly-fitted CD player with four speakers, we can enjoy tailor-made evening concerts. We even have a technologically advanced remote control (a four foot length of dowelling!) to turn off the CD player from above before drifting off to sleep.

Should it be every night or once a week? For those of you whose wild imaginations are still active, this question simply refers to the frequency of having showers along the way! When camping in the desert or other remote locations, a kettle of hot water in a basin is quite sufficient for a sponge bath or even a hair wash. For those of us who still have some hair, a good body perm can make up for the lack of a hair dryer, although a recent perm with highlights turned into what appears to be dread of the risks of not travelling with your personal hairdresser!! We often camp within a hotel compound/complex or in a restaurant garden, and then generally have access to toilets and showers in one form or another. Our portable toilet is used basically for emergencies, and has definitely come in very handy a number of times.

Laundromats as we know them back home are fairly rare, but local laundry facilities are available everywhere so we are able to change our clothes at least every two or three days!! It's only the rare occasion (like here in Lima where we're visiting an elegant friend) that we feel somewhat embarrassed with our limited wardrobes.

For the more technically minded our vehicle is a 1987 VW Westfalia Camper Van, with a 2.1L liquid-cooled, gas engine with only 50,000 km on the clock. We were lucky enough to locate it last year in Sudbury, and purchased it from Peter and Helen, a delightful Canadian-Ukranian couple. They had bought it new in 1987 and had used it mostly for local travelling during the summers. It had never been winter driven and was in pristine condition. We made several adaptations in preparation for our trip, and had all the mechanical aspects checked thoroughly by Frank Condelli, a VW guru in Almonte. We carry quite a few spare parts and tools with us, and are meticulous with periodic maintenance. To date it has been very reliable and we have had no problems, except for replacing the ignition coil in Guatemala. The van has earned the affectionate nickname of DC3 (Dream Catcher III), and we are accompanied by our faithful and uncomplaining travelling companion, Mr. Snuffles.

We have two other pieces of equipment which deserve a mention, because they have proved to be indispensable. The first is our laptop computer, a Toshiba Satellite, and the second is our camera, a Canon PowerShot S50 digital. We are able to work on the laptop in the van, writing e-mails and our TravelPod entries, and download and edit photos at our leisure. When we are ready we then stop in at one of the innumerable (and very inexpensive) internet cafes along the way, and plug our laptop directly into their local area network for going on-line. This access to e-mail and the web has proved to be an essential communications tool for us in our new life as homeless vagabonds!
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