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Finishing our Bus Conversion: April 2017 Wrap Up

I’m going to start this post by giving away its ending: Bruno and I hit the road in one week from today!  Next Monday, we plan to fully move into our Big Blue Bus and set out north, up through Arizona (for motorhome registration), quickly up through the United States (before our visa runs out) and into Canada.

I can think of practically nothing else, and with any free moment I am staring at maps and guide books, day-dreaming about the impending moment when Bruno and I are free!  I don’t even care that our bus won’t be “truly” finished – it will be liveable and we will be able to cease this crazy full-time work schedule and begin to decompress and return to our regular selves.  Jump for joy!!!!

Progress on our Bus Conversion

It’s taken a lot to get to this point, of course (find proof here).  This month has been as frantic as the previous two, though in a different way.  Rather than working non-stop inside the bus, Bruno has spent most of it at Pepe and Marco’s RV shop in Ensenada.  As I mentioned in our last bus conversion update, we found a place in town that was willing to do a few projects for us that we couldn’t manage ourselves.

Adolpho paints our RV door.

Adolpho, our personal helper at Pepe and Marco’s RV Repair shop, paints our new RV door.

Adolpho working on storage compartments under our chassis.

Adolpho working on storage compartments under our chassis.

What we found out later was that they’d said yes to be nice, but that they neither had the time nor the experience to do the things we’d asked!

Progress has thus been slow.

Every morning, Bruno leaves the house by 7:15am, drives into town and spends the next 9-10 hours there, overseeing Adolpho as he installs our RV door, builds storage boxes on the sides of our chassis, and installs a bike rack in the back of the bus.  Bruno manages to accomplish minor tasks inside – fixing the driver’s seat and fans, installing the curtain rods and closet rods, building walls as you walk into the bus – but because he’s parked on the side of the street and has one eye on Adolpho, progress inside our bus is just as slow as outside.  (In the midst of all of this, Bruno had to deal with a pretty big diesel leak that took a few days to get under control.  It was stressful to have precious diesel dripping out of the tank every time he drove, and he had no engine manual to help him figure out the problem, but after a couple tries, he changed the o-ring and we haven’t leaked since.  Phew!)

The guys at the RV shop trying to help Bruno figure out this diesel leak.

The guys at the RV shop trying to help Bruno figure out this diesel leak.

Drip, drip, drip.

Drip, drip, drip.

Adolpho is on the left.  Sometimes we get an extra set of hands, too.

Adolpho is on the left. Sometimes we get an extra set of hands, too.

Bruno insulating the inside frame of our new RV door.

Bruno insulating the inside frame of our new RV door.

Most days I stay home and deal with other types of tasks, like finding fabric and a tailor to sew window curtains, foam and an upholsterer for our dining room cushions, and keeping up with day-to-day tasks..  When Bruno arrives home, it’s become a sort of game to try to notice where progress has been made that day.  It’s not easy to spot the day-to-day difference.

It is only when I compile a list here of what we’ve worked on this month that I can see what we have, in fact, accomplished.  Between Adolpho and Bruno, we now have a fully-finished and insulated RV door.  We have a bike rack installed behind the bus.  And we are about two-thirds of the way finished with our four chassis boxes (which will store our propane tanks, grey water tank, spare tire, tools, and kerosene tank for our heater).  These are all key tasks before our grand departure – if you recall, when we took our road trip from Tucson to Mexico, we had the RV door and bicycles inside, and we traveled without propane or a spare tire, none of which was at all practical.

The installation of a bike rack behind the bus starts with a few cuts.

The installation of a bike rack behind the bus starts with a few cuts.

Here

Here’s our bike rack!

We

We’re getting storage compartments under our chassis!

Adolpho gets a bit of help one afternoon from his son.

Adolpho gets a bit of help one afternoon from his son.

There were more steps involved in making these storage compartments than we expected!

There were more steps involved in making these storage compartments than we expected!

Yesterday, Bruno finished installing our Eberspacher heater (which is great news because we hope to be in Yellowstone National Park in a few short weeks, and they’re still getting snow!)  We were both quite amazed that the thing started on the first try because, not only is it a complicated electronic system, but Bruno had to redo a lot of wiring in order to complete this new installation.  We turned the heater on this morning, just for fun!

Between the heater, the curtains and cushions, the work at Pepe and Marco’s RV Repair shop, and the carpentry work our HelpX volunteer, A.J., did for us earlier in the month, we’re sitting pretty for our grand departure.  We won’t be finished Big Blue – there are still a few pieces of furniture to build, all the finishing work to do, and Bruno has quite a few more mechanical items on his list – but we’re much better off for this road trip than last month’s!

Bruno

Bruno’s Erberspacher heater installation, now up and running!

Grey water tank now installed under chassis in one of our new storage compartments.

Grey water tank now installed under chassis in one of our new storage compartments.

Our new foam cushions.  Please excuse the mess - this is still a work zone.  Please also excuse the pattern explosion - the fabric on the table is only there temporarily as protection... we

Our new foam cushions. Please excuse the mess – this is still a work zone. Please also excuse the pattern explosion – the fabric on the table is only there temporarily as protection… we’re not that color blind!

This picture, for me, epitomizes the month of April - the cushions and curtains (my contribution, as well as the upholsterer

This picture, for me, epitomizes the month of April – the cushions and curtains (my contribution, as well as the upholsterer’s and the tailor’s); the book shelf and storage door (A.J., our HelpX volunteer’s contribution; the RV door (Adolpho and Bruno’s contribution); and the wall behind the passenger seat (all Bruno).

Being in Baja California

We arrived in Baja California at the end of March and are renting a villa at a resort and RV park along the coast south of Ensenada.  Mona Lisa Beach was probably nice a couple decades ago, but it’s pretty run-down now.  When we moved in, it was obvious no one had stayed here in a long time.  The villa smelled of must and rat piss, the garden was overrun with weeds, and the furniture was rusty.  Nonetheless, it was a vast improvement over the Air BnB where we were supposed to spend April, the price was less than half, and there was a big work space and parking space for our bus.

We’ve opted to continue sleeping inside the bus, which has sometimes proved challenging when we’ve created a cloud of dust over the course of the day’s work.  But it’s been cozy and comfortable in the back of Big Blue, and I still can’t believe we have an actual bedroom in our new home-on-wheels!

Mona Lisa Resort and RV Park, our temporary home for the month.

Mona Lisa Resort and RV Park, our temporary home for the month.

Our bus parked in front of our villa.  We

Our bus parked in front of our villa. We’re the one right behind the tree.

We

We’re right on the beach, but I can count the times I’ve visited it on one hand.

The living area inside.  We use it for cooking and bathing.

The living area inside. We use it for cooking and bathing.

... and as a workshop, of course.

… and as a workshop, of course.

Though most of our time has been spent working, it has been a refreshing change to be in a new country this month.  We hadn’t been in a “developing” country in over a year – since Morocco – the longest I’ve gone since I started traveling over a decade ago.  I’ve been practicing my Spanish (it’s really hilarious to listen to) and enjoying the local market, public buses, and taco stalls.  I’ll write specifically about my impressions of and experiences in Ensenada and the surrounding area in a blog post soon.  All I’ll mention today is that that being here in Mexico has substantially lowered our cost of living for the month (almost in half!).  We also spent a lot less on the bus this month (we’d purchased 90% of the things we needed while in Tucson), which is great since we’re over budget for our bus conversion project.

This Month’s Statistics

Kms Driven: Only 288, all of them to Ensenada and back.  It’s pretty astounding that, in so few miles, we already managed to have a diesel leak (that’s in addition to the transmission problem we had weeks after buying the bus in Phoenix!).

Countries Visited: 1, Mexico (if you can call what we’ve been doing “visiting”).

Playa Mona Lisa, just south of Ensenada.

Playa Mona Lisa, just south of Ensenada.

As you see, Ensenada is really only barely into Mexico.  We

As you see, Ensenada is really only barely into Mexico. We’re almost at the northern extremity of the Baja Peninsula.

Highlight: Getting so many difficult and important projects done on the bus.

Biggest Challenge: Getting so many difficult and important projects done on the bus!  No, but seriously, the biggest challenge was probably being a HelpX host, which is what I talked about in my previous post.  A close second is being so close to the finish line and trying to find that last burst of energy and momentum to get to the end.

On the Cards Next Month

Let’s bring it back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post – because, let’s face it, this is all I can think about these days: in May we are hitting the road!!!!!!!!!  Our plan is to register our vehicle as a motorhome in Arizona mid-month, then take about two weeks to drive straight north toward Canada, hopefully hitting up a few national parks along the way, like the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone.

The idea of being camped in a national park, with no cares, no to-do list, no crazy schedule, no pressing needs is, without exaggerating, one of the most intoxicating thoughts I’ve ever had (no wonder it’s on constant replay).  Now let’s cross our fingers that everything works out the way we hope!

  • Steve & Lorena - Hi, Bruno & Brittany,

    We met briefly at the Grand Teton Visitors center the other day and I thought I would check out your website. It made great reading and I enjoyed the post on the renovations to the bus. My wife is from Mexico and we have been down the Baja a number of times. I am sorry I did not pop out to the car park for a look at the finished job. I think you mentioned you were heading to Yellowstone and if you are going to still be there next Thursday let me know and maybe we can meet and share a beer.

    You make us feel like novices as we only have nine years on the road.

    Looking forward to when our paths cross again.

    Steve & LorenaReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Dear Steve and Lorena,

      Thank you so much for checking out our website and especially for writing to say hi! It’s great to hear from you both, and was especially great to meet you!

      We’ve just left Yellowstone after a WONDERFUL several days there. Special place. We followed your geyser advice, so thanks a bunch for that! Guess we’ll have to take a rain check on the beer, as we’re about to enter Canada… let us know when you both are back in N.A. after Ecuador and New Zealand – we’ll be here awhile!

      Best wishes and happy travels!

      Brittany and BrunoReplyCancel

  • 33Betty - I must say it was hard to find your blog in search results.

    You write awesome articles but you should rank your blog higher in search engines.
    If you don’t know 2017 seo techniues search on youtube:
    how to rank a website Marcel’s wayReplyCancel

  • Auntie Freya - You both are doing a great job. I love reading you blogs. I’m hoping you’ll get a chance to drop down in NY on your way back East. I’m home until the middle of June. I’m still waiting for your answer on my last email! Political as it might be, you did ask. I’d love your input. I’ve been busy cleaning out the house, but I have several trips coming up. That keeps me going. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Much love,
    Auntie FreyaReplyCancel

    • Brittany - I didn’t reply? My goodness, I don’t know where my brain has been… actually, I DO know! It’s been on this DANG bus! Can’t wait until my brain is out on the open road again – I am guessing I have a fair few emails to reply to! Haha!!ReplyCancel

      • Freya Gnerre - Dear Brittany and Bruno, You are really making progress. When you finally hit the road north to visit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, you will probably go thru Green River and/or Rock Springs, Wyoming. That is my tramping grounds. My Mother was born and raised there and I still have a lot of family there. It’s a great area and full of old western history. Let me know what you think when you travel thru. The bus is looking great – and I love your blogs. Much love, Auntie FreyaReplyCancel

  • Leslie Brown - X – That’s my crossed fingers. Looks like you have some great travels in front of you.
    GrampaReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thank you for the fingers! We need every single one we can get! Are you sure you don’t want to go out and buy another trailer and come hit the road with us? :)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth S - Wonderful! So glad you are finished the ‘big stuff’ and are soon to be back on the road. See you at the end of July and meanwhile enjoyReplyCancel

    • Brittany - I may have spoken too soon about being done the big stuff – forgot about windows, awning, kayaks, and the heater/AC system in the driver’s area…. ay yay yay!ReplyCancel

  • rcs - Things are looking up…for both Big Blue and your travels.
    I, too, miss the “wide open roads”.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Good thing we have a fun summer RV itinerary planned! :)ReplyCancel

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