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Test-Driving a Half-Converted Bus: March 2017 Wrap-Up

I’m writing this post from my new bed inside our big blue bus in Mexico.  For anyone following Wandering Footsteps recently, you know this is a big deal!  We have been working non-stop for over two months on converting a bus into an RV, and as of March 26th, we’ve moved in!

Make no mistake – this bus is far from converted.  Since my last blog conversion post (where I highlighted our challenges and proudly displayed our progress on the dining room benches, composting toilet, bed frame, and shower walls) we haven’t done a whole lot.  In fact, since we no longer had any HelpX volunteers and we were busy organizing last-minute pre-departure issues, the only new bus addition to report is that our Ikea kitchen is officially up and running.  We cut and fit butcher’s block, installed the sink and faucet, and added the cabinet and drawer fittings.  The only issue we still haven’t solved is how to keep all those doors closed – we tried neodymium magnets (very strong rare earth magnets), but they don’t even manage to keep the drawers closed when we turn!  Back to the drawing board for that issue.

One afternoon I came home from running errands and Bruno had THIS to show me!

One afternoon I came home from running errands and Bruno had THIS to show me!

Look at those beautiful kitchen cabinets!

Look at those beautiful kitchen cabinets!

And that lovely butcher

And that lovely butcher’s block! :)

The reason, then, that Bruno and I have moved into an unfinished big blue bus is that we’ve almost arrived at the yearly maximum stay in the United States (six months per year) and we need to save a few weeks to register the vehicle as an RV in Arizona and to hightail it up the US into Canada.

And so, on March 26th, after staying in our lovely Air BnB home in the equally lovely city of Tucson, we moved out.  For obvious reasons, we didn’t get much chance to visit Tucson, but I am working on an upcoming post about why I loved what I did experience of Tucson.  Stay tuned, especially if you had no idea (like me) that Tucson was so cool!

Bruno and I knew that things were going to be a bit chaotic inside Big Blue.  Not only was the conversion itself not finished (no propane so no hot water or cooktop; minimal lighting installed; no toilet door; incomplete storage so many extra boxes of stuff that we couldn’t hide away; no dining table; no bike rack so bicycles would be transported inside the bus – which actually turned out to be good news since they held our kitchen drawers shut!) but we would also be transporting all our unused construction materials with us.  This included cedar planking, several white cardboard sheets, plywood, paint, insulation, tools, and a massive RV door.

I expected not even to be able to manoeuver inside the bus (I told myself to breathe, it was only four nights), but both Bruno and I were pleasantly surprised that we were able to stack stuff away fairly well.  Boxes got stacked in the toilet, shower, and between dining room benches.  Cardboard sheets slid under the mattress.  Planks and wood were fixed onto the bedroom walls.  Bicycles were tied up to the kitchen cabinets, and the RV door was placed inside the bus entrance door.  We only had about 20cm with which to slide in and out of the bus, but that was a small price to pay for finding an actual spot for that damn door!


Our bikes had to be inside the bus for the mini road trip.

And the RV door fixed on the inside of our bus entrance, leaving us only about 20cm of space to get in and out.

And the RV door fixed on the inside of our bus entrance, leaving us only about 20cm of space to get in and out.

Well, I guess we won

Well, I guess we won’t be using our toilet…

Building materials stashed wherever we could find space.

Building materials stashed wherever we could find space.


Getting the bed ready to sleep in!

Bruno and I stopped off in Phoenix to pick up some spare parts, replace a leaking O-ring on our new transmission, get an Ikea kitchen refund (for their annual kitchen sale), and buy a second solar battery before officially hitting the road.  Our first night in the bus, then, was at the local Walmart where we had spent countless nights in December and January!  For our second night, we returned to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park at the west end of the city.  It was there that we christened our shower (cold water, yes, but amazing to have a shower in our home!) and filled up our 200-liter water tank for the first time.  All went well!

The following night, we found ourselves near Yuma, just beyond the California border.  We parked at a casino and I once again noticed our bus’ qualities – we took another shower, I cooked inside, we washed dishes and didn’t have to worry about grey water disposal, and we burrowed ourselves inside once it got cool.  At one point, Bruno was sitting on his camping chair and I was in the kitchen and I realized that neither of us was in the other’s way!  It was amazing!

Our first never ever sleeping in Big Blue.  Very romantic! :)

Our first never ever sleeping in Big Blue. Very romantic! :)

Bruno filling up our 200 liter water tank.  Easy!

Bruno filling up our 200 liter water tank. Easy!

The following day we drove through the very southernmost part of California (sometimes you could actually see a wall that was the border with Mexico – the infamous “Mexico Wall”) and it was beautiful!  We passed the Imperial Sand Dunes and I felt like we were back in the Arabian Peninsula; then we drove past a sea of giant boulders that looked a lot like the Balancing Rocks of Zimbabwe; and lastly, we entered a terrain of rolling hills, grey rock, and arid plants that were uncannily like the Mediterranean that we could have been in Turkey or the Southwest of France.

In this moment, it felt so good to be on the road again that Bruno and I had half a mind to keep driving, never stop, and simply never finish our conversion at all!  This feeling was only reinforced when we arrived early at our stop for the night (a run-down campsite just before the Mexican border town of Tecate) and we actually sat outside under the shade of a tree and read our books.  People, we read books in the middle of the afternoon!  Nothing has ever seemed so luxurious.

Driving past the Imperial Sand Dunes of Southern California.

Driving past the Imperial Sand Dunes of Southern California.

This landscape reminded me a lot of Zimbabwe (though not so much this particular photo).

This landscape reminded me a lot of Zimbabwe (though not so much this particular photo).

The Mexico Wall, and a Mediterranean-like landscape.

The Mexico Wall, and a Mediterranean-like landscape.

The last morning of our road trip, Bruno and I crossed from the U.S. into Baja California, Mexico.  We chose the small border of Tecate (we always choose small borders for their ease and relative friendliness) and had a hilarious experience trying to get our passports stamped!  We actually crossed into Mexico and had to drive around, park, and walk back to the border to get our immigration stamps!  People, if you’re an illegal alien (or overstaying your visa) wanting to cross into the other country, there is no better way than to walk across this border.  F.Y.I.

Our drive from Tecate to Ensenada was pleasant.  My senses were alive in a way they only ever are when I’m in a so-called “developing” country.  There’s just so much to look at.  And I think I’d been on withdrawal – we hadn’t been to one in over a year (since Morocco), the longest period of time I’ve ever gone without visiting the “developing world” since I started traveling twelve years ago!  We took the Rota del Vino, the Wine Route, which meanders through hills of vineyards.  Who knew Mexico made so much wine?  Apparently about 80% of Mexican wine comes from this small area.  We know what we’ll be taste-testing in the coming weeks!

The US/Mexican border.  Hilarious experience trying to cross it!

The US/Mexican border. Hilarious experience trying to cross it!

Rota del Vino, or the Wine Route, from Tecate to Ensenada.  Lovely!

Rota del Vino, or the Wine Route, from Tecate to Ensenada. Lovely!

A view coming into Ensenada.

A view coming into Ensenada.  Fun to be back in a chaotic city!

We got an unpleasant surprise, however, when we arrived in Ensenada.  We’d booked another Air BnB for a month so that the bus would be free to keep working on (it would be much more difficult to progress quickly on the conversion while living in it at a campsite).  But the Air BnB was horrible!  It was in a small, run-down two-storey apartment complex with smoking, music-playing, seedy neighbours.  The “private parking” for the bus would be in the communal parking lot for the apartment with only a tiny gate to keep it [not] secure.  And the apartment itself was dirty and depressing.  The pots and pans were completely rusted, as were the bathroom handles (which also didn’t work).  There were no bedroom doors (and we’re expected another HelpX volunteer).  There were dirty towels, spilled food in the cupboards, hairy soap on the shower floor, and empty pill packages on the bedside table.  The fridge hummed as loudly as old neon hospital lights.  Electric cables ran along the ground in the middle of the floor.

There was no way I was staying there.  I may have been able to manage a night or two.  But a month or more?  No.  No way.  We took photos of what we could, contacted the host, kick-started a refund request on Air BnB, and left.  At this moment, I was so grateful for Big Blue.  To have a home – finished or not – into which to retreat gave us the confidence to refuse this Air BnB.  I’m not sure what we would have done had we had no other accommodation option for the night.  It’s good to carry one’s home with oneself!

A few of the photos we took for our Air BnB refund request.

A few of the photos we took for our Air BnB refund request.



It’s kinda hard to take photos of the dirt and grime, but dust we can do.

For the past two nights, we’ve been at a nearby resort’s RV Park.  We’ve been scrambling to figure out a plan B for ourselves because, as much as we’d like to pretend the work is over and that we can just camp by the beach and enjoy the view and the hot tub forever – especially now that we’re in a new exotic country and there are markets to explore and a language to learn – there’s work to do!

Ahhh, this is MUCH better than the dodgy Air BnB apartment!

Ahhh, this is MUCH better than the dodgy Air BnB apartment!

We could get used to this!

We could get used to this!

Bus conversion?  What bus conversion?

Bus conversion? What bus conversion?


We’re just one of the pack now.

Thoughts on Big Blue after our Road Trip

It was helpful to test out Big Blue midway through our conversion.  It gave us some insight on what worked and what didn’t – though some of the things that “didn’t work” are too late to change!

So what worked?

  • The size of the shower (almost 80x80cm) is luxuriously large
  • The layout of the space – the bedroom is cozy and the kitchen has plenty of counter- and storage-space
  • The comfort of the driving seats up front and the massive view of the windows
  • The water and grey water tanks. So much capacity!  So practical!  Two thumbs up!
  • The bus is easy and comfortable to drive on highways, and its gas mileage on flat roads was better than expected

What didn’t work so well?

  • The size of the vehicle when driving – we feel huge (and we are, compared to Totoyaya) so it’s difficult to park and manoeuver, especially in cities
  • The size of the front windows (while lovely for sightseeing) make bug splatter a big problem. Oh, and we’re also an easy target for runaway stones.  We’ve already got a crack in one windshield…
  • The stainless steel kitchen sink – who knew stainless steel was so high-maintenance? Not me.  And who ever invented flat rectangular sinks obviously didn’t have to clean his.
  • City and hill driving killed our gas mileage. Yikes!
  • Potholed and non-paved roads seem like insurmountable challenges now, and I’ve suddenly begun noticing bad roads everywhere that we can no longer choose with ease.
Going on a mini road trip, gonna test our bus!

Going on a mini road trip, gonna test our bus!

OOOUUUHHHH!  I love all the space in here!

OOOUUUHHHH! I love all the space in here!

I LOVE my new bedroom!

I LOVE my new bedroom!

Depending on the moment, I alternated between loving our new big blue bus and painfully missing Totoyaya.  The biggest thing right now is that this bus doesn’t feel like “us”.  I expect that, as with all things, there is a period of adjustment with regards to some of Big Blue’s disadvantages, but that [hopefully] we’ll arrive at a happy homeostasis with our new home-on-wheels.

This Month’s Statistics

Kilometers Driven: 900km.  Our bus now reads 125,259.5 miles.

Nights on the Road: 4, officially, with an extra two sleeping in the bus because of the bad Air BnB experience.

Countries Visited: 2. United States and Mexico.

This month

This month’s road trip.

Notable Roads: Maybe we’ve just been starved for a good road trip, but Hwy 94 (“Old Hwy 80”) in Southern California was beautiful!  And Hwy 3 from Tecate to Ensenada, which passes through Mexico’s wine country, was pretty nice, too!

This Month’s Notable Moments

It’s obviously rather notable that Bruno and I moved into our new big blue bus this month and that we’ve been testing it out on our mini road trip.  It’s been wonderful to be back on the road again, but also somewhat frustrating because both of us are so impatient to truly get back on the road!

The most notable moment this month, by far, was selling our beloved Totoyaya.  Though this moment has been on the horizon for a year, it didn’t make the goodbye any easier.  We’re grateful to have sold her before our departure to Mexico (it would have been pretty complicated to travel here with two vehicles) and we’re happy to have an influx of cash to continue our bus conversion, but seeing her drive out of sight with her new owner was a heartbreaking  moment neither Bruno nor I will ever forget.  This wasn’t just a notable March moment – this was a notable life moment.

On the Cards Next Month

We plan to be near Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, throughout April, continuing our bus conversion project.  We hope to find someone in town that can do a bit of welding work for us and to welcome another HelpX volunteer.  Maybe with all the extra hands, we’ll manage to make some major conversion progress this month!

Welcome to Ensenada!

Welcome to Ensenada!

  • Jennifer J - My cousin Brittany! I love you so much. I just caught up on your lovely website and you made me laugh ou loud so many times!!! You and Bruno are doing an INCREDIBLE fast job on the bus and it is gorgeous. Bruno is so talented! Have fun growing into it. I am so envious (in a good way), as I am in heavy pring cleaning and such here (house… ball and chain?). I love your blog Brittany, your authenticness shines through each tale on the road. xoReplyCancel

  • amir - Yes, they can handle the weight, trust me. They get screwed into the doors and drawers and it helps if its solid wood ofcourse. I am confident it will do the trick for you.

    I cant find the exact ones we have, but its made by this company here. They also have new ones which instead of using screws uses 3m tape, I wouldn’t go that route.


    • Brittany - Hi Amir! Just seeing this now (I didn’t get an email notification about your reply), and that’s a great idea! I actually stumbled upon this a few days ago during research and feel it’s the next logical step for us to take. At the very least we can try it because it doesn’t involve cutting any holes into the front façade of the doors, which is what Bruno is contemplating doing right now!! Thanks a bunch! :)ReplyCancel

  • amir - what you need for the cabinets and drawers is baby/child locks. plenty of different types available on amazon. they also have a disable feature and can be activated ONLY while you’re in transit. and a magnet pops them open from the outside when you stop after travel.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Hey Amir! I thought of child-proof locks but Bruno was worried they wouldn’t be strong enough for all the weight we’re carrying in the kitchen. We’ll have to look at a few different models, especially since our cabinets don’t have much to latch onto on the sides or tops of the cabinets. In retrospect I should have chosen a less beautiful but more functional kitchen. Ah well, you live, you learn!ReplyCancel

      • Brittany - Do you have a link for the lock you’re describing, btw?ReplyCancel

  • Leslie Brown - Well, you sure fooled me. When I saw that bus full of seats, I figured it would take at least 6 months before you could get in to spend the first night. You two have done a marvelous job so far. Be proud of your great effort.
    Love GrampaReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Wow, what an encouraging comment! I just read it to Bruno because he’s having trouble kick-starting the project here in Mexico. I think he’s exhausted and is reaching his limit. But these comments definitely give him a bit of pep in his step! Keep ’em coming! :)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth S - What fabulous work you have both been doing! Not to worry; you will soon both grow into Big Blue’s size. As with everything, however, there are always plusses and minusses.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thank you, and yes, I totally agree! Love will come with time, I’m sure, and with every plus there is a minus.ReplyCancel

  • Molly McCarron - Oh my gosh-how far are south are you guys going? I’m so jealous! Your bus looks fabulous! You probably won’t find any down there but I would take a sneak peak at some RV places and have a looky-loo at the interior cabinets, or you could get child-proof drawer and cabinet locks. They may solve your problem. I have the best stainless steel cleaner. It’s the bomb (link below) but I know those flat sinks are a pain. Your bus does look luxurious! I’m so happy for you guys. I hope you are going to Cancun!


    • Brittany - Hey Molly!! Thanks so much for your tips! Do you use that stainless steel cleaner every time you use the sink? I couldn’t believe when I read the directions for our sink and it said to wipe it dry after every use! I mean, like, WHO does that?!?
      So, our plan this spring is actually not to go any further than Ensenada, Baja. We’ll have to save the further south thing for next year. Still a lot of bus work to do and then we need to register it as an RV in Arizona and head up to Canada for the summer. Exciting Mexican adventures await us NEXT winter!
      P.S. I can’t believe what happened with your contractor! That’s absolutely crap – any way to catch up to him and get your money back?ReplyCancel

      • Molly McCarron - Hi Brittany,

        We actually use it on our stainless steel pans and it works on our porcelain sink too! We just had an amazing resolution with our contractor. He agreed to give us all our money back! Woo-woo! I guess he realized I was gonna fight to the death (in court) and there was no way he was going to win. If you ever come back here I will show you what we have done. I love your blog and I have finally signed up. Keep up the good work! Give a kiss to Justin Trudeau for me when you get up there, okay? LolzReplyCancel

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