If I had to sum up the past two months, two words is all it would take – bus conversion.
Our entire minds and spirits have been revolved around the project of searching for and converting a vehicle into our new home-on-wheels. As reported earlier, most of our days have been spent researching vehicles, visiting them, checking out salvage stores and furniture stores, and making (and re-making) interior designs. Our route, which has taken us from Phoenix to Los Angeles and San Diego, then up to Las Vegas and back to Phoenix, has been entirely driven by our vehicle search.
In December, we managed a quick visit to Hollywood, because, well, when you’re in L.A., it’s a spot you can’t miss. This past month, we managed an equally quick one to the equally infamous Las Vegas Strip and the nearby Hoover Dam. It’s the only real “tourism” we’ve done since our visits to my first two US National Parks back in November.
Bruno had visited the Las Vegas Strip as a backpacker many years ago, and had fond memories of all the freebies he had been able to take advantage of as a young traveler. He was excited to show me the gladiators and knights and circus shows within the casinos, but to his dismay the costumed casino employees and free entertainment and food were no more. Instead were a series of rather generic casinos strung together by overhead walkways so that you felt you’d entered a labyrinth. We heard the occasional hoots and hollers, and saw what looked like a few high-stakes games, but it was mostly people sitting at video game screens pushing buttons and feeding coins into slots like zombies.
Since we’re not gamblers, the most interesting aspects of Vegas happen outside on the Strip. We walked past hotels that were decked out as Egyptian pyramids, fairy tale castles, volcanoes, dancing water fountains, and pirate ships! We passed by Venice’s gondolas, Paris’ Eifel Tower, and the New York City skyline! The scale of the Strip is massive (my feet hurt by the end of the day, as we walked from one end to the other), and it was impressive to see how each of these hotels had tried to differentiate themselves from the pack.
It was definitely very stereotypically “American.” There was a “Heart Attack Restaurant”, with single, double, triple and quadruple bypass burgers that you order from nurses taking your prescription. Customers weighing over 350lbs eat free. We caught the end of “Fat Elvis’” show – the most famous Elvis impersonator in the US, with almost as many drooling fans as the real Elvis himself. We walked past almost as many shopping malls as casinos (so that any money you win goes right back into where it came from). We accidentally stumbled into one while lost in the mazelike Caesar’s Palace. As you can see from the photo, its design was rather impressive.
To me, Las Vegas seemed like the best and worst of humanity all scrunched up into a single 4 mile street – the betting, the booze, the strippers, the gaudiness, the consumerism; but also amazing architectural feats and some of the world’s best musical and artistic performances.
We got to see one of them – Cirque du Soleil’s Ka. Neither Bruno nor I had ever seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before and Vegas seemed like the perfect opportunity to do it. My parents gifted us two tickets (thanks mom and dad!), so after a quick dinner we headed to the MGM Grand for the performance. It was every bit as dazzling and mesmerizing as I’d hoped for, and more so than any hotel I saw outside.
When we emerged from the theater, the neon lights of the Strip sparkled in the dark desert sky. I couldn’t help but think about how unlikely it was for this city to exist at all in this desolate desert. Alas, Vegas’ neon lights (and its charming welcome sign) shone flagrantly on.
Apart from this tourist day trip, Bruno and I mostly tried to find the occasional sweet moment while driving from one vehicle to another. After driving through the high Mojave Desert and its rock formations and sand dunes, we celebrated Bruno’s birthday at a Thai restaurant. While driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, we stopped for lunch at a state park and dipped our toes in the cold Pacific Ocean for the first time in years. While driving from Vegas to Phoenix, we stopped at the Hoover Dam for a photo op. And when there were no vehicles to see and no shops open to visit, we spent a couple of weekends at the gorgeous Lost Dutchman State Park east of Phoenix gazing up at the Superstition Mountains and examining the dull-coloured but fascinating desert birdlife.
Unfortunately, we missed two opportunities to visit two of America’s best national parks – Joshua Tree and Death Valley. In both instances, we passed within 20 miles of the parks – and we really, really wanted to go! – but we knew we needed to be responsible and stay connected to our phone and internet so that we could find our future home-on-wheels.
Instead of soaking up America’s natural beauty, we visited a ton of vehicles. I wish I had taken photos of all the vehicles we’ve seen in the past two months. Here are a few of them, a mere fraction of what we actually visited (and the best of the bunch).
At long last, after several frustrating months of searching for vehicles, we found a bus that finally seemed to have more going for it than against it. I’m happy to report that Bruno and I have finally bought our bus! And we have even begun the process of converting it into our future home-on-wheels! I’m going to write a post about our new bus soon, so for now I’ll just leave you with a photo of it. Details to follow soon, so stay tuned!
Statistics for December 2016 and January 2017:
Kilometers Driven: 4,106. Totoyaya is now at 602,553km, which means she has officially reached 600,000km! Unfortunately, now that we have our new bus, we’re not going to be logging too many more Totoyaya kilometers…
Nights in Campsites: 15. We found a few decent and affordable campsites in the region – the Estrella Mountain Regional Park Campsite, west of Phoenix ($20; toilets, no showers or electricity); Desert Garden Campsite in Quartzsite, AZ ($10 off-season price; toilets and showers); Lake Cahuilla County Park near Palm Springs, CA ($20/$30); San Elijo State Park along the Pacific Coast between Los Angeles and San Diego ($30/50), and Pahrump RV Park 60 miles west of Las Vegas ($20/30).
The most notable campsites we’ve found in the region is the Flying Dutchman State Park Campground. It has serviced/non-service sites ($30/20) and access to toilets and hot showers. Each campsite has a picnic table and barbecue pit and is large enough to offer space and privacy between neighbours. Most of all, the campsite is peacefully situated in the Sonoran Desert and each campsite offers a crazy incredible view of this mountain:
Air BnBs: Having never stayed at an Air BnB ever before, Bruno and I have definitely changed that these past two months! We’ve spent a total of 7 nights in two different Air BnBs – one in Los Angeles that I wrote so gushingly about, and one in Las Vegas. I think Bruno was feeling badly for my struggle to continue living in Totoyata (for all the reasons I shared very, very honestly in my last post) so he encouraged us to spend a few nights every once in a while in a “proper” home.
We’re actually staying in a condo right now, too, in Phoenix. Once we bought our bus it was time to start our conversion project, and for that we needed a proper home base to park our two vehicles, unload the Toyota, buy the necessary materials, and begin the conversion. I’m happily and comfortably settled in a warm home with a shower, toilet, and kitchen, so I feel a lot less grumpy now!
Highlights of the Month
December Highlight: Saving Christmas by breaking down and renting the cutest Air BnB cottage ever to be found in Los Angeles! (I probably don’t need to link to this story again, but I will!)
January Highlight: Easily and by far, buying our new bus! We’ve been waiting for this for months, and we’re happy with what we’ve found. Most of all, we’re just relieved that we can finally begin the actual conversion project!
Bonus Highlight: Our Christmas gift from my parents to see the Cirque du Soleil performance, Ka, in Las Vegas. Though I didn’t care for Vegas itself, I am grateful I got to have a quintessential Vegas experience that was right up my alley!
Challenges of the Month
I generally try not to dwell on challenges in these monthly wrap-ups, but in the past two months, we’ve experienced some noteworthy trials that I feel compelled to share.
December Challenge: I actually already shared this one in my last post. The bad weather, illnesses, and overuse of Walmart parking lots caused me to feel pretty bummed for most of December.
January Challenge: I haven’t shared this one at all on my blog, mostly because I hadn’t wanted to jinx it. Our beloved Totoyaya got sold back in August, minutes after Bruno posted an ad on a Land Cruiser forum. A guy from Boston came to visit our vehicle while we were in Montreal and gave us a small deposit on the vehicle. When we didn’t find a new vehicle in Canada and Bruno had US visa issues, our buyer agreed that we would keep Totoyaya until we found a new vehicle here in the Southwest USA.
When we finally found a new vehicle almost two weeks ago, we contacted our buyer. After many emails and much waiting, he finally decided to back out of the deal, citing bad timing, distance, and confusion over customs and importation. It’s extremely frustrating for us because we had given him several opportunities to back out over the months but he’d continued to express absolute interest. Now, we find ourselves with two vehicles, no extra cash to convert our bus, and no time to sell Totoyaya to anyone else!
We hope we can find someone to care for and travel with our Totoyaya soon. I really want to see her have a new home, and it would be heartbreaking for her journey to end here when she still has so much life to live. Please share our For-Sale Ad and spread the word! (Desperate cry for help #1!)
On the Cards Next Month
Conversion, conversion, conversion!
We’re staying in Phoenix until February 10th, at which point we have an Air BnB (what else? we’re experts now!) booked in Tucson. It’s a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom home with a big parking spot in front so we can park the bus and do as much work as possible over the course of a month. If anyone wants to come help us, we can offer you a private room and bathroom and free delicious vegan meals! Let us know! We’re totally serious! (Desperate cry for help #2!)
You can expect the next few blog posts to mostly revolve around this huge project, so do stay tuned. It’s been more difficult to post regularly, but I’ll do my best to keep Wandering Footsteps alive over the coming weeks!