Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

The Worst 9 Moments of Our First Year on the Road

September 19th, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in About | Celebrations | Costa Rica | Dogs | Honduras | Mexico | Nicaragua | Oh | Speedbumps | The Places We've Been

Yesterday we shared our best 10 moments from our first year as Vangabonds, and so today we think it’s only fair to fess up about the worst 10 as well. Except we couldn’t think of 10 moments that were all that deserving. We stretched ourselves, but 9 will have to do. As we devised this list together, we opted not for the moments that were actually negative in retrospect (ailing through West Nile Virus or being without running water for days at a time) or those that were kind of “ugh” (finding all of our clothes covered in mold), but rather for those that were the hardest at the time – moments of temporary defeat that while we may laugh at now, we can still recall in our gut. In order from least frustrating to biggest blow, they were:

#9 When the Scorpion Nightmares Happened

Beginning in January with our very first scorpion encounter in Baja Sur, Ian started doing research into the strange creatures and in turn initiated a set of unwanted but recurring scorpion nightmares. For two months, he talked about scorpions in his sleep as they crept around his dreams and tormented is psyche. We laughed about his frantic mumbles in the mornings, but it was nice when they finally subsided.

Scorpion Nightmare Starter

#8 When Ian Got Sick in San Cristobal

Have you ever had to emergency-shit behind a tree in the woods in Mexico? Twice? Not Ian’s best day. For the most part, we avoided major illnesses in our first year. Instead, we were perpetually “irregular” and consistently not quite 100%. We were careful with our food and water, but to us, the constant battling of our immune systems was just an accepted part of the lifestyle, even while still in the United States. It didn’t affect our activities. We were almost never confined to bed or unable to participate in the exploration of the world around us. Until one day in San Cristobal de las Casas, Ian went for a run and at 30 minutes in, his body made other plans. We were scheduled to drive on to Oaxaca in less than 48 hours, and we weren’t going anywhere with him in that condition. A day in bed though, one of the few we’ve needed in the last year, and he was back to normal.

#7 When Olmec Ran Away

Our house in San Juanico in January was on a fenced property, which was nice in that we could let the dogs run freely outside. We knew the fence wasn’t perfect, but we were always in the yard with the pups, so we didn’t think much of it. Then one day, we noticed Olmec had quietly slipped away. He does this sometimes, mindlessly wandering off in whatever direction his nose takes him and forgetting altogether that he ever had a family. Once, when hiking in North Carolina, he had taken off after a deer, and after a long search for him, we found him hiking with a new family, completely content to be prancing along on the trail behind them. Olmec may be our better behaved dog, but Maya always comes when she’s called and she never goes far. Anyway, we checked all around the house and in the yards of the neighbors whose dogs would occasionally come and visit. We looked up and down the sandy streets and then jumped in the CR-Van to start searching through the tiny town. San Juanico was small and there weren’t high speed roads for him to meander onto, but it was also just a short walk from a vast and wild dessert that we had gotten lost in ourselves just a couple of days earlier and was filled with domineering, tough street dogs. On top of that, our dogs had been widely commented on and adored thus far in Mexico. We couldn’t seem to convince people that they were not expensively bred pets, and we feared that our sweet dog on the loose might be taken in to a new home. Eventually, we crossed paths with a local man walking through town who had not seen Olmec, but agreed to keep an eye out. We continued our search fruitlessly and were circling back for another round when the local man came around a corner with his new buddy trotting alongside. We were so relieved. Olmec didn’t even seem to notice he’d left.

Handsome Dog on Rocky Beach

#6 When the Stove Exploded

After a couple of days of travel, one beer too many the night of our arrival, and some internet troubles (this is a recipe for many of our most tiring moments), we awoke on our first morning in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua feeling pretty foggy. Ian, who functions at a maximum of 34% brainpower before he’s had his day’s coffee, was on a mission to make his preferred cowboy-style brew in a new kitchen and with a stove that he mistook in his early stupor as glass-top. It was not, in fact, a glass-top stove, but rather, had a glass lid over the burners that needed to be lifted prior to igniting the gas. He turned the dial and pushed the button trying to get the heat going. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Nothing. I could hear it over and over from bed as he tried to wrap his low-performance morning brain around why it wasn’t working. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Nothing. We agreed to walk to a nearby cafe instead, but a persistent Ian decided to give it one last try before we left. Tick-tick-tick-tick-BOOM! The stovetop exploded. In his haze, Ian went from confusion to frustration to self-loathing and back to confusion again while we tracked down our landlord and swept up thousands of tiny pieces of glass, each a reminder of the coffee we still did not have.

Exploded Stovetop

#5 When Ian’s Computer Died

Ian wrote a pretty thorough three part exposé detailing the day his computer died, our trip to the PC doctor, and the saga’s not-so-epic conclusion. This bit from the first of the trio discusses his relationship with his computer and pretty accurately summarizes why the day it died makes it onto our worst moments list:

“As a web guy it’s easily my most important possession; this is probably compounded by the fact that we own so few actual things. I’ve had more than one daydream where someone drives off with our car and everything inside of it, but don’t care all that much because my computer is strung safely across my shoulder. It’s my income stream and in some ways represents my independence — if somehow I was robbed of everything and left with just my computer I feel like I could start building again immediately and everything would be just fine. Increasingly, our most valuable “possessions” are digital. As a digital nomad my computer is my main connection to the people I am close to. As a millennial it is my go-to source for information of nearly any kind, and represents nearly limitless knowledge and potential. Healthy or not, that’s the way it is. When something so valuable to you goes flat-line, even though it’s just a plastic and metal box without a heartbeat, it’s a pretty depressing and panic-inducing moment. So there we were, in an absolutely beautiful setting full of lushness and wildlife and peace, yet all I could see was a blank black rectangle where light and information and joy should have been.”

#4 When We Were In Puerto Cortes

We’d left the crisp, cool air of beautiful Lago de Atítlan at dawn and driven all day into the stifling heat and humidity of the murder capital of the world (I’m being purposefully dramatic here, but yes, that is currently an unfortunate, statistically true label). The countryside was beautiful, but the people were less friendly than those we’d encountered in Guatemala and guns were everywhere. It was unnerving. We’d arrived in Puerto Cortes just before dusk and struggled to find a place that would allow dogs to stay for the night, eventually settling for a hotel just before the sun set that was five times our budget for the evening and still required that the dogs sleep in the car. We made peace with the decision (kind of) and with the fact that purposefully visible firearms on belts and even more heavily armed security guards outside of every business were just part of the country’s culture. It didn’t lessen the tension though as we realized that even with the sun beyond the horizon and dark creeping in, the temperatures were not dropping at all and there was no way we were going to be able to leave the dogs in the car. Hour after hour passed as we sat in the parking lot with them knowing that we couldn’t leave but still wondering what the rest of the night was going to look like. It was still so, so, so very hot. Sometime before midnight, we walked the dogs past some kids playing beach soccer and into the ocean for a dip. They swam and played, and we made sure they were sufficiently drenched. Just as we got back to the car, a light rain began to fall and the heat broke. Combined with their wet fur, the dogs were finally comfortable and safe, and we were able to go inside to sleep for a few hours.

Honduran Countryside

#3 When Maya Nipped Raquel

After starting 2013 with a month on the beach, we spent a week in the car and an overnight on a ferry before arriving in the fabulous, but practically undriveable city of Guanajuato for the month of February. We’d never been greeted by a host at a rental before and were completely out of sorts already from our attempts at navigating such an intense maze. Everything was happening so fast and soon, our hostess, Raquel, was kneeling down in front of an off-leash Maya, kindly giving her some love and attention. Maya seemed happy and docile even until Raquel stood up, at which time Maya lunged at her, nipping her in the leg. I don’t recall ever being so horrified in my entire life. I was in shock and embarrassed and completely on my heels. Even writing about it now has my stomach in knots and my face contorted in dismay. There were lots of apologies and then unhealthy amounts of worry and guilt that lasted not just that evening, but the entire month, and in some ways, still exist now. So many things were wrong. Maya hadn’t had any space to run or get her energy out for over a week. She was in a new place, and I was clearly putting off a nervous and uncomfortable vibe. We have sweet dogs, well-behaved dogs even, but only one of them is a social dog, and that’s just something we’ve had to figure out how to work around. We learned a lot from this single negative experience and were fortunate that Raquel was so understanding.

#2 When Brianna Hit a Wall in Oaxaca

For some unknown reason, March was a tough month for me. Our hosts were lovely, the location was great, work was fine, communication with our families was easy, March Madness was on, we were having fun, but something in me was just off. I was so down that I started combing through all aspects of my life trying to figure out what I could make better. I bought scotch tape and mapped out small goals on the wall. I cried a lot. To Ian, I seemed erratic and as though maybe the lifestyle wasn’t a good fit for me. I boldly disagreed. We fought often and let the arguments go further than they needed to. By the end of the month, some kind of internal resolution had begun to take hold, though I’m still not sure what it was. I can look back now and clearly discuss some of the things I was adjusting to, but as a whole, I really think it was just a giant growing pain, and one that I wasn’t expecting based on the confidence I felt in our direction.

Oaxacan Sunset

#1 When We Had to Go Back to the Border

It took fewer than 5 seconds for us to unanimously name our single lowest moment of our first year on the road. Congratulations goes to the moment we were sent back to the U.S. / Mexico border after a full month in the country, a drive that would take two-full days through cactus filled dessert each way, for tourists cards and import permits that we had accidentally missed but also thought we could work our way out of in Baja Sur’s capital city. Indeed the five day detour has also now become one of our favorite stories about our travels and in the grand scheme of things, really did us no harm, but it was a mighty blow to two fresh adventurers that remains so firmly in our memories that we almost feel a punch in the stomach before we even begin to tell the tale. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever again be able to look at a cactus without disdain and contempt.

Tourist Card


Does our list surprise you? Tell us what you might have expected to be on our worst moments list or if you see any patterns that maybe we’ve missed!

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6 Responses

  • Sabra Ortega says:

    Nice entertaining, albeit, heartbreaking list. Haha! These hard moments are what turns your adventures into great stories that one day you’ll tell to your grandchildren. What a fun adventure! Hopefully now you look back and laugh?!?! Oddly enough – Your #1 happened to us too when we drove through Mexico and were trying to return to the U.S. On the way in they really should STOP you and say, “Listen you need to go in and get this paperwork done before you move on or it will bite you in the ass when you try to leave.” Ramon and I decided they must do this as a way to make money – cause God knows – we ended up paying a hefty bill of around $200.00 for this mistake! Ay ay ay…..

    • Brianna says:

      Sabra, We are definitely already looking back and laughing. You are so right that these are really the things that make for the best stories and memories. I can’t believe you all had the same problem we did!! Honestly, we followed all of the signs and they took one look at our car and waived us straight into Mexico. ?!?! It was great to read this though and hear that at least someone understands that we weren’t just being giant idiots, haha. Sad you all had to deal with it too though. Now we know, huh? ;)

  • Judy Robinson1 says:

    What a list. They all seem like pretty bad times to me. I really had to chuckle at some of them. (pooping behimd a tree??? Sounds pretty risky to me, but when nature calls, what is a person going to do?) I guess that wasn’t one of the top nine, was it? Glad to stove blowup did not injure Ian. Oh My. !!!
    We just watched a tv documentary about the dangers of Columbia yesterday. Scary. Please be very careful down there. Love, Grandma and Grandpa

    • Brianna says:

      Oh Grandma, the day he came back from that run I was waiting by the gate for him to let him in and he came walking up, half hunched over, holding his belly, with a look on his face like, ‘I wish I could forget what just happened.’ Hahaha! Naturally, since it didn’t happen to me, I think it’s the funniest story of all of them, and luckily, he has a good sense of humor about it. :) We too are glad the the stove didn’t injure him, though it’s somewhat surprising that he didn’t at least get a cut or two. Hoping to start sharing some pictures of where we are soon! Love you both too!

  • Cristiin says:

    I would have expected losing your IDs and credit cards to be on there…maybe because that is not yet resolved?

    • Brianna says:

      No, you’re right to expect it – originally it was on our list too. Then we remembered that it technically happened 2 days into our second year, so it will have to wait until the next travelversary for it’s shining moment on a top 9 or 10, haha.

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