- Posted December 31, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
VW camper van memories
How our bus changed (is changing) our lives
My wife and I aren’t from vw lineage. Our families never owned/worked on vws, we weren’t handed down a bus or taught to fix one by our fathers. In fact, until our first test-drive we had never been behind the wheel of a vw, much less a bus. That said, we now consider ourselves part of the bus community (nay, family) and credit our bus in many way with helping to transform our lives.
Several years ago my wife started coaxing me into rethinking our lives. Whats our purpose and goal, what truly makes us happy and what can we do without? She wanted to ditch the jobs that provided for us and take off to see the world. She questioned if working 60hr weeks indoors with limited time together and short vacations was worth it. She had no answers as to how we would fund the trip, what would take us there or what we would do afterwords once we were jobless homeless and penniless. Otherwise, it seemed like a sound plan.
As I came around to her ideas we discussed vehicles that might stand up to the trip and a vw bus was always on the list. We’d always heard that a bus could be fixed anywhere and by anyone...a logical choice for a couple whose mechanical knowledge ended at how to fill the gas tank. “Do we really want to tour the world in a hippy van” i would ask? I knew so little about this icon and had misjudged it; the bus isn’t a symbol for hippies and free love, but freedom in general.
When we first set eyes on an old split window bus the decision quickly moved from logic to passion...we knew we had to have one. When we finally found our bus, we hopped the train, picked up our new vehicle and got our first lesson in bus ownership. Our speed on the highway home was laughable. Coming from someone who always had to get there as fast as I could (and had the speeding tickets to prove it) i was rattled by the sight of school busses passing us easily. I would have shared my frustration with my wife, but despite the fact that she’s sitting a foot away we cant hear ourselves shouting across the walkthrough. Driving the bus on the highway sounds like being the stone on the inside of a of a coke can rattling its way downhill. Talking is overrated.
Halfway home and the bus wont start. We check out the compleat idiots guide for "How To Keep Your VW Alive' which the previous owner left under the seat for us. The instructions read clearly ‘take a small hammer and tap the solenoid’. “You’ve got to be kidding” i shout from under the bus but my wife rereads the line. After figuring out what a starter/solenoid looks like, I proceed to beat on whatever i can gain access to. The bus fires right up and we drive away smiling at our new lives.
The next 5 years saw us devolving more and more into the life that the bus demanded of us. We sold our brand new car for cash and the bus became our only vehicle. We spent our days saving, paying off debt and downsizing. Each paid off loan allowed us to save more for the next. Each days trip in the bus reminded us that slow and simple can be better than fast and luxurious. As we designed and rebuilt our bus into a camper we realized just how much we needed to change. to reduce. to purge. Sitting inside it seemed tough to survive a week in the bus’ tiny shell much less months on the road. Our 5+ bedroom house with garage and basement was cluttered...how could we possibly pack light enough to live in its tiny confines?
The transition wasn’t easy. We stopped eating and drinking out on a daily basis, no more annual trips, no more expensive hobbies/habits. We stayed focused on our goal of freeing ourselves from the hamster wheel long enough to rediscover ourselves and our creative spirits. Surely every other 30something hears the same story from the generation before, “don’t wait, go now and see the world”. We all nod at these profound words before simply returning to our daily goal of working for a retirement that may never come. The bus knows better. The bus led many of those journeys back when its generation was celebrating freedom and love. Back before they too went to work and had kids and mortgages that tied them down and left their busses rusting and lonely out back.
As my wife and I moved into smaller and smaller spaces we began envisioning living in the bus. Tight, but not entirely impossible. As we worked streetside building the camper we met new friends each day. Everyone it seems has a story to tell about their bus, a trip they took in a bus or a dream they have of taking one. The dreams that the vw bus evoke are far from relevant only to those with busses or vws but somehow tap into the recesses of the brain where freedom and wanderlust live. Areas of our brain that are so often tucked behind the daily task or the logical answer. Those that rarely get to recklessly dream about where we would go or what we would do if only we had the means to get there.
Their stories fueled us when we needed it most like the personification of the bus itself, stopping by to tell us that its all worth it, that the trip will mend our weary bodies and that the road will provide. “Leap, and the net will appear” my wife kept chanting to me as my fears would creep to the surface. Every person (who circled the block after spotting the bus and returned to shake our hands, tell us their story and listen to ours) confirmed that indeed she was right, even if they hadn’t yet been there to see it.
In July we sold off the last of our belongings and moved us (and our 69lb blonde lab) full time into our coke can home. We have since been exploring the roads to/within mexico and have now ventured into Belize as we continue south. The bus is both our home and a member of our family, and it long ago we gave it a name. We talk to it as we decide a path for each day, coax it slowly over the next hill and thank it as we arrive at each new destination.
Thanks to the bus we get to experience everything at a pace we can actually take it in. Very little is missed as we crouch forward to see out of the safari windows. We get to camp along the zocalo in each town where the locals are enjoying their dinner rather than hidden behind the walls of campgrounds far away from the action. In the bus we can pull into any establishment or camp on any street hidden in plain view knowing that we have all the comforts of home built inside our tiny vehicle. We have only been in a relationship with our bus for a few years but it has taken us high into the crown lands of Canada, and (very slowly) over the passes of Colorado. When our starter went out we push started our way through 4 states and only stopped when we knew we could park on high ground. Our bus has been stuck in the sand and it has taken us on stretches of road where only 4x4s should go. We crept through the sonora desert at 118 degrees and we rattled over the backroads of baja in search of waves. We watched sunsets with our bus parked under a palapa and stargazed among cacti in the middle of the desert. We sweltered inside when the heat of the jungle was at its worst and we rode out a tropical storm while the bus shook around us. As I write, we sit 15 feet off the ocean and our unimpeded view of the sunrise from our cargo doors is majestic.
The bus has become the icon for both our journey and for our lives. It isn’t a smooth ride and pieces keep breaking off/falling apart along the way, but we either find a way to help it heal or seek out someone who can. The locals in each country/town we visit love the bus and just like those back home they stop to tell us their stories and ask to hear ours. We don’t know where our path will take us or when it will end, but we are clearly aware of the changes it (and the bus) has already had on our lives.
There are many questions we cant answer, but when locals ask we can easily tell them that home is in the bus. As we point to our tiny casa their faces beam with smiles, they pat us on the back and ask again ”you drove here...in that?”.
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