by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
People have asked how long we traveled, where did we go, how did we do it, and were we ever scared. Ten years, 57 countries, by ourselves, and only once, in China, did we go on a package tour.
We started in the late spring of 1998 and finished in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in early summer 2008. Along the way we visited 57 countries and stayed for extended time in five before making our home in Mexico for six years. And no, we weren’t scared. There were a couple of places we visited where we were extra careful, but we found people to be friendly and nice. If humans weren’t as nice as they are, there wouldn’t be 7.5 billion of us on the planet.
We bought an old motor home in San Diego. Being complete novices when we bought it, having never driven one, we decided to visit all our loved ones before we left; that would give us a good amount of driving and learning. We headed up to San Francisco, passing through Santa Barbara and my sister’s family. We stopped for in Oakland to say goodbye to Ted’s daughter and family.
From there we drove to Las Vegas to see a good friend, then to Tucson to visit Ted’s brother, and then to Houston, Texas to a childhood friend of Ted’s. Along the way, we learned to drive in congested traffic and open spaces, learned to park the 27-foot vehicle, and find night-time stops. Using books, mostly The Lonely Planet (which became our travel companion for the next 10 years), we found RV parks and learned how to hook up the sewage line, the fresh water line, and the electricity. Most parks have a community shower so we used the RV’s tiny shower stall for storage.
When we had started out we had two cats and two dogs. In San Diego, a hungry owl had probably taken our small cat (we think but could never prove), so we packed the dogs and the other cat and drove. The dogs moved to the front to sleep under my feet and the cat moved to the back. He didn’t like traveling and let us know his discomfort along every mile that he was awake. Fortunately for him, the people that had given him to us some 11 years earlier lived in Las Vegas and had a friend that wanted him. We left him in good hands and drove on.
We criss-crossed Mexico for two-and-a-half years, trying to visit all the old-culture ruins. From there we drove into Belize and then Guatemala to see more Mayan ruins. Then on to Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
There, the beauty of the country, the blue of the Pacific Ocean, and the friendly people all clouded our eyes and dulled our brains. We bought a home, 50 feet from the warm waters and white sand beach. One of our dogs, Shatzie developed cancer and we had him put down. Losing a pet like that is like losing a member of the family, but we still had Sherman. We thought we were in Paradise and discovered Paradise is only the shiny glitter on the outside. In less than a year, we were ready to continue on our travels. We sold the house in Paradise and said goodbye to our neighbors.
We flew to Europe, stopping in Holland before going on to Spain. There, we rented a motor home and began our European chapter. We headed north and drove through Andorra, France; Germany; up to Denmark; back to Germany; Poland; Belgium; the Czech Republic; and Austria. Ted’s brother and daughter with her family were coming to Europe for the son-in-law’s family reunion, and we met up with them in Paris. That was the summer when Paris suffered a heatwave. People were dying of the heat, and it was too hot for us to go sightseeing. Instead, we, along with seven million Parisians, decided to visit the Normandy coast, where they had only three million parking places and even fewer rooms for rent. A miracle happened and we found an RV park, and Ted’s family found rooms in a hotel.
After we left them, we headed back to Spain to find a place to stay, and to turn the RV back to the company that rented it to us. We found an apartment in Granada and returned the RV in Madrid. We rented a car and drove back to Granada, where we spent six months during the winter. While there, we found that we could fly to Egypt, tour down the Nile, stay in a five-star resort, and stop at all the major sights in Egypt for the lowly cost of $1,100 for both of us. We took Sherman with us and he made friends all along the trip.
On another trip we visited Morocco, and we went to Gibraltar several times, driving on the road from Spain into the British property that runs across an airport runway. We fed the macaques that live in the rocky hills of Gibraltar, and stocked up on such things as canned pork and beans that we could only buy in the British grocery stores like Safeway.
I’ll tell you all about our two-and-a-half years in Asia in another story.