Archive for February, 2011

Leaving Paradise

Posted on February 27, 2011 by No Comments

Our first stop in Peru had been great, but it was finally time to move on. It’s a long country, and although we get 90 days we seem to always be pushing the limits of our visas.

We really loved Zorritos and are already talking about a future return trip.

On our drive south, we passed a customs check point. This was a bit surprising because we had forgotten we were less than an hour inside Peru. Except, it took us ten days. The customs guy did a double take when he saw the date on our passports too.

We only drove a few hours south to Mancora. It’s a popular surf town, and because it is summer here, it is completely packed – mostly with Chileans. The camping option wasn’t working out for us here (tents only!) so we decided to get a hostal with secure parking.

Our Peru guidebook is so poorly researched that one of the ‘surf camp’ hostels mentioned was actually an exclusive boutique hotel and was 4 times more than the book’s quoted price.

After we finally found a place, we headed to the beach, but this time we had to share the sunset view with a few hundred others.

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Fun with light emitting diodes

Posted on February 25, 2011 by 9 Comments

I’ve gotten lots of comments about our interior lighting ever since our trip started. Many folks wanted a closer look and said they would like to do the same. Now that we’ve been camped on the beach for a while, I’ve had time to dig through some old photos and write something up on what I’ve made. If you’re not interested in customizing your bus headliner, then you can probably just skip the rest and wait until tomorrow’s post.  Otherwise, enjoy…

Before deciding to take off around the Americas in our bus, one of my primary concerns – believe it or not – was lighting. Good lighting is critical if you want to be happy (scientifically proven.) All of those TV shows with peculiar and unreal dramatic lighting (West Wing, CSI, etc) drive me crazy – what laboratory (or White House) is dimly lit with blue and red lights?

Of course, I also wanted it to be efficient and cheap.  LEDs fit the bill perfectly. Since I’m going the inexpensive route, there are only going to be about 50 LEDS – plenty of adequate lighting, but nothing crazy like Cash Cab.

Part of this post includes making a new birch headliner – we needed one anyway, so skip ahead if you are using your existing one.

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Making the headliner:

1.  Locate 5’x5′ sheets of Baltic Birch (3mm or 1/8″ thick.) This may be the hardest part of the entire process. It’s not a common size, but you need it. This is the original material used in your bus – don’t substitute. Call around. I found it in stock at a lumberyard in San Leandro, CA. You need one sheet for the rear and one for the front. Go ahead an buy an extra one in case you screw up or want to make your own skateboard later (it’s the best glue-lam skateboard material.) I paid about $25/sheet.

2. Trace the pattern. Hopefully this part is obvious. Our bus didn’t have one, so it wasn’t. I made a new friend (thanks Peter!) who had a spare headliner laying around and used it as a pattern on my sheet of Birch. I extended it rearward and customized it a bit since I wouldn’t be re-installing the head-knocker rear upper cabinet.

3. Use your jig-saw to cut it out. Test for fit – actually install it. It can be a tough one-person job, but it’s not too hard once you get the hang of it (and it fits properly.) Trim it down a little if it’s just impossible to install, but over-trim it and you’re on to your second piece of Birch already.

4. If you are leaving out the head-knocker cabinet, like me, then pay special attention to the rear hinges. See the photo. You’re on your own here, but a bigger cut won’t kill you and is more likely to fit the first time. I probably had it in and out 6 times before I got it right.

5. That’s it. Go ahead and fine-sand and stain/varnish and admire your work.

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Installing the LEDs.

1. buy your LED’s. Compare specs and get the brightest ones you can find. I bought 8 mm LEDS (resistor pack included) and the bezels separately on eBay. I think I paid about $35 for everything including shipping from China.

Before I started, I shopped around quite a bit for Christmas lights or some other LED strand that would fit the bill (high brightness, pre-wired, cheap) but I just couldn’t find anything that was acceptable. Big waste of time for me – maybe you can do better.

2. Measure your headliner for bezel/light placement. This is important. Look at the roof of your bus – mine has large openings on 8″ centers (this varies around the perimeter) where the lights can recess with no problems. They are large openings, but if you miss, you will have a problem. Measure, measure again, and drill all of your holes.

3. Screw in all of your bezels (my LEDs will just push in from behind.)

4. Start cutting wire and soldering up your lights. It looks like a big job, but it’s not too bad.  Just get started and you’ll be finished in no time. If you’re not good at soldering, you will be by the end. Wire them all up in parallel with their own resistor.

5. Test your strand. Just put it across a 9V battery or something and it will light up if you’ve done it right. If not, try again. Also, I changed my resisters to run the LEDs at about 20% over the max current spec (more light!). So far so good.

6. You will probably want to cover all of your exposed solder joints and wire ends with dope – not *that* kind (I’m not judging) – the glue kind.  Electrical tape or heat shrink will work too, but dope/insulating glue is probably the best. I used heat shrink and it was a real pain.

7. Push them into the bezels and you’re ready to install! Install the headliner (you’re good at it now) making sure not to smash any of the ends of your LEDS on the frame. Make sure you have the wire leads sticking out near the old switch.

8. Wire into the old switches. I put the rear headliner lights on the old push-button switch along with the original side-table lights (I also replaced these festoon bulbs with a home-made 6-LED ‘bulb’ as well).  I made a front headliner and wired it into the original dome light (and also replaced this festoon bulb with LEDs.)

Of course, I put lights in the smaller side panels, but this part should be obvious – you’re a pro by now. I also put some in the glove box and wired them into the headlight switch. this has come in handy many times. The only place I forgot was the engine compartment – next time.

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We’ve camped in the van and used these things almost every day for the past 18 months.

I’ve only had a few problems so far. Some of my solder joints were poor and snapped after 10K miles (or so) of rattling around. I just re-soldered them and they’ve held ever since. My son (5) has pushed a few of the lights in and out of their bezels – no big deal – but could have been prevented by gluing them in place.

We have plenty of light, but in hindsight I may have installed even more. Maybe double (two at every point.) There’s just no such thing as too much light – you can always put it on a dimmer.

If I recall, a single original incandescent festoon bulb from the bus pulled 800 mA at 12V. About 10W.  Crazy. There were four of them – don’t leave them on all night.

Now, each one of these LEDS pulls about 15 mA at 12V. With 50 of them, that’s only 9W total – less than one single original bulb… and we have lot’s of light. Turn them on and let them burn all night.


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Posted on February 23, 2011 by 8 Comments

is undervalued.

Everyone knows it, of course, but this knowledge generally seems to be utilized disproportionately.

I think I understand it much better as every day passes.

We feel pretty lucky. Every day we’re here, one of us says “wow” and we look at each other knowingly.

Our day goes something like this. Orange Head wakes us up around 8 and one of us walks to the nearby restaurant to order breakfast. About an hour or so later, the other two show up and maybe breakfast is there – maybe not. It’s just eggs, bread, and coffee – but great. They bring an entire pot of coffee.

By 10 or so we are done and return to the van to figure out our day. We go for a walk or play on the beach for a while until the kitchen opens at 1 for lunch. We place an order and hope to get a meal by 2 or 3.

On a  few days we’ve driven into town and tried a few local spots. Ceviche is everywhere and usually very good.

Somewhere in there Angela manages to do a cartwheel (her New Year’s Resolution – one per day) or maybe the local kids come by to play.

Maybe a book gets read, maybe not. At 4, the guys at the restaurant drop everything and play soccer on the beach. I try to score one goal for Team USA and hang back the rest of the game.

There aren’t many people here, but the guests in the rooms rotate every few days, so maybe we play volleyball with the Aussies or chat with the French couple.

By 7, we order up for an even later dinner that is likely ceviche or chicharonnes mixto. They actually make a pretty good arroz chifa too. While we wait, we light a pile of driftwood or just watch the big show in the sky.

We’re 8 days in.


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For the birds

Posted on February 22, 2011 by 1 Comment

A few days ago, I was awakened with a light tapping sound on the side of the van. The guys slept through it, but I kept hearing it…a light tap tap tap. When I finally looked out the window, these two were sitting on the side mirror.

We’ve seen them around the beach – two saffron finches always together.

Once they discovered the bus, we think they fell in love. Mostly, they were checking each other out in the windows and mirrors, but later they were bringing branches up to the wipers to make a nest.

They’ve been returning every day and usually wake us up with the tapping. Each day they have become a little more daring, until they finally decided to fly right through the front doors.

We’re more than happy to share the perches as long as they continue to provide the entertainment. Bode named one of them Orange Head (even though they both have orange dots on top of their heads.)

I don’t know. Once we starting making friends with the local birds, it could be some sort of a sign.

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Osteris and Imir

Posted on February 21, 2011 by 4 Comments

We didn’t really have a plan for once we entered Peru, and this place isn’t in any of the guidebooks. I thought we’d be here a night or two. A week later, we’re still here camping in the same spot.

The restaurant is open odd hours and laughably slow. Sometimes it is two and a half hours before we get our food. But, with a broken stove we’ve learned to adjust our eating schedule and order early.

Every night there is an incredible sunset, somehow more marvelous than the last.

A real interesting surprise has been Osteris and Imir, the 2 kids who live here. They speak Quechua (I think) and know even less Spanish than we do. Still, there is no language needed to collect hamburger nuts on the beach, balance on driftwood or cartwheel off sand dunes.

A few times a day they come by our camp and ask for Bode. They take off for hours at a time and he returns exhausted.


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More Mud

Posted on February 18, 2011 by 2 Comments

We overheard some other guests trying to arrange a ride to some mud baths close by. I decided that was just what Bode and I needed, so we asked if we could tag along. It didn’t take much convincing to get Jason to join us.

We rode out in Anna’s truck. Her brother owns the hostal, but is out of the country, so she’s running it for now. She and Edgar took us out to the mud baths which were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, despite a sign on them that declared them Zona Turistica.

There really aren’t too many things as fun as a mud bath. We joked that this would cost $100 in Sonoma, but i think it was about $1 per person. Edgar and Anna brought along the 2 kid’s of a coworker. They were quite shy at first, and in fact are from the jungle and don’t speak Spanish. We weren’t sure how the kids would get along, but mud can transform anyone.

Within minutes the kids (and adults) are swimming around in it. After lots of time in the mud, we try the hole with slightly cleaner water to rinse. Jason and Bode sunk their feet into another bath that was good for warts. They didn’t have any before, but their torn up feet sure looked better after a soak.

Edgar’s mom had sat in these very mud baths for 3 hours one time, and never needed her wheelchair again. Hmmm….

At the end of a visit to a Peruvian non-touristy mud bath, some guys fill up semi clean water in a bucket and you try to rinse off. It was fun, but little help in getting us clean.

Anna said she had a surprise for us and we piled back into the truck. After a long ride on bumpy dirt roads, we got to some land her family owned. It was absolutely beautiful, with a horse and pony, wild goats and a stream. There was a little swimming hole in the middle of all this, and we lazed around and tried to wash off.  Well, we lazed around and the kids played nonstop.

We returned to our campsite and showered up. After 4 rinses to my swimsuit, it was still muddy. Oh well. The sun was setting and we enjoyed the rest of our perfect day.


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hay caramba!

Posted on February 17, 2011 by 3 Comments

Another day on the beach.

I started the day by walking an hour north up the beach to the town of Zorritos. It’s a small place, but you can get just about anything you need as long as you’re patient enough to go looking for it. I scored motor oil, brake fluid, and some killer ceviche.

The auto parts place is actually in someone’s house. The brake fluid section is next to the TV. You pay over by the couch.

Back at the bus, Bode and I spent some time working on ‘which one of these things is different.’ He nailed them all. No homework today.

Since we’re already planning on staying here a while, I decided to start some of the projects I’ve been delaying. Most notably, the TWO broken Princeton Tec headlamps. If you camp much, you know the importance of a good headlamp. The thought of carrying a flashlight in your hand just seems quaint now.

Anyway, both of these over-priced guys failed and there were two different failure modes. The first one failed with a non-functional patented “IQ switch.” Not so smart.

The second failed with cracked injection-molded plastic case and the battery contacts would no longer connect. They should have gone a little thicker or used a higher grade plastic. I ended up combining both of these units to create a single functional device – for how long I don’t know.

I used to associate Princeton with weenies. Now, I associate it with weenies that can’t design products.

Next up was the cabinet handle. I actually brought this back from the US after the holiday break. It broke the second I installed it. Again, the manufacturers used cheap brittle plastic, so I find it hard to blame The Bus Depot. Except, they sell products made out of cheap plastic that can’t possibly work.

While the glue was out, I fixed the broken handle on the generic sink pump. No biggie there, except I managed to loose the cap to the adhesive.

Next, I tackled a brand new tap-light we had planned on using inside the pop top. It didn’t work right out of the box. Problem – the plastic battery compartment was under-sized, so when you put the batteries in, they couldn’t possibly touch the contacts. This thing would have never worked for anybody. I pulled out my knife and made some changes… and bent the contacts into a better position. How does this crap make it to the store shelves?

Later, when I went to start dinner, the stove didn’t work. It’s been a while since it’s been used, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. But, this one is important.

Virtually every meal I have cooked on this trip (almost) has been on this single burner gasoline stove. I’ve had many issues with it, but have always been able to fix them. Generally, it just needs to be cleaned.

This time, no amount of cleaning would fix it. I even tried the brake fluid. The problem here is with the atomizer. These are generally pretty difficult (and expensive) to fabricate, so I appreciate the simple wire-in-tube design that the folks at Coleman implemented. But, it can’t  last forever, and today was the day.

So, tonight I cooked spaghetti on a driftwood fire. Campfire spaghetti. It actually wasn’t bad, except we had some guests from down the beach, so the singed eyebrows were unnecessary.

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