Week 1: Purchasing Our Bus Conversion

Many things went into our decision to purchase a bus. We considered size, space, minimum amenities, and price. We had a budget constraint of $2,000 and required a minimum 125 square feet of workable space. The vehicle had to be high enough to accommodate standing room throughout and have enough roof space for potential solar kits. The engine also had to run. It could have some problems, need a tune-up, have a leak, but it had to run. We weren’t going to pay for a trailer or for someone to bring it down from wherever it was currently sitting. Also, a bit of an odd request, we strongly preferred a vehicle that had already been gutted. A blank slate, to cut down on demolition time and disposal cost.

We scoured the internet: Ebay, Craigslist, RVTrader, and even looked at some half-complete bus conversions we thought we could make work for our needs.

We got our bus from a Craigslist ad buried among the commercial ads with a list price of $2,800. We read the ad and really liked that it was an older shuttle bus, a stoic white fiberglass exterior and a near-empty interior. The listing said it ran and it needed updated but was in otherwise good condition. We thought it was possibly too good to be true, that it had surely already sold, but saw that the listing had been posted only an hour earlier. We reached out to him immediately, requesting more pictures.

The gentleman was very kind and forthcoming with the maintenance needed to get it working properly, and sent over a dozen pictures of the interior. He was using it as storage space, and offered to empty out the bus completely and clean it before we drove the 2 hours to go see it. We made a viewing appointment the next day.

It was in better condition than expected when we arrived. It was parked toward the back of the lot in what is probably the only neighborhood of this tiny Florida town. We scoured the inside for mold, rot, mildew, leaks, rust, and damage to the engine to best estimate renovation costs. Overall we were pretty pleased and told the guy we’d mull it over the rest of the weekend and let him know during the week.

The next day, Mark gets a message from the guy who’s now offered to drop the price to below our $2,000 maximum budget. Mark tells the guy to consider it sold – we drove up against the next weekend, test-drove it, and took it home with us!

Endnote: We were told there was a power steering leak, and the bus took 5 quarts of power steering fluid to make it the 180 miles, but we did, and the demo has just begun!

 

Costa Rica: Chapter 3

S2014-10-04 14.42.39

The La Fortuna waterfall is probably Costa Rica’s most famous waterfall – every tour stops here for lunch, which is why you want to get here at 8am or 9am  to enjoy your hike down the steps to the falls and go swimming before you’re interrupted by throngs of people. Six years ago, there wasn’t a park ranger, much less a life guard. You used to be able to swim behind the waterfall. Now, it appears there’s a park ranger watching over everyone.  Each time I tried to swim behind the waterfall, I got whistled at. Whistled at. You know, with a loud summer camp whistle with that dreaded hand motion to get back here NOW!  I lament.

It’s one of the few things that’s difficult to miss if you’re driving yourself, because there is signage everywhere. Follow your Costa Rican GPS.

You can bring food and I encourage you to, because it’s a nice, somewhat slippery trek down to the bottom and you’ll probably get hungry by the end of it. If you’re the planning type, you’ll bring a waterproof / water resistant bag for a change of clothes, or at the very least, shoes, because no one wants to schlep back up the side of a mountain in soggy shoes.

The thing I always forget when I get close to a waterfall is how loud it is. It’s a solid THWACK of water against water and it is thunderous. It’s windy, too. We had to coordinate our photos to make sure our tripod would stay upright in the water. Mist sprays everywhere. We’re lucky both of our cameras didn’t get obliterated with the mist. The water was chillier than I expected, with the trees and midmorning cloud cover blocking most of the sun.

Get to the waterfall before 8:30am, for a view all to yourself.

SDSC_1001

You can climb all over the rocks, swim in the river, and have a beautiful morning to yourself. Be prepared to leave around 11am, which is when the tours start arriving for lunch. And if you decide to bring your food, please bring a bag for your wrappers. This is a beautiful place that’s existed for eons – keep your human traces to yourself.

Did we swim? Hell yes. I swam everywhere I was allowed and everywhere I wasn’t. This was my first original happy place. The first place I felt at one with the world and completely, totally at home. Waterfalls are kind of my thing. When I go again, (really early in the morning), I’ll definitely bring a dry pack and wear Teva sandals instead of the Nikes.

Next up – La Fortuna (the city) and our ziplining tour! Next on Costa Rica: Chapter 4

Advertisements

Costa Rica: Chapter 1

October 2 – 6, 2014

Mark’s 26th birthday, recapped after two glasses of wine.

Highlights – Tenorio National Park / Rio Celeste, renting a car / driving in Costa Rica, Volcan Arenal, Ziplining Arenal, town of La Fortuna, ATV 4×4, La Fortuna waterfall, won free night in 5-star resort from chatting on an airplane

This was our first trip to Costa Rica together and I wanted it to be special. October’s a fine time to go because it still rains a bit but it’s shoulder season so you enjoy smaller crowds and lower prices. I also wanted to see as many waterfalls as possible because Costa Rica is rugged, volcanic and full of dramatic cliff faces – all of which are very fun to look at but less so when you’re driving your own vehicle.

Mark insisted on driving and I said that as long as we did not drive at night that I’m cool with that – it isn’t that you’re going to get taken hostage in the middle of the night – it’s that there is no signage, direction or street lights to help move you along. Add in a couple marginal passes around a mountain bend and if you so much as sneeze you’re falling 1,000 feet and abruptly ending your vacation.

So, no night driving. When we picked up our tank of an SUV we opted for full coverage because, as the salesperson put it:

You can total the car, drive it off the cliff, set it on fire, whatever, and we will come bring you a new one – no charge.

How could we argue with that? We also opted for the GPS in the car because our phone GPS could not track us as fast as we needed to veer / make turns / drive otherwise recklessly.

Our first stop was Tenorio National Park. It’s a few hours away from San Jose – it looks deceivingly close on a map but here’s a Costa Rica tip: Take whatever time Google maps tells you and multiply it by 3. 1 hour? Means it’s 3 hours. The roads are very narrow 2 lanes at best, sometimes over 1-lane rickety wooden bridges, prone to flooding and trucks breaking down.

SDSC_0426

This was the bridge we took on our way to our hotel / cabanas, just outside Tenorio National Park.

We arrived to our humble abode about dusk, and exhausted from our day’s journey, prepared for an early rise. Food and coffee is wonderfully fresh, refreshing and well flavored. You can get either an American breakfast or go with the Tican breakfast, which we highly recommend.

Tenorio is nothing short of a natural wonder. It’s far flung which means you won’t get hordes of tourists but it’s big enough that you can spend a whole day here. The paths are well marked and you will see the water change from crystal clear to a brilliant aqua blue.

S2014-10-03 12.31.35

The minerals in this pool of water give it its brilliant blue color. Due to the sensitivity of the habitat, swimming or playing in the water is not permitted, but we’re fine with that so long as it preserves this incredible view. Below is the Laguna Azul, aptly named Blue Lagoon.

S2014-10-03 12.33.36

For more on Tenorio National Park and the best of La Fortuna, go

Onward to Costa Rica: Chapter 2

Costa Rica: Chapter 2

2014-10-03 12.35.45

This is a panoramic view with the waterfall hidden just beyond the foliage to your right. On the left, Mark is setting up the camera for a long exposure. We spent the entire morning around the waterfall and saw two people the entire morning. It was everything I wanted in Costa Rica – natural, rugged, secluded. I would go again and bring a lunch. If you’re looking for off the tourist trail, go Tenorio National Park.

SDSC_0628

Our itinerary took us to the farthest place first – so we flew into San Jose, CR and drove north to Tenorio, then drove back and visited our next destination, La Fortuna.

This was a stark contrast because  La Fortuna is heavily touristed, even in shoulder or off season. There’s no language barrier (Spanish to English) and there are too many tours to choose from. To see our picks for La Fortuna, visit Chapter 3.

Back to Chapter 1                                                                       Onward to Costa Rica: Chapter 3