Equal Area and the Institute of Maya Studies

Image of Pokey at Ek' Balam

Even though Mexico had been our very first stop, we remain encantado by the Maya culture. This fascination had prompted Rachel to sign up as a member of the Institute of Maya Studies, an affiliate of the Miami Science Museum. Not long after joining the IMS, Rachel was contacted by Jim Reed, their newsletter editor and hardcore Maya enthusiast. After showering us with unsolicited compliments on our blog and our adventures, he politely asked to republish our Loltún cave article in the IMS Explorer. Jim loved the pictures and appreciated that I did some homework before scribbling down my memories. We happily acceded to his request. After a couple of rounds of editing, we were published in the June 2013 issue (dated by the Maya Ceremonial Era Long Count) and our article was titled: “Around the World in 80 Gigs: Loltún Cave”.

I’ve been given permission to pass along the June issue PDF to anyone who requests it. Feel free to shoot me an email and we’ll hook you up! The IMS is an organization that focuses on public education and has been operating for over 40 years. It’s truly flattering to have our experiences placed alongside news like “Important Discoveries by Belizean Archaeologists at the Maya Site of Santa Rita” and “New Clues in the Search to Rediscover the Mysterious Maya Blue Formula”. I feel a bit like an accidental Indiana Jones. Next time, I’m bringing a bullwhip.

If you are in the South Florida area, the IMS offers two public programs a month at the Miami Science Museum. Check out their website at: www.instituteofmayastudies.org

Around the World in Eighty Gigs

All told, there are over 80 GB of photos and videos from this trip. Most of these are sitting on a tiny black hard drive, patiently awaiting their turn to see the light of day. Slowly but certainly these are getting reviewed, processed, and uploaded to this blog, YouTube, and Picasa (or Google+, it’s hard to tell these days). This constitutes a mammoth collection of memories from the road, and this blog will continue to be updated for the foreseeable future. We try our best to keep the content matched with the actual chronology. To call it a blur is to put to fine a point on it, but the process of identifying the “when” and “where” is half the fun of wading into such a dense pool of data. Now if we could only figure out where this photo was taken…

At Stonehenge

Listening to the audioguide while huddling for warmth.


You always wonder what the last minute complication is going to be. The important thing you left at home and remembered on the tarmac. The influenza that strikes the day before departure. But we lucked out. The Yucatan is about to get creamed by Rina.


Tropical storm Rina as of 9 a.m. today (Thanks, U.S. Naval Research Lab)

It touches down less than 24 hours prior to our arrival. I don’t know what happens now. Frontier Airlines has not yet revised the flight, and they tell me that I just have to wait and see what happens. Our one night of luxury accommodations are for the day we arrive, and we got that reservation as a perk for booking with Airtreks. Will the reservation hold? Does our travel insurance cover this and get us a per diem here in Seattle? Are we jumping to conclusions and we’ll be flying out on time anyway? Our apartment is pretty much packed up but it looks like we’ll need to wait until the last minute to determine if we pack up the mattress.


Entering Final Preparations

How much floss is too much?

Only four days left and Eric and I are packing, re-packing, and re-re-packing. We have both made lists and checked them twice. On a related note: I’m on a mission to collect as much floss as I can find from friends and relatives. (In addition to cleaning my teeth, I could create an emergency zip-line out of a hotel room).

The toughest part of packing right now is all the things I’m on the fence about. There are at least 2.5 good reasons to take each of these items on a round-the-world trip.

  • Furry vest – it can get cold at night everywhere in the world, right? I’ll need handwarmer pockets.
  • Big duffel bag. I’m planning to carry-on my backpack, but if I have to check it, I’ll need a big duffel bag.
  • Ultra-light tripod. I spent a few extra bucks on a really light tripod so I could set up some video shoots on our trip. But now — though light — this item just seems really bulky.
  • Water purification.  I described my Katadyn water bottles and Virustat filters. Well, these are really big. And the filter needs to be replaced after 4 months. Do I really want to carry big filters around to use them 4 months from now?  I could just carry iodine tablets and wait 4 hours to drink the treated water.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones — in typing those words just now, I have eliminated them.
  • Hiking boots. This is the really hard one. People have weighed in on both camps. They are light boots, and waterproof. I’ve worn them tons and they feel better than my tennis shoes. But they’re probably hot and I’ll only wear them a couple days a month, if that.
  • Sleeping bag and/or sleep sack. Most people have said to leave it. But I’ve also heard that hostel sheets can be dicey and you may want your own sleep sack. But I can’t imagine I’ll want to zip myself up in a sack when the overnight low is 85 degrees.
  • Notepads, drawing pads, pencils, knitting needles and supplies and other hobbies. So tough. Will I be bored? Will I be able to find art and craft supplies on the road? They don’t weigh much but they are bulky.
Definitely #firstworldproblem territory, but not easy decisions. For now, I have cut all of the above and will pack without them, then weigh my bag and add stuff back a pound at a time.
– Rachel

Adios 9 to 5

Image of Rachel at WorkI know it’s nothing special here in America, but I’ve been working 40 hours a week with no more than 2 weeks off a year since 1995 (with two small exceptions).  I’ve had a job since I was 12 years old. And I’ve never quit a job without another lined up. According to the book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” I’m the poor dad; the one who firmly believes that a steady job is the way to get ahead.

As of Friday, I’m going to try Rich Dad. Or maybe “The 4-Hour Workweek”.  It seems that in the international climate, jobs are history. The people who get ahead are the ones who make their own opportunities.

It’s difficult to picture any way to make money that isn’t a paycheck. Living across the street from two homeless shelters and a soup kitchen, I have a specific picture of what people without a job look like. But I’m hoping to learn on the road that people without a “job” — and I’m going to start always putting “job” in quotes like it’s something unusual — don’t look like homeless people.

It’s also hard to believe this week was my last Monday.  Next Monday might as well not even have a name.  It will just be a day.  This will be my last “weekend.” Next week, I’ll be like the gentry on Downtown Abbey saying to people, “What’s a weekend?” Without the bookends to each week, what kind of schedule will I develop?

I’m still going to work while I’m seeing the world. I’ll be working to make sense of what I’m seeing. And working to become a world citizen.

– Rachel

Planning Takes My Breath Away

Only three weeks until lift-off and my voice seems to have left without me. Last week I came down with laryngitis and I’ve been struggling to speak ever since. This has made phone calls to banks, family and governments all but impossible. As if I wasn’t already overwhelmed by the tasks left on the task list.

It has gotten me thinking about my health, though, and how to stay healthy on the road. Here’s my health plan so far:

  •  Travel insurance. This mostly just covers emergency evacuation, which I don’t think I’ll be using if I eat some bad tacos.
  • Probiotics. I’m going to eat as much yogurt as I can get my hands on. Anything with live cultures. These cultures will live like sleeper cells in my gut, poised to attack intruders.
  • Sunshine. I can never remember being sick when the sun was shining. Except when I had my wisdom teeth removed in Phoenix in 1999. But that was elective. Of course, also protection from the sun: hats, sunscreen, so I don’t get too much of a good thing.
  • Walking. Daily walks around my neighborhood … in the aforementioned sunshine.
  • Animals. I’ve read that watching fish lowers your blood pressure. I’m sure watching flamingos at a game preserve would do the same.
  • Katadyn water bottles with virustat filters (from REI). Under the table, I pour the tap water into my water bottle, then sip from it with my meal. $30 each, but I bought two virustat filters that should last a year of drinking two water bottles a day. And no matter what you have, doctors say drink a lot of water.
  • Iodine tablets. For treating more than a single water bottle.
  • Sleep. Here in Seattle, I’m spoiled with 8.5 hours a night. Sometimes 9. People with actual responsibilities I’m sure are rolling their eyes right now. But seriously, essential. I’m bringing ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask to make sure this happens.
  • Prescriptions. I’ve got prescriptions for malaria prevention, diarrhea, altitude sickness and other common ailments that I’ll be taking along.
  • Cell phone. As mentioned in a previous post, we’ll be taking unlocked cell phones and SIM cards so we can always call for help.
  • Common sense. What helps me the most when I get sick is reminding myself that it is temporary. In a week or two, I will be struggling to remember what coughing all night was like.
  • Distraction. Like Oscar said in The Odd Couple, “Felix, why don’t you leave yourself alone?”  Focus on something else. Or like my dad said, put your shoes on and act like you have something to do.
  • Eat cooked vegetables. This will be easier outside of America, where I’ve heard they actually serve such a thing in restaurants and street carts.
  • Immunizations. This has cost about $1,500 so far, but I’ve got ’em all. Visiting a travel health clinic at least 6 months before you leave is essential.

Now, back to bed in the hopes that when I wake up my voice will have returned from its journey!

– Rachel

No More Later Left: The Email Backlog

It’s less than a month until departure. I’m sitting on a pile of flagged emails that relate to this trip in some way. I haven’t really read much of any of them but thought I could get around to them “later”. There is no more later left, so now is the time to start chopping through it all.

There appear to be around seventy emails that have labels associated with various aspects of the trip, from country specific recommendations to phone unlock codes. So I’m going through the backlog, starting with the vaguest label, titled simply ”Trip”:

The first email is just a link:


The site is built on modest homebrew HTML, to the point where I initially wondered if it was some kind of legacy site but I noted the copyright © Grant and Susan Johnson, 1987-2011 so somebody must still be paying attention to it. For which I am grateful, it’s a wonderful window into a life I would have been happy to have lived. Hundreds of astounding pictures and inspirational travelogues stretching back to the pre-internet dark ages of postcards and guesswork. An epic duration around the world motorcycle trek. Hats off to you, Johnsons.

I’ve already spent half an hour poking around and haven’t scratched the surface.  “Baja California, Mexico – April 29 – May 18, 1987”, enough said. They end up in the Yucatan later that summer. A couple of years later, they’re in New Zealand. They’re all over Europe in the mid-nineties. More than a decade down the line, they are in Ecuador (Grant is anyway). Almost a quarter of a century  after they hit the road, I’m travelling to the Yucatan, New Zealand, Europe, and Ecuador, possibly treading the same ground as they are (minus the BMW). You see, it’s all full circle! Not really but I like to contextualize stories of the (relatively) remote past against my own experiences, daydreaming moments of my life in tandem with the notable lives of strangers.

And that’s just the first link. I’ve got 69 more emails to get through, some of them containing vital insights into the world we’re about to step off into. But for tonight, I’m just going to spend a little more time with Grant & Susan in a parallel ’90s.


Around the World by motorcycle, North to South, 1987 - 1998

Around the World by motorcycle, North to South, 1987 - 1998