The Reformation Within Myself Will Not Be Televised

Note: This is the first time I’ve written anything about me and Islam and shared it. I am hesitant to write this even now, mostly because I’m scatterbrained and a terrible writer. I linked to blog posts from others who are more knowledgeable in certain topics to keep this short. You might not know I’m Muslim. Or you might consider me too recent a convert, not informed enough. It should be obvious, but these are just my thoughts and I speak for myself. In some stricter circles, it might be considered inappropriate to do so without having some type of qualification. I don’t speak Arabic and I wasn’t raised in a Muslim household. But these are blessings and my reality. I am a Muslim by choice. I have unique perspective and a voice. As the Qur’an commands of us, we must come to know one another [49:13]. Here is a part of me.

Sometimes, I have the feeling I’ve lived two separate lifetimes. In some way, I have. It started when I woke up one morning after the doctors pulled a tube out of my throat in the ICU. That tube helped me breathe while my body and a drug cocktail dealt with inflamed membranes in my spine and brain, poisoned blood, and renal failure. It was a year after high school and I was hospitalized with meningococcemia. Before then, I was a very average teenager in the suburban sprawl of the San Gabriel Valley playing in a band, hanging out with friends, and going to shows. I lived in my bubble. But after that morning, something changed. I no longer desired to stay close to home and play video games on my free time. I wanted to use my brain. I needed to see and feel all life.

Continue reading “The Reformation Within Myself Will Not Be Televised”

Walt Whitman’s Mystical Experience in Song of Myself

I read this poem in Leaves of Grass ten years ago and have never stopped thinking about this one part:

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

Three Weeks in Andalusia: A Van Budget

You probably need a budget. It can be as simple as a paper and pencil. There are also a variety of apps depending on your needs and spending habits. I started using Trail Wallet on my phone through Latin America to keep track of our expenses and with this trip in Andalusia, it’s starting to feel necessary. Another app that is more for non-travel budgeting is Pennies which might work better for others.

Trail Wallet was created by Simon Fairbairn, one half of a digital nomadic couple from the UK who have been traveling nonstop since 2010. You can organize your spending by month or trip, and when you start tinkering with the options you’ll see you can customize it to your liking. You also have the ability to add categories of spending to a trip. In Latin America, we created an Alqo category for his food, veterinarian visits, and his dental surgery in Lima. We didn’t use tags at all, but now we have a personal category for anything extra that isn’t completely necessary or useful to both of us. Instead of separating those things into two categories, one for me and one for Patricia, we just tag our names to an item. It doesn’t matter how much each of us spends, but that we add it to know where our money goes. Patricia bought a pair of Natural World ecological shoes in Ronda, made locally in La Rioja, Spain using 100% organic raw materials and we just tagged her name next to the item. (I’ve already had mine since December. They’re the best.)

Our categories for van travel are different than our categories for backpacking. For our three weeks in Andalusia and our first van trip, we have:

  • Groceries: any food items to be cooked or prepared, water, etc.
  • Eating Out: cafés, churrerías, restaurants
  • Fuel: diesel, self-explanatory
  • Miscellaneous: things for the van, such as Campingaz refills, parking meters in cities, or other supplies
  • Personal: see above
  • Accommodation: occasional campground and one time just a shower
  • Entertainment: self-explanatory

Trail Wallet allows multiple currencies in the same trip and fetches the current exchange rate. This is really handy if you buy a plane ticket or something online in dollars but are traveling in a different country. It shows your expenses in list view or pie chart, exports your trip data into a CSV file, can set a daily budget to aim for throughout the day.

The feasibility of long-term travel lives and dies by a daily average, especially if there is no income generation. In some Latin American countries, we missed our target by a few extra dollars a day. For Andalusia and our first time traveling this way, we decided on $36.50 between the two of us, for no other reason than it is close to €1,000 for a month. Our daily average was $35.62, or $17.81 per person per day. Not bad. Now that we’re “back home”, we feel we can reduce this even further (Other than our van, we haven’t had a place of our own since May 2017 when we left Mauritania. I’m ready for Germany.) Here’s the breakdown for three weeks in Andalusia:

Category $ per day Total % of total
Groceries 9.79 205.57 27.49
Eating Out 6.04 126.76 16.95
Miscellaneous 4.07 85.48 11.43
Accommodation 3.37 70.80 9.47
Fuel 9.28 194.79 26.05
Personal 1.88 39.47 5.28
Entertainment 1.19 25.00 3.33
Total $35.62 $747.87 100%

Obviously, our biggest expenses were fuel and groceries. Accommodation in Latin America included hostels but here, we were able to find free camping spots everywhere we went; on a hill overlooking Granada, in a meadow for two days near Grazalema, or a quiet spot off the road near olive farms.

There is a definite lack of touristy things in this budget. We prefer hiking and being outdoors these days. And not everyone would spend this much on groceries. Some are perfectly happy buying readymade meals or eating out everyday. I used to be this way. We love to cook and eat healthy and we buy local or bio in herbolarios.

Eating out is still bigger than we’d like. We met friends and family in Caceres and Sevilla and we invited them to eat. Subtracting these three meals, it would be $45.53. The remaining six items were cafés and a Moroccan lunch in Granada.

Slowing down helps immensely. Not everyone has the desire do this, especially for working professionals who have only a few weeks vacation a year, but it works for us. This will be even easier in the future when I can use a mobile hotspot and iPad to work from the van.

Day Eighteen: Direction Change and Alhama de Granada

We might have found an apartment in Cologne, Germany with the help of good friends. If everything works out, we will be there in early March. In the meantime, we decided to shorten our trip down south, head back to Madrid, and get Holly ready for version 2.0. We deliberately kept things simple and I’m glad we did. Now instead of starting from scratch, we’ll be able to add to the furniture, making it more spacious and efficient. We want to build out the back for an outdoor kitchen area, perfect for spring and summer.

A few days ago we also decided to skip Córdoba and head to Granada. Both of us never worry about missing something in Spain because there will be opportunities to visit these places again in the future. It’s a small country with so much to see and do.

Before Granada, we spent the night near Alhama de Granada. A small town with a lot of Moorish history, we were drawn to the aguas termales. We visited the first day and there were different groups of people all enjoying the warm water; a group of young Moroccan guys, a French couple with two dogs in an RV, an older Andalusian man who speaks tons of languages and bathes there everyday.

We camped near a campo filled with olive trees by a river and the next day, we quickly woke up and went back for a morning wash. No one was there, the air was fresh and cool, and we both felt energized for a day in the city of Granada.

Day Sixteen: Near Grazalema

The feeling of being more exposed to the weather is refreshing. In most Western countries, we heat the spaces we inhabit rather than ourselves. Our three months near Madrid were spent in a cozy house with central heating and a chimney. We’re more outside now. And when we make our bed for the night, we roll out two -10°C sleeping bags to keep us warm. While the weather has been better down south, near Grazalema the early morning was frosty.

Thankfully, it has warmed up. The frost on the ground melted and evaporated with the sun. We took a walk around the meadow, bumping into fenced-off cotos privados de caza (private hunting grounds) farther on.

We keep track of expenses using an app called Trail Wallet. The last two days here we haven’t spent any money because we brought the essentials and don’t need anything else.