Musings on the Coast

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Two for the Road

By Michael Ray

Intrepid readers will recognize Kyuri Lin, my former long-time yoga instructor. This column is about how she and her boyfriend, Szymon Bielesz, both about 30, lived what I call “The Van Life.” They bought an old Mercedes Sprinter van, redesigned and rebuilt the interior and some of the exterior, and lived in it while traveling all the way from Alaska to the very tip of South America.

The short version: 20 months on the road, 13 countries, and 30,000 miles.

The long version: there are about 70 square feet inside the van and my personal odds against them making it past three months without wanting to kill each other was about 400 to 1, against. They did, though, and just kept going and going, and never felt unsafe. There are a number of cell phone apps that cater to The Van Life, with readers/writers sharing cool locations, good camping grounds, fresh water availability, towns to bypass or enjoy, electrical hook-ups, nice and cheap places to eat, friendly faces and so on.

In short, they might have lived in a van, but they were connected.

They are back now and living in Vancouver, BC, where Kyuri attends formal yoga training lessons.

Here are Kyrui’s comments about their trip:

Mexico: Best food

Belize: Expensive/people are not that nice

Guatemala: Learned Spanish there, a lot of trash

El Salvador: Lot of guns, lots of trash

Honduras: nothing that special

Colombia: Nicest people by far, favorite country

Ecuador: nothing that special

Peru: The Andes Mountains are beyond incredible, lots of poverty and trash

Bolivia: Highlight was Solar de Uyuni—salt flats that mirror everything during rainy season

Chile: Patagonia is glorious—rivers, meadows, and good roads

Argentina: Southern tip (Usuhaia) then shipped van back to the U.S.


Their observations:

  • People are pretty friendly everywhere if you are friendly, too.
  • Solar heated showers from water bags on top of roof: nice in warm weather; freezing in freezing weather.
  • That much travel on bumpy roads and in a van that itself is bumpy leads to lower back pain.
  • There is trash, trash, trash, and trash everywhere. Especially plastic trash that takes a thousand years to disintegrate.
  • Toilet facilities: horrible…get used to it.
  • Frequency of any kind of bathing: maybe once every four days.
  • Romantic life: “How sexy do you feel when you haven’t had a shower in three days and are pooping into a portable trash can?”
  • There are not many people from the U.S. living the van life. They mostly are from Western European, very commonly Germany and Scandinavia, or Australia.
  • Americans are clueless about what is happening in Mexico, Central and South America. It is worse than that: they don’t care.
  • Even though both Kyuri and Szymon are big yoga people and enjoy Acroyoga (where you climb on top of one another in a variety of really difficult poses), they did not practice much on their trip. It was too difficult to find flat, even surfaces, and feeling physically unclean did not help either.
  • Everywhere there is a lack of infrastructure. Americans do not get how lucky we are.
  • As The Van Life has attracted more and more travelers, locals in each county have turned their houses into de facto Airbnbs and their kitchens into little restaurants. Travelers love these refuges, it is a growing industry, and local governments encourage this type of economic growth.

A place like Laguna would be deemed paradise: great beaches, toilet facilities, Heisler Park to practice Acroyoga, clean drinking water, and so on. However, the sheer beauty of the Andes Mountain range, the Patagonian trout fishing lands, the Salt Flats in Bolivia and other new sites (to them) are so incredibly gorgeous, even Laguna is put to shame.

Now they are back in the United States. I asked Kyuri what bothered her the most upon their return.

She did not hesitate:

“It is the thousands of giant highway billboard signs. You are bombarded with so much information, you want to flee.” It is an induced frenzy Kyuri and Szymon cannot stand.

When Kyuri graduates from her yoga training school, she does not think she and Szymon should try to hack it in Southern California. The information overload and crowded conditions (not to mention traffic-jammed highways) make them crazy. They want something quiet and preferably remote: perhaps somewhere outside of Portland or Seattle.

Yeah, they enjoy the SoCal oceans, but after seeing the magnificent Andes and other wonders, their horizons have expanded.

Sorry, Laguna, I don’t think they’re coming back.

To check out their travel blog, visit


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.



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