From Don: I don’t know what to say, I hardly know where to begin. We got back to Vancouver from our latest travels to Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba on March 2nd. We felt travel-weary and made a decision to stop travelling for twelve months to give Alison time to find ways to heal her chronic aches and pains. We rented a basement suite from a friend and began looking for more permanent rental accommodation. Housing in Vancouver is expensive, and little is available at a price we can afford. Initially all I could find were basement apartments in people’s homes for CAN$1,200 a month or more. Then I saw an ad for a one-bedroom apartment in a seniors-only building on the east side of Vancouver for $650 a month! There was a means test – an upper allowable limit to our guaranteed income from government pensions. No problem with that, so we applied and were accepted relatively quickly. We began buying furniture and furnishings to be delivered after we moved in on May 8.
So now we’ve been living here for three months. We’re settling in but not yet fully settled. We have a home of our own for as long as we want it. I enjoy the convenience of having everything we need close to hand. I like having the time to exercise for 45 minutes every morning. I’m happy to be back in Vancouver with time to visit with friends once more. I am grateful for the opportunity to rest deeply.
I continue to send thanks to The Mystery for making this place available for us. I’m profoundly grateful that we have a home and can still afford to travel.
I look forward to being able to travel again once Alison is well enough. We still have a long bucket list: Portugal, Morocco, Eastern Europe, Japan, China, and the game parks of Africa are all high on that list.
Is there anything I would change if I could? Never look a gift horse in the mouth is my motto. We’ve been gifted with affordable accommodation in the only city we want to live in. How good is that?
From Alison: Five and a half years ago we sold our apartment and car, and sold or gave away all our furniture and other possessions. We reduced down to an 8×10 storage locker to hold file boxes, winter clothing, and a few precious items, and then, as homeless nomads, we set off to see the world.
We travelled more than a million miles, visited over twenty countries, and stayed in more “homes” than we can count – hotels, hostels, Airbnb apartments, with friends and family, and housesitting. There was a night in a tent in the Jordanian desert, several nights in our own tent in Washington State, three nights on a Nile cruise boat, eight nights on a Galapagos cruise boat, a night on a train in Turkey, a night on a train in Egypt, and a few nights on those brutal redeye flights. Even back in our hometown of Vancouver we were nomads moving from one housesitting gig to the next and making numerous trips to our storage locker for a myriad of bits and pieces.
Now it has all ended. For the first time in 5.5 years we have a car, and furniture, and our own home.
It’s been a curious adjustment for me, perhaps a little bewildering. It’s not what I would have chosen, but given my issues with mobility there was no choice, and a sweet place at an even sweeter price became available for us. What a blessing!
It continually amazes me the way we create our reality without even being aware of it. During all the years of travelling whenever I thought of settling again in Vancouver I assumed, given soaring rents and our limited budget, that it would have to be a small place on the far eastern side of the city. And that’s exactly what became available – never mind that we would have been eligible for an apartment with the same organisation in a much more central location with a water view. I never caught the thought that locked us into where we are, and so never opened up my vision to different possibilities.
We are however in a lovely and convenient location. There’s a small mall with a supermarket, a farmers’ market, a pharmacy, a great sushi restaurant, and many other services directly across the road. And we’re a five-minute walk from a lovely forested walk around a golf course, and a five-minute drive from the walking path along the Fraser River that forms the southern boundary of the city. We walk there at sunset some evenings, and watch the tugs dragging their long log booms with the splendor of Mount Baker off in the distance.
Of course getting all our things from the storage locker was like Christmas. There were so many beautiful things that we’d saved but had forgotten about. At first they were all piled up in the corner until furniture arrived. At this point all we had were mattresses.
This is the “couch” I built myself from one of the large mattress boxes and other smaller boxes. It was good enough for a few days.
Moving in was a big focus for the first several weeks. We unpacked boxes and bought furniture. I retrieved my sewing machine from a friend. I made curtains and cushion covers, and repurposed our king-size bedspread to fit two twins.
I made a tablecloth from the sarong Don wore in Bali, and napkins from some Balinese fabric I picked up at a thrift store. I hung pictures on the walls, and found a home everything, and the right place to display all our precious objects.
We went shopping. It’s incredible the number of small things you need to acquire to equip a home when you’re starting from scratch, from a cheese grater, to a broom, a laundry basket, a toilet brush and plunger, to a waste bin for the bathroom, to pots, pans, dishes and cutlery, lamps and a vacuum cleaner. And this is not even the half of it.
The most fun project was thrift store shopping for dishes. We went to a high-end restaurant in Havana. I’ll write about it in another post. Anyway I noticed in the restaurant that none of the glasses or dishes or cutlery matched. Buying complete sets of the numbers needed for a restaurant of that size in Cuba would have been impossible, so in true Cuban fashion they worked with what they had. It inspired me. I scoured thrift stores for plates and bowls, cutlery and glasses. They didn’t have to match; they just had to go together. I was looking for colour, and quality, and whatever fitted into the theme, which quickly presented itself as soon as I found the first brightly coloured Italian-style plate.
We still would like to get another chair and a rug to complete the sitting area, a chair for the desk, and a television, but after having bought a car and furniture, and all the bits and pieces needed to make our home functional our budget has run off screaming in despair and may not be seen again for months.
Settling in took time, but some things took longer than others. Although we have a home we are still partway in travel mode. We hung our travel bathroom bags on the back of the bathroom door and continued to use them. Finally after six weeks we emptied them and put them into storage along with our other travel gear. I have a couple of beautiful bags. I noticed one in particular every time I opened the wardrobe; a colourful hand-made bag I’d bought in Mexico several years ago. Now and then I’d think Oh I should use that bag. But then, no, I’d go back to using what I’ve used for the past 5.5 years – my old black daypack that has served me so well. It took three months before I finally traded the daypack for the Mexican bag. I’m still not sure about it.
And clothing: we had quite a lot in storage which now hangs in our wardrobe, but I still tend to wear the same clothes I’ve travelled with. They’re looking a bit faded, but they’re comfortable and easy. I have actually branched out and worn some different jewellery during the past week or so. I used to be really interested in clothes and fashion, and always tried to look “put together”, but now not so much. Perhaps I will again eventually, but not yet. It doesn’t interest me as much as it used to. Many things from that pre-nomadic time in my life don’t interest me as much as they used to.
All this is to say I love having all our things around us. And I love not having to move every two or three weeks. But I’m not quite home yet. And I’m not sure who I am now at home. I’m different than I was six years ago and this new me hasn’t quite emerged yet. Who am I now? What do I want? Something is gestating but I have no clue what it is, and that’s okay. Feeling fully at home has not arrived yet, and that’s okay too.
Possibly the biggest reason for this is “The Project”. The project is all about healing. I’ve had worsening issues with mobility for three years now so I’m focused on healing that. I do a lot of stretching and strengthening exercises, meditations, visualisations, developing stamina, walking. It takes time, and more importantly than that it takes commitment to routine. I’ll write about the healing journey eventually, but for now I just want to say that it’s not leaving much psychological space for anything else.
So in between all these activities that will get me mobile again, and various social activities with our friends, I sit on the couch. I write and edit photos, and read, and watch Netflix, and appreciate the quiet and stability and peace of our own home, be it ever so humble.
Next post: a horse and buggy ride around the tobacco fields, and other explorations of Viñales, Cuba.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2017.