HOW WE CAME TO BUY AN AMBULANCE, THAT WE’RE GONNA LIVE IN

That’s right, we bought an ambulance.

It’s not a fully functioning one, as many have questioned, but the lights and sirens do in fact work. Although, we have yet to try them out, apparently they’re rather loud– and illegal. The inside has been gutted and set up as a camper. Before I tell you all about our funky new vehicle, I’ll back-track a little to our entire car-hunt in general.

Abel and I had been browsing online, craigslist mainly, for used campervans, RVs, conversion vans etc. In the weeks leading up to our departure it seemed like we were constantly coming across good finds. Low prices, low miles, lots of potential. A whole variety of things would pop up and we’d think, that could be the one. Then of course, as is often the case, many hiccups and mishaps stopped these “good finds” from becoming “good buys”.

About a week before we left, I emailed a woman about a campervan she was selling. It seemed perfect: not too big, completely fitted out and self-contained, only $7k. Her reply said something like this:

Hey Annika, the van is still available. I am selling because my husband passed away recently and I don’t use it much anymore. I am actually away at the moment, and the van is located in Indiana. I would like to do the sale through ebay because they are more reliable and have never let me down. The process is quite simple. You just need to make a down payment of $2000 and I will have the van sent by courier to where you are (it will take 5 days-a week). You have 5 days to inspect the van and make sure you’re happy with it. If not, you may send it back and I will refund your deposit. If all looks good with you, you can complete your payment and the courier service will provide you with the title transfer details. Let me know if this interests you and I will create a private ebay link to send to you.

How good does that sound, right? I summoned Abel over, summarised the email and he said, yep, let’s do it. I definitely wanted some more details before providing this lady with a deposit, so I asked for the VIN and a bit more information on how the van itself runs. Other than that, we thought it was pretty much sorted. I showed lots of people photos and had my fingers crossed it would all work out. Guess crossing your fingers does fuck all, because this was nothing but a heavy-weighted scam. I can thank my mum and her friend Denise for making me think carefully before signing a deal with devil. Mum sent me a link to some articles about campervan scams on the internet. Apparently there’s a HUGE market for it. If it wasn’t such an awful thing to do to someone, it would almost be a really great way to make some quick cash… almost. The article listed some pretty basic warning signs:

  • The sale is usually linked to some kind of tragedy (this lady’s “dead” husband)
  • They often say they are out of town
  • They will provide a courier service
  • They would like a down payment
  • They would like to do the sale through ebay

This lady pretty much ticked every box with gusto. I was hoping she would prove me wrong, and after asking for the VIN (for the 4th or 5th time) and a phone number I could contact her on, she told me she had done everything I had asked for and she felt as if I was wasting her time. In actual fact, she was wasting her own by not answering my god-damned questions. I told her as much, that I knew she was a scammer, and where she could stick it.

Safe to say this got my hopes down a little. It helps that Abel is generally an optimist, “we’ll find something”.

About two days before we left, my friend Kate sent me a link to a post on Instagram. An Australian girl who had just travelled across the US with her boyfriend in a converted ambulance was now selling as their trip came to a close. Immediately after seeing the photos, I frantically waved my hands, said “oh my god”a handful of times, and asked my friend Elle if I could borrow her phone as mine was dead. I messaged Alissa (previous ambo owner) and told her I was extremely interested and would love to hear more.

The ambulance was up for sell with all the necessary gear included: Tables, gas cooker, loads of kitchen supplies, mozzie nets, yoga mats, fishing rod and tackle. So much good stuff. Alissa and I messaged over the course of the next week, talking part about the ambulance but also about their entire trip in general. It was so lovely being able to ask someone for advice on so many of my central concerns; talking with her really put my mind at ease about a lot of things. For example: how did they go travelling without a shower/how did they access one? She told something I would have never thought to do. They joined Planet Fitness, a gym franchise that has 1,500 locations across the USA. The full membership, with all the bells and whistles, is only $21.95 a month and lets you bring a guest for free every single time. That way, she told me, they were able to shower and stay fit while on the road. Goodness knows we’re gonna need to stay fit, we both like the bad foods.

I asked question after question and Alissa totally indulged me, she loved talking about this stuff, and wished she’d been able to ask someone these things when they first started off.

There was only a few things turning us off the ambulance in the beginning: 1. Alissa warned me it was most definitely not insulated. They had done a few stints in cold weather and made do with thermal blankets and a campfire before bed. At this point, our travel-route was going to endure some cold weather, so this was a little concerning for me. And 2. The van was located in Florida. Lucky for me, my parents live there, but then the question was, how do we get this van up to the North-East? So we kind of pushed the ambulance to the back burner. It was awesome, but not completely feasible.

We had a bite whilst in Hawaii, but the seller was a tad odd. I spoke with him on the phone and he didn’t give me a whole lot. Tons of short, closed off answers that made me question whether he really wanted to sell the thing. I told him my aunt would be more than happy to come look, since we wouldn’t be on the east coast for another week or two. He said I could give her his number but he finished off the call with, “Yeah ok, well we’ll see when you’re out here and if the van is still available”. Uhh, ok. Denise called the following day and he told her it sold that morning. I was soo grateful that he gave us the opportunity to check it out.

It wan’t until the end of our NYC trip, as we headed out to CT, that we seriously began looking at more vans and trying to contact people. To be honest, most people gave vague responses, if any at all. Anyone who sounded eager to make a deal, was usually another scammer. I was feeling frustrated and unsure how we were going to move forward with this. Why did people continue to list their van or campers and then made no effort to try and sell them? Most options were oversized too; I could never seem to find the basic high-top camper you might see cruising along the coasts in Australia, parked at a beach carpark for a night or two before moving on to the next.

Denise didn’t have a lot of work on while we were visiting Fairfield and she graciously offered to take us to check out any vans that interested us. People were always telling us to head south to Florida and buy there. It’s warmer and swarming with oldies, so more vans would be floating around. During our first dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s place, they shed some light on things I’d actively avoided thinking about. Gross administrative things like registration and insurance. Registering your car with your state of residency isn’t an enormous issue, but I’m not really a resident, so I’d have to use my parent’s Floridian address in order to do this. The lingering question was then, how would I get the plates in order to move the vehicle from A to B? We decided going to Florida was our best, and probably last, option. Dad would be able to help us sort out the details and we could take our time with it.

Once this decision was seriously in the works, Abel asked me if the ambulance was still available. Two weeks had nearly passed since my last contact with Alissa and I thought the odds were pretty slim. “Just check”. I couldn’t believe our luck when she replied to my message saying, “Actually, it is”.

Alissa and Lachie had been super busy whilst in West Palm Beach and didn’t have much time for any viewings with other potential buyers. I told her we would be flying down in the next week and if it was still available, we’d love to come and check it out. She pretty much pushed all her other appointments until after we had booked in to see the ambulance that coming Monday. When we’d been messaging previously, Alissa had told me we were at the top of their list. I think they liked knowing it would be going to a good home, to another Aussie couple doing the same thing. Rather than a 40-year-old man who only planned to use it to tailgate football games.

We did the three-hour drive to West Palm Beach and shortly after seeing the van, we were certain we wanted it. We made an offer, paid a deposit and picked it up the following day. Dad used some points he had to put us up at the Hilton Hotel that first night (score), and during check-in the concierge upgraded us to a suite (double score). The next day was leisurely, we laid at the beach for hours (the bonus of heading to Florida and altering our travel-route, more summer weather!) and went to an Aussie/Irish bar in town where we drank $3 margaritas and ate $2 tacos (pretty decent considering this place was anything but Mexican). The waitress told the owner Rod that we were Aussies and he wandered over, plonked himself down with his large, filled wine glass and chatted to us for a good half hour.

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We spent our first night in the van (and only, so far) that evening. She was a hot one, so now we’re kind of looking forward to some cooler evenings. While cooking breakfast that next morning in a beach carpark, we made a heap of older dude friends. They were all going for a morning surf and in awe of our ambulance. “Nice rig you got there,” this one guy said as he walked towards us, leaning his head for a peak inside. They wanted to talk vans and then even better, they wanted to talk Australia. Trust me, I told them, you’ll be getting better waves than this down under. Safe to say she’s gonna be a great spark for conversation, our ambulance.

Once we were back in Tampa at Dad’s place, we did a large Walmart haul to get any of the necessary gear they didn’t already give us. Not that we had to get much. We still spent a lot, but we saved a shit load too.

The ambulance also has three spare batteries that aren’t in use, but they’re practically brand new. We’ve bought an inverter so we can utilise them (we’ve been collecting all the parts over the past few days and Abel will be setting it up soon). We bought a mini-fridge for the front cab area, which will hook up to the spare batteries, and when the time comes, we’ll be able to buy and use a cheap electrical heater to fight off the frosty winter evenings.

It’s been so nice making the ambulance into a home. We’ve slowly been moving our things in, organising the cupboards and getting it all set-up and ready for the road. Our journey has been off to a slow start due to an issue with our “arriving” inverter from Amazon. It says it was delivered on Saturday, but it most certainly was not. Not the best of luck in that department, but I can’t be too ungrateful… because we bought a fricken ambulance! I don’t really know my opinions about the operation of the universe, they’re still forming and shaping, but I guess when Alissa said the ambulance was still available, I took that as a sign– it was meant for us. In some cosmic sort of way. I guess.

So here she is, meet our ride:

 

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(If anyone can think of a good name for her, please let me know. The previous owners named her Bambi, but I think we should shake things up little)

I’ll be back soon to talk about our first part of the road trip and van life.

A

THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING

The moment we’ve been waiting for since around 2016 has finally arrived. Abel and I have left the country indefinitely.

Not long after Abel and I started dating, maybe a year or so into the relationship—once we realised things were serious and a future was definitely feasible—we started to make plans. Abel would finish his electrical apprenticeship at the end of 2017 and I would finish my university degree half-way through 2018. At first this kind of freaked me out. I thought he might be itching to get up and get out of here, leaving me behind, studying furiously and jealous of his freedom. He reassured me that no, 6 months was not a long time to wait around, because we would go on a trip together and some serious saving would be in order. So we began to talk and plan. I have a whole country that’s intrinsically a part of who I am, and there’s so much of it I haven’t seen. The US has such a vast landscape begging to be explored and we couldn’t deny our desire to get amongst it. To do that, we decided road-tripping would be our best bet. The trip-planning continued to grow and develop over the past two years. We went from saying, “Oh, not next year, but the year after”, then “Yeah, we’ll travel next year” and finally, “We leave on October 5th”. Being able to tell people we were leaving in a few weeks was the best feeling. Everything we’d been working towards was coming to a point where it would all begin. It’s pretty strange how we talk, plan and discuss something at such length and so in-depth before it even has a chance to start. I mean, our trip would be in shambles without the months of organisation, but it’s such a mountain to climb before you get to the top, and apparently the top is where it all starts.

People talk about turning points in our lives and holy cow, I never really knew how much you could feel it when it’s actually happening. I always figured it was something you noticed later in life, when you’re looking back at a period and you think, “Yeah, wow, things were really starting to go in a different direction for me then.” But this shift was like a sneeze: I knew it was coming.

Two degrees done and dusted and on the brink of my 24th birthday. October 10th marks the anniversary of when my family first moved to Australia. It was three days before I turned 12. As of next week, that was 12 years ago. Half my life in the states and half down-under. It’s a little ironic that I’ll be celebrating this anniversary back in my home country— don’t ya think? (Sorry, I had to).

Here we are now, sitting on our flight to Honolulu (the one part of America Abel has been to, but not me) and it completely rattles me to think I won’t be washing dishes five days a week at one of my three jobs any time soon. I’ll be able to read. I’ll be able to write. I’ve been wanting to kick-start this whole blogging thing for such a long time. My attempts have been fleeting, sporadic and often weak. I’ve always struggled with what to write about (in non-fiction terms; fake is easy). I could write posts about the horrid people I serve on a daily, but living in a small community doesn’t really allow for that. Although, I’m sure Judith and Gloria don’t get on the internet, so I’ve missed an ample opportunity to bad-mouth them for the past few months. But now I have all these new experiences headed straight for me, begging for me to share them with the (my) world. That’s exactly what I intend to do.

I’ll tell you a little bit about day one:

After waking early and ensuring every last item had been stuffed into my slightly underweight bag, Abel and I could finally start cleaning our space. For the past couple weeks things have been chaotic in our living quarters. Not only had we been too busy to think about it, but slowly accumulating all the necessary items for travel and not really knowing where to put them, took its toll on our physical surroundings. Piles of clothes, bags of toiletries and medicals strewn about; it was a sty. Moving these things to anywhere but the laundry or our suitcases seemed pointless, so we had to wait until majority of our lives were packed and ready to go. Then the space would be spacious enough for a vacuum.

The weather started getting pretty hideous yesterday—musty skies and fat water drops— but it held off for a brief stint this morning. We took our bikes out for one last ride along Werri path and it felt strange saying goodbye to our neighbourly ocean. Guilt overwhelmed me when I realised I hadn’t been for a dunk in a while. Sea salt has magical powers in every ocean, but there’s something extra special about the one you live next door to. You feel like you sort of know each other. You’re always watching the ocean’s temperament, while its helping with your own, and each night the moon shines on you both, whispering its own little voodoo. It’s pretty special and I often question how people can live away from the ocean— I know the US national parks will answer that for me.

Down at North Werri a few black, yellow-tailed cockatoos were playing in plain sight amongst the dune bush. I warned Abel that the bird-life in the US wouldn’t quite compare to what we have here. We take for granted the bright coloured lorikeets and the constant far-off squawking. Although I’m sure he’ll be plenty excited to spot a Robin or Cardinal—but probably more so a squirrel running along the telephone wires. It was nice that a little part of Australia came out for us just before we left, even though I’m going “home”, I know I’ll long for it. That’s why I made sure we packed vegemite. When I reminded Abel that we needed to get some he looked at me perplexed, “What? Who for?”

“For us!”

“I’ll be fine,” said the boy who eats vegemite toast every second day.

We got back from our ride and then it was just making sure everything was in its place. And then the one thing I was dreading most about leaving: saying goodbye to Winnie, my cat. I didn’t cry saying goodbye to anyone but her. For her, I cried much more than once. “She’ll be fine”, Abel constantly reminds me. Like, I know that. I’m very well aware that she’ll be ok— I just feel bad. She expects me to be there every morning to have a little snuggle with her and then, after a week passes, she’s gonna be like, that fucking bitch left me high and dry. I just hope she forgives me when we’re back. You’re all probably rolling your eyes and calling me a crazy cat lady, but I most certainly am not. If this was a dog you’d all be with me right now. But honestly, leaving a dog would be that much worse. They need you a whole lot more. Cats have their independence and I’ll let that ease my mind for now.

We’re about an hour or so into our flight and Abel’s watching Jurassic Park next to me and I’ve got Judy Dench to my left. She’s flicking through on her kindle and I think it’s about time I do the same. In approximately 8 hours we’ll be landing, picking up our car, trying our best to stay to the right, and headed for the beach.

I’ll talk about Hawaii when I know what to talk about. Photos included.

A

It’s about time I did some time-traveling

A journalism student at university and I feel like a complete idiot for never writing down my experiences and posting them on the big bad web for people to read. It’s not that what I have to say is overly important and that I’m in need of avid readers, but I’ve done a fair share of traveling and why not share that with y’all? It will at least force me to raid my brain for the good and bad points of roaming the world, and hopefully I’ll take note next time I decide to jet off into the unknown.

Six months I was away from home, but for three of those months I reverted back to twelve-year old Annika, living in Fairfield, CT with her cousins and watching all the people she grew up with morph into these adults with their own agendas, attending prestigious universities, joining sororities and living the life I may have been majorly apart of, had my family not decided to uproot and move down under. I really did love being back home, summer in America has a completely different feeling; it’s full of country clubs, traveling to summer towns and consuming cookie-dough ice cream at least twice a day. During that US summer of 2013, I sent myself into NYC as much as possible. It was like a test for me– I remembered the city well, but I had to be sure that it was still living up to my dreams and expectations that shows like Sex and the City and Friends set for me. I wasn’t the nine year old, walking around the blue crisp city at Christmas to see the Radio City Rockettes anymore. I had my own plan, my writing goals that loomed far into future careers that only publications like Vanity Fair or The New Yorker seemed capable of holding.

Lost in the radiating concrete-dense heat, down in Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park and past the NYU buildings, I felt nothing but nostalgia for the life I never got to live and imagining every possible way that I could broadcast myself into the version of the person I wanted so badly to be. I’d get home, start and finish my four-year double degree, saving as much money as possible– enough to to pay a year of graduate school studying at NYU and chasing down mean editors in the hopes of a pathetic freelance writing position.

These three months moved like the heat- slow. It wasn’t something that bothered me, it was something that was sort of required and I wasn’t even fully aware of it at the time. The god damn beauty of hindsight. I visited my parents in Boulder, Colorado and my mother was quick to remind me on a daily basis that I was nothing short of the yank I always had been, and to not be offended when all my Australian friends might not be able to afford an overseas wedding– Thanks for the reminder, Gillian.

I shouldn’t really be overly surprised that it wasn’t the familiarity that made me see clarity, it was the unknown. I’d done America, I’d lived and visited many times, so why I thought it was the answer to my future and all my problems really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (I’m not really full of problems, but we all kind of act like we are, don’t we?).

The places I hadn’t seen, and didn’t even belong to, were calling my name. I traveled Europe for an abrupt three months (due to a lack of funding– whoops-a-fucking-daisies), and it wasn’t even until my plane landed back in Sydney that I understood the notion of the “travel bug”. While it was all happening– the rush to make flights, the extended bus trips, the constant expenses, they seemed like nothing but a downer on what was supposed to be a fulfilling experience. Hindsight, you motherfucker, I had the best three months of my life and only the last few weeks and the depressing arrival home allowed me to see this.

This is me, just over a year from now– leaving for everything I just told you about.

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10 kgs lighter and terrified of saying goodbye to my Ma and Pa. So by looking at travel pamphlets, brochures from the Gucci museum and reading my extremely rushed and mediocre travel diary, I’m gonna reverse back the clock and write down anything and everything worth sharing– a pretty good excuse to relive it all, dontcha think?