Tea Talk 5: Johanna Luz | Traveling Environmentalist

It’s been 9 years since I met Johanna at college. We were both assigned to the smallest dorm on campus, and the memories of that year are some that will stick with me the rest of my life. I remember when I first found out that she wore glasses every day not because she had a prescription, but just because she felt like it. How can you not admire someone with that level of dedication?

Johanna and her husband are currently on the trip of a lifetime, driving down from Oregon to South America while providing medical and environmental help/education in exchange for world knowledge about how to live a more sustainable life. They’re driving down in a veggie bus (aka a bus that runs on used kitchen oil), while simultaneously writing a book about their adventures, and it’s kind of the coolest thing ever. Their blog is an absolute inspiration and I would highly recommend hopping over for a read! But first, here’s an introduction to one of the coolest girls I’ve ever met:

What started your passion for traveling?

I think there was never a time when I wasn’t traveling, so for me it became more about figuring out how to continue to travel. My Mom is from Germany, my Dad is from Oregon, USA and I grew up in Venezuela. Since the age of 1, I was on an airplane flying to visit relatives in different places around the world.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

There are many different ways of traveling. Sometimes people have a fixed idea that it requires a lot of money and privilege, and that therefore, it isn’t accessible to everyone. The more I travel, the more I run into people traveling in the most alternative ways. My husband and I recently made our way down Baja California, Mexico. We ran into bikers, hitchhikers, a family living in a school bus, buskers, and artists, all figuring out ways to travel long periods of time on low budgets. We, ourselves, converted our van to work with used vegetable oil fuel. We collect it for free from restaurants in the cities we travel through and in that way minimize our fuel expense on the road.

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

My husband. We met as teenagers but we re-connected when I backpacked through Guatemala years later. It was the beginning of a 2.5 year long distance relationship (Guatemala-Venezuela). I have picked up eating beans, eggs & tortillas every day, saying “chilero” (cool) and much more!

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Do it. Period. I did my first extended solo trip when I was 19 through Spain and Portugal. It felt extremely liberating and powerful to rely 100% on myself in a place where I knew no one and where no one had a prototype of who I was. I felt truly free and that feeling is something I try to hold on to ever since.

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

I’m always trying to make sure I don’t fall into a tourist trap or get ripped off in an incredibly stupid way. When I was traveling through Central America in 2012, I crossed into Guatemala from Mexico by land without knowing the exchange rate (not something I recommend). After exchanging some money on the border, I hopped on a tuk tuk (3 wheeled vehicle) to go to the nearest bus terminal. I was charged 150 Quetzales for a 5min ride. Then I rode the bus for about 3 hours and was only charged 15 Quetzales. I realized at that moment the tuk tuk driver had overcharged me. I had paid him$20 instead of $0.50, which was the real price!

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

During many points of my life, I struggled with being timid and embarrassed about a lot of things about myself. When you travel, you don’t have a choice. You have to put yourself out there, ask people for directions, get to know strangers and look like a total lost foreigner. You also are constantly getting to know people and explaining who you are to others who have very little context about where you come from. Traveling and meeting people on the road has helped me get to know myself better and feel more confident with who I am in the world.

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

The road less traveled, whatever that may be. But usually, it’s not by plane. Right now I’m doing an extended trip with my husband called Camino Casamel. We are traveling in our van that we converted to work with used vegetable oil as fuel (Veggie Bus Diaries on Instagram). We began our trip in Oregon and are currently midway through Mexico, collecting used oil from restaurants along the way. We plan on making it to Panama and possibly further South.

Traveling this way has been a lifestyle choice, as we live in our van and have a purpose beyond visiting tourist attractions. We are also learning about natural medicinal practices from the different regions we visit. It’s been very enriching to travel slowly and connect in a deeper way with the people and places we visit.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

I’ve always wanted to travel more extensively through South America. I grew up in Venezuela and have visited Colombia. I would like to see the rest of the continent and make it to Brazil, especially.

Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure? 

Our current trip is a huge project we began dreaming about a few years ago. We started by thinking about ways of connecting our passions and wanting to begin our lives together in a different way. Our project Camino Casamel (or Veggie Bus Diaries), came about after Aidan had graduated from Medical School in Guatemala and after I worked with community environmental projects in Caracas, Venezuela. Ancestral medicinal practices and more natural lifestyles are areas that drew us together. We decided to travel through different countries where we could learn more about this, using waste vegetable oil as a greener fuel option and living in our van so we could cut on traveling expenses.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Getting started was very difficult. We originally thought we were going to start our trip in Spring 2016 but we were delayed a year. We had mechanical issues, a difficult conversion to vegetable oil system, and needed a lot more time and money to prepare.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

We both learned a lot the year we had to wait to begin our trip. At times, we didn’t even know if it was still going to be possible. I definitely learned that sometimes things don’t work out the way you anticipate. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. Sometimes you will have to wait, sit back and re-evaluate. Then, do it again but better. And take your time. Rushing things often will set you back more.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve traveled and lived extensively in Latin America and have a few strong opinions about certain things I wanted to mention J Throughout the years, I’ve met a lot of travelers and been one myself. One thing that I think is EXTREMELY important is learning about the local context and history of the places you visit. Often, travelers from “developed countries” will visit Latin America with very little knowledge about how U.S. political intervention and foreign economic interests have shaped, damaged and are currently still harming the region. This is true not only for Latin America, but for most developing countries in the world.

I don’t say this to accuse or create guilt, but as a means to encourage travel a way of educating yourself about what is happing in the world and how your home country may be affecting lives overseas in ways you aren’t aware. I think this type of awareness also creates a deeper travel experience as you hear personal stories from the other side of history and learn things that aren’t included in classic text books.

For example, in Nicaragua there is the Museo de la Revolucion (Revolutionary Museum) in Leon, exhibiting a civil war the U.S. was directly involved in. Ex-guerrilla fighters give the tour. Our guide shared his personal experience of the war, of the friends and family he lost and how the country was destroyed. I remember the guide told us with a depth in his eyes, “There is absolutely nothing worse than war, avoid it by all costs.”

To follow along on Johanna’s adventures, you can check out her blog, purchase the book they’re writing or check out their Facebook page

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