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This Family Toured Central America in 2018, Mystery much Earlier. We Loved the folks South of The Boarder Donald Trump.

Added: Wednesday, August 14th 2019 at 6:29pm by smfmystery

Published: Aug 14, 2019 9:56 a.m. ET

The 15,000-mile journey that changed their lives

Paul Carlino & Rebecca Eichler

For eight years, this suburban Virginia couple dreamed of traveling the world with their kids.

They just didn’t know how they’d do it.

“The idea was to travel for a year, at first we thought we would do it by plane,” attorney Paul Carlino, said  

In 2015, the couple — whose kids were then 10 and 13 (Rebecca says they chose to do it at these ages because “they weren’t at pivotal years in school”) — hit the road in a 1985 VW Vanagon van. They spent $6,500 on the van and $7,000 refurbishing it with a new transmission, shocks, gaskets, brake hoses and more; they even glued eyelashes on the headlights and named the van Wesley, after the main character in their favorite movie “The Princess Bride.” Paul got a year-long leave of absence from his job to take the trip; Rebecca, who runs her own immigration firm, put her work on hold for a year; and the couple  home schooled the children during the journey.

“Despite the hard times, we could see the resiliency in the kids as things progressed. They were able to bounce back from disappointment and hard situations — hot weather, bugs, foods that they didn’t necessarily love but ate because that is what there was in this or that village.” Rebecca Eichler

The plan was to spend a year traveling through Central and South America all the way down to the tip of Argentina — but after their first week in Mexico, where they stayed in the same spot for a week, they decided to take the trip slower and just do Central America. The family ended up going roughly 15,000 miles — they aren’t exactly sure how far as the odometer broke at some point in El Salvador and they didn’t fix it until they reached Nicaragua a few weeks later — through seven countries including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

Paul Carlino & Rebecca Eichler

Among the highlights: They spent a few weeks on Ometepe Island (in the middle of a lake in Nicaragua) making chocolate with an American woman who had a biodynamic farm there (they found her through the WorkAway program, which connects travelers who are looking for a place to stay and willing to do work for it).

“She had no electricity, dirt floors, chickens were running around everywhere, her water came from a hose connected to a spring … There were glass bottles everywhere where she said she was trapping earth spirits.” They helped her make chocolate bars -- that’s how she earned money, Rebecca says — that she sold to hotels, tourists, “and a bunch to the commune up the hill” where the residents might have sometimes “been a little stoned,” Paul jokes.

They also did some building for a riverside eco-lodge in Costa Rica, witnessed an olive ridley turtle nesting in Mexico, sledded down a volcano in Nicaragua, and crossed the Panama Canal onboard a catamaran. They did this by becoming volunteer line handlers — in which you secure mooring lines on a boat; the Panamanian government requires four line handlers on a boat when crossing the canal. “Someone we had met earlier in the trip gave us the idea. It was an adventure, we spent the night on a catamaran that had come all the way from Portugal,” Paul says.

“We’d do it all again in a heartbeat,” says Paul — who adds that they’ve already been talking the two of them taking that trip once the kids graduate from high school. Here’s what the trip cost, what the kids really thought about it, and more .

Pa ul Carlino & Rebecca Eichler

The cost:

The couple saved for eight years to pay for the trip, scrimping on housing (they continued to live in their roughly 1,200-square-foot home in Alexandria even after they had two kids). They also didn’t have cable TV, lived with hand-me-down furniture and clothing instead of new, and drove old cars as long as they lasted. Rebecca adds that the couple worked to repay their student loans and mortgage as soon as they could, never carried a balance on their credit cards. “Our lifelong philosophy is to be cheap,” Paul writes on the family’s website , where they chronicled the trip and its costs.

Paul documented the costs of the trip, and estimates that they spent $36,000 on the year (not including the cost of the van and its repairs, and health insurance for the year, which costs upwards of $2,000 for the year (they got a travel insurance policy that did not cover them in the U.S.) The biggest cost was food for the family, which he estimates was about $12,000 for the year; that was followed by accommodations at about $10,000 for the year. Paul jokes that he wanted the family to sleep in the van the whole time, but “in an effort to not give them too much to talk about in therapy later,” he jokes, he agreed to hotels and AirBnBs sometimes (usually when it was too hot to sleep in the van).

Entertainment came in at about $3,500 a year — they did everything from rock climbing to surfing lessons to museums and carnivals — and miscellaneous expenses (purchases like laundry, gas, SIM cards for the phone and haircuts) cost about $5,500.

Mystery's Mexican expedition covered 5,000 miles and cost not a penny because in organizing it for the geology department at Wichita State University, He obtained grant funding and actually obtained financial support from the fossil fuel industry. Transportation came in the form of university owned Chevy vans as depicted below ( photo by Helen Thomas ).


Hardships were few as long as mystery's orders were followed. Masters students representing the departments of geology, biology, archeology, history, psychology, and art, together with mystery's second in command, Sharon Fiore', and student assistant, photo journalism major, Helen Thomas, were instructed not to eat native foods. Stick to well cooked meats, wine, and canned sodas. Mystery had to carry one gal out of a motel and place her in a van because in eating what villagers ate, she ingested bacteria that didn't get along with those typically found in her gut.

We did hit a cow. It's excrement not only hit the wind shield, but flew in the face of a passenger. Sharon not only liked to sleep in mystery's lap, she slept in his bed having sought sanctuary from a stalker at 3AM.

Sharon wished our journey would never end, an opinion shared by one and all. And yes, we got on well with EVERYONE.

Below a photo of mystery and biology major climbing Teotihuacan's pyramid of the sun. The pyramid of the moon appears in the background.


Photo by Helen Thomas

User Comments

i don't think I would have the endurance for such a long trip...but slowly would be more likely.  Certainly the kids got an education.

It looks like a great experience for them, it certainly was for my expedition.

Before I entered the third grade in elementary school, my mother and I went to Miami, florida to visit her two sisters.  i came back a week late for the new school year.  When my mother was checking me in, at the principals decision, they counted me as "present" that fiirst week. He said that I probably learned more on the trip than I would have by attending that first week of "classes" (a lot of it was just registering and half days anyway)

I can imagine, scene. All of us on my expedition probably learned more about our various fields and another culture in a few weeks than we would have in a year. I was even picking up a bit of Spanish.

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