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August 2020

Introducing the Shanti Shack

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Faithful readers! I owe you quite an apology for the eight-month delay in a blog post. I was doing pretty good for a while there, yes? But I’m definitely not living in the Galapagos anymore! An update is long overdue.

The Shanti Shack, the RV I bought sight-unseen while living on another continent. I was shocked by her girth … hopefully, the RV didn’t feel the same. Now that I shelter-on-the-move, I’m grateful for the extra space.

If you’d been reading along for the last six years of this blog, you know I had uprooted my life to travel internationally while trying to understand and share life lessons along the way. My experiences in South America, Far East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Oceania are enough to fill a book. (This is called foreshadowing.) I’ve been busy!

I know, I know … excuses! I was literally making a sourdough starter after playing a song on my ukulele when I realized how I dropped the ball on this blog. Sorry!

I’m often at the crossroads of living my life fully and wanting to document and share everything with those who care to read about it. 

Over the last eight months, I’ve certainly been living much more than writing about the living I’m doing. I’ve always been one for coming up with plans and then executing them. In January, I came up with a plan that has resulted in me having perhaps more freedom than most of the people in the world for the last six months.

I bought an RV in the United States and have been sheltering on the move. As an American, I’ve traveled wherever I’ve wished on my own timeline during the entire COVID-19 pandemic.

I have been social distancing in the most natural way: Yesterday, the only person I saw all day was a man fly fishing about 25 yards from where I was doing yoga along the lakeside, next to my RV, which I’ve named the Shanti Shack.

#RVLife: Sheltering on the Move

In January, I came up with the idea of buying this RV … and traveling throughout the United States, for really the first time in my life. I’ve enjoyed some national travel during a week or two of vacation, but I’ve never had an extended road trip.

My timing was divinely guided. After living abroad for five years, I needed to return to Miami in March 2020. I had a meeting scheduled for years at the Italian consulate to reclaim my citizenship, which will eventually result in a prized EU passport. 

The idea for the Shanti Shack happened organically enough. I had a few boxes and my grandmother’s paintings stored at my friend’s house, located a couple of hours north of Miami. There was space to hang my grandmother’s paintings at my parents’ home in Pennsylvania. I needed to hug my parents after a few years on the other side of the globe anyway. With a van or an RV, I could drive from Florida to Pennsylvania and not have to worry about where to live.

Besides, I hadn’t seen a lot of places that make the U.S. so special. I like seeing things with my own eyes, rather than watching something on television or reading about something. When you experience something, there’s an energetic value that’s intangible and invaluable.

I’m at the Grand Canyon! Woo!

In January, a friend in Florida helped me find an RV that suited my needs. In February, I moved from Uruguay (where I was living after the Galapagos and after a brief but lovely layover in Lima) to Colombia for a month. I paid installments on the RV and researched solar systems to get it off-grid. When I landed in Miami on March 1, I had an entire plan in place for living on the road.

It was a busy 10 days. By the time I had my Italian appointment in Miami on March 11, I had installed solar on my rig and felt comfortable enough to hit the road. By March 15, you may remember, the entire world shut down at the horrific predictions of massive curves of deaths and overflowing emergency rooms in a worldwide health crisis. 

I was thankful to be back in the U.S. My friends still abroad shared stories about their police-mandated lockdown. Some were given 2 tickets used to leave their apartment building once or twice a week; others were only allowed outside for one hour in the morning for exercise. Many talked about not being about to rent an affordable room or go to the grocery store. Everyone was worried about their visas.

In the U.S., meanwhile, many of my friends and family had reached a heightened and pervasive state of anxiety. Fear has been normalized. Anger, too.

Meet Shanti

This is where I’d like to turn once again to the Shanti Shack. To me, this girth-y recreation vehicle is more than my tiny home on wheels. Faithful readers may remember me living on a sailboat and in a tiny home on wheels I had built with a guy in Australia. This RV is my peacemobile.

I’ve hung prayer flags, origami peace doves, peace signs, a couple of OMs and artwork from all the friends I’ve seen since I’ve been in the U.S. I have another peace sign art piece currently under commission with another friend.

There is no fighting in the Shanti Shack. There’s no aggressive driving (not like I can go faster than 65 mph, anyway.) This vehicle is a way for me to bring peace, love, laughter, smiles, friendship, and happiness to everyone I see.

Hindu gods have vehicles. Vishnu flies around on Garuda, an eagle. Shiva rides Nandi, a while bull. Ganesha, the fat elephant-headed god, rides a little mouse! There are many lessons here, including that you never have to be alone on your journey and that you should use whatever suites you best for what your life entails. For me, that’s Shanti, which means peace in sanskrit.

Living in America

Every day, I take a big inhale through my nose and identify smells. Lately, the predominent smell has been pine. This is just one way that I am testing myself for COVID-19 symptoms. I am always sanitary, cleaning my hands often and wearing a mask indoors. I actually feel fantastic.

This is a fairly typical backyard view. Especially out west, public lands are available to enjoy for all. I use apps to help me find legal places to sleep, fill up my water and dump my black water.

I believe anxiety is correlated to how in control you feel about your health and how fearful you are of dying. Dying is inevitable. I sure hope it doesn’t happen today or tomorrow for myself or any of my loved ones. But it’s gonna happen to us all.

I’m trying to just be realistic. The result is a careful carefree-ness of enjoying the nation while gas prices are cheap and roads are empty.

Since I’m off the grid, I don’t have to “hook up” at parks. I live for free. I’ve camped on public lands and outside friends’ homes in about 20 states so far, as I drove up the coast from Florida to Pennsylvania, then down south to Tennessee and over the Louisiana bayou, through Texas and into the Southwest. Today’s dateline is Wyoming, and the only thing I see outside my window is a breathtaking view of Grand Teton. Tomorrow I get to see just exactly how much faith I should really put into Old Faithful.

GK Chesterton once wrote, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

That’s certainly true. I’ve been getting to check off many “bucket list” places in the States, like the seeing the Grand Canyon, sledding down White Sands National Monument, living like a local in New Orleans for a couple of weeks, seeing the synchronized fireflies in the Smokies, living literally on the beach, living literally on lakeshores, and now living literally with the Grand Teton National Park in my backyard.

But wait, there’s more!

America really is beautiful, although now that I’ve driven through Wyoming I feel like I’ve seen just about enough of the amber waves of grain, thanks. And cows. As someone who doesn’t eat or drink any cow products, I have a hard time grasping exactly how huge that industry is. So much of the land I pass is pasture.

As for Americans, well, I’m still trying to reacclimate. As I travel around, I am meeting many different kinds of people. Some are kind, and some are struggling. I do my best to offer peace and compassion to those around me. 

To that end, I very much appreciate being able to speak the language. Although I did enjoy speaking English in New Zealand, India and Australia, most of 2016 through 2019 involved a language barrier. Being able to make the barista laugh while she’s serving me a coffee goes a long way.

And the road (in this case, the famous “Forest Gump” road in Monument Valley) goes on forever ….

Speaking of going a long way, that’s the plan. It will take about another year and a half for my Italian citizenship to be processed, as is the bureaucracy and not to mention the whole, you know, world shutting down. I will see as much of the States as the Shanti Shack allows me, and I look forward to driving through Canada to Alaska, whenever the Canadian government will have me. 

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to update this blog at least monthly again. I also write on Medium, if you didn’t know, and post pictures of my travels on my Instagram, which you’re welcome to follow at @suzannewentley. A lot is happening … in fact, it’s all happening!