Earthships: Up close and personal

Earthships certainly do not look like traditional houses from the east coast, nor do they function in the same way.  They are quirky, extremely labor intensive, produce a measurable amount of waste during the building phase and require maintenance that the traditional home owner is not used to performing.

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Why then would I be so crazy as to drive all the way across the country, quit my job, and learn about these structures?  Simply put, an Earthship is a financial investment into my future.  An Earthship is a house that keeps on giving, a living breathing self sustaining home.   An Earthship performs several functions automatically, which traditional homes do not.  Most important to me is the Earthship’s ability to self regulate the temperature without the use of a furnace and air conditioning unit.  A house that maintains the interior temperature around 70 degrees in the heat of summer and more importantly the bitter cold of the winter without oil, propane, kerosene, electricity, and/or fire simply equals dollar bills in your pocket!  This feature alone has me sold on these houses.  Of course, there DSCN1880must be a prohibitive price tag associated with these houses, otherwise wouldn’t everyone have one?  Earthships actually cost no more to build than a traditional house around $250/sq. ft if you have the Earthship Biotecture company build it.  If you are determined to do everything yourself like I am it is significantly less.

What is so special about an Earthship?  Besides the passive heating and cooling, Earthships are made out of TONS of FREE recycled/up-cycled and naturally occurring materials.  As I said earlier, Earthships eat up hours and hours of human labor, which is where the cost rises to equal that of a traditional house.  Still, is it not worth building a house that doesn’t cost you anything to heat and cool all year round compared to a traditional house which you can micromanage and spend thousands of dollars to do?DSCN1859

Here is what Earthships do for you.

1. Harvest rain water – Filtered 5 times, pressurized and heated.  Reused 5 times throughout the house. Sinks/Showers -> indoor green house planter -> Toilets -> outdoor landscaping.

2. Harvest solar energy for electricity – Solar panels on the south facing roof coupled with a battery pack give you clean and free electricity all year round.

3. Harvest solar energy for hot water – It does what it says

4. Harvest solar energy for heating and cooling – Maintains an indoor temperature of around 70 all year round through thermal mass and thermal convection. (the earth’s constant ground temperature of 58 helps with this process)

5. Grows fruit and vegetables – Indoor from your grey water (showers, bathroom sinks, washing machine, dishwasher) Outdoor is a bit more decorative since you are growing with shit water.

6. Saves you unimaginable amounts of money – No electric bill, no heating bill, no water bill and reduced grocery bill.

Now time for some Earthship pictures!

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Living in Taos, New Mexico

Driving across the country has made the time adjustment absolutely painless.  Each morning I see the things we only imagine of in New York.  This entry will be mostly pictures presented in chronological order. 

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Driving across the USA from Pittsburgh PA to Taos NM.

Before I get into my cross country trip, it is important to recognize that we no longer live in Samoa.  I haven’t even logged into wordpress since we left in late 2012.  I was shocked this morning to see that we still have over 150 views per day!

 

I drove from Pittsburgh PA to Taos NM because I am attending the Earthship Academy.  If you do not know what this is simply take a look here. Leaving Pittsburgh was not terribly fun.  I’d just gotten used to living with Karen again which made it difficult to say goodbye.

Karen saying goodbye

Karen saying goodbye

I said goodbye to the slopes of Pittsburgh and decided I needed to have some small goals to break up the trip.

Slopes and the Pittsburgh smart car.

Slopes and the Pittsburgh smart car.

  One of which was taking pictures of anything and everything I found interesting.  The first thing that caught my attention was this truck. (Schwan’s) 

Schwan's

Schwan’s

Not that it is spelled correctly but it certainly sounds like schwanz, which gave me a good laugh.  Next on the list was state borders.  Turns out West Virginia is poorer than I though and cannot afford a proper “Welcome to West Virginia” sign.  All you get is a blue rest stop.

West Virginia

West Virginia

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri made a better showing. 

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Driving along I quickly because the smallest vehicle on the road.  i wasn’t expecting this since I was in a Nissan xterra.  It turns out that there are so many trucks in Illinois that they need trucks to carry trucks.  I wonder if 4 is the limit.

Trucks on Trucks

Trucks on Trucks

Missouri was extremely unimaginative when they were naming their roads.

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Nothing more to report on here, except that farm equipment is allowed on the interstate highway.

Is this a corn harvester?

Is this a corn harvester?

Kansas made no attempt at a sign or I didn’t see it.  I noted 3 things about Kansas:

1. It is relatively flat, but has miles of rolling hills.

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2. Random things burn on the side of the road in Kansas.

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3. Cows like to hang around oil wells.

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Kansas also tried to have a small tourist thing going on with regard to The Wizard of Oz.  If you are in the driving zombie zone, it is easily missed.  In my case I went by around 6:30 in the morning.  Somehow I don’t think they are offering free wine tasting at that hour.  I’ve heard though that it is a nice place to stop.

Wamego Kansas

Wamego Kansas

One of the advantages to driving a lumbering SUV is wind has little affect on the vehicle compared to a smart car.  With that said it makes sense that I was unaware of how windy it was and why I was initially surprised to see a few wind turbines.  Then I was like why aren’t there more?!  Here is a YouTube clip of what I was seeing.

Then Kansas has strange possible highway closures.  I haven’t looked up what they are about, but I could not work out any rhyme or reason in my head as to their purpose.

Route 70  - closed or not?

Route 70 – closed or not?

Colorado is proud of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Rockies were hidden by rain.

Colorado border

Colorado border

The Rockie mountains are awesome to look at through clouds and rain...

The Rockie mountains are awesome to look at through clouds and rain…

Can you see the Rockies?!

Can you see the Rockies?!

There was also this guy who REALLY wanted his motorcycle.  Colorado is also 1 of only 5 states in the US to not require helmets when riding motorcycles.  I wonder how this woman felt when we hit a small bit of hail a few miles after this picture was taken.

Motorcycle in a small truck

Motorcycle in a small truck

Idiots without helmets.

Idiots without helmets.

I’ve heard there are some crazy vibes/juju magic out here.  Some people believe in it so strongly that they get scared and turn around in the face of the mountains.  I thought this was a small one, but you can still see people loosing their minds and turning around in the middle of the road!

Rockie Mountain Juju magic and it's bad vibes.

Rockie Mountain Juju magic and it’s bad vibes.

The border of Colorado and New Mexico is serious no mans land. DSCN1839 DSCN1838

 

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Things to miss about Samoa

Mama dog doing her thing in the South Pacific Ocean

Since we have changed our internet provider it has become amazingly difficult to make blog posts.  Our new plan limits our megabyte usage to 500mb/month.  When you check your email, it is roughly 2mb.  Try and count how many times you check your email a month.

Too close!

I bet it is more than you realize.  Anyway, we usually do not have extra megabytes to upload pictures and stories for you all to read.  This month is no different.  However, our camera has died so, there is a limited selection of old pictures that I can post to try and illustrate what is going on now.

My private beach.

Things we will miss about Samoa.  First is our dog.  Mamma dog.  She is outside our house every morning, and every evening when I get home from work.  When we go for walks, so does she.  She follows us around so much that everyone thinks she is our dog from America.

Strange looking fish.

Sometimes we walk over to Sinalei, which is a super fancy beach resort.  They have a very strict no children allowed under 12 policy.  So, it is a pretty quiet well-kept place.  Mamma dog is even allowed into the resort.  She’ll come sit under the table while we have some food or just drinks.

BRAINS!!! …or coral.

The hotel staff see her from far away and come running over to chase her out.  As they get closer the see which dog it is, ask another co-worker about it, and decide it is ok.  Since we have already seen them coming over, they have to come all the way and ask if we need anything.  They don’t get too close though as they are scared that they will get bitten.

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.

She has never bitten a palagi.  I do not think I can say the same for Samoan people.    Mamma dog also likes to come swimming with us.  If we are just going down to the swimming hole, she takes a dip too.  If we go full our snorkeling she is right there in the water with us.  We will miss mamma dog.

 

We have discussed bringing her home with us, but have reached the conclusion that while her life would be much better in many ways living with us, she would lose her freedom.  In Samoa she rules a full square mile.  There is no such thing as a collar, and she can chase pigs, birds, and cows to her hearts content.  We cannot offer any of that back home.

 

We will miss family transportation.  You never know how you are going to get from A to B.  Sometimes it is the family van.  It is build to sit 12 normal sized people.  Somehow we always manage to get closer to 20 people in, and they are NOT small.  I like it best when the van doesn’t show up.  This means it is pick-up truck time.  Sun, rain, night, day… it doesn’t matter.  We will have the same 20 people smashed into the bed of a pick-up truck.  Don’t think about an F-350, think about a little V6 ½ ton.  Being in the truck gives me a healthy dose of schadenfreude.  Samoan people like it warm to hot all the time.  Being in the truck in the early morning can be a bit chilly to say the least.  This is my favorite time of the day.  I sit all the way in the back, where it is the windiest.  I wear only my shorts and tank-top and enjoy the chill.  Everyone else is wrapped up in sweatshirts, tarps, jackets, and anything else they can find.  I just tell them it is “palagi power”.

 

The vehicles are used until they break.  This goes for all consumable parts as well.  Yesterday, we had a tire literally explode.  It was a sound I will not forget.  Once we got it off and I could take a good look at it I was amazed.  It had ripped a perfectly straight line from the outer rim all the way to the inner rim, and 4 other rips around the tire.  The steel bands were showing around the entire tire.  I have never seen a tire that worn down.  I will miss ridiculous things like this.

 

We will miss fruit and vegetables.  Everything grows here, year round, and grows to gigantic proportions.  Also, things that grow are cheap.  We bought a massive basket of papayas for $15 tala.  There were 15 – 20 papayas in the basket. Incase your wondering $15 tala is about $6.50 USD.  We never really have to go shopping.  There is an endless amount of food growing all around our house.  Fresh mint tea is a constant.  There are fruits of all varieties.  However, we will miss Misiluki bananas the most.  They are the small lady finger bananas.  They are the common ones eaten here, and are much sweeter than the typical bananas in the states, which are not sweet at all in comparison.  Of course soursop, rombutan, star fruit, and nonu will be missed as well.  I do not think it is possible to get nonu in the states… oh well.

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Queenstown onwards.

Dave’s was trying to protect his head from the harmful UV rays.

We spent New Years Eve in Queenstown.   Queenstown had a huge drunken mosh-pit style party going on.  There was an advertised fireworks show at the stroke of midnight.  … Less than impressive.

Didn’t we decide that the half-car half-pickup was a bad idea?

They had a few nice ones, but there were long breaks in between firings.  after 5 minutes it was done. Oh well.  We headed in shortly after that because we were catching an early morning bus to Christchurch.  The bus ride to

Queenstown just before the bus left. Jan 1, 2012

Christchurch was an all day event.  I seem to remember our driver driving like a lunatic.  Otherwise, we passed through picturesque landscape after picturesque landscape.  We saw

That is some blue water.

the bluest water I have ever seen in my life.  It was bluer than the sky. (Is bluer a word?) The bus made a few pit stops.  We got an awesome salad at some gas station, and an ice cream from a little shop.  They were nice.  By

Floating mountains are a unique feature to New Zealand. You can only access them by air plane. Be careful. You do not want to fall over the edge.

the end of the day, we had made it to Christchurch, and the bus even dropped us off almost directly across the street from our hostel.

We only spent 1 night in Christchurch and all

Christchurch. This is what a real earthquake looks like.

I can say is

EARTHQUAKE!  Now, for those of you who keep up on your world news, you know that Christchurch got slammed early last year.  There was destruction all over the city.  Part of it was quarantined,

This is a sick dress.

which made it feel like there was some terrible disease brewing inside.  Anyway, that is only a small part of why I say earthquake.  I was almost physically shaken out of bed from one of the earthquakes that struck while we were there.  I checked the USGS.gov site later that week, and found out that there were a total of 16 earthquakes which effected Christchurch in the few hours that we spent in there.  Conclusion.  Definitely an

Medusa as never before seen in black light.

intense place to live.  Before we left Christchurch, we walked around through the city and went to a museum there.  They were exhibiting “The World of Wearable Art”.  It was one of the coolest museum exhibitions I have ever seen.  They also had a permanent exhibition about old style new Zealand.  I was about to call it their colonial period, but I don’t think that is the correct terminology.

wOw!

We found a drive-away company which needed a vehicle relocated up north in Blenheim.  So, we signed up and drove away.  It was nice to drive a bit, but overall it was a few $ more expensive than taking the bus.  We took the east coast road north the entire way.  It was a great day for driving as the weather was not very nice.  It was a chilly day with a constant drizzle.  We picked up a hitch-hiker.  He

Squashed Possums anyone?

was a soaking mess.  All he had was a backpack and a skateboard.  After a few minutes of getting into the van, he passed out.  We took him all the way to where we were going, which

Sorry church. You just weren’t meant to be.

happened to be the same as him.  He said he was meeting his girlfriend and was not expecting to get to see her that day.  He had figured it would take longer to hitch-hike the distance.  When he called his girlfriend, she seemed less

I’m too sexy for this car.

than impressed that he was there, and refused to meet him.   We parted ways at this point, and I assume he spent the entire evening skateboarding around trying to hitch-hike the 6

A road that you don’t want to be driving on when everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road!

hour journey south to where he came from.  We had a nice place to stay in Blenheim with our own private shower!
The next morning we got up early and set out to do winery tours by bicycle.  We only went to the wineries that gave free samples…

Dead bird. What do you think his song sounded like?

except for the one we went to for lunch.  Strangely, there were dead birds all over the place.  Perhaps they were using some intense pesticides that were killing the birds as well.  We hit

Santa Regina

the road pretty hard and made an out of the way detour to go to a candy factory.  They had a massive glass wall which you could look through to see the candy being hand made.  The best part was that they were giving out samples as you watched, AND the candy was being made right in front of you… not 400 miles away like in the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour.  The end of our bicycle tour landed us at a brewery.  This was perhaps one of the nicer stops along the way.  I got a beer platter, which came with 9 different kinds of beer.  Unfortunately, it was the end of our winery tour so, I barely tasted a difference.  We were in the last group of people to return the bicycles on time.  The owners were surprised by how many miles we had covered.  They were not impressed with the number of bottles of wine we bought though, which was zero.  Afterward, we went to a nice Indian restaurant, and then made our way up north to wait for the 2am ferry to Wellington!

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Mavora Lake Days 2 – 4

Sheep were climbing up the mountain.

Day two we made our way back to the southern lake.  We came to the conclusion that horses are a better mode of transportation that motorized transport.  There were several SUVs driving around the trails… needless to say they all got stuck.

Sheep were above us.

We had a good laugh and rode on by.  A little bit later we saw an idiot on a dirt-bike try to cross the stream.  His engine stalled and there he was in the middle of 3 foot deep water with a steaming bike.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

More sheep above us. Why are they up there?

He must have been a special kinda stupid.  Anyway, the guide and I rode back without any problems.  Karen however broke the steering wheel on her horse.  Really somewhere along the way her horse

Nice green pasture. The wind rippled through the grass very nicely.

started to dislike her, so he walked Karen through every low branch possible.  She was less than happy by the end of the day.

Next we took the horse trailer and relocated to a different site.  This

Our missed lunch stop.

was a simple out and back.  The guide said 2 hours out, and then we can decide if we want to go further once we get to the hut.  In keeping with her less than special attitude she went before us and took

It was a very beautiful ride through these hills.

her kids along.  We were happy at first since we wouldn’t have to deal with her kids for this leg of the trip.  Off we went, and all I can say is SHEEP!!!!.  They were everywhere.  They came in many

What happened to the grass?! It was so green a minute ago.

varieties, caged, fenced, free, wild, alive, and dead.  Who knew a few farms would have such diversity through 1 type of animal.  After sheep, the 2nd most notable thing was of course the natural beauty.  There was

Karen enjoying the cool air and a nice fleece

no such thing as a gently rolling hill.  Everything was extreme and sudden.  Streams came cascading down unimaginably steep hills that somehow sheep had climbed.  Perhaps they are like people

That horse HATED water. Too bad we had to cross like 500 times.

and cats.  They are happy to go up, but coming down is a different story.

Because the owner/guide told us it was only 2 hours to get there we passed the first possible lunch stop/hut.  3 hours

Karen and her horse

into the trip we were starting to get hungry.  Around this point the novice guide that was left with us told us that she had never been here before and had no idea where the actual destination hut was.  We were

Dead sheep

simply following the river/stream so it wasn’t a big deal, until we started coming to y-intersections in the track.  We hit more dead ends and washed out sections than I care to remember.  In the

Riverbed below

end it took us 4hours 30 minutes to get to the destination.  Upon arrival the owner still maintained that it only took her 2 hours the last time she came up there.  She also added to that, that she was riding her fastest horse and it was unladen with food and such.  Thankfully, the ride was very beautiful, and the weather was cooperating.  Unfortunately, once we got to the hut the owner and her novice guide went and took a nap and left us to babysit her kids.  Ok enough, you get the point.  Don’t waste your time with this tour company.

Day 4 we rode back to the horse trailer.

It was HOT. Not Samoa hot, but it was New Zealand hot.  The rain held out just until we got to the truck which was nice.  In the end they dropped us off in Queenstown.  Saying goodbye was the best part about that company.

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Day 1 of Mavora Lakes Horse Trek

In the last post I already wrote about day 1.  Here I will simply post the pictures from first day.  I simply stood in one place and took pictures while slowly spinning.  The screen was not working on my camera so some of the pictures are almost identical.  For now you get to see them all.  The hut is where we slept at the end of the day.

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