Mali Mish Newsletter – December 2020
Hi. It’s Marlene from Mali Mish. Thanks for signing up for our monthly newsletter. We are excited to start sharing more of our family’s adventures, thoughts and updates in this new format.
I guess since this is the first of our monthly newsletters, I will answer some questions that many of you have asked us in regards to the current state of the world: What are our plans during the pandemic? Are we planning on staying put in Europe? Are we shipping back to the US soon? What have we’ve been doing since being stuck in Morocco in March? Is full-time travel over for us? Why aren’t you traveling in the van right now? Phew. Let’s get to it.
So first thing first. Is full-time travel over for us? No, full-time travel is NOT over for us. When we are done exploring Europe, we have some ideas bouncing around our heads on what to do next. They aren’t concrete plans just yet but all involve continuing this travel lifestyle with our kids. We want to expose our children to people and cultures on different continents. We want them to gain new skills through new experiences. We want them to continue building on the strong sibling and family bonds that have developed thanks to the lifestyle we have chosen for them and ourselves over 12 years ago. But maybe it won’t be just one type of new adventure. Maybe it will involve a few different types, rotating in and out of them with the changing of the seasons. Things that are on the table are: buying a sailboat, building out a simple homestead, building out an older van, living in another foreign country for bit. Everything is on the table. Our oldest is almost 14 and we are really feeling the clock ticking. With that in mind, maybe picking multiple types of adventure instead of just one would be best for her and the other kids to experience even more than they already do. Only time will tell.
Do we have plans to ship back to the US? No, not yet. We’re all still excited for more adventure on this side of the pond. Are we planning on staying put in Europe? Yes. When we dropped off our van at the port of Baltimore to have it shipped to Belgium over 2 years ago, we were thinking the European leg of our adventure would last a year, maybe two tops. So far while overseas, we’ve explored 29 countries on 3 continents and still don’t feel like we’ve seen enough. As soon as we feel comfortable traveling again, we will continue with our van adventure. Our last adventure to Morocco was cut short. We explored the interior but didn’t have a chance to explore much of the coast and spend our days swimming and surfing in the Atlantic. After Morocco, our plan was to continue north to Spain, Portugal, France, UK and Ireland. So when it feels safe to us, we will continue on exploring. And where we go first really depends on the season when that happens.
So why aren’t we traveling around Europe right now? We have decided that the best thing we can do for ourselves and for other countries and their communities is to stay put. In case we develop Covid-19, we don’t want to burden a hospital that is foreign to us. We are choosing to not cross borders and to limit our movement in Croatia. We are on a waiting list for the vaccine, but who knows when it will be our turn to get it. And who knows when it will approved for the children. So I’d love to say we will back on the road in the springtime, but it really does involve too many moving parts to really know for sure.
Isn’t the US your home country? Shouldn’t you be there instead? No. For us to be able to travel as we do in Europe, we have basically moved to Europe. That involved changing our residency to Croatia and also included changing our health insurance. We are no longer insured in the US and will not be until we head back to the US.
What have we’ve been doing since being stuck in Morocco in March? Well, after we got on a special ferry to take us from Morocco to France, we immediately drove to Croatia and that is where we have been since the beginning of April. Does it feel weird to be in one place for such a long time? Yes and no. Yes because we miss living in the van and everything that goes along with exploring and living on the road. But also, no. No because, in actuality, we are still in a new place. We still need to figure out the ins and outs of a country that is not our home country. So we still feel like we are technically traveling but it just looks a little different than what we imagined. One thing that this full-time lifestyle has taught us is to be flexible and that is coming in real handy right now.
In this newsletter, I also wanted to get you caught up with what we’ve been up to since crossing back into Croatia. I’ll break it up by month to make things a little easier.
After 3 long driving days, we found ourselves back at our official residence in Split, Croatia. We immediately entered a required 14-day quarantine where we couldn’t leave the apartment at all. At the end of quarantine, we got to run to the grocery store for supplies and make Luka’s 8th birthday as special as possible. Handmade Baby Yoda decorations, cake and a zoom party with friends. After that period, we started to take family walks around the city and enjoyed an eerily quiet ancient palace, which we will probably not see that empty again in our lifetimes.
My parents have an apartment in Split (where we’ve been during the lockdown) but also still have a stone home in a small village on the island of Hvar where my dad grew up. Our preference is to be on the island but the islands were cut off from travel unless it was your primary residential address. Ours official address was in Split. But by the end of the month, island lockdown was lifted and we left city life for village life. One of things we really enjoy about the village is spending time with a pup named Rio. You will see him a lot in our photos and videos because we love him and he loves us.
In June, we were lucky to charter another sailboat from Orvas Yachting. This was our third charter with them but the first one during summer. The other two were in October so this time we got to experience warmer temps and more bugs. We say yes to working with Orvas because we are feeling out if boat life is right for us. Dan is already on board with it. Actually he has always pushed for it. Traveling with the Airstream starting back in 2008 was our compromise. But it’s hard to really imagine living onboard when charters are not set up for full-time living. No solar, inverters, fans, heating, etc. I think we would do fine on a boat. Space is not an issue for us but would it be good timing. Is that how we want the kids to spend their last years as teenagers in this manner. I don’t know. It’s all on the table still and some serious family talks need to happen.
At the beginning of the month, we finished up our sailing trip. Our first 2 charters took us to the islands of Brač, Šolta, Hvar and Vis. This time we chose Lastovo Island which was a bit further away but mostly made up of a nature park. We explored uncrowded coves which would usually be overcrowded in a normal year, old submarine bunkers, saw dolphins play under our boat and even discovered that lots of Europeans like to sail naked. Ha. And then after the trip, we headed back to Hvar Island for some swimming and to celebrate Dan’s birthday with homemade cake.
We thought we’d have the small beach in our village to almost ourselves this summer in the high season. But nope. Croatia opened up its borders and everyone decided they preferred small villages to the bigger cities. Our little beach was crowded all day every day so we decided to head inland away from crowds. We ended up a small camp run by a lady named Vivi that we befriended. She treated us like family and made us treats and we helped her maintain her property which was in Plitvice National Park. While in the area we also wild camped in the Velebit Mountains, visited a bear sanctuary, an old secret air force base and the villa owned by the former ruler of Yugoslavia.
We celebrated Mila’s 11th birthday in the van while back in Split and at the same time discovered a crack in our van’s frame. Dan will go into more detail on it in a video soon but we ended up getting the crack welded and installing additional leaf springs. We also had to make a quick border run to exit the EU with our van and reset its 6 month temporary import permit.
We settled back into the village, swam at our beach which was now completely empty, explored a local cave, and started to pick olives from my family’s orchard to produce our own olive oil. This is also the month we started to befriend 5 kittens in hopes to get them comfortable enough with us so we can get them sterilized and vaccinated. All the kittens eventually started to show symptoms of respiratory issues probably due to feline herpes. We brought 3 sick ones to the vet and indoors into the stone house for a weeklong antibiotic and eye treatments. Once complete, we released them back into the village and with their other siblings and mama. We also celebrated Halloween with homemade Among Us costumes and Rio the village dog even stopped by to dress up as a reindeer.
This was a hard month for the kittens. Days after their release, all 3 kittens which were on treatment fell seriously ill and quickly passed away. It was a difficult time because their deaths spanned across just 5 days. One died on our porch, one under a shrub and one on our path. We gently buried them under our old almond tree with gravestones and wildflowers. Plenty of tears were shed by the entire family. The last female kitten we named Twin was showing symptoms too and we were scared that she was going to pass. I was hesitant to catch her because I didn’t want for her to possibly die alone in our home. But an unexpected thing happened. A couple days after she started to look sick, she walked into our house. I closed the door and instead of her freaking out as all the other kittens did, she sat on my lap and started purring. It was as if a switch flipped and she was thanking us for helping her too. Since she was alone in the room, we decided to bring her into the van with us at night. She settled in fine almost right away. About 5 days later, her sole remaining sibling Toby also started to get sick so we trapped him and put her in the room with Twin. Since Twin had a buddy now, her van nights were over with us. Which was fine because none of us sleep real well with her biting our toes and sleeping on our faces. Oh and Dan upgraded our batteries to lithium and made a step-by-step video series over on Freely Roaming educational channel (YouTube.com/freelyroaming).
So, what’s next?
I know a lot of you are wondering what we are planning to do with the kittens. The plan is to finish vaccinating them at the end of December and then finish sterilizing them at the beginning of January. Once they are healed from surgery, we will release them back outdoors. If they run away and never visit again, we have our answer. If they cry to come back indoors and snuggle, then we have things to figure out. Can cats live on the road? Yes, we did it for 10 years before with our cat named Yoda that passed away in 2018. Were we planning on our next pet to be a cat or two? Nope. We were thinking a dog would be in our future. But I have a feeling that Toby will revert to being more wild and then we have to decide if separating them would be best. Or maybe finding someone to adopt the pair. I just know that adopting out cats in a country full of feral cats is asking a lot.
Thanks for following along on our adventures and signing up for our newsletter. I think the format of each one will be similar. A main topic where we answer questions, a review of the past month and extra bonus thoughts. Next month I will chat about different aspects of our self-built Sprinter van.
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