Plunge in the Ironwood Forest

Saguaro cactus in the Ironwood Forest National Monument.

November 25 – December 1, 2020.

Towards the end of November three couples and the lovely canine, Maya, converged in Tucson. All ex sailors (except for Maya). All now wandering around on the hard. We had met one of the couples, Scamper Squad, years and years ago after reading their blog and discovering they were working on their boat in the same marina as us in Indiantown, Florida. We were introduced to the other couple, Mark and Liesbet, through their blog after my friend from Scamper Squad suggested that I check it out. Like us, they had sailed, had house sat, and were traveling the country in a van. We eventually met them in person in Arizona a couple of years ago. Now the three wandering couples were in the same place at the same time, and we had big plans.

Gilded Flicker in the Ironwood Forest.

We all left Tucson for the Ironwood Forest National Monument – about 25 miles out of the city – and set up camp. Thanksgiving was coming up, and even though it isn’t a holiday Greg and I normally celebrate, we thought it’d be fun to share some good food with our friends. After all, this would be the first Thanksgiving that Liesbet, who is Belgium born, would celebrate as an American citizen. But even better than that, two days later Liesbet would celebrate her 45th birthday and the publication of a project five years in the making, a memoir of her traveling and sailing life during her 30s.

Our camp in the Ironwood Forest National Monument.

When Greg and I first set sail a few people told me we should write a book. I thought, OK, but we really hadn’t done anything yet. Any wannabe adventurer can buy a boat and think that they are going to be sailors – lots do. And then after we got on the water there seemed to be so many people doing it. And there were already so many people who’d already written books. I wasn’t sure what I could add to the canon of nautical memoirs.

And at first, I wondered this about Liesbet’s book too. But Liesbet has had a much more interesting traveling life than we have. Since falling in love with travel in her teens, she has hitchhiked in Europe, backpacked in Asia, traveled North America in a truck camper, and sailed through the Caribbean and the South Pacific. She has only lived a few years of her adult life in a traditional dwelling, has traveled in six out of the seven continents (planning to tick that last one, Antarctica, off her list in the coming years), and has visited over 60 countries.

Liesbet documents our Thanksgiving potluck.

Liesbet’s book, Plunge – One Woman’s Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary soared to number one in new releases for sailing, sailing narratives, and travel with pets the day it was published. We celebrated with champagne, chocolate, music, and a little bit of dancing while the 5-star reviews started rolling in. Here are a few samples of praise for Liesbet’s book taken from Goodreads (bolding was added by me):

With unflinching honesty, Liesbet Collaert describes the breathtaking highs and the gut-wrenching lows of living a life less ordinary. Her writing is intensely vivid and personal. – Donna

…Liesbet Collaert writes a book that encourages her readers to stop and think about THEIR life. Are they living the best one they can? I highly recommend this excellent memoir. – Pamela

Once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to put it down. The author has a unique voice which will quickly draw you into the story of her unconventional life and the path she’s taken. – Ellen

I wish I could have been at some of the events described, her writing grounds the reader in the scenes. Sometimes, I laughed out loud, other times I had a lump in my throat. – Simon Prior

Liesbet – woman on fire in the Ironwood Forest.

I admire the author for bearing her raw honesty in her story. I loved this book as it encompassed so many aspects of life – desires and passions, determination, love, fragility, travel, and heart. – D.G. Kaye

This inspiring memoir is one you won’t be able to put down until you’ve reached the end. – Jill

Artfully written, the author creates transitions that seamlessly flow from one period of time to another, making it a joy to read. – Martha Graham-Waldon

It’s the real deal, and is not just another sunny story about the sand, the surf and the seas. It’s inspiring and empowering. There’s laughs, and there’s tears, but I don’t want to give it all away. Read the book. It’ll touch your soul! – Alexandra

I felt totally involved in her life and when I finished, I felt as if I’d travelled the world with her. – Valerie Poore

Liesbet tells a story around the campfire.

Written more like a suspense novel than a memoir, Plunge drops you into the deep end of the ocean and exposes the underbelly of living life on your own terms. – Suzanne

She had me in tears several times as her story unfolds, and her writing is both crisp and refreshingly honest. – Alyson Sheldrake

I’ve read many cruising memoirs, and this is a top ten read for me. It’s realistic, thoughtful, and introspective, just as a memoir should be. – Amy

The writing is excellent, and I felt like I was a crewmember experiencing the hardships and strains that husband and wife endured, including starting a family. – Pete Springer

Greg entertains the crowd before the Thanksgiving feast begins.

I’ve read the book and it was so much more than what I expected. It was honest, funny, and at times touching. I really felt like I was right there with Liesbet. I wrote a review but Greg’s is so much better. Here it is:

Strap on your self-inflating life jacket. Make sure you are secured to the jacklines. Is your pet close by? OK, now you have already planned farther ahead than Liesbet did before taking the ‘”Plunge”. Open to new horizons and new relationships, she has explored our world, taking the less-traveled land and sea routes. If you enjoy her story, invite her over. Like all good nomads she’d love to borrow your shower.

Here is the official blurb:

Tropical waters turn tumultuous in this travel memoir as a free-spirited woman jumps headfirst into a sailing adventure with a new man and his two dogs.

Join Liesbet as she faces a decision that sends her into a whirlwind of love, loss, and living in the moment. When she swaps life as she knows it for an uncertain future on a sailboat, she succumbs to seasickness and a growing desire to be alone.

Guided by impulsiveness and the joys of an alternative lifestyle, she must navigate personal storms, trouble with US immigration, adverse weather conditions, and doubts about her newfound love.

Does Liesbet find happiness? Will the dogs outlast the man? Or is this just another reality check on a dream to live at sea?

And here is a link to a sample of how Liesbet’s book begins on Hugh’s Views & News.

Mark pops the cork on Liesbet’s celebratory champagne.

A toast to living a life less ordinary!

We have been traveling on and off with our nomadic friends since Thanksgiving. And although we have been having some fun together, Liesbet has managed to also dedicate lots of time promoting Plunge. She has had many interviews featured on many blogs, like this one with writer Jacqui Murray on her blog Worddreams. She has participated in a webinar for the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA). And did a Zoom Q&A for a book club that chose to read her book.

In the coming months, she will be featured in a quarterly magazine published by The Daily News in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She is working on lining up interviews with influential travel bloggers. Has reviews coming out in print publications. And a telephone interview with a major Belgian newspaper.

Guess who showed up for the festivities! Here Liesbet is teaching us a dance popular many years ago in Belgium – the McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken dance! The gang is captured here in mid-Pizza Hut pose.

Honestly, I can’t imagine doing what my friend has done – writing a memoir so inspiring, so vivid, so personal. This book is more than just about sailing or travel. It is about real-life because no matter where you go or how you get there, real-life follows you – the ups, the downs, the doubts and fear, the joys and loves. And the constant change. One minute we are living our lives and the next a virus brings the world to a standstill. We have all been navigating tumultuous waters for a while now, but also hopefully managing some small joys. Like finding birds in the desert, spending time with friends in wide-open spaces, and celebrating the success of a dear friend.

If you are interested in following Liesbet’s current travels on land check out her blog at Roaming About. If you’d like to check out her book follow this link to her book on Amazon.

When we weren’t celebrating with our friends, Greg and I were wandering around the monument taking in the scenery and looking for birds. Ironwood Forest’s 129,000 acres contain the largest concentration of ironwood in the Sonoran Desert. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to identify ironwood so I don’t have a sample photograph.

Cholla cactus. This was our second time camping in Ironwood. We stayed in a different part of the monument 3 1/2 years ago.

Loggerhead Shrike.

Black-throated Sparrow.

Cactus Wren. Male and female Cactus Wrens have the same appearance and look to behavioral clues to identify sex. Their nests are usually built in cholla cacti. Nests look like rugby balls with a side entrance. Roosting nests may be separate from brooding nests.

Prickly pear cactus with the Silver Bell Mountains in the background.  There are three areas in the monument listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Los Robles Archeological District, the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac, and the Cocoraque Butte Archeological District. We didn’t get time to explore any of these areas. Perhaps, next time!

Red-tailed Hawk.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. This bird catches insects on the ground, not in flight. Breeding pairs share all domestic duties, including raising the occasional cowbird when one of those eggs appears in their nest.

We didn’t find any real hiking trails in the monument but we did find some cow paths to follow.

Saguaros grow an arm every time they have some sort of trauma.

The nights got a little chilly but a nice fire and great conversation helped warm us up.

Me and Liesbet!

The sun sets on our camp in the Ironwood Forest.

And just in case you are confused about this curious Belgian Dance Liesbet taught us, Liesbet gives a little demo of a couple more steps in the dance in the animated gif above. Click the image to start and stop.

* As always, pics are click to enlarge. They are better that way. You can also view the pics in a slideshow once you have enlarged them.

** Liesbet loves to answer questions about her book, her travels, her life, and Belgian dance fads. If you have any questions for her, please leave them in the comments. She is traveling in Mexico right now, looking for whales and a nice relaxing beach to kick back on so she may be a little slow responding but next time she gets an internet signal she will have some answers!


This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

30 thoughts on “Plunge in the Ironwood Forest

  1. Great post. I completely agree about Liesbet’s book–and how cool you-all found each other through blogging! Love Liesbet’s dance. It reminds me of the chicken dance!

    • Ha, Jacqui! It looks like you know the “chicken dance” as well! Thanks for reading and smiling along. Duwan did a fantastic job with this post. And, the photos are stunning, as always. Did you recognize that guy with the mask who joined our campfire on my birthday and danced along? 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Isn’t the dance fun. For some reason sometimes my phone takes multiple shots in a row. It was fun making her dance into a gif.

      It is very cool that we found each other through blogging and that we found each other at all. It is so amazing when you find other people you connect with so well – especially when you live your life on the road.

  2. Stewart M said:

    This looks like a real adventure – and looks just a little like central Australia (if you ignore the cactus!)

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Hi Stewart,

      How I’d love to return to Oz one day! I’ll take my husband with me this time and we will stay (or try to stay) longer than three months to do that varied and amazing country of yours justice! We can’t take our own camper van, probably, but I’m sure something else small and livable on wheels can be found on either coast. Have a fantastic hump day! 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Nice! I’d love to go to Australia someday. Happy day to you Stewart!

  3. I love, love, love what you did with this post, Duwan! That GIF is hilarious! And, having Bernie join the party was a lovely surprise. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing my – and our – story with the world. And for the plug about Plunge. The Plunge Plug, haha. I am so fortunate to call you a dear friend too! Here’s to sitting on that Mexican beach together one of these weeks! 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      I’m so glad you like it. It was fun to put together. Finding that I had pictures to make the gif was a fun surprise. I haven’t made a gif in a very long time – luckily there is always the internet to find tutorials.

      Your book is so good. Really, I’ve been reading so many books lately that fail to keep my attention very long – yours was not one of them.

      I hope Mexico is lovely and hope to see you soon.

  4. what an extraordinary adventure, in any sense.

    • And, it’s still going strong. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting, Klara!

    • Duwan said:

      As Liesbet would say, it is less ordinary. I guess it is a whole lot less ordinary!

    • Thanks for virtually joining us, Catherine! 🙂 Combining work and fun with friends isn’t always easy or ideal (for productivity), but I think we found a good balance.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks for joining us Catherine. I’m glad I could share our fun virtually!

  5. Another great post about your neck of the woods 🙂

    I always wonder about people adding yet another book to the many written on the same subject, but am always surprised by the reception. So happy for your friend on the citizenship, birthday and book!

    I’m so glad to see you at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! We are glad that Liesbet is an American now. She would be an asset to any country!

      Thanks for hosting ‘My Corner of the World.’ I hope everything is good in your corner this week.

      • You keep flattering me, Duwan! But, I am happy to finally say I’m proud to be an American. 🙂

    • The thing with memoirs is that every author has their own (life) story, so no two memoirs could ever be the same. Because so many travel memoirs exist, I wanted mine to be different. So, I wrote it in my own style and voice, which can be shocking at times, but is honest and unique. On top of that, my husband and I went through a LOT together during the decade the book covers. That in itself provided for interesting content that keeps the pages turning. 🙂

  6. I find strength in watching anyone pursue their dreams. Though I can’t see myself ever living this life, I am fascinated by those who do. I knew nothing of Liesbet until a few months ago. I read Plunge in a couple of nights because it was hard to put down.

    It’s wonderful that you met up with other nomadic friends. I’ve been friends with another husband/wife team that blog about their traveling adventures in a tricked out custom-built van. Here is Margie’s and Tony’s blog: https://backroadsandotherstories.com/ I tried to point Margie in Liesbet’s direction a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t know if they crossed paths yet.

    I’m also signing up for your blog and saw that we share a connection—painting houses. I was an elementary school teacher, but that gig didn’t pay enough, so for twenty years, I had my own summer painting business. I can’t say that I was passionate about it like I was teaching, but it was fun to do something different for a couple of months, besides bringing in a little cash.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks for your comment Pete! I will check out Margie and Tony’s blog. Hopefully if the border opens up this year we may be doing some travel in Canada so their blog looks like it might gives us some good ideas of where to go and what to do.

      Greg, my husband, is the painter. It is just something he feel into once we started traveling and realized that we were going to need more money to be sailing nomads. He painted during the summers for 8 years in a neighborhood in Atlanta where we used to live full time. He had a partner and they developed a good business and a good reputation. We didn’t go back to Atlanta this summer and didn’t work but from what we heard Greg’s partner is doing quite well with the business.

      • There’s that darn thing called “money” that we need to keep bringing in to keep doing what we want in life. I got to the point where I quit enjoying painting and decided to call it quits. I never had any accidents in twenty years until my last job, painting our house. The ladder slipped (my fault for not being more careful), and I received a compression fracture and couldn’t do much of anything for a few weeks while I healed.

        • Duwan said:

          Painting can be a dangerous job! So glad Greg never hurt himself climbing on ladders. Luckily for us, we didn’t need to make much money and the painting was something Greg looked forward to for a while until he got tired of the hot summers in Atlanta.

    • Hi Pete! I haven’t heard from Margie yet, but I will check out their blog from the moment I have a chance, which means a blissful combination of time and decent WiFi! I had no idea you were a house painter too. You wear a lot of hats and are full of surprises! 🙂

      You’ll enjoy Duwan and Greg’s blog as they write informative posts and take incredible photos. Plus, you’ll be able to compare their and our monthly expense reports. 🙂

      • I have a feeling that you and Margie would hit it off. She and her husband, Tony, have the traveling bug bad. One of their friends made a YouTube video of the inside of their van, which I found fascinating. Great use of space! Tony is a contractor, so he comes in handy to problem solve.

  7. What an awesome post, and a very fun dance!
    It’s great to see extra ‘behind the scene’ pieces.
    I also greatly enjoyed Plunge and highly recommend it to others.
    Awesome photographs!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Donna! It was a fun time. Wish I had filmed the dance but I think the gif gives the essence of it.

    • Hi Donna! Thank you for reading and commenting here. Friends are the ones who provide the most intimate “behind the scenes.” Plus, Duwan does a much better job than me going into detail and remembering facts and funnies! And, capturing them. 🙂

  8. Perfect review of Plunge, Duwan! I have always been so impressed by the title, (so creative, yet true), as well as her writing style. I’m still in reading mode, having been distracted by things, but it does read well and is so entertaining and authentic! Enjoy Liesbet and Mark (and Maya) when you see them (we did, a few years ago), they are such an inspiring family! Your photographs are exquisite as well!

    • Hi Terri! Thank you for reading and commenting on Duwan’s post. We are looking forward to meeting up again soon, here in Baja. We won’t travel as far south as your favorite windsurfing spot, though. Thanks again for your kind words about my writing as well. Hugs to you and Hans!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks, Terri! It is a great title. We always have fun with Mark, Liesbet, and Maya. I think they all enjoy us too – especially Maya who just likes come hang out in the van with us.

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