Biodiesel trek

After demonstrating clean energy by driving their biodiesel Mercedes CamperVan halfway around the world — including sometimes volatile spots such as Pakistan and Malaysia — a young couple found their van's windows bashed out when they stopped in Ashland for Earth Day.

Ashlander Christina Ammon says the people at Earth Day on Saturday were sympathetic and set up a collection jar, netting $120 toward repair of the windshield and two other windows that police say were broken by beer bottles while the 1989 Mercedes 709D was parked on Faith Street Friday night.

"Andy was shocked and not speaking for a while," says Ammon of her boyfriend, Andy Pag, of England. "It was helpful to go to Earth Day. I felt bad but we knew it didn't reflect the true town of Ashland."

Pag assembled the van in London as a model of sustainability and recycling, he says. He used all recycled or junk parts, including old wood flooring, carpeting, plastic market baskets (for drawers) and a 300-gallon tank for cooking oil that the pair collected on their journey to the east.

They dubbed their journey "around the world on rubbish."

Starting in September 2009, Pag drove the van across Europe, the Middle East, India and Malaysia — all without incident and with many a warm reception in towns that had never heard of such a vehicle, he says. He then shipped it to Los Angeles for a tour of North America.

Plastered with eco-friendly messages on bumper stickers, the van even made it through Taliban territory in Pakistan without a scratch.

"When you drive around the world, people are so friendly and helpful," says Pag. "You just can't get sentimental about a piece of glass. We're on a shoestring budget and it's annoying, but clearly it was about this guy (the vandal) having problems of his own. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Getting parts for an older, uncommon European truck is just about impossible here, so Pag says he's ordering a piece of lucite-like Lexan and will custom fit it for new windows.

Pag says the high point of his trip was falling in love with Ammon.

Both fancy paragliding, and they began their courtship when she interviewed him for a freelance article on the sport. They found they shared a lot of values, including sustainable living.

"We Skyped for a couple months and wrote long e-mails," says Ammon, who for 15 years was educational director at Eagle Mill Farms, supplier of vegetables for Geppetto's Restaurant in Ashland.

"I was in Sausalito (Calif.) and in the background he could see people sipping wine, while he was in India and I could see the plaster falling off the walls behind him. We were in different worlds, but I think you're more honest on the Internet and say things you wouldn't say over coffee. I was walking on air."

Ammon joined Pag's journey in Indonesia, immediately sharing the van's constricted quarters, composting toilet, shower and tiny kitchen — and the romance flourished.

The underpowered, lumbering Mercedes topped out at 50 mph and had its share of breakdowns. But invariably they led not to inconvenience but to delightful interactions with local families who had never seen Westerners living the hippie lifestyle — and who would take them in and show them local sights they never would have seen, Ammon says.

The couple love Ashland and its friendly, like-minded community and are considering settling here, but they also love freedom and "channel-surfing the world," they say.

As Pag explains, "Not getting sucked into payments, a big-screen TV and a lot of stuff that owns you, not the other way around."

Throughout their travels, the couple gave slide presentations that are part travelogue and part a lesson on affordable, sustainable travel and living simply.

In the Rogue Valley, they will speak at 3 p.m. Friday, May 13, at Phoenix Organics, 4543 S. Pacific Highway.

This is the third sustainable vehicle and journey for Pag, who says next time he will fashion a smaller electric bus, likely a Dodge Sprinter, with a biodiesel engine to charge batteries.

Information on their travels and technologies is at Donations to repair the vandalism may be made with PayPal at the website.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Share This Story