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Richard Ligato and his wife, Amanda Bejarano-Ligato, have co-authored Wide-Eyed Wanderers, a book about traveling 60,000 miles through Latin America and Africa in their VW van. They will discuss their travels and sign their book at the downtown Farmer's Market on Sunday, October 23. What began as a six-month sabbatical from complacent suburban living turned into a three-year exploration of four continents. The couple quit their jobs in Coronado and embarked on their journey from Tijuana in September of 2000.

"Mosquitoes in Brazil are torturous," says Ligato. "There's nothing you can do to keep them off. We tried citronella; we tried garlic. We ate so much garlic we couldn't stand each other, but it didn't work with the mosquitoes. The only thing that worked was DEET." DEET, diethyl-meta-toluamide, is a strong chemical used in some insect repellants. "It's almost radioactive. It ate into my watch crystal, but here I was, putting it on my skin, and it worked."

The mosquitoes were able to circumvent the repellant. "Mosquitoes would fly into the van and wait in the shower stall, knowing that was where you'd wash off the DEET. They would also hide under the toilet seat, knowing there were places on your body that you just couldn't put DEET."

Despite the fact that they had been married for seven years, the Ligatos discovered much more about each other after a short time on the road. Ligato sums it up: "Three years of living in a van are like dog years for a marriage."

"I learned that he is a control freak," says Bejarano-Ligato. "I guess it was camouflaged by life. It was the van that made me realize this. It was his car before the trip. During the trip I couldn't get near the steering wheel. It was like, 'Don't touch! No, no, no!' I felt like this woman from the 1950s, like Driving Miss Daisy. He would never allow me to drive, and I was really surprised by that."

Bejarano-Ligato was surprised by the loss of her "deeply ingrained inhibitions" as well. In the past she could not bring herself to use any restroom outside of her home. "You should see me now. Through the trip I had to go in holes in the ground [or] stop on the side of the road where there were no trees -- not even a twig to hide behind. That is one of the things I never thought I would get over." While abroad, the Ligatos encountered a man who claimed he had been traveling for three months and had not once "gone to the bathroom" in that time.

Traveling through Africa, a continent he had only previously read about, was eye-opening for Ligato. "I was very interested in HIV; you read about it all the time. AIDS is almost synonymous with Africa." Often, when he would ask someone what it was like to live with the deadly disease, his question would be answered and then countered with a question regarding the U.S's problem with obesity. "On TV and in the English newspapers in Africa almost every day there is a story about obesity in America." Ligato found it interesting how Africans equate the two life-threatening conditions. "There are many people here in the U.S. -- who are polite and don't say it -- but I think they believe, 'Those damn Africans, they can't control themselves.' I think those Africans are thinking the same thing the other way around."

The habits of some cultures were difficult for Bejarano-Ligato to accept, like the attitude towards trash in Latin America. "No matter what time of day it was, [people] would roll down their windows -- no matter what kind of trash they had -- they'd throw it out the window. A diaper, a liter of soda...it just never stopped. We would always know when we were getting close to a city because the litter would greet us."

Now that they are home, the Ligatos wish to continue living the simple life they experienced on their journey. "We realized how few possessions we need to be happy," says Ligato. "We don't have Internet; we don't have a cell phone or television." In answer to how they were able to afford such a venture, Ligato responds, "We saved everything Amanda made for six years. It went direct deposit into the bank and we never looked at it. That's how we bought our freedom." -- Barbarella

Wide-Eyed Wanderers Booksigning and discussion Sunday, October 23 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Downtown Farmer's Market Next to Cost Plus on J Street between Third and Fourth Avenue Cost: Free Info: 619-409-8962 or www.vwvagabonds.com

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