Sunday, October 28, 2012

RVer Mary Fountain has traveled globe, lived on coffee plantation, served in Peace Corps

World traveler Mary Fountain  (Julianne G. Crane)
Although technically living fulltime in an RV, Mary Fountain has always considered herself more of a traveler than an RVer.

In fact, she has trekked around the planet ... several times.

Her wanderlust started early. While an International Relations major at UC Berkeley in the 1950s, she realized she could live her life differently than any of those defined as traditional women’s roles. And so, fresh out college she packed her suitcase and headed for Europe.

"Remembering a trip that occurred so many years ago is something like trying to recall a dream," she said. "What started out as a brief European trip ended up wide open with no plans at all. I decided to go where the wind took me."

The wind took her through Europe, with a brief time as a secretary in Geneva, before accepting an invitation to go to Tangiers in Morocco. "It was a very exotic place," said Mary. "I ended up meeting more interesting people and three of us decided to sail on a Spanish ship to Brazil right as Carnival was going on. Soon after arriving in South America, however, she ran out of money and reluctantly returned home.

Fast forward 20 years.

After marrying and living in New York City, her husband died suddenly and she moved to San Diego where she worked as a facilities manager for the University of California SD in La Jolla. However, her wanderlust was never far away.

By early 1984, Mary, with her teenage son in tow, went to Africa with little money and no job. She did however have a place to stay--house-sitting on a coffee plantation in Kenya.

Mary and white rhino from South Africa.
While there she and her son explored southern Africa. "Jack and I took our first camping safari alone," said Mary. "We had a 4-wheel drive Suzuki, a tent, sleeping bags, and some cooking gear."

"In one of the seldom-visited game parks we came across two white rhinos imported from South Africa and under guard for their protection," she recalled. "They had become accustomed to their guards and would let people approach them. Sadly, some time later, the same guards slaughtered the rhinos for their highly-prized horns." 
Jack (l) and Samburu elder.

During that same period, Mary and Jack (then 13) traveled with a safari company to the far northwest of Kenya through Samburu country.

"This young man (pictured with Jack at right) had already been through the warrior phase of his development and was now a tribal elder. His long, elaborately dressed hairdo had been cut off to show his more mature status," said Mary.

After her house-sitting stint was over, she and Jack wanted to stay on in Africa, so Mary secured employment with a non-governmental organization (NGO) handling communications. 
Mary and bush plane in Uganda.

It was not unusual for her to travel to far corners of East Africa and write publicity stories about her NGO's projects.

"This little airplane (pictured at left) was about to take off from our agricultural project in Karamoja, Uganda.” Flying around in such a small aircraft was “a little scary, but great fun,” said Mary.

Elephant, Mount Kilimanjaro
When not traveling for her job, she visited many other fascinating destinations in Africa.

On one trip she took an American friend to Kenya's Amboseli Game Park.  "I was disappointed to find Kilimanjaro shrouded in clouds," she said. "Then, just as the clouds melted away from the top of the mountain, an elephant strolled into view. What a photo-op.”

Once her time in Africa was over, Mary continued to take international sojourns to countries like India and Thailand. By the early 1990s, in her 50s, she joined the Peace Corps and worked in Hungary for two years.  "I figured it out once that during that 12-year period, I was out of country eight years."
By early 2001, she and her future husband, David, began dating.  "Then I really became an RVer," she said.

The Fountains have traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Glacier National Park and the Rockies. One extended trip involved them traveling east to Chicago, then south to Florida and back west through San Antonio. For a couple of months last winter they headed to San Diego in their 2001 30-foot Fleetwood Storm motor home.

Currently their homebase is the SKP Park of the Sierras south of Yosemite National Park in their 40-foot park-model. These days Mary is writing a memoir of her time in Africa.

Photo: Mary Fountain sitting at her computer (Julianne G. Crane). Other images courtesy of Mary Fountain. Click on photos to enlarge.
To read more of Julianne G. Crane's writings, go to


  1. I enjoyed reading about Mary's travels. I didn't do it at her age but at 75 I have just returned from 28 days hosteling around Iceland, England, Scotland, and Helsinki, Finland using public transportation and my own two legs. Wish I had started sooner but will take my invalid husband out in our small RV again this winter for a wander around southwest US. It's a wonderful life.

  2. Go Din ... three cheers for both you and Mary. No matter when we decided to start wandering ... it's great to be able to choose.

  3. Din: I forgot to add ... get in touch with me ( ... I love to hear more about your travels. Julianne