Tag Archives: tacoma

Our Baja Article in Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine

Check out our recently published article on Baja, Mexico in Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine. I posted the article below, along with some screen shots of the magazine, but I recommend you go to their website and check out the entire issue. CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE ENTIRE ISSUE.

“You’re driving through Mexico, are you crazy, it’s so dangerous, you might die.” This is a common response we receive when telling people about our upcoming travels through this unaccustomed country. My usual response entails something along the lines of, “Really. What do you mean? Have you ever been there?” This is traditionally followed by an answer  of, “Nooo. No, I’ve never been there.”

In the overlanding community, it is a fact that Mexico stands out as a major highlight of any Pan-American adventure.  This is mostly due to the country’s abundance of culture, incredible food, warm people, and one cannot forget that it’s great on the budget. As these parking lot conversations arise before your departure, attempt to just nod and smile. Don’t be rude. You know the real deal. You did your homework.

On Halloween 2013 we headed West in the Toyota Tacoma (the Taco) on the Southern most road in California. We were making our final preparations to cross into Mexico, at the Tecate border. This sleepy border town had no line and no stress, but we were rookies. There was no denying that we were nervous. After all, it was our first international border, and with us we carried a truckload of personal possessions that would be bringing us to the southern most tip of South America. In the end, we psyched ourselves out for no reason. It was easy, and Baja awaited with an abundance of possibility.

Baja has fish, and fish is good. We camped in Punta Conejo close to the river mouth. When I say river I actually am referring to the dried-up dirt arroyo that bared more resemblance to a Fred Flintstone highway. But over millions of years of floods and river deposits, a giant river rock reef translates into an abundance of fish to eat and waves to be surfed, making this desert wasteland paradise to some. It was paradise to us. Sunrise surfcasting off the point was a guaranteed meal, or should I say meals. It was here that enough fish were caught, in 45 minutes each morning, to not only feed ourselves everyday,  but also our fellow campers. The fish was also provided to the landowner who happily accepted Pargo instead of the small suggested camping fee. In the surf lineup they called me “the fish slayer”. This was a good thing. Amongst the catches were Snapper, Corvina,  and trigger fish, just to name a few. As a result of the ocean’s bounty, we were able to invent new recipes and make some new amigos.  When you catch your own food, you don’t have to buy food.  It is like putting money in your pocket, which extends your trip. This is Baja.

On the Sea of Cortez we managed to find a less traveled nook not far from the highway and we were able to park right on the beach. The sea was calm and clear, like a toilet for the gods. There was no one around. “Lets get snorkley!” After about an hour of diving in the shallow crystal sea, I counted over one hundred chocolates in my black mesh bag. Chocolate pronounced, “cho-ko-la-tae,” is a clam native to Mexico. “Clams for days” was the phrase of the week. When we craved some variety, we switched over to scallops. These were additionally as abundant as the clams, but required more work.  In hunting for Scallops, the end of the shell peeks out of the sand like a shy man at a singles retreat. Armed with a gloved hand, I wrenched at the creature. After a period of strangling and struggling, the ten plus inch shell fish finally revealed itself in its entirety. The process of cleaning scallops is messy and takes some time, but when your camping in Baja, time you have.

There are fish stories for days when overlanding Baja. I’m only scratching the surface. In addition to the surfboards and fishing gear, it is wise to pack a camera, because your friends won’t believe you. When you are not surfing, you will be fishing, and when you’re not fishing, you will be eating your catch. This baron desert is surprisingly abundant in sea life and if you should have the urge to fish, you will be successful. Besides remote camping and hunting for your meals, Baja provides plenty of opportunities for organized campgrounds (with hookups), cheap accommodations, and fish taco stands for miles. After not showering for weeks at a time, and finding fish scales in your pockets, campgrounds begin to provide a certain unprecedented sense of comfort.  There is an ability to get a room in town, or gorge one self on the never-ending array of tacos, simply due to  amazing affordability of this region.

If you’ve spent time in the desert you know that it possesses a magical quality. You know the polarity of it’s landscape, representing both strength and an undying sense of unforgiveness.  Baja is all beautiful, spellbinding, and dangerous rolled into one narrow peninsula jutting off California. It is best to remember that one must always travel with water, the proper recovery gear, and perhaps extra gas.  On some of the roads, you might not get a passer-by for weeks at a time. Also bring  your warm cloths because Baja can be cold, depending on where you are at any given moment. And always bring paper maps because your GPS might stop working all of a sudden.

We spent over 6 weeks surfing, fishing, driving the dusty dirt roads, buying hundreds of fish tacos, and traveling with friends we made in the desert. The stars were bright and the whales were swimming, but, as always, there is a time when one must move on. We drove the Taco aboard a two-story ship, parked on the top deck exposed to the sky. We were the only noncommercial, non tractor-trailer truck aboard the crowded vessel. The sky was clear, the truckers were drunk, and we departed La Paz before sunset. We set up camp as if we were back in the lonesome desert, popped the top, and spread the blankets. On the chilly clear night, the constellations were stunning. In less than twenty hours we landed in Matazalan, Mexico.

 

The Taco will be for sale

2001 Toyota Tacoma for sale, Overland ready

The Taco will be up for sale sometime around the last months of the year 2014 in the Buenos Aires, Argentina area. We are also slightly flexible regarding the time and location of the sale. The truck will be sold with all accessories unless we sell off certain things piece by piece. This truck has safely taken us from New Jersey to South America, and has been nothing but reliable.  Please read through the list of modifications and accessories that make this vehicle overland ready. Extensive photos and information about the truck will be posted on sardinetaco.com under the “our taco” section. Serious inquiries only, any reasonable offer will be considered.

2001 Toyota Tacoma TRD V-6 3.4 liter

I estimate the truck will have under 150K miles on it at time of sale

-OME full suspension kit

-Dakar leaf springs with add a leaf

-arb awning

-Optima dual battery setup

-1100W power inverter

-alarm with remote

-arb 12 volt / DC fridge

-12 volt viair air compressor

-hi-lift jack

-recovery gear

-full kit of tools

-full size spare

-truck bed cabinets with LED lights

-pump sink with 7 gallon water tank

-thule roof rack

-2 x 5 gallon gerry cans mounted to roof rack

-autohome rooftop tent

-secure lockable safe

-limo tint

-camping stove / kitchen stuff

-5 liter refillable propane tank

-front and rear tow hitch hook up, for “D” ring

-some various other odds and ends

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Some truck repair

After several  failed attempts over the course of 15,000 miles (all involving minimal effort on my part), I finally decided to get my steering bushing replaced on the Taco.  Throughout the entirety of Central America, 9 countries later, I make the commitment to get this taken care of.  It became increasingly easy to say, “I will do it in the next city,” but as the dirt roads of Bolivia hover in our near future, I am presently more aware than ever that rugged driving is quickly approaching, so I can no longer f* around.

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When I brought the truck  for a tune-up, in Colorado almost a year ago, they informed me that I was in need of new bushings. I shrugged this off, mostly because it was expensive and it was not a priority at that point in our travels. We just wanted to hit the road. We are now in Southern Colombia, talking about our crossing into Ecuador, and I am beginning to get a rising sense of anxiety as I think about the unpaved roads of Bolivia and Argentina. It is time to pull the trigger and install new bushings. In speaking to the mechanic, he reported that the bushings are totally destroyed. I expected this.  It explains the large amount of play in the steering that I have felt ever since we purchased the Tacoma almost 2 years ago. The whole situation reminds me of a T-shirt I recently saw being worn by the first mate of our Panamanian sail to Colombia.  It read “procrastinators unite,” then under that it said, “tomorrow.” 

The hefe at the mechanic spoke perfect english and he even lived in the states most of his life This was good, as clear communication is important in these type of situations (especially since my Spanish mechanic vocabulary is somewhat limited). He even offered us camping at his farm, an hour away (Colombians are suspiciously friendly), but we decided to stay local. We are in Cali, Colombia and this major Latin American city of 2.7 million is hectic. It is Friday, Colombia plays the World Cup tomorrow, the weekend is here, and the truck can’t be worked on until Monday. Shit just got real.

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We decided to drive south, out of town, and stay at whatever cheap no-tell motel (popular Latin American hotels frequented by men and their mistresses) we could find. They are muy economico, gated, have security, and are in close proximity to the city. As we cruise the streets on the lookout for such an establishment, we notice people giving us the thumbs-up, waving, smiling, and communicating a general sense of approval through various hand motions. We are being welcomed by the city folk, perhaps because they can tell by our plates and rig that we have traveled a great distance to arrive at the lively city of Cali, Colombia.

A newer model Toyota Landcruiser pulls up next to us. I can see the woman in the passenger seat is trying to take photos of me, without me noticing. The couple could be my parents age and appear to be upper class. I glance over and she hides the camera. I roll down the window (we are at a stoplight) and give her the go ahead-take my photo. I like the attention. She takes a few and smiles at me. I ask them If they can recommend a cheap hotel. She responds, “Follow us” (in espanol). It is early, we have nowhere to be, are unemployed, so we follow them. We pull into a gas station, they make calls, she flirtatiously winks at me, and it seems that they have found a place for us to go. We pull some U-turns and continue to follow them through the city streets. I am not completely sure why, but I felt good about this situation. I think one should trust their instinct, and mine was telling me to trust these complete strangers with whom I can barely communicate.

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After 20 minutes of traffic, following, driving through this unfamiliar South American city, we are finally at the destination hotel. We thank these strangers, exchange information, they provide us with their phone numbers, shake hands, wish each other well, as we go our separate ways. It was like they woke up that morning in search of lost gringos to provide assistance. They went completely out of their way for almost an hour, made phone calls, and drove in the opposite direction of where they were initially headed, to provide us with much-needed help. This happens a lot south of the border. I cannot visualize any American doing this for a foreigner in the states, but maybe that is just me.

I enter the hotel, inquire about a room, but the hotel clerk informs me that they are unable to accommodate dogs. I am not surprised. In typical Colombian fashion, the employee goes out of her way to provide us with the name of another establishment that is able to take dogs. After 30 minutes of hunting for this “other place” and asking various street vendors for directions, a strange man appears from out of nowhere.  He is wearing tight, bright colored clothes, driving a Volkswagen pickup truck car, and makes a claim to own a hostel. I trust this man for some reason. We tell him we have a dog, he winks at Lupe, and we negotiate a price for a room on this street corner. We now follow him. I felt good about this, and the price was right so one cannot dispute.

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The hostel is clean and comfortable. We have our own room and we are the only ones here, so this is all good. Now I sit with the young soccer hooligan who works here, and despite the fact that he doesn’t speak a lick of English and my espanol is no bueno, we drink beer and root on Colombia as they school Greece in the World Cup. We will wait until the weekend is over to bring the truck in for repair.

It has been very common for an unusual chain of events, such as these, to unravel into a positive outcome. Since we have  been on the road, an important lesson that has been learned is to have extremely loose plans (if any at all). See where fate brings you, take a leap. Most of the time this will work out in your favor. When things get strange or you feel uneasy, you have the ability to get out.

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Why are we still in Colorado?

We have some friends in the Boulder / Longmont area of Colorado. I have been working for my friend Brady, at Burke Builders, and Sara is working with Jason at Cellular Recycler. We have both been working full-time for the last month, or so. We have been living in one of Brady’s vacant rental homes that suffered some minimal flood damage. All in all things have been going well.

The truck was recently brought in for service at Pelmans Automotive in Boulder. The following is a list of the resulting work: Trip check (includes looking over the entire truck for anything that might need attention), new front rotors and brake pads, clean lube, adjust rear brake drums, flush and replace front and rear differential and transfer case fluids, and the installation of a new starter. Total cost : $1,164.

But wait, there’s more… my check engine light is on, my catalytic converter is busted and needs to be removed. The catalytic converter is not necessary south of the border, as far as I know (so far), so we are left at a crossroad.

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Option 1: Do nothing and have the check engine light permanently on and risk the cat innards breaking up and clogging my muffler.

Option 2: I can remove the cat, and replace it with a straight pipe for $200, but the check engine light will still be on. To turn the light off, I heard I can buy online, and install illegally myself, some type of censor blocker, so my computer does not know my cat is busted. The sensor cost is unknown, as of now.

Option 3: Find one online and do it myself $$??

Option 4: Replace catalytic converter through mechanic $1000

I’m going to look into doing it myself, I think It will be fine, but either way something will be done. This leads the  the answer to the initial question: Why are we still in Colordo? It’s all good though. We are in no rush to go anywhere, and feel little stress in general. It is important to us to leave here, and cross the border, with the truck in tip-top shape and a refreshed mental state. Besides we have great friends here that have been a pleasure to be around, as of now.

Besides all of the truck stuff there is a number of things that we need to get done before we make our final departure South. These include a full check up for Lupe, our last Hepatitis vaccine, our Yellow Fever vaccine, potential purchase of an inexpensive Garmin navigator, and possibly a fridge (to replace our wack 12-volt cooler).

Our only disappointment is that we will miss Day of the Dead in mainland Mexico. Looks like we might do Christmas in Mexico City instead for whoever wants to meet us there.  Feliz Navidad!

OK 4wd & Tire and Final Farewells

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As we get ready for our final departure, we made a trip to OK 4WD & Tire in Stewartsville NJ. Like a fat lady in a taco shop I walked around hypnotized by all the stuff I wanted to buy. I could have easily blown the budget in no time, but after a few deep breaths I convinced myself to only purchase what I came for. They installed my ad-a-leaf springs on my Dakar leaf packs and I bought an ARB awning, viair 12-volt compressor, recovery gear, as well as a few odds and ends. Everyone at the place was a great help. We walked out a few hours later completely satisified. Mission accomplished!

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We did our final departure from Jersey City yesterday. Our apartment is rented, we said our final farewells to the hood, and now we visit our families one last time before we hit the road for good. The emotions and excitement are running hot through our veins. We predict that Labor day is the offical start of our 18 month journey. Wish us luck!

Security time

There is only so much a person can do to keep their possesions safe while driving to South America. My theory is to not bring anything. If you dont have it, they can’t steal it. Or in our case, and in the case of most overlanders, bring absolutely as little as possible. Yea thats right, all that crap you bought off the Sky Mall catalog stays in your parents crawl space. No 3-D goggles, or liquor cabinet golf bags allowed. Before we pack it all up, let us all take a quick moment to poke fun at all the rediculous trash Sky Mall tries to hustle.

You need to organize and lock up your gear so wandering eyes look the other way. If and when someone tries to smash and grab my gear, what will they really get away with? Inside the truck cab there is a lock box which can hold the laptop, important files, camera / lenses, and a few other things. This lockbox is made from 3/4 inch ply with angle iron steel corners, fastened with one way flathead screws, then bolted to the truck body. Someone could get into this thing if they had grinders, power saws, some time and effort. That is unlikely.

Next, I had an alarm installed. It is the most inexpensive alarm at the car security store. It was $200, including install. It has remote locks, activation blinking light, and it will provide me with a better sense of security. I have been told by experienced overlanders that a cheap alarm system can help deter theft in crowded areas. Yes, thugs will smash and grab on crowded streets. Our $200 alarm will help us out in this situation.

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Follwing the alarm, I had a limo tint added to all the windows on the cap as well as the back windows in the cab. Yea you can’t see inside my whip, plus it looks gangster. I also welded up some steel window cages for the rear slider windows. The sliders are easy to access inside the cap, but if someone gets them open, the cage will keep them out. It is also to keep Lupe safe. (notice the fishing pole holder on the cieling also.)

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Mounting the auxiliary battery

Installing an auxiliary battery in a truck can be useful for several reasons. We plan on running an inverter from the aux battery so we have DC power outlets avaliable for a laptop, fridge, interior lighting, charging stations, and what ever else we want to plug in. The aux battery will be wired in such a way where it will charge while the truck is running, but when the truck is off and we are using the aux battery it will not effect the starter battery.

Before any wiring happens you need to find a place for the aux battery. Ideally it will be under the hood, but some vehicles will not allow any room for this so they need to find other locations. Luckily for our Toyota I was able to move the the cruise control out of the way which leaves just enough room for my battery.

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Once I moved that stupid thing out of my way I started fabricating the battery tray from some scraps of steel I found in the shop.

The welding went smooth and this thing appears to be pretty solid. This is the first time I’ve done one of these, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Once it got spray painted black it looked legit.

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This thing aint going anywhere now. I just need to figure out how to wire this thing up. To be continued…

 

 

Gear test phase 1

We bolted down the Autohome and headed to upstate NY (North and South Lake to be precise). It looked like rain, but that didn’t stop us.  After all, that is the whole reason for this test run. We are lacking plenty of gear for the trip, but we really just wanted to test out the Autohome and the truck bed cabinets.  The rain added an extra element. So, we picked up some Mahi burgers, beer, and headed for the mountains.

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Yea, it rained on and off, and it was actually pretty hard at times. There was not much to do but eat, drink, talk, and go for a short walk. With that being said, the Autohome basically performed flawlessly. That thing stayed dry while we were sleeping, and not to mention, that it is really comfortable with the Ikea mattress i got for it.

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As for the cabinets I built, those things were also awesome. We are able to hangout inside the truck while the other person cooks. The whole setup is great, and it will be more comfortable once we get a cushion for it. I did realize that there are several parts to the cabinets that can and should be removed. I want to cut down the weight of this thing in every possible area. I should have built it that way from the get go, but this whole build is trial and error anyway.

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We were also able to tryout our Everest 2 burner propane stove. I went with this one because it got the best rating for heat control, and overall performance. Once I sank my teeth into those fish burgers i was glad i spent the extra $20 for the better stove.

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The short trip was a success (except for the blue tarp). I am looking forward to getting the truck awning so we can ditch the blue tarp. Nothing spoils a nice view like a big blue plastic tarp waving in the wind.

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