Toyota Cruisers and Trucks Magazine is for the traveler and Toyota enthusiast. They decided to publish one of our articles yet again… Thanks Beau… CLICK HERE to checkout the new April 2015 issue online…
For almost 20 hours, we trudged through the night’s dark sea. We left the brown desert of Southern Baja and arrived in Mazatlán, Mexico, the only gringos aboard a ship filled with drunken truckers who stood beside their rigs.
We felt comfortable aboard the vessel alongside the truckers; they were mostly old timers and family men. Colorful pictures faded from the desert sun–religious figures, naked women, photos of loved ones–plastered the walls inside their rigs. The ship’s diesel burned through the night while the stars made their way across a clear sky, the air cool against our skin. Exposed to outer space that shone from above, knocked out in a tequila-induced slumber, we slept through the night. The song of burning diesel was soothing while we were in our little tent on the roof of our truck.
After we were dropped off by the ship deep on the Mexico coast, we began heading south in our truck. No specific destination and no timeline; the feeling of total freedom was as distracting as it was overwhelming. There was always a cloud of smoke as we blazed down the camino–fires burned constantly on the sides of the road, filling the air with a cloudy familiar smell. It was the smell of chicken being cooked, fueled by burning wood in an old oil drum cut in half on the side of the road in Mexico. It was the smell of life on the road. It was the smell of being free.
An offshore breeze blew through the tent. It was hard to sleep because the ground was rumbling. Close by, heavy waves crashed the Mexican sandbar until dawn. The chilly morning quickly warmed us up. Like a piece of steak marinating before it gets cooked, we embraced the cool morning before getting roasted. The mid-day heat forces shady naps. It is a dry heat; it hasn’t rained in months.
The military and police presence was strong on the major highways, but in some of the villages and more remote spots we were on our own. On the flip side, there are the other guys. They’re the guys wearing nice street clothes with neatly combed hair. Bullet proof vests, hand guns wedged in their belt, shotguns casually leaned on their shoulders. Several clean cut men just relaxed in their truck or strolled down the beach. While the afternoon scorch melted the sand, they also liked to sip a cerveza in the shade, watching the waves crash on the shore. I walked past their truck after a session, board under my arm, and they spoke to me in Spanish. “How are the waves,” they asked. I told them they were good.”Buenas olas.” They were not cops, nor were they military. They left us alone, and we tried not to stare.
Three months in Mexico and we camped every night. Countless waves satisfied, just like the cheap street food. Young kids wandered through camp selling freshly picked papayas. We were invited to a Christmas Eve dinner at a local place in the village. The party was filled with just as many surfers as locals–perfect strangers breaking bread and sharing the familiarity of a holiday dinner. The clock struck midnight and time suddenly stopped; everyone embraced one an other with open arms. Fisherman, farmers, surfers, children, drunks, degenerates, Europeans, Americans, and travelers all tipped their mugs and wished a “feliz navidad.” A stout older gent, a complete stranger, hugged me and smiled. His face told a story, nostalgic of another year passing by. So far from home, I felt right at home.
The palm trees danced from the afternoon wind as I scoured the ground for fallen coconuts. With some help from my trusty machete, I learned how to drink the water from the shell. Coconut water quenches your thirst, like a swing from a machete just feels good to do. I drank the sweet water and remembered how much coconut water costs back in the States.
Siesta time beachside. As I enjoyed a rest between sessions, a middle-aged Texan, as loud as he was irritating, tried to sell me ecstasy in the desolate grassy camp. I brushed off this madcap and resumed my catnap. My dog did not like him and let out a low growl. He threatened my dog’s life and disappeared into the heat. One day, the jaded Texas tourist will get his. So I simply watched the ocean and waited for the breeze.
The life of a traveler is a simple life. It’s a good life. While moving from place to place, you have few priorities: keep your things safe, spend your money frugally, see how long you can go, and surf as much as you can. Live an interesting life while owning as little as possible. Some may say its the easy life, but it’s not the life for everyone.
TCT (Toyota Cruisers and Trucks) magazine gave us a shout-out in their January 2015 issue. We just wanted to say thanks again for including us in your publication. Click here to view the online magazine. Its a good issue one… Thanks Beau!
Here sits the new Taco parked across 2 handicapped parking spaces. Although this was not my first choice for a 1st generation Toyota 4runner it’s what I happened to find. The overcast clouds are as blue as the paint job, and the money I put into it so far is almost what I paid for it. The frame is straight and the rust is very minimal. The inside needs to be cleaned, I’m just waiting for a warmer day so the Armor All doesn’t freeze. Right now its solid and needs nothing major except a catchy nickname, any suggestions? I can only hope one day it takes us to Mexico.
New tires, water pump, timing belt, timing belt pulley & seals, head gasket, crankshaft seal, oil change and new floor mats from Kmart.
1989 Toyota 4runner
6 cyl automatic
The greatest feat of our journey was not surfing epic waves, eating delicious foreign food, or hiking to hard to reach glaciers in the Andes. In fact, the most rewarding part, was when all three of us flew into Newark, New Jersey safe and sound after 15 months of rugged travel, and seeing the face of my smiling father when he picked us up at the airport. We set a huge goal and followed through till the end. That, my friends, feels so damn sweet, and that first jersey bagel we ate, tasted oh so good.
Two and a half years ago we made a serious commitment to save all our money and travel. Although many of our friends and family thought we were nuts to even think about doing something so drastic, their support and skepticism were great motivators to make it happen and actually follow through. When times got tough and our tent smelled bad, we could always count on the comments and backing from our loved ones on our social media outlets. It would have been hard to do this without everyones amazing support.
After spending the holidays with our families, we finally reached our final destination (Cape Cod) where we will fry fresh smelts and remain until, who knows… I must admit, being able to stay in one place for a while is comforting, especially since we are minutes away from surf spots, have access to fresh food from the sea, and being able to view bayside sunsets every night. Rest assured, we do hope to go on an epic journey like this again, hopefully sooner than later. So stay tuned for our next big odyssey. Until then, we will do our best to keep telling tales from the road, and posting the progress of the building of Taco 2 (photos will be posted soon.)
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.
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
-Optima dual battery setup
-1100W power inverter
-alarm with remote
-arb 12 volt / DC fridge
-12 volt viair air compressor
-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
-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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We drove aboard the Santa Marcela today. This is a large freighter ship which transports vehicles from Southern Baja to Mainland Mexico. The Toyota (Big Red) appears to be the only non-commercial, non-tractor trailer vehicle onboard. There are two levels on the ship, on which the trucks are parked. Big Red happens to be nestled on the top deck exposed to the open air in the way back wedged between a tractor trailer carrying a hazardous chemical, a tomato truck, and the port side of the ship. Judging by our spot on deck, I’m guessing we will be one of the last vehicles to exit the vessel. The crew, along with the truckers, all seem to fear Lupe and pass Big Red with extreme caution (we assume that this is because of her breed, and in most countries south of the boarder people own dogs for security, so most people assume she is peligroso.) Now we relax truck-side, tequila in hand, gazing at the new moon, and listening to diesel burn as we await our 16 hour journey to Mazatlan, Mexico.
Our experience in Baja, Mexico (which I like to refer to as Canada Jr.) in my opinion has been a good preliminary run before we enter the real Mexico. Minus the number of California expats and weekend warriors who come down to surf and fish, I was impressed by the number of Canadians who RV down south for the Winter. And what a great bunch they are, beer in hand and numerous stories of near RV collisions with trucks on the narrow two lane blacktop. Mex 1 is the highway which runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas and, at best, the road runs one lane in either direction, with zero to 6 inches of shoulder to a drop down on both sides. There are thousands of roadside shrines, which I’m guessing are where casualties occurred on these dicey highways. Not to mention the dangers of driving at night into roaming livestock.
The trip so far has been an epic one, but the surf has been mediocre at best. I think it’s the time of year and my lack of checking the forecast and just straight up hunting for wicked surf. There was one memorable head high day in Punta Conejo where the wind blew off shore most of the day and produced a super long left that rolled so perfect. The water was like glass and once noon hit everybody (like 8 people) went back to shore for the day while me and my new surf buddy, Craig, had it all to ourselves. I also had some of the best fishing days of my life off this rocky arroyo point. I was able to barter my camping fee with fresh fish, as well as feed most of the camp for a couple days.
Big Red has run flawlessly. We are quite proud of the old girl. We have found our way in more than a few predicaments where the road turned from bad to worse, turning around was not an option, mountain on one side and 100 foot drop to the sea on the other, while rock crawling up steep terrain in remote locations. For the most part our maps tell us what type of condition the road is in. The red line is a highway, the double line is improved dirt road, and the dotted line is the kinda road. So far Big red handles the double line with no issues at all, until yesterday, when we were headed North from Los Barriles to La Paz. Judging from the looks of “old foldie” (our map) we thought a relaxing scenic drive up the coast was in our future. The “over the top” gringo estates littered from Cabo up the East Cape were becoming few and far between the more North we went. This two lane dirt road was becoming a one lane snaking kinda road. “But this is a double line on the map.” A couple miles later put it in 4wd. Steeper and steeper, more narrow, now we are rock crawling in spots. I do see the evidence of a fresh dirt bike tire track, which make me think that people do actually travel this terra firma. We agreed to keep pushing on (also because there was no options to turn around.) We’re not scared of this dead drop cliff. Yea yea, blah blah blah, many miles later, stressful times behind the wheel, 4wd tires bouncing and skipping, shooting stones from under my Goodyears, the end was finally in sight. For the record I’m not a high five kinda guy (I despise football and most sporting games where high fiveing is a regular act of celebratory exchange.) but screw it, “gimme five baby.” lets get the fuckouttahere. It could have been a lot worse but I’m pretty sure the completely flat tire I had today at the super market was related to this endeavor. Tire plug kit out, compressor clamped to the battery, no problemo lets keep pushing on.
We would recommend absolutely anybody to drive down the Baja from the states (or from anywhere). Seniors, families, singles, or lovers, they all do this trip. As long as you keep your eyes on the road, and are not a complete idiot you should have little to no issues. There is uncrowded surf, an abundance of seafood to be caught then eaten, cheap accommodations (if you camp on the beach its free) and don’t forget some of the most epic scenery in the Americas. Mexicans are generous people with a proud culture, and they will make you feel very welcome in Canada Jr. Its been such a great transition from those everyday encounters you have with your average asshole in the states in the parking lot of your local Home Depot, or any parking lot for that matter.
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.
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!