Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Overlanding North and South America interview

As you may remember, F1O is driving a lightly modded 4Runner down to South America. His truck is currently being shipped from Panama to Colombia, so he had time to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!

1 What prompted/inspired you to take this trip?

It goes back a long time. I can’t remember exactly what made me think about it at first, but it’s been a dream of mine since my teens.

I was too young and broke to do it at first, then life and career just took its own course and I never prioritized this. But it never ceased to be an idea in the back of my head. 

Through the years I would always tell myself and anyone who would listen that one day I would do this trip. I just wasn’t sure when, but I would do it. I sent a question to The Truth About Cars website back in 2010 asking what would be an appropriate vehicle. They published it:

Then around October last year I was talking to my girlfriend about it. She wasn’t happy with the idea of me being gone for the better part of a year at some point in our relationship but I told her this was not something I’d compromise on. The whole conversation made me realize that this was possibly the best opportunity to do it that I would ever have. I had enough money put away, I had the vehicle, and there was nothing tying me down at that moment. I had quit my job and had no mortgage or lease. So I told myself now or never, and I chose. The next few months I frantically prepared and tried to absorb as much information and knowledge as possible. 

2 What modifications have you made to your 4Runner?

An off-road roof rack to accommodate my roof top tent, jerry can and recovery boards. Inside the truck I added a drawer system that I purchased from a former 4Runner owner. It serves to organize my food, pots and pans It also has a couple of slide out trays for food prep. It’s also a platform for my fridge and the sliding mechanism of the fridge. 

I also installed a dual battery management system, solar charge controller and 2000watt power inverter. The truck now has two batteries, the main battery for the engine, and a deep cycle battery for the fridge and my accessories. When I turn on the engine, the battery management system ensures the engine battery is healthy and after 5 minutes it begins charging the second battery. It also allows me to use the 2nd battery as a starter battery if my main battery gets drained for some reason, so it’s nice redundancy. If I’m not driving, I can keep the 2nd battery charging with solar. This allows me to keep the fridge running 24/7. 

All of this added a lot of weight to the truck so I upgraded springs and shocks all around to accommodate the additional weight. 

3 What is your favorite place so far? Why?

I don’t have a favorite place, there are simply too many. But I can say Mexico has been my favorite country so far. Some of my favorite moments in Mexico were sleeping under the stars surrounded by giant cacti, whale watching so close you could touch them, swimming in a lagoon at the edge of a huge waterfall with turquoise waters, visiting incredible Aztec and Mayan ruins and eating some of the best food I’ve ever had. 

Having said that, I’m about to begin the South America portion. It’s the part of the trip I’ve been most looking forward to. 

4 Any dangerous situations?

Thankfully I have not encountered any dangerous situations and have been treated incredibly well by nearly everyone. Even police and government officials I’ve come across. 

I have had some things stolen from me, which isn’t a nice feeling, but it’s mostly my own fault for being careless. 

In Mexico I left the truck parked on the street overnight and my yoga mat and snorkel gear were taken. I had been leaving them on my roof rack tied down with nothing but a bungie cord for almost a month. 

In Nicaragua they were a little more brazen. I was camping on a beach and I left my camp lantern hanging off my roof-top-tent. They took it overnight while I slept inside the tent. It was disconcerting to realize someone was nosing around so closely while I slept. 

5 What has been the most surprising thing?

A few things have surprised me. 

The number of Americans living and working all around Mexico was surprising. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Gentrification is a thing in Mexico and it’s Americans doing it. You could be forgiven for mistaking parts of Cancun for SW Florida. 

Another surprise was that there is a huge community of travelers that have done or are currently doing the Panamerican highway by car. They are incredibly supportive of each other. There’s a very active facebook group. There’s an app for finding places to camp, mechanics, up-to-date information on border crossings, road conditions and warnings about corrupt police or robberies and break-ins. And there’s even a website to match you with other travelers to share a container for shipping around the Darien Gap. All of these resources are completely free and invaluable.

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