Haters Gonna Hate

Editors Note: this is part one of a ten part series we are doing on overlanding advice.  Future PanAm overlanders this is for you.  We will be posting these each Sunday.

Let’s start by telling you the following:

You are going to be okay

You will definitely be inconvenienced. Something you bring will probably be stolen. There’s a chance you will be mugged.  But, there is a 99% chance you’re going to walk out of this with two arms, two legs, and a tale as big a Paul Bunyan.

When we first thought up the trip, we thought we might be some of the first people to embark on the journey.  While unique among Americans (we estimate less than ten each year), it is popular with Europeans and especially the Swiss.  The reality is there are hundreds if not one thousand overlanders in Central and South America right now.  Somewhere around one hundred people set off to bike (as in bicycle) the PanAm every year.

Of the thousands that have done it in the last few years, we are not aware of any overlander that has been murdered.  We are not aware of anybody whose vehicle has been stolen.  With a dose of common sense and mind on security you won’t be the exception.

Walking the streets of Mexico

Fact is, Mexico is safer than Baltimore, but facts won’t sway even the best intentioned friends and family.  It’s temping to bring logic and reason into the debate, but trust us, it’s not worth the effort.  You can look forward to all the naysayer’s claiming “I told you you’d be okay” upon your return.

A rear mounted jerry can is a horrible idea because bandits will shoot at it to blow up the truck.

The good news is this all ends south of the border.  Once across, you’ll find campgrounds filled with people who have been there are there on the scene.  Hordes of retired, risk-averse Canadians will be on hand to congratulate and commend  you.  At Anna’s Bar in Baja Conception they will buy you a margarita.

Margarita Time

People who haven’t done any international overlanding will, sure-as-the-sun, offer advice.  Your co-workers will, overnight, become experts on Central American politics.  Survivalist Bob, who left Missouri once in 1993 for an IT convention, is trolling internet forums to warn you about the ominous bandits down south.  Ignore it all or you’ll end up with something like this:

Armored Car

Seek out advice from those of us currently on the road.  We know what you’ll encounter and what you’ll need.  Here are just a few of us.  You can also post on Drive the Americas, a forum specifically for America driving daredevils.  Don’t worry about pestering us, if you catch us around a campfire, you’ll find there’s nothing more we’d prefer to discuss.  That, and what type of rig we’re shipping to Africa next.

22 thoughts on “Haters Gonna Hate

  1. save your money and buy in Africa…so many cool trucks there that are ready for Africa!

    haha, GREAT post.  I’m sharing this with everyone.

    • We’re determined to figure how to get a 110 or a Troopie licensed and registered in the States in prep for Africa Overland and to play around with in our own backyard.

      Logan will run for President if he has to. LP in 2012! Screw Air Force One, Troopie Fleet fully equipped with RTTs for the Pribbeno Administration.

        • Good to know!

          I hear it is basically impossible to get it licensed for good unless the car is 25+ years old even if you have farm plates.

          • Glad to hear you two made it!  I am still thinking about being on the road every day, even though I flew back from Panama Passage to Canada(I was the guy with the old bike sleeping in a hammock in the carport there)  While I agree 100% with about the silly freaking out by people who aren’t traveling is over the top, there are some dangers  For annoyance level dangers(theft, vandalism)  I found them to exist 99% only in the tourist places.  I had several friends who recounted stories of being robbed.  Two were robbed at gunpoint and came to the free campground in Antigua to talk to the tourist police who were very good and even let them call their home countries, before escorting them back to their hostel.  That I know of two others had been beaten, one in Antigua, one quite badly by the police near Palenque.  The first had been spending lots of money so someone decided to relieve them of it, and the second had been caught with marijuana.  So with a bit of common sense travel can be safe, but the risks are still there for foolish behavior. 
              My bike got vandalized twice in Antigua. On tourist routes were the only places I got asked for bribes.

             Ironically, outside of those areas I was mostly poking around the places I was warned about back home, and I felt safer than here in Canada!   The empty backroads and unlabeled towns were wonderful to me.  I was offered yards to camp in, or people simply invited me into their houses to eat dinner with them and so on. 

            I started following a simple rule for deciding danger to me based on past observation.  If I got warned about somewhere farther along the road being dangerous I ignored the warning, usually it was just typical trash talking the next town/street/whatever.  If someone warned me about their own area, then I did pay attention and moved on fairly quick.  People seem much less likely to warn you away from their town/street unless there is a very real reason for you to be moving on.  It has served me well as a good rule of thumb so far. 
            My family in Mexico has had enough close calls to make me feel that the truth is somewhere in between totally idyllic and safe as I often felt places to be especially off the beaten path, and the dangerous place I would never return from “helpful”  relatives and friends warned me about. 

            That’s so cool you two are heading on to Africa!  Maybe I will see you on the road again some day.  Still really enjoying your blog, for anyone who hasn’t been there(and even those who have)  it’s full of good advice, and always fun to read!  The step by step guide to the El Salvador-Honduras crossing could have saved me a ton of headache and frustration if only I’d read Panamnotes sooner!

          • Thanks for your tips Jeremy!  Glad you’re following along and enjoying it.

            No doubt overlanders get inconvenienced, even robbed all the time.  Just wanted to let everybody know that they can do it and survive.

  2. Hi Guys,

    Great article. Very timely confidence boost for us as we crossed the Mexican border today and our now sitting in our camper in Ensenda. We’ve spent the last 5 months getting from Alaska down here and it feels like Overlanding starts now. Hopefully e each day will add to our confidence and a bit to our almost non-existent spanish !

    Cheers for the inspiration, advice and just plain knowledge that its all been done before,

    Mark & Sarah

    • Thanks for the kind words you two! And WOW! Your rig is awesome! We look forward to your Mexico posts. Baja was a favorite of ours and we’re constantly reminiscing on the food, the people, the beaches…you’ll love it!

  3. Thanks guys. This article is exactly what we have been looking for. We are a South African family (2 kids aged 12 and 7) and we will be shipping our Landy over to Argentina and driving up to Alaska. When i think of South America i think of Romancing the Stone and macho police men with tight jeans and Magnum PI facial hair. Cant wait to see the real South America.

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks Graeme! Driving from South to North is going to be excellent. Argentina and Chile are a great way to smoothly transition into Latin American life.

      And thanks for the tips on Africa, we will definitely have more questions for you down the road.

  4. Also… there are only 2 real choices when overlanding Africa. The Land Rover Defender and the Toyota Land Cruiser. Cruiser parts are available everywhere as all the aid workers drive them. We travel in a Defender because they are simply awesome and we had no problems over 20000km of African driving over 6 months in 2010. Try and get a 130 in South Africa and then kit it. That said, you can drive a Mini Cooper from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam but wont be able to access the really cool places. Let me know if you need any African travel advice for the following countries. South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

  5. Perfect, as we get closer to our leave date certain people (ie: parental units) are freaking out. I am going to send them your article. We’ve been boogieing across the US to make it home in time for Thanksgiving, Stopped in New Orleans for the night before we hit Florida tomorrow. Catching up on your blog now

  6. Thrilled to hear you’re heading to overland Africa next! We have been to Africa a couple of times but the best was overlanding from Nairobi to Cape town through 8 countries. Amazing continent, amazing people, and amazing adventure. No matter how many times we’ve been on safari it NEVER gets old to come across animals in the wild.
    I do think you should consider just purchasing a land rover or similiar in Africa rather than shipping something there. We’ve seen a few blogs of couples purchasing in South Africa and then selling again when they hit Cairo (or whatever route you’re planning on taking)
    Can’t wait to continue to follow along on the adventures!
    Happy Thanksgiving from the US

  7. Hi!  I’m so happy to have found your site through ‘Drive the Americas’.  I am in Victoria, BC, Canada, preparing for my overland trip into Central America by mid-December.

    I suspect I’ll stay in Costa Rica, but if there is money to do it, I’ll keep going at some point!

    I was planning to be on the road 11/11/11, but I had to let the magical day pass as I’ve been bogged down by vehicle & logistical planning.  I am a girl going solo with my dog, so I’d like to be more prepared than I would be even with a partner.  Lucky you guys!  What a great thing to have a partner who is equally up for the adventure. 

    I haven’t seen a blog or story for any girls (or even guys I think) doing this solo!  Scary as hell, as I’m not exactly the most self-sufficient, hardcore girl around, but I expect with good prep, helpful people along the way, a little bit of luck, it will all come together.  The risk here does not outweigh the benefit! 

    Anyway…I am currently weighing the option of a Toyota Tundra with a light camper on the back.  I don’t think yours had a bathroom on yours though, so I wonder if it was just impossible for the weight, even with overload springs, etc?  I need an enclosed porta-potty at least.  There are a few compact campers that have one, that *say* they can go on a Tundra, but I’m still assessing.

    My questions: 
    If you had to choose again, would you still pick the Tundra or might you opt for a diesel truck? 
    Did you find the fuel costs prohibitive in a V8?
    Was it hard to find parts or get servicing on that model? 
    Would you bother bringing a camper again?  Or would you use a canopy, or secure locking tonneau cover, and just use the hostels, etc? (have to check that option with a dog though)

    *I believe this vehicle decision will make or break my success to an extent (I know 4×4 will be vital), and once I have chosen, I can finally launch out of here!

    If you happen to be able to answer, I would be so grateful!

    Ad thanks for the great blog and resources!

    • Hey Dani:

      You’ll meet a number of solo travelers, they just aren’t apt to keeping up a blog.  I don’t believe we met a woman traveling overland alone however.  If you make it a point to always (or almost always) stay in an organized campground, hostel, or with some other campers at least, I think the risks of going it alone wouldn’t be any greater than the rest of us.

      I would still choose the Tundra.  She’s taken everything we’ve thrown at her without any problems.  That said if I were trying to keep costs lower (Tundras aren’t cheap) I would have considered taking a Ford truck with the 5.6L V8.  This engine is all over Latin America.  I myself wouldn’t consider a diesel as my mechanical knowledge is all on gas.  There are a lot of opinions on the diesel vs gasoline debate, but for the PanAm I would take gasoline over diesel every time.  Just my preference.

      The 4.7L V8 in the Tundra is a gas sipper.  We regularly get 16-18 MPGs which is as good as it gets with a 4×4 camper.  Because of the weight and drag you’ll get the same MPGs with the V6 in the Tundra or Tacoma.

      No problem finding parts for the Tundra.  Latino mechanics are very resourceful and we have had very few troubles.

      We absolutely love our pop-up camper.  Because of it’s convenience, safety, and amenities we’ve camped around 85% of the time.  I would highly recomend you take something similar for two reasons: #1- traveling alone – camping in a camper is much saver than tent camping for a host of reasons. #2 – traveling with a dog – it is difficult to find lodging that allows pets in Latin America.  With a camper you’ll always have a comfortable and reasonably safe backup.

      Lastly we don’t have a bathroom and we’ve never felt the need for one.  I wouldn’t recommend putting a camper that offers a shower and toilet on a Tundra.  It’s just too much weight no matter what the salesman says.  For you I would consider purchasing a camper without one and just carrying along a cassette toilet you can use in the camper.  For a shower bring along a solar sun shower.  Both of these weight very little.

      Hope this helps, feel free to keep the questions coming!

  8. Pingback: Overland Adventure Travel 4x4, Americas,  North America,  South America - Best of 2011 -

  9. So glad I found your site. My husband and I are planning on an overland trip to Costa Rica, although we’re planning on settling in Nicaragua. We’re getting a camper, because we’re bringing our two elderly dogs and two cats. That in itself will be quite an adventure. lol. At some point we’d like to continue the adventure into S.America. We’ve been getting a lot of the “are you crazy?” comments, but we’re very excited about the adventure of it all. It seems like it will be a very freeing experience if anything. Letting go of all the possessions that encumber us to enjoy the experience of meeting other people not afraid of letting go. Can’t wait. We’re in the process of getting rid of all our stuff at this point and hope to be on the rode sometime between this spring and next fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: