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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Driving to Argentina from Austin in a 1G 4runner

Hey there, I've been lurking here for some time now while researching for our trip. I figure it's due time to post an intro here...I also spend a lot of time on Expedition Portal, Yotatech & IH8MUD (under same username).

We're from Austin, Texas but my fiance and I are on an epic overland adventure thru Mexico, Central & South America...we may even continue further if our savings can handle it.

We're driving an '87 4runner, 22RE 5speed, mostly stock with some small modifications to make life more comfortable on the road. Full OME/medium suspension & Zuk mod overload springs, somewhat unique sleeping/storage arrangements, and aux battery for fans and charging cameras.

I won't be trying any ballsy rockcrawling, but we will definitely leave the pavement to bushwhack a little and explore off the beaten path. We have no winch, just a shovel, some straps, a Hi-lift, and some waffleboards. I hope to avoid getting stuck too much during the wet season, the only thing that will get us out is good ol' blood, sweat, and tears.

If you want to know more about our trip or our vehicle, go to our website. Looking forward to learning more from the TTORA community!
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Damn that will be a great adventure!
Now... Hidey-ho neighbor! Welcome to TTORA!

Glad to have another Texan here. Check out our Chapter's website for events and other stuff.

Click HERE for TTORA TEXAS Chapter!

Are you on Expo-portal?
http://expeditionportal.com/forum/

Welcome again and now post a pic of your ride.
We appreciate the warm welcome folks! Thanks for the heads up on the Texas TTORA chapter, now I have another set of classifieds to hunt thru...

Yes, we're on Expo Portal. That's where I spend most of my time since I'm more into travel off the beaten path. We have the same username on Expo, Ih8MUD, and Yotatech.

Edit: Travis, what kinda ride are you in? I wonder if I've seen it around Austin?
 

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What you doing to do about that little problem called the Darien Gap?

But its worth it to get to Colombia. I lived in Bogota in the 70's
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for the votes. We really appreciate it!
What you doing to do about that little problem called the Darien Gap?

But its worth it to get to Colombia. I lived in Bogota in the 70's
Although we could try driving thru the Darien Gap (it's been done), we're not that crazy. Here's an old video from when GM tried it with a couple Corvairs. They failed, but it's a great video.

The common approach is to ship your vehicle on a container ship from Colon to Cartagena. Luckily our vehicle is small enough that we can share a 40' container with another traveler to save on shipping costs. It should cost around $1000 to ship around the Gap.

The shipping should take about a month, so we will sail to Colombia via the San Blas Islands (likely on the Stahlratte) and take some time enjoying Cartagena while waiting for the vehicle to arrive.

Let us know if you have any more questions, or recommend any places along the way. You can also check out our website, which is in my signature below, for more details.

~Cheers
 

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Sounds like you guys have done your research... I like the website. Good luck with your trip!




PS... I have been to North Carolina a couple times to visit family, and I have lived in Oregon my whole life. That being said, Portland would be my vote, although my vote is slightly biased. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
Sounds like you guys have done your research... I like the website. Good luck with your trip!




PS... I have been to North Carolina a couple times to visit family, and I have lived in Oregon my whole life. That being said, Portland would be my vote, although my vote is slightly biased. :)
I don't know if I'd call it research...it's more like an obsession at this point.

Thanks for the vote on Portland. Luckily we have some time to make a decision on Portland vs. Asheville ;)
 

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Go easy on the Santa Marta Gold. A little goes a long way

I used to stay at El Caribe. Its not on the beach, butit had a nice pool and it was more private.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Go easy on the Santa Marta Gold. A little goes a long way

I used to stay at El Caribe. Its not on the beach, butit had a nice pool and it was more private.
Had to look that up...thanks for the tip, we'll have no problem keeping our distance. I'll be sure to warn my fellow travelers...

Which El Caribe? Are you talking about Panama?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Almost time to set sail...

Installed the Old Man Emu suspension just before Christmas. You can read all about it on our latest post, where I also discuss the "Zuk coil mod" that I previously had, along with a comparison of the OME kit and the Zuk mod. As much as I'd like to enter all the info here, it seems a little pointless. I also posted the writeup on Yotatech. I put it there because I know that's where Toyota owners usually search for OME installs and the Zuk mod, plus it will be backed up on YT's servers in case our site ever goes down. Heaven forbid, right?



Also mounted 5 new 245/75r16 Warden AT's on 16" Tacoma steel wheels. Yes these are Treadwrights. Yes I've read the good and bad on their tires, including the Landcruiser that experienced a tire failure/rollover. I know that's been brought up frequently here on the Portal. After much debate I feel like this will not be an issue for us. We don't want to exceed 55 mph on this trip and chances are that our average speed in Latin America will be around 40-45 mph (gotta slow down for the topes!). We want to conserve fuel as much as we can, besides our 22RE 4runner doesn't exactly set land speed records. I'm not saying retreads are for everyone, I'm just saying they will be fine for our application.


Don't laugh too hard at the ugly tube bumper guard! It was $35 on craigslist and adds a little bit of radiator protection for minor fender benders. As tempted as I am to buy the ARB bumper that's been sitting on craigslist for $500, I really can't justify the cost or weight.

Speaking of weight, I took the 4runner to the scrapyard recently and put it on the scale...3800 lb. They paid me five bucks for my old leaf springs and they even guessed my weight! Subtract the weight of the Hannibal Rack, front bumper guard, fuel, and myself, and the 4runner's Curb Weight is around 3500 lb. (this is less than it should be because of the removed rear seats, cargo panels, and spare tire). Our GVW is 5080 lb, so we theoretically have 1500 lb of room for all of our gear, passengers, fuel, and water for this trip. I will hit the scales again after we load up and make sure that we're staying under the GVW. The max load for our tires is 3042 lb. (each), so distribute that weight evenly and we'll be well under the danger zone.

After closer inspection it looks like our tires have Goodyear Wrangler "carcasses" with the kevlar sidewalls, recapped with BFG AT style tread. The kevlar sidewalls along with the fact that these tires are 10-ply adds an extra 25 lbs to each tire! Ouch. Luckily the 16" tacoma wheels weighed the same as the original 15" steel that came on the 4runner. These are very beefy and appear well constructed after thorough examination. I feel confident that tire failure will not be a problem. The guy who mounted my tires had never seen anything like them, but he was impressed with how well they balanced. When I came back to mount the spare he grabbed the guy in the back and said "Hey check this out, these are those Treadwrights I was telling you about".



The rear storage/sleeping area is coming together nicely and we've been sleeping the past couple weeks in the back, just as a test run. One of my buddies from the fire academy helped me build the rear storage boxes out of 3/4" birch. I removed the factory cargo panels and these boxes are trimmed so that you can reach completely through and access all of the gear that is stached behind them. I will post more details on this setup once it's completely buttoned up. The top access hatch on the driver's side makes a nice countertop for setting the laptop or our backpacking stove on. This will be really nice when we're stuck inside on a rainy day.



The bed is the same dimensions as a twin mattress, but luckily Shannon is so tiny that it works out great for us. It's actually just as comfortable as our full size mattress in our bedroom! We cut up our old mattress pad and added a 2.5" gel foam pad, giving us 5" of pure heaven to sleep on. It feels like you're laying on the pillowy beard of Zeus himself. Sorry, Shannon wouldn't let me try the wine-glass/bouncy test.



This is obviously enough room for my tiny fiancé, but if you look past the beautiful woman you can tell that there's a gap between the storage bench and the bucket seats. This not only allows the front seats to recline, but I can sit directly behind the bucket seats and my feet can fully stretch out (perpendicular to the truck) while in a semi-reclined position. Just place a pillow behind your back and you're ready to fall asleep while watching my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix...what's that? No, I clearly said old episodes of the A-Team.

I'm working on some mounting points behind the bucket seats so that we can secure our mini-Engel there while we're driving. This thing is the perfect size for our trip! When we're parked and using the rear "living room", the Engel fits in front of the passenger side bucket seat. This is the only thing that we will have to move when going to bed. Everything fits so well that I sometimes wonder if we planned it that way :sombrero:



By the way, here's a free upgrade for your rig:


Just carefully insert your tasty beverage at an angle like so...apply leverage in a downward fashion...and enjoy. Don't forget to catch the cap and Tread Lightly. Now give thanks to the Japanese engineers who surely designed this as a hidden treasure for us to enjoy.

Big thanks to James of Home On The Highway who let me in on this secret...that's no longer a secret. I now get a grin everytime I open a beer...uhhh, I mean soda.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I got a little carried away today in the shop. Something's brewing...



The Hannibal Roof Rack I've been trying to sell for months? Apparently nobody was interested in an awesome roof rack discounted by over 60%...so I said to hell with it. I'll just hack that up too.



Now before anybody freaks out because I "ruined" a $1500 roof rack, let it be known that I found this rack on craigslist for next to nothing. It was already hacked up and the original mounting brackets were gone...besides, I do what I want!

Now that you all think I've completely lost it, here's the whole reason that I went wild on my roof...



It's called a Fantastic Vent and it has a 12v reversible fan...those hot and stuffy nights in the back of the 4runner will hopefully be a little more comfortable.



Ahhhh, just pop the top open...



With the 4runner sitting as high as it is, you don't really notice the little dome-lens up there while it's closed...unless you're Andre the Giant (may he rest in peace) or you're looking down on it (shame on you), it just looks like another mall-cruiser.



Still have some trim work to do on the interior, but you get the idea. The fan has 3 speeds and it blows in/out. We could cook inside if we wanted to and it would work like an exhaust or we could blow cold air in thru the side windows and ventilate the stuffy air from the roof.



We also got a nice little 12v portable fan that perfectly hangs on the rain gutter of the rear slider window. We now have an intake and an exhaust fan to get the air moving a little. Maybe I should have cut a hole for a stovepipe chimney while I was at it, that would be nice for those chilly nights in the Andes mountains.



For those of you who like to carry gear on the roof of your 1st Gen 4runner, here's what it's all bolted to:



I found it 1/8" thin most the way around, then it thickens up to a whopping 3/8" thick in the fatter section. It seems that the thicker sections run from one side of the roof to the other, but I have no clue if there's a consistency to it or if I managed to cut thru the only thick section...let's hope this roof doesn't crumble in on me. I don't plan on using the rack to carry anything but a surfboard, but it's nice to have it just in case. I wanted to get rid of it, but nobody wanted to buy it so I figure what the hell...it may come in handy in the next 30,000 miles. Since I've mounted the rack thru several points, I feel like I've reinforced the roof a little. Skewed logic, but these removable tops aren't exactly designed by NASA engineers anyway...here's to you, 1987.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Brenton is usually the one writing the updates, and that's fine with me (Shannon), but I figure every now and then I'll throw in my two cents and let you know what I'm thinking about this epic adventure of ours.


Lunch with a view​

Our drive down the Pacific Coast was beautiful. I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to which coast I find more appealing, I prefer the rocky west coast. I have never been much of a beach girl. Ask my mom, vacations "down the shore" in New Jersey consisted mostly of me crying because I couldn't stand the sand in my swim suit. I also prefer to go no further into the water than waist-deep. This might be one of the few things I don't have in common with my mom.




"Go fly a kite!"​

Driving down the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, I enjoyed looking out into the water and watching the waves crash against the rocks in the distance. The rocky beaches also mean sand in your bathing suit is less likely.


Not that we would be going into THIS water anytime soon...BRRRR!


Stumbled on this gentlemen and his ladies, somewhere near the Redwoods​

We spent each night of our westcoast drive camping in state or national parks. Our "no driving at night" rule wouldn't go in affect until Baja, so we often drove into the night before picking our spot to sleep. When we really needed showers, we'd pay a little extra to stay at the nearest KOA. Brenton says, "Look at how adventurous we are, going from KOA to KOA!"


Our timing was impeccable because we've had our pick of all the best campsites.



The Border Runner seemed even smaller while we passed thru Avenue of the Giants.​

Our first stop was in Cardiff-by-the-sea, California to visit one of my good friends, Nicole. Nicole and I have known each other since high school, when we cheered together. She has always been one of my favorite people. She is sweet, kind, and soft spoken. You'd never guess she can bench press more than guys double her size. We stayed the night with her and her family, then enjoyed breakfast with them the next morning. It was a short but sweet visit.


We also met with some fellow Pan-Am veterans, Chris and Kristin of The Darien Plan. They did their trip back in 2009 and along with another couple, they started the website, Drive the Americas. It's a resource for people like us. It was great to chat with them over pizza and beers and ask them lots of questions.


Our final U.S. stop was at our friends Vicki and Pete's in San Diego. We stayed two nights here enjoying time with Vicki, Pete, and their cute little pugs, Pirate and Spider. We met Vicki and Pete at Overland Expo last year and have kept in touch with them since. They are just as excited about our trip as we are! They are planning an African adventure, set to depart in 5 years. We are so excited for them and can't wait for their big adventure. Unfortunately we were having so much fun with them, we completely forgot to take pictures of the four of us together! But we did get pics of their puppies, Spider and Pirate...guess which one's named Pirate.



 

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Discussion Starter #19
Finally, it was time to cross into Baja. We were crossing at the Tijuana border. I later read this is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. You don't say? As we approached the border we felt like cattle being herded into a pen. We were asked a few questions, the border agent peeked in our windows, and we were sent on our way. Since we crossed much later than we planned to, we were in a rush to get as far as possible from Tijuana. As a matter of fact we never actually stopped to get our tourist cards, instead we got caught up in the herd of cars headed towards the city center. Oops.



We were feeling intimidated to say the least and it took us about 15 minutes to find Mex 1D, the toll road to Ensenada. What were we going to do about the tourist cards?




We arrived at our first stop, El Rancho Faro (The Lighthouse Ranch). This was our first volunteering stint with the Muskoka Foundation. There was a little confusion on our part, as to what was going to be happening at El Rancho Faro, but things eventually got straightened out and we were able to spend about 4 days getting to know the people.




El Ranch Faro is an all girls orphanage in the beautiful wine country of Northern Baja. The orphanage is a new partnership for Muskoka, so Brenton and I were there to get to know the people and the area and get some insight into what Muskoka can do for them. Our favorite part of our visit came on our last night.




One of the ferocious guard dogs at the Ranch. This is Ocho, he enjoys barking all night while you try to sleep.​


Our last night there, the director of the orphanage and her husband came to us insisting that we stay in their pop up camper. We were trying to explain to them that we were very comfortable and warm in our car and that they didn't need to go to the trouble. They clearly weren't buying it, so we told them to look for themselves. Apparently they were under the impression that we were sleeping in our reclined bucket seats this whole time. They were amazed that our set up wasn't your typical SUV. The kids gathered round and we spent a couple of hours giving them a tour of the truck and, at their request, showed them pictures on our laptop of the different places we have traveled to. Brenton and I just stood back and watched their faces light up with curiosity and amusement.




Showing them the accomodations in our casita.



Here they are looking at our pictures from Overland Expo '11...you should've seen their faces while looking at some of the rigs. Suddenly ours had lost its lustre!


And those pesky tourist cards? On our last day at El Rancho Faro we got up early and drove to Tecate. After some reading, we figured this would be much easier. It's a much smaller and less crowded city and border crossing. Good choice. We found parking easily, just a block from the Migration Office and the entire process took no more than 15 minutes. We now have officially 180 days in Mexico, yay!




This little doll gave Shannon a bunch of free spanish lessons.




This little guy was a ton of amusement...once he finally warmed up to us.​


We said our goodbyes to El Ranch Faro and headed south once again. We made our way to the town of Vicente Guerrero. We pulled up to our camp for the night, Posada Don Diego Resaturant/Bar/Trailer Park. We picked our spot and went in the restaurant to pay. After a quick glance at the menu, we decided we couldn't resist the temptation to have some good seafood. Shortly after we sat down, another couple sat at the table next to us and we chatted with them throughout our meal. Bruce and Lisa are from Canada. They had driven to La Paz and were making their way back north. They have been doing this trip for eight years so they had plenty of excellent recommendations for us as we head south. We told them our ultimate plan to drive to Tierra del Fuego and Bruce thought for a minute, then simply said, "every young couple should do that trip." We agree.




A typical view from MEX 1, anywhere in Central Baja.​


The next morning we headed towards the town of Cataviña. On the the way we stopped in El Rosario to fill our gas tank and our two jerry cans. El Rosario is the last (reliable) place to fill up for almost 200 miles. Although we saw these entrepreneurs once we pulled into Cataviña. While we topped off our tank, it was hard not to grin...especially considering the extra dollar per liter these guys were charging.




Not long after passing through El Rosario, the landscape begins to change. There are all types of cacti: cirio (or boojum) trees, cardons, barrel cactus, chollas, and agaves. This area is known as the Sonoran Desert Vegetation Region and some of these species of cacti are only found here. As we got nearer to Cataviña we entered another impressive area known as the Catiñva boulder fields. This has been my favorite area so far. Huge boulders as far as the eye can see with these beautiful and unique cacti dispersed throughout. It was breathtaking. Just outside of Cataviña is El Marmol, an abandoned onyx mining area. We spent some time exploring among the chunks of onyx and hiking to an old mining entrance.




(Shannon was getting a little nervous driving here, but I was having a ball while pushing the limits.)




In case you've ever wondered what Onyx looks like in the raw.


Our next destination was Bahia de Los Angles (Bay of Angels). Up to this point in Baja, the weather had been mostly overcast, windy, and cold.


We were really hoping for some sunshine and warmth, and we weren't disappointed. As we approached the town, the skies opened and sun was shining. The Bay of Angles is beautiful. Our view to the west is a large rocky mountain range and our view to the east is the beautiful blue waters and the islands guarding the bay, the largest of which, Isla Angel de la Guarda, is 45 miles (75 km) long! The protection these islands offer gave me some reassurance our second day here when a local gringo told us that an earthquake had hit Acapulco and we didn't know yet if there would be a Tsunami as a result. What? A Tsunami? No one seemed overly alarmed but I watched the waters closely. I am happy to report, there was no Tsunami.


We don't know how long we'll be staying in Bahia de Los Angles, but this little oasis has kept our attention for several days now. We've been enjoying the company of our camp neighbors, talking with the locals, delicious seafood, perfect weather, and of course there's always the views. This is what it's all about.

 

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Discussion Starter #20
Shifting gears in Baja Sur



After 6 kilometers of slow paced driving across vast salt flats and hard-packed sand, corrugated roads, we finally reach Laguna Ojo de Liebre. We idle up to the kiosk and pay the security guard 65 pesos ($5 US dollars) for our entrance fee, as Shannon mutters something about "I guess things have changed here", noting that our Church's guide said the entrance fee was $3 dollars. I pull around and eyeball the sign that reads hot showers and grin at the idea. Reminding myself that "hot showers" can be loosely defined in Latin America. My last shower in Guerrero Negro was tepid at best, but at least it had some pressure to it. The showers in Bahia de Los Angeles were hot indeed, but a steady drip when the valve is fully open.




Laguna Ojo de Liebre is a well known sanctuary on the Pacific side of Baja Sur, where you can charter a panga, a tiny fishing vessel, to take you out and see some of the thousands of grey whales that call the Laguna home. We step inside to the beautiful new information center/restaurant and read about whale migration and interesting facts. The panga trip would cost $40 USD per person, although we could probably sneak Shannon in for the child's price at $34 dollars. We decided that we will have many more opportunities to see ballenas gris, or any other whales down the road. The further south we get the less gringo-prices we see, so we are optimistic that we will find a better deal.




The only Grey Whales we've seen so far.​


We get back into the car and follow the dirt road that leads to the camping spots, while admiring the beautiful view that parallel each site. The lagoon is a beautiful emerald green near the shallow shore, which turns into a darker greenish blue in the distance. There are several mountains in the distance, but we are essentially in a desert surrounded by sagebrush inland and green flora towards the sea. We pass one empty palapa after another and finally spot a large tent under the sixth one from the restaurant. It appears no one is home and maybe they've been camping there for at least a week. We keep driving past at least a dozen more sites, all more empty and inviting than the first. We settle on a site that lays on the point, at the entrance to a narrow channel. We figure this will be our best position to spot a grey whale from the beach, since the spots along the channel are much closer to the shore. We may possibly be the only campers in this secure campground, and we have our pick of the litter. Considering there's no burning regulations, I forage for something to put in our fire ring, but being a desert I find mostly dead sagebrush and kindling, then I score on a broken sign post. This will come in handy when the sun sets and temperatures drop later in the evening.




We sit inside with the tailgate down to avoid the afternoon winds, reading in peace and hearing the occasional gull. We look up often from our "front porch" view of the waters behind us, hoping to catch a glimpse of las ballenas gris as they catch a breath, but we find nothing. We enjoy our dinner and admire the sunset, then light our fire as we feel the approaching cold. Our massive bonfire lasts for about five minutes, only 3 of which burn intensely enough to provide any warmth. Oh well it was worthwhile, if only for a moment.





After the last sliver of daylight is gone we close the doors and the windows to our casita and read some more. We stayed up a little late last night, catching up with family online and polishing off the equivalent of a 40 of Pacifico. Each morning I wake up at sunrise and admire the view for a while, then go back to sleep for another hour or two, gradually allowing the sun to wake me up…no alarm clocks here. We spend our time devouring some more books, reading about the road south of here, and planning our next move.




We've earned this perfect weather, after weeks of enduring the cold winds of el norte and the chilly nights in the mountains of Baja. While the sun burns intensely, the soft sand is a perfect 60 degrees and I find myself exploring with no shoes on. While soaking in the sun, our thoughts wander in the breeze. Occasionally I find myself thinking what my friends at work are up to at this very moment. No doubt some poor sap is ending his painful 12 hour shift on the Rescue truck, cheering for freedom while the sad reality hits that the rest of his day cannot be salvaged. Oh well, the overtime is nice…how else would we have funded this break? Meanwhile the rest of the guys on duty are probably already doing a massive pile of dishes, then cleaning the kitchen so they can quickly get to bed or spend a few hours glued to the recliners. I look over at our pile of dishes from dinner. One pot, one pan, two plates…so much more manageable then the pile that used to haunt me at home.




My worries have shifted from paying the utilities, to reserving a cabin on the ferry from La Paz. I ponder if I should've bartered with that soldadura who welded my license plate to our rear swingout, or if I should just appreciate the free crash course in Spanish engineering terms. I look under the dirty side of our little home, inspecting it for anything that needs to be fixed or addressed. Relajese, I tell myself. Relax, everything is going just fine for now.




Occasionally I look to the road we came in on, expecting to see some Mad Max-esque road bandits barreling our way with guns and medieval weapons, ready to lighten our load of all worldly possessions. Relajese…the boogey-man that everyone warned you about is a figment of every possible fear, personified into a scary mexican that forces them to lock their doors tight and peek over their fences.


It's a shame to witness the negative effect that the media has had on the tourism industry here. For the 24 hours that we're camped in this far-flung place, not a soul comes down the road and we enjoy the splendor of another uncrowded beach. So while you're wondering if it's safe to drink the water, we're chugging down every last drop while we can. Staking a claim on each little piece of paradise we find.
 
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