The bikes and surfboards have been sold, and there’s less than one week left of our life in Costa Rica. Our northbound Central American trip is taking shape and has a destination: we’re headed to Travis’ home province of Nova Scotia, Canada! We’ll be on the road for about 3 months and covering over 6,000 miles (close to 10,000 kilometers). We’re hitting up some sights we saved especially for the return voyage: the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, the mountainous National Parks in Honduras, and all the wonders of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It will also be our first time visiting such U.S. hot spots as Austin, New Orleans, and Nashville. We’re excited! Here’s the route for the next few months:
Packing to live out of our 4Runner was a daunting task back in March 2015, when we were first preparing to drive from California to Costa Rica. We religiously followed Life Remotely’s packing lists, which outlines several long-distance overlanding trips including Central & South America, as well as Africa. This time around it’s a less stressful endeavor; we have more time to document our gear and a little more perspective on what needs to come with us.
When leaving our old home in Oakland, CA, we opted not to rent a storage locker to house extra stuff and sold pretty much everything we owned. The only thing we did not bring with us is a 40-gal plastic container stored in Amanda’s sister’s basement that holds an external hard drive, old photo albums, yearbooks, and other nostalgic memorabilia. Other than that, essentially all of our possessions are with us in Bruno. Oh, and did I mention that we sleep in Bruno, too? Two bodies with all our worldly items. Sounds easy, right?
The Sleeping Platform
For the two of us to sleep in Bruno with our 12V refrigerator and all our stuff, we removed the two backseats. We really hit the jackpot and found a sleeping platform that some guy custom-made for his 4Runner and was selling on Craigslist in San Francisco for $75. We were originally planning on building one ourselves, but considering how busy we were with so many other Bruno-projects going on at the time, we were elated to have one less task to do (to say nothing of our light-to-no carpentry skills). Plus, if we’re being honest here, we probably couldn’t have built anything as sturdy. We did make a few modifications and it all fits snug as a bug into Bruno.
The top is nicely padded and carpeted, and most importantly, it happens to fit perfectly over our 12V Engel refrigerator. The two top pieces clip together in the middle for sleeping and the front piece slides back during the day, allowing fridge access while driving.
For a ‘mattress’ of sorts, we cut the pillow-top off one of our old beds. Not classy, but functional and terribly comfortable. We have good sleeps! We have our regular pillows and two sleeping bags, but it’s been too hot for the latter. A regular bed sheet has been perfect.
Most of the camping gear is stored on the roof rack, because in-car space is a premium. Our most coveted item is our Coleman Dual Fuel Powerhouse stove, in which we burn gasoline to cook our food. Hard to run out of this abundant fuel (even the smallest towns have primitive gas stations), but arguably it leaves our pots and pans blacker. We use a metal folding table for cooking and eating. Cheap folding chairs and the not-so-cheap ARB awning+mosquito net round out our camping gear. Other miscellaneous items include a 1-gal gasoline jug, several water jugs that have been accumulated over time, bungee cords, and netting to keep it all from flying off the roof rack when Bruno zooms around. Everything on the roof is secured with a thick bicycle cable and u-lock. Being the tallest, Travis is by default, master of the roof rack and regularly complains about the Rubik’s cube set up we’ve got on the roof. It’s annoying to deal with, but arguably much less annoying than going to work everyday!
Inside, there are four bins that fit snugly under the platform and help keep our lives organized. I would lose my mind otherwise. The Food & Spices bin is exactly what it sounds like. Groceries of dried goods and anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. In addition to the basics (salt, pepper, oil, vinegar), our ‘spice rack’ keeps things interesting, and we save a lot of money cooking for ourselves on the road: curry powder, Italian seasoning, Montreal steak spice, and chili powder in bulk. Smaller quantities of cayenne, garlic powder, and cinnamon (for tasty pancakes!).
The Pots & Pans bin has all of our cooking supplies: one large 12″ non-stick frying pan with high sides, one stainless steel soup pot and a smaller sauce pan. One small plastic cutting board, folding camp plates, cups, and a slew of utensils. This bin also has the stove-top coffee maker, plastic containers for our leftovers (we love lunchtime leftovers!) and everything needed to wash dishes (soap, sponges, towels).
Somehow, Toiletries and First Aid take up an entire other bin (what?!). Our extensive homemade first aid kit has everything from the usual painkillers to allergy and flu meds, gauze and band-aids, scissors and tweezers, charcoal tablets, antibiotics, anti-diarrhea, anti-inflammatory, anti-everything else? There’s also a bunch of emergency stuff that was already in a car safety kit that we had, like flares, a whistle and a heat blanket. We have not had to use the heat blanket. We have often wished for the opposite of a heat blanket.
The rest is mainly large refill containers for our personal travel-sized bottles. Things like shampoo, face wash, bug spray, sunscreen… anything liquid that needs to stay upright and not leak. I think Bruno’s spare motor oil lives beside my body wash. We also have Travis’ electric hair clipper for when he starts to resemble a stray dog.
The fourth and final bin is smaller than the others, but is used all the time. In fact, it resides behind the passenger seat for easy access. This is our Travel Books & Electronics bin. A SteriPEN to treat water with UV light in a pinch, our camera, two cell phones, Jimmy The GPS, a wireless speaker, battery chargers of all types and a slew of power cables to connect our devices. The laptop and spare water bottles usually get tossed in here. We have a plastic file case that holds any paperwork we need to carry around with us. We’ve scanned all important documents, but sometimes originals are needed at border crossings (car title, car insurance, photocopies of passports, US green card stuff, marriage license, birth certificates… basically our paper-lives in a box).
Tools & Spares
We were thankful not to have to use many tools or spares on the way down, but we aren’t downsizing in this area for the trip back up. In addition to our basic tools with a complete socket set, we found the battery charger (bought in Mexico when we were having problems) and voltmeter came in very handy on our trip down. Haven’t had to use the tow-rope, folding metal shovel, or the tire seal. The orange triangles and fire extinguisher are required by law in Nicaragua. Nobody’s asked to see them yet, but there’s still time!
Our few spares consist of a serpentine belt (powers fan, alternator, power steering and air conditioner) and a timing belt (runs water pump and turns the cams that control the valves). We’ve seen our share of Toyota shops in various countries and can deal with any other major parts we will (hopefully never) need. We also have small items: a spare headlight, several fuses and electrical connectors. The auxiliary power supply we MacGyvered in our driveway in Oakland has held up so far, but we’re prepared for catastrophe at any moment.
Tools and spares are hidden haphazardly in pockets all over the car. We may try to improve upon this in the next few weeks, but the items are odd shapes and there’s a lot of odd shaped free space around the car, so it works. It’s just a pain in the ass when you actually need something, which is hopefully not too often.
Another item is a secret metal cash box that was bought at Target for $15. It was drilled into and screwed down behind the center console. It’s covered with the same carpet as the car floor, so somewhat camouflaged. In this sneaky locale we keep currency for various countries, expired drivers licenses to hand to shady-looking cops, and our passports (current and expired ones, just in case).
It’s important for us to be able to charge our most important items (phones & laptop) directly from the car. We wired two 12V car adapters directly into our Auxiliary Battery and have a 12V power cable for the laptop. Both car adapters have USB connections, which we use to charge the phones while driving. Our phones have offline maps on them (OSM maps), as well as music files and a Spanish translation package, so they are pretty important to us on the road. While camping, these power sources are used to run our Endless Breeze fan (“life support”) and LED lights (“mood lighting”).
Travis sewed up some nice curtains that we hang in the front, back, and along the side windows at night. For $10 in Mexico, we decided to tint the rear windows. For fresh air, we leave a few windows cracked open and let our friend the Endless Breeze fan circulate while we sleep. We have no-see-um/mosquito netting cut to fit over those open windows, and we secure the netting outside the vehicle with small magnets. Some may say the whole apparatus looks ‘ghetto’ when it’s all set up, but it’s functional. We’re usually so cozy with our LED lights watching downloaded episodes of Downton Abbey that we don’t notice.
Finally, we each have a large backpack of personal items and clothing. When we’re driving, these are carelessly tossed on top of the mattress and pillows in the back of the car. When the platform is down for sleepy-time, the backpacks are stored in the front seats.
All in all, our packing and camp routine was thrown together with various ideas from other overland blogs. We camped about 50% of the time on the way down south and plan to do more on the way back north. We think we’ve worked out the kinks, but I’m sure it’ll still take us a little while to get back into the nomad routine. Bruno’s excited to do what Bruno does best: crunch through the rough dirt roads in the back-country and zip us along the smooth, paved highways connecting the Americas. More to come from the road!