294- Travelling thru Narco County |OVERLAND JOURNAL


© Pablo Rey, Overland Journal Magazine, Gear Guide Issue 2015



International nomad Pablo Rey assesses Mexico’s world of cartels, farmers, fishermen, and cerveza fría.

The Mexican immigration agent was as clear as the customs agent who was as clear as the taco seller. The three of them shared the same words, the same advice, with the same stern face, “Don’t drive at night.” We were leaving the U.S. thru the Calexico/Mexicali border and instead of feeling unsafe for entering a country where the narcotics business is responsible for about 10,000 deaths per year, I was entertaining myself with the names of the bordering towns. Calexico was derived from names California and Mexico, and Mexicali from Mexico and California.

Should I have been worried? “Don’t drive at night” was an unfinished sentence. It lacked the portion that a friend from San Luis Rio Colorado shared with us while we were enjoying corn tortillas with pulled pork and cold Tecate in her backyard. She said, “There are civilian controls at night. Armed men stopping the traffic on the road to ask for documents and check the vehicles.” “Narcos?” I asked without realizing that this word should not even be whispered in Northern Mexico.

We had spent 21 months overlanding through Anglo North America and had just crossed into Mexico. Crossing the border meant going back into Latin America, a different world, one that was less than perfect and with more opportunity for spontaneity. I was eager to exchange the smell of burgers and fried chicken for the slightly salty aroma of innards wrapped in tortillas. I wanted to speak in my native language, listen to Latin American music, camp on a beach, and walk through fruit and vegetable markets that would never be clean enough for the health authorities north of the Rio Grande. I wanted to go back to a place where life was less predictable.

Our goal was to explore the Sonoran Desert, to see for ourselves if it was as beautiful as the deserts we’d come to love in Baja California. We knew that there would be military checkpoints on the road and policemen who would want to know what we were doing and where we were going. Maybe they would inspect our vehicle, searching for contraband we might have hidden in grandma’s pot or between the crates of books that we sell to help pay for our travels. The risk at these checkpoints, whether they were civilian or military, would be when our antagonists fringed on the extremes of boredom or tension. We would need to be calm and give them short, direct, and cordial answers. There is nothing more dangerous than finding yourself in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of armed people who are bored or stressed.

By the end of the second day we had travelled nearly 600 kilometers, and surprisingly, the police, army, and bad guys had been as absent as they had been in the U.S. Where was the “Mexican drug war” the American media had been parading on the nightly news, the one that had infected our excitement about traveling south?


If the earth were dissected into various parts -arms, legs, head, and feet- many would say that we were in the heart of a territory ruled by one of the best-organized narcotic cartels in the world.


With two hours of daylight left we decided to change plans and take a detour to Puerto Libertad in search of a palapa, a palm-leaf roofed hut, to camp in: The temptation to sleep on the beach had won us over. We needed only to ask the attendant at the Pemex station about the best route. “It is a dirt road,” he said, “You’d better take the tar road to El Desemboque and then the coastal road. People in towns on the way to Puerto Libertad have their crops and don’t like stranger. It is getting dark soon, you better go to El Desemboque.” We had a feeling he wasn’t talking about the usual crops of corn or tomatoes, but I didn’t ask any more questions. We turned down the long road to El Desemboque and I pressed down on the gas pedal.

If the earth were dissected into its various parts -arms, legs, head, and feet- many would say that we were in the heart of a territory ruled by one of the best-organized narcotic cartels in the world. At first glance, this region controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel was living a normal life, the same as any other part of the country. Nothing revealed that we were in a dangerous place ruled by a parallel power. We hadn’t crossed a border or passed through immigration or customs checkpoints, but somewhere ahead there was an armed civilian corps with its own justice system.

We didn’t know what would happen if beyond the next curve the road was blocked by men with guns. Could it be a bad situation? We couldn’t say, “Sorry sir, we didn’t know,” as we had been advised not to travel there. As the sun touched the horizon I stepped on the accelerator, abandoning our 90-kph routine. I wanted to cover the 105 kilometers of narrow tar road to El Desemboque before darkness could hide the area’s details. We didn’t want to be en route in Mexico at night…or so we’d been warned.

Sonora State Highway 37 is long and winding, like a noodle dropped on the ground. Only when the road dipped into a dry riverbed did I slow to the speed recommended by the various bullet-holed traffic signs. On the left, red rock mountains rose over a bushy desert, a visual barrier to the cultivated valleys of corn, hemp, prickly pear, poppy, and fruit trees. The landscape was rough and dry, and it seemed to be some time since the drug lords had invested in these rural and hidden lands.

The people working the plantations in this area are the poorest farmers, the ones forgotten by economists and politicians. But maybe they had realized that a crop of cannabis or poppy would provide the same profit as several years of growing corn. The chemicals needed to grown such crops weren’t a big problem. They could arrive hidden in the beds of 8-cylinder pick-up trucks, amazing beasts that were much more efficient than their horses or mules. The finished product, white bricks or green pressed bundles, could then be sent north in small aircraft that flew just high enough to avoid phone and power lines.

El Desemboque was too small to be in the guidebook that Anna was reading. I hadn’t seen a picture of this coastal town. No one had said if it was beautiful, ugly, dirty, or quiet. We only had the advice we were given earlier. We still didn’t know where we were going to spend the night and our destiny was uncertain.

The purest form of travel in my opinion is to move forward without knowing what you will find along the way. Throw the dice, let the chaos find order, and land on your feet like an old cat that has lost count of how many times its life has been saved, but here we could not sleep on the side of the road or turn off on a dirt track to camp in a place with no name—or between hills with names that are better to forget. I keep whispering one of my favorite mantras, we will find a place, hoping to invoke the magic of coincidences.

Two white lights appeared in the rear view mirror. They were intense and catching up with us quickly. My mine recited the Pemex attendant’s words. I pressed the accelerator further towards the floor, moving the speedometer needle to the supersonic speed of 135 kph, to the point that the steering wheel started to shake – the physical limit before the body of our 1991 Delica van would start to fall apart and leave pieces here and there. The lights continued to get closer. Was it someone with a bigger engine and more fear than we had? Maybe they were just in a hurry. They overtook us, leaving a silver trail on the road. In the distance, the silhouette of a roof appeared against the red sky and a green road sign announced we had reached El Desemboque. Night had fallen and the tar road turned into a dirt street.

Around the World in 10 Years - www.viajeros4x4x4.com

In the darkness El Desemboque looked like a town inhabited by ghosts, its unpaved streets illuminated only by the light of a few houses. Shadows turned away and ducked into doorways when they heard the noise of our engine. A few men drank beer in front of a shop under a big Tecate sign, their faces showing curiosity and surprise.

In front of most of houses were boats painted in white and with sterns empty; I supposed it was safer for the engines to sleep at home. The street turned left, then right, and continued to a row of old structures at the edge of sea. After a confusing detour we saw a light in a backyard that opened to the sea. A yellow bulb hung over two men who were seated in front of a small building, eating from a pot with their bare hands. I left the engine running, got out, walked towards them, and said hello.

Their first words were the offering of food, freshly cooked crabs from the pot. Strangely, one of them asked if I was from Texas. I told them we were driving to South America and we were looking for a place to sleep. They offered me a beer, and by my second sip told me to park our van beside the table and that it was okay to sleep there.

During the last four days we had driven nearly 800 kilometers through the heart of Narco County. What happened to the “dangerous Mexico” we had been warned about? Where were the bad guys and the corpses that were said to be hanging from bridges? Where was the war that caused so much suffering and death?

After a year travelling through most of Mexico we’ve learned that, like most other places in the world, we only had to be cautions of common thieves. The drug war is certainly present, but Narcos typically don’t mess with foreigners. They have other business, business that is much more important and profitable than hassling tourists.

That night we ate crab and drank beer with Pedro and José, our new friends. The following day I learned how to filet flat fish by imitating the precise movements of their knives. I helped them retrieve fishing nets they had left overnight in the Sea of Cortez, which were full of sea snails and more flat fish. We shared stories and we laughed. We could have encountered Pedro and José in Mexico City, Michoacán, Cancun, Monterrey, or Sinaloa, on the Pacific or the Atlantic coast, or on a forgotten beach in Narco County. Mexico is big, its people kind and friendly, and we were welcomed with open arms and lots of beer.


Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures of the journey HERE.

290- How to avoid being eaten by a bear | EXPEDITION PORTAL


©Pablo Rey. Published at Expedition Portal website on August 28th, 2015.



Traveling the world for more than 15 years, Pablo and Anna of Viajeros4x4x4 share their advice on how not to get eaten by a bear.

The usual way to scare off bears on North American hiking trails is by wearing a bell. Seriously, it sounds as if it may as well be a dinner bell. Tilin-tilin! Here I am! Tilin-tilin! I’m fat and juicy! It’s absurd. Personally, I prefer to walk in the woods singing Austrian mountain songs. It’s creepier and less embarrassing.

“Do you know the best way to avoid being eaten by a bear?” Anna, my travel partner, asks right after scaring away my first bear by menacingly wielding a spoon and a metal mug, the one we use to drink coffee every the morning. The real Anna, the one with a sharp and slightly evil spirit, was resurfacing.

“To avoid being eaten by a bear you have to walk in a group… and run faster than the slowest person!”

Then, she looked past my shoulder and ran away.

There wasn’t a bear about to scratch my back behind me, but her reaction was sufficiently unexpected to make me feel nervous for a while. Let’s be honest here: Anna runs faster than I do. In the last 15 years on the road we’ve seen lots of wild animals. Llamas, bucks, truck drivers, snakes, bus drivers and some crocodiles in South America. Monkeys, sloths and taxi drivers in Central America. But carnivores able to use your fingers as toothpicks? Only in Africa and at the zoo.

That’s why, while devouring hundreds of kilometers along the green tunnel, the road to the Arctic in Western Canada, we started gathering some brochures on what to do in the event we encountered a bear during a hike. All of them recommend making noise while hiking. They all tell you to leave your food locked in your vehicle, or hanging from a rope on a tree branch at least 3 meters up and at some distance from the tree trunk. Then, they give you some practical advice which appears to be written by an undercover bear.

If you encounter a bear that comes towards you growling and salivating, keep calm. It might be stressed by your presence. Hold on.’

He-he. In a situation like this, the one who’ll be stressed is me. I’m not at the office, I’m in nature!

‘You have to stand up on a big rock or on a fallen tree and slowly move your arms up and down and to the sides while you speak in a soft and friendly tone of voice.’

Ey yo… everything’s ok. Duuuude. Peace and love. I’ll go my way, and you’ll go your way. Let’s pretend we haven’t seen each other… Understand? Do you speak English?

‘If the bear runs towards you, it is most likely a defensive charge to frighten you, and it will probably stop a few centimeters from your face. You have to hold your position. If you run away, it means you are scared. And if you are scared, you are prey.’

That’s it, just to make it clear who is the boss. Like in Africa, if you see a lion while walking in the jungle, you have to remain calm, stand still, and wait for it to leave. It works at noon, their lazy time. If you find one at dawn or at dusk, your only chance is to become invisible. You can try to influence it by saying ‘I’m a bush, I’m a bush and you don’t see me because I’m a plant, and you lions are not vegetarians…’

‘If the bear only wants to make it clear who’s the boss, you will be able to move slowly away. Never turn your back to it.’

Remember, you have a bear growling at a short distance, less than a meter away from you. You know it hasn’t brushed its teeth since its’ last meal. That must have been a long time ago. If you haven’t shit your pants yet, you’re my hero.

‘On the other hand, if the bear is looking at you and keeps its ears up, be ready to defend yourself.’

Yes, you keep an eye to its ears. If they are pointing to heaven, remember bears need protein, too. They hunt for cattle, goats, deer, elks and… what was your name, again?

‘In this case, you have to fight for your life. Your backpack will protect your back. You have to point the bear spray at the ground because bears run and charge on four legs. Pay attention to the wind direction.’

The bear spray! The wind! What pocket is my bear spray in?! The wind!

‘If you are not carrying bear spray and a black bear attacks you, hit its eyes. If a grizzly attacks you, play dead, let it shake you for a while until it gets bored and goes away.’

Yes. Yes. Play dead. Sure. Think of it as a giant soft Teddy Bear. In any case, you are likely going to die on the next 5 minutes of natural causes; a heart attack, for example.

Usually, when a bear hears you’re around (or sees your coffee mug), it will hide in the forest. We, human beings are the most dangerous animals in nature. If you are in its way, you have to allow room to let it pass. But if it’s hungry or feels you‘re a menace to it or its cubs, be prepared. Go back to page 1.

Go hiking in bear territory with someone that runs slower than you do.


Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.

Around the World in 10 Years | OUTDOORX4 MAGAZINE


Published by OutdoorX4 Magazine, Issue Nº 10, July-August 2015. Written by Frank Ledwell



For those of you who sit behind a desk every day, you can probably relate to the guy who has been working a corporate job and repeating the same routine, day in and day out. For Pablo Rey, the monotony of a successful career in advertising finally caught up with him and in a nearly impromptu decision, he left the comfort of his job and coerced his wife, Anna, to leave the material world, pack up their van, and travel the world.

Around the World in 10 Years is the story of liberation, survival, humility, and passion for the human experience. Pablo Rey expressess himself wonderfully in sharing his and Anna’s travels through areas most people would dare to go, meeting people along the way who, despite limited means, share what they have with two foreigners who often times stuck out like a sore thumb. Pablo’s sense of humor keeps the story lively and the experiences he and Anna shared while overland the world are the stuff that makes adventure travel such a worthwhile venture.


“Life is everything that happens while you’re making other plans.” John Lennon.


If you have an adventurous spirit or merely need inspiration from the daily grind, Around the World in 10 Years is definitely for you.

Pick up a copy and follow Pablo and Anna’s journeys by visiting www.viajeros4x4x4.com.


Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.

287- Pablo Rey’s Favorite Travel Gear | OVERLAND JOURNAL MAGAZINE


Introduction written by Chris Collard. Published at Overland Journal Magazine, Gear Issue 2015. 

Four of the world’s most experienced overlanders share their top picks for don’t-leave-home-without-it gear.

Pablo Rey and his wife Anna live in a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Delica L300, and I was anticipating they’d have a completely different set of favorites than Simon and Lisa from 2Ride the World, who “live” on a pair of BMW R1200GS bikes. Their responses, however, were somewhat of a revelation. That is, whether we live at home and travel when we can, or live on the road and shower when we can, there is a common thread. We covet gear that helps us eat, sleep, and communicate better – equipment that keeps us warm, protects our bodies, and gets us where we want to go. We also gain an emotional attachment to, and personify inanimate subjects of our affection. For example, to garner a name like La Cucaracha, Pablo Rey’s Delica L300 most assuredly played dead more than once. Or maybe it received this moniker because it has evolved over time and simply won’t die.

The rules were simple. Our chosen pros were limited to submitting the six items that rose to the top. I hope you enjoy the results.

© Pablo Rey

The Right Travel Partner

When you find the ideal partner to travel to the ends of the earth with, you have found the most difficult piece of gear of all to attain. While travelling alone can be enjoyable, it is always better when you can share the emotions and surprises of the road at the exact moment they occur. For me, that partner is Anna, a woman who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty with motor oil, one that defends you in the midst of a fight, and knows how to repair a flat tire. Unfortunately, you won’t truly know if your partner has these qualities until you get on the road and things get difficult. If they do, you’ll know you’ve found the right travel companion. They will not only be your girl (or guy), but also your partner and pal.

La Cucaracha

On a long overland trip, your vehicle will adopt the personality of an extra team member. You talk to it, listen to it, pat it on the backdoor, and look after it when it gets sick. You’ll even find a slightly derisive nickname for it. After 14 years of  living adventures together over some of the worst roads on the planet, and sharing some of the most dreadful fuels, our 1991 Mitsubishi L300/Delica 4WD, which we call La Cucaracha, deserves our unconditional loyalty. Although I dream of never giving it up, I imagine that one day La Cucaracha will want to retire to the centre of a Spanish travel bar, like an old grandpa ready to share his overlanding stories to those who dream of starting their own trip of a lifetime.

Samsung Galaxy Tablet

Tablets are the Swiss knife of the modern traveler. With one 7-inch gadget as thin as half a paperback, you can access the Internet, listen to music, and travel with your own private library. You can watch movies, take pictures, find your GPS coordinates on an offline map, plan your next route, take notes and write stories, scan documents, find the cheapest fuel station near your location, play Pac-Man or Minecraft, watch TED presentations, download tutorials about how to play the harp, to identify trees and stars, and learn to tie knots like Popeye. It is impressive. We prefer the Samsung Galaxy tablets because we can add as much memory as needed with a micro SD card.

Espar Hydronic D5 SC

Cockroaches don’t like cold weather or altitude. To help ours overcome its rheumatism, last year we installed an Espar Hydronic D5 SC. This engine pre-heater is a truck driver’s favorite, perfect to warm the cabin in freezing temperatures and to avoid premature wear on the engine after many cold-weather starts. We also use it to have a hot shower every now and then. Although it was costly, it paid itself at the end of 2013 when the Arctic vortex hit us in Louisiana, leaving a thick coat of ice around the van. After 10 minutes running the Espar pre-heater the engine started as if we were on a warm beach in the Yucatan.

Pentaflon Ceramica

During the first 6 years of our trip around the world we had several severe breakdowns in remote places: in the Sudanese Sahara, 800 kilometers from a reliable mechanic (northern Kenya); at an elevation of 4,600 meters in the Bolivian Altiplano; and on a lost salt pan of the Chilean Andes. At the beginning of 2006 we installed a secondhand engine and started adding a dose of Pentaflon Ceramica every 20,000 km. I don’t know if it is magic or good luck, but this ceramic-Teflon miracle additive, which is manufactured in Spain, has protected our engine and helped to keep it healthy for the last 200,000 kilometers and three continents worth of bad roads. Additionally, since that time we haven’t had any serious oil leaks. For a long-haul overlander, that is a wonderful thing.

Swiss Army Water Bag

Switzerland might have one of the best-equipped armies in the world. The country is always politically neutral and their troops never go to war. Instead they invest their money testing and developing products than can be adapted to a traveler’s daily life. Their 20-litre rubber water bags are durable, can last for several years, don’t require installation, and have a hand hose attachment that can be used as a shower. Another bonus is that when they are empty they can be easily stored without taking up valuable room in your vehicle. We used our first one as an extra water reservoir while crossing Africa, and found our second bag in California. Not bad for 14 years on the road.


Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.

291- N.W. Overland Rally 2015

Pablo Rey, Around the World in 10 Years, La Cucaracha van

Entre el 26 y el 28 de junio de 2015 participamos en el NW Overland Rally del estado de Washington. Fue emocionante recibir el mensaje de Ray Hyland, responsable del evento, contándonos que habían decidido que la fiesta del sábado por la noche, la principal, sería dedicada a celebrar nuestros primeros 15 años de ruta.

Esa tarde-noche no solo La Cucaracha ocuparía el espacio central del evento, sino que debíamos dar un pequeño discurso en inglés.

El amigo Bryan Dudas, fanático de los Subaru, juntó todas las fotografías y las imágenes que realizó con un dron y montó este video. Que lo disfruten.


Algo tiene que estar equivocado en un sistema que nos hace trabajar cuando somos jóvenes y nos permite viajar cuando somos viejos. Por eso decidimos intentar hacer las cosas de otra manera.

Después de 15 años viviendo en la ruta alrededor del mundo ya no sabemos cómo volver a esa vida.

Ahora pertenecemos a la ruta y es genial estar afuera. Es increíble. Percibes la vida de una forma completamente distinta.


Dijimos, intentemos hacer las cosas de otra manera. Salgamos de aquí. Vayámonos de viaje por cuatro años. ¿Y saben lo que pasó? Nos perdimos. Queríamos vivir afuera, queríamos vivir aventuras, queríamos conocer el mundo, viajar. Queríamos ir a África, conocer América, ir a Asia… Pero un poco difícil si vives dentro de una oficina. Sabes, quizás tienes 15 días de vacaciones al año o, si tienes suerte, quizás tengas 30 días de vacaciones. Tío, hay algo que está mal en ese sistema…


Después de las palabras de Pablo solo quiero añadir que no podríamos haber conseguido llegar hasta aquí sin la ayuda de la gente. Porque es muy bonito viajar alrededor del mundo y ver diferentes paisajes, pero lo que hace a un país distinto de los otros es la gente. Lo que hace a una montaña o a un lago distinto de los demás es la gente que encuentras allí. En el camino tuvimos el apoyo de toda clase de personas, de gente rica y gente pobre. La gente rica te apoya con lo que le sobra, la gente pobre comparte lo que tiene; estamos muy agradecidos con ustedes, con toda la gente que nos apoyó en estos años, porque si su empujón jamás lo hubiéramos conseguido. Gracias…


Consigue los libros de Pablo Rey sobre La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años en cualquier librería de España, en Amazon.com y en Kindle, o descarga las primeras historias en PDF.