297- La Cucaracha, a house on wheels | OVERLAND JOURNAL

Published first at Overland Journal, Fall Issue 2015. Written by Chris Collard. Photography by Pablo Rey and Chris Collard.

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LA CUCARACHA: 15 YEARS, 50 COUNTRIES, 330,000 KILOMETERS, AND A DRIVE-THRU WEDDING. 

 

Why We Love la Cucaracha (©PabloRey)

La Cucaracha has its own personality and idiosyncrasies. We have loved and hated it, often in the same day. There was a time when we wanted to throw it off a cliff and cash in on an imaginary insurance claim. We’ve had a few major breakdowns: in the Sudanese Sahara, Kenya’s Sibiloi National Park, on the Bolivian Altiplano, and again in the Chilean Andes. When the springs broke in Mozambique, we travelled almost 1000 kilometers with them attached with wire until we found a used replacement set as a permanent repair. After the motor died in Iquique, Chile, we installed a second-hand motor – a great junkyard find. That was nine years and 200,000 kilometers ago. Once we learned how to drive and care for it, la Cucaracha became a third member of the family and problems stopped.

It had previously been known as the Cow (it is very heavy), the Dragon (it smokes a lot), and the Mitsushiti (it broke down a lot). We found the perfect name, la Cucaracha (the cockroach), while travelling in Colombia. Like a cockroach, it is small, can stealthily sneak into any space, and survives anything – even us.

We appreciate that it has a short wheelbase, fits perfectly in a shipping container, the bed is always made, and we can watch the moon through the sunroof at night. We have slept in la Cucaracha for more nights than in any of the conventional brick houses we have lived in. We have shipped it twice: the first was from Cape Town to Buenos Aires (for a reduced price), and again from the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia, to Colón, Panama (for free), where it was tied to the deck of an empty Bolivian cargo ship named Intrepide. It has been our only four-wheel drive, and has taken us to the ends of the world.

LA CUCARACHA ©ChrisCollard

Though many of us dream about building the perfect rig for that “big trip” around the world, few actually act upon that dream and see it to fruition. This was not the case for Pablo Rey, a creative advertising consultant who was suffering from an acute case of career burnout. In 1999, during an off-the-cuff trip to Southern Africa, he had an epiphany: to see the African continent in greater detail and never to buy a return ticket again. Though he did find himself back home in Barcelona, Spain, it didn’t take him long to quit his job, buy a vehicle, and talk his sweetheart Anna into trading professional life for that of a vagabond. The latter was a bit of a challenge. Pablo recalled, “I remember the look on Anna’s face like she was in front of me today. It said, ‘Drive around the world! How? With what money? Toward where? What did you hit your head against?’ He reasoned with her, “Almost every country in the world is connected to another by a road, thus nearly every road in the world starts at the door of your house.”

Their original 1-year plan to experience Africa on an intimate level while taking as many turns as possible morphed into two and a half years, and then expanded to include South America. Two more years passed, then another three, and they were still embracing their nomadic existence. They eventually realized that life on the road wasn’t simply an extended vacation or escape from reality – it was reality.

La Cucaracha, a 1991 Mitsubishi L300 Delica four-wheel drive van, wasn’t gleaming gem when Pablo plunked down $10,000 and the wayward duo drove it into the new millennium. The soon-to-be world-travelling insect was second-hand, bone stock, and lacked nearly all of the items many of us deem as necessities. Rather than spending months prepping the vehicle, they decided to keep up with the speed of life, get on the road, and make modifications as the trip progressed and needs arose. The bull bar was fabricated in Chile ($100), the fancy snorkel was crafted from 3-inch steel pipe in a shop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe ($40), and an aluminum storage box was added in Buenos Aires, Argentina (free). The yellow tow bar (which after nine years has only recently put to use), was received as a gift from a friend in the Atacama Desert.

They eventually realized that life on the road wasn’t simply an extended vacation or escape from reality – it was reality.

La Cucaracha’s drivetrain remains in factory form; a good thing since Pablo readily admits that he is not a mechanic. In contrast to the normal male/female roles, Anna, who completed a course on automotive maintenance, manages most of the mechanical issues. Pablo, the creative one, focuses his energy on photographing the journey and penning books on their adventures.

A peek inside reveals the epitome of function and efficiency. If you think about it, travelling year-in and year-out requires one to carry clothing and equipment for all seasons. Every item has a specific space and there is a place for every item. They don’t travel with an ice chest or electric fridge/freezer, as this would occupy too much real estate. As a result they eat a lot of fresh food. The galley consists of a homemade single-burner stove, 6-liter propane bottle, and a small plastic storage bin for pots and pans. Sundries and clothing are stored under the foot of the bed in used aluminum boxes from Panama Jack. Moving rearward there is a home-fabricated wood storage compartment that contains everything from shoes and spare parts, to tools and bundles of books. Out back are two slide-in plastic crates with maps, more tools, and automotive fluids. Throw a 3-inch foam pad on top and you have a bed for two. The shovel, camp chairs, sunshade, window cleaner, and a host of other knickknacks reside in a cubby. On the starboard side is a hands-in (opposed to walk-in) closet stuffed with bins, bags, toilet tissue and blankets. To port is a world map with a thin spaghetti-line representing the trio’s 15 years of wandering the globe.

More conventional upgrades include General Grabber AT2 all-terrain tires and Baja Design LED lights. After meeting Sergio Murillo, owner of BajaRack, at Overland Expo, la Cucaracha found its way to Ensenada, Mexico, where Sergio and his team fitted it with a custom roof rack designed to provide a full view of the heavens through the sunroof. Peeling away the canvas tarp (a used roof top tent cover) reveals fold-up bicycles, backpacks, sleeping pads and bags, and emergency fuel.

Due to sticky hands in many parts of the world, five of the vehicle’s windows are plated with aluminum, and basic latches and padlocks secure the doors. None are elegant, but all fulfill the requirement. Because it is illegal to possess a firearm in many countries, added security is in the form of Pablo’s favorite ninja golf club and Anna’s “quick draw” bear-grade pepper spray – both of which have been utilized with full effect.

Pablo and Anna maintain that you will only regret the things you didn’t do – never the things you tried and failed to do.

One might wonder how la Cucaracha finances its travels – a good question for those who possess “the dream.” The first rule of engagement is to align oneself with humans that don’t require filet mignon every night. The second is to influence them to work. Though most of the couple’s time is spent moving slowly while taking as many turns as possible, Pablo has written several books and is a regular contributor to publications around the world. Anna picks up contract work with a concert promoter in Spain, and weaves colorful bracelets and necklaces. If you run into them on the road, they may be sitting on a street corner in front of la Cucaracha peddling their wares.

This June marked their 15th year on the road, living together at arm’s length in a 5-square meter van. They are true nomads, and recently confirmed their love for the road (and each other) by taking a right turn into a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas and tying the knot. La Cucaracha (who performed the duties of best man, father of the groom, bridesmaid, witness, and only guest) has carried the pair 330,000 kilometers through more than 50 countries. Its body carries battle scars from flying stones in Kenya and Ethiopia (unfriendly locals), rogue tree trunks in South America, and boulders in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Disguising these blemishes are tattoos of cave paintings in Zimbabwe, Moche snakes of Peru, sleeping banditos, and cactus from Mexico. Though life on the road – in close proximity to your two best (and worst) friends – may not always be a bowl of cherries, Pablo and Anna maintain that you will only regret the things you didn’t do – never the things you tried and failed to do. Good words to live by.

Specifications

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

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Support an Extraordinary Journey

La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años - www.viajeros4x4x4.com

Support an extraordinay journey! If you like the story about our permanent life on the road or how we inspired you to fulfill your dreams and objectives in life, and wish to support the journey, we would greatly appreciate your donation as a way of sponsoring more miles, kilometers, showers, meals, tires or beers!

10 dollars will take us 60 miles or 100 kilometers further along… or closer to the next mechanic!

Thank you, merci, danke, gracias, shukran!

Donate @ paypal.me/viajeros4x4x4

Keep going Pablo and Anna!

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Get the books about Pablo and Anna’s real stories on the road @ Amazon.com and Kindle or download the first pages HERE!

Follow the latest adventures of the real Pablo and Anna on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube @viajeros4x4x4 

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On year 2000, Pablo Rey (Buenos Aires) and Anna Callau (Barcelona) quit their jobs and rented out their apartment in Spain to travel around the world during four years. Four somehow turned into fifteen. The couple, living out of their small 4WD van, a.k.a. La Cucaracha, has travelled more than 220,000 miles, passing through 60 countries, with no end in sight.

After leaving Southern Europe, these committed nomads have driven through the Middle East, Africa —from North to South, the entire American continent —from Tierra del Fuego (at the Southern tip of Patagonia) to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, before settling in for a couple of years of discovery in North America. Getting here was no small feat. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean from South Africa to Argentina in a fishing vessel, survived elephant and Kalashnikov attacks in Africa and paddled down an Amazon river in a 6-log wooden raft. Their engine broke down in the middle of the Sudanese Sahara and froze at 15,000 feet during a very cold winter in the Bolivian Altiplano, and that’s just scratching the surface.

In 15 years they have met, shared food and stayed with some truly amazing and hospitable people. Whether in a house, hut, tent or under the stars, the take away is the same, in whatever culture, remove the dogma and indoctrination and you realize that we are all the same, one big human family living in a beautiful, albeit fragile, Earthly home.

Pablo has written three books in Spanish. The Book of Independence, translated into English in Canada, is available @ Amazon.com and Kindle or download the first pages HERE!

Follow the latest adventures of the real Pablo and Anna on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube @viajeros4x4x4 




277- Security on the Road: Protect your house on wheels.

Cartel de prohibido hombres armados en Mexico. Furgo Mitsubishi L300 Delica de La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años

©Pablo Rey. Published on Overland Journal Magazine, Winter 2014.

After 15 years overlanding the world, Pablo Rey shares some important tips on how to not end up walking in your underwear on a faraway road in the middle of nowhere.

The road is a place where you need to be prepared for the unexpected. Thieves won’t notify you to schedule a visit, the military does not publish the exact location of their checkpoints, and breakdowns have a bad habit of happening suddenly and in the worst possible place—usually far, far away from anything. As I write this we are stranded in a remote area on the northern tip of Newfoundland, where the Vikings first landed, waiting for a replacement part for a broken torsion bar; we’re told it should arrive in a week. More than once during our years on the road we’ve imagined how we would respond to an armed robbery, or to a wicked policeman inventing an infraction to rip us off. Interestingly, each time an uncomfortable situation unfolded, we reacted in a completely different way than we’d anticipated.

When we were assaulted in Brazil by some thugs with a 40-centimeter-long fishermen’s knife, they didn’t approach us from the front, but from behind. Instead of threatening to send me to hell, they just pressed the knife to my throat. They should have said something like, “Give me your money!” “Give me your camera!” “Give me the keys to your rig!” but they said nothing. In a fraction of a second, even before I could think about the appropriate reaction, I grabbed the sharp blade with my bare hand and leaned backwards fast. It was survival instinct in its purest state. Anna came out of the van wielding a can of pepper spray and washed the thieves, and me, with it. This last bit was not part of our plan, at least not mine. After struggling for what seemed like an eternity, instead of trying to keep the knife away from my body, I ended up bringing it closer to my neck again. I wanted to bite his arm and disarm him.

This was an extreme situation, one that will happen, hopefully only once or twice in a lifetime… bad episodes we tend to forget when we assess the positive experiences and emotions of living on the road. Of course, we can minimize the risk by avoiding areas of conflict, driving only during daylight hours, traveling on tarred roads, hiring a guide—or only using our four-wheel drive to go to the supermarket. However, if your desire is to travel overland and to experience the adventure of a lifetime, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. Let me tell you, there is nothing as boring and artificial as when everything goes well.

 

Protect your House On Wheels

One of the most common concerns of the traveler, if not the most important, is the safety of the vehicle. The world is not a place ruled by justice for all, and in some countries where the monthly family income is a few hundred dollars, a vehicle prepared for a long trip is as tempting as the showcase of a candy shop. You have everything you own on your rig. It is not only a machine and a way to move from one place to another, it is your home, your headquarters, and a fellow traveler who sometimes has a strange sense of humor. Sooner or later you are going to talk to it, you may curse at it, you may insult it, but you have to protect it.

Though you can travel in any vehicle—I have friends who have been touring the world for more than 10 years in a 1928 Graham Page, and others who have traveled from Argentina to Mexico in a Citroën C3—we had some clear ideas about what we wanted. It had to have a 4-cylinder diesel engine, so the fuel consumption wouldn’t be too high, and have four-wheel drive. We needed to be able to sleep inside, as sleeping in a roof tent would make it difficult to jump into the pilot seat and escape if we suffered an attack during the night. At the time, we knew very little about mechanics and we were not worried about vehicle brand, though this is a very important consideration: In a breakdown situation, can you get spare parts in the area you’re travelling in?

For general vehicle security, one of the cheapest and effective measures you can take is to install padlocks on the doors. Thieves, seeing that their job will be more difficult than usual, will often look for easier prey. We always use a steering wheel lock, and had an alarm installed in South Africa, though it might be time to upgrade it. It is not a bad idea to install a safe (Tuffy style, for example), where you can store important items such as money, documents, a laptop, or cameras. The box should be hidden, welded or bolted to the floor, and secured with a pair of good padlocks. If you want to go even further, remove the lock of the nearest door so you can only open it from the inside.

Windows are another temptation for those guys who love to take what is not theirs. They are not only easy to break, they also show what you have inside. And that’s not good. Originally, our van had 10 windows… too many for a trip around the world. We decided to shield four of them with aluminum plates (a good place to display your website or a map of your route) and polarize another three. Only the windshield and the two front side windows were left clear. This is more than enough and avoids unnecessary introductions to local police, since in some countries it is illegal to drive with all your windows tinted.

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