Wow, so it’s been over two months since I gave notice at work and we started planning in earnest. Things have been progressing really well on all fronts since then, but we haven’t really stopped to reflect a whole lot. I wanted to capture some of the thought process that went into the early days before I forget it all and have to make it up.
We had very often discussed going to South America. Being Europe-based had always led me to think that we should go east when we had a spare two-three weeks, however – thinking that if we ever moved to North America we’d have plenty of time to explore the western hemisphere. Once we decided to take the time off, though, something like this immediately popped into focus. And once I saw that traveling the Pan-Am Highway was a relatively normal thing for the adventure traveler to do, the organizing principle was in place.
Initially I was thinking cheapo American SUV, or more specifically stealing my Mom’s old Explorer out of semi-retirement and running it into the dirt. Besides Melanie’s horror at the thought (it’s been on dump duty in Massachusetts for the last 5+ years!), what made me think again was finding out that those cars didn’t make it very far south, and parts availability would be an issue. (Plus, let’s be honest, that car is at this point a giant pile of shit – Melanie correct as usual.)
What would be easily to sort parts for as well as extremely reliable became clear after not too much research: the Toyota Land Cruiser. I did a bunch of homework on the Land Cruiser series’, as well as the various Land Rovers and Mercedes G-Wagen alternatives. Obviously both the Rovers and the G-Wagen are well-loved and rugged outdoor vehicles that would serve the task – but repairs and durability were going to be a cost/time issue for the Rovers, and the G-Wagens struck me as potentially a bit high profile. Also it seems like you need to be shorter than I am to comfortably drive a Land Rover – once you realize this, it’s fun to spot Defender drivers bent over forwards in their front seats.
The Land Cruiser – particularly the 1990s 80-series which we quickly honed in on – has the advantage of having been designed for countries with developing infrastructure, with its relatively simple straight six engine and strong frame. And, very practically, the 80 series was manufactured in Venezuela through 2008 (eleven years longer than the USA!), ensuring parts availability (and, frankly, blend-in-ability).
To top it off, I looked for people who had done this trip, and a few of them were good enough to relate their car counting experiences. For example, one of our primary inspiration/practical information sources, a blog called “Life Remotely,” did this trip in a 4-Runner and noted that Toyotas were nearly ubiquitous through Central and South America (though the 4-Runner itself was not – hence the Land Cruiser choice).
I’ll speak a bit more in a subsequent article about how we chose our Land Cruiser (model year and example) and the modifications we’ve opted for.