Team name: Papi Que Travel
Team Papi Que Travel will start in Medellín, Colombia and travel through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, on to Baja chasing the best warm water surf and coffee in the world.
Gear that got them through
Poetry vs Reality
No amount of “Google Maps”, “Siri” or “ask your friend that just did the same trip” can get you 100% ready for an overloading adventure. Truth is, when Hannah and I decided to go on this Central America Journey in our Toyota Land Cruiser, we had just met each other. She lived in London, I lived in Colombia and the trip would not start for another 7 months. So, a lot of long distance discussions would happened before the start of the trip. Planning was a mixture of deciphering what we actually needed and the romanticized dream of a trip with your partner. Immediately, the image of strumming a guitar to the rhythm of the waves whilst watching the sunset over the ocean in Costa Rica comes to mind. But, let’s be frank; I can’t play the guitar, when we heard the rhythm of the waves we just went surfing and in Costa Rica it rained half the time. _DGL9961 So let's talk about what you can actually plan for. We ended up dividing the trip into five categories
Have more food then you think you need about 30% more. For example, if you are planning a 10 day trip and you think you’ll go grocery shopping every 3 days make sure you buy enough food for 4-5 days because you never know where the adventure might take you. An unmarked dirt road might lead you to the paradise you were looking for and it would be a shame to leave because you’ve ran out of food for lunch. That YETI cooler you have always wanted is essential for helping you be self sustainable for longer or just having better food. And why not pair it up with the Traeger Ranger Pellet Grill and you can smoke ANYTHING to perfection! We put ours on top of the car protected by the accompanying Traeger Grill cover and let me tell you, after 180 days of rain, sun, sand and salt this thing is bullet proof and still as good as new!
Beer is not only refreshing but, it is also the perfect excuse to say “Hello, what’s your name, do you want a beer?” to soon to be friends. Don’t like alcohol? No problem! The point is to have at least a 6 pack of your favorite beverage so you can sit, relax and enjoy your surroundings whilst talking stories with fellow traveler. We had a cocktail shaker and an espresso machine to make Espresso Martines, my favorite drink. Don't judge please. Water is also super important so don’t think it's ever too much, take as much as possible. We had a Lifesaver Jerry Can that is amazing. It filters any clear water to military standard and this was perfect because river water is very available in Central America. We went a step further and attached a garden hose to an on-demand pump connected to a 40 gallon tank on the back and you’ve got water on tap.
Clothing / Packing
The battle of the sexes was never more noticeable when I realized I had twice as much clothing as Hannah. I had every color shirt, T-shirt, pants, shoes, you name it. Hannah is an expert packer thanks to her parents taking her all over the world on backpacking trips so I learned a lot from her. As she pointed out, it's a question of why do you need it more than why do you have it. On our 5 month journey we knew the coldest we would be was 40F sporadically and the hottest would be scorching hot so we packed for Hell weather. If you get too cold, just look at locals and buy what they are wearing, they know, they’ve been there for thousands of years. Layers are your best friend and as cool Londoners know, black, gray and white go with everything! So if you are a colorful Colombian like me , take a couple of flower shirts to keep in tune whilst dancing salsa in Medellin but, also have monotone colors so you don’t look like a clown walking down San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. Layered clothing will let you pack smart and have fewer items for changing weather. Remember you will be walking away from your car so the less you take the better. Its easy to fill up the car with too much clothing, but just think what do you want to walk with, hike with, party with? Now you need to put it all somewhere. We decided on bags, lots of bags, mainly duffle bags, compression bags and multi size backpacks because if they are empty they collapse and take no space and the backpacks double up as well, backpacks. The more multi use things you have the better, an empty compartment in your drawer is a waste of space whereas, an empty bag just goes under you seat. We had everything from Oakley fast packs, TOPO duffle bags and Thule Day and hike backpacks. The quality of the TOPO and Thule bags is truly exceptional. Thule was super technical and I felt we looked futuristic as we hiked the Acatenango Volcano whilst TOPO was tough as nails with style for miles in the city centres
General points of interest / Time
Hannah very quickly made me realize we should give up on planning an actual route. I’m a freak so I wanted to have it dialed in. As always she helped me relax and appreciate that the trip was too long and the information too little to know the road conditions or how many days we wanted to be at certain locations. Remember you are overloading, that means you have a Car! They go anywhere there is a road! Plus you have a Tepui Tent on top of it! So, worst case scenario you just stop and go to sleep in the comfort of your Tepui. Not too bad. We decided to work backwards. Hannah had never been to Mexico so we wanted to spend 1 month in Mexico, that gave us 5 months for Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Make a list of the points of interest with your SPOTX and you will always know where you are. Divide it into; can’t miss, would be cool to see and if I happened to be there I would stop. Your adventure will guide you through the turns of the wild roads. If you don’t make it everywhere don’t worry! You can always go back and your Tepui is always ready for an extra night.
First thing first, get a Tepui. Once you bolt this baby on top of your car there is no going back, you are an Overlander and the possibilities are endless, you can go where life takes you! Or, at least whereever you can manage to get next weekend whilst you juggle work, family life and travel. So having a set up ready to go will save you a lot of time. Hannah developed a system that made setting up the tent and sleeping super fast and comfy. You can even store all your bedroom essentials in the tent so you don’t have to think about what you’ve forgotten or need each night. Keep the following in your folded Tepui at all times:
- 5 pillows, 2 per person plus an extra snuggle pillow. They all fit in the Tepui Autana so why not!HardKorr light inside the tent, not on the top tube, but on the side pocket and you have instant light when you get in.
- Clothing essentials, one of our most useful item was the Kühl Parajax Anorak Windbreaker and the TOPO Global Shorts. It might be good weather when you get in the tent but, not when you get out. Also, you might be running to set up because of a storm so its nice to jump in the tent and have a change of clothes up there.
- Ear plugs and eye shades, so if your significant other starts sleep taking (I do) you can sleep.
- Tissue paper if you get allergies.
- Water bottle (please don’t use one made of single plastic, your in a car, you can have reusable containers)
- Velcro straps. You don’t know how many things you can hang on a TEPUI, stuff to dry as you sleep, the cord that comes from the USB charger, etc.
- Fans (Opolar 12 Volt Fan). We got two 12V fans, made sleeping sooo much better. Just hook them to the top metal pole of the Tepui and connected them to a battery pack. They are flat enough to fit when the tent is folded!
- USB charging leads. For those sleepless nights when you are thinking of the wild tomorrow or you want to finish that movie, keep charged.
- Small fast drying towel. Sometimes I went out in the storm to get stuff sorted, wanted to dry off before getting in and going to bed. Takes no space and means that you got to sleep a lot dryer and warmer
Now on to the folding of the tent. In the hot weather we kept the windows open at all times, so just leave them open when you fold the Tepui and it will close no problem. Also, remember to attach the bungee cords that came with it, they make closing a lot easier. Keep them permanently attached to one side so it’s faster to reattach when folding. Place everything in the tent carefully. Think of the hinge as the place that has the least amount of space, and the back as the place with the most. Arrange bigger things like pillows, fans and blankets further back and thinner things in the centre. The Kühl, ear plugs, leads, lights, etc, all fit on the side pockets of the Tepui. It might take a couple of tries to get the arrangement perfect for folding but you will!. Just remember to KEEP THINGS IN THE TENT. So on your next adventure you can just turn on the car and go! Now all you have left to do is get up, grab your bags, throw them in the car and go!
The one where we meet the Aussies
One thing has always been clear to us, Overland travel is about the the people just as much as the destination. Just as the journey to your destination is half the fun as actually getting there, the friends and people you meet along the way are going to be the stories that you tell when you return home. For this reason I have always had all 5 seats of the car available at all times. This way Hannah and I can invite humans to enjoy the journey, or cats…. we never did get the cat, bummer.
This proved to be true when one day, in Panama, just weeks after starting our 5 month Central America adventure. We had the car fully set up, it looked beautiful. Tepui Awning deployed, tent on top, parked right on the beach, cooking set up ready to go, beer on hand; when some random Aussie walked up and said “hey mate, nice rig!”. Well anyone who says that about our car deserves a free Brewski (Aussie slang for beer). We all started chatting, his name was Mitch. Soon his girlfriend showed up, Jane. And after one beer too many we were all dancing on the dance floor of the hostel they were staying at, right next to our car.
Mitch and Jane are young professionals, awesome people, just stoked on life. They were starting a Panama/Costa Rica/California trip. Mitch is one of the funniest humans alive that can take a joke and Jane is always up to have a good time as well as being super smart…..thankfully, since Mitch may have had one too many falls on his Profesional Downhill Mountain biking career. After all a few brain cells do die if you hit trees full force Mitch, sorry.
Hannah and I went to bed that night and started the idea of asking them if they wanted to join our trip through Panama. Truthfully we had no idea where we were going other than surfing a couple of spots and diving in Santa Catalina Coiba island, everything else was up for grabs.
Next morning, we woke up, made each other some coffee and Hannah’s signature porridge for breakfast. I went around the hostel to ask Mitch and Jane to come along but, they were nowhere in sight. , I thought - “Damm, they left!”. But after a bit, in the distance by the beach I saw them! I was so happy and asked if they wanted to come. Funny enough, they had also been wondering how to ask to come along so, it was a match made in heaven. 24 hours later the car was full with 4 people and too many bags. We strapped 2 bags on the roof and decided to go to our next destination: Cambutal, a stretch of Pacific beach with 4 world class waves, all to ourselves.
As most road trips go, you run into some issues. This time one of the bags flew off the top of the car, not sure how but, it just despaired. It was Mitche’s bag so I just gave him a Thule backpack and filled it up with clothes that I had. Truth is everything in life is for sharing, if not, what’s the point? That’s just how Hannah and I see life. If we have it and someone needs it, take it, use it, brake it. It's only things, and using them creates memories. Memories are what you actually want to last forever. Still, we all were a bit down but, nothing a couple of Frothies can’t fix, classic Australia attitude, love those people. Notice the bags on the top of the Tepui?
Last time we saw them was on this river crossing. We ended up staying a couple of nights in Cambutal at a friends, Carlos Henriquez aka Guajiro Papillon Man, house. He has a beautiful property very close to the beach surrounded by a river and trees. The perfect camp spot. Visit him @papillonsurfyaventura. After our little surfing adventure we all headed to Bocas Del Toro Islands, on the Caribbean of Panama. I had not thought of going since there was no surf at this time of year but, thanks to Mitche’s and Jane’s suggestion we ended up heading that way. What a trip it was. The islands were magnificent. Full of colorful frogs, monkeys and sloths, a place I would have regretted not going if I had not been told about it by this pair of Aussies.
We stayed there almost a week! Unfortunately for Hannah and I, the Australians had to keep going, they planed to cross the border on the Caribbean side of Panama into Costa Rica while we had to drive south to the Pacific coast to dive and surf in Santa Catalina. We all said our good byes, I cried and we all went our separate ways.
Lucky for us, having a Tepui was the item that enabled us to have the space in the car to invite them along. The ability to have our home on top of our car and not inside the car taking all the space was the single most important reason why we decided to get a Tepui. We wanted to be able to open the doors and say “come in”. We wanted not only to have the freedom to sleep where the adventure would take us but, also to share the adventure with friends.
Be open to strangers, maybe they’ll be your friends forever, I know I will always have a special place in my heart for Mitch and Jane, without them Panama would not have been the same. Thank you guys. XX