Welcome to the…well, you know where you are by now. I hope. As usual, some photos have been changed to black and white for style purposes. Enjoy reading about Dean, Sara and Lupe the dog!
Here’s an old formula with an eccentric solution…
Two people are fed up with the same-same tedious routine, and long to break away from the daily grind. They deduce that familiar, sticky notion that life is pretty damn short, and resolve to make the most of the time they’ve got.
What do they do? Why, they bundle themselves, their stuff, and their dog into “Taco”, a 2001 Toyota Tacoma, and drive, surf, and eat their way down the Pan-America Highway, of course.
Dean, a carpenter and former graffiti artist, Sara, a yogi and art therapist, and Lupe, a hungry dog with a knack for hiding from police, recently completed their 15-month driving expedition from New Jersey to Argentina. Keen to make surfing a key element of their trip, they opted to follow the Pacific Coast.
“We did very little route planning, but it all seemed to fall into place as we travelled,” Dean says. “Surf-focused guidebooks and the Internet made it easy to know exactly where to go. We went inland several times to take a break from the beach, and selected those locations depending on tips from other travellers, or whatever our moods were at the time.
We’ve learned not to commit to any planned routes or schedules, because plans can change at the drop of a peanut. Following your instinct is the best route planner any traveller can have.
Despite that, Dean and Sara took over a year to get organised and gather enough funds to leave. “Deciding to pull the trigger on taking this trip required a strong commitment to change our lifestyle in order to save as much money as possible,” Dean says. “We decided on the Taco after researching vehicles in our price range, and it’s been nothing short of amazing and reliable.”
In search of a cure for routine, Dean and Sara complemented their flexible itinerary with a short ‘n’ sweet list of preferences in travelling to the next place: good local cuisine, and free camping spots. And they were rewarded for their spontaneity.
“When we camped at a gas station in Colombia, the employee brought us free morning coffee, and made sure we had a pleasant night’s sleep,” Dean says. “On a Mexican beach, a local fisherman let us sleep in his palapa, and gave us fresh oysters he usually sells to local restaurants.
Typically, most people we ran into were extremely generous and welcoming, no matter what their social status or where they were from.
Aside from the more modest conundrums faced as a couple and a dog living in a truck (“Deciding what amazing food to eat on a daily basis” – as any foodie traveller can empathise), Dean and Sara cite language barriers (they began with no knowledge of Spanish, and are now fluent enough to get by), nerve-racking border crossings in Central America, shakedowns from corrupt police, and smuggling Lupe through borders with strict animal policies to be their greatest challenges. Well, mostly.
“I was probably most frightened driving through the Bible belt in the US. American rednecks scare me more than most people I’ve run into on the road – or in life, for that matter,” Dean says.
However, the perks were worth braving the gun-toters with ominous backyard sheds: surfing incredible waves, catching their own seafood, meeting interesting people, and exploring foreign lands, just to name a few of the classics. But Dean quotes another highpoint that many travellers try their ample best to avoid.
“Besides the obvious highlights, I would say my favourite part [of the trip] was coming home. Not because we were anxious to be home, but because we set out to achieve a once-in-a-lifetime goal,” Dean says. “After our goal was complete, Sara, Lupe and I returned home smarter, wiser, and most importantly, safe – with only a few new scars and grey hairs.
“[Coming home] felt pretty damn sweet. A Jersey bagel never tasted so good.”
Nowadays, the trio has made a temporary home near the ocean in Cape Cod, where – among getting back in the water and surfing, Sara’s yoga practice, and Dean’s “occasional wall scribble” – they will save more money and plan their next adventure – no easy feat to top the one they’ve just completed.
“Although we sold the Taco in Argentina, I’m looking forward to the day when I can buy another 2001 Tacoma. I spent a lot of time and effort outfitting the truck to accommodate a comfortable living situation on the road. I miss that thing,” Dean says.
“We learned to love the lifestyle. We value life experience more than stability and comfort. We think routine is far scarier than police shakedowns in Peru, for example.” Hear hear!
As a fellow adventurer and eclectician (you can use that one), I celebrate Dean and Sara’s varied curiosities outside of travel that allow them to lead interesting lives – but am looking forward to hearing about their next endeavour. If you’re in the same boat (but a trifle more impatient), here’s some parting advice:
Be patient and determined in saving money and planning your trip. Your adventure starts the day you decide to go, not the day you leave home – and when that day finally comes, the feeling of freedom will be worth the wait. Remember: if it were easy, everybody would do it.
Tune in to Dean and Sara’s website, Sardinetaco, to find out what they and the dog get up to next.