Jeff and his dog, Nota

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Jeff and his dog in their car

Name and age

Jeff Sarmento, 40 years old.

Hometown

San Jose, CA. but I left from Medford, OR.

Reason for taking this trip

I do so love a good adventure. Being a former journalism major turned I.T. Professional I wanted get away from dealing with computer problems and write a book about traveling south of the border with my dog so others who are thinking of traveling with their four legged companion would have a better idea of what to expect and what they will need to know in order to safely and successfully make the journey

Why did you decide to drive?

Since I was traveling with my dog, Nota, driving was the only real option. Being a Bull-Terrier that went ballistic if anybody she didn't know came near the truck, she saved me from getting hassled to much by the police and would-be bandits. I'll never know just how many times she saved my butt just by being there. I would even pull up to a little tienda to run in for a cold refresca and leave the truck unlocked and running. Nobody dared go near it with her there.

What type of car did you drive?

I drove a 1986 Toyota 4Runner with over 200,000 miles on it before even leaving the States.

Did you make any modifications to your car for this trip?

I bought the truck a couple months before leaving and it had already been lifted slightly and had a set of new 31x10.5 inch Maxxis Bighorns on it. I added mesh wire to the inside of the canopy so I could leave the back windows open and not worry about my dog getting out. I also had several mechanical problems along the way. I replaced valve seals, timing chain, muffler/exhaust pipe and the front axle dust boots while in Mexico. I was fortunate enough to have met good people along the way and never paid Gringo prices for any of the repairs. For example, I had the valve seals replaced, injectors cleaned, and the fuel filter replaced; all for around $80 dollars and that's including parts. The funny thing is, in the whole time I was on the road, and off road, I never once got a flat tire and ended up dragging two full size spares mounted on rims with me the entire trip. I did use my puncture repair kit a few times to help out stranded motorist as well.

How long did you plan on traveling?

I had planned 3 Months at the most on the road but it ended up being 9 1/2 months.

Where did you plan on driving?

I planed to drive as far as Costa Rica but ended up going all the way into Panama because I couldn't find a buyer for the truck in Costa Rica. The import taxes were just way to high not to mention that over the past few years people have brought so many used cars into the country that the market is flooded with used vehicles. I did manage to get the truck sold in Panama and fly out with Nota just two weeks short of my Visa expiring.

How did you save up or finance your trip?

I left with $800 in the bank and $170 a week in unemployment. By the time I got to Panama I was dead broke and had no more checks coming in. I barely managed to sell my truck in Panama before my permit ran out and hopped a flight back to the States with Nota.

What were your family’s and friends’ reactions when you told them about your trip before you left?

Most though I was crazy and to be honest I was a bit crazy to attempt the trip on such limited financial resources and virtually no Spanish language skills. I simply left it up to fate that everything would work out for the best.

Did you speak Spanish before you left your home country? How much Spanish?

Short of the basic phrases such as hello and good bye I didn't speak any Spanish. I learned on the road and by the time I reached Panama I was able to communicate effectively in Spanish. I spent about four weeks in northern Mexico working for room and board at Mr. Moro's Hotel and R.V. Resort in Playa Las Glorias, Sinaloa where I started to learn Spanish and another three weeks in Sayulita, Mexico where I made friends with the caretaker for the local secondary school. At night he would teach me Spanish and I would help him with his English. He was also a little fond of the bottle so sometimes I talk like a drunk Mexican. I then spent almost two months in Mazunte in southern Mexico where I continued to learn from the locals. By the time I reached
Panama my dictionary was also in tatters from reading it so much.

Do you have a favorite place or country that you have visited during your trip?

Mexico was my favorite, especially the town of Mazunte located in the southern state of Oaxaca. At one point I even thought of abandoning the trip altogether and just staying there.

What was the weirdest thing you experienced on your trip?

Making it all the way to Panama and getting back again. Given all the mechanical problems I had and the delays I experienced, it was very weird how it all turned out alright in the end. I even had to sneak Nota into Panama because of their strict regulations and the high cost of bringing a dog into the country. I don't know if you could call it weird, but I was surprised at just how friendly and helpful the people were. Sure there was a lot of petty stuff I encountered on the road, but overall I found that the people are far more helpful and friendly than they are here in the States.

What was the worst border crossing?

Honduras was by far the worst border crossing. It was a nightmare dealing with all the graft and corrupt officials, not to mention that the guys you pay to help you get across are trying to screw you every chance and any way they can.

Do you have any advice for others who may be considering driving the Americas?

Research, plan, and know what to expect. Then be prepared to accept that what you learned researching no longer applies, your plans need to change, and expect the unexpected.

Would you do it again?

Yes, but not without a whole lot more money and a different rig. The 4Runner was great for exploring the back-roads but not really good for long term travel with a dog. The next time I do it I'll go for a bigger truck and a camper. I hope to be able to make the trip again in a year or so, that is if I can find a job now that I'm back in the States. The worst part of the whole trip was when it was over. I really miss the open road and life south of the border. In a lot of ways I kinda regret that I came back. Oh well, live and learn.

Do you have a blog or a website describing your trip? If so, what is its address?

Southbound Hound