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Pirate Camping 102: How-To Video

Pirate Camping 102 :: A How-To Guide

By Nick H-J

Getting started pirate camping with any regularity can be daunting.  To be honest, it took us several months of regular pirate camping to really get into the swing of it.  Now, however, it is second nature.  We not only enjoy it and are comfortable doing it wherever we go, we recently totaled our expenses for accommodations since we left North Carolina nine months ago.  Not counting the apartment we rented in Cartagena for the month we stayed with Greg and Kerri (which was $175.00 USD), we have spent exactly $87.00 USD on places to rest our heads in nine months on the road.  You can see how pirate camping, if done regularly, can become more than just a fun and quirky thing to do – it can save you a lot of money.

I thought I would write a short guide to help the beginning pirate camper get started and get comfortable with the ins and outs of pirate camping.  The key to happy and hassle free pirate camping is good site selection.  Pirate camping varies from place to place and you have to keep that in mind when selecting a site.  What makes a good site will vary widely depending on where you are.  So, reading your environment is key to choosing a good site.  In the U.S. you may find a nice out-of-the-way spot to camp, only to be routed out of bed by the police at 2 a.m. because you aren’t allowed to sleep in your car inside city limits, or some such rubbish.  Parking in the wrong neighborhood and being too conspicuous may get the neighbors upset and cause you trouble.  The following are simple guidelines that will help you to avoid problems and stay safe while you dream away your free nights of sleep in peace.

1.  Commit to a type of location. If you are going to sleep in the middle of a city, sleep in the middle of a city.  If you are going for a hidden location off the side of the road, really hide yourself off the side of the road.  If you go halfway, you are more likley to run into trouble.  Being completely hidden means that you are not likely to be bothered by anyone, and being in a public place means that you have the safety of being surrounding by people.  If you choose something between the two, where you are close enough to an urban area to be seen by numerous people, but in a secluded location, you are more likely to have trouble from people that want to steal your stuff or rob you.  Use the same logic you use when walking the streets of a city at night.  Don´t walk down dark alleys.  The only problems you are likely to have while camped in a public setting is from the police if they notice you.  So, you will have to judge whether you are in an area where the police care about such things as people sleeping in their cars.  Here in South America (depending on your attitude and the country you are in), you can pull right next to the police station in the main square of a town, and they will let you use their bathrooms before you go to bed.

2.  Act appropriately for your setting. If you are in the middle of nowhere, have a fire, roast marshmallows, sing kumbaya and drink a case of beer.  If you are in a ritzy neighborhood in a city, put up your curtains, look like an empty car, and eat out before you bed down to watch a movie and go to sleep.

3.  Prepare your vehicle and yourself. If you are in a place where you might need to leave at a moments notice, have your vehicle ready to leave.  We sleep with the keys in the ignition, and the truck closed up and ready to depart if we need to.  So, if there is some sort of trouble, all that is needed is to hop behind the wheel and head on down the road.  I sleep in my pants so that if I need to get up and talk to someone that has a problem with our camping, I don´t have to find my pants in order to be presentable. I also don’t recommend getting drunk unless you are quite certain that your site is bomb-proof (and usually out in the countryside). Most people sleep heavier when they’ve been drinking, which means you may not notice something that should have woken you. Also, being roused to deal with the police, or some other trouble, is twice as hard, and half as fun when you have more than a couple of drinks in your belly.

4. Ask the locals. If you are in a city setting, and are looking for a suitable pirate camping site, ask someone that lives in the area.  Usually people will be more than happy to tell you where the safe areas are and where not to camp.  If your cute girlfriend does the asking, they might even invite you to sleep in their driveway, or better, in their house.  We have had great luck telling people we are sleeping in our truck and asking for advice.

5. Scope out your prospective site before it gets dark. It´s much easier to get a feel for an area in daylight.  So try to leave yourself a comfortable amount of daylight to find a place.  Should you find yourself without a safe site after dark, 24 hour gas stations are an easy, though un-charming, option.

6. When you first start, camp with friends. As you start to get your feet wet in the world of pirate camping, camping with a group of people, and more than one car, can make it seem less daunting.

7.  Keep at it. You will probably not sleep well the first few nights you pirate camp.  You may be worried about getting hassled or receiving unwanted attention, or you may have not quite figured out how to get comfortable in your vehicle.  If you persist, after a few nights of restlessness, and quiet, problem-free camping, you will soon become more confident in choosing good camping sites and will start sleeping like a baby.

Off-Road Cuisine: Cuy

Here’s our best Off-Road Cuisine yet – watch us cook cuy (guinea pig) in Ecuador!

Rambling Ecuador

Since the computer system that distributes SOAT, the vehicle insurance that is required in Ecuador, we were committed to spending the night in Tulcan, Ecuador’s northernmost town.  While there is little to do in Tulcan, we did find the most unique cemetery that I have ever seen.

Cemetario Tulcan holds rows and rows of graves resting above the ground and adorned with flowers, pictures of saints, and notes from loved ones.  But the main attraction is this cemetery’s topiaries that line grassy plains and maze-like paths.  Cyprus trees trimmed into animals, ancient god-like images, faces, and various shapes create a landscape that seems like a dream from Alice in Wonderland.

If you are passing through Tulcan, I highly recommend a brief rest in Cemeterio Tulcan.  If you need to camp in Tulcan, I recommend pirate camping in a parking spaces of the main plaza.  This location was recommended by numerous locals, for there is a police station on the side of the plaza.

The central region of Santo Domingo de los Colorados is crowded, traffic-jammed, and lined with countless unmemorable shops.  We used Santo Domingo de los Colorados as a stop along our route, and found a quiet place to sleep across the street from the Fire Department (located across the street from the mall).

While making breakfast on the tailgate in the morning, we met the owners of Cevicheria Alcatraz, a seafood restaurant located on the same street as our truck.  They invited us in and treated us to a wonderful meal of sauted shrimp and peppers.  If you are looking to treat yourself to a seafood or ceviche dinner, stop by and tell them we sent you!

Our friend Javi, who now lives in North Carolina, just happened to be visiting his family during our rambles in Ecuador.  Fortunately for us, we were able to stay on the Suarez dairy farm, located outside of La Conchordia.

Camping at the farm was a great experience for us not only to see the farm, but to learn a thing or two about Ecuadorian cuisine and culture.  We rode mules down to the river to bathe, Nick killed and de-furred two cuy (guinea pig) for a special dinner, I milked a cow for the first time, and we attended a local cockfight.

San Mateo, a tiny fishing village on the coast, was just a one-night stop on our route.  We camped by the beach, parked by lines of blue and yellow fishing boats.  The local fishermen, who congregated close by and drank long after the sun set, found it prudent to begin with a fresh bottle the next morning as well.  So if you visit San Mateo, I’m sure you won’t have a hard time finding liquor.

Although Montanita is a stereotypical, hippie surf town with an overabundance of handmade stone jewelry, dingy hostels, and signs written in English, it is a fun town to visit, and especially interesting if you bring along your surfboard.

To get away from the late-night loud music and partying, we stayed a short distance out from the center of town in a quiet palm-thatched cottage.  There are several of these white cottages lined in two rows by the beach, and they are owned by the town of Montanita.  Lodging is $50 for 4 people, but since we had only two people, we were able to get the price down to $20 (and we skipped the included breakfast, which is a croissant, eggs, and coffee).

After one night of treating ourselves, we then camped bedside the cottages.  This is a perfect camp site – it’s right on the beach, there are outdoor showers by the cottages, the center of town is a short walk down the beach, and the surf break is right by the cottages.  HOWEVER, there are sandflies on this beach, so, if you do not have a mosquito net that blocks those pesky sandflies as well, you may want to camp more inland.

Cuenca is a beautiful, modern town with stunning colonial architecture and a young, creative energy.  While Cuenca is known for it’s museums, countless churches with intricate adornments, and a fairly happening nightlife, Nick and I, while we found the city to be beautiful, grew bored of the town quite quickly.

We did, however, find a lovely camping site next to the river, which is a short walk to the center of town.  The river, which has rolling hills of green grass, is well-lit and has numerous parking spaces.

TIP: Cuenca has a few leather stores that have handmade leather jackets at affordable prices.  If you are in the market for a leather jacket, purse, or wallet, keep an eye out for these stores!

Ramblers Interviewed: Erik and Noah

I want to give a special thanks to Erik and Noah, who created their own interview video for Ramble Writer.To read more about Erik and Noah, visit their websites:

Erik: http://www.everlater.com/erikmyhre/leaving-corporate/

Noah: http://theschumbag.blogspot.com/

Border Crossing: Colombia to Ecuador

Border town: Impiales

The border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador is a piece of cake in comparison to the border crossings of Central America.  The process is straight-forward, clean, and organized, and the mountains surrounding Impiales are spectacular.


When you drive to the border crossing, park in the lot and walk to the DIAN (customs) office to the right.  Simply drop off your Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (ours was from Seaboard Marine).

Proceed to migracion (signs say DAS Migracion).  This office will stamp your passports.

Park around the back of the building and walk around to the migracion office.  A man will give you a Tarjeta Andina de Migracion form to fill out at the door.  After you fill out this form, turn it in at the desk and get your passport stamped.

Walk around the corner to the left in order to enter the aduanas building.  You will be asked to turn in a copy of your license, passport, and vehicle title.  After you fill out the necessary forms, the process is complete.

NOTE: It is required to purchase vehicle insurance in Ecuador. Ask the officials in the aduana office for information as to where to purchase SOAT (vehicle insurance).  We were told to purchase it across the street from the aduana office (look for a red sign that says PORTA).  However, this office was closed, and we had to drive to Tulcan, the next town, to purchase SOAT.

Ramblers Interviewed: Kacey and Dave

Kacey Dave entered Mexico around the same time that we did, but our first run-in with them was in Cartagena, Colombia.  After Cartagena, we bumped into them in Mancora, Peru and camped with them for a couple nights.

Kacey and Dave are driving to Ushuaia in a Toyota Tacoma that is equipped with a tent that pops up on the roof of the truck.  As a result, they get the 4×4 power of a Tacoma, and plenty of tent space.

Watch this video to get a little advice about the rambling life:

To learn more about Kacey and Dave’s adventure, visit www.lifeofsaturdays.com.

The Ramblers’ Truck is FOR SALE!

NOTE: We are beginning the truck sale process in advance to ensure our vehicle is sold – we are not “canceling” the remains of our trip (we have received some worried emails).  However, if there is a buyer earlier than we planned, we are willing to travel South America without our trusty truck.

The time has come for someone else to take over, and it might just be you.  The truck that has safely carried us from the U.S. to South America is the perfect vehicle for someone looking to step into an adventure and head off the beaten track.  If it’s not the right time for you, maybe you want to earn a commission finding a buyer?

To take a video tour, and to read more about the modifications and equipment included, visit: www.ramblewriter.com/buythetruck

This is the ultimate expedition vehicle.  Whether you want to get to all the hard to reach surf spots or have the freedom to roam the back country mountain roads without hesitation, this is the truck for you.  Custom-built for it’s 2009 road trip through the Americas, this first generation Toyota 4Runner was designed to provide access to the most rugged areas, and to provide a comfortable living space while out in the wild.  Every inch of this vehicle has been utilized to give you every inch of space and every piece of gear you could need.  With the full sleeping deck installed, there are two seats and interior sleeping space for two.  If you plan on camping outside, or staying in accommodations, the platform can easily be reconfigured to allow for up to five passengers.

During the expedition through the Americas over 2009, every system has been tested and refined.  If what you want is a turn-key-ready adventuring vehicle, you have found it.  Since the truck is in top condition, if you choose to drive it back to the United States, you should have no trouble reselling it.  The modifications on this vehicle alone total over $20,000.00 USD.

Included in this sale are an extensive set of spare parts and a wide variety of expedition equipment.

If you have any questions, or want more info, pictures or details, contact Nick H-Johnson at nick@ramblewriter.com.

Traveling in Colombia: Our Rambles

Colombia is a breathtaking country, with dramatic mountainous landscapes, colorful coastal towns, and savory food.  It encompasses a variety of ecosystems, cultural regions, and regional flavor.  While Colombia carries a bad reputation due to governmental instability and drug trade, it is a perfectly safe country to ramble if you stay aware of your surroundings and secure your belongings (as in any country!). Highway 25, the Pan-american route that stretches from the northern coast to Impiales, is well maintained and offers stunning views.

Cartagena, Colombia’s fifth largest city, should not be missed in your ramblings throughout Colombia.  It displays it’s history with old colonial buildings, has a variety of neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants to explore, and the people are generally approachable and friendly.  If you have ample time, give yourself at least a week to familiarize yourself with the city.  Nick and I had such a great time that week stayed for five weeks!

A few personal recommendations for your stay in Cartagena
The majority of our time was spent in Getsemani, a barrio within walking distance to the old city.  Getsemani is lined with old colonial houses and apartments filled with families, and neighbors gather to mingle and eat street food at Plaza de la Trinidad, which contains a bright yellow church, Iglesia Trinidad.  If you choose to stay in Getsemani, make sure to buy juices from Nira, who owns a juice stand in the plaza that is open from 2:00 pm until late in the evening.  Thanks to Nick and our friends Greg and Lee, Nira now sells her fruit drinks with liquor.  To read more about Nira, click HERE and HERE.

The best arepas in town, in my opinion (one’s preferences in arepas is always based on personal taste), is the arepa stand located in the left corner of the plaza.  If you enter the plaza from Calle Guerrero, the stand is located to your left.  Why are these arepas better than the countless arepas throughout town?  They are grilled, not fried, with salty shredded meat and cheese.

We rented a room for a month in Casa Valda, located on Calle Guerrero.  Casa Valda offers air-conditioned and non-AC rooms, a communal kitchen, free wi-fi, a laundry machine, and private bathrooms.  While I enjoyed our stay at Casa Valda, I recommend that you ensure the price of your stay before anything else.  We had trouble with the staff concerning the price of our room and extending our stay.  Media Luna, the street that runs perpendicular to Calle Guerrero, has numerous hostels as well.

The majority of our drinking took place in Plaza de la Trinidad, where you can buy beers in the nearby tiendas and nosh on the street food sold in the plaza.  This is a great place to meet other travelers, since many of them congregate here.  We also enjoyed Donde Fidel’s, located in the old city, which offers affordable beers (2,500 pesos – about $1.25 USD each), a large outdoor seating area, and salsa dancing.

Over the bridge from Getsemani is barrio Manga, a neighborhood that is a bit more modern and upscale.  Here you will find various restaurants, Carulla, a large grocery store, and two marinas, Club Nautico and Club de Pesca.  Club de Pesca is a private marina, but if you are interested in checking out the boats at Club Nautico, you can stop by at the bar and hang out.  Club Nautico was under renovation during our stay in Cartagena, but it should be complete at the end of 2009.

To read more about Cartagena through Ramble Writer, click HERE.

Famous as the once-home of Pablo Escobar and it’s Francisco Botero exhibit, Medellin is, well, a big city.  While El Poblado, a upscale neighborhood known for it’s bars, restaurants, and discos, can be fun, Medellin came as a bit of a disappointment.  Traffic is horrendous during rush hour, and the city itself lacks the beauty described in guidebooks.

We did however, pirate camp in Medellin for two nights to explore the city.  If you would like to camp in a quiet residential area, drive up Calle 10 into Zona Rosa (the main restaurant district in El Poblado) to the top of the hill.  Once you begin to leave the main restaurant and shopping area, turn to the right (you will see a cinema to your left).  This will lead you to a neighborhood with apartments and free parking.

Pereira was only a stop to sleep.  We slept in the parking lot of a gas station in the city.

Our friends, Christina and Devin, who shared a shipping container with us, worked at Pelican Larry’s, a hostel in Cali, while the engine of their Volkswagen van was being fixed.  For a discounted rate ($5 USD per person), we were able to park in their driveway, and use the hostel’s facilities (showers, kitchen, living area, and internet).  We slept in the truck, but had the benefit of sleeping in a quiet and safe residential neighborhood.

Pelican Larry’s
Calle 23N 8N-12
In the residential area of the Santa Monica district

Pasto is a town nestled in the mountains with great weather, a thriving university, and peaceful natural surroundings.  Near the university, you’ll see college students amble up the neighborhood streets, and, if you look up, you can see Galeras, the volcano located south of the city.  In addition, La Cocha lake, located about 20 km from Pasto, is recommended by locals as a beautiful site to see.

Pasto is famous for it’s Carnival de Negros y Blancos (Black and White’s Carnival), an annual event that takes place from the 2nd to the 6th of January.  Many people paint their faces black or white (in addition to smearing others’ faces with black or white paint), while elaborate floats parade through the city.

Oaxaca Documentary Film Workshop Opportunity

If you are interested in an opportunity to not only explore Oaxacan culture, but to introduce yourself to the art of documentary film making, I recommend signing up for the Oaxaca Documentary Film Workshop hosted by Norma Hawthorne.  Oaxaca, Mexico is a state filled with traditional culture told through the work of talented artisans and craftspeople.

Norma has shared her accounts of Oaxaca for Ramble Writer as a guest writer, which can be read HERE.

To read more about the film workshop, visit HERE.