When I brought home the CheapBurban almost a year ago I expected to use it for Cheap Truck Challenge and then sell it, but since then it has grown into a low-buck camping truck. The truck has been getting tweaked and tuned, and I decided it was time for some adventure. I rounded up a small group of friends and we agreed on a six-day trip to Baja, Mexico, to watch some of the infamous Baja 1000 race.
I had been to Baja before, but never on a basic camping trip like this. I wanted to experience Baja from the dirt side—no hotels, just a low budget and in the rough. Was it possible to go down there without a megadollar prerunner truck? Would we get kidnapped and murdered? Is it as bad as everyone told us? I had to find out for myself, and I can say this: Baja is awesome.
“Mañana time, that’s when you slow down and enjoy Baja”
We had fun and didn’t spend a ton of money, and though there were a few issues, I really think just about anyone could enjoy visiting this part of Mexico. There are resorts, hotels, and easier ways to see Baja, but our four trucks equipped with Mickey Thompson Baja tires and camping gear worked just fine. We did plenty of four-wheeling and touristy sightseeing, plus we never felt threatened or in danger. It is a foreign country, but we were able to communicate well enough to buy food, gas, and auto parts to keep our trucks running. The people were great and the terrain amazing. If you are sitting at home in Wisconsin in the cold and wondering if you could ever go to Baja on a budget, let us tell you yes, you can.
What Baja Taught Us
Taking four trucks ranging in age from 14 to 40 years taught us a few things about building a truck for camping and exploring Baja. For example, tailgates are great camping tables, but barn doors with a little receiver hitch step are great for getting into bed at night. Also, you cannot have good enough shocks if you want to travel fast over rough terrain. Either upgrade to the best shocks you can afford or slow down.
Storage is important—not just a place to put stuff, but also a way to tie it down or hold it in place like using ratchet straps and drawers. Otherwise stuff will go everywhere as you bounce along with less-than-perfect shocks.
Rough roads reveal weak or tired components. For example, the tilt steering column in the Suburban, which had been tightened before the trip, became loose again and was so floppy it would short out the ignition switch and shut off the truck at inopportune times, such as when cornering on rough roads. Old trucks are not bad, but be sure they are well maintained and have good shocks.
If you are planning on traveling in a group, some sort of radio or way to communicate between vehicles is helpful. If you are running a large spare tire, be sure you have a strong spare tire mount. Large empty soup cans bolted to the floor make great cup holders. Bring your own water if you are worried about getting sick, such as in a 5-gallon jug. ARB fridge freezers are a great luxury purchase we still recommend, plus they make good center consoles in large 4x4s. Rooftop tents are nice, but climbing into the back of an SUV onto a mattress is quicker than setting up and taking down a tent. Trophy Trucks are really, really, really cool and fast.
In a developing country it is important to be able to fix your own truck. Parts for common vehicles are available, but specialty parts may need to be shipped in.
Baja is not full of drug-smuggling murderers. We met lots of happy friendly people ready and willing to help us out or just interested in talking about our trucks. It’s not as scary as many people will try to tell you.