Overlandia: Driving to the End of the Mayan World

I had this idea. You know how ideas go — some good, some bad. But who can really predict which will take root? I’m still not sure into which category this one falls, but it certainly found root and flowered: The Maya Rally is about to begin — teams driving all over Mexico for charity to coincide with the Mayan end of the world prediction. And what better setting for an apocalyptic pursuit than against a backdrop of the drug war? 5,000 miles through cartel country? Now, that’s an adventure. 

I can’t remember exactly when I first got the overland bug. 

In my mid twenties I was working in West Africa as a civil engineer, overseeing projects to provide water to villagers by drilling and building local wells. We had inherited some pretty beat up GMC trucks from a previous project in Nigeria. In them I was driving all over Burkina Faso to reach the teams in the field, sometimes logging 200 miles a day offroad. 

At that time we didn’t have any SPOT, we didn’t have cell phones, we did not have a winch and we didn’t have GPS or waypoints. Everything was done with badly photocopied paper maps, where often the names of villages on the map would be different than what the villagers actually called them. 

If you broke down, as I did multiple times, you hitched a ride with a guy passing on a moped who would take you to the first village that had a phone and you would call the base to send a driver to pick you up – sometimes a couple days later.

It’s during that era, on a brief vacation to Dakar for a wedding, that I spotted an older Land Cruiser FJ40 with a big bulky square box on the top – my first roof top tent sighting. I started chatting with the French driver and learned about his on-going overland journey from Paris to Cape Town. That was it. I was hooked. 

I had to do the same thing.

Several years later, after many overland journeys completed, that travel bug has never let up. And I wanted to spread it.

In December, on 12/12/12, 25 teams will follow some vague suggestions from a Survival Guide, then try to reach a series of unique sights and complete tasks in order to accumulate as many points as possible. The rally runs from Guanajuato to Bacalar, near the Belize border, in the heart of the Mayan region.

It is not a race. There are no checkpoints, no rules, no insurance, and no support. Teams range from mid-20s to mid-60s and drive vehicles from a 1967 VW bus to a 2006 Land Cruiser. They have all taken quite a leap of faith, being the first ones to engage in this totally unpredictable and unsupported adventure. But isn’t that what adventure is all about?

For more on the Maya Rally, visit mayarally.com or see it on Facebook.

Overlandia is the art, science, and romance of driving in the dirt.

{ 9 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Nick

    If they run into any cartels, they can just offer a business partnership in Washington or Colorado.

    No, seriously, this is a terrible idea.

  • Jayme

    Have a great journey! We really wanted to make this, but couldn’t swing it financially at the end of the day. Can’t wait for the stories to come rolling in.

  • nick

    Jonathan, thanks for the article link. But I’m not sure what to make of the stats quoted (good discussion about their validity in the comments section). Even if we are to believe them, claiming a lower murder rate than Houston or New Orleans is no great compliment.
    As an aside, I couldn’t help but laugh that the $350 regular car entry fee for the Maya Rally covers a pre- and post- party and a “souvenir plate.” Awesome.

  • Terri

    You will be fine. I traveled the back roads of Colombia and we were always greeted with warm welcomes from everyone in small villages. Colombians are some of the nicest people. They take a lot of pride in keeping the community clean and safe. Wish I was going! Good luck

  • Tom

    I can only hope the Mayan apocalypse is a joke because otherwise I would have to cancel all my plans for December. I just read a list of events organized in Toronto this month and some of them will take place just after the controversial date. The worst of all, my children would never forgive me if I had to cancel our visit of Disney on Ice. :D

  • Anthony

    To all the haters on this comment thread, have you ever been to Mexico? I mean the real Mexico, far away from the package tourist resorts, far from the ample supplies of Corona and suntan lotion, far from the comfort of your bed. I didn’t think so. I just completed (and won) this rally and we had none- read ZERO issues in our 7055 mile journey through Mexico. We did however meet some incredible people, built and wrestled in a lucha libre ring, gave back to orphans by rebuilding their playground, sang and danced with real Mariachis, and traveled border to border and back to the states in 36 days. The only bad thing that happened to us happened in my own driveway in California- someone stole my navigator’s bicycle off his van while we were gone. It’s easy to armchair quarterback and tell people that going to Mexico is a bad idea, but until you actually go there and experience it, you have absolutely nothing to say.

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