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Leon, Nicaragua

Where I stayed
<divclass=”” style=”padding-bottom:7px”> Hotel Austria Leon

We have been asked a few times about the vehicle we are driving on this trip along with its equipment. So what follows is not about where we have been recently but is to provide some info on our Land Rover and the stuff in it.


Ours is a 2008 Land Rover Defender 110 station wagon, the so called Puma version. It is powered by a 4 cylinder 2.4 litre turbo diesel which produces 90 kW and 359 Nm of torque. This is the engine derived from Ford’s famous Duratorq range which has powered their legendary range of Transit commercial vehicles for some time. In the Puma Defender it is mated to an excellent 6 speed gearbox. The result is a remarkable combination of superb off road performance with massive low down “grunt” when needed, quiet (by Defender standards!) on road cruising, and for a full time 4×4 vehicle with the aerodynamics of a large boulder amazingly good fuel consumption. The best Defender engine/transmission combo yet.

Our Landy, nicknamed Jambo (meaning Greetings in kiSwahili, the lingua franca of east Africa) has currently covered 110,000 kms. Some 50,000 kms of this was clocked up on our 2009/10 Cape to Cape overland trip from Cape Agulhas in South Africa to North Cape, Norway which took 12 months. Most of the rest has been on our current Pan America Overland expedition.

Apart from two punctures on this trip the vehicle has given us no significant problems so all you Land Cruiser owners can shut up!

Jambo was purchased new in 2008 and fitted with the following additional equipment at the time:


Extra 30l fuel tank

30l water tank

National Luna dual battery system and deep cycle 105Ah battery to power auxiliaries

Safari air snorkel

Heavy duty front bull bar

Front Runner Expedition roof rack (NB, everything on the roofrack is locked on)

Four roofrack mounted and lockable alloy storage boxes

Roofrack mounted 2nd spare wheel mount

Roofrack mounted brackets for 2x25l jerry cans (one water, one fuel)

Roofrack shovel bracket

Roofrack HiLift jack bracket

KC spot lamps

Traction Control override switch

Front sump plate/steering guard

Fender and side checker plates

Side rock sliders

EazyAwn rollout side canopy

The following items were added a little later:

4’ HiLift jack

Escape Gear seat canvas covers

Dual microwave &amp; infrared alarm system sensors inside the vehicle

Rear interior LED lighting

Side and front interior curtaining and rails

Rear drawer stowage system

Fold down bed platform and cushions in rear

Centre stowage (in place of bench seat) for 3 lockable ammo boxes

High security safe through bolted to chassis

Rear and side tent canopies

Mantec rear window grilles

Roof mounted 85W Sharp solar panel

Regulator for solar panel with inside display

Ambient interior &amp; exterior air temperature display

Mosquito screens on centre side windows


Jambo rides on the standard factory fitted 16“ alloy rims as fitted to Defenders in 2008. They might be alloy but they are still bloody heavy (and expensive if you should have to buy a new one).

Initially we threw out the Dunlop tyres supplied new and fitted 265/75×16 BF Goodrich AT tyres. 4 on the vehicle plus 2 spares. Great tyres, very tough, very expensive. When they needed replacement at around 65,000 kms after our Cape to Cape trip we tried to get the same. Due to there being none available in Cape Town at the time we fitted Cooper Discoverer ATRs in the same size. Less aggressive tread than the BFGs and quieter on tar but they have performed well particularly in sand. The fact that we haven’t got stuck on these tyres (and we’ve been in deep mud, on loose rock and sand) and we’ve only had two punctures tells the story.

Jambo’s suspension is standard Defender as per factory. We think the current shock absorbers fitted by LR do an excellent job on all surfaces, although we did fit new ones at 65,000 kms prior to commencing this trip. We carry about 500 kgs in fuel, water, equipment, food, baggage etc at full load and the standard LR coil springs can handle this OK except when hitting speed bumps at more than walking pace and near to full load when the rear suspension sometimes bottoms on the chassis stops. I would consider a heavier rate rear coil spring (not longer for increased height) if doing a similar trip again to alleviate this. Conversely, I can see no sense whatever in fitting aftermarket suspension components that raise the vehicle on its axles. We spend quite a bit of time off road, on quite demanding tracks and have yet to ground the underbody of the vehicle. After all the front and rear diffs with their axles remain at the same height off the ground using the same size rim and tyre, and they will be the first to ground on an obstruction irrespective of whether raised suspension components are fitted or not.


We carry road maps of every country we travel through when we can find them. In addition, we carry two Garmin GPS units; a Nuvi 215W and a GPS Map 62S. The former has the bigger, clearer display, but the latter is far more versatile in what it can do and display. The 62S is also better suited to use outside the vehicle for carrying in one’s pocket for instance in towns and cities when on foot.

Both GPS units are run with a selection of map software which is first installed on our laptop and then as we approach a new region or country the relevant GPS maps are downloaded from the laptop to the GPSs. The laptop runs both Mapsource and Basemap free software from Garmin for manipulating mapping data such as adding waypoints, planning routes etc. When we exit a region or country the reverse occurs – saved waypoints, routes and tracks are transferred from one of both of the GPSs to the laptop for later use or recall.

The mapping software we have acquired has come from many sources, some free from internet sources, others paid for from the likes of Garmin, Tracks4Africa and GPS Travel Maps. Free GPS maps for use on Garmin units and compatible with Mapsource or Basemap have come from various internet sites and which provide good mapping of much of South America. Anyone who wants to know more can e-mail me. One of the best public domain free map sites is OSM (Open Street Maps) where one can select a region, a whole country or several countries together and download a routable map covering the required area that will run on most Garmin GPS units and work reasonably well. I say reasonably as sometimes the routing won’t play ball as it should, but hell it’s free – what more do you want! We tend to run the two GPS units with different map data for the region we are in; if one starts to play up or is missing some important data the other can be resorted to or vice versa.

The Garmin GPS Map 62S also incorporates a fluxgate compass which is handy at times for general direction finding as well as an altimeter which produces interesting data.

For communications we no longer buy SIMs for our mobile phone as we have found on this trip at least that we seldom if at all ever need what I would call instant phone comms. As alternatives we have Skype on the laptop for making normal Skype-Skype calls or calls to normal phones or mobiles whenever we have an internet connection. As emergency back up in case things get really out of hand we carry an Inmarsat ISat Pro satellite phone. This can be used more or less anywhere in the world provided one can see enough of the sky to connect to one of the four geostationary Inmarsat satellites that are spaced around the earth over the Equator. Calls are of course expensive – around $1/minute – but call quality is excellent and Inmarsat’s infrastructure is by far the best developed in the sitcom industry so that calls go through quickly and stay connected. In other words their system works! The ISat Pro is equipped with a built in GPS as well which allows one to log into the satellite network quickly. In addition it can send one’s GPS position along with speed and altitude to any phone number via sms or to an e-mail address anywhere. Short text messages can be similarly sent to mobiles or e-mail addresses. The phone is preloaded with airtime and can be topped up anytime through our service provider back in South Africa.

There are times when one or both of us might be out of the vehicle and out of shouting distance one to the other so we have two compact Zartech walkie talkie radios in the vehicle. Over flat unobstructed ground they have a range of a km or two and being UHF will work quite well in and around buildings too.

Lastly, we use a Lenovo laptop running Windows 7 and on which we assemble our blog entries, store all of our still and video pictures (with back ups on DVDs and a separate HDD) and conduct e-mail, internet and Skype communications. As mentioned elsewhere the laptop is loaded with all the GPS mapping for our trip. The current Lenovo model replaced our earlier one stolen from us back in Peru along with our cameras etc. I swear by Lenovo as they are both tough yet powerful and are well suited to what we do.


Unlike our Cape to Cape trip this time we elected not to carry a largish and heavy ground tent for sleeping. We reckoned that being able to sleep in the car was a better bet particularly in the colder climes we would be meeting en route. So we designed the back end of the car so that the upper surface of our drawer system would act as a bed base. To extend it to a full 2m long the vertical timber bulkhead hinged to the front end of the drawer system is dropped from its on road position to the horizontal covering the area in which the fridge, cool box and ammo boxes are located. A three section mattress is then placed over it along with sheets, pillows, sleeping bags etc as needed. Very snug. The side windows are usually opened for ventilation and are fitted with removable mozzie screens and outer plastic rain shields. One push on the driver’s door lock button operates the central locking on all doors for security. The bags etc stowed in the rear on top of the drawer system when driving are moved to the front seats and footwells for sleeping.

We do carry a small, two man hiking tent should be ever want to sleep outside or away from the vehicle.


Our faithful Waeco 50l fridge freezer is still with us after some 140,000 overland kms. Its very robust Danfoss compressor is still going strong and can handle the horrendous vibrations, bumps, dust and humidity that is part of overlanding. It runs off 12/24DC or from 110/220VAC when available. Unlike our Cape to Cape trip we now run it purely as a fridge set at +2 degrees C on the thermostat, but it can freeze down to around -18 C without trouble if required. In addition, we store dry food in a 45 l Coleman coolbox. The fridge and coolbox sit either side of the vehicle immediately behind the front seats on 25mm high density foam rubber mats to reduce vibration and shock loads. They are low down and in the centre of the fore and aft line so are subjected to the least movement and are easy to get to.

The fridge is wired via the solar panel regulator and appropriate fusing direct to the auxiliary deep cycle battery. Provided the engine has been running for a few hours or the car has stood in the sun for the solar panel on the roof to get several hours sunshine the battery will allow the fridge to run for up to three days without further charging.

We tend to carry easy to prepare and cook food for when we are camping. Pasta, canned tuna, eggs, cold meat, fresh fruit and veggies, bread or rolls, packet soups, eggs and the like. There’s coffee, tea (rooibos and normal types), milk, sugar etc as well as cereal and yoghurt for breakfast. If we are likely to be able make a fire or use our little portable braai (BBQ) there will be items to cook on the fire such as chicken, steak, sausages and veggies in foil. We also carry a flat potjie (Dutch oven pot made of cast iron) which on a fire can make bread, stews, stir fries, you name it.

When camping and where an outside fire is not on we cook on either an MSR multifuel stove or gas canister type stoves of the Camping Gas variety. The MSR stove is of the pumped pressure type and will run on almost any liquid fuel such as diesel, gasoline, benzene or industrial alcohol providing the correct one of the two jets supplied with it are fitted. Diesel might be the cheapest but it clogs the jet faster than the others do. The gas stoves all use one or other of the various canisters generally available – either screw on or click on. They cost more than the MSR to cook on but are noticeably faster. Whichever stove type we use they are placed on a folding alloy plate that attaches to the inside surface of the rear door of the Defender. Used in conjunction with a folding windshield and provided we have guessed the wind direction more or less correctly we can cook like this in most weather. The canvas rear canopy covers the entire 2m x 1.7m space behind the vehicle keeping the rain off whilst cooking, getting dressed etc .


To eat at we carry a really tough camping table with folding steel legs and a thermoplastic one piece top. It’s heavy but it delivers. The same for our camp chairs. Steel frames that tend to rust, hefty canvas material but virtually indestructible.

The company that makes the pool chemicals back home have great plastic buckets with good lids and tough handles and these are great for washing dirty dishes, doing laundry, washing the car or whatever. We have two of them on board.

If we have an open fire going or the braai our ancient and dented old black kettle comes out for heating water. It’s so soot encrusted now that it has to live in its own plastic bag in one of the roof boxes!

Our portable braai is a mini half drum type with removable legs and made of stainless steel. We usually use a mix of wood and charcoal in it. A pair of long handled tongs familiar to all South Africans is a part of the kit along with firelighters to get things going quickly. The black kettle can sit on the braai drum when needed.

Perhaps one of our most treasured possessions is our bush shower. It’s very simple. A tough vinyl plastic folding bucket with attached cords at the top and a built in shower rose and tap at the bottom. A long rope is attached to the cords and the end thrown over a tree branch to haul the bag aloft once filled with 50/50 hot and cold water (hot from that huge black kettle). No trees around? No problem, we hang it off the end of the shovel wedged off the side of the roofrack!


On the medical side we carry two zipped bags, one containing pharmaceutical products including antibiotics, malaria prevention and treatment products, pain killers etc. The other bag contains items for fractures, cuts, burns and other trauma. It also includes IV hardware such cannulae, hypodermics, butterflies and the like. Airways, cervical collar, instruments, clinical thermometer, eye baths and such things are in their too. And yes, we do know how to use it all.

On vehicle recovery, no we don’t have a socking great 12 tonne electric winch weighing the front of the vehicle down. A dangerous, expensive and little used bit of macho machinery in our view. We stick to the more basic stuff and carry both a HiLift jack which fits into lifting points front and rear of the vehicle as well as a modified and much stronger version of the standard Defender jack which attaches to the same points front and back. There is a hefty shovel locked onto the roofrack and in the rear of the vehicle two nylon 5 tonne towing straps, an 8 tonne three strand nylon towing rope and most important of all a hefty 10m long snatch strap. The latter has been used to great effect in the past to extract quite a few other makes of bogged vehicles. We won’t mention any names….In the same compartment are high tensile galvanised bow shackles which work with all of the towing equipment along with nice thick leather gloves.

Two fire extinguishers are on board, a dry powder type mounted centrally behind the centre console cubby and a liquid pressurized type at the back of the car near where we cook.

We carry two spare wheels, one on the roofrack, one on the rear door bracket which on the more recent Defenders with a one piece door is now plenty strong enough to do so. Simple punctures we can fix if needs be as we are equipped with a good repair kit including tyre levers as well as both an ARB portable tyre compressor pump and a back up foot pump.

For running repairs we carry a quite comprehensive toolkit including sockets and spanners to fit all the nuts and bolts on the vehicle. A posidrive kit is in there too, along with Allen keys, screwdrivers, pliers, shifters, vicegrips, hammer, cold chisel, tinsnips, files, hacksaw, blowtorch, electrical multitester, lead light etc etc etc.

We don’t carry any big, heavy spares but we do have spare shocks front and rear, main engine belt, spare filler and drain plugs, brake pads, filters for oil, air and fuel, lots of electrical stuff, metres of electrical wire and those great standbies – Pratleys Putty, duct tape and galvanized wire. Quite an important item is an inner tube in case we really wreck the treads of both spares with unrepairable holes. There are several plastic containers of assorted nuts, bolts, washers, set and machine screws stowed in the spares section (mostly in stainless steel which doesn’t rust).

A few litres of engine and the different transmission oils the Defender needs are included along with a grease gun (yes, Land Rovers have some of the best hidden but nevertheless important grease points on the prop shafts which need attention from time to time).

Should we need to attract attention in an emergency we have a small flare kit that shoots mini flares about 200m into the air. It might just work on an angry grizzly bear too…. For night time there is a potent hand spot lamp with a range of several hundred metres.