Jennifer Ruskey

I got the driving bug at the Mongol Rally, a semi-organized adventure in which participants drive a car with a maximum one-liter engine capacity from England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This gave me a taste for travelling foreign countries by car (I was already a devotee of the Canada/US road trip), and the confidence that such a trip could be undertaken in a seemingly tiny and inappropriate vehicle (Mongolian roads mostly consist of “a straight line across the steppes that is driven upon slightly more than other available straight lines” – and yet, they can be traversed in a tiny Vauxhall Agila).

Hometown: 
Victoria, BC, Canada
When did you start your travels?: 
10/31/2014
Reason for taking this trip: 
From 2011-2014 I worked on getting my masters degree in Zoology, an endeavour that had its rewards, but also turned out to be Not What I Wanted To Do With My Life. Having spent three stifling years doing something I wasn’t passionate about, I decided it was time for this newly-minted mistress of science to shake things up and head south in search of inspiration.
Why did you decide to drive?: 
Back in 2011 I took part in the Mongol Rally, a semi-organized adventure in which participants drive a car with a maximum one-liter engine capacity from England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This gave me a taste for travelling foreign countries by car (I was already a devotee of the Canada/US road trip), and the confidence that such a trip could be undertaken in a seemingly tiny and inappropriate vehicle (Mongolian roads mostly consist of “a straight line across the steppes that is driven upon slightly more than other available straight lines” – and yet, they can be traversed in a tiny Vauxhall Agila).
Are you also taking along pets?: 
No
Are you also taking along children?: 
No
What type of car are you driving?: 
2003 Honda Civic, stick shift, 2-door, 1.7 L engine.
Did you make any modifications to your car for this trip?: 
Zero! My darling Cochita had already travelled 350,000 km when I bought her, and she’s done 30,000 more without issue, all in her original configuration.
How did you save up or finance your trip?: 
Living a frugal student lifestyle, buying a very cheap car, and some repurposed student loans.
How long do you plan on traveling?: 
As long as I can afford to! At least until the end of 2015.
Where do you plan on driving? : 
Panama at least… and maybe beyond, but I’m not in a hurry.
What were your family’s and friends’ reactions when you told them about your trip before you left?: 
I think I’ve broken them in with my previous travel shenanigans. Their main reactions were “be safe,” and “let me know when I can come visit.”
What languages do you speak? Will you learn more on your trip?: 
I spoke exactly zero Spanish before leaving. While driving through Canada and the United States I listened to some learn-Spanish-on-tape that I had downloaded before I left, but I was still pretty much useless upon arrival in Mexico… However, being immersed in the language, I improved quickly, and then took a week of language classes in Xela, Guatemala, at Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco – www.plqe.org - highly, highly recommended. I do speak passable French, which has been extremely helpful in learning Spanish.
Do you have a favorite place that you've visited?: 
Americans are quick to warn that Mexico is the land of PERILOUS CARTEL DANGER and IMMINENT MURDERKIDNAPPING, and I do think it is wise to skirt the areas that are currently experiencing high levels of cartel-related violence… but overall (and in comparison with much of Central America), I found Mexico to be safe and prosperous, with a spectacular diversity of art, music, food, culture, and landscape. People were friendly, open, and very proud of their country. There was also a lot of within-country tourism. I would go back in a second – and hope to, on the drive back north (if Cochita survives).
What was the weirdest thing you experienced on your trip?: 
Arriving at the Monkey House hostel in Playa Amarilla, Nicaragua – a remote and rickety shack perched on a rocky headland overlooking spectacular surf – and finding a white Dodge Caravan with BC plates!
What was the worst border crossing?: 
Undoubtedly, Guatemala to El Salvador at La Hachadura. Ornery guards and relentless, aggressive touts tearing documents from your hands. Honduras to Nicaragua was the worst in terms of the Kafka-esque layers of bureaucracy (fill out a document! Make a photocopy! Get the copy stamped! Make a copy of the copy! Rinse and repeat!), but people were friendly.
Do you have any advice for others who may be considering driving the Americas?: 
You can do it in a Honda Civic! But if you want to go to a lot of small places, especially in the rainy season, consider a four-wheel drive. Also – speak Spanish, as much as you can, all the time, even if you are terrible at it.
Kristin