Big Rigs in Baja

BY: MARLA O'BRIEN

You may have seen them on highways and byways around Baja - massive off-road campers that look like they belong on a Mars mission, often bearing Swiss or German flags. These are European expedition rigs, and those driving them are often on years-long journeys around the globe. 

One such traveller is Juergen Zender, who recently spent a few weeks on San Pedrito beach in his Bimobil truck. 

“It’s got a three-litre diesel engine with 180 horsepower, is a 4X4 with short overhangs and high ground clearance, so it can go virtually anywhere,” he explains. 

Zender had the expedition vehicle custom-made in Germany 10 years ago. He used to car-camp throughout Europe during his working years and eventually upgraded to a Volkswagen bus to explore Africa. 

But he quickly realized 4X4 capabilities were needed to reach remote desert areas. Since then he has extensively explored Africa, Asia and Australia in his Bimobil. In May 2019, he had it shipped to Canada’s eastern coast to finally cross the Americas off his travel list. 

When asked about his favorite discoveries in North America, Zender is hard-pressed to name only a few.

“Utah has so many highlights in such a small space. And the Great Lakes, around Superior has the most beautiful landscape,” he says. “Alaska and British Columbia were also so impressive.”

Zender crossed into Baja at the end of November 2019 and is enjoying Mexico very much.

“I really like the spicy food!”

Baja is a popular spot for many European overland explorers due to its wide-open spaces, great weather and numerous boondocking spots. 

But traveling in a rugged expedition vehicle doesn’t come cheap. While Zender considers his average gas consumption of 13 liters per 100 km reasonable, the initial cost of such a rig can be exorbitant. Most basic models start at over $200,000 USD and end up costing considerably more with customization. 

Then there is the cost of ferrying the rig over oceans. Many Europeans ship from Brussels in Belgium to Nova Scotia because it’s easier to get the vehicle admitted into Canada, and this costs in the $3,000 USD range. 

Sadly, importing a European-made expedition truck isn’t an option for North American residents. And there are very few manufacturers of comparable models in the U.S. and Canada. 

Earthroamer in Colorado makes heavy-duty truck and campers with similar capabilities to European rigs. Their newest model features a body constructed entirely of carbon fiber and a base price of $590,000 USD. 

For Europeans who plan to live and travel in their expedition trucks over several years, the costs are worth it. 

“Europe is so crowded now, there are so many borders and different fees for everything,” Zender says. “For me, the most important thing is that there is so much more space here. It’s very impressive.” 

At age 74, Zender sees no end to his adventures. He plans to take the ferry to Mexico’s mainland and continue south into Central and South America over the next year. 

For an insider peek at what it’s like to travel in an expedition Bimobil, check out the “Live and Give 4X4” channel on YouTube. Young explorers Fabian and Isabella have spent several months in Baja and document their adventures with stunning drone videography.