Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal’s Fall 2022 Issue.
A flash of insight can be triggered by nearly anything. A conversation with a stranger, a blog post, photograph, or film comes to mind. But sometimes, inspiration strikes when you least expect it. For Brazilian overlanders Sergio Medeiros and Eleni Alvejan, an object in an unexpected location changed their lives forever, leading to nearly a decade of travel in a 2000 Land Rover Defender 110.
Back in 2013, the couple was viewing a showcase apartment in São Paulo, going through the usual process of purchasing their next home. The unit was decorated to entice potential buyers, including one personal touch that caught Sergio’s eye—a book. “On the cover was a Brazilian couple standing in front of a Land Rover Defender,” Medeiros says. They had completed a round-the-world trip, and the photograph ignited something in Sergio that he believes was there the whole time. “You already have this inside; you just need something that shows you, Hey, come on. Let’s do this now.”
The book cover sealed the deal for Sergio, and he set out to find a Land Rover Defender 110 that was up to the task of their first jaunt, a one-month trip to Ushuaia, Argentina. This proved challenging, not because there weren’t many available, but because he needed to find a Defender in good condition. Aside from the Argentinian-built 300Tdi turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine, Sergio and Eleni’s Rover, nicknamed “Mundrunga,” was assembled in a factory in the São Paulo metropolitan region of São Bernardo do Campo. The initial buildout was quite simple—a mattress-topped platform in the rear with cabinets underneath; it was important to be able to remove the platform, transforming the Defender into a practical daily driver back in São Paulo.
Their first trip was a smashing success, so Sergio and Eleni decided to leave Brazil behind, bound for Alaska. They spent the next year working and modifying the Defender to suit long-term travel, including building a marine plywood cabinet for clothes and kitchen items, installing a Waeco CF35 fridge, 70-liter stainless steel water tank, a Sumatra rooftop tent and awning, and a drop-down table on the back door. Other modifications included three Optima batteries, a Ctek D250SA dual-battery charger, solar panels, and a set of BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrain tires that proved themselves for 100,000 kilometers.
Sergio had a set of 2-inch Terrafirma HD coil springs and Big Bore shocks installed to support the load, while a Keko bull bar front bumper, Warn 9000i winch, and Safari snorkel added protection and transformed the look of the Defender into a global overland build. Sergio stresses the importance of a tight budget (which dictated each modification) and sticking to a strict departure date. “It is important to have; otherwise, you will be modifying your car for eternity and not going anywhere.”
While the Rover sports an Alu-Cab 270-degree Shadow awning and shower cube, extra fuel containers, and country flags spanning the length of the vehicle, there is one detail that is more personal and speaks to the couple’s name, Projeto Mundo Cão. Several black and white graphics containing the outline of a dog symbolize Medeiros and Alvejan’s Project World Dog, the aim of which is to feed stray dogs during their journey. The project was born out of their experience providing food, clothing, and blankets to the homeless population in São Paolo. During this time, Sergio and Eleni noticed that folks would often share the food with their dogs. “We love dogs, so we said, let’s start bringing something for them,” Sergio notes. “We did this for seven years. When we started the trip, we wanted to give a reason for all of this, not only travel. [The dogs] looked to us for affection [and] taught us a lot about gratitude and love. These were unforgettable and indescribable experiences.”
Planning to return to Brazil in one year, Medeiros and Alvejan left São Paulo in February 2015. They drove 62,000 kilometers, passed through 17 countries, and eventually arrived in Alaska in their trusty Land Rover. The one-year plan no longer existed. “We traveled for two-and-a-half years with this setup,” Eleni says. “The tent was good for travel, but for living, [it was always] open, close, open, close.” With experience comes knowledge and change, and the couple knows this well. “We are always trying to do something better,” Sergio adds, “because we live in the car. This is not a trip for us; it’s our lifestyle now.”
Desiring more inside living space, Medeiros and Alvejan contacted Alu-Cab, messaging back and forth for over a year before the Icarus roof conversion took place after Overland Expo West in 2017. The process was simple, Sergio says, because unfastening the original Defender roof only requires removing the rivets and bolts. No welds, no problem. Realizing they could now stand upright in the vehicle’s rear, Sergio worked with Marco from Ovrlndx in San Diego to source the materials to construct a taller set of cabinets made from aluminum and PVC. A full-size sink, Eureka cooktop, and Acuva UV water filtration system were added, while a couple of aluminum boxes on the top and rear of the vehicle keep the interior clutter-free.
In seven years of travel, the couple has prioritized preventative maintenance and experienced few mechanical breakdowns. One notable incident occurred upon their arrival at the Tuktoyaktuk welcome sign in the Canadian Arctic. “My car just shut off,” Sergio says. “I was pumping the accelerator, it restarted, and everything was kind of normal until Banff National Park near Lake Louise. We parked in an overflow lot right on the highway and stayed there for two days trying to fix the car.” Medeiros eventually determined that watery diesel from a lonely fuel station in Eagle Plains caused the Defender’s injection pump to fail. With no cell service, an expensive tow, and an outrageous quote from a General Motors dealer in Canmore, Alberta, the pair decided it would be more cost-effective to drive the vehicle to a shop in Tijuana, Mexico, and have it repaired there. “There is a joke that says if you want to go anywhere, you buy a Land Rover; if you want to come back, buy a Land Cruiser,” Medeiros laughs. “But it’s a lie; if you maintain it, [the Land Rover] is a really tough vehicle.”
All along the Pan-American Highway, Sergio and Eleni have felt the support of the Land Rover community. They are part of a 5,000-member Land Rover Facebook group based in Brazil and meet aficionados in every country they visit. “For us, it is common; if we’re driving and we cross a Defender, we both stop and hug each other like friends,” Sergio laughs warmly. “We face the same problems.”
The common thread that binds Land Rover owners eventually reached Brazil, where Sergio and Eleni met the couple responsible for inspiring change in their lives. They are now friends with the overlanders that graced the book cover Sergio found in the show apartment in São Paulo. Talk about coming full circle.
Like two Land Rovers passing on a bumpy track, overland travel brings strangers together with no guarantee of seeing each other again. But in some exceptional cases, you are granted the privilege of witnessing your fellow travelers go through a metamorphosis. The first time I met Sergio and Eleni was in Ibarra, Ecuador, when we were both making changes to the interiors of our vehicles. They were rocking their Sumatra rooftop tent and awning while we slept in our CVT. Several years later, we met at Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, and their vehicle had changed once again, sporting an Alu-Cab conversion. Most recently, Sergio, Eleni, and I sat on the bench seat inside the back of their Defender, parked on a beach in Baja, recording an episode of the Overland Journal Podcast. We all agreed that there is no perfect setup and that it is natural to edit, cut, and paste as you go.
Medeiros and Alvejan continue to experiment with their Land Rover, recently adding a fridge slide and a Flatpit grill to their kitchen collection. Perhaps it’s like moving furniture around in a house, the way we experiment with making life easier on the road. This knowledge and experience are gleaned only after years of being intimately connected with your vehicle and daily routines, figuring out how they potentially work together symbiotically. It’s not surprising that a long-term build should undergo more than one transformation—isn’t that what travel is ultimately about?
To learn more about Sergio and Eleni of Projeto Mundo Cão, please enjoy Episode #78 of the Overland Journal Podcast.
2000 Land Rover Defender 110 CSW
300Tdi turbocharged inline 4-cylinder diesel
5-speed manual gearbox
Suspension and Drive
Terrafirma HD 2-inch coil springs
Terrafirma Big Bore Expedition shock
Wheels and Tires
Original Land Rover aluminum wheels
BFGoodrich KO2 265/75R16 All-Terrain tires
Recovery and Armor
Keko bull bar front bumper
Warn 9000i winch
Armazém 4×4 recovery gear
Rhino USA traction boards
Alu-Cab Icarus roof conversion
Alu-Cab 270-degree Shadow awning
Alu-Cab shower cube
Tração off-road roof rack
Rhino Overland gullwing window
Rhino Overland preparation table
Trekmaster air compressor
Old Man blackout windows
67 Designs rail mounts
Waeco CF35 refrigerator
Eureka propane stove
18-gallon water tank
Optima batteries, three
Ctek D250SA dual battery charger
Eco-Worthy solar panels, 275 watts
Acuva UV water filtration system
Stradale performance racing seats
Aluminum boxes on top and rear for storage
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