19 Nov 2016

The Trials and Tribulations of Travel

The repair took a little longer than hoped, but they made a good job of it so worth the wait. We then took it to a auto box specialist to check the internal filter and fit a new fan to the auto box filter, they looked to have done a good job and the Nissan fan they fitted was better than the original and this was soon born out by the extreme climbing necessary over the next few days.

When we got the car back it was full of dust inside and out (which was no wonder with 2 windows and a door off) so a complete strip and clean was required and Monika insisted on cleaning the outside as a parting gift (as she left to travel to The Galapagos that evening)

After 13 days we were finally ready to set off on our travels through Bolivia and back through Argentina. From Cochabamba at 2850m we went up in stages, first to Sucre and then Uyuni and the Salt Flats (both at 3650m), but as ever the road took us down to under 2000m and up to over 4000m en route, with some serious climbs.Ironically the very steep twist ones are not so bad for the gear box as you just sit in 2nd gear and it goes up anywhere. It is the slightly less steep with longer straights that are the biggest problem, at one stage the radiator temperature even started to increase and I have never seen that before (as the auto box temperature light always comes on before I reach this point) but as I pulled over to rest the engine, so the auto box light came on - so OK I HAVE found its limit now!

From this point we thought we expected the altitude to get lower, which it did in terms of where we slept, but for the next few days it continually went above 4000m every day. We finally came down to Salta at 1200m, but then rose to over 4,300m, through some really spectacular country, before droping like a stone to Santiago de Estero (in Argentina, not the one to be confused with Santiago in Chile) 350mwith temperatures in excess of 50c for the next 2 days, until a massive thunderstorm cooled it all down.

It was then it was just a 3 day, 850 mile dash to Uruguay to take the truck back to storage and ferry across to Buenos Aries for the weekend.

The journey was not without its mechanical issues either. It was time to have an oil change in Uyuni before setting off on one of the worst 88 miles we have encounters (ruts pot holes and corrugations, with the odd respite of quite deep sand). But 25 miles in and a clanking noise started from front left, I stopped 3 times over the next few miles but could not spot anything obviously loose, but something was clearly wrong and getting worse so took the decision to turn back. It was Friday afternoon with enough time to get back to a mechanic we knew, to carry on meant possibly not finding a mechanic until Monday (as the good ones don't usually work at the weekend).

Our mechanic was still there and at first look he saw nothing either, but after a closer look found a collapsed shock absorber and 2 large washers and a rubber bush and was all sorted, it appears that the bottom washer had worn through and the washers and bush had fallen off, but was otherwise doing its job so all was good.

We decided to stay in a Hotel to get an early start and next morning I started the engine and luckily turned the front wheels so I could look at the shock absorber repair and saw engine oil absolutely pouring out of the engine!!! Ignition off and a quick look found the oil filter loose! I needed the removal tool (which I had lent to the mechanic to get the old one off - he had a few but they were all too big to fit in the space) but manged to get it tight enough that it wouldn't leek, checked there was still enough oil in the engine and drove back to the mechanic.

The filter was a bit smaller than usual, but his supplier had assured him that it was what they use on all diesel land cruisers, I was not now convinced so asked him to replace it with my spare. Turns out the other one was a petrol filter with a single element and the diesel one has 2 elements  and must have been the pressure that forced it off. Its just amazing and very lucky it did not come off the previous day!

So off (late) again, but this time made the very rough 88 mile road and stayed in The Butch Cassidy Hostel not far from where Butch and Sundance ended their days in a big shoot out.

At Tilcarra (Argentina) we decide to stop an extra day to visit the nearby archaeological site after taking off the front wheels to check the front pads, they were OK but the front right track rod end had movement in it. So we stopped off at a Toyota mechanic (recommended on IOverlander) when we got to Salta, he could not replace but did have a machine to tighten it up, so we left it with him the following morning and picked it up after a day in Salta. Something else to bring a set of back from the UK.

Having sorted out all our mechanical issues, we get to Santiago and the lights went out. Although we tend only to travel in daylight it is a legal requirement to keep the headlights on. One of them had gone out and I was using the front fog/driving lights (next to the headlamps), but suddenly everything except one head lamp went out. Eventually I found that if I switched on the lights without the fog lights the side lights came on! We then had both headlights replaced at the local Toyota Garage and manged to get to Uruguay before the side lights went out again! Waggling the light stick would eventually bring them back on, but there is clearly an electrical gremlin in there somewhere! But it got us back to our storage facility and Sandra (owner) is going to get a local specialist to have a look and let me know if I need to bring any parts back with me (they don't have land cruisers there but may have other Toyota's with the same light fittings).

The beast is back and Monika makes a good job of cleaning it.
Back on the road and we find a tree for  some shade for lunch

Sucre (Bolivia) at sunset. We camp in someones garden with just enough room to fit 3 overlanders. No sign outside, just a GPS point on IOverlander, with instructions to bang on the brown gate (No 73) and they will let you in. We banged on the gate and waited and someone turned up in a car and let us in! Wonderful spot a short walk from the town centre. Before IOverlander it was just word of mouth, but there are an amazing number of overlanders in their many visitors books. 

The Train Graveyard at Uyuni. A collection of broken and damaged trains and carriages left here to rot, there have apparently been plans for some years to make it into a museum, but it has not happened yet.
It was chilly so we decided to go into town before setting up camp among the trains (apparently many overlanders camp her but we did not see anyone else while we were here. Just after this I changed from shorts to trousers and left my wallet on the floor of the car. When I came to pay for dinner my wallet was nowhere to be seen!! We back tracked to the restaurant we almost stopped at, then back to where I changed, then to a toilet that was being built within the graveyard (slum dog style) we stopped at on the way out to see if it was open (it wasn't) and my wallet was still propped up on the floor where I had kicked it out when I checked out the toilet at least 2 hours before, complete with cash and debit card. Lucky, but it was very dark and deserted. I wont do that again!
This is the iconic picture of the Graveyard and many photos and paintings can be found in restaurants all round the area

The a dash across the Salar de Uyuni, a prehistoric salt water lake that dried up many 000's of years ago. 

We camped on the salt next to an island covered in cactus, next day we took the right hand 'road' to the Volcano.

Did you here the one about the German, the Belgian and the Tandem? It took us 55 minutes to drive the 60 miles across the salt flats, this couple camped on the salt, camping well off the 'road' (basically just a pair of black lines on the salt) hoping they didn't get run over in the middle of the night

This view really does look like the  sea from part way up the volcano, but it is all salt.

We probably didn't break the Land(cruiser) Speed Record, but we did average over 70MPH on the 65 mile dash back across the salt.
From a distance this really does look like a Hilux, but is all made from Salt Blocks. Part of a monument to the recent Dakar Rally here

There is a lot of 2 wheeled transport in South America, but this belongs to a young Colombian girl that has ridden this on her own from Bogota over 3,000 miles away (across Ecuador and Peru!). This is how she was riding it across the salt flats, maybe she got her sleeping bag wet last night? And with 2 red and one black fuel cans between her knees to carry sufficient fuel to make it between petrol stations.

One of the Canyons close to where Butch and Sundance got cornered. I am sure the group on horse back were told that they would be taken where vehicles could not reach (except a Land cruiser of course)

This is the road to our camp site at the bottom of the valley ahead, At this point we are at about 4,100m and the camp site is at 2,850m. This is quite wide compared to the road ahead that winds down through many hairpin bends.

The Camp site is almost directly below, around 1,000m down 

We visit another Archaeological site at Tilcarra after checking out the vehicle.

And make our second visit to this restaurant with local music. We toured the many almost empty restaurants round the town the evening before, until we came across this one that just had a couple of tables free, half an hour later the music started and we had a great night, but I didn't bring may camera, so we had to come back to take a picture.

We spend the day walking round Salta whilst the track rod end is fixed

On the road again and we come across this amazing natural canyon, with a local  playing pan pipes that sounded amazing 

The entrance to the Canyon, it is quite amazing we saw it from the road (there was no sign, but quite a few small tourist buses parked nearby.

A little detour through a place called Taf de Valle, with some amazing scenery that is difficult to capture in a small photo.

Prehistoric Standing Stones collected from all around the surrounding valley and set out on this hill to preserve them

We could be back in Mongolia!

We were looking for a spot out of the mud at a truck stop (after a massive thunderstorm) and we were suddenly stopped by a pick-up, the owner of this restaurant had seen us driving round, realised what we were looking for and insisted we camp next to his restaurant. Of course we ate in his restaurant and had a superb steak (which was big enough for next days lunch as well)

We stop in the same camp site in Uruguay as we did on the way out, although technically the summer season has now started there was still no one here to take any money. 

And so on to Buenos Aries for my birthday, which did not go to plan! The suggested walks in local guide turned out to be route marches and lunch was a disaster, the waitress at the first restaurant came back so many times to say they had not got what we wanted (including 2 off the specials board, which was in chalk and could be wiped off) we walked out. The next restaurant had what we wanted but took nearly an hour to bring it out!

I spent ages looking through the info in the apartment for an open top city bus and found nothing. Eventually we saw one, but when we found the office to buy a ticket they said they were sold out for the day, which was odd because all the buses we saw were less than half full. We later found that you could buy a ticket on the bus, so decided we would start early the next day and jump on the nearest bus.

We eventually came back by this bar, which had been recommended to us last night but which we could not get into, it was full, with a number of people waiting outside. The plan was supposed to be to go back to the apartment and change for dinner at the amazing steak restaurant we went to last year, but after a couple of (excellent) beers we couldn't be bothered and ate a quite amazing seafood ensemble at the pub. After which a band came in for a few numbers.

Fate was against us again as a major thunderstorm started in the early hours and went on until the early afternoon, so jumping on an open top bus was suddenly less appealing, so we walked down to the Sunday antique market and had lunch in a little local restaurant on the way (and we were eating within 15 minutes of walking in!) this was an example of some of the amazing street art around the city.

Sunday night and we really pushed the boat out by going a dinner Tango Show (with one of the actors from Planet of The Apes taking a lead role).

Not sure what these guys had to do with Tango, but they were quite good