Waiting.........the garage is dark. Tires are getting low on air. Wouldn't mind a short spin round the block to get all the juices flowing. Seems to be some rumors of the slaves wanting to go for a trip in early 2014. On the down side, I also hear that those slaves are messing around with a Toyota when they are not with me. Not so smart.
After much long driving from the eastern side of Uruguay, all across the Pampas to the edge of the Andes, we arrived for New Years Eve at the home of the Suzy the Kombi (Rose & Charly) ! It was just super to see my old friend again, though it was having some mechanical problems (no engine) after a massive trip all over Brasil and Argentina for one year. After arriving in the town, Villa La Angostura, I decided it was time to never leave again. So like the last time I saw Suzy, I refused to start. No dead battery trick this time; instead I just cut the entire electrical system. Lots of fun was had as we spent the night next to Suzy. The next day, the slaves were confused with the no start situation, but once again they figured out a way to push start me. Rose's father decided to drive me around the town with everyone in the back. So as Curt was in the back for the first time, I decided to give him some music; clunk, clunk, clunk. Just a little something to worry him as payback for starting me when I most assuredly wanted to stay. After a few days, the slaves gave up trying to coax me into behaving, and we went to San Carlos de Bariloche for some mechanic time! Once we hit the streets, Curt flagged down the first LR Defender he saw and got a recommendation on a top notch mechanic; Beto. Beto changed my rear shock absorbers, my alternator, and greased my U-joints. It was a great day, so we headed on to El Bolson for the night.
It was a lovely day at Santa Teresa PN and we were all set up for camping. Everything was going great, I was even playing nice with the batteries and the excessive fridge/lights usage. All of a sudden there is a big ruckus to pack everything up and drive to the border town of Chuy; instead of enjoying the beach, the slaves though it would be a good use of a day to drive to fill up on cheap Brasilian diesel.
After the diesel was purchased, the slaves had some mix up at the immigration controls and had to wait 5 hours in the parking lot. Along came the famous Hans whom they passed the time with while the immigration staff changed shifts. I wasn't privy to what happened the office, but all of a sudden we were off like a rocket in the wrong direction for the Brasilian border and across into Brasil without stopping for anything. It was dark, nearing midnight and we just kept going; which is something I do not like to do. So I prepared a little surprise for the slaves. I knew they had no Brasilian money so when all of sudden a toll booth appeared on the road, I disabled the clutch. Curt's face was white as he tried to get us stopped heading at 100 km/h into the the toll booth with no clutch. He showed me that he wasn't so stupid after all when he down shifted without a clutch from 5th all the way to 1st and got us into a crawl speed; just enough for him to yell out the window that we had no money to pay and we could not stop so open the gate! At the other side of the gate Curt turned off the engine, knowing full well that I was not going to be moving again; stuck in the middle of the highway at midnight. Much to my surprise, a few minutes later I was up on a platform truck and racing down the highway to an unknown location! Finally I was deposited with the slaves at a fuel station for the night. That was a little scary, so after Curt gave me a full bottle of clutch fluid, I smartened up a little and gave him just the minimal amount of clutch action to move us.
The next day we headed to another border crossing and entered into Uruguay again without issue. Then we started to follow the GPS across some off road conditions for many hours. All of a sudden the GPS indicated there was a ferry ahead! What? In the middle of a farmer's field? Two minutes later the dirt road ended without warning on the bank of a river. But there wasn't a ferry in sight. Out of the forest popped an old gnome with a long white beard and only shorts to say hello. He said the ferry man was having lunch and to pass the time would we like to see his home. Curt followed the gnome into the bushes to see a cot bed covered with a tarp and a fire pit. They man had lived there 18 years.
The ferry man arrived from lunch and told us we were very lucky to be on the ferry now, because the price doubled in the evening to 50 cents because of all the traffic (2 per hour). With all this new outlook on life, I decided to behave myself and let the clutch function enough to get us back to the campground, the waiting chairs, and Hans. The slaves rewarded me with a campground overhaul of my clutch master cylinder. I liked the sound of that.
After escaping the clutches of the salar thanks to the broken shovel and the amazing Maxtrax, we set on our way alone. The border crossing was closed due to excessive rain erosion of the dirt road, but of course when the border officials saw that standing in front of them was the best 4 by 4 by far, they let us proceed 'off road'. Strangely the rear axle seemed to be loose from the chassis of the vehicle when going around turns on this high mountain road. Just before nightfall, we came across our first car of the day (actually 2 cars stuck in the mud). One was Suzanne & Andre, whom we had met 5 months earlier in Iguazu; the other was Hans & Bente. Suzanne & Andre had been stuck for 2 or 3 days in this spot; and Suzanne was reminding Andre every few minutes that this was the last trip for her ever! After a few minor adjustments such as removing the bent shock absorber and reconnecting the rear axle to frame with a large bolt, we got to work on getting these folks clear of the mud. It was a night spent sleeping on the cold high altitude road before finding an off road track to detour around and make it down the mountain to Salta, Argentina by next nightfall. Got a little reward the next day; new rear shock absorbers and 3 hot baths of diesel and oil to get that horrible salt off.
A lovely drive from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile across the Paso de Sico to Argentina.
A beautiful salar sits nestled in the Andes.
The beauty grows with each step closer.
Hmm, seem to have dropped two wheels in salar
Just got worse, now all 4 wheels are dropped through the crust of the salar into the saturated salt water below. Haven't seen anyone else since 400kms ago. Could be a problem.
New Years Eve was going to be great! We had been bush camping on the Atlantic side of Ihlabela near the isolated beach with Suzy the Kombi (Rose & Charly). The place was just fantastic, though the slaves were complaining (what else is new) this time about the barachugas (black flies). But then I overheard the slaves talking about how they were going to park me and Suzy somewhere and leave us while they had a good time in town! This had to be dealt with promptly. So I quickly ran down my two batteries (they thought that with two I would be unable to do such a thing), and then I sat mildly waiting for the exciting drive into town. Oh what a commotion when they found out the batteries were dead! It looked like we would all have to stay at the beach for the New Years. Suzy and another vehicle were attached with cables to me, but I would not start. Then they had the idea of Suzy towing me; which I knew was ridiculous since I am so overloaded with junk. But I had overlooked one thing, there was a small valley a few meters away in the dirt road, so with a tug from Suzy and a few pushes, they managed to pull start my motor. Well, I gave it my best that night, but I made up for it the next day with complete brake failure.
Things have really turned around. After 3 months of having my motor laying on the cement floor of still to be determined mechanic shop, my slave Curt walked through the doors with bags and bags of auto parts and accessories! And he was not alone; two friends Jason and Dave were here to help as well. Once they showed up, there has been action on me non-stop for a month. One of the guys who owns the shop turned out to be an engine specialist who has re-bored my cylinders and installed new pistons. I've now got the correct head gasket as well. A new fuel pump, rear diff protector, Mantec snorkel and wading kit, Maxtrax sandladders (just like the Dakar guys), a Tirfor TU-16 hand winch, a new windshield, new batteries, 3 plastic military grade Scepter fuel cans, a Hi-Lift jack, new front shock absorbers, new rear brake shoes, reconfigured roof rack, new oil change in all my spots, and a new Sony super duper stereo. Not to mention all the spare parts and expedition equipment which got stuffed into my cargo boxes. I've been resurrected many times, but this was the biggest attempt at sweet-talking me I'd seen so far. The Phoenix of La Paz has now added the title Phoenix of Buenos Aries!
Things seemed to be going so well after the new slave brought me to Argentina. I had a nice warm night in a locked garage with an attendant, I behaved, and we visited some auto parts stores. Now that I reflect on those few days, I think I can pin point it exactly to when Curt and his friend Cooper took me to the auto parts store, and I had a few exhaust farts inside the cab; Cooper looked very sick and he was clamoring to get out of there fast. I thought we were all friends, and what's a little gas to pass between friends. Apparently Cooper didn't see it that way and promptly vomited. Next thing I know an Argentine man named Wolly gets behind the wheel and proceeds to attempt to drive by using my horn. Curt and Buenos Aires disappear as Wolly horns out of the city to a dark old barn in the countryside, teases me with a few spins around in the mud, and then abandons me. Just when things were looking up, here I am alone and probably destined for the scrap heap.
The relationship between myself and Frank & Sylvi had gotten rather rocky recently. They had even sold me a few weeks ago to a man who ripped out nearly anything of value from me, before handing me back to Frank & Sylvi in a fit of buyer's remorse. Ever since that day, I knew that our days together were numbered. Frank & Sylvi pretended to be nice to me with rub downs and pep talks, and I pretended to listen and behave. When they left me with some nice older people in Colonia for a week, I thought it was the end. But then at the end of the week, who should come by but Frank! No Sylvi, just Frank and two unknown men. I know from prior experience that this is exactly the type of situation when I need to really put on a show and razzle dazzle them; no unnecessary farting. It appeared that only one of the two unknown men was interested in me, so I set my charms on him alone. He kicked my tires, opened my hood, probed at my innards, and then he want to go for a drive! Frank started me up, and backed me up out of the driveway. Now normally I would give Frank a bit of fun with grinding gearbox and inability to get into gear and that sort of thing, but not today. Today I smoothly transitioned to reverse, and then we set out down the road for the 'test drive'. I never smoked much, just ran like a purring kitten. The test driver, Frank called him Curt, seemed to be really taken with me. The third man was not interested, just trying to get out as fast as possible. Curt really got into things and we all drove into town. When Curt drove straight to an automotive parts store, I knew this was going to work out very well between us. A few darts around town and then we got on the ferry and arrived in Buenos Aires. What a joy to be back in the land of high priced parts and licentious mechanics! Frank got out and Curt and the other man drove me to a parking garage for the night. I am pretty sure that Frank will be back to see me, maybe not today but someday. This Curt guy should be alright though; a good start anyways.