22 Apr 2018

A New Lease of Life

My apologies if the last blog was not up to its normal standards, but I was somewhat concerned about events occurring with the cruiser. As well as the steering problem we had re-broken a bracket on the rear suspension (one that had already been welded in Peru) and also needed fuel filters and front brake pads changing, so Hans took me to the garage that was currently repairing the radiator on his Land Rover.

The mechanics cleaned the oil from the steering box, identified where the leek was coming from and said they were believed they could fix it and that although Toyota did not have the appropriate seals they were confident that a specialist company could match all of the seals and O rings with those from other manufacturers. I confess I was very dubious but agreed to let them go ahead. They said they would need to keep it for 2 or 3 days so Hans let us stay in the spare room in his house (actually a converted barn) for the same price as camping (all 6 rooms in the hotel were occupied anyway so worked out very well for us.

Two days later Hans took me down to see how they were doing with both vehicles and my steering box was spread out on a bench (and was a lot bigger and heavier than I realised).
Next afternoon they called to say the steering box was finished, they had made a new bracket to replace the broken one and changed the front pads, but would not have the filters changed until the following morning.

On the morning of day 4 I picked up the truck and took it on an 85 mile trip into the mountains with quite a few bends and although there was no apparent leak the level had dropped and needed topping up! The hope was that there was air trapped in the system and that all of the bends had managed to purge the system, so the day after we did another 100 miles and this time there was no leak at all!

So, having resigned ourselves to doing the minimum in order to get back to Uruguay, suddenly we get a new lease of life and decide to go on a mini adventure. 

We had been told of an excellent gravel mountain road north west of Mendoza (with 360 bends in one section), so the following day we headed for this road and continued in a 6 day loop north of San Juan with lots more gravel roads and hairpin bends and ended up reversing the excellent mountain road on the way back as it was so good.

So we are now back with Hans, having done over 1,000 miles (and a lot of bends) since I last topped up the steering fluid and it hasn't lost a drop (and thank God I don’t have to carry the steering box back to the UK to get it fixed!), and almost ready to start back towards Uruguay and home. We have stayed on the western side of Argentina as long as possible as the weather here has been 25 to 30 for the past few weeks, but the weather on the eastern side, i.e. Uruguay and Buenos Aires, has been awful.  But leaving the best till last we went back to Finca Agostino for lunch yesterday (we went there last year) but this time we had the 5 course meal with 5 different wines (we had the 3 course last year) and it was even better.

Posada Cavieres, a 6 bedroom Hotel designed built and run by Hans, originally from Belgium.
He has a Landrover (but he can't get everything right)

The Lounge

We camped by the barn.

with lots of parrots in the garden

This and the last photo care of Andy Murray (no Jenna, not the tennis player), a doctor from Scotland now living in Australia with his wife (from Northern Ireland) also a doctor.

A quick trip round to check out the steering

lots of bends

and a Reservoir

Satisfied the steering is no longer leaking we set off on a mini adventure

With instructions on how to react if you are attacked by a Puma (fat chance of seeing one let alone being attacked by one. There have been reports of them attacking passing cyclists tho!

and up a gravel road with 360 bends in it and of course some fabulous views

and then head north, on a dead straight road for about 60miles (100k)

and past a lake near a place called Rodeo, there is apparently a kite surfing school on this lake because it is so windy here

We go past a park that apparently has a lot of fossils and is also supposed to be very similar to the parks in Utah, but the only way to visit is in convoy and would have been dark as we finished, we could have stayed in the car park but was very exposed and extremely cold and windy, so we have put this on the list for next year. (the dinosaur skeleton is fibre glass)

then we wild camp next to a lake.

This was on the green of a tiny village, commemorating Mate, which just about everyone in Argentina drinks.

More mountain roads, this time very smooth tarmac

We drive up a small canyon behind the camp site we stayed at in Barreal for a view of the Andes in the distance

and stop at a dried up river bed that they use for land surfing, but here is absolutely no wind at the moment

and then back down the road with 360 bends, in this direction possibly the scariest road I have driven on!
another wild camp just outside Mendoza

Before we head home we have to re-visit Finca Agostino 
and have a glass of champagne on the roof terrace before lunch

I won't put pictures of all 5 courses (and appetiser) or the 5 different wines that came with them, but this was the second course, pickled local fish (similar to pickled herring from Denmark) on a bed of thinly cut melon and lettuce  (and other salad bits) covered in a type of local pop corn and served with chilled rose.
The main course was steak, done to perfection of course, and served with an oak aged Malbec


Hans took this as we left, I cleaned the cruiser the day before and given the varios batterings it has had it looks as good as the day we left! Of course he had to get his Landrover in at the end

10 Apr 2018

The weather turns so we escape north to warmer climes.

The last blog was published on 13th March, but only actually went up to the 3rd, it took 10 days to get sufficient Internet to post it, so has been a month since the last blog and to be honest we have done very little in that month.

Fortunately the deflating tyre was nothing more than a very large nail, so once removed and repaired we were back on the road (I was concerned we had another cracked wheel) and on to our Chilean friends Caro and Victor.

Caro and Victor have bought an amazing piece of land that they plan to build a house and create a camp site specific for Overlands and Cyclists and we stayed with them and their gorgeous Pyranean Mountain dog Guapo (handsome) for a few days. It was great to see them and we had a few BBQ's (usually sheltering from the rain) and had days of mixed sun and cloud, but the nights were cold and usually wet.

We were now getting concerned about a leak from the steering box. We had the steering pump successfully repaired in Uruguay, but around 1,000 miles later the steering fluid level started to drop again. This time leaking from the steering box and yet again the necessary parts are not available in South America. Over the next 6,000 miles the leak got worse. Victor spoke to a local mechanic and he was pretty sure that he could make the appropriate seal, but when we went to see him it was a different type of steering and said it was not possible to make. He said he thought we could make it back to Uruguay but try and use straighter roads to limit the steering input.

We then stayed in a really nice hostel for 5 days, but the forecast for all around was cold and wet for the next 10 days, so with that and the steering problem we abandoned the second half of the Carratera Austral and headed back across into Argentina and followed the Route 40 all the way up to Mendoza, still very scenic, but by the side of the mountains rather than through them, with mostly typical straight Argentinian roads.

The weather started to improve as we moved north, but still very chilly in the evening, so we stayed more in hostels than camp sites for the next couple of weeks. and now we are in Mendoza, where it has been mid 20's to early 30's for the last few days and we are now camped at a wonderful little posada in the wine district. Hans, the Belgian owner of the Hotel is a would be overlander, he has a Land Rover and has made 2 spaces for overlanders, who are free to use all of the facilities such as the pool and gardens - we could be here a while!

Staying with Caro and Victor. They are currently living in their camper (removed from the truck). They are about to have a cabin built for the winter, prior to opening there camp site next year.

The views are amazing if a little grey when we were there, eventually they will build a house in this location with an amazing view
Caro and Victor
and Guapo, only 11months old but huge!

views of the mountains

Victor prepares half a lamb for Caro's birthday

and BBQ's it is

Route 40 on the way to Bariloche and back into blue skies and sunshine

Past more lakes

and local wild life

On the waterfront just past Bariloche, cold and incredibly windy.

It looks dark but is in the middle of the day, huge black clouds with blue sky in places and the sun poking through

Puerto Manzano on the Lakes route north of Bariloche, the road is beautiful, but the clouds rolled in again so no more photos.

More views of the Route 40

Wild camp near St Raphael. The following day we drove to St Raphael, arranged to stay at a camp site, did some shopping and visited a winery. We got back to the site at 17.45 and the gate was locked! So we went back to our tree and had another free night (I suspect if we had paid them at the camp site they would waited for us to come back).

Black neck swans are found in this area.

The winery at St Raphael.

Our first stop in Maipu was another winery owned by a French couple and they let us sleep behind the winery.

13 Mar 2018

Running back to back Marathons down the length of The Americas

We thought we were pretty intrepid, driving from one end of the Americas to the other, but these guys really take the biscuit!

Two couples in 2 vehicles from Belgium drove to the top of the Dalton Highway (as far north as you can go in Alaska) from where the two guys have taken it in turns to run a Marathon a day down to Ushuaia, with one day off a week! 3 Marathons a week each for 2 years! We met them with 15 marathons each to go to reach Ushuaia, both still fit, with no injuries. At the end of each day they make a chalk mark across the road at the marathon distance and the other guy starts from that point the next day.

I will come to how we met them later, but first back to where I left off.

Glacier Park was impressive, after thinking maybe we were getting travel weary and had seen it all before at last we find somewhere different. It is expensive to get in (£20.00 each), but they have built a series of stairs, walkways and platforms that take you to within around 20 meters of the Glacier. We then found that if we camped in the park (free) the ranger would stamp your ticket to enable you to stay another day (but if you left and returned the following day you would have to pay again) the odd thing is that you had to go out of the park and back in via another entrance to camp. Anyway, that’s what we did, and the following day was much sunnier, so we went back and did all the walkways we didn’t do the day before.

We had decided to stay another night in El Calafate before moving and on the way back from Glacier Park I felt tired so Chris drove for a while. As we got back into town I took over again but the (electric) seat would not move back into position, so I had to drive back stuck against the steering wheel!

Rather than fiddle with it myself we decided to stay another night go see the mechanic on Monday, but Sunday afternoon I decided to take the seat out and have a look. The motor looked like a sealed unit so doubtful the mechanic could do anything, but I found a hex head on the end of each spindle so used a spanner to manually move the seat back and on the third attempt at putting the seat back into position I got it right. We went to the mechanic the following day but as I thought there was nothing he could do. Chris now has to use a pillow to drive, but that works OK.

Next we move on to Mount Fitzroy and camped wild by a river, next to an American couple in a camper with a friend in a tent. The wind was very strong and at around 9pm we felt a huge gust and something went sailing past us, the tent! The friend was in the motor home about to have dinner and ended up chasing his tent down the river, wadding up to his waist in glacier water and eventually retrieved it, upside down, completely in tact (including contents) on a sand bank. He also brought our bucket back (we hadn’t realised it had gone) but the handle was broken off and had a large hole in the side.

That night we managed to sleep until 1.30 when the wind moved up a gear and was really buffeting the roof tent such that the truck was rocking side to side, at 2.30 one of the rear guys came off so I had to get out to put my mega peg in to keep it in place. For the next 3 hours it felt like we were trying to sleep in a tumble drier, but I eventually dropped off at 5.30 and the tent was still in one piece when I woke up at around 09.00. We have heard of a number of people in roof tents that have given up and taken it down in the middle of the night and tried to sleep in their seats. Fortunately that is the only major wind (so far) and the tent held up well.

However, we decided another night in the mountains might be pushing our luck so headed for an Estancia (farm) where they had both camping and accommodation. Their double en suite rooms were expensive and full anyway, but they had empty (4 bed) dorm rooms for not a lot more than camping and the one we were shown had two singles and a bunk, so that was perfect.

Next was lunch and the next problem manifested itself! The closing mechanism for the spare wheel carrier jammed and we could not open the back door, and being a secure vehicle there was no way to get in the back without opening the door! I ended up having to take the spare wheel off and remove the bolts of the plate that the wheel carrier locks into. After lunch I dismantled the locking mechanism housing, sprayed everything with wd40 and still it did not budge, put it all back together, bolted the plate back into place and after a bit of persuasion it finally opened, sprayed lithium grease everywhere and good as new!

The following day we were heading for Perito Merino National Park, but instead of sleeping up there (in the mountains) we re-booked our dorm room and also said we would have dinner. It was a long drive, but we had a good day, quite warm with lots of sun and there was only one other vehicle in the whole park. Dinner was scrumptious, all caught reared or grown on the farm, starting with wild hare and salad, lamb and vegetables in the most amazing sauce and a sort of trifle for desert, which was home made, but in fairness I doubt all the ingredients were grown on the farm.

And now we come to the marathon runners, well almost. Our next planned stop was in Chile, but we needed fuel first and there was a fuel station just before the turning into Chile. We made that without using the spare can but only just – NO DIESEL!!! In El Calefate we had seen queues 100’s of metres long waiting for a petrol tanker to turn up and we just rolled up to the diesel pump to fill up, but now the boot was on the other foot! They told us the tanker would arrive at 19.00 so we decided to wait and camp the night there and met the most interesting people during the afternoon which ironically helped us to decide where we would travel next.

First a young couple in a hired camper, she from Berlin and he from Romania and she had spent a lot of time in Brazil. Then an English lady came over to us and asked if we had been to Footloose 4x4 in the UK. Turns out we met her and her husband there 9 years ago when we were having our land cruiser upgraded and they were buying a land cruiser. They were only over for 3 weeks in a hire vehicle, but they had also seen our vehicle parked in Granada in Nicaragua a couple of years ago but we didn’t actually meet, small world.

Then I had a wander round and looking at what was written on the sided of 2 matching campers, started chatting to them and found they were running marathons the length of the Americas. Two married couples, they live in Belgian but one of the guys is Argentinian and it was his plan to do the run, originally on his own, with the other guy running with him occasionally. But they soon realised that this was not practical, so the other guy decided to run alternative days (they are both ultra marathon runners).

The Argentinian and his wife had spent some years as tour guides in South America and I was asking them about Brazil and later on realising that we were right hand drive she came over to us and told us that she was once arrested in Brazil for driving an Australian vehicle. She had no problem getting across the border, but was stopped 100k later and shown a law that stated that it was illegal to drive a right hand drive car, arrested and put in a police cell in handcuffs! Her husband managed to get her out the same day, but it took days and a lot of money to get the vehicle out and were told to drive out of the nearest border and stay out!

After conversations with various people we had pretty much decided that ours was not the best vehicle for Brazil, but this has put the lid on it. Maybe we will do Brazil another time, but for now the next destination is Africa (after we have finished with Argentina and Chile).

19.00 came and went with no tanker and at 21.00 they said ‘manana’. Next morning it was ‘maybe 15.00’ and at that point we decided should have just enough fuel to get to Perito Merino (the town).This meant taking a different route into Chile, but after a bit of research this looked a more scenic route anyway. The plan was that if we could do 15 miles before the red light came on then the spare can would definitely get us to fuel, in fact we made 21 miles, so had more than enough.

That night we camped in Chile Chico, literally 2 miles over the border and the following day had a beautiful sunny day with blue skies to drive one of the best roads we have driven, including Morocco, Tajikistan and lots of others! At the end we found a camp site on the banks of a lake with stunning views and blue skies for a beer in the sun and as the sun was shining again the following morning we decided to stay for another day.

The next 5 days we spent driving down to Villa O’Higgins at the bottom of the Carratera Austral and back up again, with 2 ferry crossings and a combination of wild camps and camp sites. Plus a visit to Tortel, where the whole village is built on platforms on wooden stilts, with stair ways and walkways. There is even a camp site (for tents) which has wooden platforms and they give a hammer and nails to campers to pitch their tents. No roads of course, you have to park at the top and walk down the stairways. Originally there was no road to this place and was only accessed by boat.

Whilst walking the planks  we heard a guitar and found a group of people drinking beer and singing, it was about that sort of time so I homed in to investigate further. In fact it was someones house, but he brewed beer there and offered me a taster, he said that in 6 days time it we be for sale at a nearby restaurant and said that he would sell me a glass if I wanted, of course I wanted. We then got chatting to his wife, who was making soap in a washing up bowl and a friend who was helping to stir who spoke good English. He explained it was made partly with used cooking oil. We said we had some Chilean Friends who drove a truck from Alaska to Ushuaia using used cooking oil and he said ‘Caro and Victor’ small world  again!

After a number of really good sunny days with blue skies it turned to grey skies and rain for the drive back up and as we reached the point where we started down the Caraterra Austral we considered taking accommodation, instead we drove back up to the camp site on the lake (as they had a refuge, with tables chairs and a kitchen with a cooker). The rain stopped as we approached, a little bit of blue sky appeared as we got to the site and by the time we had pitched the tent we had wall to wall blue sky and sunshine for another beer in the sun – magic. Except we notice that one of the rear tyres is a bit low – we have a slow puncture!

It is now Sunday so we decide to move on to Rio Tranquilo, where we believe we can get it repaired, I don’t want the hassle of changing wheels so we just pumped it up and checked it on the way. We found a really nice little camp site there, where they have a large room with tables and chairs and a couple of sinks, no cooking equipment so everyone brought in their own cooker and cooked at the table, there were a number of cyclists and back packers there from all over the world and made a really good crowd.

Next morning Chris finds they have a large washing machine, big enough for our now large sack of dirty clothes plus the bedding, a good excuse not to move on and we don’t even take the tent down to go get the tyre fixed, vowing that we will move on the following day. Later a young kiwi back packer returns from town reporting that there is a bar in town where they produce their own beer, so a group of us decide we will have to check it out! The beer was good and I must admit I did come back a bit wobbly.
We have seen a number of these odd looking birds along the road, which for most of the year live off all of the animals that get killed on the roads, but they are the bane of the sheep farmers life at lambing time as they like to peck out the eyes of the baby lambs and will also peck through there soft skulls and peck out their brains. - Watch the Birdie indeed!
First site of the Glacier

Next day the sun was shining

Walkways take you up close and personal to the glacier

If you look closely you can see he main platform opposite the ice, slightly left of centre

Camping Wild in the wind near Fitzroy, later on we thought we were sleeping in a tumble drier
Fitzroy in a rare moment without cloud on the top

Fitzroy from a distance, with a little cloud

Perito Merino National Park all to ourselves except one other car

A road sign warning of Pumas on the road! It is almost impossible to see one let alone hit one. Pumas are usually night animals and it looked like the yellow lines were reflective, but hardly any cars drive on this road, especially at night!

What are the odds. In a fuel station in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Argentina we met these guys once, 9 years ago and they recognised the truck

Third time in 90,000 miles we have needed the spare can, Russia, North America and now Argentina

The road from Chile Chico which eventually joins the Carratera Astral, now an Intrepidfor10minutes top 10 road

Leading to one of our top 10 camp sites and a beer in the sun!
and then on down the Carratera Austral

Past the turquoise Largo Bertrand
and Glaciers

A short detour to a camp site at an Estancia, but will the truck fit?

The ferry to the final part of the Carreterra Austral, but we leave the sun at the shore and head into stormy weather.

The end of the Carratera Austral, another mile stone achieved
On the ferry back up from Villa O'Higgins, but now the weather is bad in this direction also.

Tortel, a town on stilts

We find a little brewery and mange to buy a beer.
Whilst Chris was learning how to make soap from used cooking oil!

We find a spot just off the road a short way from Tortel

We have met very few British travellers but this is Emily, with Raul, her Spanish (Basque) boyfriend, a lovely couple. He was carrying 3 spare bike chains and 3 cameras and asked us if we would take an old (film) camera back to the UK, on the basis that they would come visit us in the UK and collect it. Raul also made sure I got back from the pub when he staid on to talk to a local guy originally from the Basque country and I stayed on to sample a bit more beer.