6th March, Iquique, Chile
The cabana site overlooked the ocean and we had fallen asleep to the sound of the waves and seabirds on the beach; we awoke to sun and the same sounds. Today was Diana’s birthday and the previous evening we had cooked supper and had cake, spirit-stove candle and presents.
Over breakfast, River and Diana told us of their decision not to come on the trip to Humberstone. Instead, after consulting Vince and reading all the available material, they intended to remove the engine and gearbox in order to replace the circlip which it is thought has come of the 1st motion shaft in the gearbox. Amanda and I set off with the driver, also named Roberto, and had a fascinating day at the Santa Laura nitrate mine and Humberstone town, built by Mr. Humbertsone and eventually abandoned in 1960 when demand for nitrate diminished.
The town contains all that was needed to support the population of 3,500 people: a theatre, huge grocery store, sports and social club, church, doctor, dentist, firemen and houses for all personnel, from Mr.Humberstone, through managers to workers either married or single.
An eery experience because of the state of preservation, the dry and almost rainless weather has hardly affected the fabric of the buildings or contents at all. We finished the day at a site of Geoglyphs, formed by scraping away the surface of the hillside to a depth of 200mm and either leaving patterns within the scrape or using black stones as a mosaic to form patterns. Roberto was very informative on the symbolism and on interpreting the meaning of the images formed, which were mostly to indicate to travellers from afar that they were approaching a friendly and sophisticated people who had strong connections to the communities around them, the Chilean Cross being symbolic of this by the possible endless repetition.
We arrived back much later than we had been prepared for to find Stan, River and Diana just clearing away after a very full day of engineering work. Stan had greased, cleaned, tightened and checked almost every part of Dusty, while River and Diana had removed the engine and gearbox and tried without success to remove the clutch-operating arms in order to be able to get at the gearbox front cover under which the circlip lies. However they had removed an internal oil thrower which was contributing to the noise and had been able to drift the offending cog back along the shaft. Time will tell if the cure is going to last or if more work will be necessary, at least it is possible to change gear and the noise level has been reduced.
7th March, Iquique, Chile
The plan today was to go to Arica, the last town before the border with Peru, and a date River has to make in order to catch a flight back home to attend to work. We tackled the severe climb out of Iquique, having got going at 08.00.
The traffic was very busy and the heat already building up. The 7km climb would have been a stiff test at any time and we had two untried cars to nurse along. After a nerve-wracked half hour we reached the top of the steepest part and could begin to relax a little although the traffic having been released from the climb now were desperate to get past us and thrash on up the road, some hairy moments ensued but we survived.
A brief stop at Humberstone for a few pictures from the outside for Stan, Diana and River, then we carried on until we had an opportunity to divert onto the old Pan American Highway, over which John Coleman would have passed, a moment we all savoured and felt closer to his journey and endeavour.
Soon after, we entered a small town and I noticed that the ignition warning light had come on. Swinging over to a large patch of open ground around which were some shady trees, I found that the dynamo brushes were down to the carriers, which is a little worrying since the dynamo was newly rebuilt before we left home and has covered a little over two thousand miles.
I replaced the brushes, a rather fiddly job over a hot engine, and the dynamo was restored to working order.
During the day we had several more major climbs and descents into river valleys. The heat caused us all problems, the chummy with vapourisation and the gearbox noise returned and now compounded by having to be held in top on overrun.
We stopped for a late lunch and, somewhat restored, resumed, immediately crossing a river beside which was the old road, one of the unbridged crossings at which JC would have waited for a passing lorry to piggyback him and the car across.
It was good to see a small example of the hazards he faced. We are so much more cosseted now on good tarmac, although the cars are now 50+ years older. There followed another very steep incline, this time with several sets of road works, where we pulled up amongst the stream of lorries. Allowing them to set off before us was sometimes better for us, however we actually overtook a couple of lumbering behemoths, always a morale booster.
We still had many miles to go as the light began to fade and despite going better in the cooler air it was dark and the traffic build-up made keeping together very tricky.
We bought fuel, as we always do when we are travelling again the next day, decided to find a particular street in Arica where we knew that there was a choice of hotels and with the barely adequate map in the country guide book, launched into the city.
I am sure that once one is used to city grid plans and the block numbering system, it is easy, but I have yet to find a city that adheres to its own system. Streets that start out in one direction and then become the other way, that randomly have one or two-way streets, streets that branch off at angles other than 90 degrees and above all have unlit street names. From the foregoing you will have gathered that we got lost, drove the wrong way down a one way street and were generally flummoxed by the lack of order. Eventually, by luck and a little guesswork we found the street and although the recommended hotel was firmly shut, a few doors along was a hotel with vacancies. We parked in an off street facility and having made two enquiries about opening time the following morning, took advice on a local restaurant which turned out to be quite wonderful after a trying day.
8th March, Arica, Chile
Sleep and a quiet night as usual restored the party to working order and we met for breakfast and a plan for the day to deliver River to Tacna airport across the border into Peru for a 14.00 flight. At this point having previously established that we could collect the cars at 08.00, things went pear-shaped: the parking place actually not opening until 10.30.
We had already noted that when we crossed the border, Peru has its clocks set two hours after Chile so, not despondent, we set off to cover the 20 miles or so to the border.
The post was very new and quite efficient, until, that is, we crossed into Peru and had to register the cars. That day was a new trainee’s induction day and although being in most senses a repeated operation to book in each Austin, each question was examined afresh and in minute detail taking nearly 30 minutes each. Diana and River got through first and went on ahead to get to the airport.
When we finally got going, we crossed a 15-mile stretch of desert that was scorchingly hot and littered with small split-bamboo cube shelters and a piece of land each marked out with stones. We were kept entertained speculating on their purpose until we reached the airport in time to wish buen viaje to River and then go on to Tacna city where we needed to purchase road insurance for the cars, and the road ahead.
The intense heat now stepped in to thwart our attempts at progress. Time and again the chummy died with fuel starvation and eventually, in self defense, we turned into a side street and parked chummy under the only piece of shade available. Amanda and I walked to the insurance office arriving just before 14.00, but as the make ‘Austin’ did not appear on the database, there was to be no luck. We were directed to another agent but by the time we had walked there they were shut. Amanda and I called in at a very nice looking hotel on the way back and enquired about rooms for the night, which were available.
Arriving back at the cars we found Stan and Diana swamped by school children recently out of school, and fending off questions. Diana and Stan had had the same thought as us, better to stop trying in the desperate heat, look at the chummy and get an early night in order have a very early start and make the most of the cool morning air. In short order we drove the 100 metres to the hotel and booked in.
We had a break, walked into the town and were able to purchase the SOAT for each car, a basic third party insurance. We also found a very nice gelato shop and sat in the square under shade watching the world go by for a while. It was decided that we would go back and work on the cars, have supper early and keep on Chilean time to make the most of the light in the morning, dawn being around 05.30. Well it was a good plan but had not taken account of the difficulty we experienced with the chummy. Having cooled off it would not now start at all. We spent a frustrating three or four hours going round the electrical system, unable to produce anything but an occasional spark at the plugs. The hotel engineer offered a portable emergency light and we managed to borrow enough battery cable to try jump starting the chummy from Bertie, all to no avail.
At 21.30 we called a halt and decided that it would be better to give in and try again in the morning. In the hotel workshop there was a battery charger and we put the chummy battery to charge. Bruised and defeated by a probably simple fault we had dinner and retired for the night.
8th March, Tacna, Peru.
We had breakfast at 06.30 and went out to the parking area. Diana had decided to fit new points and secure the new coil and see what would happen. Re-connecting the battery, we swung the engine twice and it burst into life. Not wishing to tempt fate, all was left as it was and we scrambled our luggage together and made ready for the days’ travel, just over 100 miles to Moquegua.
The character of Peru was immediately evident and noticeably different to what we had seen in Chile. It seems as if Peruvians are rather more respectful of one’s privacy and space, prefering to stand back and look at the cars, whereas in Chile, no sooner had we stopped than someone would drape themselves across the car or hang onto it for the photo.
It was hot and dry and due to the later start we had to travel during the heat of the afternoon. The road was a series of rises and falls and we made slow progress, due to odd stoppages, check points and the general heat affecting us. Reaching Moquegua in the late afternoon we found a lovely hotel and put the cars into the secure car park, which entailed driving through Reception into the back yard. The hotel was immaculately kept, the wooden floors continually polished by the staff, as they walked the corridors on cloths. We decided on beer first and maintenance second, this proved to be a slight error as after a few glasses of the local Cristal beer we were not really fit for anything requiring attention. However, it got done and we went to eat and decided on an early start for the approach to Arequipa, which we knew entailed more climbing, the city being at 8,000 ft.
9th March, Moquegua, Peru
The proprietress of the hotel had promised that we could have breakfast at 05.30am and despite our scepticism, when we went down she was up and in fact we were not the first for breakfast. It had been a real pleasure to stay and we left with many thanks.
The road to Arequipa looked from the map to contain several climbs and we set out successfully finding our way out of town on the first attempt, not always the easiest of tasks, there being only rather rudimentary signs in most towns and rather brief ones in the cities.
The route lay through desert landscape, often punctuated by small plots of land with the ubiquitous split cane cube to denote occupation. All these desert plots will one day yield a smallholding for the purchasers, the government being in the process of bringing water from the high Andes to the desert. The ups and downs proved to be as difficult as we feared and we all suffered from the heat and the cars from various ailments to do with low octane fuel, unknown quantities of ethanol in the fuel and, when the wind was behind us, insufficient radiator cooling. Towards the end of the day Bertie went completely off song and lacked power in top and began to give off oil fumes when pushed hard in the gears.
As we approached Arequipa, Stan and Diana escaped the attention of a security point, but we had to stop and produce our car papers, passports and car entry to the country document. We were particularly pleased to be asked for our SOAT certificate, which we had taken so much trouble to acquire. Police stops happen frequently in Peru and seem to be a pointless exercise, since no record is kept and if the papers are not immediately to hand we are often dismissed before the checks are done.
We arrived at a fork in the road and were advised by local well-wishers to take a short, less steep route into the city, we needed no second invitation and set off in what proved to be the worst section of climbing yet that day.
With shorter and shorter runs, as we stopped to cool the engines, we were making slow work of it in the heavy Saturday traffic, when I noticed a red Nissan car coming in the opposite direction, making much effort to attract our attention. I watched in the mirror as he turned and raced after us. We were in the act of climbing a hill at the time and did not want to loose momentum and so when he passed us and stopped by the road side I rather unceremoniously passed him and indicated that we would stop at the top as I was uncertain of this person’s intentions. We are, from time to time, implored to stop for a photo, often at very inconvenient moments and this might be the same, however we did stop and from the car stepped Rafael, his wife and two young sons. A friend of his had seen us on the road into town and called Rafy to tell him we were on the way. He was aware of our impending arrival because Guy Butcher had told him about us, when Guy had spent nearly two weeks in Arequipa waiting for replacement spokes. We offered the family rides in the cars and followed Rafy into the city, where he was to lead us to the hotel we had chosen and Amanda had booked by phone at the roadside.
Arequipa had suffered very heavy rain in the week before we arrived and a huge lake of mud had swallowed a dip in the road, fortunately a bit of cross-country work through a petrol-station forecourt had the traffic stream back on the road.
The rest of the city was very lively with weekend traffic and we were immensely grateful for the kind gesture and guidance to our destination, which otherwise we would not have found.
Later, Rafael collected us and we drove around some of the sights including his recently completed home museum of cars, which has many GMC models apart from a Triumph Herald, Austin Healey Sprite and a locally produced Hillman Minx. Then to the main square to meet Rafy’s boss from the Nissan Agents, Reynaldo Roberts. We spent a very pleasant evening in the company of Reynaldo and Rafy who are both dedicated car enthusiasts with extensive collections of much-loved cars.
We returned to the hotel and packed ready for our two day trip to Colca Canyon. We are leaving the cars at the hotel and giving them a rest, Bertie being particularly unhappy on the final climb into Arequipa, which I initially put down to the SU carb having adjusted itself to a rich setting, soon reset but no time to test it.
Colca was a very special trip. We were fortunate enough to see Condors in flight within 2 metres, Peregrine Falcons, a Peruvian rabbit, a wild cat and many llamas, vicuna and alpaca’s including an allama (cross breed). Agriculture practised on the steep terraces in tiny fields is to the same pattern as the pre-Inca who inhabited this valley until 800 years ago. We reached the greatest altitude on land we shall experience on the trip, 16,510 feet, where we all felt the effects, breathlessness, mild headache and tiredness. We slept the one night at 12,150 feet and saw the sun rise over the three sacred peaks before a two hour bus journey to the rim of the canyon to watch the condors rising on the morning thermals from the depths below, at one time there were seven juveniles and two adults soaring at once. On returning from the canyon we stopped at a lovely lunch place where the buffet was a great choice of typical local and international foods. It was here that Stan earned his new nickname of Postres Price, having been seen to eat three puddings, and that after soup and a substantial main course. (It’s the cake of course, irresistible to a northern lad, brought up on three kinds of gruel, in a Bolton back-to-back.
We returned to Arequipa’s relatively meagre height of 8,000 ft above sea level, by now somewhat immune to the affects of altitude.
13th March, Arequipa, Peru
Rafy had kindly modified Diana’s car fuel system while we were away and it is hoped that this might help cure the lack of pressure in the gravity fuel system. To help this, we left at 06.00 to get some miles in before the sun rose too high and also so that we could escape Arequipa before the traffic got too heavy. This worked and thanks to a splendid map drawn by the previous day’s lovely tour guide, Jessica, we had a trouble-free exit from the sprawling city and suburbs.
The day’s plan was flexible so that if we were able to make more mileage we could. The first two hours went really well, the chummy liking its new arrangements and the lack of heat, while Bertie seemed to have forgotten the climb into Arequipa and was back on good form, apart that is from still smoking a little on steep climbs. We passed Tambillo, where we might have stayed, then Camana and later Ocona, still feeling that we were doing well we decided to press on to the next town another 100 miles on. This proved to be a stage too far, in that although we had been rising and falling steadily during the day, this section had more severe gradients and lots of them. Bertie began to struggle and we all felt the heat, cars and passengers alike. We finally made it to Atico at about 16.00 and, after taking a breather, I took a look in detail at the engine. The plugs were sooty and the engine had used a lot of oil, far more than ever before. I removed the oil filler cap and while the engine was running, smoke was blowing out. A compression test (thank you Wingco for the loan of the instrument) showed 100+psi on all but number 3 at 70psi. Not seriously bad compressions but there was obviously a fault.
I tried to get on the internet to seek answers but a power cut foxed that idea and after a while thinking about the problem, we had a group meeting at which I put forward the two options I could think of and the others chipped in with further thoughts. It was agreed that I would ask Rafy for help to get the car to Lima on a recovery truck and send it to Javier’s workshop, where we are already destined to go to try and fix the chummy’s gearbox. After several attempts I was able to find a public telephone and call both Rafy and Javier, the end result was that I would seek a recovery vehicle in Atico and call Javier when it was done.
14th March, Atico, Peru
We were all up and out of the Hostal Vista al Mar by 07.00 seeking an answer to the problem of transport. Despite the reasonable size of the town, no car transporter was available, so at 08.30 I called Javier and asked for his help again. He in turn called Rafy and by some sort of ‘Trail Magic’ by 10.30 an empty car transporter had been located, which was on its way to Lima and was presently in Camana, about 3 hours away. By 14.30 the car was loaded on to Freddy’s truck and he and another transporter driver Henry, had agreed to drop us at a tiny village called Yauca, about 120 kms on towards Nasca.
Diana and Stan had kindly baby-sat Amanda and me, so that they set off at the same time. We would arrive ahead of them and find accommodation for us all. The previous evening we had rationalised our luggage, we all packed that which we thought would not be needed until Lima and loaded Bertie with it. Meantime we were down to one bag between two or a backpack. Diana and Stan kindly offered to give us a ride to Lima and so we could continue the journey, four in two cars.
An interesting journey to Yauca by truck gave Amanda and me a different perspective on the roads, driving techniques and the skills of truck drivers in South america, with its inclines, descents, sharp bends and very long distances. Freddy was due in Lima at 06.00 the next morning and when he dropped me it was 17.50 and he had 700 kms to go. He would then pick up a load and return to Arequipa, over 1,000 kms. Despite an 8-gear + splitter box, giving 18 ratios in all, I found it hard to imagine such an onerous regime of driving, no wonder there have been so many fatalities on the Pan American Highway.
Yauca is known as the olive capitol of Peru and there was a pervading odour of pressed olives in the air as we stepped down from the trucks. Stalls along the roadside were selling plain, stuffed, black and green olives, oil and other products. Parked in front of the stalls were many trucks, drivers sitting at the colourful stall counters, eating the standard roadside fare of chicken, beef, lamb or fish soups or on rice with with papas fritas (chips). Dogs and small children were mixed up around the feet of the diners, who had chosen their favourite stall to break their journey and eat before grinding on into the darkening desert wastes.
We asked at the first restuarant whether they had ‘habitaciones’ and the woman said ‘Si’ and disappeared for more than 10 minutes. When she returned she took as to the floor above the restaurant, the staircase being complete on the treads but without handrails or windows. the rooms were plain but clean and functional, we chose to book three for our stay that night at 40 Nuevos Soles per room (£10 each room) This later proved to be in part because it took nearly 4 hours to get towels, there was no loo roll and no hot water, one sheet per bed and the mosquitos were quite bad. It appeared that the rooms had only recently been structurally completed. However it was clean and we ate supper in the restaurant, eggs mixed with onions, with the vegetables the usual basics of rice and fritas. I had fried white fish of some sort which was very good. The total bill for food, with bread and a dish of olives was 45 Solas (£11.25) and all with the attraction of two televisions at full volume, both however on this occasion were at least on the same channel.
Stan and Diana arrived barely 40 minutes after we did, having had a trouble-free run, with only two climbs in the shortish day. I had walked into town and bought beer and crisps before dinner and used the restaurant fridge to cool our beers there being none on sale there. It was that kind of night, beer, crisps, basic food and by 21.00 we had all gone to bed, a traumatic day over, but the plan continues.
We have rejigged the days until we reach Lima. Tomorrow, a 06.00 start for the 120 Kms to Nasca, where we have booked accommodation, close to the airport so that we can get our flight over the ‘lines’ easily and continue past Ica to Pisco and visit the National Park, called the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’.
16th March, Nasca, Peru.
Sometimes it just goes right, and today was one of those days. We skipped breakfast and bought crackers and juice instead and packed ourselves and belongings into the remaining two cars, setting off at 06.00.
We covered the 120 Kms by 09.15, booked in, claimed tomorrow’s breakfast today, as we leave before it is served tomorrow. The former hacienda is beautiful. Down a 1.8 km dirt track it opened its gates to reveal an oasis of cool, green, charming old Hacienda. Now an hotel, its beautifully-kept gardens are graced by domesticated Vicuna and Llama, peacocks and humming birds. The polished-tile walkways and ancient dark-wood room floors invite walking barefoot to the pool, where an overhanging mango tree drops its ripe fruit into the water with a soft splosh.
I think I was born to enjoy this sort of treatment! (Sorry UK, I know you are suffering brutal cold easterly winds and we feel for you, honest!!!) The staff did not bat an eyelid when we asked for tomorrow’s breakfast, now, today and willingly changed our booking from two doubles to a charming room with four beds.
Over a leisurely and extensive breakfast we thanked our luck, on the very good fortune we have found. Perhaps it is the obsidian that we picked up in the Colca Valley, said to bring good fortune, or possibly the wish I made as we passed through a long tunnel into Colca Canyon, where if you hold your breath all the way through and make a wish, it is said to come true. Diana, Amanda and I booked our flight over the Nasca lines and within and hour were in a taxi to the airport 5 kms away.
Shortly afterwards, we were above the Nasca desert and there were the shapes of the animals, seen so often in books and on televison, before my eyes. I am still pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming this. I have wanted to experience these shapes for years and now I have. Tomorrow we will pass them again on the Pan American Highway and take advantage of the ‘Mirador’ built at private expense by Maria Reiche to view three of the bigger shapes, including the ‘tree’.
I spoke to Javier during the morning by telephone and he will pick Bertie up from a garage where he was dropped this morning. We should arrive in Lima on Monday night and have rescheduled our stop to have two days to fix the cars, if it can be done. I hope that my spares stash will be up to the task, oh that and my limited skills, which is why I decided to get the car to Lima where Javier has a restoration workshop. As yet, I don’t know if it includes engineering but if not I am hoping he has contacts that might make good any shortcomings in spares or skills.
John Coleman has a chapter in his book entitled “Troubles come early in the desert”. Well, it seems we can top this with “Troubles come early, middle and late in the desert”, but like he did before us, we shall endeavour to overcome and get all three cars to New York, with the fantastic help and support we have been and are still receiving, from home and abroad. The kindness of friends and strangers is humbling and gives one a very, very warm glow. Thank you to all who have sent kind wished and thoughts, made great efforts, offered support and without whom we would not have been able to get through. On to the next chapter.