Trick or Treat - Paysandú Style

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Fully aware of the limited number of travel days remaining for us in South America, our planned schedule included a quick stop in Trinidad (Trinidad, Uruguay that is!), before crossing back into Argentina at the Paysandú/Colon border post. Nary a mention of Trinidad appeared in our guide book, but we found it intriguing enough for our quick stop to become a three-day sojourn. Attracting our attention even prior to arriving at the small town was the Zooilógico del Futuro - a grouping of bird and animal steel sculptures crafted by Martín Arregui. These unique works of art were supposedly one of the earliest awakenings of the country's ecological conscience.

A visit to the local tourist office left us laden with brochures of the area's points of interest, AND an invitation to participate in their Rural Tourism Conference - which we politely declined. The conference did however create a vibrant festive atmosphere, so we spent time late into the evenings together with hundreds of jovial townspeople in the Plaza Constitución. Perhaps the real selling point for us though, was the discovery of the Parque Centenario - possibly the best organized campsite and cleanest bathrooms of the entire trip to date....and all at no charge!!

Finally en route to the border, we were a little dismayed when DC3 started some intermittent hesitation at cruising speed - something we've had on occasion before, but generally only a short-lived inconvenience. However, this time was different - and it got progressively worse so that we only just managed to limp into Paysandú. As we reached the gates of our campsite the motor cut out, the tachometer went berserk, and a loud buzzing alarm sounded under the dashboard - all this just 1,900 km after a major tune-up in Buenos Aires! Checking the local yellow pages in the restaurant that evening (while enjoying yet another fine steak dinner with Uruguay's famous Tannat wine), we identified a garage specializing in VW repairs. First thing in the morning we struggled with a very recalcitrant motor, but just managed to make it to the workshop. For several hours the mechanics checked the wiring, the fuses, the relays and the electronic components, but at the end of the day told us they were unable to identify the problem. To top it all off, it was cold and rainy for the whole day!

Dispirited and chilled, and quickly running out of options, we headed for the local phone centre to put in a call to our technical support team - Frank Condelli in Almonte, our Canadian VW guru. However, on the way, we just happened to see another mid-80s Westfalia - and this was truly bizarre, as there are literally only one or two in the entire country. Quickly striking up a conversation at the traffic lights with the Uruguayan owner, he suggested we contact a particular local electronics workshop, well known for their troubleshooting abilities. Another night in the rain, and another early morning erratic trip with the van cutting out at every single intersection - we were barely able to make it up the ramp into the pristine "Elecom" workshop. Then the motor died altogether and refused to start again.

We spent the next week camped out in Sergio Gregorio's spotless and superbly organized workshop, while he and his assistant Ismael attempted to make a proper diagnosis. Initially they thought they had tracked down part of the problem to a faulty Idle Stabilizer Valve, but it could not be checked out as a new spare part was not available in Uruguay. At this point we called in the help of Ana and other members of the Westfalia Owners Club who we had met previously in Buenos Aires. E-mails now proved invaluable, and we were visiting the internet café three or four times a day. Everyone was very helpful, but they all came back with the same story - a replacement part was not available in South America and would most likely have to be ordered from North America or Europe. Getting it sent down by DHL from Canada would surely mean a delay of at least another week. Meanwhile, with further technical assistance from Frank in Almonte, the search for the exact and elusive cause of the problem continued unabated.

By day three the solution to the tachometer problem turned out to be short-circuiting in the electronics board of the Idle Control Unit which controls the Idle Valve. This was something that Sergio was able to repair, but still the van wouldn't start. Back to square one! Although we should have been tearing our hair out at this point, we were actually quite calm and relaxed, and certainly very well cared for. Sergio, his wife Pilar, and their children Fabricio and Antonella were doing everything possible to make our stay comfortable - inviting us to share meals with them (including the best empanadas we've ever tasted), offering us tastings of the pitanga fruit from their garden, providing the use of a bathroom with hot water showers, and just generally keeping our spirits up.

On the morning of day five, everything looked pretty bleak. The van still wouldn't start, and Sergio and Ismael were totally mystified. We went for yet another walk around Paysandú, checking out the store-front Hallowe'en decorations, relishing yet another of the delicious local ice creams, and spending some quiet time in the ornately decorated Basílica Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Perhaps our prayers were answered, as we returned to the workshop to hear the sweet music of our van's engine running. Although we weren't out of the woods yet, the positive progress enabled us to thoroughly enjoy the evening, attending yet another international choir festival - this time being held in the stately Florencio Sánchez Theatre. The highlight of the evening was a very moving and accomplished performance of 'Ave Maria Guaraní' by an Argentine choir from Santa Fe, - especially appropriate as the previous evening we had rented a DVD to re-watch 'The Mission'.

Day six was spent thoroughly checking through everything on the van , including ultrasonic cleaning of the fuel injectors, changing of fuel filters and spark plugs, and re-setting the timing. By the afternoon we were able to take it for a short test drive. We seemed to be holding our breaths for the entire trip, but it performed flawlessly. Not wanting to cross the border into Argentina before really giving the van a serious run, we opted to travel up to the Guaviyú hot springs. Spending some relaxing time in the soothing therapeutic waters fit the bill perfectly. On our return we checked out the plugs to see how they had fared - very nice tan-grey colour - and Sergio thankfully gave us the green light. We were finally ready to move on!!

But how could we leave on the very day of the Hallowe'en party? Another quick trip to the supermarket ensured that enough "goodies" were on hand for Fabricio, Antonella and their good friend Diego. They, together with all manner of other witches and goblins, roamed the streets in pursuit of candies and treats. But empty-handed homeowners had to beware - they were likely to become victims of the ultimate trick - a showering of handfuls of uncooked rice!! As for the van repair - it is looking really good so far, and we are certainly hoping that it is a treat, rather than a trick! Meanwhile, our special thanks to Sergio, Pilar, Fabricio, Antonella and Diego for making our enforced stay so enjoyable - you're the greatest!!
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