Losing Our Bearings
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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After five days we somewhat reluctantly packed up the van and headed back out onto the highway. Even though it was a Sunday there was considerable traffic on the steep, winding roads of the Cordillera Oriental, including heavy transport trucks grinding their way through the mountains bound for Bogotá. It made for some "interesting" driving as convoys of cars and pick-up trucks built up behind the eighteen-wheelers with everyone determined to pass once there was a blind curve that was not quite as severe as the last one. We witnessed some very "close calls" but luckily everyone managed to squeak through, sometimes with only inches to spare. All the rural towns that we passed through seemed to be having fiestas and were full of day- trippers out from the city to enjoy the cleaner air and quieter pace. Finally we were able to turn off the main drag at Arabuco, leaving the traffic behind as we took the dirt road up into the wooded hills of the Iguaque National Park. We were soon up into the clouds at an altitude close to 9,000 ft, making our way on muddy roads through isolated forest in the pouring rain.
The area surrounding Villa de Leyva is full of interesting places to visit - archeological sites, prehistoric fossil remains, and even rather incongruously an ostrich farm. We particularly enjoyed a mid-day visit to the nearby village of Ráquira. This is a really funky and colourful spot, noted for its good quality ceramics and pottery, but even more so for its eclectic displays of ponchos, baskets, wind chimes and hammocks in artesania stores around the plaza. After we'd sated our appetites for 'shutter-bugging' we sat at a nearby food stall enjoying our egg & veggie empanadas, and chatting with the school kids on their way home for lunch.
One thing we really have not enjoyed on this trip is hearing unfamiliar noises emanating from somewhere on DC3. Nasty noises of unknown mechanical origin! Usually we have managed to track them down, determine what the problem is and get it fixed. Early on in the trip we were plagued with broken muffler brackets which made 'orrible noises as the engine vibrated. Later on we had trouble with our shocks being beaten to death, especially when they came adrift from their rubber bushes on some of the horrendously rough back roads of Peru and Chile. For the last little while we've occasionally been hearing a nasty rattle from the rear end of the van, but had been unable to pin it down to anything specific. Nothing seemed to be obviously loose, yet it didn't sound like the ominous deep-seated knock of a major engine problem. When we were camped at San Gil we decided to get to the bottom of it and spent some time crawling under the van, looking for anything that might be causing the noise. We adapted a long screwdriver as a stethoscope and listened to various places as the engine was running. Finally, we nailed it down - a nasty grinding noise from inside the water pump. Apparently the failure of this bearing is not uncommon in the Vanagon wasserboxer motor, and is usually easily rectified by replacing the complete pump unit - that is, if you're close to a good mechanic back in Canada. Here in the mountains of Colombia it's a different matter all together. We're hoping that the bearing will hold out until we reach Bogotá, and then we'll be looking for a good workshop there and starting a search for a replacement pump. If we can't locate one locally (rather unlikely, as the Vanagon was never officially imported into South America) we'll be in touch with our Vanagon Guru in Almonte, Frank Condelli, to see if he can come to our rescue once again. Probably a good time to buy shares in DHL!
ps. We've added some video footage of the white water rafting escapade to our last TravelPod entry - join us for a few adrenalin packed seconds!! (best viewed with Quick Time Player)