After finally getting the Land Cruiser out of port on Wednesday, we hit the road early Thursday morning for South America. And we had company. Two of our new friends and fellow Americans from the MS Independence, Matt and Emily, were also heading south towards Medellin, and were planning to take a bus. With a little reorganizing, we could easily fit two more people in the car! We had never had passengers, and having someone other than David to talk to was amazing! (Just kidding, David). The first few hours of the drive went by rather uneventfully, and we stopped for lunch at a roadside hut/restaurant, where I ate some kind of fish concoction.
After lunch, the drive got a lot more exciting. Two things began to slowly happen. First, it began to get greener. The relatively open landscape of farms and fields began to change to rainforests. Secondly, we started to climb. Our progress began to slow down, but the drive started to be spectacular. Switchback after switchback of mountainous rainforests, lush jungles and the occasional waterfall crashing down beside the road. We climbed as high as 3500 meters (~11,500 feet) in a matter of a few hours, up through and then above the clouds. We finally dropped down into the gorgeous town of Medellin, Colombia just as it was getting dark, and pulled into the Black Sheep Hostel, where Matt had made us reservations for the night. We went out to dinner with him and Emily and bought supplies (fresh water, some food, and a soccer ball) at a nearby grocery store before turning in for the night.
We left Medellin before sunrise the next morning. At this point, I probably need to recap some minor problems we had been having with the Land Cruiser so far. When cold, the engine would start up right away and have no problems. When it had been running a while, especially on very hot (95+) days, and turned off, it had trouble starting back again. This had first happened after a very hot 12 hour day through southern Texas, and had happened maybe 5 times since. Each time, letting it sit for 15-20 minutes had fixed the problem. Everything I could see appeared to be in order, so my half guessing diagnosis was the engine fuel pump. As it turned out, I was close.
We were 6 or so hours south of Medellin on the highway when the engine cut out, spun back up, then shut off completely. The power steering, driven by the engine, also stopped working, causing us to swerve slightly as I wrestled the car to the side of the road. Thankfully no one else was nearby. We sat in the car for a few seconds, hazards turned on, wondering, “Is this the end of BrazilDrive?”
Then we snapped into action. David ran behind to put out the warning triangles, to keep the big rigs from running us over. I grabbed our toolkit from the back, opened the hood and tried to find out what was wrong. It was clearly related to, or the same issue as, the earlier starting issue, just much worse. When I opened the engine fuse box, I found the problem. Some connection on the relay for the Electronic Fuel Injection had shorted out. Instead of just breaking the fuse, it had melted about a third of the entire fuse box away. We poked and prodded for half an hour, and finally managed to get the engine started using a headlight fuse and some tinfoil. Then we limped a fewkilometers to the next gas station to try to find help.
When we cut the engine and asked the attendant, she pointed us towards a shack that had some automotive signs of it. Good start. In it, we found a man and tried to tell him our problem. He couldn’t fix it, he said, but he knew a guy in the nearby village who probably could. He took off on his bicycle, and we waited. Twenty minutes later, he comes back. Alone. A few more minutes, though, and another man appears from behind the town fence carrying a lightbulb, some wire, and a pair of pliers. We found an electrician! After a few minutes of trying to convey the problem in my broken and David’s nonexistent Spanish, he starts to work. For 45 minutes he pulls things apart, strips wires, and twists things back together, while David and I fidget nervously, watching. “Try it,” he says. And…
It starts! A little rough, maybe, but it works. He had completely removed the fuse terminals and rewired new ones. I thanked him and nervously asked him for the bill. He pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote down, “30,000”. I was… Amazed! 30,000 Colombian Pesos is about equal to $15. We paid him, thanking him profusely, and were on our way, a few hours behind schedule but with a working car.
That night we had wanted to make it to Pasto, Colombia, where we had heard there were good camping spots. But, being behind schedule due to the breakdown, and numerous delays due to road construction, we were still hours away and the sun had long since set. We camped on the side of the road outside of Popayan, and slept restlessly as trucks drove by in the night. The next morning, we got up early and drove to the Colombia-Ecuador border at Ipiales, Colombia. Compared to borders in Central American, the Colombia-Ecuador border was downright boring. We crossed before lunchtime, and continued on into a new country.
After breakdowns, road camping, and construction delays, we were very relieved to drive on the somewhat mountainous but generally pretty nice roads in Ecuador. At some point during the day, the cigarette lighter that we used to charge all of our devices stopped working, which complicated things somewhat. We used the electricity to power our tablet, which had all the maps, our always on dash cam, and our phones, and more importantly, for listening to A Game of Thrones on audio book. Not being able to charge these devices presented a dilemma, especially for the GPS maps. So in Ecuador, just before Quito, we stopped at a shopping mall for WiFi and electricity.
We drove through Quito right as the sun was setting, and tried to find a place to camp. On our map, we could see a Parque Nacional (National Park) just past the Ecuadorian capital and decided to go for it. We pulled off the highway and trundled up roughly 15 km’s of single lane, muddy track until we reached the entrance to the park. We found a large lodge and gravel parking lot, completely deserted, with a chain across the entrance. Oh well. We found a flat spot and made camp for the night, and never encountered another soul the rest of the evening.