The Road to Bolivia’s Altiplano

We were finally on the road heading toward Bolivia’s altiplano and salt flats from the muggy east and into the Andes. Arriving in Sucre, we knew there was a big problem with the truck. How you ask? Every time we went over even a small bump or hole on the road, something slammed on the back right of the truck. We could feel Vida’s pain. One of the airbags the previous owner installed had completely sheered off. What we were hearing was metal on metal.

The mechanic we tracked down to add an additional leaf spring and remove the airbags soon discovered another problem. Our frame was also cracked. Driving Pantanal and the road into Sucre had taken a toll. It would be fresh carrot juice every morning for the next week as we waited for the repairs.

We got the truck back 5 days later and Vida had some bounce. The mechanic had installed springs to replace the airbags he removed. It was almost enjoyable to hit a speed bump.

Next stop was the mining town of Potosi where we slept at a hot springs (Ojo del Inca) perched above the city. A lot of people we talked to are not fond of Potosi, but George and I both felt an energy in the town’s colonial center. I also managed to snag a proper vegetarian lunch, which helped.

The road to Uyuni on the edge of the Salar was gorgeous and treacherous with the hail. Honestly, I was so focused on the days to come that I hardly noticed.


Colombia’s grueling roads, toyota tacoma brakes, and lots of toys

Somewhere in Colombia’s coffee country, that familiar sound of worn out brakes started squealing away in the background as we drove. We decided to deal with the problem of finding new toyota tacoma brakes when we got back to Bogota for the third time to pick up my passport (no, we did not optimize our time in Colombia). George removed the pegs that make the noise as a temporary bandage to save our sanity.

As we drove over 4000 meter mountain peaks to Bogota, I tried to block out the state of our front brakes. We were unsuccessful buying brakes at any of the Toyota dealerships in the big B. They simply ‘do not have Tacoma specific parts in Colombia’. ‘We can have them for you in one month’, they said. Hard to believe because Toyota Tacoma parts are almost identical to 4Runner models. They have 4Runners in Colombia as well as the similar Toyota Hilux (what the Tacoma is called everywhere else).  It seemed like the guys behind the counter did not want to use their heads and work with us.

On the way out of town for the last time, we swung by the Pasion 4X4 Adventura store that George had seen one day driving along the highway.  We stopped in search of new back shocks. The parking area in front of Pasion 4X4 Adventura was full of big toys (off-roading vehicles), a good sign.

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura didn’t have the shocks we were looking for, but they had  Samuel Olarte and Jose Luis, two of the friendliest guys we have met on our trip so far!  Both Jose and Samuel spoke great English and were both Toyota off-road junkies :).  Jose had a Toyota Land Cruiser 1998 (I might be 2 years off on the model) and Samuel had the Toy monster featured below :).

The toys in the parking lot

Samuel and his Toy…

The guys quickly offered to help (Jose, Samuel you are welcome to come visit in the states anytime you want!). Jose offered to take George over to the auto parts area of town. It would have been ill advised for us to go it alone because chances were good we would get ripped off. Samuel offered the use of the store’s facilities for free to lift the car and take the old brakes as a model to make sure we bought the right part.  And now a technical interlude from George since a little clarification is in order:

We had to take both front wheels off at the same time thanks to the hack (literally) the last mechanics in Nicaragua made.  If you remember from this post, those  ‘mechanics’ put both outside pads on one wheel and when they got to the other wheel they had to modify (cut) the one pad since one of them did not fit. We had to take one pad from both wheels to make a full set!  Thank you Leon – we will never forget you.

Miraculously, George returned with a set of good brakes and another set just in case. One set was dubbed ‘original Toyo’ parts and one set was a Chinese knockoff.  You could tell by the difference in price – $90 and $25. George had decided to buy a spare set just in case since the knockoffs were so cheap

New brake pads were great news because the next possible place to find brakes would have meant many more miles of mountain roads.  The pieces of s$%t the mechanics in Nicaragua installed were completely done.  Did I mention those brake pads lasted only 3000 miles.

At the end of the day, we had new brakes and a opportunity to speak with Samuel and Jose. Man, it’s nice when you desperately need something and in walks some off-roading guardian angels to assist.

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma 2003 brakes

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma brakes

Car Update

Car update.  So far we have put 21, 000 miles on the truck.  Out of these we have over two thousand miles on dirt roads (roads that have never seen any pavement).   The miles on roads that were paved once in the last 30 years are significant but unknown.  I suppose this is the majority of roads in Central America (and the section of the Alaska Highway in northern BC, which is absolutely abysmal).

The damage so far:

  • Oil changes:
    • Mobile 1, synthetic 5W30
      • Distance: 7.5K miles
      • Jiffy Lube, Anchorage, Alaska
      • Comment:  Relatively good road conditions in Alaska and northern Canada.  The temperature was also moderate: 10C to 20C.  This allowed for a fully synthetic with high mileage on it.
    • Mobile 1, synthetic 5W30
      • Distance: 7.5K miles
      • Jiffy Lube, Long Beach, California
      • Comment:  The majority of these miles were in the US and Mexico in November and December.  With low average temperature this oil was appropriate.  The second part of the trip was between Belize and Costa Rica.  We did not hit too many hot places but we did a lot of steep and bad roads.
    • Motor Peak Performance 20W50, 50% synthetic
      • Distance: 3K miles
      • Toyota dealership (Purdy Motor), San Jose, Costa Rica
      • Comment:  The dealership recommended higher viscosity oil based on the mileage on the car (182K).  I decided to go with it since the driving conditions around here are much tougher (hot, humid, dusty and very long steep roads). The car can use more frequent oil changes.
  • Breaks:
    • Front breaks (Leon, Nicaragua)
    • Rear breaks (San Jose, Costa Rica)
    • Break fluid flush (San Jose, Costa Rica)
  • Suspension:
    • Front right wheel bearings (Leon, Nicaragua)
    • Front shocks (San Jose, Costa Rica)
    • Steering system flush (San Jose, Costa Rica)
  • Windshield:
    • Boy, is that baby cracked!

Party hostels to party beaches

Well, after the Leon sleeping ordeal, we were set to head out of town to the beach.  What is that saying about trouble coming in threes (hostel #1, hostel #2, horrible noise coming from the breaks).  Something was terribly wrong.  G pulled over to try and inspect the brakes.  Like good little travellers, we threw up the safety triangles.  I gentleman noticed us, pulled over with family in tow and lead us around the city until we found a mechanic.  Keep in mind that this was a holiday weekend, so finding a mechanic was a blessing.  The gentleman was visiting Leon from Managua (capital of Nicaragua). Now, I have to admit up until this point, I hadn’t formed the bests of opinions about the people in Nicaragua.  I found some of the men to be disrespectful and the general population to be less than friendly.  This man gave me a new data point though.  It might be cultural to not be so friendly to strangers, who knows.  We did truly appreciate his help though.

I knew that we were going to be at the mechanics a while when he started hammering at shit.  I think if we could speak better Spanish, we could have just explained to him to inspect the brakes first.  They did do a fairly good job (we noticed how detailed oriented they were).  In the end, our brakes were replaced and it was pretty inexpensive considering we were there for the entire day.  We made it to the beach that night and camped out in the parking lot of a hostel/restaurant.  The place was packed and the beach was filthy.  People flee the city for the beach during Semana Santa.  We were back in Taj though, and that is all that mattered to us (first night after the bed bug wars).  We chilled for a few nights there, enjoying the surf.  Fresh water was inconsistent at best though, so we were definitely hankering for a shower.  We did see a beach cleanup crew go by on our last day (to late for us, but still nice to know that it’s done).  Walking through other people’s trash on the beach was a little infuriating.