RALLY OF THE INCAS — PART TWO
THE EPIC SOUTH AMERICAN JOURNEY CONTINUES
T EAM A BD ( ADV E NTUR E BE FOR E DE M E N T I A ) AR E ST I L L GO I NG S T RONG A F TE R THE FI R S T G RUE LL I NG 1 4 DAYS OF THE R A L LY O F THE I NC A S
In last month’s issue, we followed Garry Boyce and Ken Williams on the first 14 days of the epic 27-day Rally of the Incas. At the end of Day 14 we left this gallant pair of Kiwis in Tucumán, Argentina, as they were heading north towards Peru. Their trusty 1964 Mercedes-benz 220SE was still going strong, despite looking a little the worse for wear. This issue, we rejoin them on Day 15 on the trail. Back over to Garry.
During the night, we had a brilliant lightning storm and rain, and we started off the day with rain and misty overhead conditions. The first regularity at Cerros Tucumanos started in the mist and rain on a very windy hill climb, through what felt like a rain forest, with treetop canopies joining over the road. We went well and finished by only 43 seconds over. We then had an uneventful transit to a time control called ‘El Jardín’ for coffee.
By this time, the rain had stopped, and we had clear sky. The next transit was 117km on a dirt road. You could choose to take an alternative route if you wished, but most — including us — took the dirt road! Well, this is what adventure car rallying is all about.
Legends and stories about this leg will be told for years to come. Mud, mud, glorious mud, in a river valley the organizers called the ‘Reo Sin Nombre’ (the river with no name). We arrived through moderate mud to our first major river crossing. Cars were stacked up in a line, as some were having problems. Ken got out and took his crocs off and waded over to the other side with the camera, others went through, and then it was my turn. The snorkel we fitted to the car worked well, but we had left the coil very exposed. Water was picked up by the bottom fan-belt pulley, and the fan then sprayed it over the coil. I was about three-quarters of the way across when we came to a very undignified stop, much to the amusement and pleasure of all the cars waiting behind us. But, up with the bonnet, a quick rag wipe and a CRC spray, and we were away again. The mud got deeper, but the ruts became our friends as we slid from the edge to the overhanging cliff face into which the road was cut. The line of cars came to a halt at a very muddy steep hill section, while we went up one at a time. We watched others while we waited for our turn. If a car got stuck or stopped, people would push or pull it to get it going, but some had to be towed by a four-wheel drive to make it through. Then it was our turn — the crowd waited in anticipation! I took a good run at it in second gear, held the revs at 4000; we slid, we skidded, we stayed in
the ruts, we sprayed mud over ourselves and the bystanders, but we made it up!
On through many river crossings, more mud, and more mud. What a fantastic experience, both Ken and I loved it!
Finally, it was on to a time control and track test at Salta. Ken did 5.13 minutes, just behind a Porsche with a 5.12 time. No time point lost. We ended the day in 10th position.
This was billed as one of the most difficult days of this rally. We were still starting at 36 — that is, 36 minutes after the first car would go. We headed to the regularity at El Alisal — a 70kph average was needed. It started on a wide shingle road with fine round stones. It was very slippery, as it wound on through a river gorge, and, as the corners got tighter, there was little grip, so we were sliding the car through the sweepers. Then we got held up by a car in a narrow bendy section and dropped back, before driving like hell — we finished 26 seconds late, but were pleased with that.
On to a time control, and the start of the longest transit section of the rally — 255.88km. It was only 41km in, and we were onto the rough gravel. The climb into the Andes started. At 28km, we reached 4369m. The doctors were there checking people. We struggled to get the car up this high, and had one stop to reset the air-fuel mix. We had also cut a five-litre oil container in half, placed it under the fuel filter, tied it up with electrical ties and filled it with water, placed rags around the fuel pipes from the filter to the injection pump, and poured water over these — all in an attempt to keep the fuel cool. The 12-per-cent ethanol in the fuel vaporizes at 60 degrees, so, for at the last part of this
climb, we were holding the car at 3000 to 4000rpm in second.
Finally, we were over the Alto Chorrillo and into the start of the high Atacama, from which it was 120km to the border into Chile.
This is a very remote crossing that on some days only sees four cars, so to have 50 cars and eight support vehicles was a struggle, but we were through in about one and a half hours. At the border, we were down to 3800m. On into Chile, and the slow climb up to the highest we would ever go on the rally, 4575m — that is, 15,010 feet. Handshakes all round — we had made it, so it was all downhill from here.
The high desert is spectacular. The scenery is like nowhere else on earth, with mountains and volcanoes all around and no snow at all. No vegetation; just rocks and sand. Many dry salt lakes, llamas, and alpacas.
After that, it was on to the passage control at Socaire, back on tarmac and down to the time control at San Pedro de Atacama. We then went on to the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge — check it out.
What a day! My lungs, Ken’s lungs, and the car’s lungs had made it.
Day 17 — rest day
The rest day in the Hotel Alto Atacama Desert Lodge was most welcome. The big day before, and reaching 4575m, had taken it out of us a bit. Rooms with large doors that could be left open at night for the cool desert breeze to enter, combined with overhead fans, worked well for a long uninterrupted night’s sleep. We worked on the car most of the morning, doing routine maintenance mainly; washed the mud off; and went into town for fuel — that was an experience: Garmin [GPS] to find fuel and Garmin to find the hotel.
First up we started with a climb out of San Pedro De Atacama and on through the most stunning high desert landscape, through the Valle de Luna, named for its incredible rock formations, which look like the surface of the moon. We were now losing altitude. We passed the town of Calama, home to the largest open-cast copper mine in the world, through a passage control to a regularity at Sin Nombre. I drove. It was short, windy, and rough. We were seven seconds late, so were through; that was OK. The next passage control was at Tocopilla. We were at the sea (the Pacific Ocean).
On to the next regularity at Desvio. Ken was driving. A slow set speed of 45kph. It needed to be — it was very rough, steep, and twisty, with bluffs that were very close to the edge. It was long, but Ken nailed it, just one second late. Only eight seconds lost for the day. Then a transit up the coast to the Hotel at Iquique. There is just no life in this desert — no bugs on the windscreen, no birds, no flies, no mozzys. Not one blade of grass or scrubby bush, just rocks and sand and heat.
After leaving the hotel, it was a short transition to a track where Ken performed his now usual magic. Then a climb back into the Atacama Desert to a time check at a historic saltpetre mine at Humberstone. It was an interesting day in the desert. Just hot, brown, grey, and tan. Rocks and sand. We reached the hotel at Arica in good time, so all time points OK. We were on a beach; Ken went swimming!
There is just no life in this desert — no bugs on the windscreen, no birds, no flies, no mozzys. Not one blade of grass or scrubby bush, just rocks and sand and heat
An early 5.30am start, so that the rally could be at the border at 7.30am, which was 5.30am Peru time. The border crossing took forever, with long lines to get out of Chile. Not only was there the usual immigration and customs, but the car also had to be exported out of Chile then imported it into Peru, so it took about three hours. As we finally got all the documentation correct, with the four stamps on the release paper, the day from hell started.
At the final barrier the car stopped, and we had to be pushed through. We finally got started, and proceeded about 20km to the first test, at a track. As the car was not going well at all, we waited to be last to run the track. Ken got around OK, but, at the finish line, the car just stopped. We pushed it under some shade. It was 11am by this time, and getting hot. The sweeps came along to help. I will not go into the detail of the next two hours, but it included things like removing the tappet cover to check valve clearances. During all this time, the distributor was eliminated, as we had replaced it on about day three. Finally, a check of the points showed that they were too close. We readjusted, the car started, and we were away!
We decided to follow the route in the hope we could make up time, but by about 40km along the coast, we were down to about 40kph. The sweeps arrived. We knew that our troubles had to be in the distributor, so it was off with the cap to find the points all out and fine metal all around. Out with the old distributor, the new was fitted, and wham, we were back in business. Big lessons learned. We were then over three hours late.
We pressed on along the coast going north, getting the car up to 120kph at times. Then we turned east and started the climb into the interior. It was about 2pm by then, with just water and a fruit bar since 5am. The climbs were long and hard and convoys of trucks travelling at 15kph blocked progress to the point that any hope of making up time was lost. As we started to approach Arequipa, it began to get dark real quick. The route book showed a diversion for road works, but they were not there, so we carried on through the traffic. We got terribly lost; the Garmin would not pick up the hotel or the street address. At that point, we saw one of the Bentleys in the same situation as us. We both stopped at what looked like a convenience store, and, after three attempts, found a taxi, with a driver who knew where the hotel was, to take us there. We were in a very dodgy part of town — back streets, massive pot holes, mad traffic, trying to follow the taxi and the Bentley. I got very aggressive road rage, and was on the horn. Ken had the spotlight and was shining it into the eyes of barging traffic, but, after 30 minutes, we finally made it, just on 8pm. A shower, some dinner, and bed.
A very hard day. This is an endurance rally run by the Endurance Rally Association. With two time checks and a passage control missed, we would lose points!
Having had such a bad day the day before, we were back in 28th position. Hero to zero in one day. The objective was now to get us and the car to Lima. We decided to be conservative but, if possible, competitive.
The day started with a difficult exit from Arequipa, mad traffic, then out into the desert as we started to climb. Over the Zone de Vicunas pass at 4110m, the car stopped once but we managed to get going again. We found a sweet spot at about a third to half throttle that worked, so we tried to keep it there. We made the time checks. We climbed on and made it over Portezuelo de Lagunillas pass at 4528m. We and the car were still going; many were not. We were on time at the next control. Some lunch, and then a small regularity test through a subsistence farming area. I drove and went OK, just 13 seconds early.
Back on to a rough road over another small hill, and we stopped for fuel. We were up high. I put my head down to talk to some people in another car and as I stood up straight, I felt a little dizzy. Ken took over and drove on towards Puno and Lake Titicaca. As we arrived, we overshot a turning and had to turn back, a nine-out-of-10-for-disruption U-turn was executed, with me jumping out of the car to stop traffic.
The hotel is on the shore and has panoramic views over the lake. Some people took a boat out to the reed islands, but we opted to have a good look over the car after the events of the last days. Missing nuts were replaced and loose bolts on the back engine mounting were tightened — it could have been a major problem if we had not found it. Ken and I were really tired. Altitude has an effect; we were in bed and asleep by 9.30pm.
Day 22 started with an easy exit from Puno, but the ease wouldn’t last. At about 40km out, we entered a town called ‘Juliana’ and were in the centre of a Sundaymorning market! What chaos! It is difficult to describe — buses; tuk-tuks; push carts; dogs; a convoy of rally cars, some overheating and stopping with bonnets up and doors open to the traffic chaos; hot Ford Falcons with their Nascar engines all fouling up and having to be revved, as they would not idle; lanes changing from one way to two way. Just chaos on a grand scale — you could not have seen it any better if you had been in the middle of Calcutta. We got a gouge along the passenger side door from a tuk-tuk in the melee. Finally, we got through but were 12 minutes late at the control. Everybody was late.
Then it was on to a regularity at Pico Mocco. It was a hill climb on tarmac, so we decided to do it. You could only be 60 seconds late, and the car was performing in its sweet spot. Ken was driving — we were painfully slow up the climb, over a minute late at the top, so he set off downhill like a man possessed! I had a couple of tense
moments, but he gained time and came in at 26 seconds late.
Transit took us through time controls and the Abra La Raya pass at 4338m to a pleasant lunch place and time control. Then it was a long transit over many speed bumps to the garage at Cusco and a shuttle to Hotel Monasterio. What a hotel! We would be here for three nights. Machu Picchu the next day. Just three rally driving days left until Lima. We spent the nights in Cusco before we were back on the road.
This day was always going to be tough: 664km through the Andes. This was a transition day, with only two passage controls and no time controls, Cusco to Nazca. We started out at 6.45am. The climb out of Cusco was difficult but OK after the car had warmed up and we were out of the city. The first two hours were quite magic — the high Andes at its best; you felt like you were driving on top of the world. At 157km out, we climbed over the pass at 4011m near Abancay. It was slow progress but we got over.
On to the first passage control at 295.67km. We tried the coffee, but it was undrinkable, so we started out for the next climb, this time to 4552m. We climbed most of the way at 3500rpm in second gear, doing 39kph, but were down to first for the last kilometre at the top — the car just made it. We thought that was it, but, as the day wore on, we had many more climbs. At times, the Garmin screen was 90-percent yellow as it showed switchback after switchback. There were high plateaus with about 20km of relatively straight road, and then you’d drop down into a valley only to climb out on the other side. The day started at 3380m, got up to 4552m, and finished at 303m. One of the navigators monitored the climbs all day, and said that, added together, we climbed over 5000m.
After the second passage control, we had an ice cream to celebrate and carried on, starting to lose altitude, to drive to the hotel at Nazca at 6pm — 11.5 hours of the most demanding driving of the whole rally. Many of the cars did not make it until after 9pm. Luckily, the traffic was light, and bugger, I hit a pig; it was a real thump. It was a small one. I saw it roll away and get up in the rear vision mirror, so just carried on. There is a small modification to the front number plate! It is now bent around the front bumper.
This was always going to be a slower day, and yes, we needed it. Many took an early flight over the famous Nazca lines; we, along with many others, decided that a look from an observation tower about 20km north of the town of Nazca would do. It was interesting, but I think overrated. Many who went on the flights were of the same opinion.
Then on to the last regularity of the rally at Rio Grande. I was to drive. It was a short hill climb on tarmac. We were third in line to start when an MGC GT that was just about to start burst into flames. The driver
and his wife ran from the car, thinking that it would blow up at any moment. The marshal jumped into his ute to move it away from danger. Everybody was panicking. The paint was blistering on the bonnet. Ken said the fuel tank is in the back, so it wouldn’t blow up. I said, “Grab our extinguisher!” He did and ran to the car. Luckily, the bonnet was blocked up 30mm to help cool the engine, so Ken was able to get the extinguisher nozzle in the gap. After a good minute of spraying, the fire was out.
Meantime, the owner was in the back of the car, trying to save his and his wife’s passports. So Fireman Ken saved the day! He was shouted many drinks at the bar later that day.
The sweeps rebuilt the hoses and carb linkages and had the MG running about two hours later. So it was back to the regularity. Just as we started, a van passed us and then held us up for some time as we approached a tunnel, and I had to follow it through. I eventually got around it and pressed on. I was only 12 seconds late at the finish, which was good, considering the circumstances.
The car was running the best it had been all rally. Back at sea level, and fuel with no alcohol. We drove on north through the Grand Tablazo de lca desert, with a strong westerly wind blowing sand across the road, to arrive at the Hotel Paracas resort early afternoon. Ken and I went swimming in the pool, my second swim of the event — very rash for me. After dinner, the sweeps held their traditional sweeps car-park party, with drinks served from the back of their utes.
The final day saw us starting at position 16, so that meant a 9.16am start time. On to the PanAmerican Sur Highway north towards Lima, with time and passage controls to keep us on the ball — we made one by only two minutes. I was driving, Ken was saying, “Press on, Garry”, so there was some aggressive driving around the trucks and buses. Ken then took over for the transit to a track test about 40km from Lima. He did well on both the long and the short track, then I took over for the drive to the finish in Lima. It was again a bit of what we now call a ‘rally’ drive, weaving our way through the traffic, using the horn to attack the barging taxies and buses. On time at the finish, then on to the arch and chequered flag outside the Country Club Lima Hotel at about 2pm. There were tankards of cold beer, big crowds, laurel wreaths, and champagne showers for the winners. We finished in position 22, both pleased to have made the finish and sorry that it was all over. Of the 50 cars that started in Buenos Aires, 38 had made it to Lima. In 27 days, we had experienced temperatures from 41°C to 5°C. We had climbed a total of 62,940m and descended 66,311m over a total of 9989km, passed over the Andes three times, gone through four border crossings and achieved our main objective, to make it to Lima!
The presentation dinner was held in the hotel, with a fantastic video taken throughout the event, speeches and presentations.
Finally, would I do it again? “Yes, at the drop of a hat”.