Monday, 12 March 2018

Cloud 9 Lives

Sorry for such an abrupt end to the last post             " Shit Happens". I must have been cut off.

Having experienced a disaster like an accident it would ordinarily be very hard to be positive about such an event.

Believe me we had many very positive experiences over the following days and the aim of this blog post  is to not only to share the recovery experience but also to  highlight  the incredible never ending stream of human kindness we experienced after the event.

Firstly lets go back to the scene .

The truck is tipped over, we are over 200 km on bad roads from a reasonable sized town and no amount of reducing the tyre pressure is going to get this out. 

Oh! and to top this my Spanish is crap and the nearest phone signal is 40 km from the scene and its still raining.

Its not looking too good at this point. 

Re enter Carlos the  Carabineros. Carlos had now made it his life's goal to get the truck out. He had even started digging with the only available tool to hand which was a spanner . He and his colleagues had tried every avenue available to them to get it lifted out of the ditch and back onto the road using municipal equipment but had sadly drawn a blank as the nearest crane was about 450 km away and would take 2 weeks to drive there . So Carlos approached the road workers who had two large diggers . ( But surprisingly not a shovel in sight )

After a group gathering around our sad truck and lots of head scratching and tutting a decision was made   " We need to talk to the Deputy Chief of the firm"          
An envoy was sent the 40 Km to Tortel to fetch him. 

Two hours later the Deputy Chief was in attendance and had joined in with the  collective head scratching and tutting and after about 30 minutes he made an announcement. 
" I need to talk to the big Chief " 

Fast forward a couple more hours and the decision was made that it could be done . 

Chains were produced and ropes borrowed from the nearby ferry and within a short time Cloud 9 was tethered up and operation "Resurrection" began.

Now I always new that such recovery would undoubtedly not pass without more damage being inflicted to our baby.  ( We will come back to this aspect later ) Even at this point I had not been able to see the far side and was still convinced that it was badly smashed up.

In the mean time I had received several messages from our Mechanic friend Perry ( who was about half way ) saying " Don't try to start the truck "

The pulling, creaking and groaning began and I could only stand there looking through spread fingers thinking that any minute a strap would break and Cloud 9 would plunge further down the embankment and be lost for ever 

Two hours later she was standing on her own 4 wheels and from one side looked pretty good. I nervously looked at the other side . 

Unbelievably the damage was really quite minor in the circumstances. A few scratches, and a broken plastic window and a re shaped wheel arch.

Even the wing mirror and awning on the crash side hadn't even been broken. How could this be .

I did however notice that our lovely porthole in the door looked a bit strange . Then it dawned on me that everything inside the truck was now piled up against the door . Didn't fancy opening that yet.

And top it all the Sun had come out.

Stand by for another bit of human kindness. 

The next morning I needed to get back to the truck from Tortel ( over 40 km ). Carlos was busy and the buses were twice a week and the next was in two days time and was already full

Pat started asking folks in the town square if anyone was going that way who could give me a lift . 

Language was an issue and a very kind lady over heard our bad Spanish and helped with a bit of translation but still no offers of a lift. 

We had just about given up when the same lady re approached us and said that although her and her friend were actually going in completely the opposite direction that they would be pleased to take me the 40 km to the scene. Well we could have kissed them, in fact I think we did. Paty and Vale  , I hope you will read this and know that we really appreciated this very kind gesture and will will never forget you . 
Not sure you would get that in a UK town.

Inside the truck was a mess. The fridge had emptied, washing liquid , coffee, water and loads of food were all over the walls . The only thing that hadn't emptied was the toilet, thankfully.

A new jar of jam had smashed on the wall. Now jam is a peculiar product because we discovered that if you throw it at your walls then scrape it back up you actually end up with enough to fill 5 jars. Think I might have stumbled into the solution for the famous biblical loaves and fishes routine there.

I had made the decision not to even look under the cab until Perry had arrived so I spent the while day scrubbing and cleaning and by the end of the day it looked like I hadn't even started. 

I sat outside the truck and drank  a coffee.  At this point I realised that this  place was actually a really beautiful location. I was next to a small stream with Trout in it. A waterfall was just above me and the humming birds were feeding on the large Fuscias that grow here. And to top it all we had spent the last 3 months trying to spot the illusive Magellanic Woodpecker , and one turned up on a tree nearby. He had a good look at me and and made what can only be described as a loud laugh....Bastard. 

I actually thought that if Cloud 9 died here then its  not such a bad place to end up.

By the next day Ellen and Perry had arrived and the four of us went back to the truck. This was the first time Pat had seen it since looking out of the ambulance window in the rain. 

A very emotional moment that's for sure 

Ellen and Perry were fantastic. Ellen and Pat spent the whole day scraping up jam and washing and scrubbing everything and by the end of the day  it all looked pretty amazing inside . 

Perry and I tackled the engine area . Firstly though we had to get round the problem that the hydraulics that tilt the cab had been damaged .

Having another truck and a big strap seemed to get this sorted pretty quick 

Gravity can be a bitch. Having dipped the oil and discovered that half of it was missing, Perry set of on his methodical system of tracking down the oil.

Engine oil in the wrong places , i.e in the cylinders or air intakes can kill and engine so the first thing to do was to try and turn the engine over by hand. It was rock solid and would not  move an millimetre. This meant that either the engine was seized or the cylinders were full of oil that had to be removed. 

Luckily Perry had the last  4 days and 1800 km thinking this over and had devised a plan . He had also had a special tool made on the journey to allow is access to the cylinders 

The top was removed from the engine and one by one the Injectors were taken out. With a syringe and a small tube we removed about 1.5 litres of black engine oil from the all of the 6 cylinders and slowly but surely the engine we were  able to  turn it  over by hand. The rest of the missing oils was located in the air filter and intake ducts.

After many hours Perry had meticulously opened and cleaned nearly all the oil out of the wrong places.

The time had come to push the button and try and start her. 

Within one turn she fired into life, However, within 2 seconds we couldn't even see the truck for the huge cloud of smoke that it was belching out. Having been reassured that this was simply all the unburnt oil that was going through the system she sat at idled for the next 10 minutes and sounded great.

What a relief.

We packed up camp and and set of in tandem towards the town of Tortel. Within a few seconds of driving I knew she didn't feel good. 

My steering wheel was jumping about all over the place and was 90 degrees out of alignment.

Walkie talkies at the ready we plodded on at about 10km per hour and I could only hope that Ellen and Perry were behind me as I couldn't see a thing in my mirrors.

Yes I'm in there Somewhere 

I destination was a large level area next to the river near Tortel were we could really examine the damage over the coming days.

We were nearly there when the loud scream " Stop " came over the radio from Ellen.

One of the large U bolts that hold the rear axle and springs in place had just fallen off. 

After a quick assessment an even slower speed was adopted and we made camp.

Perry lit a fire and we were later joined by some semi wild pigs , which I thought was a bit of stupid move. Since when did a pig turn up at a BBQ 

Over the next few days Perry and I spent all the time on our backs under the truck whilst Pat and Ellen continued with the inside . We also discovered that a solar panel had been smashed and needed disconnecting.

Now I said earlier that I knew that extracting a 10 ton truck out of a ditch could have consequences and we soon discovered them 

We focused on the steering and  soon saw that the two vital steering controls, being the Drag Link and the Track Rod had been bent and stretched out of shape and this had caused the alignment issues. We also discovered that whilst the vehicle had been upside down it had lost all the power steering fluid. 

Adjustments were made and and fluid added . The missing U bolt was replaced by two 15 ton Ratchet straps and after a few days the vehicle was declared fit for the next leg of the journey, some 120 km on Gravel road  to a town called Cochrane.

Pat had washed everything and we struck camp and set off, stopping every 30km to check all was well.

It took a whole day to get there but we did in one piece and the steering , although not perfect was acceptable and a lot smoother now it had some fluid in it.

Perry is not only a fantastic Mechanic but he has a problem solving "can do" attitude that never stops. 
In fact if your thinking of travelling by truck you shouldn't leave home without a "Perry" near by.

He had worked out all the solutions and in Cochrane he spotted a guy welding a fence and within a few minutes he had fabricated a new U Bolt. 

Whilst in Cochrane we also had a great evening out with Carlos's wife Daisy and it was really good to have a bit of normality back in our lives.

The only really outstanding problem was the fact that lifting the cab was still impossible without the two broken hydraulic connectors. We still hadn't been able to fix this issue.

The steering parts that needed to be replaced could only be purchased from Mercedes and the nearest dealer was in Coyhaique which was only 330 km away on unmade corrugated gravel road , which out here is considered to be just round the corner.

We set off to Coyhaique at a slow pace. We even stopped for a couple of nights along the way to do some sight seeing. Life was slowly returning to normal and it was great to do things that weren't truck related. 

However, confidence was still an issue on these gravel roads in the wet. I wouldn't have wanted to be behind us over the pass's. 

Coyhaique went well. Mercedes had the two steering parts by the next day and pointed us to several suppliers for the hydraulic connectors . Sadly all of them proved fruitless .

We set up camp near on large river bed and set about replacing the parts.

You can see that the draglink was all out of shape so it was nice to get it all perfect again. 

Whilst taking a short journey to a local port , Ellen and Perry went missing for a while  and showed  later back at the camp. Perry was grinning like a Cheshire Cat so I wondered what he was up to. Later that night they produced a small gift wrapped parcel . Inside was only the two hydraulic connectors that we needed . he had spotted a dead truck in a yard and talked the owner into parting with these two bits free of charge after hearing our troubles  . He never stops. he does however need to work on his poker face a bit more

Well we are now  1500 km from the crash site ( although we took a ferry for some of it ) and all is well.

We still have a lot to do but the truck is definitely fully repairable. Whether our confidence will mend as quick is yet to be seen.

We are now doing normal things again like going site seeing and eating in restaurants.

I would like to dedicate this post to all of the people who have helped and supported us both here and at home.

In particular I would like to really thank Carlos,

Manuel, Daisy and all the Carabineros in Tortel . 

The fantastic Ambulance crew ( P2d2)  in Tortel who hugged us every day.

Vale and Paty ( Angels )

Grant and Leslie for propping us up at the scene .
Sara and Augustin the hitch Hikers we tried to kill.

And lastly to the dearest friends in the world Ellen and Perry who have really saved the day, and have somehow put up with us for the last two weeks .

We couldnt have been back on the road without them 

We love all you guys

For those of you that think that nobody cares and humanity has given up, You couldn't be more wrong.

Thanks to all those who sent kind words and wishes following the last post 

Hasta Luego and we will see you on the road somewhere .







Sunday, 11 March 2018

Shit Happens

This blog post is going to make most of you shout "Oh My God" , but before you put your hand over your mouth in shock, please realise that we are Okay

The Carreterra Austral is a long road that goes from South to North ( or Vice Versa ) in Chile. It is without question probably the most incredible and dramatic stretch of road that we have ever driven. 

It starts in the south in a small outpost town called Villa O'Higgins and the drive down from Cochrane is about 200 km along unpaved roads that twist and turn through mountain passe's and river beds . It is truly awesome . The town of O'Higgins however, isn't too exciting but appears to be a very popular destination for back packers and hitch hikers alike . It would appear that every young Chilean must do this route as a right of passage to adulthood. 

The journey down was fantastic , we had a couple of hitch hikers on board . The scenery was incredible .

The next day the rain started really heavy and from our parking space we could see several youngsters begging for lifts back north. They were stood in the pouring rain all day  . Being a bit of a soft touch we picked 5 of them up and delivered them 2 hours later to the small ferry at Puerto Yungay . 

We stopped in the port car park for the night and the rain never ceased for a moment. The unpaved gravel roads were slowly turning into rivers and large puddles.  The road surface was becoming very fluid.

The next morning we set off towards our next destination of Caletta Tortel , a small very picturesque town about 40km away.  

Two of yesterdays hitch hikers  " Sara and Augustin "  asked for a lift and as the weather was so dreadful we agreed. 

About 5 km down the road we were held up by workmen who were repairing a large section of the road that had washed away previously  . We had just passed them and had to stop to let an oncoming car past when the "Shit Happened

Whilst stationary we felt the truck move slightly to the right. Then within 2 seconds the whole ground beneath us collapsed in a fluid fashion and the truck fell over sideways rolling down a large embankment ending up nearly upside down. It was very scary moment and everything that wasn't strapped down including the hitch hikers went flying in all directions 

Pat was strapped in in the lower half of the cab pressed against the window upside down , I was suspended by my seat belt hanging above her and Sara and Augustin were stuck to the ceiling in the Cabin. The crashing sound was terrifying. 

After a lot of struggling we managed to get everyone out safely via the drivers cab window and back onto what was left of the road. The rain was still pouring down.

Here is  the "Oh My God" bit I mentioned earlier.

With a few minor bumps and bruises we all stood on the side of the road in shock. Pat and I were devastated, We still are.

By shear luck the local Carabineros ( who I will talk about later )  arrived after about 10 minutes . they were taking a vet called Manuel to the ferry boat a few km away. Manuel spoke great English and selflessly abandoned his plans for the day and stayed at the scene to assist us and the local Police Officers with his translation skills and giving Sara first aid as she had cut her head

The rain still poured and poured

We all remained at the scene for an hour or so and with the help of two cyclists from America " Grant and Leslie "  who we had met earlier we retrieved a few belongings from the chaos inside the truck and were all then transported to the local village of Tortel to be examined by a doctor. Pat, Sara and Augustin travelled by ambulance I went in the back of the police pickup.

We sat in the doctors waiting area soaked to the skin looking at our feet in total devastation. I was absolutely convinced that the dream was over and the truck was destroyed. I have never felt so low as I did at that time. Shock, emotions and fear took over. Pat however, was surprisingly rational and really took control at this point . 

The calls went out to the family, who being so far away felt totally useless and unable to do anything .

Suggestions of them flying out were put on hold and to add to all this mess I was told that I was technically under arrest as I had to have a blood test to check i wasn't drunk or on drugs . The problem being was that the doctor who could take the blood test was over two hours away in Cochrane and I would have to be driven their later after the dust had settled and everyone had been treated by the local doctor 

OK .   The doom and gloom is now over. 

Here is the bit that still makes me emotional even as I am typing this post a few weeks later

In earlier blog posts you might remember our dear German friends called Ellen and Perry who we travelled with on the first part of this journey.
They were now ahead of us on their tour and were someway north.

Our son managed to get hold of them quite quickly and tell them the bad news.  

Without hesitation they made the decision to abandon their own journey and turn round to come to our rescue. Them problem being was that they were in fact 1800 km away and were facing a journey of endless driving over bad corrugated unpaved roads and very long ferry crossings. This was additionally  complicated by the fact that it was still raining more and more .

Now I also mentioned earlier that I would come back to the local Carabineros who came to the scene.

I cannot find the words to describe the kindness and hospitality they showed us at the time and over the next week. 

The held our hands and made sure that we were never feeling abandoned. 

One guy Carlos , who I am now very proud to call my friend, showed us so much kindness it was beyond belief. 

An example of this would be that having driven me for two hours on the day of the accident for my blood test, he then took me to his home , arriving at about 1 am and introduced me to his lovely wife " Daisy" who had made a meal for me . I unfortunately wasn't the best of company at that time but I fully appreciated this incredible gesture.

Meanwhile, again with the help of the local Carabineros in Tortel, Pat had booked into a little Cabanas, which was in fact a two bedroom shed with a toilet. The two shaken hitch hikers had one room and us the other. 

The next day Carlos and his colleague spent the whole day chaperoning me, taking me back to the scene to assess the damage. 

As we pulled up my heart sank. I looked at our poor truck in its inverted resting place and could not see any way forward. 

How would we ever get it out, would it be repairable, was it really destroyed as I believed.

The dream was surely over