SA4x4

IN A VAN THROUGH SOUTH AMERICA PART ONE: BRAZIL JUNGLE TO CHILE’S ATACAMA DESERT

It always happens at the most awkward moment – when the sun is setting on a bad road in the middle of nowhere. We had driven our Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 from Arica, a coastal town in the north of Chile, towards the border of Bolivia. It takes only a few hours for the road to climb from sea level up to 4850m above that in the Andean mountains. It was already late afternoon, but we wanted to use the best light to take pictures of Lake Chigará with the snow-covered Nevado Sajama (at 6542m, one of the highest volcanoes in the world, and the highest mountain in Bolivia) in the background.

The air was very thin, and we had not yet acclimatised to it. On the way back from the pass, I was blinded by the setting sun and we hit a large rock lying in a construction site on the single-lane road. The Sprinter shot up like a rocket, only to hit another rock with its right rear wheel.

Within a few seconds, the tyre was flat, and we could see that the rim was significantly distorted. And then we learned a new lesson: changing a tyre at nightfall in the Andes at 4650m can be very challenging. Not only is it bitterly cold, but in the pitch-dark, nobody will stop to help you.

The preparations

Some weeks earlier, we had shipped our Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 on the Grimaldi vessel Grande Africa from Hamburg in Germany to Montevideo in Uruguay. Usually it takes about four weeks, with some stops in West Africa, Brazil and Argentina.

We had spent more than a year preparing our Sprinter for this journey.

When we bought the vehicle in 2015, it had already been converted to an overland vehicle - with amenities that included a kitchen with a gas stove, a sink, a fridge, a shower cabin with a Thetford toilet, a 100-litre fresh-water tank, and a 40-litre tank for grey water.

The cabin, which is very comfortable, has beds for three people, a table with)

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