Finding Steven

On returning to Santiago the search for a van was to resume in earnest. We decided to head back to La Chimba Hostel in Bellavista, although we did decide to sleep in the airport on arrival to avoid an expensive taxi ride and a nights accommodation cost. This caused a bit of amusement as we inflated our camping mats in a quiet corner of the airport.

We established a daily routine of searching yapo and chileautos websites for suitable vehicles, me trying to arrange viewing in bad spanish on the phone then getting the staff at the hostel to bail me out.  The process of getting to actually see a vehicle can be a bit hit and miss with the Chilean laid back approach to life, however – who would think some of these guys were actually trying to sell a van?!
I had put together a checklist to go through each time to try to weed out the problem vehicles. Sadly we found that every van we saw for two weeks had unacceptable issues. It was amazing and disheartening seeing what people were trying to sell for 4-5m pesos (~£4000-5000).  A few examples…

A van advertised having done 110,000 km actually had 350,000km on the clock, but apparently only 110,000km on the current engine! How about a van thats tacho showed 500,000 km, it was advertised with 150,000 km, but the tacho clocked a kilometer every second – but the van had only done 150k, honest! Maybe a van advertised as ‘first person to see it will buy it’ would be the one? I was that first person, but having gone over the van and established that the engine was leaking coolant at a reasonable rate I thought I’d give the key a turn.  It didn’t want to start. Finally it spluttered into life, only firing on 3 cylinders, ran for a bit then stopped.  Eventually I got it restarted and went round to have a look under the bonnet when I was told that one of the injectors was a bit dicky. I thought I would humour the sellers and take it for a spin and boy was it smokey! We said we weren’t interested and left, only to get a text offering a £200 discount, mmm let me think…

We had now pretty much exhausted the available vans from our internet searches that met our criteria. So we widened the search, non hightops were now in and we could pay more. Still no luck after two weeks of hunting. We decided to perhaps change tack and go for a four-wheel drive vehicle that we could live out of if not live in.  However, it seemed our perfect van might just be round the corner when I found two old Peugeot Boxer based ambulances advertised at a car lot. We decided to go there first thing the next morning and be the first through the door. We arrived about 10 mins after they opened and asked to look at the two vans.  We went over them both, but test drove only one (the one without an oil leak). The van was a great runner and only had one problem, the speedo didn’t work! We tried to negotiate a price but they would not budge and furthermore it turned out the revision technica was out of date. We could not get a new one till we had changed its appearance from being an ambulance to being a white van without flashing lights etc. We went away without doing a deal as we needed to do some research on the speedo issue and think about how to turn it back into a white van.

We did not want to risk losing the van so we phoned them and said we would take it and would be back in the afternoon. I did some more research on the speedo issue so I could try to diagnose it on our return. We also found somewhere to buy white sticky back plastic!

When we returned there were already other people looking over the other ambulance. Good vans sell fast in Chile! I dived under the van we wanted and  found the gearbox speedo sensor unplugged, that old trick… do any vehicles in Chile have a genuine mileage?! Anyhow the mileage wasn’t that important, the vehicle ran well so we went to go and figure out the rest of the deal, although with a different guy from the morning. He came down stairs from their in-house notaria with bad news –  the van had been bought at auction and was still registered with the police as an emergency vehicle and was not even yet in their name. It would take a further 4 months to get it in to our name and until then we would not be able to take it out the country!  Well that ended that and we left feeling pretty dejected, it seemed we were not going to ever make this work.
With our alternate 4×4 strategy in mind, we thought we’d get a feel for what we should be looking for by trawling used car lots for a day.  A few hours later, and several different options viewed and measured, we spied tucked away in the corner a Mercedes Sprinter.  Trying not to seem too interested we asked to take a look, and it seemed tidy  enough although there were crash repairs back and front, and it was a little smokey when cold.  We made a ridiculously low offer just for kicks, and the guy instantly took 600,000 pesos off the price.  We went home to sleep on it, but couldn’t help getting a little excited – it ticked pretty much all of the boxes except for the high top!  However a decent sounding Peugeot boxer hightop also came up that evening so a viewing was arranged for that too the next day. The viewing for the Boxer was in a DIY center car park, not ideal, but after some shenanigans trying to find the guy the van was generally pretty sweet except for a dodgy gearbox that felt like it would fail soon. I made an offer taking into account the gearbox, the guy said he would call me. So we decided to go look at the Sprinter a second time and try and negotiate a deal based on the fact we had an alternative now. We went over the vehicle more thoroughly first and then started negotiations –  in the end we got 1.2m pesos of the window price which seemed like not a bad deal. In doing some research on Sprinters it seemed that they don’t have many running issues at all, certainly not like Peugeot Boxers do.  We decided to have a second look, going through the full checklist this time, the brake wear light was on and there were a few vibrations when lifting off the gas, but they didn’t seem too bad.  A good bit of negotiation later, and we had a deal on the van!

As the initial offer we were given was 6 million pesos, we just had to name him Steve Austin, the  6 million Dollar Van!

Steve the $6m van!
Steve the $6m van!

Tiny Goma’ goes to visit Christo

We returned to Rio from Petropolis with the firm objective of climbing K2 (a 4 pitch climbing route) on Corcovado, the big hill with Christ at the top. We failed to get it done during carnival due to poor route info and then rain, but this time the forecast was good and we had bought the guide book so the chance of success was higher. We just needed to be first on the route as it was a Sunday and the route is a classic. It starts to get the shade (B:  an important consideration as the midday high was 38 deg C) from about 2pm so we set out from the flat at about 11am, giving us time to get across town on the bus.  The plan was then to walk rather than get the expensive tram or less expensive van. I hadn’t quite calculated how far the walk would be, it hadn’t looked that far….. Err it was a long way in the midday heat, but an hour and a half saw us past the park entrance and leaving the road into the jungle without having paid a bean.

The path through the jungle made me wish I hadn’t stuck with flipflops as there was loads of broken glass as well as the threat of poisonous critters. Still better than Barbara having to carry two pairs of boots in the sack on the route! We were indeed the first at the base of the route and as we started to gear up we heard other people arriving.  We felt smug as a party of three arrived, we definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be behind them! We chatted to the others who were a nice bunch of guys a Canadian, an American and a Brazillian. I set off up the route having been given a bit of beta about the first pitch which was the crux at about E1 and even required the odd bit of trad gear to be placed! Tiny really enjoyed this pitch having decided that he should make a final appearance before leaving Brazil…..

Tiny stretching out at the top of pitch 1 of K2
Tiny stretching out at the top of pitch 1 of K2

Tiny was quickly in his comfort zone and really enjoying the climbing which continued to be technical and tenuous. The second pitch afforded some good photos ops too.

Ooo watch out for that cactus below you tiny!
Ooo watch out for that cactus below you tiny!

As Tiny started up pitch 2 a third party arrived at the bottom of the route behind the party of three, they’d definitely be  needing head torches! Pitch 2 proved surprisingly tricky given the crux pitch was pitch 1 and it was a long pitch. However Tiny dispatched it with aplomb. Pitch 3 was a straight forward romp on big holds.

The sun was now staring to set, but we had just one pitch left so we were hopeful of getting to the top to watch it go down. However failing light and with the scramble at the end putting the top just out of reach of a single rope length meant by the time Barbara finished the final pitch Tiny and Barbara had missed sunset:-(

Barbara completed the final bit of scrambling to the top, she brought Tiny up and it was now dark. Barbara had exclaimed that the view was pretty awesome, but Tiny could not really have been fully prepared for the view that would greet him.

Christo beautifully lit at the top of Corcovado
Christo beautifully lit at the top of Corcovado
Tiny looking pretty pleased with himself
Tiny looking pretty pleased with himself

Not only was there the glory of Christo at the top, there was also a full moon that was illuminating the whole bay and Sugarloaf mountain. It was stunning!

The full moon over the bay was utterly breathtaking!
The full moon over the bay was utterly breathtaking!

Tiny and Barbara were on a real high having completed the route without needing head torches and the views made for a once in a lifetime experience. They were also able to get the last tram down for £12.5, well worth it to avoid a 2 hour walk in the dark which passed by a few favelas. Tiny decided it was time for him to retire for the evening and we made our way to the tram and were grinning for the whole way back to the flat.

Happy Tiny and Happy Barbara!
Happy Tiny and Happy Barbara!

We were flying back to Chile the next day so we finished off our day with a slap up dinner at the portuguese tapas place near the flat.

Petropolis

Post carnival the rains came which put paid to any climbing plans in Rio so we decided to head off to Petropolis for a few days, a city about an hour to the north .  Some research had found that you can trek from Petropolis to Teresopolis (~42kms) through the Sierra dos Orgaos National Park, although the Lonely Planet advised that a guide is required as it is easy to get lost on the various un-marked paths. We could not afford the cost of a guided trip so we gave up on that, instead we planned on of a bit climbing and hopefully camping at the crag for free. We had left our tent in Santiago, but thankfully Mark (Rachel’s and currently our landlord) lent us his.

The bus to Petropolis went from the Rodovaria Novo. Google reckoned was an hour bus ride away, however in true Brazillian stylethe bus did not arrive and we opted for catching the Metro and walking the short distance to the Rodovaria. The map indicated it went past a little network of minor roads, the type which usually serve favellas so some caution might be required… The area around the Metro station was being used for dismantelling the carnival floats, there was a fair bit of security associated with this. If it wasn’t for this additional security presence we would have probably got right back on the Metro and abandond the walking option. Unfortunately we needed to leave the relative safety surrounding the end of carnival and quickly found ourselves wandering down a road right next to some favellas. We looked like targets with our fully loaded packs which screamed “come rob a gringo!”   We decided to hail a cab which could not come quick enough, but eventually grabbed one which took us the remaining 1km to the Rodovaria,  about twice as long as walking.  At least we arrived with us and all our belongings intact –  well worth the budget busting taxi fare!

We hopped on a bus and relaxed watching the north of Rio go by. This seemingly is an enourmous conerbation of favellas and industrial sites, quite a contrast to our experience of Rio so far – walking along beautiful beaches and amongst mountains and forest in the city. It was also pourng with rain.

We had not expected the bus terminus to be about 10k outside of the city, which was a bit annoying, and as this was a spur of the minute decision we had to find accommodation when we arrived.  But this is what the internet is for, right?  We booked a hostel, and although we couldn’t quite figure its location relative to us, it coudn’t be that far?… A visit to the information desk directed us to the toilet attendant who spoke English! The attendant called someone to cover his post and duly helped us (he seemed to be somewhat under utilised in his normal post I think).  The way to the hostel was not straight forward and took 1.5hrs and 3 buses to get to! It was now 8.30pm, dark and raining hard.   We pushed the intercom expecting to be let in, instead we were told by security that the hostal was full.  He refused to even come to the gate to discuss the matter, but using google translate we tried to impress on him that we had a reservation and it would be really nice to be able to come in. We failed. We decided the only thing to do was to walk back to the most recent bus station, fortunately the driver who had dropped us off was on his return journey and kindly stopped to pick us up – he didn’t speak any English but obviously understood we had nowhere to stay, and got the other bus drivers to help and take us to a hotel. The Petropolis bus drivers are just totally amazing!

Walking into a hotel without a booking at 10pm is never going to work out cheap, so with our budget in tatters we went out to find food. We ended up in a pavement bar ordering mystery food that turned out to be an amazing version of steak and chips – seemingly the cook had discovered herbs, something of a surprise. They then came round with a bottle pulled from the freezer that contained some liquor based on condensed milk and possibly a home brew. This was delicious, and strong! It as also a gift, so we were feeling much more friendly towards the city by this time. The bar was an awesome place for people watching as numerous locals came and went.

The next day, after trying to take the best advantage of the continental breakfast while trying to avoid the mouldy biscuits and other not so fresh fare, we headed into town to find a hostel. A lot of walking around later we found the open tourist office who helped us find out that we did have a reservation at the HI Hostel Samambia for the previous night, but contrary to their website all English speaking reservations staff leave at 5pm so there is effectively no booking or check in after that time – our booking was only made  just after 6. The tourist office were very helpful and booked us into the Hostel 148, which was really great and has the best breakfast we have had in a hostel. We may have to come back and edit this post if we find somewhere better, but I doubt it! Home made jam and cakes/pudim, yummy.

A good reason  to get up early...
A good reason to get up early…

The tourist office had also mentioned the hike that I had written off as a bad idea when Barbara asked about camping. They said it can be done without a guide although they have never done it…. The possibility of completing the Petropolis -Teresopolis Travessia  (traverse) definitely got me excited. The next few days were spent researching the route getting a map emailed to me from Clube dos Aventureiros and sourcing provisions for the trek.  With all this done we headed for the park in the late morning on the Tuesday, meeting  a couple of climbers along the way.  The Brazilian guy Igor said he would be up for a climb on Friday, score!

The entrance to the park was a rude awakening, I had understood they charged a bit more for foreigners to enter the park, but the fee is not just for the entrance, they charge a trail fee if your doing the traverse and a nightly fee for each night you in the park. Our dreams of recovering our budget position seemed to be dashed as the park fee totalled about £40, I said we would only be one night in the hope we might sneak another night for free.

The first part of the hike was through the rainforest and was pretty hot and sweaty –  we did stop off at a waterfall on the way, but we didn’t get under it.

A cool oasis in the jungle
A cool oasis in the jungle

Eventually the jungle gave way to grassy slopes, only Brazil does grass a little bigger than in the UK.  As we continued gaining height there was less and less vegetation until we gained the plateau where it was bare rock slabs.  Along the way we met Willem,  another guy doing the traverse, and we walked the last part to the hut at Castelos Do Açu together.

Arriving at Castelos Do Acu
Arriving at Castelos Do Acu

We were welcomed by the hut ranger and shown where to camp so we pitched our tent, which turned out to be somewhat larger than expected. I can’t believe we lugged such a big tent around!

So glad we brought a five man tent!
So glad we brought a five man tent!

The ranger came and said we could cook and shower in the hut.  It turned out a hot shower was a few pounds, but a cold one was free – as we had not expected any showers so a free cold shower seemed like a luxury! We then cooked our dinner and sat talking to Willem who turned out to be an ex-professional cyclist, which would explain why he was difficult to keep up with!

Sunrise on Acu
Sunrise on Acu

The second day of the trek is the most technical and difficult to navigate especially if the cloud comes in, which fortunately it did not. The view of the granite peaks of the Sierra Dos Orgaos were stunning and the rock climbing potential looked amazing.

South face of Pedro Do Sino
South face of Pedro Do Sino

There were a couple of wrong turns along the way, with one that resulted in flailing round in the brush for an hour trying to find the path.  The final part of the traverse required some scrambling which was exciting in places due to the size of our packs, did I mention the enourmous tent?

Scrambling up to Pedro Do Sino
Scrambling up to Pedro Do Sino

We caught up with Willem at the second hut after having gone to the summit of Perdo Do Sino, the highest peak of the traverse at 2,275m. The hut was set in amongst some beautifully kept lawns and gardens so we asked if we could camp an extra night as it was such a nice place, agreeing to pay the extra night’s charge when we left the park. The ranger at the hut was a really nice guy and we spent some time talking with him in the morning before making a leisurely start down to Teresopolis. We stopped to bathe at some waterfalls and admired the diversity of the jungle from a high level walkway on the way. By the time we got down it was 5.10pm just after the park closes for the day, we went to the admin office to pay the extra night’s fee, but the security guy was not really bothered so we got a free night after all!   We then walked all the way to the bus station and got on a bus back to Petropolis, unfortunately being delivered to the out of town bus station again. At least this time it was a single bus straight to the door of Hostel 148 (and we knew the way now, which helped).  We then caught a bus back to Rio the next day where we had a date with Christo on Corcavado to keep!