Nomadness in the Andes

Peter Jennings

A 1977 VW Karmann Ghia Kombi

Strange things can happen if you are open to new adventures and flexible enough to fly off to Colombia on a week's notice! Wessel and Bjefke bought Buscar in Chile at the beginning of December and drove her north through Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador to arrive in Colombia. Their plan was to sell her and go home to Holland. But the authorities had different plans. They would not be allowed to sell the van in Colombia and they wouldn't be allowed to leave her behind and go home, either. At least in theory.

A plan was hatched. I would drive the van back to Chile for them. As the van is registered in Chile, it should be no problem to sell it there. All we need to do is create a few documents and have them notarized to make it happen. When I checked for flights to Bogota and found one on JetBlue for $260, I couldn't resist the opportunity. One week to get ready and fly out on March 25. Colombia, here I come.

You never know how things are going to work out. I arrived on March 27. On March 29, Wessel and Bjefke flew back to Holland. There were some mechanical issues with the van, so I hung out at the Coliseo in Bogota until Monday. Everything was closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday for Easter.

By Tuesday afternoon, everything had been fixed. The brakes were good, the hand brake adjusted, so it worked, new sparkplugs and various gaskets and carburetor parts were new or renewed. It all looked great.

On Tuesday night, parked at the Coliseo beside the stadium, crowds began to arrive and there was a huge police presence. I was surprised when I asked if I could still sleep there, that they said, yes. With all the excitement going on, I couldn't resist joining the crowds and buying a ticket for the football game. It was exciting to watch, and there was no question that Santa Fe was the home team and that the Paraguayans were not the favorites. But after 90 minutes, there was no score. Football games are like that.

On Wednesday, I decided to visit the National Museum, which is well worth staying around for. By chance, there was also a free jazz concert at the museum over the lunch hour. I grabbed a couple of empanadas and stayed for the concert, which was very well done.

After that, I took the TransMilenio bus (I really think it would be a better name for a time machine) to the north end of the city to visit with Roberto, HK3CW. We had a great chat about radio and travel and life in general.

Finally, on Thursday, it was time to break free and leave the city. I stopped at a large grocery store and stocked up on food so that I could be self-sufficient for several days and nights whenever necessary. And or course, all the little things that are needed, like paper towels and toilet paper, etc. etc.

The drive to Zipaquirá was uneventful and it felt good to be on the road. I parked BusCar in the parking for the salt mine and cathedral and spent a good half day underground. A popular tourist destination and a worthwhile place to visit.

The afternoon was for relaxing. I made myself a cup of tea and made good use of the folding camping chair I had bought last week. The parking lot was high on the hill and I had a good view of the town and surrounding hills. All very pleasant and the first of many relaxed afternoons in places with great views, I thought.

They wouldn't let me sleep in the parking lot, so I found a parqueadero in town which was convenient for dinner and strolling around town. Zipaquirá is a pleasant place and the energy was good.

Friday morning, I got an early start as I headed to Villa de Leyva, where I looked forward to camping at the Colombian Highlands Hostel, which welcomes campers in tents and autocaravans. Some have said it is one of the nicest places to stay in Colombia. It should be great.

I was a bit surprised by the lack of power on some of the hills, as I headed north on the 55 Highway. As I crested one hill, there was quite a cloud of smoke from the exhaust for a few minutes while I descended. It was an omen of things to come.

In Tunja, I missed my exit from a roundabout and got a bit lost in town. My GPS was also lost as, despite the streets being shown on the map, it announced that it could not find a route and promptly crashed.

Attempting to head in the right general direction for the road out of Tunja towards Villa de Leyva, I turned up a street which soon became quite steep. As Buscar climbed the hill, she seemed to get weaker and weaker. I was just about to turn into a flat street and stop to see what was happening, when the engine stopped. It would not restart. After much trying, I got it to start, but when I tried to move, there was not enough power to go up the hill to turn onto the flat street. I took the distributor off, to check the points, something which had happened before when Wessel was driving, but which were supposed to be fixed by Juan. They seemed fine and secure. I removed the air filter in case it was blocked. Nothing helped.

Eventually, there was nothing more to do. I googled "Grua Tonja" on my smartphone and found a towing company. A quick call to them and a few minutes later the truck arrived. After some consultation, they thought it best for me to return to Bogota to the mechanic who knew old volkswagens and knew where to find the parts.

A few hours later and I was back at Juan San Abria's garage. I spent the night parked on the street outside. In the morning, disassembly of the engine showed that there was a major problem with the culata. It would be a big and expensive repair job.

I was not interested in spending the money to repair it and Wessel and Bjefke weren't either. Juan was interested in buying the car. It seemed selling it to Juan for a low price is how it would all end.

I decided to go to Villa de Leyva anyway. A quick call to the Colombia Highlands hostel and I had a room instead of a campsite. A longer than expected ride on a luxurious Libertadores bus took me there and I ended up spending a very enjoyable 4 days in this typical colonial village.

In the meantime, Bjefke and Wessel had had a response to their Craigslist ad. Reto and Sandra from Switzerland were interested in buying the van and fixing it up. Reto is a carpenter and Sandra is an interior designer. They saw it as a project and were ready to invest time and money into making it happen.

On Wednesday, I took the bus back to Bogota and collected all my things from the van that I could carry in my now overstuffed duffel bag. I was lucky to find a host on who lives within walking distance of the garage.

On Thursday morning, Reto and Sandra saw the van for the first time and after some investigation and thinking, they decided that this was the project for them. By the afternoon, we had drawn up the paperwork, had it notarized, made the PayPal transfers, and all was complete. At 4:00 o'clock, I left Reto and Sandra with Juan to discuss the motor repairs and make their plans for working on the van for a few weeks before driving it across the border and out of Colombia before the temporary import permit expires.

And so ended an interesting adventure for me and BusCar. A new adventure is just beginning for Reto and Sandra. They have great ideas for refinishing the interior and fixing up the exterior as well. I wish them all the best for their travels in Buscar. Perhaps we will hear from them as they travel on.