It’s Broke and I can’t fix it here.
After the adventures of the day, discussion around the camp that night was all about the “what ifs”. What if they didn’t let us go? What if they pulled the trigger and shot one or all of us? Sleeping under the clear desert stars and waking the next morning ready for whatever was next in our adventure. We didn’t have to wait long! The desert in this area was mainly small low lying hills and dunes that were covered in clumps of sunburnt and windswept bush. So for me leading the way it was great fun picking creative driving lines in and out of gullies and troughs and up and over the various rises we could climb.
We traveled along like this for a few hours when I noticed the Yellow Landrover was no longer in my rearview mirror. We didn’t have radio communications of any sort so I waited for them to catch up. There was no sign of them after 10 minutes so we started backtracking the way we had come. As we came up a rise and onto a small flat area there they were with the bonnet up. They tell me how it just stopped and now it won’t start (their a helpful lot). I start to investigate and sure enough the motor won’t start in fact it won’t even turn over although I can get a little bit of back and forth on the crankshaft with a spanner. I’m starting to think we have a real problem and would need to go deeper into the motor.
Seeing as how we would be a while I suggested we get some shade set up and get lunch happening while some of the guys and I start spinning the spanners. We pulled the rocker cover of and all looks normal so off comes the sump to have a looksy looksy in there and oh dear. The insides look like scrambled eggs. I can see a bent connecting rod. Now it’s “off with it’s head” which reveals the complete picture. An exhaust valve head has broken off the valve stem and very quickly smashed a hole in the piston, bent a connecting rod, and bent and cracked the cylinder head. It had even caused the spark plug to break away and fall into the head forming a perfect hole in the top of the piston shaped like a spark plug.
Surely it must be time for a cup of tea:) What to do, what to do, what to do. I had a decent range of spares but not a new cylinder head or Con rod. After a fair bit of deliberations as a team it was decided that we would head to the city of Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania for the parts. For security, 2 of the team would stay behind and wait with the 4wd till we returned with the spares required. Once the plan was made everyone repacked and jammed ourselves into the 2 remaining landrovers. Yes Bill and Bob the flower pot men were still with us. I had carefully collected all the parts that needed to be replaced and tried to think through every possibility of what could go wrong and how I could solve it if need be. There was no coming back to grab something I had forgotten.
The thought of leaving friends in the desert without any way of getting out was very scary and we were determined to get back to them one way or another. As we headed off we had a real sense of excited fear in the vehicles. As we continued picking our way across the desert there wasn’t much talking as we tried to get our heads around what had just happened.
We all wanted to go on an adventure when we had left London but this was hectic and felt like it was well and truly on the edge of reality with danger around us all the time. Maybe thats what adventure is, the excitement before hand the fear during it and the fantastic stories afterwards.
It was well into the afternoon by now and we were getting close to the beach which we could use as a road all the way down to Nouakchott. Once we got onto the beach Shaun informed us that there was a National Park that we had to pass through and that they would want to see that all who had entered the National Park we’re leaving it as well. Of course we had a problem not only had we left a vehicle in the park but we planned to come back into the park and rescue them. As we’re heading down the beach we’re trying to come up with plans of how we could miss the National Park check point when suddenly we were at it and had to stop.
Shaun once again begins negotiations and tries to explain why we’re one Landrover short and missing 2 bodies. After an hour Shaun decides the African way is best and just pays a bribe so we can get on our way. The conditions being that we MUST stop in there on our way back so they can record that we have got our other vehicle out. (read so they can get more bribe money from us) We were all over that one now so we just plotted the location into the GPS to be used later.
A few Kilometers down the beach it was almost dark and the tide was rising chewing away at the beach so we decided to head into the dunes again and make camp for the night. Once again as we sat on the top of a sand dune with a peaceful breeze in our faces watching the moon rise above the Atlantic we discussed the adventures of another day in Africa.
The next morning we make our way along the beach arriving in Nouakchott soon after lunch. When travelling a book written by the Lonely planet is a must have and the girls had been reading up on where we should stay in town and had settled on a modest Cafe’ with lodging rooms out back. I was mad keen to get our parts and head back out to get our friends but by the time we had settled into our digs and sorted out a few other details like getting some black market currency everything was closed for the day.
Now I’m not sure how the African system works but most Africans seem to know someone who can get things done for you and all you have to do is ask a few questions of people and most of your requirements can be arranged and this was the case for us. We needed someone who knew where to go to get the parts we needed and as it turned out we were in luck. The Cafe’ owner knew a guy who had a car and for a small fee would take us around town collecting all the parts we would need. Now it seemed to me that the spare parts trade was a generally a mix of specialists where one guy would sell reconditioned pistons another the conrods and another the bearings. This made the job of buying our parts ridiculously time consuming.
Our Chauffeurs car was a 1970ish Peugeo that would have had it’s last service in 1970 and by the time we all piled into it it certainly made many noises of complaint but hey thats Africa. You just go with the flow and it was better than walking. We thought the best place to start would be the Landrover dealer who had most of the parts in stock and even showed us a brand new cylinder head but we didn’t own an oil company so couldn’t afford any of his parts so off we go to the black market side of town.
I won’t bore you with the details but it took 5 days of scrounging around the back blocks to find all the parts we needed. The piston from our motor was one size oversize and all I could find was a std size piston. The cylinder head we got our hands on had been serviced that many times without new parts that the valves had almost receded to the bottom of the valve seats. But as best I could tell it was flat and would work.
Around about day 4 in town and Shaun and I start to think through and plan our rescue mission when we realised that we wouldn’t have enough fuel in the tanks to drive out into the desert and return let alone have enough fuel to drive the stranded Landrover in so we needed to find a clean drum to hold at least 100 liters of petrol. We set our chauffeur who had proved his worth onto the task and within the day returned with a drum strapped to the roof of the Peugeo. Upon inspection it was actually clean inside and would work well for us.
I’m MadMatt Stay safe on the trails.