Eager to have our detour behind us, we grabbed hot showers and said goodbye to our neighbor:
We hit the road, excited about the prospect of turning southward again. A few miles down the road, we found ourselves dealing with a whole new kind of detour. All of a sudden, the car started protesting the long days of driving and the miles of paved roads, and the result was a sort of hiccupping. It felt like a hesitation, as if all of a sudden the engine wasn’t receiving enough gas, almost like you might experience if you kept the car in a gear much too high for your speed. Except in our case, it felt like the car would suddenly be gasping for gas at random sporadic intervals and while the car is moving at a constant speed.
Needless to say, we weren’t loving it. Our first thought was that maybe the fuel injectors just needed a little cleaning, so we pulled over and added fuel injector cleaner to the gas tank. And it improved for a while, but eventually the hiccupping started again. Since we had just reached the town of Esquel, the northernmost point of our detour, we decided maybe it was just time to stop and give the car some TLC after all the pain we had inflicted over the last week or so. So we stopped in to see a local mechanic about changing the oil, oil filter, and fuel filter. He cleaned our air filter since he didn’t have a replacement, and his buddies gave the car a good washing.
It felt good to take care of out little van which has taken such good care of us. Afterwards we hunted the town for a new air filter and a propane fill station, finally coming up empty handed when the town shut down for Saturday afternoon siesta. Rather than waiting two days for shops to open up again, we forged on, relieved to finally have turned south.
For a while things were fine and running smoothly and then, somewhere in the middle of the pampa, things turned south again. The hesitation and the stuttering came right back. At this point though, we were smack in the middle of nowhere. The good news is that it wasn’t a permanent problem. The issue seemed to come and go. The bad news is we had no idea what the problem was.
At the very least, we had some beautiful big skies to keep us company.
With huge expanses as far as the eye could see, we focused on the scenery to keep our mind off the issue.
Our Route 40 was mostly paved, but many of the paved sections weren’t open yet, so we seemed to alternate evenly between gravel side roads running parallel to the main paved road, so close we could almost touch it. A frustrating experience as we drove listening to each bolt in our vehicle slowly coming loose as we rattled along.
We didn’t have many options in terms of places to stop and get it checked out. The great thing about our map is that it lists estancias, or ranches, making them look like towns on the map, so it’s hard to tell whether there’s actually civilization coming up, or if it’s just a single family home.
With that, we set our sights on what appeared to be the next actual town, Río Mayo.
The highway passed through the tiny sleepy town. At first we stopped at an Autoservicio storefront, assuming this would be a mechanic of sorts. Wolf pulled out one of the spare parts we had brough with us and brought it in to ask the clerk if he could help us change the part. The clerk couldn’t have been more confused. Apparently, an Autoservicio is more like a drive through convenience store. So while the clerk would have been happy to sell us junk food or milk, he had no idea why Wolf was asking him to change a car part.
We circled the town looking for what might actually be a mechanic with no luck. Deciding our best bet might be to try to self-diagnose, we settled for a hotel with wifi. Surprisingly there were two hotels in town. We chose the one with the overlanding motorcycles parked out front, hopeful that other travelers could somehow be helpful to us, either in terms of tools or general knowledge or both.
While asking the hotel owner about a room for the night we also asked if he knew of a mechanic in town. He got on the phone, made a call, and started giving us directions – three blocks north, three and a half blocks east, and then we would see the shop with trucks outside. We set off to see if we could get some help, but once we arrived where he had sent us we were confused – there was no mechanic shop, just homes. All of sudden we turned around and the hotel owner pulled up behind us. He had followed us to make sure we made it all right, and pointed at one of the homes, telling us to knock on the door and ask for Diego. So we did just that. And Diego answered, lit up a cigarette, and walked out to take a look at our car. His diagnosis consisted of revving the engine as high as possible and listening. We tried our best to explain to him what we had already done for the car that day. And he told us he had 15 minutes but if we wanted to come back tomorrow he could help us do whatever we needed. So he revved the engine a few more times, we thanked him, and we headed back to the hotel for the night.
We had spaghetti, the only vegetarian option available, and chatted with the two motorcycle tourists about our trips and all the challenges and surprises associated with what we were both attempting. Meanwhile, Wolf was scouring Vanagon discussion boards and websites searching for information about what could be wrong and how to fix it. The hotel had no redeeming value except for the wifi, and we both missed sleeping in our van that night.