What’s left after taming the Gobi desert, entered following the same route as the famous trans siberian express, through the city of Ulan Ude. Or crossing the American continent from the most southern tip Ushuaia all the way to its most northern tip at Dead Horse Alaska. Multiple trips to the North Cape and even a sidestep to the Seahara desert all of this in a classic rear wheel driven Volvo?
a very old idea, conceived back in the eighties, but caught up by life, career, family.. nearly forgotten but still lingering. Crossing the mighty Amazon jungle like once pioneered in the infamous Camel Trophy competition, but this time in a -how appropriate- red Volvo Amazon?
this report describes the experience of team 21, the youngest drivers in the challenge, who were part of the organisation team, driving in the red volvo Amazon that competed in every trip organized so far. During the preparation of the trip the starting point was planned to be the metropole Caracas, but because of the unstable political and economical situation in Venezuela we had to divert to a different city. The city of Paramaribo in Suriname had already been mentioned by some contestants. This would give complement the trip with some extra Dutch flair. We were also ably to agree to the wish of many contestants to finish with the start of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, similiar to the finish in Beijing in 2008.
Like most of our trips we planned a test drive to find out if the route we planned was even remotely feasible. The definitive route would be from Paramaribo through Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and all the way down in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. Soon we discovered what a challenge the notorious BR319, from Manaus to Porto Velho really was. Even with a completely equipped Toyota Landcruiser we realised just how insane it was to take this route with just one car by itself, but we did it nonetheless. Unfortunatlye, we had to immediatly conclude that this would be damn impossible to do with 30 or so rear wheel driven Volvo’s in 3 days, or in how many days one might have. A transport by boat was our only option to cross this stretch of the jungle.
One year later all preparations were finished. 27 Volvo’s had had thorough mechanical checkups, all needed repairs had been done and they were shipped from the port of Vlissingen to the port of Suriname. On the 11th of July the last of the contestants landed by plane in Suriname and were transferred to the Eco Lodge hotel where the cars had already been parked.
After a warm welcome at the Dutch Embassy in Paramaribo 27 classic Volvo’s and 4 Toyota Landcruisers started this 7000 kilometre rally on the 12th of July
Due to much heavier rainfall than anticipated, or than normal for this period of the year, many of the roads in Suriname and Guyana were much worse than during the test drive. While the first stretch of 300 km of dirt, mud and loose sand straight through the jungle of Guyana -known to be one of the least explored jungles in the world- to the Iwokrama jungle lodge was a joy to drive, the next 300 km of endless washboard road accros the savanne type terrain to the border of Brazil wreaked havoc on our cars. The constant vibration caused one of the brake lines of our red Volvo Amazon to tear which put us to a slow halt. Hours of fruitless tinkering had no result, and so we decided to continue the last 30 km to reach Brazil with only our handbrake. Sadly this was not our last mechanical breakdown for that day; after only 5 more kilometres we lost ignition. I was unable to repair this with the spare parts we had (eg. Distirbutor cap, rotor, spark plugs, spark plug cables) and so we had no option left but to wait for the mechanical team. After 3 hours of waiting in the blistering sun, eaten alive by a whole array of creeping, crawling and flying bugs, the mechanic team finally caught up with us, only to conclude that at that point they had no other option than to tow us. Towing a car with no brakes on an unpaved road costed us 5 towlines, and quite probably the same amount of years of my life.
The problem proved to be the condensator of the distributor, which had only just been renewed. Luckily we still had the old one in the car, and one of our mechanics was able to find a piece of suitable brake line at this small bordertown’s only ‘carshop’ in the shape of back yard scatterered with old car parts. When everything was fixed again we drove of with 3 cars in the direction of Boa Vista, to reach our destination of this day in Venezuela. Of course adversity kept following us, for only a couple of kilometers before Boa Vista the distribution belt of the service car broke. We managed to replace it in only a couple of hours, while taking shelter at a gas station for a typical tropical rainstorm. At night we reached the village of Santa Helena de Uarez, in some sort of ‘free zone’ just acros the border in Venezuela. The next day we were supposed to drive back to Boa Vista Because this was a short drive with a good road that we drove the day before already, we decided to take a small trip by airplane to the Angel Falls, measuring nearly 1000 meters in height and therefore earning the title of highest waterfall in the world.
On our way to Manaus, known as the rubber captial of the world, our car took a hard hit when we were unable to evade one of the many big holes in the road. This resulting in the entire engine block moving forward in its rubber mounts and boring a foot wide hole in the radiator. Luckily one of the other contestants following in our tracks had a spare radiator. It wasn’t the right model for our car, but almost everything can be made to work when you have enough tie wraps. Not quite ideal,but good enough to make it to Manaus. We knew one of the other contestants had the right model radiator, and on the boat we would have plenty of time to install this properly. Only one challenge remained for this day; finding our hotel with a boiling engine during rush hour in a city of 3 million inhabitants.
Once on the boat that was supposed to be rented exclusively to take our cars over de Rio Madeira in the coming 4 days, some of those exclusive spots appeared to be rented to a higher bidder. Of course this was no problem at all according to the captain. One must know; most of the ships going in our direction are owned by the same powerfull owner. If this man decides he needs something in some village along ‘his’route, one if his boats will take it. The captain simply cannot refuse this. In retrospect this was really not that big of a problem, as long as one has the use over a couple of guys strong enough to manually lift the cars in position, for there is too little space for manouvering old cars without powersteering.
After the hectic past couple of days, long routes, breakdowns, heavy rain and bad roads we now had 4 days of absolute rest. Enough time to fix all our cars on the car deck. We quickly managed to swap our radiator for the right model and we noticed that the rear bolts for our entire front end assembly had come loose for over 1 cm! Maybe because of the tow? For the rest this boat trip was all about enjoying the sun, reading a book, playing chess or playing poker. A couple of drinks in the evening made sure for a good night sleep in the hammocks. After 4 days we reached our destination early in the morning. Of course nothing goes for say in the amazon, and we first had to bribe some other captain who was unloading at the dock first. One has to ask himself if this was secretly pre-arranged and thereby the way of the jungle. Unloading the cars was much less of a deal than onboarding them, and soon we were able to continue our rally to the city of Cacoal, known to be the coffee capital of Brazil, and from there to Pacos das Onces, translated: the footprint of the Jaguar which is one of those spots that remain hidden and unknown even to frequent visitors of the Amazon. Here we enjoyed a trip in a small skiff up the Rio Verge to Bolivia and saw many Caipibaras, stingrays, turtles, caimans, anacondas and even.. the illusive (footprint of the) Jaguar…
After some much needed tlc en removing layers upon layers of red dust we continued the next day, early in the morning when it was still cool enough to keep the carwindows closed to keep the dust out. Today our destination was Chapada dos Guimares, another beautiful resort. Enroute we suffered another mechanical breakdown. This time it was our fourth gear that broke. We had no other option than to finish the day in third gear. At this point we were looking at a couple of options, which were all equally bad. We could ship our car back to Holland and continue the trip in a rental car, but after all this time and preparation this would also mean that our car, which participated in all trips, would be the firt one ever not to to make it to the finish line. That would be unthinkable. Shipping in another gearbox could take as much as 6 days and therefore not a realistic option. Then there was the option of continuing the rally in third gear. After carefull inspection of the gearbox by our mechanics we decided to go with this last option. Driving more than 2500km with a maximum speed of 60 km per hour would mean we would have to drive up to17 hours per day straight to keep up with the group. Quite challenging to say the least!
Story is not finished, too little space! please contact me if you are interested.