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It was still sweltering hot as we stepped out of our air-conditioned hotel room. We were all a bit quiet as today was our last day together and due to concerns about the other car that needed to make it to Santa Cruz in time for their flight home on Saturday (we have since learned that they arrived in time and, as I write this catch-up report on Sunday 27 November, should have arrived safely in the UK, ready for a day’s work on Monday!

The road to Santa Cruz was as good as John had promised. This made life a little boring as we drove through the flat, featureless landscape. Brendan was in front, in case they should run into more problems and we followed all doing a steady 80 km.p.hr. We made three stops, S2442, S2443 and S2444 and the plants photographed included Stetsonia coryne and many others to be listed later. Read on and you’ll see why.

S2445 was the Goodbye Stop and as we realised that we had forgotten to take the obligatory group photo we posed underneath the road sign that indicated the split of our ways, while Wiebe and Brendan ran between Wiebe’s tripod and the posing team while their camera’s self timers clicked away. Have a safe journey guys, see you in England!

As we took our pictures, there was a loud crash across the road as a pick up track had missed the narrow concrete bridge across the drainage gully between the road and a snack bar. The car was now stationary, nose down and back wheels in the air. With the help of us, the six gringos, the wheels were soon brought down to earth and the emberrassed owner thanked us for our help.

Our plan was to spend the night at Monteagudo, a manageable distance away.

Ther following is an editted extract of an MSN chat with Angie, who throughout my story kept telling me that she was shaking her head in disbelief:

We stopped (S2446) for a Cleistocactus sp. in flower. When we wanted to carry on, Wiebe could not get the car started and we commented how much easier it had been with two cars, when one could tow the other out of trouble. Anyway, the car started. So we drove on. The new clutch is still settling down so Wiebe stalled once or twice and each time had problems starting – it sounded as if the solinoid had jammed or the ignition switch had gone. Bashing with a stick only helped once.

We made a nice stop for Sulcorebutia roberto-valquesiana. No way the car would start. John took the controls and as there was a slight slope back, we bump-started him in reverse. Great – but now the tension was back again – did we have a dodgy solonoid?

We decided to take it easy on stops, only stopping on a down hill gradient, but leaving the car in gear as the handbrake is dodgy. And so we reached Monteagudo. Should we push on to Sucre? 348 km and c 8 hours drive, mostly in the dark. Let’s look for a Taller Electrico here, in case it was something simple. We were directed to a track out of town where we found the workshop. It seemed that the staff were at a Mother’s Union meeting.

It turned out the local meeting of the campesinos working party (striking party) and when it was over, we were introduced to the organiser, who briefly appraised us of all blockades in Bolivia, present and future. Our plans were OK.

The owner of the workshop introduced himself as George. He was a short, round man, with a bulging round cheek, stuffed full of coca leaves that he was chewing energetically, spitting at regular intervals. They had all been drinking beers and were therefore 3 sheets in the wind.

He got his son to take a look under the car, while he got us to give him 20 Bs for five cans of beer. Every sentence was followed by a handshake, and while he was fluent in Castallano, we were not.

I made my drinking excuses by explaining that I was diabetic. He was very sorry and offered me some coca leaves instead. No thanks, may not mix with my heart medication.

He was paranoid about having his picture taken with the big Nikon, but then I got out the Samsung, pretended that it was a mobile phone and got a couple of minutes of George in full flow.

We arrived at 4, by 5 he wanted the second 20 Bs for another 5 cans of beer while his son had stripped down the started motor and confirmed that the brushes on the thing had worn out. Son #2 was sent out on his bike for more beer and the required part.

It started raining by the time he came back – summer is the rainy season here, so we have become used to cactus spotting with the sound of thunder and the sight of lightning over the next hill top. It was hot and it did not rain long or hard.

But it was now pitch dark. Of course the carbon blocks (brushes) were the wrong size, but with a filing tool attached to a drill this was carefully taylored to the right size – very time consuming and thirsty work while George kept pumping our hands, sending his son out for more beers and reassuring us that it would soon be finished.

He had offered to put us up for the night and some mechanics were carrying pieces of a bed into the house. I became the self appointed leader (having heard that I was a Photographer, he claimed to have seen me on the Discovery Channel!)

It was 8:20 when we paid the final bill, 300 Bs (GBP 30 for labour) and hastely made our escape. The militant leader had asked for a lift to Sucre in the morning, so we decided to make a run for it.

The Rough Guide says that the road from Sucre to Villamontes (where we had stayed the previous night) is among the most scenic roads through the Andes, when it is passable!

We saw it in the dark, with huge trucks + trailers and coaches coming at us with enough lights to further increase our sun tan.

There was the familiar rockwall on one side and a steep drop on the other, with the usual crosses marking previous victims’ resting places.

We tried in another village, Padila, knocking  on the door of the only hotel, already closed and in darkness, but were told that there was no room.

Around 3:30 a.m we could see the lights of Sucre in the distance, some 11 km away and decided to pull up and sleep in the car

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