Today was Lee’s birthday. It was also the day we would be leaving the ranch and attempting to make our way to a small waterfall a little further south. The plan was to hide out here for the remaining two weeks of the quarantine, and then hopefully continue traveling in our respective directions.
It wasn’t too long before the campsite was packed away and we headed out. Ruby’s battery was predictably flat after a week without driving, but fortunately our emergency jump-start circuit came in handy yet again, and with the flick of a switch we pulled away down the dirt road back to Pescadero.
We had just made it to that morning on our water supplies, and our desperately needed to refill our tanks. We could also do with stocking up on some fresh vegetables and other essentials before we headed out. The track down to the waterfall was supposed to be incredibly soft sand, so we surmised that once we were there, we were there for good.
We stopped off at a supermarket for some bits and bobs, then drove road the back of the town to the water purification plant. After filling our drinking water up, we needed to visit the fuel station. Thinking we might be able to avoid the road blockade, we went to turn down the hill from the water place onto the main road. Needless to say, they had thought of option, and the way was blocked with several large boulders across the road. Turning around, we headed back to the main exit from the town and the roadblock. In the end it wasn’t as much hassle as we though, after insisting we put on our home made masks that I had fashioned out of some cut off t-shirt sleeves, we were allowed through.
We stopped off at a couple more shops and picked up the last remaining things that we needed to last us for a while. We finally got ourselves a garrafón of water, which are the containers that everyone uses here for their drinking water. Now with the means to make icing for lee’s cake, and 40L of drinking water, I figured we could definitely last for two weeks off grid. All that was left was to fill up with fuel, and non-potable water. Happily, the fuel station not only had a petrol pump and a diesel pump, but also a tap, which we used to fill up our tanks for free. Finally, we all set off, our van stocked to ridiculous levels.
It was only around 25km to the turn off for the waterfall, and according to the instructions it was going to be hard to find. Hanno and Kirsten set off in front, using a combination of reviews and mapping apps to try and find the correct turn off. We pulled over at one, but then after much deliberation decided that it wasn’t right. A short distance down the road, we found the right turning. Now in front, we pulled over to let Dino past so that if we got stuck there would be someone to tow us. The track then turned off left, but Dino kept going straight. We didn’t think it was the right way, but maybe they could see something we couldn’t and we followed them down onto the riverbed itself. Now that we were here, we were pretty sure we should have gone left on that track. It was also apparent that we were also now stuck, the back end of the van down to its exhaust in the sand.
We proceeded to air down our tyres, and then everyone got ready to push. I’m generally the designated driver in these instances, as Lee is not only a stronger pusher, but also a heavier weight to sit in the van. The whole area was very soft and deep sand, unsurprisingly for a riverbed. This meant that turning around would have not been an easy thing, leaving me with not much choice but to reverse back out on a narrow and quite bumpy track that we came in on. Sitting in the van awaiting to be pushed, I looked behind and observed the angle we were sitting at, wondering if this would be more of a towing situation. Everyone braced themselves on the front of Ruby, and I got balanced the clutch. The back wheels spun for a second, trying to find traction and then engine with help from 5 other people tried to push us back. We nearly had it, when it stalled. The clutch in the van is just not strong enough for these situations, and while the wheels don’t spin, there is just not enough torque to pull us out. Take two was more successful, and suddenly she leapt backwards out of the hole she had dug for herself. Not wanting to stop or go to slowly, I reversed back out down the lumpy track rather quicker than I would have chosen to. Managing not to hit anything, we were back to where we had been half an hour ago. Only managing to have gone a few metres from the road, I wasn’t that optimistic about how far we would actually make it. Still, with the GoPro at the ready, and Dino back out in front, we set off to give it our best shot.
The key for us to drive successfully in soft sand is constant speed. As soon as you stop, you get stuck. So Lee proceeded to attack the track at speed, in second gear. It’s only a two mile straight to make to the end, and we hurtled along, occasionally losing the back end on a particularly loose path of sand. On several occasions I felt the van slow as the wheels struggled for traction and slipped, but always at the last section Lee managed to get us back onto more solid ground and against all the odds we kept going, Bruno following along behind.
There were two downsides to this kind of driving. The first is that Ruby was working hard, we had to keep the gears low but the speed high and therefore the revs high, by itself she can handle this no problem. The real problem was that the location of our radiator with its scoop under the van, meant that it was acting as a giant scoop for all the soft sand. We have only encountered a similar problem once before in Flagstaff. A long and cold drive in the snow up to this town, had led to the radiator scoop becoming full of freezing slush. This meant our engine ran much hotter, due to the reduced air-flow. Fortunately, it was several degrees below freezing and therefore the engine didn’t overheat. Here, on a hot sunny day in April, it was a different matter. We hurtled down the last stretch of the track, the rising sides of the valley signalling an end to the road. The engine temperature, definitely in the red continued to creep slowly upwards, you may be able to see in the photo, the needle creeping towards the 120 degree Celcius mark.
Rounding the final bend, we stopped. The waterfall was in sight, with only a short distance to go we decided to let Ruby cool, while we got out and scouted out the best spot to camp. Needless to say as soon as we stopped, we got stuck.
Carsten and Stefi had picked out their spot ahead, and the remaining four of us walked up to choose where to go.
Once we had decided, Hanno produced a rather heavy duty looking towrope, which he was excited to use for the first time, and set about dragging us up to our final parking spot. Some jiggling around later, and we were happy to set up camp, stuck in our final parking spot. With several hours of daylight still left, we set out making some additions to our new home.
The first thing we decided to add was a toilet. While we do have our own toilet, if we can make do with something else, it saves us the hassle of maintaining our own one. Lee removed the top of our compost toilet, and then set about trying to build a pit in the sand surrounded by rocks to rest the top on. The windbreak became a privacy screen, and we even added Nelson Mandela’s biography for some light reading.
Once again the back of Ruby was unloaded and we stored our copious amount of food in boxes outside. It wasn’t too long before a large herd of pigs turned up to drink from the waterfall, and were particularly excited to find our food boxes. They didn’t quite figure out opening the lid, but we made sure that they were well and truly stuffed under the van for future visits.
Over the next few hours several other pigs came, including one mother and her litter of very young piglets. We also heard the jingling of a herd of cattle as they made their way up the valley.
At one point in the afternoon a truck arrived, but payed no attention to us and we soon forgot about it. Another car later in the day brought a family who wanted to enjoy the waterfall in the sunshine too. I suppose with the beaches all shut down, this is the next best thing. They didn’t stay for too long, before heading back down the valley and leaving us with the place to ourselves.
Having gathered some water from the waterfall in our bucket, it was apparent that it was definitely not clean. While I wasn’t expecting to drink it without filtering it, I’m not sure it was any good for much in its current state. Deciding that I would make some kind of water filter for it tomorrow, I turned my attention to more pressing matters; the icing of Lee’s cake. A little while later, I was quite proud to have made two-tone peanut butter icing and with the addition of the candles Kirsten had given me, it looked like a pretty good cake.
After an eventful day, we settled down to enjoy some birthday beers in the last of the sun. We really had found a good spot, and I would be more than happy to see out the rest of the quarantine here. As darkness fell, we lit a fire and the rest of the night was spent attempting to play charades on my phone. Helped along by several rounds of Pina coladas, we tried our best. Hard enough to play when you speak English as your first language, the language barrier definitely added to the challenge at times. I certainly wouldn’t have got anywhere trying to play charades in German, so it’s lucky our new friends were so much better at English!
Throughout the dark, cows continued to visit the waterfall to drink, and at one point two of the black bulls locked horns and a bullfight broke out right in front of us, fortunately not too close to any of our campers though.
While maybe not your standard birthday, I still think it wasn’t a bad day. The success of driving to the waterfall had definitely improved things and it turned out that my cake was pretty nice. All things considered, there are probably much worse places to be.