By Roy Locock
The run from England down to the south of India was a little over 10,000 miles. The time required to ship the Midget from Chennai to Perth, Western Australia, was four weeks, so I spent a couple of those in Phuket, Thailand. I flew into Perth a week before the car was due and found a hotel in Freemantle.
I was met at the airport by some members of an MG Car Club that had been tracking my progress from a blog I keep. Over the next couple of days they showed me around the local area and took me to a number of club events. I was stunned by just how many classic cars (mainly British) there are in everyday use!
Spending Christmas on the Gold Coast of Australia
Australia, as a destination, had never been a priority and initially I only decided to go there because it was between Asia and South America. However, I decided that if I was going to visit the country I might as well drive all the way around it. When I announced my intention, the Aussies thought that either I didn’t appreciate how far that was or that I was out of my mind.
From Perth I drove down to Esperance on the south coast and then turned east to cross The Nullarbor Plain. This is the main highway across the south of Australia and is approximately 1,700 miles across. Australians were constantly telling me how boring the drive would be, but as it was my first time, I found it interesting. It was necessary to watch the fuel consumption as there are relatively few filling stations. I carried two 20-liter jerry cans for just this situation, but careful rationing was still necessary.
Arriving in Adelaide, I was met by some more Aussie MG Club members one of whom said to me, “You’re going the wrong way. You should have gone up north first.” I replied that I didn’t realize it was a one-way system, but he said “Going this way at this time of year means you’re going to hit The Wet.” He was mentally calculating my arrival in the Northern Territories at the start of the wet season, and it transpired that he was right; but first I was to visit Melbourne and Sydney before spending Christmas on the Australian Gold Coast.
At around this time, Bridget’s engine began misfiring.
I drove north as far as Port Douglas from where I would take a diving trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. The plan was to drive from there to Normanton using largely outback roads (unpaved). However, leaving Port Douglas on a Sunday morning, the rain leading the first cyclone of the season started. I stopped at a café in Mareeba and watched the rain pouring down outside while I enjoyed a coffee. A truck driver came in and asked who owned the MG in the car park. I said it was mine and he asked, “Are you heading for Normanton?” When I affirmed he told me I wouldn’t be doing so on that particular day as the road was washed out and he had only just made it in a V8 Toyota Land Cruiser.
I struck out south hoping to outrun the storm and started to understand the problems caused by “The Wet” in North Queensland and the Northern Territories. I ended up that night at an old gold mining town called Charters Towers and decided that from there I would drive the Barclay Highway westward the next day. Wrong again. A 140-meter section of highway had completely washed away and I was stranded in Charters Towers for 15 days.
Engine overhaul against the clock
When travel resumed, Bridget’s engine was seriously misfiring so I checked a number of possible causes including testing the compression of each cylinder. Sure enough, piston number four was sick, but I was unlikely to find any of the spares as all suppliers were based at least 2,500 miles away. I decided to continue on across the top of Australia then back to Perth, a mere 2,700 miles.
On arriving in Perth, I went straight to the Sports Car Garage, owned by Tim Harland whom I had met when I first arrived in Australia. He is a ‘top bloke’ as he loaned me part of his garage and his parts ordering system along with lots of sound advice on how to rebuild a Midget engine. It took me around ten days, but we completed it before my visitor’s visa ran out. Once again I loaded Bridget into a 20-foot container and caught a plane heading for Argentina.
Arriving before Bridget was now routine, so I had the time to take a good look around Buenos Aires. I had a visit from the local MGCC Chairman, Pablo Fernitz and John Ortiz his number two. They arrived in a beautifully presented MG TC and took me to lunch proving beyond any doubt that Argentinian steak is the tastiest in the world. The accompanying Malbec wine was also superb.
Once Bridget arrived and cleared customs, we set off in a westerly direction towards Mendoza. Our first overnight stop was at a small town called Laboulaye where I quickly found a hotel and settled down to dinner around 8:00pm. Midway into the meal I was interrupted by the arrival of a television film crew who had been tipped off that Bridget was there. “Could I please do an interview?”—and they had even gone to the trouble of bringing along an interpreter. So we did the interview, but I couldn’t ignore the feeling that there was a connection between the rather young and good-looking woman interpreting the interview and myself. Old men with young women is not apparently frowned upon or dismissed as ‘gold digging’ in many countries of South America, and we continued to communicate for some time after I had left.
Shortly after that meeting, Bridget and I moved on to Mendoza where I took the opportunity to experience a different form of travel. While reading a local magazine at the hotel where I was staying, I saw an advert from a local paragliding club for people who had never tried the sport. The hotel kindly booked for me to go the following day, and I went to bed that night wondering if I had finally tipped over the edge? I was collected from the hotel the next morning at 9:00 am, not giving me a chance to cry off, and was driven almost 5,000 feet up the foothills of the Andes just to jump off! It’s absolutely fabulous and I thoroughly recommend paragliding to anyone that gets the opportunity to try it.
The next day I crossed the border, on top of the Andes, into Chile. Bridget suffered a little from ‘altitude sickness’ and I was just considering stopping and adjusting the carburetors when we actually arrived at the crossing. I decided not to bother with the motor as it was all downhill from there. There was a particularly awkward border official on the Chile side who insisted that he and a colleague would search all my bags. His female colleague clearly felt embarrassed but they started the search. In one of the bags that the lady was searching, I had a number of postcards that were made for me, containing a picture of Bridget on one side. She really liked the car and so she asked if she could please have one for her grandson. I was delighted to be able to say yes, and even more delighted when the male saw them and asked if he too could have one. I’m just a big kid, so I said, “NO.” It felt so good.
My first stop in Chile was the city of Santiago, and from there I was to follow the Great American Highway up to Ecuador. This highway is for me the best drive in the world. It runs along, up, down and across my favorite geographic landscape of mountains and deserts. The road starts close to the Pacific coast with the Andes in the distant east. As you progress north the mountains get gradually closer and closer until, rather than being pushed into the sea, the highway starts to wind its way up the mountainside.
Entry into Chile
My first overnight was in the town of La Serena. After dinner that evening I strolled down the sandy beach and was watching the huge gathering of birdlife on the shoreline. To my delight, flights of pelicans swept across the ocean only inches from the water. They reminded me of the Dambusters on the final run in to Germany’s Mohne Dam.
I personally found this route through Chile spectacular, although some people that have been lucky enough to experience it focused on the dangers. There are few barriers to stop vehicles from running off the cliffs and it is necessary to avoid oncoming trucks driving on your side of the road around some of the tight corners. The Atacama Desert on top of the Andes is again a favorite of mine.
The Atacama Desert drops dramatically into the ocean.
I decided to stop over, for my last night in Chile, at Iquique, on the coast. I had been surprised by the Atacama as I had not previously known of its existence, however, the greatest surprise was to turn a corner and find myself on a road 1500 feet above an almost sheer drop to the ocean. Very spectacular. New trousers please!
Bridget and I were to cross into our 21st country the next day and I had prepared everything as much as one can. Everything seemed to be going really well at the border. Bridget was parked outside the front door of the Immigration office and all the preliminaries were completed. It just remained for the officer to go into the new computer system and check the details of the car that had been imported. He looked at his monitor, then outside at Bridget, then frowned. “A Toyota,” he said nodding towards the car. Feeling a little slighted I said indignantly, “No, an MG.” The officer looked at his monitor again and said, “It says your car is a Toyota.” His colleague seemed to step between me and the door as if to block my escape. It took over an hour to get agreement that his colleague at the Argentinian border of entry had been faced with a computer list that did not have MG as an option, so he just selected Toyota instead. MM
Next Time: From Peru on to North America, and back to the UK.
If you missed Part I of Roy’s Round the World adventure, you can read it at: MossMotoring.com/yes-in-this-car