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Andean Adventures 4th and Final Part

So, we're excited that we got to see Machu Pichu, we had a great conference and we're ready to go home, right. We decide that we're going to squeeze 5 days into 3 and return by a "safer, more secure" route, through Argentina.

Day 1- We start our return trip and continue getting stopped by Peruvian policemen. It's getting really annoying by now. Whatever. We're on our way out and focus on La Paz as our Day 1 goal. We arrive after crossing only one river to La Paz and stay with our dear friends, the Quispes, once again and talk until way too late. Since we only see each other like every 7 years, it's worth the lack of sleep to catch up!

Day 2-We head out toward Potosi. We made great time to Oruro and THEN the mountain portion of the journey started. We're getting good at passing semi trucks in the mountains now. We got to Potosi at 7:00 p.m. and we didn't find a hotel until 9 p.m. Ugh. Prices were high and standards were low. Our favorite combination. Our car barely squeezed through the narrow mountain streets. They were filled with merchants, people and animals. These were streets, but we felt completely out of place driving on them. Everyone was staring at us and were very reluctant to move out of the way. We decided Potasi was a place we aren't going to put on our next vacation list.

Day 3- We made history for leaving this "grand" city at the earliest hour possible. We drove 15 km outside of the city, paid a toll and then drove 7 hours on ugly dirt roads. We wanted to fill up our tank still in Bolivia because the gas was half the price of Paraguay. Well, no one had diesel. We went to five stations and not one drop. Good thing we have a 40 gallon tank! Norberto is an excellent mountain driver and by 11:00 a.m. were already at the border of Bolivia and Argentina. We thought to ourselves, "Super, we'll be home tonight." Ha! Thanks to Argentinian efficiency at Villazon, we spent almost the ENTIRE day at the border. Customs agents are in no hurry and actually like to make tourists wait to be attended. We were the ONLY vehicle there, but they insisted that they had to check about a hundred pedestrians first. Then, they had us fill out 37 pages of paperwork on our truck. Next, they made us take EVERYTHING out of our truck. This was just a recurring nightmare from our Chilean border experience in 2002. Norb used the same "slow-mo" strategy, taking one shoe out, one bottle, one half-eaten sandwich, etc. so to clog up their line. It worked! Mid way through the unpacking, they okeyed us and then they sent us off on our way.

It was already after 3:00p.m. The problem is that when we got to the first checkpoint 20 miles down the road, we realized THEY HADN'T GIVEN US OUR VEHICLE IMPORT PAPER. We debated whether or not to go back to get the blasted thing. We were undecided, so we asked the officials at the checkpoint if it was necessary and they ASSURED us that it was not. So, we continued on our way. Another hour down the road we were stopped at yet another checkpoint and they asked for THAT paper. We told them the story and they informed us that we could not continue without it. WHAT???????? They called the border and they verified everything we had said. They assured us that they had sent our important paper along with the "Transcontinental" Touring bus and it should be with us shortly. Nice. Customs courier service. Three hours later, every bus line passed but "Transcontinental." I was getting pretty miffed about the whole situation. It was freezing cold, we were now way off our timeclock and because of their mistake, Timmy was getting hungry, Nila was sick and we were stuck. We went into the military's canteen for some hot tea and coffee and when we finally sat down to sip our tea and warm our bones, we received word that the "transcontinental" had finally graced us with her appearrance. Apparently, they chose THE bus line that had not passed the dog sniffing drug test. Sigh. Three hours wasted. We made it into Jujuy that night, totally frustrated, cold and weary. We crashed and hoped that the rest of the trip would be better. It wasn't.

Day 4- At least this hotel had breakfast included. We sat and watched the news and they announced something about strikes near Jujuy. "Hmm," we thought as we finished our media lunas. "Sucks to be traveling where they are." We hit the road by 7:00 a.m. and filled up the tank. We were making great time and stopped at some straw hut for lunch. The news was on again...they had that same story playing about the strikes. This time they named highway 17. Everyone in the joint got silent to listen. Wasn't that the highway we were on?? Oh. My. Goodness. Sure enough, shortly we reached the first strikers. They were nice. Maybe it was because they were the first of many. They waived us through when they saw our Paraguayan tags. However, with each successive road block, the faces grew meaner. Norberto had to get out of the car and practically beg the farmers to let us through. We had nothing to do with the government's decision to raise taxes to 44% on the poor farmers. They all wanted to tell us their sob stories. Diplomatically, we listened. We told them we supported their efforts and patted them on the back! "Please, just let us through!" When we got closer to Resistencia, we heard rumors at a gas station that no one was getting through the next blockade and that many trucks had to turn around. We prayed and asked God to help us get home. This strike had already been going on for 8 days and they were waiting on Mrs. President Kitchner to lower the taxes. That could take weeks. We arrived at the blockade and it looked like the farmers had set camp 2 months ago. They had bonfires with guitars, clothes hanging from the lines and they looked as if they hadn't bathed in a very long time. Norb immediately went to talk with the "jefes" to ask permission to pass. He quickly came back saying that there was no chance. We're stuck, with all the other cars. We looked and saw a very long caravan of vehicles waiting to cross the picket lines. No one was moving. No one was going to move. We are never going to get out of this country.

I was in the driver seat and a thin man approached me and said, "Wanna get outta here too?" "Yes," I responded immediately. "Follow me quickly." He murmured. In that instant I had a peace that this was our way out. Nila did too. Norb wasn't so sure. I gave the wheel over to Norb and we backed our way out of the stopped traffic. We followed him out to some country roads. At the entrance, there were more protesters. He talked to them for about five minutes, then they waved us through. We gave them some Paraguayan mate tea as a gift. Then, we followed the stranger for about 20 minutes through the middle of a corn field. Norberto increasily felt uneasy about this man taking us out into the middle of nowhere only to rob us of all of our belongings. We prayed when suddenly he stopped his truck. He came up to our window and told us to take a right and we'd be back on the highway in about five minutes, past all the blockades. What a relief! We gave him a bag of cookies (all we had left) and a tract and thanked him profusely. We followed his directions and it was just as he said. No more blockades. We thanked God for sending us an "angel" in a Ford truck.

We arrived at Resistencia and decided we'd push to get home even though it was already 9 p.m. We grabbed some food and Norb noticed that the engine didn't want to make contact with the key. Finally, we revved up the engine and headed toward Corrientes. We were about 300 km yet from home when Norb stopped the car in the boonies. "I'm afraid we're not going to make it home." Huh? He explained that the alternator wasn't working and our battery was low. "We only have 8 volts and that isn't enough to make it. We should probably just stop here for the night." We thought about it and then gave it over to the Lord. "God, we are asking you to do a miracle and help us get home with the power that's left in the car battery." We continued driving, but turned off the radio and didn't use any signals. I drove and prayed the entire time. We reached Posadas and when we got into the city, Norb just drove with the parking lights. We were never SO happy to cross the border into Paraguay. We dropped Nila off at her home in Encarnacion and drove the last hour home with only the parking lights. We arrived into our driveway and the car stopped. Literally. It didn't start up again until we bought a new alternator a few days later.

We believe God answered our prayer and gave our battery the "juice" it needed to take us safely to our home, 15 days and 8500 km later. We give God all the thanks for his protection and for the amazing grandeur of his creation. So, what's our next destination you ask? It's a surprise, but it's south of us and begins with "Buenos" Let's hope it ends that way too.

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