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rita the land cruiser (filling in the blanks)

January 14th, 2008 · No Comments · Phil

just because i didn’t post for six+ months doesn’t mean nothing was going on. it was actually a pretty eventful (in a good way) year. i’ll see if i can work on the backlog and fill in some of the blanks. here’s a car story from sep/oct. check the photos here after you read the story.

paige’s parents came for a visit in september. it is great having friends and family visit, but there is also a nervousness that everything will be OK logistically, especially here in a place where plans tend to not go as, well, planned. our one planned excursion was to ssembabule to visit paige’s field office and meet some village health workers. ssembabule is only 3-4 hours away from kampala but we had a flight to tanzania that we couldn’t miss the day after our planned return, so it was important to avoid surprises and stay somewhat on schedule.

our town car (elsie) has so far been ultra-reliable and we’d trust her anywhere, but she’s a two-door and six-foot-four dads wouldn’t be too happy on bumpy ugandan roads in her back seat. so we traded with the mubende field office for the four-door land cruiser (rita) which has more space and is smoother on the roads…and is constantly in the shop. you see where this is going.

sure enough, after stopping for coffee and muffins at the equator the car had trouble starting. i finally got it to fire up and we started limping down the road. no power, plenty of exhaust smoke and i had to go up hills in second gear. we made it to lukaya and stopped there because it was a common truck-stop town so we could probably find a mechanic. immediately our car was surrounded by more than a dozen “mechanics”. one tells me to open the bonnet and turn the key. after two or three minutes and two or three times turning the engine over he comes around from the front and says, “your timing belt pulley bearing is broken. i can fix it.”

we limp to his garage, which is a dirt parking lot with a small storefront where he keeps tools and parts. we all pile out and watch with the growing crowd as he and an assistant disassemble our engine. ten minutes later, fully one-third of our engine is strewn across the ground and mechanic sam is holding the timing belt pulley, mangled bearing and all. he is also holding half of the bolt that holds the timing belt pulley in place. the other half is inside the engine block. which means this is no longer a 45-minute repair job. so we call a car from ssembabule, leave the land cruiser with sam, and pick it up the next day on our return home, $90 later and good as new.

fast forward three weeks when steph, clay and his brother visit. we took the problem land cruiser on a trip to queen elizabeth natl park. true to form, about half-way in to the seven-hour drive the temperature guage red-lines. oh! i forgot to mention that this car overheated on the way to bring paige’s parents to the airport on their trip back to the states. we had to call peter to come and bring them and paige to the airport while i hung with the car and got it fixed. but get it fixed i did, and surely it would be OK for a trip to queen elizabeth, right? dang. so i spent the rest of that trip sweating along with the temperature guage, hoping the car doesn’t blow up. coasting down hills, driving with the heat blasting (that’s great in equatorial heat). but even though it threatened to overheat, everything was fine…until the trip back home as we’re driving through lukaya the car just dies. not even half a km from sam’s shop.

so we call sam, and he comes walking down the road. he asks me to open the bonnet and turn the key. again in three minutes he has a diagnosis, “your fuel injection pump is broken, i can fix it.” he returns five minutes later with the necessary parts and takes care of business there on the side of the road. then i tell him about the overheating. we drive to his shop and he finds that the temperature gauge sensor is faulty, replaces it and finally the needle on the dash is where it should be. so the car was fine the whole time i was stressing - it was just the sensor. dang.

anyway, 50 minutes after we called sam from the side of the road we are on our way, $60 less in our pockets. i can’t imagine what these repairs would have cost in time and money in the states. well, i can imagine. maybe add a zero to what we paid.

mechanic sam is great, and i always tell him that i hope we don’t have to see him next time we drive by. but we stop just to say hi and he has a good laugh.

here are some photos. unfortunately none of sam, but he’s holding the pulley in 5 and has his back to the camera in 10 and 11.

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