Adventures with Maranatha
By Marian Johns
Bob Jaussaud’s article in the last newsletter about his fun trip around the USA in 1966 got me thinking back to that year and what I was doing that same summer.
At that time I was married to my first husband, Don Cox. The previous year – 1965, we convinced ourselves that we needed to buy a 4x4 so we could explore the backroads of the desert. We purchased a used Jeep truck – a 1960 FC170 which is a rather odd looking vehicle. FC = Forward Control; it had a nine ft. bed. The previous owner was a Baja Missionary who dubbed the truck, Maranatha, which is supposed to mean ‘The lord cometh” in Aramaic. My father and Don’s brother helped us build a camper for it. That year, we drove it across the USA to Woods Hole, Massachusetts where Don had a summer job at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. At the end of that summer, we drove home via the Trans Canadian Highway – from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
Then, the following summer of 1966, we, along with my mom, my brother, Bill, and my Uncle Fred, in my parent’s 1965 4x4 Chevy truck undertook a memorable trip to South America. (My dad couldn’t go because of his job.) But Don and I and Bill were students and had the summer off. Likewise, my mom also had the summer off because she was a teacher. I can’t remember what my Uncle Fred did about his job.
I had been inspired to make such a trip by a book I read titled 20,000 Miles South about a young couple’s trip in 1955 from Alaska to the southern tip of South America in their WWII amphibious Jeep.
Preparation for our trip took considerable planning – getting multiple-entry visas for all the countries we would be passing through and getting a document – a Carnet Aduana which essentially said we promised not to sell our vehicles in any of the countries we visited. A substantial bond was required by AAA to issue us this necessary document.
Our trip down through Mexico and Central America was fairly uneventful. We were able to drive the Pan American Highway all the way to Panama. However, in Panama, there was (and still is) no road across the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. Luckily, we found a Mexican freighter leaving for Columbia the next day and they agreed to transport our two vehicles to the port of Buenaventura.
We found the roads in South America in fairly good condition as they were used extensively for local commerce. However, border crossings were a hassle. Much time was wasted with officials who were not familiar with folks like us from the USA – driving into and out of their countries. Then, we found numerous check points within each country we passed through. And these, like border crossings took considerable time. Officials had to record passport information for each of us and then the vehicles’ documents. With our limited time, many miles to cover and check points with which to contend, we found that there wasn’t too much time left to be sight-seeing tourists. At some point we picked up a hitch hiker who told us not to bother stopping at these check points. We tried it and it worked – we just gave a friendly wave to the officials and drove on by; no policía ever chased after us.
There were only a few places where we needed four-wheel drive – and those were river crossings.
The scenery along the way changed from tropical to desert between Ecuador and Peru. Even though Peru was more desolate than the other countries we passed through, I found it to be the most interesting. In northern Peru, we stopped for lunch one day and then did a little exploring when we noticed man-made walls of a Pre-Columbian structure. Further snooping revealed a looted cemetery with bones, fabrics, large funeral ollas and beads strewn about. I spent several hours sifting through the sand to find tiny beads.
Of course, the highlight of Peru was Machu Picchu. Lake Titicaca and Cuzco were also impressive. The drive from coastal Peru to the Altiplano – sea level to 12,000 feet – was an unpleasant surprise. We all spent a miserable night with altitude sickness.
Our furthest destination was the ruins of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia which wasn’t too far from the Peruvian-Bolivia border. There, we were forced to turn around and head for home; we had many miles to cover and we still had to ship our trucks again, at some point, back to Panama.
When we reached the port Guayaquil, Ecuador, we looked for a freighter to take us back to Panama. Unfortunately, we found most ships going north were headed for Europe and had no reason to stop in Panama. After a week of pestering different shipping companies, we finally found that the Italian Line had a ship that would be stopping in Panama, but it wasn’t due in Guayaquil for another week.
So we opted for a short trip north along the coast of Ecuador. Not far beyond the town of Manabí, we found a nice beach to drive on – so smooth, we could make good time that way. But… under the sand lurked the mud of a nearby river. You guessed it! Disaster! The Chevy settled down to its axles in that mud and... the tide was coming in and it was getting dark. It soon became apparent that there was no way to dig ourselves out so Bill hiked to the nearest village and hired some fellows with a big, dual-wheel truck and some very large planks to pull us out. It took them most of the night to extricate the Chevy. The tide did come in, but fortunately it didn’t reach the engine. Then, we spent the morning removing all four wheels to clean the sand out of the brakes; so ended our leisurely drive along the coast. We tucked our tails and returned to Guayaquil.
Our ship, the Rossini, did take us back to Panama and through the Panama Canal. We were then deposited in Colón at the eastern end of the Canal. From there we made a beeline for the USA; it took us nine days pushing hard.
On the very last day, poor old Maranatha died; the Chevy towed us the rest of the way home. ~ Marian