Bustrek - South America

South America in 1976 meant very old buses with doubtful paperwork, lots of hands on mechanical work like motors not wanting to start up on the "alto plano" and lots of places where the bus would not drive itself up the steep road. It was a place with a steep learning curve for a Driver, the business I worked for was Bustrek and with hindsight this business was probably "under capitalised" and this brought with it some "character building" times.

Repairs (me without a shirt) Equador

Lunch on a Brazilian beach.

The vehicles we operated were not really suited for South America, they were old (one had been to India more times than I had ), underpowered and lacked the one item of most value, a turbo charger. Starting a diesel at altitude is not an easy task even with "easy start", often it would take over twenty tries to get a motor to "fire-up" in the morning and apart from going through cartons of easy start the batteries and alternators had a very hard life. We became experts at battery and alternator changing, puncture repair and in my fifteen months one serious engine rebuild, diff rebuilds, gearbox and clutch repairs and a lot of suspension repairs.

We took vehicles big & small across Lake Titicaca on these barges.

"The morning after" Peru "free camping" was fantastic.

The tours were of 80 odd days duration, this as it turns out is a long time for people to be grouped closely together. We attracted mainly young adventures without much in the way of money, this meant camping ouside of capital cities and cheaper hotels in the cities. The dangers the passengers faced could be considerable and usually related to the level of caution used, as one example in Buenos Aires I was woken at about 2am and taken to the main (notoriously dangerous) Police Station where I found two of my passengers in a room with a senior officer and two others with a machine gun and a shot gun. There had been a disagreement over a bar bill and although I could see my passengers were being robbed by the Bar owner and I tried to argue their cause (as they spoke no Spanish) the cocking of the machine gun brought us back to reality and a few minutes later we were forced to walk out of that Police Station with only their passports, everything else they had was taken, all cash, travellers checks etc. (difficult to get a Police Report for American Express to replace travellers Cheques as well).

Bustrek fleet in Lima Peru.

Bustrek fleet - San Carlos de Martin Argentina.

There were instances as example ; while passengers were eating lunch across the road from the bus the locals managed to get into the bus and liberate almost everything inside. A bus parked outside a Bowling Alley had all the camping equipment stolen in less than an hour, in a main street in broad daylight. There was a Market in Cuzco that was famous for passengers to be surrounded by women wearing big skirts and bowler hats and within a matter of moments hand bags were slashed and money and passports disappeared.

Motor repairs Santiago.

Lunch near Cusco Peru.

Drivers faced dangers as well. My worse problem came when I ended up in jail in La Paz Bolivia for five days after a parking argument and the passengers were mainly unaware of my location, the fact that I had two passengers with me meant it wasn't going to stay secret for long. The jail was cold and very crowded and you had to sleep on your side as there wasn't enough room for any other position, modesty wasn't available and food had to be purchased from local vendors through the bars. I had guns pointed at me on different occasions and I spent some anxious minutes lying in the middle of an Argentinean Highway with a barrel resting on my skull as the Navy (some hundreds of KMs from the ocean) searched for "Banditos' who usually wore beards like mine apparently.

Treasure Tours (NZ) & Bustrek crossing paths in the middle of nowhere.

"Hazard" front & rear of bus firmly on creek bank - Peru "Alti Plano"

The roads varied dramatically from very crowded city streets to dirt roads high up on the "Alto Plano" that were better suited to Lammas. On several occasions I found myself with the front of the bus resting on one bank of a waterway and the rear on the other side and the drive wheels swinging in the air. Passengers were keen to assist but found that after about sixty second of exertion they had to retire due to the effects of altitude, on one memorable night I cooked a delightful Chicken Mornay accompanied by plenty of "Gluvine" to keep warm and from about midnight on all you could hear was the sound of zippers on the tents being opened and people being sick, many people had trouble sleeping in tents at altitude as they claimed that they couldn't get enough oxygen, headaches were another feature of driving through the sky.

The scenery and the local people (once you got away from the Crooks, Police, Army, Navy, Customs and Immigration) made the effort very worthwhile and I feel sure that all the passengers that travelled with me would be looking back at those journeys with absolute amazement that they survived.

Kind regards, Simon Arms - NAT Euro Tours, Bustrek, Capricorn, Sundowners & Trek America

Roads did vary in quality, trucks bogged to tray level.

Night driving was hazardous.

An overland journey to India following the India overland trail through Belgium, Germany, Austria Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, & Nepal. Visting sites of Dubrovnic, Split, Kotor, Athens, Kerimoti, Istanbul, Galipolli, Troy, Delphi, Efes, Goreme, Nemrut, Tehran, Esphan, Persepolis, Shiraz, Kerman, Bam, Quetta, Kandahar, Kabul, Bamian Valley, Kyhber Pass, Indus river, Lahore, Punjab, Amritsar, Kashmir, Delhi, Agra, Taj Mahal, Vanaris, Patna, Raj Path, Kathmandu, Himalyas. All this undertaken in a 20 year old Asian Greyhound, Swagman Tours, LS Bristol bus. This Indiaoverland company was held together by Norm Harris an expatriate Aussie living in Windsor. With drivers like Bob Ashford, Geoff Lawrence, Clive Parker, Dave Watt, Ronnie Martin, John Witchard, Ken Mcdonald, Derek Amey & couriers Fred Fisher, Jos Livingstone, Peter Swift, Kieren Smith & mechanics Gordon Hammond, Graham Libby, Pomme John & Rastas just to name a few.