Alastair's Blog

Maya Classic Rally

- Monday, May 23, 2016

In February I took part in the 2nd Maya Classic Rally, a 30 day tour of 7 countries, starting in Panama, through Costa Rica, Guatemala, Antigua, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador and finishing in Mexico. On the way we experienced a volcano, police, a broken Mercedes (twice) and various other broken vehicles! This time I took my Mercedes 280SL Sports, which has done two London to Sydney rallies, and a London to Cape Town, which it won.


Arriving at the airport it was just like New Zealand, with sniffer dogs looking for drugs and fruit, also they have lots of police at the airport. Here's the view across to the old city from our hotel balcony; the city is all very prosperous and clean, bursting with activity. 


Waiting at Customs to try and get the cars out for the Zika Rally - this was the nickname we gave the rally due to the Zika virus being headline news at the same time we were there; Nice sign explaining the various symptoms of Zika, Dengue and another called Chikungunya which looks good; At this point we were still waiting for our cars to arrive. However I bought myself a rather colourful Panama hat in Panama - it's got to be done!


Then the cars arrived - thankfully! Here's the Merc 280SL with new stickers on forthe  Maya Classic, I left the Amazon Adventure sticker on; Also we had a chance to look around, here are some ships in the Panama Canal. I was last here 65 years ago, on the way to New Zealand; Here's the old windscreen behind the car, I managed to save the Space Station and BRDC decals.



Space Station Owner Alastair Caldwell Prepares Car for Maya Rally

Had a few issues in some countries, in Costa Rica for example, they wouldn't allow right-hand drive cars to enter the country!! So we had to put the cars on transporters and hire some vehicles to drive through the country. Here's the Merc on a transporter and also later, driving at last, in the sun!


Maya Classic Rally Hits Trouble at the Costa Rica border 

Here we're crossing the Bridge of Americas which crosses the Panama Canal and was a major link in the proposed Carrea Pan America road which was meant to connect North and South America but never got across the Darian gap between Panama and Columbia. Yet again we got stopped by police for speeding - this one was persuaded not to give me a ticket ($10 incentive). And in Panama, they make fence poles cut from green trees so that they grow into trees at the side of the road. So you get beauty, shade and a very long-lasting fence, lots of them are Jacaranda trees, just great. Here's a shot of a Panamanian cowboy with his dogs, very proud; Rally cars resting in the jungle; local truck passing.


Paul Markland and I tried with the rally mechanic to get Paul's Derby Bentley running but we failed, that's me kneeling on the running board trying to see if it has sparks to no avail. It did start running again, but we don't know what the cure was as yet! 

I got a couple of days to work on the Merc before the start of the rally, went to see the Canal which was very interesting and most impressive. Panama City was great and everybody we met was nice. Then we set off across the country, stayed in a lovely mountain hotel which was a nice break from the very hot and humid weather, drove across Panama again over the mountains to the Gulf Coast that they call the Caribe Sea, lovely trees, flowers, great roads, all good. Huge wind all day which made driving in the mountains a bit more exciting. Sadly at the Costa Rica border we had to abandon the car as they refused to let RH drive cars to transit so the Mercedes is having an enforced rest on a truck and we are in a hire car for a couple of days. Went fishing in the ocean yesterday in a small boat in big seas which was a great trip, even caught one fish which hotel cooked for us last night, Bonito or Tuna, delicious if very expensive. And here's the Merc and an Austin Healey on a coffee stop in the Panama jungle.


We stopped at a roadside restaurant and found they had a pet orphan sloth, it was so charming. And had better hair than Trump or Boris :)

We had more bad news as we arrived in Nicaragua as the customs there also decided that it will not allow right-hand drive cars into the country, so we were all in hire cars again until Honduras!  We left Nicaragua for Honduras,still in hire cars but hopefully to reunite with the rally cars in Honduras. We had a nice time in Granada on the shores of the huge lake Nicaragua which has bull sharks in it as they can survive in fresh water. Lovely stylish town, good ambiance all round. We stayed near the border for an early start at 6.30 and the others were all up there. Annoyingly we have met and seen right-hand drive UK reg vehicles on the road after all this! 

Eventually we arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. It was slow at the border but cheerful. Took a slow drive through Guatemala City in the heat of the day, the Mercedes was getting hot and bothered but we survived. Antigua town is lovely, and we spent a day exploring, staying in a beautiful hotel, the Casa Sante Domingo. Here's Nice shot of the Merc coming into Guatemala. Honduras was good, armed guards everywhere with pump action short shotguns, even in gas stations, but lovely bird life and of course the magnificent Mayan ruins in Copan.


Following months of new but relatively gentle activity, Volcan Fuego begins to erupt violently sending ash high into the sky and spewing molten lava down the volcano's upper slopes only ten miles from the town of Antigua, in Guatemala. These photos courtesy of F Stop Press & Rod Kirkpatrick.


Then, more car trouble hit! Having driven the 280SL many thousands of miles across several continents, London to Sydney twice, London to Capetown etc etc, she let me down with a fuel injection pump failure. Hopefully this is not terminal as it only affects one cylinder so far so will plod on on 5 like an Audi. The rally has been good, we had moved from Belize to Mexico by this stage, so no more borders to cross from now on. Here's a couple of photos of the disarray and attempted repair.


We'd seen some more cowboys in Belize on the side of the road, as well as a Rasta admiring the Merc. Belize is a tiny country, very poor and very laid back. It seems like most people are stoned all the time but they're lovely and speak English. They even have the Queen on their banknotes. We experienced a few scorpions here, there was one at the Jacuzzi!  More dangerous (perhaps), there are other creatures, see this "No Swimming" sign at hotel lake, pointing out that there are hostiles in the water. We checked out the hotel pool thoroughly for scorpions and crocodile content before use!



I was looking for another problem, an oil leak, and happily found this problem before it got worse - a broken engine mount. Whipped it off and found a man to weld it in minutes, so job done! Note the state of the art welding equipment and the happy welder in his safety gear clutching the repaired mount and his cash! 


I had to show you this, the drinks menu at a local bar, note the one called panty ripper! And there was an iguana crossing the road, they're quite big. We had to protect him from the traffic for a while otherwise he would have been an ex-iguana!


Here's another rally video, this one was done by fellow rallyist Reg Toohey.

It was my birthday while we were on the rally, and I woke up one morning to find that the Mercedes had been decorated by fairies in the night! Also shot of a big truck fallen victim to the many speed bumps on the roads in Central America, particularly in Mexico where there are thousands often completely unmarked to catch you out; my taking part in 4 Carrera Pan American rallies has given me some experience of these car breakers.


The main muffler on the Merc had started to fail in Peru but we never got round to repairing it. Then very nearly at the end of the rally, in (I think) Guatemala, the bottom blew off it and Toby sacrificed one of our Costa Rica number plates to patch it up. Sadly when the motor started to run badly in Mexico the backfiring blew the plate apart! So we took the car to a Mofles shop and in a flash it was cut off and replaced by a couple of straight tubes and we had a sporty noise if still a bit slow... 


It was a great rally, the only setback was having to truck the right-hand drive cars across Costa Rica and Nicaragua but we had hire cars so we still did the route. Despite the nickname "the Zika rally," we never seemed to have a mosquito problem at all, we saw and heard virtually zero, got bitten round the ankles towards the end but these were little NZ style sandflies which itch like hell. We saw some great sights, met some lovely people and had no problems with security in any of these supposedly dangerous countries. There were armed guards at institutions but you see that all over the world. Some rallyists witnessed truck hijacking by armed men but once again this is not restricted to Honduras. The Mercedes developed a problem with its fuel injection which I failed to fix, so it was sent home in disgrace instead of going to Cartagena for the next rally, the Alpaca, which starts in May and goes down to Lima in Peru, which will tick off a couple more countries for me. The Porsche 912 will have to be brought up to speed for the Alpaca, Joe has already got the engine out and soon it will be in bits. 

Here's another photo of me driving - "Look, no hands! And no shoes either!" And some more videos taken by various people.

Day off in Costa Rica

Take a quick five minute glidecam tour around the ancient Mayan ruins at Copan in northern Honduras, video by Rod Kirkpatrick

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