We went the other way to what most people do, we went to Cusco after the Inca ruins. As usual, approaching the city Clara was browsing the spots on iOverlander for a place to stay for the night. This is when her eye fell on a post from the Stockert family in the middle of the city. Originally from the USA, they spend several years in Cusco for a charity mission; Helping wherever possible. This being primarily the local community, they also offered help and a place to stay to overlanders as overland-enthusiasts. This is where the adventure with hospitality and Mercedes parts in Cusco started.
It was late already, as usual arriving in the dark, and we didn’t want to disturb anybody anymore. So we pulled over at a counter intuitive, but for us common overnight spot; The gas station. But after we stopped Clara’s concerns about her legs increased. During the first day of the hike to Choquequirao the sandflies were horrendous and had stung her calves more than we had ever seen before. Concerned about a possible health risk, but not comfortable going to a Peruvian hospital Clara contacted the number from the Stockert family. The post said Kassi is a doctor and we were hoping she could tell if Clara would need to undertake any action to prevent worse. Almost immediately the reply came and it was no problem to come and check it out.
Front left wheel bearing
In the meantime, Alwin had become increasingly worried about something else. Clara wasn’t the only wounded member of the family. Grisu had started to make noises indicating he wouldn’t make it to our destination in Chile without any service. The main suspect was the front left wheel bearing. When wheel bearings go bad, they start to make a grinding noise which slowly gets worse.
Although every mechanic would tell you to pull over at the nearest workshop straight away, we knew from Georg* that things are a little more flexible. When they received the Georg with a broken wheel bearing at the ÖAMTC** for the annual mechanical check a few years ago they told us not to drive to Vienna (400km) anymore, and also not to Salzburg (100km). When we told them we had just came back from a return trip to Moscow (5000km) it was silent for a little while..
Anyway, for a while Alwin had been worried about the noise of the wheel bearing but because of our time management had hoped to make it to Chile to replace it there. On our way to Cusco, the realisation that we wouldn’t make it to Chile had landed. Cusco was the last major place for a while, but just as Clara wasn’t comfortable going to a Peruvian hospital Alwin wasn’t comfortable asking for help in a Peruvian workshop. Partly because Alwin usually does all the mechanical work himself and asking somebody else has always been hard. And replacing the bearing on the side of the road would be too tricky. Unsure to have all the necessary tools on board.
So the next morning, Kassi investigated Clara’s legs and concluded it was basically like a normal mosquito bite. But then a million on one leg. At least, there was no health risk and time would solve the problem. Corey (with a professional mechanical background) at the same time, was be able to also identify the wheel bearing as the problem. Corey’s hospitality was unreal and he took us to a nearby shop in Cusco for Mercedes parts and point us in the right direction of a small workshop he knew.
Sourcing the parts
The first shop said the parts would not be available anywhere in Peru, and would take 30 days to come from abroad. Like in many South American places, all the mechanical shops are neighbours, so we went next door. Here they had one of the bearings (after market) in stock and were be able to deliver the second one from Lima. Next stop was the workshop, where Alwin tried to make an appointment for the next day. First answer was they were busy, and the second answer was they didn’t do appointments. Eventually he said to just show up whenever we had the parts.
The next morning Alwin and Layla went to collect bearing number two, which was supposed to arrive at 10am. Now times can be a little flexible in South America, but actually arriving at 10.30am was rather fast. Also in the workshop things went rather smooth. Alwin was allowed to help, which came in handy to know how the front axle had to be taken apart. Different vehicles came for small things, and hopping between different vehicles and different jobs progress was slow. But everything was going well.
The oil seal
Now you need to know, included in the axle swap were some more new parts. One of them being a oil seal in the front axle, at the cost of about €54 from Mercedes. But this oil seal had started leaking after less than 2000km. Alwin had tried to find replacements, but this had proven to be very hard with stuff needing to come from Germany. So far, Grisu drove fine but was bleeding (hence leaking differential oil front the front axle due to the seal). Topping up the oil every so many kilometres. Since the wheel bearing swap gave access to the seal, Alwin took it to the same parts shop to ask for a replacement. You never know. They quickly found another one, not Mercedes original but the exact same measurements. Costs? Less than €3,-.***
As we went on it got later, after asking until what time they are usually open they said; Until the work on your vehicle is done. Amazing hospitality, and a little later Grisu stood back on all four Mercedes-wheels and went for a quick test drive through the streets of Cusco. This is when it was time for the tricky part. The owner of the shop wasn’t around the day before or when we started with the work.
His employee only handled the tools and not the finances. This was of course a rookie mistake in many ways, but at least well prepared with words to negotiate. But the owner of the place only wanted 150 Soles for the job, which had taken half the day for two people. So negotiating was never needed, a 150 Soles is only just over €40,-. And that for work that shops at home would not have done better, and with better parts than the Mercedes originals, pure Cusco hospitality to overlanders.
Thanks to the Stockert family, El Amigo car parts and mechanic Nacho we left Cusco better than we had arrived.
*Georg was the Audi we had in Austria, named after a trip to Georgia.
**ÖAMTC is the Austian auto mobile club.
***At the time of writing; Grisu has driven more than double the kilometres (4000km) of the expensive seal before leaking, and still shows no signs of deterioration or leaks.