Day 19 - 20th April - Mengle to Pu'er

This was to be a 350k run up the motorway to Pu’er, with a stop at the Botanical Gardens for a couple of hours in the morning – a transport section. Unfortunately it did not end that way.

The Tropical Botanical Gardens are run by the National Academy of Science and cover something like 28 square kilometres. Most to the visitors go to the western section only as it is divided into a number of sections, like: medicinal plants, fig trees, and most spectacularly rain forest flowers – an incredible array of orchids.

After lunch the motorway was fast and flowing. Lots of tunnels, a few straight bits and a multitude of curves and massive viaducts spanning the valleys. A serious bit of roadway, and they are doubling its size by building another along side.

Plus the odd Public Security Checkpoint: read police check. In Laos we had just driven through these and waved. Not quite possible in China. Prepared with our new Chinese drivers licenses and registration papers, plus our Passports, we were ready.

 Everyone was being checked, but for most is was a quick stop and on your way again. We were sent across to a special area for checking. I’m not sure whether none of the roadside police could speak English, but soon a young smiling girl came over and checked our documents. Her English was good and we were soon on our way again.

I am not sure why they have these as they know where we are from all the fixed overhead speed cameras along the way. Unlike Australia, they photograph every vehicle passing through. And to get on to the tollway we had to present our number plate before they gave us a smart card for presentation when we exited.

Along the way they seem to grow every imaginable kind of tropical fruit and vegetable. Bananas predominate, with hectares of them on the valley floors and up the impossibly steep hillsides. The mountain sides have also been planted with so many rubber trees, the ecosystem could be described as mono culture in some areas. As we proceeded north the variety increased. Pu’er is noted for its tea.  Around 3.00pm with 60 k to our destination, the cars motor started to play up. We first lost all power on inclines, but by changing down we could make the crests an accelerate down. We stopped to check what was going on.

The mechanical brains thought it was an electrical issue, so we changed the spark plugs which were black and oily – fuel not combusting properly. Off we set but within a few kilometres they problem had returned. So this time we replaced the coil, but things continued to deteriorate. To the point where we were struggling to make a crest when a long uphill tunnel emerged. There was no where to pull over before the tunnel (the places to safely pull over 8 MGs and work on a car, in any case is pretty limited). I must admit heading into the, pitch black (there is no lighting or ventilation in these) 2 lane tunnel with nowhere to pull over, truck hurtling past and only making progress in 1st gear with the engine intermittently dying was getting a bit concerning (to say the least). We were saved by a downhill section on exit and soon found a layby.

Next step to change the distributor. As previously, all ran smoothly for a few kilometres, before it started to play up again. We swapped drivers. Mike, one of the mechanical brains took over as I was concerned that I was not describing the symptoms properly.

At 28 k to go, the car ceased running all together. We could not start it and the only option was to tow. One underpowered MG towing another along a busy tollway was a challenge, but we made it to the hotel only breaking the tow wire once: in the middle of the main drag of Pu’er, straddled across the 2 lanes. We jammed up all the traffic which was still exceedingly busy at 6.30pm.  

We were running out of things to replace and spare parts at this stage, but decided that the problem was not electrical, but the fuel pump. That done, we at least could hear the pump working once the ignition was turned on. At the hotel it was completely dead, although at previous stops it was still pumping, but I thought the sound was weak (not a noted feature of the Facet solid state pumps most of us are using. They are generally noisy as hell, to the point of distraction). But the engine would still not start. So we pulled out the New / replacement distributor and put back the old. The engine fired first crank.

So here we were, the brand new distributor had failed within 20k, but it was probably not the problem in the first place. It just complicated the issue.

It was 9.30pm. The team had not had dinner, we were all still in our driving cloths, and despite much more milder temperatures in this part of China, we were all still hot and sticky. We were not certain we had fixed the issue, although there was a lot of rationalisation that we had as the fuel pump that we knew was faulty.

It was agreed that we would take a couple of cars out at 5.30 in the morning and test it. One of the challenges we have is that we can’t go anywhere without our guide, so she too was reluctantly conscripted to join the test team.

Everyone went to dinner, but I was knackered and we had pulled the car to pieces replacing all the parts and accessing the storage spots, so I left them and pottered for a while tiding things up and then crashed into bed. With the alarm set for 5.15am I slept fitfully, worrying that we had not fixed the problem and what was the next step?