Out of Esteli on the old road (originally deemed too hard a drive and to avoid, but running out of time to make Yeluca before nightfall, so onwards. Bravo 1 develops a worrying clunk… think this is the result of an enormous boulder Wellard drove over in the river earlier. Quick dive under the car, cannot see anything dragging or in the wrong place (for someone who knows nothing about the underside of a car… are 4-wheel drives symmetrical? If so, this one is not. But it still drives OK so we continue.
Back road is rough and potholed, Wellard does a superb job navigating (we have driving instructions such as “turn left at pretty cottage”… which pretty cottage!!! At least none we thought particularly worth the description. Roads on the map no longer exist and dirt tracks show up as main roads. Magnificent scenery, but also very windy roads and steep drop offs as night falls. A sharp right turn presents us with the sight of a wide fast flowing river and road coming out the other side. No one in sight, except a local who has chosen to push his motorbike across a ropey footbridge rather than risk the river. No option (other than a long drive back) but to cross and with some encouragement from the local, we decide to risk it. A lot of encouragement from the girls, gears into high diff lock, gritted teeth and a lot of revving I take the plunge deep into the river. After a lot of churning through the current, we whooping with relief when we make it to the other side.
Instructions here on in, is not to trust map or instinct trying to find Yeluca project site and to ask everyone we meet for directions. A call in to field base on the satellite phone (no mobile coverage) helps with translation from a local man, who jumps in the back and points us down what feels like a vertical hill. The girls get out this time, too scared to stay in, but Bravo 1 proves more than capable (I am a total convert… I never want to drive anything expect 4-wheel drive again!).
Another river crossing and a short while later we are very glad to see torch lights running down the hill – project managers Chava, Carmen and John – as happy to see us and we them. They were alerted to our arrival by calls across from the opposite valley that headlights had been spotted, no other cars expected that day so it had to be us, who they had given up for lost.