The Andes Mountains is one of the most demanding transport challenges in the world. For Argentinian driver Hugo Valdiviezo the V8 and Scania Fleet Management System provide the power, reliability and support he needs to make frequent journeys across the mountains safely and comfortably.
Trans GOL is a transport company with 56 trucks based in Argentina and Chile. The Andes Mountains bisect the company’s area of operations, which means the company’s vehicles must regularly cross some of the highest mountain passes in the world with their cargo – both general cargo and explosives used in mining in Argentina and Chile. It is arguably the toughest and most demanding transport route in the world.
Gustavo Galeotti, who owns Trans GOL, explains that increasingly the vehicle of choice in his company’s fleet is the Scania V8 truck. “Our longest trips go from Mejillones in northern Chile to places south of Buenos Aires in Argentina, a distance of 2,800 kilometres,” he says. “For this you really need V8 engines – pure potencia (power)!”
“The extra power I get from this vehicle makes me feel safe”
Reliability is also critical. With the constant fierce weather changes and temperatures that can change rapidly by as much as 40 degrees Celsius, vehicle reliability is even more important than potencia. That’s why the number of Scania V8 trucks in Trans GOL’s fleet is constantly growing.
“I know I can trust these vehicles in such operations,” says Galeotti. “We have Scania V8 trucks that have travelled more than 500,000 kilometres in these demanding conditions without any problems whatsoever.
“I used to go for quantity and tested other, cheaper brands,” he adds. “But now I’ve decided upon quality, and I stay with Scania V8s as much as possible.”
Heavy vehicles designed to cross the Andes in a safe and reliable way must have the correct specifications. Powerful engines are a matter of course. “The Scania Retarder and Opticruise are great and in combination with the V8 engines have changed travelling in the Andes for us,” Galeotti says.
Galeotti’s company has worked together with Scania to develop a retarder for the specific challenge of crossing the huge mountain range. “At the descent on the Chilean side of the mountains, there’s a stretch of the road where it drops by 2,100 metres in just 30 kilometres,” he explains. “Our vehicles have to master a gradient of 12 percent for a full hour. Such things take something extra to master them.”
Scania Driver Support system
Driver training from Scania is a cornerstone of Galeotti’s business. The drivers of Trans GOL get their training on the same tough roads they will be working on. Galeotti was pleasantly surprised by the interaction between the Scania Driver Support system and his drivers. The system provides tips and advice on how to save fuel in real time while driving.
“It surprised me that, on these long and tough routes, the V8 engines are as fuel-efficient as any of the smaller engines we still use,” Galeotti says. “With trained drivers and the Scania Driver Support we get the same fuel consumption with our V8s when crossing the Andes.”
“I also found that V8 trucks serve as a magnet, attracting the very experienced and responsible drivers we need for this company,” he says.
“And, as the icing on the cake, they also bring in new customers. The Scania V8 brand is very strong here in Argentina, and the customers know they get reliable transport and their goods always reach the destination on time. So, my fleet of Scania V8 trucks is a good billboard for me.”
Crossing the Andes places very high demands on drivers, Galeotti explains. “We can only work with the best,” he says. “And not just the best, but also the best on these specific roads. Imagine transporting explosives on roads close to 5,000 metres above sea level, with steep slopes, extreme gradients and sometimes blizzards that make all road traffic impossible. It can be very dangerous. Then you need experienced drivers, who can be responsible and take care of themselves and their heavily loaded vehicles.”
One of Trans GOL’s most experienced truck drivers and a regular on the cross-Andes route is Hugo Valdiviezo. Even though he is only 34 years old, Valdiviezo was one of the 56,000 drivers who participated in Scania’s Latin American Driver Competition, and he finished second in the grand final.
“I need a lot of power for this trip”
Recently, Scania followed Valdiviezo and a colleague, José Alfredo Barrientos, on one of their trips across the mountains – ideally, the drivers prefer to try and travel in tandem, but sometimes they have to do the demanding trip alone. Valdiviezo was driving his blue Scania V8 R 620 (see sidebar), transporting 80 tonnes of rice from Entre Rios in eastern Argentina to Iquique in Chile – 2,057 kilometres one way. His fellow driver Barrientos was in a yellow R 480.
In total, this particular transport would take Valdiviezo and Barrientos five days, including the lengthy customs and border controls. Just crossing the Andes will take them at least a day and a night.
“I need a lot of power for this trip as it’s very demanding, with high altitudes, burning sun, salty deserts and sometimes heavy snow – all in the same day!” Valdiviezo says. “The extra power I get from this vehicle makes me feel safe.”
He has made this trip hundreds of times, both with V8s and also with more modest engines. “It used to be much tougher to carry out these transports,” Valdiviezo explains. “But with new engine technology, V8 engines, the retarder and all the comfort in this new cab, it’s a true pleasure.
“Actually, these days I prefer the Andes to the comfortable urban highways,” he adds, with one of his typical smiles.
The Andean leg of the Entre Rios–Iquique trip starts before sunrise in Jujuy, in the north-west of Argentina, close to the borders of both Chile and Bolivia. The climb starts almost immediately, and the next six or seven hours are uphill all the way.
Valdiviezo knows that potential dangers wait behind every bend. Just days ago a speeding bus missed a curve. Nineteen passengers died and 20 were injured. And on his most recent trip two weeks before, he passed the village of Volcan just hours before it was swept away in a landslide. Passing Volcan now, he frowns on seeing the destruction and barely passable road.
At 2,200 metres we reach Purmamarca, the final town before the route enters the high Andes. The town is surrounded by cliffs and gorges in an astonishing variety of mineral colours, and it’s here that the road splits into a northern route to Bolivia and the one taking Valdiviezo and his fellow driver west to Chile. The climb continues to the spectacular Cuesta de Lipan serpentine, and further on towards the salt desert Salinas Grandes, which has an average altitude of 3,450 metres above sea level.
The vast salt desert – it covers some 212 square kilometres – is one of the earth’s most inhospitable places, but it is still unbelievably beautiful. But before entering the Salinas, Valdiviezo stops for some empanadas. It’s the last eatery we’ll encounter for many hours.
The view over the salt desert is one of the reasons Valdiviezo likes having this mountain range as his workplace.
This close to the sky the sun is burning hot. On the horizon, an epic thunderstorm is brewing. It might cause severe problems at the next ascent, when the temperature will drop to below zero. Valdiviezo takes a last bite of an empanada and hurries back to his truck.
The dead straight stretch of road through the salt desert becomes mirage-like, with the low sky reflecting everywhere in the glassy sea of salt.
“This truck is my second home”
Several hours after we leave the Salinas the trucks reaches the border with Chile, at 4,200 metres above sea level. Dozens of wayfarers gather here at the outpost, which boasts a gas station, a café and the joint border control. Most travellers move around in a daze, altitude-sickened and confused by hours of waiting for customs and immigration procedures in the thin air. Some try to recover from the shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness and nausea with oxygen they have brought with them. Others are chewing dried coca leaves, the local cure.
Valdiviezo, though, shows no trace of altitude sickness. He’s used to the altitude and moves smoothly, his smile constant. While waiting for the endless customs formalities, he starts a mobile compressed-air unit and blows clean the cab inside. “This truck is my second home,” he says. “It’s my friend and companion. It takes care of me so I feel I have to take care of it.”
After crossing the border we start the final climb to the passes where the road touches a height of 5,000 metres above sea level. Even up here there are living creatures: the vicuñas, the smallest of the camel family and sometimes called the Queens of the Andes and the large flightless rheas (related to the ostrich and emu).
Reaching the peak of this trip, Valdiviezo runs into the thunderstorm we’d seen earlier in the distance. The storm has now turned into a summer blizzard. For 50 kilometres the road is covered by ice and snow and for a moment it seems that this transport operation will have to be temporarily aborted.
In large areas of the Andes there is no phone or WiFi coverage. Drivers and other travellers can be insulated from the outside world for an entire day or more if they get stuck in a blizzard like this one. But Valdiviezo trusts his powerful truck and continues in a slow but steady pace, despite visibility now being almost non-existent. He is continuously connected to Trans GOL through the Scania Fleet Management System, and he says he feels safe.
Soon we leave the high-altitude blizzard behind and the road begins to fall at a dizzying rate in just 30 kilometres. Meanwhile the temperature rises dramatically, from below zero at the top to 21 degrees Celsius down below.
It’s after midnight when Valdiviezo reaches San Pedro de Atacama, where he plans to spend the night, as usual sleeping comfortably in the cab. Barrientos’ yellow R 480 truck makes it through the snowstorm, too – but not as quickly as Valdiviezo’s V8.
How Boca Juniors got their club colours
A lack of decisiveness by some Italian immigrants in the Buenos Aires harbour in 1907 is the reason Hugo Valdiviezo is now driving a blue truck and Barrientos a yellow one. That year, the founders of the Boca Juniors football club argued about which colours their team should wear.
They finally decided to select the colours of the national flag of the first ship that arrived in the harbour that morning. That ship happened to be the Swedish freighter Queen Sofia, which had just completed the trip between Copenhagen and Buenos Aires, so the colours chosen were the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.
Over the years the Boca Juniors have developed into a world-famous football club. Now, more than 100 years later, Trans GOL’s owner Gustavo Galeotti, a fanatical Boca supporter, has a fleet of blue and yellow trucks, which is why Hugo Valdiviezo and José Alfredo Barrientos now cross the Andean mountain range in Swedish trucks decked out in the blue and yellow of the Swedish national colours.
At 7,600 kilometres, the Andes is the longest exposed mountain range in the world (there are longer ranges under the ocean).
You say potato, I say tomato…both the potato and tomato crops came originally from the Andes.
The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world by combined weight and wingspan. But it can’t transport heavy loads across the Andes like Hugo’s V8 can.
The loftiest peak in the Andes is Aconcagua. The Argentinian mountain is 6,962 metres high.