Cyprus, 2004 - Sunday


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Sunday. What can I say except sorry Vitara, sorry Avis, and thank goodness I took out the extra insurance. I woke up at 7 am, and updated the last couple of days happenings on my laptop. It was freezing cold (literally, the receptionist told me it was the coldest she has ever known it on the coast), so I delayed getting out of bed until about 8:30. I thought today I could head back down the Akamas Peninsula and play on some low 4 tracks. On the way I saw signs for ‘Adonis Baths and Waterfall’, which was up a nice looking road, so I took it. I could carry on to the peninsula later, I thought. The road was quite passable in 2 wheel drive, but from it I saw a lovely, flat, muddy play area, with banks up one side. Perfect. I selected high four, and went to play. It wasn’t as muddy as it looked; the ruts had obviously been made when it was wetter. However, it was bumpy fun, and the bank took low 4 to climb. It had some great holes and ruts, including one route where a hole just before the top nearly swallowed your whole tyre. You couldn’t avoid the hole, or you risked smacking your undercarriage on a large, sharp rock. On the second attempt I made it, then did it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke, then a third time when I stopped with my front left wheel above the hole, and the back one below it to take pictures. I then carried on up the road to the Adonis Bath and Falls, which was a high four road from that point. The entrance to the falls (through a nice looking museum and café) was closed, but a little ingenuity and walking along a footpath to the right of the building got me to them for free. I took a couple of pictures, had a look around, and then returned to my playground. I spent five minutes blasting around the field at the bottom of the slope, before hitting the hill again. I should mention at this point that I had been noticing a little reluctance on the Vitara’s part when I reversed it. It would go a few feet without any problem, but then seemed a little resistant to going any further. I don’t know whether this had anything to do with what happened next, but as I hit the hole at the top of the hill there were two loud bangs, followed by a grating noise, and me just spinning the wheels. My first thought was a broken half shaft. I killed the engine, left it in gear, and ran round to look. From the front diff ran a steady stream of oil. Bugger. I reversed down the hill, and made it across the field in low four, accompanied by a lot of banging and grating noises. I got it back on the road, and had another look. The front drive shaft was hanging out of the diff, surrounded by a cracked metal housing, and lots of oil. My first thought was ‘thank goodness it is not the sump’ as I hadn’t paid the extra for the ‘sump screen and tyre’ damage waiver. I had paid the excess waver, fortunately, which cost me about £25 for the week, instead of £500 for the excess, so I was covered. However, my next problem was how to get it back. I unlocked the front hubs, and put the transfer box if 2 wheel drive, which I figured should disconnect the front diff and drive shaft altogether. It drove fine like that, all the way back to the hotel, where I took a couple pictures, put some cardboard under the diff to stop the oil draining onto their parking area, and called Avis.

Calling Avis was something I had been dreading. However, they couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetic. Within ten minutes they had arranged a Mitsubishi Pinin (short wheel base Pajero/Shogun) for me, which they allege will be delivered to me in the hour. I am sat typing this as I wait. A sum up of the Vitara? Great fun, great on road, good gentle off road vehicle, but breaks a little too easily. Looking at the drive shaft, I wonder if something has wrapped round it (wire or rope) and caused the break, but I can’t see for the mud. I don’t think I would have one. My Niva is much tougher than that, but then bits would have been falling off the Niva if I had hammered it along rough roads at the speeds I was doing in the Vitara. I think I’ll keep to my original plan of saving up for a Jeep Wrangler, and keep the Niva till then. Actually, I don’t like to think of getting rid of my Niva. It would be nice to keep alongside whatever I get next. Anyway, I’ll return to the reception, and await the delivery of my next steed. Expect a write up of the Pinin this evening.

Well, Mitsubishi, how appalling! I did want to like the Pinin, despite its auto box, and truly bizarre 4 wheel drive indication system, but after half a day driving it, I am now scared to try anything serious. I took it up to the petrol station to fill it up, where I encountered the strange system the Cypriots use to fill their cars outside of staff hours. First you go to a machine on the wall of the shop and insert money into it. When it has registered the money, you tell it which pump you are at, and go and fill up. I spotted a dirty Suzuki Jimny at a pump opposite, so asked them if they are headed into the hills. The two Irish teenage lads and their girlfriends were up for it, and said they’d follow me. I headed off fast, but they kept up. As I turned off the road onto the beach to overtake a slow car in front of me, I notice how much the Pinin wallows over bumps, so much so, in fact, that I have to slow down for fear it will ground and a rock. At a stand still it looks like it has better ground clearance than the Vitara, but the suspension will loose it all for it, if you are not careful. It does do a wonderful job of soaking up fast bumps, but this leads to its second problem: the auto box. I hit a large puddle at around 60kph, and find the car stopped dead, even though I had my foot to the floor. It took a couple moments before the Pinin worked out I wanted to go forward, when it changed down the gearbox and set off again. This almost made the Jimny run into the back of me, and if the puddle had been deep mud, would have got me stuck. In the Vitara I made sure I was in the right gear before hitting the puddle, but this is incredibly difficult with an auto box. Trying to drop the gear lever from ‘D’ to ‘2’ or ‘L’ while bouncing around is near impossible, but just about overcomes the problem. It is a problem I face on the slow uphill and downhill sections, as well. I manually select which gear range I want to limit the auto box to, but it takes a few moments to respond. That is if I can get the lever in the right place. A couple times I end up neutral, and once I nearly end up in reverse. As an aside, why do they feel the need to make it beep in reverse gear like a truck?

The Irish lads had obviously never done this before, and were a little gung ho about it all. The guy driving wanted to slide it every corner, and hit every puddle. As the road got rockier, I noticed his front plastic bumper area developed a huge crack, and I kept waiting for him to roll it. I did a section on the beach to slow them down a bit, which revealed something about the 4 wheel drive system in the Pinin. It was still possible to get rear wheel spin, even when in high 4. There is a little 4 wheeled diagram on the dashboard, which says ‘Super Select System’ or something like that. In 2 wheel drive, an orange light in the centre of the car flashes beside the word ‘lock’. In high 4, the light still flashes, but the front heels are lit up as well. In low 4 the lock light stays lit. I’m not sure if that means that in high 4 it only applies power to the front wheels if the back slip, or something, but it is puzzling. The ‘lock’ certainly does not mean a diff lock of any sort, as I found out later.

After the beach, I led them onto the track over the Akamas Peninsula, that I had done a few days before. After they worked out how to use low 4, they seemed to enjoy crawling over the rocks, and heading up steep banks. The Pinin seems strange going over slower obstacles. With a manual gearbox you can let the engine crawl you up the bank or rock. With the auto box it just holds you there, hanging halfway up a steep bank. As you slowly accelerate nothing happens, until it suddenly starts to pull. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, it just takes some getting used to. It takes it all okay, but does seem to ground a lot more than the Vitara. I think it is all down to the super soft suspension. We headed into Neo Chorio to pick up a couple of bottles of water. The Irish lads park in the middle of the street while they buy all the crisps and sweets in the little shop. This caused a traffic jam, so I pretended not to be anything to do with them till it was sorted out. As we headed back down the mountain, I notice they keep throwing sweet wrappers out of the window. I suppose it is their upbringing, but I found it rude and ignorant. That, as well as their constant attempts to roll the Jimny, and the way they kept shooting up to within a few inches of my rear bumper made me glad when we hit the main road back to Paphos, and they disappeared off, front bumper hanging off. I have had 5 days of my own company. I suppose I will have to readjust to people again when I return home. I’m not looking forward to it!

As I was on my own again, I started having a look at the Pinin. I saw a rutted turning off which would let me test the articulation, so I took it. Heading down, I found the front has none at all, and the back is quite limited. All the wheels stayed on the ground on the way down, but on the way back up I managed to get one back wheel a good few inches off the ground. I stopped, took pictures, and found I could slide my entire foot underneath the tyre. Now this wasn’t some really severe two-foot drop I was taking it over, but just a rutted lane. I got back in and found what I think is its most severe problem. With one wheel off the ground, and a small lump in front of the front wheels, I tried to set off. But the car stayed there, spinning the wheel that was in the air. I tried low 4, but got the same response. This has really scared me; if it did this so easily there, how about next time, when I don’t have the option of reversing out? I think tomorrow I’ll have to take it to the bank where I broke the Vitara, and try it there.

Speaking of which, I think I unfairly criticised the Vitara for weakness. I have heard of Vitaras breaking half shafts before now (see to see video clips of it happening) but this was different, and much less provoked. Maybe something had hit the prop shaft, or got wrapped around it. I still don’t want one, though.

I took some photos of the Pinin on the beach as the sun set, before trying out its ramp over angle on a bank I had got the Suzuki bellied out on a couple of days before. The Pinin hit its front bumper on it as I approached, so it definitely has a worse approach angle. However, when taken slow, I think the ground clearance is better, as it got further before grounding. Now I want to bring my Niva out to try it on the same stuff! I then headed for the easy food option: one of the tourist restaurants in Coral Bay called Andria. The staff were exceptional, and the food good, but not exceptional. It was too anglicised for my tastes. When in Cyprus I want Cypriot food. If I had wanted English food, I would have stayed in England. However, if you want your food slightly anglicised, it is good food, well prepared.

Now I have to decide what I want to do for the next couple days. And whether to head to the bar or not. After today’s attempt at being sociable, I’m not sure I do. My summation of the Pinin so far? As a nice soft road car, very nice. But I don’t see why they bothered to put a low 4 ration in with the incredible lack of articulation and soft suspension. And the clock doesn’t light up with the lights. You can’t see the time after dark. I also couldn’t get the heater to work. I could get the air conditioner to chill me or just blow out regular air, but could get no heat. And how what on earth is that 4 wheel drive diagram with flashing lights meant to mean? The Vitara made sense from the minute I got in. Everything was obvious even if it wasn’t fancy, and everything worked. Never mind, it was good of Avis to find me the Pinin. Especially after what I did to the Vitara! This is why it pays to pay extra and go for a big, global company rather than a local.

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