PD, Los Naranjos, Honduras
Oh, how I’d love to be able to type the words “we’re back on the road!”
But I’ve never been into writing fiction.
The fact is we’re still exasperatingly stationary. There has been progress though – achingly slow, but progress.
Mentally, we’ve been breaking this down into stages in an attempt to preserve sanity. Upon returning to the van after Easter the first thing we needed to achieve was to get it safely onto the flatbed truck that Elvin – owner of the scrapyard where we were stranded (are you all following this?) – had offered to us.
Then Elvin had to drive it to a professional mechanic in the city, without it falling off the back of his truck.
Since our last post we’d changed the plan. A tip from fellow road-tripper James led, bizarrely, to a conversation in a German bar with a Nicaragua-based Austrian mechanic who advised us to take the van to the city of San Pedro Sula (SPS), instead of the capital.
We found a mechanic online that looked to be capable of the job.
The day before we left for SPS Elvin called in half the village to help get the van on his truck. It’s a 10 minute job when you have a proper breakdown truck with a ramp system and hydraulics. It’s a three-hour roller-coaster of adrenaline, uncertainty, shouting, heaving and sweating when you don’t.
We had to get more than 2 tons of metal about 4 or so feet off the ground.
Elvin brought the truck into a position that would reduce that incline by about half. The guys started building a ramp out of rather flimsy-looking planks of wood. I – at about 1/40th of the weight of the van – walked up one and it bowed in the middle. They packed breeze blocks under the wood to support it.
A rudimentary pulley system was rigged up to try to haul the van up onto the truck. But it wouldn’t take the weight. Oh well, that’s it then, I thought.
But the tenacity of people in places where there are few resources never ceases to amaze us. Unlike at home, there was no one to call and get us out of this.
So they pushed. With sheer brute force they pushed that 2 tons up the ramp, amid a lot of shouting and giggling. Jeremy was in the van, trying to keep the wheels straight on planks that were not much wider than our tyres.
My heart was in my mouth. Elvin’s mum Esperanza (Spanish for ‘hope’) kept telling me not to worry, while crossing herself vigorously.
Miraculously the front wheels made it over the edge of the ramp and onto the truck. But with the back wheels still on the ground, the hardest part was to come. More people came, and they heaved that van towards the truck. Half way up Jeremy started shouting: “The bricks are crumbling, the bricks are crumbling!”. As he was shouting in English, I was the only person that could understand.
I felt sick at the thought of the van crashing to the ground and being powerless to stop it. Not to mention the fact that several people would have been squashed in the process. But we were past the point of no return. So they just kept rocking and shoving, and that damn van got up there somehow.
A sizeable crowd had gathered, with some onlookers pulling in on their way home from work to have a gawp. Elvin and colleagues then spend a good while trying to secure the van to the truck with a bunch of rusty chains and some wooden blocks. It had to withstand a 5-hour journey with plenty of potholes and speedbumps.
Eventually it was deemed sufficiently safe, and Elvin drove the truck into position, ready for our early morning departure. We watched it swaying as he parked. He wondered if we’d like to stay in bed during the journey?! We declined, citing health and safety reasons. Not to mention what the police might make of it if they pulled us over and found two gringos inside the van in their pyjamas (and we were later pulled over).
That night we had no option but to sleep in the van on top of the truck. No late-night toilet trips allowed.
The journey to SPS was a bit nervy, let’s say. Jeremy’s eyes were glued to the wing mirror, through which he could see the van bouncing around. Elvin was careful though, and stopped several times to secure the chains.
Just because we were being driven by a local didn’t save us from getting lost in the city. Oh no. Round and round we went for about an hour or so, asking directions and being told something different each time. Eventually we found the mechanic, which had moved locations without telling us. We pulled in, and were hugely relieved to see the place looked hi-tech and professional. The boss came out and asked us what the problem was. He was speaking in perfect English. I could have fallen to the floor and kissed it.
After discussing it and agreeing to leave the van there, we gestured out the window and asked him how he proposed to get the van off the truck. “I don’t know, he said. You got it up there.”
In a phonecall it was sorted. We hired a proper breakdown truck which came and removed the van in 10 minutes. Elvin and his assistant Freddy looked on smiling. Easy as that, eh?!
We had several days waiting in SPS for the diagnosis which, when it came, confirmed that the transmission was beyond repair. We set the wheels in motion to order a re-conditioned one from our VW dealer in California.
Hanging around in SPS was tedious, mostly because it is an extremely dangerous place and we felt trapped in the hotel and soulless surrounding streets for most of the day, and definitely at night. Even our B&B owner told us: “This isn’t the kind of place people stay unless they are, you know, in trouble – like you.”
So what now? We have retreated to a much nicer location about 2 hours from the city – a hostel and microbrewery close to Lago de Yojoa which has beautiful tropical gardens and lots of walking options around.
From here we are navigating the endless emails, questions and decisions that are involved in trying to locate, order and ship a rare part like this. Just when we thought we were getting somewhere it turned out the transmission we thought was coming to us was incompatible with our van.
This is still going to take a lot more time. And just to complicate things further we were supposed to be in Nicaragua by next week, to catch some long-booked flights out for a few days of work and friends. It’ll happen, but we’ll be catching the bus over the border and leaving the van behind.
We won’t bore you with any more of the details. But let’s hope that by the next time we post there is a big hunk of metal called a gearbox winging or sailing its way towards us.
For now, here are some pics from the road in El Salvador: Click here for El Salvador part one on Flickr
Miles: Same as before
Things we now know to be true: Patience might be a virtue, but persistence is more useful.