Aug 2012
DISCUSSION 10 Comments

The Great White North

Standing on a granite boulder in the middle of the creek, my neon green flyline whipped back and forth in ten-and-two motions overhead. In one final throw, I set the fly upstream of a large boulder and let the current carry it past what was sure to be an underwater lair filled with hungry fish. Moments later my line was taut, having coaxed a large native brown trout out from under the boulder. After a short battle, it jerked hard and broke my line. Sheena and Lauren had given us one mandate before we stepped out the door: bring back enough trout to eat for dinner. After two hours of fishing in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon, we had managed to catch and release a couple dozen six inchers, and the one edible-sized one had gotten away.

Later, while standing downstream of the bridge to Garland’s Cabins, a vacationing Mexican family walked past me and stopped to watch. I put a halt to my unfruitful fishing and excitedly recounted to them how we had left Mexico five months ago, and that I had spent every night since then crying myself to sleep thinking about the Mexican food we’d left behind.

I told them how on my recent flight home I had stopped over in Hermosillo, Mexico, with only one thing on my mind. I recounted how after the plane had landed, I had bolted away from the airport on foot, how the heat had enveloped me as I left the terminal, and how the air smelled like nostalgia. I was alone; for reasons not worth mentioning Sheena was on a different flight. Despite the absence of my navigator, I knew where to find my fix. I ducked into the first neighborhood I came across looking for a dealer who could feed my addiction. I wandered only a short time before finding what had been haunting my dreams, like a crack addict finding his next fix. As I approached the open air taco stand the husband, wife, and son were just setting up for the day. It was eight o’clock in the morning, the crock pots of beef and pork let off a hint of chili-scented steam. I dropped my backpack and melted into a familiar red plastic chair. A fly buzzed around the table, and the wife started slapping dough between her hands to form the fresh tortillas that would be the foundation for the many tacos on which I would gorge myself. The endorphins coursing through my veins put me into a stationary runner’s high. True happiness, I told the family as they sat on the bridge straddling Oak Creek, is a Mexican taco stand.

We returned empty handed to Mike and Lauren’s cabin on the banks of Oak Creek. Fortunately, Lauren was an avid reader of our blog, and knew that this would happen. She and Sheena had gone to the store while we were out, and nodded an unsurprised nod as we came through the door with nothing but our fishing rods. Without grocery stores we would have starved to death long ago.

A few days before hopping on the plane in Bogotá, we had put the word out on our Facebook page that we were looking for a car to use for a month to travel between the corners of our eje familiar; our families and friends were scattered between three locations in Arizona: Phoenix, Prescott, and Flagstaff. A few hours later, my good friend Brian – the one who introduced me to mountain biking in 7th grade, whose family had been good friends since elementary school, and whose sisters would host us in our final stop before crossing the border into Mexico at the onset of our trip – offered up his car. “No problem, I’ll just ride my motorcycle for the month,” he said.

With gas in our little car and freedom in our little hearts, we set off from Phoenix to the Great White North: our adopted hometown of Flagstaff. After a quick and, of all the excellent establishments we could have chosen, utterly unexplainable stop at Carl’s Junior, we knocked on the door of our good friends Brigit and Bret. We had crashed at their downtown home for the week prior to our departure, and when we arrived our room was just as we had left it; the same books were stacked on the desk, and the Flight of the Concords poster hung inanimately on the wall next to the bed. Bret, a magician when it comes to baking, hastily got to work making a fresh batch of his famous chocolate chip cookies.

In an uncanny display of perfect timing, we had arrived in Flagstaff just in time for the annual Clips of Faith festival; an outdoor gathering to celebrate brews and short films put on by New Belgium Brewing Company. Accompanied by our friends Nathan and Claire we made our way over to the park, bought a handful of wooden tokens, and passed the evening sipping remarkable beer, catching up with friends, and being entertained by this year’s selection of short films.

Fittingly, the last film of the evening was one we came across a couple of months ago, which puts into words and images our feelings about the importance of doing the trip we’re currently doing. Car trouble be damned, we’re doing the right thing.

The day after Clips of Faith we decided to continue the celebration. Being that the New Belgium crew was already in town, we threw together a beer tasting at Nathan’s house and invited some of the New Belgium crew. Nathan supplied a few bottles from a recent business trip to the East coast, while Grant, a New Belgium sales rep, supplied several experimental New Belgium brews and an especially rare and expensive bottle of 2002 Stone Vertical Epic, of which he had found an entire case buried in his garage. Matt, a brewer from New Belgium, spent the evening ensuring that our palates were well calibrated to the treats he expertly brewed up back in Fort Collins.

Before we started eight months ago, Nathan had brewed a special batch of Belgian Quadrupel for us; a beer he called World Wide Quadrupel. We took a case of it on our trip, temporarily occupying our toilet paper cabinet. After being hounded for a very long time by friends and fans of his beer, he finally pulled the trigger and decided to start a microbrewery. We dropped by the brewery to see how things were progressing, and found the place full of equipment, ready to be plumbed together into a beer wonderland. If all goes well, Wanderlust Brewing Company should be distributing in Arizona within the next couple of months. With the goodness he’s about to unleash on the world, Nathan is soon to be, I don’t know, the fifth most famous person I know.

The sixth most famous person I know is Delia Withey. There exists a natural foods brand called Annie’s Organics. Annie, as it turns out, is Delia’s aunt. When Delia was but a wee child, she had a rabbit named Bernie. Buyers of Annie’s foods will know that all Annie’s products come adorned with a stamp on the package depicting a rabbit. This is “Bernie’s Stamp of Approval”. Delia’s childhood pet is thus depicted on millions of boxes of Annie’s Organics, making Delia the sixth most famous person I know.

We spent our time in Flagstaff catching up with good friends and eating good food. We paid the exorbitant and shocking price of $18 for a hamburger and a drink at Diablo Burger, had the world’s best breakfast burritos at Tacos Los Altos, induced food coma over a plate of Fratelliquiles at Martanne’s, and gave ourselves wasabi headrushes at Karma Sushi. See the girl second from the right in the first picture below? That’s Delia. She’s the sixth most famous person I know.

The climax of our “Reacquainting with Long Forgotten Foods of Home” tour was a visit to our favorite restaurant, the Himalayan Grill. Arriving for dinner was like coming home from war; Ramesh welcomed us with a huge smile, Jit came out of the kitchen to chat and hear about our trip, and Karan and Jyotsna told us all about their newborn son. Ramesh brought me a beer from a local brewery, and Karan made Sheena a melon flavored coctail, which he delivered with a huge smile. “I always wanted to be a bartender in New York when I was growing up. This is a drink I made up.” The food, as usual, was awesome.

As we headed for the door, Ramesh corralled us into the bar and sat us down. “We must drink a toast!” Several shots of tequila and rum later, we were fully toasted and ready to walk home. As I clambered out of the bar to pay for our meal, Ramesh waved his hand. “We’re glad to see you, it’s on the house!” He then reached behind the register and produced a bag containing two dinners to go; Sheena’s favorite: saag paneer. “Now you don’t have to cook tomorrow,” he said, as he whisked us out the door. Some people just exude awesomeness.

After the first couple of weeks at home it was clear that the fourth option was the right one. I was enjoying a much needed respite from Vanagon maintenance and transmission problems, and a steady diet comprising mostly Mexican food had put a temporary end to me crying myself to sleep. While it is no exaggeration that true happiness is a Mexican taco stand, there is no denying the fact that no number of taco stands can rival the happiness that time spent with friends and family can deliver. Now, if only traveling halfway across a hemisphere could heal a man’s inability to catch a fish worthy of eating.

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Aug 2012

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 30 Comments

The Fourth Option

In my fourth year of engineering school I decided to do an independent study project.  This meant I would choose a problem, and then engineer a solution to it while reporting my progress to my academic advisor.  Initially I felt inclined to improve the aerodynamics of a rotating bicycle wheel; a problem that keeps us all awake at night, I’m sure.  At the last minute, my advisor mentioned that an off-grid ranch near Flagstaff wanted to switch their power supply from a diesel generator to a hybrid of solar and wind power.  They just needed a sucker to design the system for them.  Wait a minute, I was a sucker, I thought.  This would be perfect for me!  I chose the ranch project and walked out of my advisor’s office with a stack of books.

I will wave my arm and say that many things happened, and at the end of the semester I had overengineered the process in a big way.  In an effort to optimize everything, I had written a full library of computer code to do everything from product performance simulation, to weather prediction and statistical analysis.  My advisor told me I should commercialize what I had done.

I will wave my arm again and say that many things happened and my social life suffered.  A few years and several programming languages later, I had started a business and commercialized my software.  A short while later my company was acquired, I quit my day job, and overnight I went from being a designer of medical products to being a renewable energy software engineer.

So what’s the point, and why am I not talking about our trip?  Because I want to demonstrate that sometimes things happen in our lives that seem trivial, but they can alter our path in unexpected ways.  This is what happened the day Nacho’s transmission went belly up three miles from the small Colombian mountain village of Susacón.

By our original plan we should have been sitting around a campfire with our friends in Villa de Leiva, laughing at things so funny that expensive cognac  would be shooting from our noses while watching a beautiful sunset and looking so chic in our turtleneck sweaters.  Instead we rescued Nacho from the grasp of a demented maniac, retreated to the safety of a gated farm, and spent the first night teetering on the ragged edge of a nervous breakdown.  In Guatemala we were stranded for a week and it was devastating.  A couple of fellow Volkswagen travelers suffered a transmission failure in Honduras and it took nearly 70 days to get back on the road.  By all estimations we were in for a hellish time.

For starters, there are a few things to know about Colombia, Vanagons, and why breaking down in the latter while visiting the former is a bad thing.  The first thing to know is that there are more unicorns in Colombia than Vanagons.  In a place where Vanagon sightings make tabloid news, finding parts for our transmission would be virtually impossible.  Next, the Colombian government recently passed a law prohibiting the importation of used car parts.  New parts can be imported, but they are taxed as high as 50% of their retail value.  yes, even if you’re leaving the country with said parts in a matter of days.  The last thing to know is that new Vanagon transmissions don’t exist.  They haven’t been produced in many, many moons, and so the only way forward is to buy rebuilt ones.  When I say “rebuilt”, you should hear “used”.

After a couple of evenings we had identified three options for getting ourselves out of this mess.


Option #1: Bring our failed transmission to an inept local mechanic to be rebuilt, locally, and ineptly

When we got back to the farm and got settled in, I took a closer look at our transmission to see what had happened.  The reason we stopped moving forward was immediately apparent.  The input shaft, which connects the engine to the transmission, connects to the transmission’s gears by a grooved metal sleeve, held in place by a circlip and a threaded rod.  Somehow, the circlip had come off, the threaded rod backed out, and the sleeve slipped out of the way.  With nothing holding the input shaft in line, it had gone all willy nilly.  This willy nillyness caused the input shaft to melt the main transmission oil seal and destroy the oil slinger.  At this point, Nacho’s mojo leaked out and he voided his bowels, as you may recall.

After removing the bell housing from the transmission, I noticed that the ring and pinion gears were missing a couple of teeth, and the ones that remained intact were so pitted and cracked that it made a meth addict seem like a Colgate poster girl.  To go the local rebuild route, they would have to import a new ring and pinion, input shaft, oil slinger, seal, and whatever else might have been wrong inside of the gear cluster.  By my estimation, this would take a month and would cost at least as much as a new transmission stateside.  Given the ineptness of the local mechanics, they would probably make all new parts out of beer cans and solder, and our transmission would fail again within a few hundred miles.

Option #2: Buy a rebuilt transmission in the USA, ship it to Colombia on a cargo plane

You will recall that ordering a rebuilt transmission and having it sent to Colombia is illegal.  No problem, those are the rules, and rules are made to be bent.  We would just buy the transmission from a rebuilder who could be coerced into lying on our receipt to say it was new.  What are the chances a customs agent would be able to tell the difference?  We found that Aeromexico had cargo planes going from LAX to Bogota, and could carry our transmission for the low cost of $330 plus import taxes.  We would just have to figure out how to get it to LAX, and bingo bango.

Almost bingo bango.  Turns out you can’t just go into the cargo port and pay your import taxes.  That would be too easy.  Instead you have to hire a professional customs broker to do the process for you.  After calling around, I found that customs brokers only deal with freight forwarding companies, and not individuals such as myself.  I considered incorporating my own Colombian customs brokerage for the occasion, but it seemed like a wildly inefficient idea. (Source: https://kryptoszene.de/aktien-kaufen/biotech-aktien/)

Option #3: Buy a rebuilt transmission from the USA and put it on a drug lord’s motor boat

I’m being a little hyperbolic here, but the third option is a little on the shady side.  We were told about a freight forwarder in Miami that could export used car parts to Colombia.  I don’t know how, and I didn’t ask.  All I would have to do is buy a rebuilt transmission and have it trucked to this company in Miami.  They would then put it on a ship, which would take it to Colombia’s North coast.  At this point it would go through customs, and would be placed on another truck that would take it to Bogota, where I would pick it up and bring it to Susacón on a bus.  By my estimation this would take about a month, and would cost somewhere around $1,000 in shipping all said and done.


For a week Sheena and I weighed our options, I made phone calls to Bogota and the USA, spoke to customs brokers, posed questions on internet forums, begrudgingly spoke to Latin-American car mechanics, and generally tried to figure out what the heck to do.  The more I found out, the less I liked our options.  I just wanted it to be easy, but that was option #4, and so far we hadn’t identified that option.  As the days passed, we became more and more comfortable at the farm.

Our accommodations were in a private cabin on the outskirts of the village, at the edge of a eucalyptus grove.  Out our front door, beyond the eucalyptus trees were several varieties of fruit trees, heavy with fresh fruit free for the picking.  Sheena spent much of her free time picking figs and figuring out different ways of making dessert out of them.  Our patio overlooked a meadow of tall green grass with weeping willow trees, grazing dairy cows, and little frolicking baby cows.  On our second day a baby cow was born a stone’s throw from out patio.  For our little cabin we paid $25 per night.

Each day, our hosts Hernando and Constanza would show up at our door bearing housewarming gifts.  Some days they would have a pitcher of fresh squeezed juice from one of their fruit trees, or a platter of fresh fruit.  One day Hernando dropped off a bag of fresh coffee that he had just roasted using beans from a neighboring farm.  Constanza dropped off a bowl of freshly ground beef from one of their cows so that we could make barbequed hamburgers on the wood fired grill.  They brought over a bowl of dessert figs that Constanza made, lighting a fig fire inside of Sheena that would prove impossible to extinguish.

Once we discovered the bounty available from the surrounding farms, we began to subsist entirely on things that came from within the village.  We bought peaches from the farm up the hill, raw coffee beans from the farm down the canyon, which I would roast in a pan, fresh honey from another farmer, and fruits and vegetables from the Monday market.  After discovering that Hernando and Constanza had fresh beef from their cows, we kept ourselves in good supply of filet mignon for the grill.  For around $30 per week we stayed stocked up on fresh local food and ate like kings.  Well, a king and a queen.

Our evenings were spent barbequing, watching fireflies in our meadow, and curling up to watch movies.  We woke each morning to sunlight filling our cabin through the curtains, followed by a tired stumble through the meadow to fill up our morning milk pitcher directly from the cow’s udder.  Somehow, the importance of choosing an option for how to fix our transmission seemed a distant second to living the good life.

Each morning Sheena and I donned our running shoes and stole away into the hills surrounding Susacón.  We ran out the back of the farm, up the cobbled track that leads past the pigs, under the giant willows, and past the monument to the revolutionaries who marched this way on their way to the Battle of Boyacá.  We ran up a steep hill until we met the dirt road that wound its way through the forested hillsides toward Chicamocha canyon.  We ran under cover of eucalyptus and willow trees, passed by raspberry bushes, agave, and prickly pear cactus.  Each day we saw the same old woman with her bowler cap and woolen shawl, who asked us how we were dong, told us how wonderful the day was, and asked how we were liking Susacón.  After cresting the hill, we descended into a meadow where the track wound past two large weeping willows before disappearing around a bend; a Monet painting in real life.

One morning, Hernando offered to bring us hiking in the mountains above Chicamocha canyon.  To get there we drove the road where we took our morning runs, but this time continued until we reached the edge of the canyon.  There, his aunt lived in a picturesque house with a commanding view of the Susacón valley.  After coffee and a couple of shots of a local liqueur, we continued on our way along the rim of Chicamocha.  When we reached a landslide blocking the road, we left the car and hiked to a peak overlooking the canyon.

After telling us about the area and pointing out the places where his family had historically operated farms in the surrounding hills, Hernando left us and headed back to town in his car.  Sheena and I would laze about for a while, have a picnic on the edge of the canyon, and then hike back to town.  As we sat, we talked about how much we’d fallen in love with Colombia.  Being stranded in Susacón was really a blessing and we didn’t much care to leave.

On the hike down, Sheena and I begrudgingly brought up the topic of what to do about our transmission.  Cycling through our options made my head hurt.  Nothing was going to be easy, and nothing would be cheap.  I thought about driving around the world with a transmission rebuilt by a deranged maniac and it made my stomach turn.

“Why don’t we just go home and pick up a transmission ourselves?”  Sheena asked.  The idea had come up before, but it was likely the most expensive option and it didn’t make any logistical sense.  We reiterated this and put the idea away.  We hiked on in silence.  I turned the idea over in my mind as we walked through the eucalyptus and weeping willows, the raspberries and the stone fences.  I thought about how much this place seemed like Northern California or Oregon.

It was true, going home would be expensive and there would be easier ways of getting a new transmission.  But why not go home?  It would cost more money, sure, but it would be refreshing.  We could catch up with friends and family, reacquaint ourselves with American pizza, Mexican food, mountain biking and microbrewed beer.  Colombia would be an easy country to come back to.  In the end, which path would make us the happiest?

“So, what do you think about going home?”  I said, to which Sheena’s eyes almost popped out of her head.  “Let’s do it!”  And just like that, we had created our own Option #4 and had selected it.  Three days later we would be hopping on a plane from Bogota bound for Phoenix, retracing seven months of driving in a single day.  It’s funny how one thing can lead to another.

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Aug 2012

Blog, South America

DISCUSSION 35 Comments

Lost in Transmission

As soon as I knew what it was to want, I desired nothing more than to be the commander of an intergalactic space shuttle.  Later on I decided that I would make a better commercial fishing boat captain.  For a short time in 5th grade, my best friend Nick and I decided that we wanted to be nefarious gang members.  We even went so far as to form our own gang called The Bloody Devils; we designed a logo that we intended to get tatted on our arms (a dagger with dripping blood), and declared the Southwestern corner of the Heritage Middle School playground as “our turf”.  My mom, ever the supporter, bought me a red bandana so there would be no confusion as to the level of my bad-assedness.

During recess we would defend our turf by staging shirtless wrestling matches against our rival gang members, who weren’t even prepared enough to have a gang name, a logo, or a turf on which to stage their own turf wars.  However, after a few weeks of prepubescent territorial squabbling, our aspirations shifted to the NBA and our turf fell into the hands of Eric Seeley and his nameless, logoless cronies.  These last few weeks I’ve been wishing to be Barbara Walters, or some other tough-talking interviewer.  I wake up in the middle of the night waiting with anticipation for the Colombian mechanic to answer my question; why did you do it?  I tried to get away from these mechanics, but they wouldn’t let me go.  Why didn’t you just leave me alone?  Answer the question! WHY DID YOU DO IT?!

We had left El Cocuy feeling that we had just experienced the greatest highlight of our trip thus far.  What we hadn’t realized, however, was that we were driving in a ticking time bomb.

We followed James and Lauren out of town, intending to reach Villa de Leyva by evening .  When we reached the town of Guacamayas I thought I smelled a coolant leak, so when James stopped his truck to take a picture, I ran out and smelled his engine.  As I leaned over to stick my head in their wheel well, my eyes were drawn to the stream of oil gushing out of Nacho’s belly.  I flashed back to my days as a gang member, and remembered that liquid gushing out of the belly could only mean one thing.  Nacho’s nizzle had been shizzled.

Oh no – shizzled! My brain went into analytical mode to try to figure out what was happening, but my body took over and bolted like a newly dead chicken – a flurry of uncoordinated arms and legs.  While I flailed around my brain tried to make sense of my train of thought: Nacho bleeding! Dark oil between engine and transmission.  No oil trail – must have started when I stopped.  When I stopped I turned engine off.  Must restart engine!

Sure enough, restarting the engine caused the oil to slow down, and revving it to 3,000 RPM caused it to stop leaking.  I wasn’t about to be stuck in the middle of the remote Colombian mountains – 9 hours from a big city – with a major mechanical issue.  I would just have to keep the engine speed above 3,000 RPM until we could get to our next stop, where I could set up shop for a while to fix whatever was wrong.

Forty five minutes passed and everything seemed to be going okay.  On occasion I would stop and run out to see if the leak had worsened, but it seemed to be holding.  As we began descending into Chicamocha canyon, the transmission made a funny sound.  Actually, there was nothing funny about it.  The transmission made a sound scary enough to make a grown man wet his pants, but only just a little bit.  I admitted defeat and pulled under a shade tree next to a grove of prickly pear cactus.  A small stream of transmission fluid coated the dry grass while I sat staring out of the windshield.  Sheena knew better than to ask what I was going to do.  No, by now she knows that these moments of silence are my time to come to terms with the fact that I have no idea what to do.

By now it was clear that the transmission, and not the engine, was bleeding out.  A small feat of German engineering called the “oil slinger” was keeping the oil from pouring out of what was probably a failed transmission oil seal – but it only worked above 3,000 RPM.  What had caused the seal to fail was anyone’s guess.  I decided to use our reserve of gear oil to refill the transmission and try to get to Villa de Leyva.  We had long since, and perhaps foolishly, waved James and Lauren on, promising to meet up with them at the campground.

After the transmission refill – a procedure that takes close to an hour on the Vanagon – we finished the descent into the canyon, crossed the river, and then started the switchback ascent up the other side.  By the time we reached the village at the top of the climb I was feeling more confident that we could make it.  We were done with the toughest part and had reached a more frequently trafficked road.

It was in between the towns of Soatá and Susacón, while I sat there with a smug look on my face thinking I was so damn smart, that Nacho lost all power, came to a stop, voided his bowels right there in the middle of the dirt road, and started rolling backwards.  My smug look evaporated and I stared out of the windshield.  Sheena knew better than to ask what I was going to do.  I cycled through all of the gears, but forward motion was not to be.  Nacho had failed an epic fail.

After cursing our luck, we put our friendly hitchhiker faces on and tricked a nice Colombian man into helping us out.  We roped up to his truck and settled in for the short three mile haul to Susacón.  The alternative was our winchless self-recovery system, which somehow felt far under qualified for the job.  Instead we just sat there, Sheena restraining from asking me the obvious question.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Latin-American car mechanics since starting this trip, it’s that 99% of them don’t have the faintest clue how to work on cars.  They take things apart really fast until they feel like they’ve sufficiently destroyed whatever it is they were working on, and then they start putting things back together incorrectly, while leaving some things out and then tightening the bolts as much as their fingers or pliers will allow.  I recently made a decree not to let anyone who isn’t me touch our innocent little Nacho ever again.  A transmission failure, while a much bigger job than anything else that’s gone wrong, would be no different.  I figured I would get the transmission out so I could see what was wrong, and to do so I would just need to borrow a jack.  I asked the man to pull us near to the town’s mechanic shop so I could ask about renting a jack.  He happily obliged, and we soon found ourselves parked on the street in front of a grungy dirt-floored hole full of rusty junk.  We left Nacho parked on the street and set off to find a place to stay for the night.

In the morning I walked to the mechanic’s shop to ask if I could rent his jack to remove our transmission.  One might try to defend the mechanic for his idiocy by suggesting that something was lost in translation, but no.  The discussion went exactly as follows, except in Spanish.  I know, because I’ve dreamt it over and over in my Barbara Walters dream:

“Hi, our transmission has failed and I’ll be needing to do some work on it.  I prefer to work on my own car, but I don’t have a jack.  Would it be possible for me to borrow your jack later so that I can work on my transmission?  I’d be willing to pay you.”

“Yes, no problem.  I have a jack that you can use.  Just come and find me when you need it; I’ll be in my house.”

With that out of the way, I went off to the internet café to seek advice on The Samba and from my brother, who is a master technician for BMW.  After almost two hours, due to a slow internet connection, I was back on my feet headed toward Nacho.  Nothing could have prepared me for the sight I saw.

There, right in the middle of the street, the mechanic and the hotel owner from across the road were sprawled out under Nacho.  All around them were mounds of nuts, bolts, washers, spacers, and unidentifiable doo dads.  For some inexplicable reason the mechanic had taken apart my driver’s side rear hub, and my drum brake was hanging from my now bent hydraulic brake line.  To remove the hub housing from the swingarm, he removed all of the bolts using vice grips.  These bolts are tightened to over 100ft-lbs; needless to say he destroyed the bolts.

He wanted to remove my shift linkage from the transmission, but rather than removing the single nut that connects it, he first attempted to take apart the universal joint at the opposite end of the van.  Unable to do so, he left the joint partially destroyed and instead disconnected the splined shift linkage interface – which you’re NOT supposed to touch!

Having successfully obliterated my shift linkage, he set to work on getting the actual transmission out.  He started by undoing all of my CV bolts with a pair of vice grips, destroying the bolts in the process.

After incorrectly disconnecting the transmission from the frame, he let the whole engine/transmission assembly fall some unknown distance to his jack, which cause the air filter box to rip clean off of the engine compartment wall.  He knew so little about what he was doing that, by the time I found him, he had already started trying to pull the drive flanges out of the side of the transmission while it was hanging there.


It was all I could think to say.  For several seconds I reprimanded him, but since the transmission was lying on his chest he didn’t make much of an effort to move.

“I need to replace the clutch.”

“No, you need to get the hell out from under there!”

In a flurry of vice grips and oily hands the two of them, ignoring me, separated the transmission from the engine, unbolted the clutch pressure plate, and removed the clutch.

“Give me the new clutch,” he said, holding out his grease-covered grubby little hands.  He actually expected that I would give him my brand new clutch so he could destroy it by covering it in grease and gear oil.  Furthermore, I actually think he planned to install it and put it all back together so I could drive along on my merry way.  Clearly this guy was a deranged maniac.  I tried to think what I would have done if I were a gang member, but somehow taking off my shirt and wrestling him didn’t seem appropriate.

At long last, the deranged maniac got out from under Nacho, whereupon I continued to yell profanities and disbelieving questions at him.  “What were you thinking?  What didn’t you understand about my simple instructions?  Did you know I used to be a nefarious gang member!?”

After the moron finished putting our hub back together, I grabbed our transmission and put it in the back of the van.  I crawled under Nacho and placed all of the nuts and bolts in a plastic box and set them inside for later, and then I used several ratchet straps to hold the axles and the engine up, which he had left hanging without any support.  Once Nacho was sufficiently buttoned up, I went back to our temporary home – Hospedaje La Violeta – and told our host, Luis, about what had happened.

As evening fell, Luis and I snuck over to Nacho by cover of dusk and hitched a tow strap to the front bumper.  Without being detected by the deranged mechanic we slipped away to the relative safety of his gated farm.  When we reached the farm, several of his farm hands joined in pushing Nacho through the wooden gate leading to our small cabin on the edge of a eucalyptus grove.  With Nacho out of harm’s way, Sheena and I slipped into our cabin where, for night after night, I would dream that I was Barbara Walters chasing the elusive truth within the deranged mind of the mechanic of Susacón.

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