Feb 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 22 Comments

The Dogs of Guanajuato

On the drive from Guadalajara to Guanajuato, Nacho developed a high frequency vibration, most likely in one of the wheels, which also manifested itself as a vibration under braking.  Being that we didn’t know what was wrong, we were a little on edge about the performance of our brakes.  Following the directions to the campground in Guanajuato, we climbed higher and higher into the ravines above town.  Within a few hundred meters of our destination, the tiny cobbled road pitched straight down at a gradient of at least 30%.  We crept along at a walking pace, hoping that our brakes would hold up.  In my mind I picked a few power poles that would work as emergency stops to keep us from barreling into one of the ramshackle huts that clung to the mountainside.  Of course I didn’t mention this to Sheena, who was already starting to freak out.  Our road ended in a tee, and we turned left.  The only thing that stood between us and the campground was a tight, one lane, serpentine path that wove through a close collection of buildings at a gradient of at least 35%.  I slowly turned the tight corner and then floored it.  Nacho groaned, climbed, and slowly came to a stop.  The engine died as Sheena hyperventilated on the edge of consciousness.

Several more close calls and tricky maneuvers saw us arrive safely at our campground via an alternate route that involved driving the wrong way on a tight one-way street.  When we stopped Sheena punched me, I pumped my fists in the air and growled, Sheena swore “never again”, and I strutted around in circles with my chest poked out.  Take that, road.

When we pulled into the campground we introduced ourselves to the only other people camping there, an elderly German couple in a 2005 Land Cruiser with a camper body.  They had been on the road since 2007, having shipped their rig from Hamburg to Buenos Aires, and were slowly making their way to Alaska.

“Ve tolt our son zat zere voult be no money left! Ve vill spent it all!”

That’s the spirit.  I know who I want to be when I grow up.

By day Guanajuato was vibrant.  Service providers walked or drove the streets advertising their services by yelling or playing jingles over loudspeakers.  When they heard the propane truck’s jingle, residents would wave him down and refill their bottles.  Every provider had his own call; the newspaper salesman, the trash man, the knife sharpener.  By night, the service calls were replaced by the dogs of Guanajuato.  We had noticed that each house had a chicken and a rooster in the yard, and a dog or two on the roof.  At night, the dogs owned the airwaves.  My lack of patience has prohibited me from actually counting, but I imagine there were over 200 barks per minute audible from our campsite all night long.  In the morning the barks were joined by hundreds of roosters bringing in the new day.  I recorded the following sound clip at our camp one evening:

[audio:http://www.drivenachodrive.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Dogs-of-Guanahuato.mp3|titles=Dogs of Guanahuato]

The food scene continues to keep us happy and looking forward to our next meal.  Over the last month in Mexico we’ve learned a few things about food;

1. The street cart is king.  For a couple of dollars we can eat the best tasting food on the planet, prepared from scratch before our very eyes.  And despite what you may have heard, they won’t make you sick.

2. If Lonely Planet recommends it, it’s best avoided. We’ve been disappointed 100% of the time.  Whoever wrote the Mexico guide was not a foodie.

3. By shopping at open air markets, it’s possible to get the freshest ingredients for home cooking.  We’ve made some damn good meals so far, and a meal never costs more than $5 to put together.

4. The torta ahogada is a must-eat.  A thick bread roll stuffed with onions and juicy cubes of carnitas, drowned in a sauce of chiles de arbol.  Once served, it is dowsed in more tongue searing chile sauce and drizzled with fresh lime juice.  When eaten, the spicy concoction coats the hands and face like a toddler after an ice cream cone, the lips burn, and the mouth waters at the thought of another one.

5. If you can’t find a street cart, find a hole in the wall instead.  Locals don’t go to actual restaurants, so they’re touristy, less authentic, and overpriced.  For some reason, I’ve only had upset stomach after eating in restaurants; never from street carts.

After four days of hiking, eating, and exploring, we packed up and bid farewell to the town, the roosters, the food, and the dogs of Guanajuato.  I spent the last day working on Nacho, trying to fix the brakes and the vibrations.  As we hit the road we had our fingers crossed.  Once we escaped the winding streets and made our way back onto the mountain roads, the vibration returned, and the brakes continued to shake.  Yep, sounds about right.  Something to do in San Miguel de Allende.

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Playing Volkswagen Mechanic

Nacho used to make sounds. At first it would be a soft tapping.  We’d turn off the radio and the tapping would turn into smack, smack, smack as if one of the engine hamsters had gotten its foot caught in its hamster wheel and was striking its head repeatedly against a tin heat shield.  I made it my mission in life to figure out what this was.  I would zig and zag all over the road to see if I could make it change tone or frequency, I would drive with the emergency brake on, shift gears, changed the engine oil weight, all to no avail.  I started hypothesizing and replacing parts.  I replaced the rear axles, CV joints, springs, shocks, tires, brake drums, and wheel bearings.  Smack, smack, smack…

In the end it turned out to be something ridiculously hard to find.  The end of the axle that sticks out beyond the CV joint on the outboard driver’s side was ever so slightly too long, which caused it to intermittently tap the back side of the stub axle on every wheel revolution.  Even my replacement axles had this problem, making the solution extra elusive.  One consequence of this ongoing investigation was my having to remove and install all of the CV joints on Nacho about six times.  After the problem was solved, all 24 of Nacho’s CV bolts started continually coming loose while driving.  Great.

After several attempts at getting the bolts to stay tight, I finally pulled out the big guns this week.  I removed and threw away all 24 bolts, cleaned the mating threads with brake cleaner, a metal pipe brush, a nylon pipe brush, and compressed air, and then installed brand new bolts with brand new OEM lock washers, and slathered every bolt with red Locktite.  If these things come loose after this, we’re just going to cancel the whole trip.  I will have lost.

The axle bolts fiasco required me to lay on the ground under Nacho for a full day.  Today I decided to continue the under-van work, so I got down on my bruised hips and spent the better part of the day under there.  It started with an oil change.  Nothing too exciting here.

The next job was to replace all of the bushings in the shift linkage, as well as the ball and socket mechanism on the gear selector from Van-Cafe.  Somewhere along the line the rubber boots that covered the important bits in the shifting mechanism disintegrated, after which time the shifting performance went to hell.  Now Nacho’s shifts are clean and precise.  Like a big ugly 1984 sports car.

With only five days left before we leave Phoenix for Mexico, my to do list stands at 12 projects.  Sheena is also starting in on her project list today.  So much for a nice relaxing final week.  Still, you won’t hear me complaining.  In my normal life I’d be going to work today.

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