Truck’s Feelings of Abandonment
Well, I guess it’s time to dust off my fingers and return from my blogging hiatus as Sarah just informed me I have not written one since Mexico. As most of you know, we have returned from our summer of work and easy living back home. Upon arrival in San Jose, Sarah and I booked a stay for a few days at the Best Western Irazu. We hoped the posh swimming pool, Casino and 24 hour Denny’s downstairs would ween us off of our spoiled American lifestyle. What we weren’t expecting was the following days to be the ultimate test of patience, Spanish, and trust.
When you have a temporary vehicle import permit you are not allowed to leave the country without the vehicle. It is literally stamped right in your passport. When Sarah and I left the country, we left our truck in a bonded storage area and canceled our vehicle import permit. In the San Jose Aduana, a man by the name of Mariano is in charge of the higher priority paper work. He is the one who initially helped us with our vehicle import and the process of suspending it so we could leave.
Back in June, Mariano cancelled our permit when he should have suspended it. We questioned it several times only to be assured that it was “all set”. “No problem. You return, you talk to me” he said.
Fast forward to September…”You cannot have your truck, you need leave for one year.” What? Where the hell is that law written? It’s not, for those of you who are considering doing the same as us. A law was made up on the spot to avoid conflict. “Well buddy, you now have a conflict! We are here and we want our damn truck!” Sarah and I glued our rear ends to the chairs in front of his desk and refused to move until it was fixed. Hours passed, tens of phone calls made and we were issued a brand new import permit just to get the crazy gringos out of office building. Sweet!
We walked over to the lot where our truck was waiting, paid our bill, grabbed the key, and fired it up. I hit the brakes to put it in drive and they went to the floor. Pumped them several times…to the floor. Shit! I hopped out and Sarah pointed out the fluid pouring out from behind the gas tank. Sure enough, it was brake fluid and it was pouring out of a very rotten brake line.
The security guard said I could work on it in the lot if I wanted, but it was 2:00 on a Friday and they would close at 5:00 for the weekend, or he could call a flat bed. We decided to have the tow truck come and tow it to the hotel. I could at least work on it in the parking lot there over the weekend.
The first tow truck showed up, but it was too small, so he called his partner with the bigger truck. Julio, the driver of the first truck informed us that his partner is also a mechanic. Anyone who knows my history with lying half assed mechanics knows that I wouldn’t trust one if he was the last mechanic on earth. One problem, we needed a brake line replaced, and quick! Hector agreed to have it done the next day. Reluctantly, I agreed.
We rode with Hector to his shop in Tambor which, after 30 mins and a quick stop to pay his cell phone bill, we realized we had no idea where we were. I quickly turned on the GPS to mark the coordinates for later. Hector said he would call our room when he was done and assured us it would be no problem.
We grabbed a cab back to the hotel and agreed on Denny’s and casino drinks for dinner. Later that night, I fired up the GPS only to find out that I did not give Old Trusty enough time to boot up before I saved our coordinates. In other words, a man that I knew nothing about, had my truck in a place that I couldn’t find if my life depended on it. Ugggghhh. I guess our only option was to play the waiting game.
We killed time the following day with a quick tour of San Jose. Around 4pm we headed back to our room when a few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Hector and the truck was ready!
Since we had no idea where it was we opted to go pick it up in the morning rather than meander around in the dark. Luckily, we found a really nice taxi driver who knew exactly where we were going and was willing to call Hector to find the exact address.
When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was brake fluid dripping from the same spot. I crawled under the truck to see if we misunderstood that the truck was actually ready. There was a shiny new brake line with no funny business. I guess the mechanic just didn’t tighten the fitting enough and it was still dripping a little. A 10 minute fix and we were on our way. Finally we had our truck back!! And Hector turned out to be a great mechanic, who worked on a Saturday and on a holiday weekend to get us back on the road.
Back at the hotel we packed up our things, loaded up the truck, our stomachs said a thankful goodbye to Denny’s and we were off! So long San Jose! See you never!
Sarah and I had agreed to stay at Truchas Selva Madre again, because it is relatively close to San Jose and well, we like it there. We had a nice dinner and went to hit the hay. Crawling inside the truck we discovered a river flowing down the side window into the lake it formed near the tailgate. In our heads we thought “Truck, seriously we are sorry for leaving you but come on!” Not much we could do in the way of using duct tape in the rain so we just slept with the sounds of the river flowing through the truck.
Rewind back to June for a minute- When Sarah and I rented a house in Escaleras, I discovered that there was a seized brake caliper which had worn completely through a set of pads and about half a rotor. We also had a bad heim on our trackbar, and a clicking axle u-joint. At the time all I had was a new set of brake pads. So I took the caliper apart, freed the piston, and threw some new pads on there as a temporary fix until I could smuggle some new parts back. I am not sure if the truck was mad about this, or the fact that we left her abandoned in a parking lot for three months, but she was beginning to voice her feelings.
Leaving Truchas Selva Madre it is a very twisty steep mountainous road down to Dominical. We had a car in front of us doing a very inconvenient speed. A speed in which I cannot use the motor to slow us down effectively. I had been using the brakes pretty frequently, but nothing out of the ordinary when all of a sudden the pedal went directly to the floor. In my head I thought “that’s weird”, tried them again…nothing. Now keep in mind we are on a very steep downhill section, which lasts for the next several miles. I looked at Sarah, she was calm and collected with her bug goggles on, not having the slightest clue that she may be in for the scariest roller-coaster ride of her life!
I had two options: 1)Try our emergency brake and hit that tiny patch of dirt on the opposite side if the highway, praying that there is no oncoming traffic around that blind corner or 2)commit to the upcoming pass and hope I don’t hit warp speed. With a split second decision I hit that emergency brake with all of my left leg strength and made a commitment to that patch of dirt, which actually looked a lot more like wet clay the closer we got. Yup, we skidded into a patch of wet clay, on the opposite side of the road, on a blind hairpin turn, in an 8000lb truck with no brakes, and no emergency exit if we couldn’t stop in time. Fuck me!
Sarah looked at me and said “How long do you think we need to sit here for?” I swear my heart was beating at least 300 beats per minute, we had smoke billowing off of the front brakes, we may or may not have almost died, and she was worried about the amount of time we would be there for. That’s why I love her!
We ended up sitting there for about an hour in hopes that the brakes would come back around. They kind of did, but I drove the rest of the way to our campsite in second gear at 25mph. It was a looong day.
The very next morning I grabbed my tools and was about to dive head first into fixing this pig, so I thought. Remember that water crossing we did in the Osa before we went home? Well, that water crossing caused a massive bit of corrosion making it impossible for me to break loose any nut or bolt on the truck without having a hernia, setting the truck on fire with a torch, or shitting my pants. Unfortunately, the repair would have to wait. We were crossing into Panama the next day and thanks to Mariano, it was our last day to do so.
The first major town you hit in Panama is David, and this is where we did some searching. Sarah and I searched for the better part of a day for a 3/4” breaker bar and a reducer so I could really give those rusty bolts some hell. I even bought a 4’ piece of pipe to use as a cheater so I could really make them cry! Side note: Just so everyone knows the Spanish word for pipe is not pipe. It’s tubo. If you ask for pipe you will be handed a shovel.
We stayed in Boquete for almost a week, enjoying the food & coffee and working on the truck in between downpours. I was able to get everything done that needed to be done and we were back in business. Once again we were on the move. On our way out of town we were on a standard Central American pothole road, when a new sound reared it’s head. It was a clunk but not a clunk that I remembered hearing before. I pulled into the first gas station I saw and grabbed the jack. I jacked up the front end and triple checked all of the work I had done. It looked solid. I jacked up the other side, everything looked good. What the? I jacked up the passenger side again because I knew that clunk was not a good clunk. I stuck a pry bar under the tire and lifted….that’s when I heard it. Ball joints. Damn it.
Just before we left to come back I bought an emergency set of balljoints, just in case. I did not buy the press I needed because we were already at our weight limit for our bags and frankly, I was feeling cheap that day.
Do you ever neglect to do something and then really hate yourself when you realize you shouldn’t have? Well, these were my exact feelings as we sat in the gas station parking lot in the rain. “Hey Sarah, will you look up ‘ball joint press’ for me in the dictionary?”