A variety of Mexican mechanics

So there we were driving to La Paz at around midday on a Friday, trying to google VW scrapyards. Someone suggested Yonkees, but after a little research it turns out that this is just Spanish for ‘scrapyard’ and not that helpful if like us, you have a very specific vehicle. We were both sure we remember seeing a baywindow, rusting away in a scrapyard to the south-west of the city. We decided to try this first. Lee remember the right road, and we drove down keeping an eye for the right place. We pulled into one which looked like it had oldish cars and I asked in tentative Spanish whether they had any parts for our van. They shook their heads, “No para autos clásicos”. We moved on.

Lee was sure that where we had seen the VW was nearer La Paz, and we still hadn’t spotted it. I was sure it was back the other way. We drove up and down to various scrapyards with no luck. A check on google maps showed what looked like another scrapyard a little further out of the city than we had driven, but it Google didn’t give it a name. Deciding to give it a go we pulled up outside and instantly saw the bus. My moment of gloating at the fact I was right about the location was cut short, when we realised that it wasn’t a scrapyard but a police holding compound. There was a set of gates that were shut and no signs of any people. We drove down the other side, but this was just a high fence covered in razor wire, behind which the front ends of a further two bay windows were just visible. There was definitely a spare door bracket in there somewhere, right in front of us. Driving back to the front, we noticed a guy sitting in a truck in the yard just the other side of the fence. We pulled up alongside and regarded each other. I said hello. He stared, the dog end of a long gone out cigarette hung out of the corner of his mouth. I unnecessarily said hello again because it was kind of off putting, and then managed to ask if any of the parts were for sale. He took a long draw of his dead cigarette, eyed us up and down and slowly shook his head. Needless to say this was incredibly frustrating, knowing there was a part right there but we couldn’t have it.

Now with little choice left, we headed for the VW garage we had been told about in the city centre. When we arrived, they were shut but after checking online it seemed that they reopened again at 3pm. Having a bit of time to kill, we decided to head over to Home Depot while we waited, still trying to sort the shower issue I hoped to find something that would work. We also knew that our compost toilet was going to need attention soon and we didn’t really have a solution for what to put in it. Ironically, coconut coire does not seem to be available in this palm tree covered peninsula. In the end, we managed to solve neither of these problems by the time we returned to the garage. Taking in the broken one to show them, we were pleasantly surprised when they went into the back and brought us a brand new one out. Even better, it only cost 280mxp, less than £10, result!

By this time it was getting on a bit, so we headed to our designated La Paz parking spot, the abandoned school. It was a quick enough job to replace the hinge, the bad news was that with the new one fitted the door wouldn’t even move. So much for a straightforward fix. The sliding door is one of those jobs that I am not even remotely interested in doing. Having spent hours and hours fiddling around with it previously, we decided to take the easy way out and give it to the garage to fix. Down here in Mexico, labour is very cheap and I would happily pay someone to fix my sliding door, in a specialist VW garage we thought we would be in safe hands. We drove back to the garage and showed the English speaking mechanic the problem. He said they were too busy that afternoon, and recommended the body shop around the corner. Deciding we would rather wait and have a proper VW mechanic work on it, we opted to come back at 10am the following morning.

This left us with an afternoon in the car park to entertain herself. We had also been to DPD earlier and picked up a few things that I ordered from Amazon. Bracing ourselves for the End of Days, I have bought us a fishing rod and a kayak. We had kind of learnt how to fish with David and Katie at Punta Chivato, although while I understood the technique, the types of lures, bait and weights remains a complete mystery to me. Jerome and Meli that we had been travelling with until recently had sold me on the idea of an inflatable kayak. We thought these would be good fun for Baja, and that we would also get plenty of use out of in the river and lakes on our journey back up through the States and Canada. We also thought that it would give us something to entrain ourselves with in Baja if we got stuck here for ages and that maybe we could even catch our own food.

Having acquired these new toys, I set up about unpacking them in the car pack. Literally one of my favourite things ever is opening Amazon packages, it feels like my birthday even though I know it’s just something mundane that I’ve bought. I forgot I also ordered some hose parts for the shower online, which looked like they would work, happy days! We just needed to try and reseal the joint again, my previous attempt at San Pedrito had lasted a grand total of about 30 seconds when I had tried to reconnect the hose at Rob and Jen’s the previous morning.

Getting a little overexcited I spent some time assembling kayak oars in the car park, only too loose a tiny spring loaded part and spend the next half an hour coming through dead grass and rubbish trying to find it. I decided I had had enough excitement for that day, and put it all away again. It was getting dark, so we retrieved Aimee, wrestled the sliding door closed for the night, and called it a day.

The following morning, we were ready to go, arriving at the garage for 10am. The mechanic took our keys, and told us they would phone when it was done. We packed Aimee into her rucksack, and set off on our bikes. Having just cycled out of the garage, I noticed that my bikes tyres were pretty much completely flat. Not able to access our pump anymore, we went to find a petrol station with an air pump. Not too far down the road, we came across a Pemex with free air.

This minor problem sorted, and not with an abundance of options, as a lot of La Paz is currently in shutdown, we went to a completely empty café that wasn’t far from where we’d camped before.

Aimee was happy enough in the shade, and a kind waiter brought her over some water. I think he saw the lead and expected a dog, as he looked a bit surprised to see a cat.

We waited here for a while, making use of the Wi-Fi. We had stopped off on the way here at a place that sells fishing tackle, as while I had bought a rod, we didn’t have any bait. The guy told us that he couldn’t sell us what we needed without seeing the rod, which we hadn’t had the foresight to bring with us. After killing an hour or two in the café, we decided to head back and get the fishing rod, for something to do. I waited outside with Aimee and the bikes while Lee went inside. Apparently they were currently re-welding the bottom of the door and told us to come back at 2pm, another couple of hours.

Back at the fishing shop, we presented our new rod to the guy. He gave us a look and said, “Wow this is small.” No need to get personal, I thought. It’s for travelling. He took the reel off and wound some line onto it for us. We then said we needed some bait and he asked us what we wanted. We had no idea. He gave us a selection of hooks that are different for some reason that I am not aware of, and some weights that I don’t know how to use. We asked for some lures and he kind of shook his head and pointed at some weird jelly things on the wall. We bought a couple of these which he fitted with hooks for us too. So we left, armed with some stuff I didn’t really know how to use, but that had only cost us a few quid in the end.

Still with a bit of time to kill, we headed to another café that was just across the road from the garage where Ruby was. We figured we’d soon hear her start up and know it was time to collect her. Aimee was happy enough not to be carried around in her bag, and promptly disappeared out of site under a screen for the building that was being constructed next to us. We had a few beers while we waited, excited at the prospect of a door that would work.

Having waited past the time the garage had said and still not heard anything, Lee went over to check. He came back shortly and said that they hadn’t managed to fix it all and I should go at talk to them. So I headed over, just as I approached they started backing Ruby out, the sliding door not even shut. Rogelio, the designated English speaker, told us that our door was too broken to fix and we needed a new one. Now we are well aware that our door is not in a good condition, but if it worked before then I’m pretty sure it’s capable of being adjusted to work again. Still, if we could get a new door at a reasonable price I wouldn’t mind either. Ours is pretty rusty at the bottom after all. He told us it would be cheap, “I give you good price”. He reassured us, without giving any indication of what that would be. The only downside was that we now needed to wait to Monday to see if they could source a new door. He took us back to the van and didn’t try to charge us, which was good as they had actually made the door worse. It now didn’t shut at all, “Don’t force it!” He instructed unhelpfully, perhaps forgetting that we have a pet or might want to be able to actually lock our van.

So we set off, not particularly happy at our wasted day but cautiously optimistic that it might work out for the best. We pulled over at a supermarket to get supplies, and refusing to make do with a door that could neither be opened or shut for two days, got the toolkit out. Having slackened off the bolts enough to get it move, we managed to shut and lock it, meaning we could actually go shopping. Having got some supplies in for the next day or so, we decided to head back out to Playa Tecolote as we didn’t fancy spending our weekend in a rubbish filled car park.

It’s about 40 minutes to drive out of La Paz, back into the north and past the ferry port. We rounded the final bend and arrived at the point where the road forks, the left hand road continues on to Playa Balandra, while the right fork goes down to Tecolote. Then there was a problem. On the road in front of us, a line of people sat, face masks on, their chairs blocking the road. We didn’t bother attempting to speak to them, it was pretty clear that the beach was closed because of the virus. So we turned around and drove back, there was another track just up the road and we thought it looked like we could drive down here and still access the beach from the other side. It wasn’t such a good track here, more of a bumpy dirt road, but sure enough it led us around the back of the hills to access the beach from the other side.

Considering the situation, there was still a good few RV’s parked up on the beach and we decided to camp a bit further back amongst the dunes for some privacy. In a way it was a good thing the road was blocked, as the sandy section we had been able to drive through previously was now much deeper and there was no way Ruby would have made it through. It must have been windy, to blow all of the sand around, and it shows there also must have been a lot less traffic along the beach recently. Certainly as we stood there that evening, the wind was blowing a gale and parking up behind the biggest bush we could find we try to shelter from the worst of it.

The next day we awoke to a calmer morning. I had been rather excited about taking our new kayak out for a test run but I hadn’t been having much luck with my pillow recently and woke up with a rather bad neck. Somehow it didn’t seem the best idea to try paddling right now. Aimee discovered how to climb onto the roof and had found a new plethora of things to bite.

We decided to move around a little bit further to Playa Pilitas, it was supposed to be a bit less busy and we thought we could also park closer to the sea here which is useful when you are using a bucket seawater to try and stretch out your freshwater reserves.

We ended up parking up on the edge just above the beach and enjoyed a day relaxing in the sun.

Here is the view back down to the largely deserted Tecolote.

That evening, we decided to walk down and see if the bar was open for something to do.

As we went passed the other RVs parked on the beach, we spoke to most of them. People who like us had thought they were better off waiting it out here rather than in the US. They did confirm however that the bar was shut as we had suspected it might be. Nevertheless it’s always a pretty sunset here.

We needed to be at the garage by 10am the following morning, which is the best part of an hour drive away. Packed up and ready to go on time for once, we set off, excited to see a new door!

We were quickly disappointed however when we arrived. Rogelio said that all the doors were too expensive, and instead recommended we go to the body shop around the corner which he had mentioned before. Pretty pissed off that we had waited all weekend for nothing, I was at least glad he didn’t try to charge us for the ‘work’ that they had done.

We had waited this long, so we might as well try the other place. We pulled up outside and tried to explain the problem. He spoke no English, and we barely spoke any Spanish especially not the kind you need to explain about welding and door brackets. He got a friend on the phone to translate for us, who said it would be done by 5pm for 2000mxp, that’s about £70. I would gladly pay this to have our door adjust and fine-tuned, the dream is to be able to shut it from the inside, one handed. However, I don’t think these guys were the ones for the job and I wasn’t too keen on killing another day in La Paz on lockdown.

Anyway, we felt like we had committed at this point, so we got the van in the workshop, where they went about taking the sliding door off.

“They have no idea what they’re doing.” I hissed at Lee. “That’s not how you take the door off!”

Right on cue, one of them dropped the little cam that sits on the top off the hinge on the floor. Retrieving it, he stared at it in a puzzled way before refitting it upside and back to front. It says something about how much I really don’t want to work on the door that we still gathered our stuff and Aimee up, and left. I certainly wasn’t going to pay them if they didn’t do it properly.

We needed to do some laundry anyway, so strapping it to the back of my bike we headed back to the marina where we dropped it off. I am now a pro at asking if they can do our washing the same day, the lady confirmed that she could and that it would be ready by 3pm. A little proud of myself for not only understanding, but participating in this exchange purely in Spanish, we left. We headed back too old faithful, Gotta Go Joe’s, the café we had spent several hours in on Friday.

Again, we whiled away a few hours or so, I was marginally more prepared having brought a book with me this time. We still didn’t manage to bring the other basics though, such as the bike lock and the laptop, so after a few hours Lee headed back to the van to pick these up and see how they were getting on.

It was sometime before he returned, confirming what I suspected earlier in the day, “They have no idea what they’re doing.” He said, “You need to come and have a look.” Resigning myself back to that life in which the sliding door was just a cosmetic addition to the van rather than a functioning item, I cycled back to the garage. Apparently the manager was now there and Lee said he at least spoke English, which was a start.

Ricardo the manager, was indeed there, and he did speak very good English. While they hadn’t actually achieved anything that day, they had figured out that the problem was the welding that the other garage had done. Taking the door off we had a look at it, and it was pretty clear that while maybe not the sole cause, it definitely wasn’t helping. Here you can see the interesting job that the previous garage did. If it’s not already obvious from the photo, the new section wasn’t welded straight, meaning the whole angle of the bottom door bracket was incorrect. It was also welded too low on the door.

After some deliberation, us not being happy at the terrible job the other garage had done, but not really having much choice left, they set about re-welding the door. The finish job was definitely much better and straighter.

I explained how the adjustment worked for the bottom and without having any of the proper shim plates, we made do with some big washers. Somehow along the way one of the rollers had got lost for the new bottom bracket, but the ones they had to replace it didn’t seem to fit. We left it off for the time being and with the door refitted, I was pleasantly surprised when it shut, not perfectly, but with minimal effort and certainly achievable from inside. It was now gone 5pm, and we got ready to leave. At least we had a functioning door, although it still needed looking at properly. At this point we just wanted to be on our way, so we set about paying. There was no way I was paying £70 for a job which a) wasn’t perfect and b) was only accomplished at all by my instructions. I asked him how much he wanted, and he said the original quote, when I continued to stare he hastily dropped it to £50. Probably still a bit much, considering here we are a few weeks later and it’s still not that great, but at that point I was so happy to have something sorted, that we paid up and left.

It was an awkward time of day, neither of us wanted to spend another night in the nasty car park, but driving in the dark isn’t recommended either and we were both a bit done with it all. We thought we would aim for a campsite about halfway between La Paz and Los Barilles, but as we were driving I checked some of the reviews and it appeared they wanted to charge rather a lot of money. With the current situation it stands to reason that local businesses are struggling. A lack of tourists means that campsites are empty, the owners out of pocket. Some seem to compensate by dropping their prices to lure any last dregs of business in, while others do the very opposite and hike the price through the ceiling, hoping to regain lost money. This campsite was the latter.

In the end, we powered on to Los Barilles, where we knew we could camp on the beach without a problem. Slowing now and again as passing cars with their hazards on warned us of the presence of cows in and around the road, one of the main reasons why driving at night is not recommended. It wasn’t too long before we pulled up on the beach along with one other camper, threw together some noodles, the ultimate ‘I can’t be arsed’ food, and settled down for the night.

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