A month in Ciudad Guzmán

As ever, we had been quite fortunate in our breakdown. To find a place where we could stay for free, with welcoming hosts, in a town that has a lot of useful facilities, was a good thing. Naturally, any breakdown was unwanted, especially in such close proximity to the last one but we tried to make good use of our time. With our parts ordered, we had some time to wait. The supplier told us that the parts would take 6-9 days to arrive, which wasn’t so bad. We could easily fill a week with some other maintenance on Ruby. 

It wasn’t all work though, Gina and Gerado welcomed us into their family and we were invited to a Sunday breakfast at Gina’s parents house. Gina had told us before that her parents owned a ranch, it seemed a little unlikely being here in this city. We thought perhaps it was more of a large garden, but when we arrived and got the tour we were definitely wrong. From the normal suburban street we were parked on, we walked around the block and in a matter of minutes were on a full scale farm, complete with cows and a tractor. Gina’s dad showed us around, he grew lots of pomegranate trees from which he made his ponche (punch). This is a mezcal tequila combined with pomegranate juice, and is really rather good, he has a fairly big operation, supplying to lots of local shops and stalls in town. He also has a large field with red and white sweetcorn, which he generously supplied us with. We also got to pick some cheyote, which you deal with rather like a potato, but grows from the vines as you can see below. 

We met one of the ranch dogs had also recently had a great litter of puppies and got to see the cows too. He then got out a bucket of cat food, and fed the cats so we could meet them too. Not tame, these were proper wild farm cats who didn’t want to be approached. Nevertheless, at the sight of food being served, they melted out from gaps in the walls and appeared on rooftops, around twelve of them in total. It’s a good job there wasn’t a litter of kittens, or it may have been a different story. I can resist a massive Alsatian, but a cute little friend for Aimee…?

Another day, we decided it would be nice to run a movie night with pizza. We set up the projector inside and put on A Nightmare before Christmas in Spanish with English subtitles. Lee ordered pizza. The woman on the receiving end of our pizza order thought it was a prank call, due to our rather poor Spanish, but we did manage to order a pizza in the end. I was a little disappointed when it arrived and turned out to be an ‘italiana’ rather than a ‘vegetariana’ though. 

During most of the days, we attempted to improve the camper. Now on mainland, it was far easier to buy parts for the VW side of the van. We finally managed to buy a new rear door hinge, as we suspected the old one had worn so that it didn’t hold the door at the correct angle. We also replaced the bottom bracket again. With all the new correct parts, we really hoped we might have a functioning door again, but unfortunately all it did was highlight issues with our current one. The bottom was welded in the wrong place by so much, that when the bracket was fitted the door jammed solid in the runner. It became apparent that the plate was welded at the wrong angle. The problem with trying to adjust this, is that it is complete guesswork. the bottom of the door is rusted away completely, where are you supposed to put the bolts holes? I could try and re-weld it, as I have already done several times, but there is not much in the way of adjustment and we decided that a new door was probably a better solution. For that, we needed to wait for Puebla. So, the door was refitted with its old parts, the new ones kept for later and we returned to kicking the bottom of it enthusiastically when we needed to open or close it. 

I moved on to another simpler project. The matter of the smashed up sump. Our nice new sump had not lasted us long before being beaten by the dirt roads, first in Litibu and secondly on the way to the volcano. Gerado and his dad advised against a chop and weld job, they said the metal was not good quality, I didn’t feel that patching up our current sump would be much better. 

I decided to do it anyway, something I should have probably done before we even left. I never anticipated so much off-roading though. First I cut off the bottom damaged section, and then roughly cut a new metal plate to fit it. With a file, I adjusted the edges so that the plate sat squarely with no gaps. Then, refitting the sump without a base in order to measure for shortened the oil pick up. After checking and adjusting it so that it sat around half an inch lower than the new base. I welded up the pick up, complete with a bar across the bottom to prevent oil starvation if we ever hit this one as hard as we hit the other one. Then I welded the sump plate on. The welder here is gas-less, and while better than nothing, not good. To ensure a leakproof finish, we took it to a local paint shop who brazed all the joints for us. While not tested, I was pretty happy with the end result. 

Then there was the matter of the new clutch. We awoke one morning to an email that stated it was being returned to sender. I was pretty mad about that, so we went straight to DHL to ask them what the hell they were playing at. They gave us some lame excuse about a mix up between national and international shipping numbers, but we caught it just in time before they actually sent it back to Latvia. A few days later, and a lot more money, we had it. I would have loved to decline on principle, the customs fees were extortionate and their service terrible, but we really needed that clutch. There’s no way I’m refitting a new engine with a failing release bearing. 

We had now waited for a week since Hanno and Kikki left us. Gina and Gerado had offered us the apartment from the beginning, saying all we needed to pay for was the gas. We had declined, we didn’t think it was worth it for a week. When another week passed and it became apparent that our delivery was no closer, we took them up on the offer. It was a Sunday night and there was a party across the road, it would be nice to sleep somewhere quieter than the street. Aimee had the run of the place, and soon figured out that she could leave from the back door onto the roof, climb down the tree and reappear at the front door. She endless repeated this circuit, howling at each respective door. She was bored of waiting too. 

We slowly began to run out of things to do the camper. We cleaned it inside and out. Lee cleaned the exhaust. I made a cover for the flywheel to stop water getting in the clutch again. We got our bikes mended for a ridiculously cheap price in the meantime and I also re-routed the air intake to the side, creating a kind of snorkel. This would make it hard for water to get in the engine, but also give it a cleaner air supply as it could only draw air from the top air vent. Our air filter was constantly filthy, this would not only keep it cleaner but hopefully stop dirt entering the engine. This was a tedious job, especially in fabricating the plates to block off the engine bay, but it was definitely worth doing. 

As the days passed, we became increasingly frustrated. The person we had ordered parts from was uncommunicative and unhelpful. As the 9 day deadline passed, one Monday morning and we asked him “WHERE IS IT!!?!?!” to which, he casually responded that he hoped to have it by the end of the week. There was nothing we could do except wait. 

In the meantime, we routinely made trips into town to get various things from Autozone. The bikes definitely earned their keep these past few weeks. From routine shopping to bringing ourselves a new tank of gas strapped a little precariously on the back. We finally caved and bought ourselves a drill after borrowing everyone else’s for months. I have no idea where we will store it, but there’s always a little space somewhere.

We also headed back to the town square for another look around and spotted the volcano warning sign. According to Gina, it’s always amber even when the volcano actually erupted!

Another Sunday was a welcome distraction, Gerado drove us with both sets up their parents to Sayula. It was rather nice to see something new. We went to a local restaurant and tried a variety of local dishes including Posole, a dish based from corn that has been treated in lye. While it might not sound appealing, it was delicious. Afterwards, they took us to a shop that produces Cajeta, a local sweet made from thickened milk. Then, still keen to show us the local sights, we hopped in the back of their pickup and they took us to see a local knife shop. Apparently world famous, these knives are one of main things the town is known for. They had some incredibly ornate and beautifully made objects, and some downright dangerous ones. It was lovely of them to include us in their family day, and a welcome break from the constant thought of Ruby, we realised how much we missed seeing something new. 

And still the days passed. We messaged the others, it didn’t seem likely that we would make it for Christmas. Only a week remained and already things were slowing down and shutting. We discussed the option of renting an airbnb for all us, which sounded a lot better than Christmas in the apartment, but quite expensive. Maybe we would just forget about Christmas this year, after all most of the world was probably not experiencing a usual festive season. 

It was Friday the 18th of December. We had just been out to the shops in the morning. This was a deadline for us in that if the parts didn’t arrive today, there was no way we would get them before Christmas, as they still needed to be shipped from Mexico City once they arrived in the country. We had given up a few days ago, resigning ourselves to a rather depressing Christmas in the apartment, or a more expensive fun one that would require hiring a car and and place to stay. We did hope on the other hand that we would a least have the parts before, then we could spend Christmas refitting the engine.

Suddenly there was a shout from Lee’s smoking corner of the roof outside, “He’s got them!!” 

“What? Really?” 

I stood there in shock for a moment before I began to calculate delivery and rebuild times, we might just make it… Halfway through our drinks, we left them on the table and rushed off to Oxxo to pay the remaining fifty percent of the bill. Within a few hours we had a new tracking number, they were on their way to us, scheduled to arrive Monday 21st of December. Things were taking a turn for the better, the company who sold us the engine had also agreed to pay for the parts after several weeks being quite useless. The amazon order too, was scheduled for Monday. It felt like we were finally have something go our way.

The weekend was suddenly action packed, we knew the second we got the parts we would have time to focus on nothing else. I estimated two days to complete the rebuild with the parts estimated to arrived before 9pm Monday. I really hoped they would arrive early in the morning. It looked like if we were going to leave, it was going to be on Christmas Eve. We informed our friends who began the search for a good campsite for Christmas in San Miguel de Allende, around 6 hours from us. 

I spent the next two days obsessively checking the tracking information for the parts, and a little less obsessively checking my amazon order. I ordered English breakfast tea and that was important too!

We had a visit on Sunday from Jaro, who had spent several nights on the volcano adjusting to the altitude. This time we had better luck with out pizza order, and it was nice to enjoy a night in the apartment drinking with another person. The following morning, he headed off, leaving us his massive jack to help with the engine install. That turned out to be even more necessary than we realised.

Our parcel had left Colima at 8.30am, only around and hour and a half away, but the morning came and went with the parcel firmly declared ‘in transit’. By 3pm I couldn’t wait any longer and Lee went to the office to see if it had arrived anyway. He returned before too long and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when saw him clutching a big brown parcel. Tonight would be a busy night. 

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