Problems in Puebla

The town of Puebla was still in lockdown, despite having lesser restrictions for the rest of the state. We weren’t sure how easy it would be to stay here, we were also a little wary, this is probably the closest we would get to Mexico City and it didn’t seem to be a good place to get too close to at the moment. We set off from the lagoon early to give ourselves time. The French camper who we had parked up to that night after we had relocated said they’d join us later.

We decided to head to a large park in the city, said to be safe and patrolled by police it sounded like a good option as long as the police didn’t mind. We arrived and scouted out the spot. With plenty of time left we decided to headed to Walmart for some groceries, sitting in a car park all day wasn’t particularly appealing. On the drive, we contemplated whether to ask the police if we could stay or to see if we got kicked out. Waiting is sometimes better, you can argue; just for the night, where can we go now it’s dark etc. But, if they’re unsympathetic you’re driving around in the dark with nothing. Maybe it’s better to know early with time to find another solution. Hanno and Kikki had the same discussion, and arriving back before us had erred on the side of caution. Fortunately, they had been told it was fine to stay. We walked down to look at the volcano in the sunset, it is particularly active at the moment, a steady stream of smoke emerging from the crater.

The night wasn’t too loud, but it’s never relaxing to sleep in the centre of the city in what is effectively a tent. We needed to be here though, we had things to do. The most important thing was visas. It had been rumoured that it was possible to still get a visa in Puebla, and there was some ambiguity over the paperwork that we had. Still with a few legal weeks to go, we thought we would try and do things properly. We arrived at the office at 8.30am to see a queue already stretching out the door. After over an hour and a half we were at the front of it, having been allocated a number. Lee was told he couldn’t come in because his bandana didn’t count as a proper face mask. I waited on the steps while he went to find one. A while later he returned with a clearly disposable mask that only covered half his face, apparently this was fine though and we sat inside.

We assumed the numbering system was broken as the machine on the wall stuck fast on 18, we were number 34. I checked with the guard who assured me it was fine. After waiting another hour or so, it became clear that one desk was for information only and didn’t need a queue. I went to ask her about our situation, we didn’t fancy waiting for another few hours for nothing. She told me quite plainly that we couldn’t get another visa. “Covid is no longer a reason”, she said from behind her plastic screen and face mask. Clearly. Her advice was to overstay the visa and pay the fine on exiting the country. We weren’t overly surprised by this, but it was annoying to have sat there for so long for nothing, especially when the reasons that we got a humanitarian visa in the first place are as valid as ever. 

Now with the afternoon left, we walked to Fedex for Lee’s parcel and then ordered a taxi to DHL to collect the other parcels further out of town before heading back to the camper. After not the best nights sleep, I decided to have a nap. Lee and Jaro played chess a little way from the vans. Nothing much happened until Jaro got back to his van and declared he had been robbed. A car had parked between our two campers and had broke his lock and stole whatever they could get their grubby little hands on. Fortunately, it was nothing particularly valuable, clothes, beers and the like. Then I recalled a moment when someone had tried to open the doors while I had been in the van, they must have seen me in there and stopped however, at the time I thought it had been Lee but later learned it wasn’t. It was certainly ballsy though. It was broad daylight in a busy carpark with the police there too. Obviously Jaro was not happy, even though the things weren’t expensive they would still need to be replaced and it’s a horrible feeling that a stranger has been inside your tiny little home, a massive violation of privacy and personal space. We stayed one more night as it was too late to do anything else, in the morning we decided we would leave.

Before heading out in the morning we had to get our phones repaired. As mine was now completely unusable after dropping it in Costco. That was easy enough, and while we waited a few hours for the repair, we tried to get Lee’s fixed too. Then we realised we had no phone and no map, so that wandering around the town too much was probably inadvisable in case we forgot where the shop was. We did get a replacement key cut for the camper though, always better to have two backups! After a not particularly exciting, but useful day we headed back to the park in order to pack up the van and leave.

We decided to head towards the volcano as there was an eco-village there you could camp at. It was only an hour and a half drive, so it should be easy by nightfall. Jaro had been guarding the campers that morning and as soon as we were back he shot off, glad to leave. He planned to spend the night in a free spot in the same direction. Hanno and Kikki had gone ahead too, so we packed up and followed on. The first part was straightforward enough, winding west through some smaller villages and slowly climbing higher. The volcano camp spot again, was at high altitude, just under 12,000 ft. Things were going well until we hit the dirt road, that is the final 10km of the drive.

Ruby clearly still having issues with the altitude, around halfway up she rounded one hairpin bend and then died. I attempt to roll out of the way, and managed to get off the bend but still parked wonkily on a steep slope. We had been careful not to get the engine so hot but we seemed to have a fuel issue that was only altitude related. We had less than an hour of daylight left.

Previously, after a little while, it had been possible to restart the engine. We messaged Hanno and Kikki incase we needed an emergency tow but they didn’t appear to have signal. We sat in car and waited. A nice guy stopped and asked if we were ok. We waited some more. We tried to turn the engine on, it refused to start. The sun sank a little lower. Eventually, she fired up for a second and then died again. We had no choice but to sit any wait. Eventually, she started, The engine now nice and cool so at least we didn’t need to worry about that. I put my foot down, determined to make it the last little bit. We got another few kilometres in before it happened again, this time at least in a better spot. The sun disappeared, and we sat in the dark waiting again, less 3km away. This was ridiculous.

Eventually, we made it to the spot, clearly I needed to address that issue later. We pulled into the car park, with no sign of Bruno. Some torches made their way up the hill towards us, the camp site is closed they said. Now in the dark with the dodgy fuel issue I had no intention of going anywhere. We said our friends were here in a blue camper, and then one of them went off to check something. Returning shortly after, he now said it was 70 pesos per person to camp and they explained to us how to get to the right part.

Happily, the engine started, and we drove back out to an entrance with a chain we wouldn’t have noticed. A guy with a torch opened it and waved us in before leading us down some steep forest roads to Bruno. While the engine was now running, hitting a bump on the right hand side now caused a nasty clatter in the suspension area. Over the last few miles I had also been struggling to get the gears, especially first. it seemed that there was also an issue with the clutch cable, although it was not immediately apparently what, as it hadn’t snapped like usual. With three problems to sort out, we pulled into a small clearing and were glad to see Bruno next to a fire. We were definitely done for the day, camper issues could wait until the morning.

After a peacful night it was time to address some camper issues. A quick check under Ruby the night before had shown that a particularly nasty speed bump had snapped the anti-roll bar. Now we would definitely need a parts shop on the way back through Puebla. We found the problem with the clutch cable was due to a worn out clip that holds it to the pedal, fortunately I have a spare one so this was an easy fix. I also fixed the reverse and fog lights so after a productive morning we spent the rest of the day enjoying the peace and quiet of the woods.

In the evening we headed to the restaurant for a few beers, and watched as the skies opened and poured torrential rain down around us. Then it turned to hail. We waiting for a lull in the weather before making a dash back to the campers, the heating went on straight away. The difference in temperature was noticeable here. Once the weather had subsided later on, we finished off the firewood.

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