Attempting to leave San Cristobal

Whilst our engine was now repaired (again), we were still a little cautious of going to our next stop at the Guatemalan border without a proper test drive. We decided to drive to another park, a little to the west of the city. We wound our way through the back streets of the city, waiting for the engine to get hot enough and see if the problem was gone. It seemed that everything was going to be fine…

We were only a matter of minutes away, going up steep dirt track when we came to a sudden stop. Our throttle cable had snapped and we didn’t have a spare. I guess we should have brought a spare with us, especially as it’s a custom length but I had always thought we could simply buy a length of cable and clamp it on. How easy was it going to be to find 4 metres of metal cable the right size though… Lee stayed with the camper and I took my bike into town to find out.

I spent some time cycling around to different places, trying car shops, electrical stores and bike shops. The closest I got to a the right cable was a motorbike cable, but it was only available in two metre lengths. Lee had done some research and found that the later VW bus used a 3.6m cable, I found one of these pretty easily and hoped it would be long enough. 

Back at the camper we spent a while trying to get the cable in. It was a bit too short and we ended up cutting down the tube it runs in so that we could clap it further down. We had it all back together by around 7pm, unfortunately we now discovered that the new cable was far more rigid that the old one. This meant it was sticking inside the flexible conduit on the engine side. Luckily for us, we had managed to break down right by Rancho San Lucas, some other campers we knew were staying there and we rolled ourselves back down the hill and limped through the gates without an accelerator. The problem would have to wait until morning. Then we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, as while the campsite was nice, it was a rather extortionate 300 pesos per night. 

In the morning, we both headed into town. We tried a whole array of shops again, with people of varying degrees of helpfulness. We found plenty of cables but nothing that was close to being long enough. In the end, we went down to the place that had braised parts for us before and asked them if they could join two cables for us. He seemed more than happy to give it a go so we bought four bike cables and got them joined into two longer ones. We hoped that the brazing would be strong enough and that it wouldn’t make the joint too big to fit in the tube. 

Back at the camper we were happy to find that the new cable went in with no problem. In a short while we had a pedal back and we good to give it a go. It was now coming to the end of the afternoon, and despite the rather expense campsite we decided to stay one more night for the sake of convenience. 

With it now being a Sunday, we kept to our original plan of heading out the the park again. The throttle cable was a little sticky, but we made it there without incident. For 70 pesos we parked up by the edge of the forest and looked forward to finally having a peaceful night. We still had most of the day left, so we headed out to explore El Arcotete’s rivers and caves. Firstly you head across the river on a wobbly suspension bridge.

From here you can turn towards the river, a surprisingly English looking landscape. Thunder rolled in the background and lightning flashed in the distance as we wandered along the river.

We then checked out the caves. These were pretty interesting, a network of stalagmite and stalactites up in the cliff face above the river.

Through several gaps in the rock, we were rewarded with views out over the tree tops.

We had done well to avoid the weather, and that hit us at the last moment as we walked around the other side of the river to look at the limestone arch. The rain poured down and we took shelter for a while.

When it showed no sign of relenting, we left for a brief walk down the river before heading back to the dry camper for a hot chocolate. The rain continued to fall well into the night as we stayed in the dry, now the only ones left in the silent park.

Now feeling fairly confident that we could drive a distance, we adjusted our throttle cable and left for Comitan. This was the last big shop before we headed out to the jungle on the Guatemalan border, so we stocked up in Walmart before continuing on to Cuidad Cuatehmoc, where the immigration office is located. We drove through the decreasing altitude and increasing heat towards the town until we reached standstill traffic, just a few kilometres away. A nearby food seller told us the road was shut but didn’t know why. I walked down to have a look and still didn’t know why, it appeared to be some kind of protest, locals blocked the entrance to the town for vehicles with their pick up trucks parked across the road. Everyone congregated at the local Pemex for whatever this event was. Lee drove down and we parked up. With no clear indication of when the blockade would be lifted and nowhere to camp either, we grabbed our bikes and cycled the last bit to the office.

We had now overstayed our visa for three and a half months, meaning we could potentially be fined up to 12,000 pesos. As neither of us had stamps in our passport, we decided to say we had just arrived from Guatemala and see what happened. The lady behind the desk was a bit confused by our completely blank passports and told us we had to pay a 600 peso fine each, for not getting our stamps. We were more than happy to pay that and before we knew it, we had our visas finalised and paid for, sorted. Happily we cycled back to the camper, we decided that we just had time to make it to the lagoon for dark. Our friends, who we hadn’t seen for over a year since Baja, were back in Mexico and we had just missed them the other day due to our broken throttle. Now they were at Laguna Montebello and while it meant another two hour drive it would be nice to see them and also park up in a nice spot.

We had only just left the town when we smelt the burning smell. 

“What’s that smell? Is that us?” I asked Lee.

“No I don’t think so”

“You’re probably right, I always just assume it’s the van breaking…” I agreed. 

When I could still smell it a few minutes later and I looked in the back which was filling with smoke, it seemed we needed to pull over and check. Smoke poured off our rear wheel which was now at a very incorrect angle. An inspection showed that the diagonal arm had snapped which holds the wheel at the correct angle, now the tyre was jammed up against our shock absorber and rubbing. We had known our camber wasn’t right on that side, but had assumed that it was an incorrect adjustment from when we got the van raised in Oaxaca. Not that it was about to break. 

We had pulled over on the main road next to a little shop. The lady who owned it came out and asked if we were ok. We showed her the problem and she pointed down the road to where a local mechanic was and told us that we could buy a new tyre opposite too, not a big deal.

The local mechanic turned out not to be there, so we got the bikes again and went in search the other direction. We found a different welder but he seemed to think it couldn’t be repaired and we needed a new part. He also pointed out that it was getting late now, the sun was setting and here wasn’t much we could do that day. We tried one more welder on the way back but he said he couldn’t do it either, that he didn’t have the right equipment. 

Back at the van we were pretty disheartened. The lady asked if we had found anyone, and we told her no. She told us she would be back with her husband to have a look. Her husband soon appeared and after having a look went to bring a mechanic. This turned out to be the same person we had just spoke to, but now having seen it in person he decided it was something he could fix. He told us to drive down to him the following morning, and we resigned ourselves to a night on the side of a busy main road. Aimee was not impressed by being confined to the van, and we weren’t particularly happy either. Especially as a passing truck crashed into another car right next to us. It was not a peaceful night. At least we knew that in the morning we had a garage lined up. 

We crawled down the hard shoulder the next morning, relieved that no more trucks had crashed next to us. We made it to the garage without the part completely snapping off which was a relief. We were pleasantly surprised to chat with one of the guys in the garage and find out that he spoke English. Half an hour later the boss was there and the took off the arm to weld it up and reinforce it with some additional tube. Within two hours, we were back on the road and heading towards the lake, in the end it hadn’t been such a big deal. It also appeared we had pulled over in time to save our tyre, which was a little bit melted, but not too damaged.

We hoped this would be the last of the drama for a while at least, it was just one thing after another and we were truly fed up of problems. 

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