That familiar sinking feeling…

We spent another night in our waterfall camp spot so that we could enjoy a day exploring the waterfalls properly, and plan for our next destination. It required a little bit of imagination to appreciate the waterfalls, as right now they are not the tropical blue that they normally are. We were clearly lucky before to have still got that bright blue water in the rainy season, as these cascades were a rather unattractive muddy colour. Still, the water is refreshing, if not as clear as would have been nice. 

In between swims, we debated Palenque. 

It supposedly had nice ruins, but the camping seemed rather expensive or limited. Having just seen some particularly fantastic ruins in Yaxchilan, we decided that we didn’t need more right now. So we said goodbye to Gerald, and used Palenque as a supermarket stop off and nothing more. Having left behind this final town, there wasn’t all that much to be seen until we hit the cenotes around Merida in the north. This is a long drive, and one that no one wanted to attempt in one go. The problem was, that along the route, there wasn’t much choice of stops either, unless you relished the prospect of spending the night in a motorway service station. An option we reserve strictly for emergencies. 

The one ok looking spot, was in a town just across the border from Tabasco. We were first done with our shopping and therefore first to arrive. Neither of us was impressed. It was parking down a side road, off the busy main road. No good for the cats and pretty noisy. As it was still relatively early in the day, we debated what to do next. The slightly suspect noise we had heard from the van the other day had not got better, and I didn’t want to drive too far without seeing if I could see the problem. Lee was up for powering further north. In the end, we decided to see if there were any good spots by the river just out of the town first, before heading further north. Around ten minutes after leaving the outskirts, things become considerably more rural. A small dead end road continues on beside the river. We had scouted this out first on google satellite, and picked a few possible spots. When we got there however, it was clear they were private property and weren’t any good. We were on the verge of turning around, when we saw a small space by the river which looked perfect. After checking with the house opposite if it was ok, and being reassured it was public land, we parked up. It was a surprisingly good find, with its own water and palapa for shade or shelter. Both of which we needed when the weather changed instantaneously. 

There was also a good amount of wildlife to be seen. Pretty birds flew amongst the trees, and iguanas crawled in the grass a few feet away. 

Aimee had a fantastic time chasing a squirrel, which dropped its baby on the floor. Naturally we felt obliged to save it and spend the rest of the evening try to reunite the two. Although I’m not sure we ever succeeded in this.  

In the morning, I poked around under the camper for the source of the rattling noise without much luck. It was a bit hard to locate as it only happened while driving. There wasn’t much we could do about it out here anyway, so we left in the morning and kept pushing on towards Merida. With another three hour drive under our belt, we hit the east coast. This opened up the camping options no end, and we found a nice enough spot off to the side of a disused highway.

While the camping options had improved, the noise had not. It was very loud, and appeared to be coming from the direction of the gearbox. Praying that it was just  driveshaft, and not the actual gearbox, we decided to head to a garage in Campeche first thing the next day. Thanks to iOverlander, we had already located a mechanic and arranged it with him. I hoped that whatever was making a noise akin to putting metal in a blender, would last that last hour journey. 

The next morning, we were up early and left before the others were awoke. We drove the last hour to Campeche just hoping to get there. I was relieved when we arrived at the garage and met Gerry. It seemed like the driveshaft wasn’t in the best condition, but the gearbox was also making a slightly unpleasant clicking noise. We planned to replace the driveshaft, and then drain and replace the gearbox oil to see its condition. The driveshaft joints were located fairly easily. The main problem here was that Gerry dropped all the balls out of the of joint, and then refitted it incorrectly. I spent a while trying to explain how important it is that the inner and outer race must be aligned a certain way to allow for differences in length in the driveshaft when the suspension operates. He told me it was fine and it was tight because it was new. I refused to let him fit it and ended up putting it back together myself after a painful ten minutes of watching him try. With that refitted, we turned to the gearbox. It very quickly became apparent that there was a large problem. When we drained the oil, we also drained a substantial amount of water and a handful of gear teeth. Any hopes of leaving the garage that day, vanished. Now we had little choice but to remove the box and assess the damage. I was already covered in CV grease, so it seemed there was no time like the present. 

After a few hours the gearbox was removed, and we saw that our differential was shredded. Gerry as very adamant about the fact that we shouldn’t worry. “There is a solution!” He told us loudly at several intervals. We weren’t exactly happy however. How had water got into our two year old custom built gearbox and destroyed it in a few days? We hadn’t even driven through much water. Still, the why’s and where’s weren’t so important right now. We resigned ourselves to staying in another garage, yet again. 

Aimee took the news somewhat better than us.

It didn’t take long for him to locate another box however, and we drove to the shop to pay for it. They told me it would be delivered the next day and for around £300, that wasn’t too bad. Sure enough, the next day, Gerry turned up, beaming. He had a replacement gearbox. We were used to operating on Mexican time and therefore we were a little surprised that one had actually arrived when we had been told. Especially as it was a Friday afternoon. The happiness was short lived however, when it turned out to be a three rib box, not a six rib. After much explaining, we convinced him that this was not the same gearbox and we needed the other one. I pointed out the different codes on the side, ‘002’ not ‘091’. We were committed to a weekend here then. A few days was too good to be true. 

We were joined by Ian for Saturday night and went to sample some of the local dishes, which naturally always some variety of maize. Here, it’s panuchos. Deep fried tortillas that then puff up and have the fillings sitting on top. At only a few pesos a go, we ate them until we had to waddle back to the garage. 

Gerry told us that on some Sundays there was drag racing in the nearby town. It seemed like a good way to spend a few hours, and we decided to take Ian’s van as it not only had more space, but air conditioning too. After stopping to buy black market beer from a friend of Gerry’s and then getting lost on a somewhat scenic diversion, we eventually found ourselves back at the abandoned highway we had camped near previously. It made sense as the perfect place to hold a race, which was already in full swing. 

Racers seemed to fall into two categories. Those who had a an old beat up car with several large and loud modifications, and those with a fancy modern car boasting some more powerful, but subtle editions. 

It was also possible to bet, although the requirements for having them honoured seemed a little hit and miss. We stayed for a few hours, until Gerry was summoned back to Campeche by his irate girlfriend who he had promised he would be back home for several hours ago for. 

David and Katie were also now in town, and joined us in the garage for a free evenings parking. The next morning brought Monday, and therefore another attempt at the gearbox. Gerry assured me again it was the right one, and we all piled in the back of his Ford KA ‘my little pony’ to go and look at it. I hoped having specifically told them the code, they couldn’t have got it wrong again. But, I was wrong. On arrival at the garage, they proudly displayed another identical box to the one from before and tried to tell me it was from a 1.8L kombi. The debate was swiftly settled when a wire brush revealed the ‘002’ on the side. We were back to square one and suddenly the parts shop was apologetic, it’s hard to find, they told us. Well yes, I know that, but now we’ve payed for it there are some expectations here…

Back at the garage, we passed on our disappointing news to the others. We were not surprised when they packed up and headed north for the cenotes near Merida that same morning, but it was hard to watch them leave. We have been in that position too many times, wanting nothing more than to be hitting the road with them and having no clear idea of when that was actually going to be possible. 

It turned out to be another two days before Gerry managed to source us another box. It was filthy and looked like it had been sitting in someones garden for a long long time. Not that its external appearance mattered if it was good inside. Finally, it was the correct type. We set about cleaning it up externally for starters. 

With the failure of the old box we had needed to make some choices, our options were as follows.

  1. Buy a new differential and pinion and swap them into our old box – very expensive and a lot of work. 
  2. Buy a replacement box and swap our uprated gear shafts into them – still some work.
  3. Fit a replacement box directly – easy, but who knows what it’s like inside. 

We had decided after much deliberation, that we would strip our old box and take our custom gears with us as spares. Then we would directly fit the replacement box we found as it was. Gerry didn’t have the tools, or the knowledge to start messing around with synchros and I didn’t fancy doing it myself without a better setup and probably less pressure and time constraints. Gerry was not too impressed that we had stripped the box ourselves, he wanted to be involved I think, but it meant we could focus on getting the new box in as soon as it had been cleaned up. A job for tomorrow. 

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