And so our second week in the hostel began. We now knew we were committed to a lengthy wait, but in a way that wasn’t such a bad thing as we had a lot of other things to be fixing in the meantime. The garage was only open till 5pm throughout the week and till midday on Saturday. Therefore most days, we cycled the 3km to the garage and got on with whatever jobs we could in the meantime. First things first, we dragged out the gearbox and the engine. This is the first time since the engine was fitted that we have completely removed it. Even when swapping the long block before, we left the inlet manifold in place. This time though, we had some issues with the inlet manifold and therefore we took the lot out.
With the engine on its way, we focused on the gearbox. We weren’t sure if we had a problem here too, as it had definitely sounded like a gearbox problem at the start. With the box out, we drained the oil. Straight away the metallic colour and chunks of metal visible through the drain hole meant that something was wrong. As we took off the bell housing, we prayed that the differential would be ok. We had nearly an entire other gearbox on us already, but only one diff.
This was from back in Mexico. Our nice new uprated box had somehow become contaminated with water, this destroys the high-pressure element to the oil and therefore causes damage to the high-pressure gears, namely the diff. Having driven for several hours on our slow dying differential to reach the major town of Campeche, we were landed with Gerry, who I’m not even sure we can call a mechanic. The long and short of that story was that we left with a second-hand box that was not in the best shape. Knowing that we took all our surviving gearsets as well as a load of spares from the old box with us. When we drove out of Campeche, and the third gear crunched on every change, we knew that this gearbox would not take us to the end of our trip.
For once, we were in some kind of luck and the mangled metal remains lying in the gearbox were not actually a gear at all, but apart from the back of the bell housing. The differential was perfectly intact. We found some reasons for our incredibly sloppy gear lever too. The shift linkage on the back was very worn, allowing the bearing to move far more than it should. It was also missing a circlip that is needed to spring load the mechanism. That was a spare part we could easily change ourselves, and I was happy we had had the foresight to keep so many parts from the old box. Despite finding that most of our problems were external, we still decided to rebuild the box internals. We had an enormous oil leak from both driveshaft hubs, a ruined 3rd gear synchro and it kept jumping out of first gear as well. After being bounced from workshop to workshop, and with the help of Beto driving us around, we found a guy who worked on gearboxes out of the back of his house. That’s a pretty common thing here, little business with workshops in their garden. He was recommended by a seemingly very reputable garage in the town and he said he could fix it.
A few days later, Beto dropped us off with our gearbox and all the spares. The guy who was going to rebuild it wasn’t there, and so we didn’t get a price, just left the lot lying on his table. The next day, he found us outside our hostel, his house being only a five minute walk. He told us there was a problem and so we went to have a look. Bits of gearbox were everywhere. He shook his head at us. That wasn’t what we wanted to see. However, it appeared the differentials weren’t the same, he had been planning to put our gearshafts in the box using the old pinion. I’m glad he didn’t, because that pinion is pretty trashed. Eventually, after some more explaining, he understood we wanted the good gears swapped onto the other good shaft. By the time we walked out he was already stripped down the main shaft.
The next day was a Saturday. As we sat in the hostel eating brunch, our mechanic appeared. We assumed he had come to tell us there was another issue but instead he had come to tell us it was finished. In just two days. He told us it would cost $275, which is a bargain. We walked down to the shop and paid him shortly after. He then offered to drop the gearbox at the garage for us, even better. While it would be some time until we could test whether it all worked properly, at least one repair was ticked off our list.
One of the positives of staying in a hostel for an event like this is the variety. Every day new people come and go. You can stay in the kitchen, cook, chat and drink every night with new people and hear new stories. It’s a welcome distraction and something that makes killing time more enjoyable. If we weren’t feeling so sociable, we escaped to our private room. It’s the best of both worlds and makes the weekends when the garage is not accessible, a bit more interesting, especially considering there is really nothing to do in David. We met lots of nice people including an English guy called Ollie who spent several evenings with us building beer towers and talking relentlessly about football, much to Lee’s delight.
There was also Micheal, a local. He was staying in the hostel while he worked most days on the traffic lights to make money; a common job in many Latin American countries. In big cities, it’s common to be harassed by lots of different people at the traffic lights. The first one is a guy laden with phone accessories. He comes to sell you ten different leads you don’t want. If you make it past him then they’ll be a women jiggling a bag of fruit in front of you or children begging at the window. In the midst of this, there’s often an entertainer. During the time that the lights are red, someone takes advantage of the fact that the traffic is all stopped and pointing in one direction to put on a show. We have seen a variety of different performances. People play tricks with a ball, juggle machetes or breakdance. After they’ve done their little performance they walk down the line asking for tips. I’m quite a fan of these things, not only have I seen some incredibly skilled performers, which is much better than staring at a traffic light, but I’m always happy to support people trying to make something for themselves rather than just begging. After hearing from Michael the amount he gets tipped for his shows, it seems a pretty good way of making money. Far above the $1.50 hourly minimum wage here. We spent a few evenings in the hostel watching him practice with his fire stick for the next day’s performances.
Another good thing about the hostel was the cooking. I have been wanting to make patacones ever since we first tried them back in Honduras. This involves getting a green plantain, chopping it up and frying it. Then you squash the pre-cook pieces into discs and fry them again. Its ofter served as a side, much like chips, or as a starter with fried cheese and guacamole. One night we saw Micheal making these, and took advantage of having a local show us how it’s done properly.
It wasn’t all good news though. With the engine paid for and supposedly trundling its way across America towards the Miami docks, we waited. After just over a week, I felt that it should definitely have reached the port by now. After all, the reason they gave us for not cancelling the order was that it was already shipped. When I contacted the freight forwarder, who then contacted the shipping company, we got told that it had been lost. I’m not sure how you lose an entire engine, and needless to say, we weren’t best pleased. The freight forwarder arranged for another engine to be sent out, but we had wasted 9 days of paying for accommodation which was starting to add up. This time I demanded the tracking number and watched it like a hawk as it crossed America and made it to the port. This time a day early. Step one was complete. Now it had to be processed in the port, allocated to a boat and then start its journey down to the Panamanian port. We still had a long way to go.