As we moved into the second week of April, we could barely wait to leave. We were adamant, however, that despite the upcoming Semana Santa (Easter week) and Lee’s birthday we wouldn’t rush. We still had time to make sure we got the engine back in properly. After disconnecting basically every system, we wanted to take our time with the assembly. While we should have been ecstatic that our engine was in Panama, it was somewhat tainted by the cost of the shipping. Our freight forwarder had told us that the pallet costs started at $400 for 25 cubic feet and it was then $10 per cubic foot after that. He said though, it should be within the initial 25. We were more than a little upset when he informed us that it was in fact 15 cubic feet larger, and that we know owed $550 for shipping. It appear that the seller had sent the engine on a large pallet, big enough for two engines, rather than a small one and that the freight company now wanted to charge us for a large empty section of pallet. After much arguing, we got it reduced by $50 and then another $25 the following day. We went to the bank for the final time to pay for it to be sent to David, next day delivery.
Somehow, we weren’t surprised when it didn’t turn up the next day. We were told that it was in David, just at the depot. Then it didn’t turn up the next day. While we waited, we went to collect our clutch tube from Costa Rica. In the meantime, I found out which delivery company had it. Funnily enough there were less than a mile away from the garage, we cycled past their warehouse ever day. As we cycled past that day, we were pretty sure we spotted the engine, still sitting there in the back. We went in to ask. We explained that we had paid for delivery and that it had been sitting there in their warehouse for two days. One guy smirked at us from his pallet seat, the one speaking to us just shrugged. He told us there was no trucks available to take it to the garage. Somewhere, invisible at the back another guy shouted that if we wanted it so much we should come and collect it. After making it quite clear we weren’t happy, we left to them laughing at us and saying that they would deliver it today. They clearly had no interest in dealing with gringos and we were pretty angry.
It seemed unlikely that it would come today, but after heading to the DIY shop for some paint, we headed to the garage anyway. To our surprise, there it sat on the floor. They had actually delivered it straight away, so much for ‘no trucks available’.
It was now pretty late in the afternoon, but nevertheless we had a start on preparing the new block. It was an odd sight. The cam cover was smashed to pieces and one pulley missing, annoyingly the one that we didn’t need to swap. There was also quite a few other things missing, it had clearly sat in a breakers yard and been fair game for anyone who needed a random bolt here or there.
Needless to say, this wasn’t really what we expected, especially, after paying quite a lot. Now we would need to spend some extra time checking the block over and moving over a few more additional parts. The garage shuts at midday on Saturday and here we were on Thursday evening. Lees birthday was on the following Thursday so we had four and a half days to get back on the road, it should be fine…
With the start of rainy season making itself known, we did what we could that afternoon before covering up the engine and making our way home. Normally we arrived at the garage mid-morning, spending the first part of the day trying to make a few quid over a cup of coffee at the hostel. Friday morning though, we were there when it opened and ready to go.
It took us the whole day to get the engine ready to install but by the end we had the gearbox and the block both back under the camper, ready to be installed the next day. As it would be a Saturday, we’d have four hours to refit the engine and box.
As you can never tell how things will go, the previous day spent wresting the cam pulley of our old engine is testament to that, we were there again early. This time though, things went surprisingly well. Within an hour we had the gearbox and engine back in, mounted and connected. That meant I could spend the remaining couple of hours working through my large engine list. I also finally got round to looking inside the old block. Something that was necessary just to satisfy my curiousity. It would appear that the one the the big end bearings failed and we got a good close look at our wreck piston and con rod as well as the west of the block internals. That was definitely not repairable.
The real question was why. At first I didn’t believe that the engine and the gearbox could be unrelated, what are the chances of them both going wrong on the same day. However, it seemed clear the cause of the gearbox fault was the failure of the bushing in the flywheel and the cause of the engine failure was a bearing. Maybe it was just horrible luck, or good luck even, depending on how you look at it. I have theories about our old block and the more I looked at the mangled remains of the con rod and overheated surfaces the more I think we just got a bad block. I think the previous owner in Japan, ran it out of oil damaging the bearings. They realised they had done something stupid and took it to the garage. The garage said they could replace the oil pump and see if that was the problem and when it made no difference they advised the customer to sell the engine, as it wasn’t going to last long. In my mind this accounts for the fact we have always had oil pressure problems, the premature change of an oil pump on a low mileage engine and the subsequent failure a year later… who knows?
Normally, the Sundays dragged a bit at the hostel. There’s really not a lot to do. You think maybe you’d like to visit the microbrewery or go for a nice meal. Nope. It’s shut on Sunday. And so you stay at the hostel, again. This Sunday was different. It was our last Sunday! The engine was going well so far, and soon it would be the dread key turn moment… we got ready for another early start on Monday morning. We hoped to have the van running that day.
In realty, when we left at 5pm that Monday we weren’t quite there. While we could have rushed through and maybe got it done, we needed to go and buy oil and antifreeze. I was happy to wait that evening and make sure nothing obvious sprang to mind that I had forgotten. The next morning we headed off to buy antifreeze for a crazy $50, and some oil both for the gearbox and engine.
It wasn’t long until we were ready to turn the key. This Lee’s duty. I watched and was slightly surprised and very relieved when she coughed, spluttered a few times and came alive. Aside from a little smoke on one bank, she ran smoothly and quietly. So there we were, after two long months with a lot of money, tears and frustration behind us, we were ready to get back on the road.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. We spent several hours packing away and then we headed off to test drive it the short distance to the hostel. It all seemed pretty good, apart from the fact there was a slightly unpleasant noise in second gear. This had been a worry of mine as although we had got the gearbox rebuilt about 6 weeks ago, we hadn’t been able to test it until now. The engine however, sounded great. The revs held steady. The throttle didn’t stick. We cruised into the parking lot of the hostel. That night we started the large packing job. The van was still not packed from the garage and we had to months worth of stuff in the kitchen and the room to deal with. We did a bit, before collapsing exhausted into bed. What an emotional day it had been.
It was now Wednesday the 13th of April. We had made it back on the road with one day to spare. After a sleepless night where I obsessed over the second gear noise, we spent a few hours repacking all of our stuff back into the van. It was going to take a little getting used to living in her again. We went to say goodbye to the hostel staff and Gregg was kind enough to knock two nights off our final bill, which was a pleasant surprise. With the cats looking a little confused and very hot, we pulled out of the driveway and waved goodbye to our air-conditioned home of two months.
Now officially back on the road we still had things to sort out before we could escape to the mountains and enjoy Lee’s birthday. Firstly, another month had passed and so we needed another TIP. Once again, we bought insurance and headed the the office. I had highlighted all the errors on the last TIP to try and ensure this time we got the correct documents. The lady was not impressed by that at all and abruptly told us, the only people in the office, that she was very busy and it would take an hour. Still, she was true to her word and exactly an hour later she appeared with the documents and they were correct for once. That was the first thing sorted.
We needed to stock up on groceries and so we headed off to the supermarket to get some nice birthday food. We also picked up a cake for the guys at the garage, the owner had been amazing letting us stay for so long for free and the guys in the workshop had lent us tools whenever we needed them. We dropped off the cake, said our thank yous and goodbyes and took some pictures.
Then Beto waved at us to wait. He came over and told us to go and pick up food fro his restaurant to take with us for dinner. He phoned ahead and gave them our order so we could walk in and collect it for free. That’s the kind of guy he is. So now we headed over to grab our veggie burritos before heading for the hills, a nice free, quiet spot in the middle of nowhere was beckoning us