Welding Repairs in Barranquila

We had already booked into a hostel for the next few days. We wanted to be able to move across the contents of our fridge as well as get the cats settled first, before we got to the garage. There wasn’t too much choice in affordable hostels that were close to the garage, but we found something at a reasonable price around a 15 minute walk away. This time too, we would have our bikes. The only bad thing was that we were back in the heat of a city on the coast, and our room didn’t have air conditioning, only the world’s loudest fan. After snuggling under a duvet for a week in Minca, it wasn’t great to be back to these temperatures. Hopefully, it was only for a few days. 

We arrived at the garage the following morning and position Ruby in one of their work bays. After grabbing our bikes off the back, we didn’t hang around too long before leaving. We told David we would come back later to see how things were going and so that we could take some photos and videos of the work. He recommended we wait till tomorrow, as the best part of this day would be spent prepping and removing the front beam. 

In the end, we were back at the garage that night following a WhatsApp conversation in the afternoon. The had started to cut away the rot on the front outrigger behind the wheel arch. He sent me a photo, labelled “Desatre” (disaster).

At the garage, what ensued was a long chat. We sat in his air conditioned office, while he asked us about our trip and future plans. I got the feeling he was trying to see how well off we were and if he liked us. In the end, we came back around to the issue at hand. He said that while it would be a lot more work, he would keep as close as possible to the original price. They would need more time to do it naturally. He seemed to be genuine and what choice did we have? 

Looking at the van, we had a choice to make. The problem with the rot, was that not only had it rotted externally through the wheel arch and outrigger, but it had also rotted away the floor inside. It was not possible to repair this with the floor in place. The floor is underneath our entire interior. In the end, after a lot of debating, we decided that it was best to cut up the floor to gain access. The way the the boards are laid and the fact that they are tongue and groove, didn’t give us much choice. David said he would then relay the floor after, I had my doubts. I know how wet and mouldy that corner had been and doubted that we would be able to resuse the floor at all.

It was coming up to 10pm at the garage when we ripped out the first few sodden floorboard and the cockroaches that nested underneath. Clearly, in the near future we would be needing an entirely new floor. For now though, we agreed the would cut what they needed and fix the rest with cheap plywood as a temporary measure. I hoped there were no more nasty surprises to come. 

Over the next few days, we repeatedly checked in on Ruby and David sent us photos and updates on how progress was going. While it was clear we weren’t going to be leaving within our original three day window, we hoped we might make it out for the weekend. They made slow steady progress, but I have to say I was impressed with the quality of the work and the welding. We have had some many bodywork repairs along the way, but I think this is the first one that looked like it was really going to last. It was also nicely done, a neat job. 

Ongoing repairs to the ‘disaster’

Without the van, stuck in the city, we tried to entertain ourselves. I made various macrame bags, Lee bashed out some YouTube videos. We cycled back to Decathlon to pick up another saucepan. Overall, there wasn’t a lot going on. We had met the owner of the hostel, Felix from Spain. He told us he had moved here nine years ago, but that he wanted to return home. Life in Colombia, he said with a morose expression, was hard. The hostel seemed to mirror his lack of love for the place. While it had a decent enough kitchen and did the job, we weren’t offered towels or anything like that. The toilets had no toilet paper. If the place could have shrugged it shoulders in apathy, it would have. At least though, it was cheap and pet friendly. 

By the end of the week, it was apparent that we would not be getting out of here until the following week. Despite pulling a few late evenings, the work was steady and the garage was waiting on the fabrication of some of the metal plates from a metal workshop. While I wished we could leave, at least we could be happy with the quality. David clearly cared a great deal about his business and how we viewed the work. Every time we popped in for something else we had forgotten or to check on progress, he was quick to ask us what we thought of the job they were doing. 

The hostel too had picked up a little. Felix had disappeared somewhere and one of the other women was clearly in charge. Toilet paper appeared in the bathrooms and towels too. She was much happier and the atmosphere noticed. A few more travellers arrived, including one very loud American and some other friendly locals. While we had paid for some of our stay, we hadn’t paid for the last few days as we were waiting to see if we would make our escape. I wasn’t surprised to see the friendly lady and one of the other people who seemed to live in this community building of sorts, outside our bedroom door. Clearly, they wanted the rent. The guy had been brought as a translator in case I couldn’t understand the Spanish, Lee was elsewhere at this point. They asked if everything was ok, and I confirmed it was. They then said that they hoped it wasn’t too loud here, perhaps in reference to the American guy whose conversation could clearly be heard throughout the entire building. I said it was no problem, it’s a hostel after all. They then said that we could use the room and balcony that was where Felix had been, so that we had some more space and a private area to ourselves. But please, we must wait until they had cleaned it properly first. Then smiling, they retreated. No one even mentioned money, they just wanted to make us feel welcome and it was a nice gesture. 

From our new vantage point on the balcony, we could see the rain. Nearly very afternoon without fail, the skies open to a torrential downpour. The little drains in the backyard really didn’t do much to get rid of the water, which would flood the entire patio. People ineffectively moved the water around with brooms while we waited for the scorching sun to come and finish the job. In the midst  of the puddle under the table, the pet duck, Pipi, was having a whale of a time. Things were no drier out the front. Apparently, Barranquilla is famous for it’s lack of drains. With no system to dispose of the monsoon as it fell, the streets instantly became ominous smelling rivers. I was glad that when we left here, our van would be waterproof underneath once again, it looked like we were going to need it. 

While there isn’t a great amount to do in the city, we did make the most of some of the perks. We ordered takeaway pudding to our room and also some rather excellent vegetarian pizza; honey apple and blue cheese, to be precise. The local shop was an easy five minute walk and one of the main reasons that we chose a hostel is that it gives us the option of cooking ourselves. This is not only good for variety (being vegetarian in Colombia is not exciting) but for the budget. However, with the works on the van getting steadily nearer completion, and the prospect of an entire day when we couldn’t go to the garage, we decided to treat ourselves.

Lee has been wanting to go the cinema to see the latest marvel film, Dr Strange for a while. So long in fact, that it’s not being shown at a lot of cinemas now. We did find one place though, in the substantial list of shopping malls that this city boasts, that said it was still showing in English with Spanish subtitles. We got a taxi there, planning to buy our tickets first before going out to eat somewhere. The cinema listings screen showed it right there, but when we asked the cashier they told us no, it wasn’t subtitled. While our Spanish has improved greatly over the last year or so, I still didn’t feel up to watching a whole film in it. So we began hunting to see if there was another option. Barranquilla has many many shopping malls, and a lot of them have cinemas, the next one was only a short walk so we decided to head over there. As ever, it was raining. 

We were only a matter of metres from the next place when I slipped on the wet concrete pavement, leaving my flip-flops hanging on by a thread. Never mind, I’ll just buy some inside. This wasn’t going to be possible. There were neither flip flops or a cinema showing the film. We tried another mall with no luck. After giving up on the film, we decided we would just go to dinner instead. We arrived outside the vegetarian restaurant to see the nearest waiter stacking chairs onto the table. It was 8pm, closing time. Having retraced our steps to reach here, we decided to walk back to the first mall, where at least I could get some new shoes and we could wait for a taxi. When we got there, all the shops were shut, bar one place selling cookies. We really had failed in every way possible. 

So that is how, instead of spending our Sunday evening enjoy a nice meal out and the cinema, we sat on our hostel bed in our pants; eating takeaway pizza, supermarket beer and cookies while watching a film on the laptop. Well, at least we tried. Tomorrow was the start of a new week and I was hopeful the van was going to be ready the following day. 

Normally, I think Lee is the optimistic while I would call myself more of a realist and no doubt he would say pessimist. In this case though, while I thought there was a chance it would be ready, he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be. It turns out, he was right. As soon as we walked through the doors we saw we weren’t going anywhere that day, the majority of the welding was now all done but there was a lot of refitting to do.

While it had been a long wait, there was a lot to do and we were happy with the work they had done. Here are some of the worst bits, before and after.

In fact, it took two more days before we could finally start refitting our things. David had offered to stay late so that we could get the van ready for the next day. Had we realised that there was going to be so much work done on the inside, we would have probably moved things. As it was, there was stuff everywhere and it was all covered in that fine layer dirt that comes from grinding metal nearby. After a lot of cleaning, refitting our front seats, toilet and fridge, we were pretty much ready to go. We paid David, 3.55m pesos, and knew that the next day we would finally be leaving. We also had new brakes and a spare clutch cable for down the road. Both are much needed. 

And so, the morning of departure had finally come. We collected Ruby from the garage and said goodbye to David. Then we drove back to the hostel, a quick test drive to check everything was ok, as well as to load up everything. Then we said goodbye to our hosts at the hostel after many photos outside the van, and finally we left Barranquilla. 

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