After the novel experience of sleeping in a hotel room, we were more motivated to fix the problems with the van. Having a late check out meant we had time to try and get things working better while the washing finished drying. A quick visual check led us right to the problem wheel, brake fluid poured out of the bottom of the drum and ran down onto the floor, making a nice little puddle under the rear wheel. Now we knew where to start and we also had a hard level surface to jack the camper on for once, which speeds up the process somewhat. Our bottle jack is only just tall enough to raise the van, so if it sinks at all when you begin to use it, you have to start over again. It can be quite a frustrating process.
It didn’t take long to pull the wheel off to reveal the carnage of the brakes inside. The piston on one side of the wheel cylinder had been pushed clear of the housing, where the seal had jammed in place stopping it retracting. This was the cause of our rather large leak. As the cylinder was jammed in this odd position it had also bent the bottom of the shoes and the adjusters out of line, as the brakes tried to compress in completely the wrong place. The shoes sat in a puddle of muddy, probably asbestosy, fluid in the bottom.
While we had an old vehicle, I’m incredibly grateful that it is not so old that it doesn’t have a split line braking system. We had clearly driven the mountain road on only two brakes and that could have ended very differently without this important safety feature. Now we had made it in one piece, I just had to try and patch the brakes back up.
First was the master cylinder. It appeared that the bolt that secures it onto the backing plate had worked its way loose and had allowed it to rotate slightly, the cause of this whole fiasco. After removing, cleaning and realigning the cylinder, we had to hope that it hadn’t damaged the internal seal otherwise nothing was going to work. We hammered the shoes back into a straight piece as much as possible, and swapped out the bent adjuster. With the brakes bled, we appeared to have our pedal back and no visible leaks. The seal was holding but we weren’t sure how long that bent up shoe was going to last for. Brakes here don’t have an easy life.
The next problem to fix was the gear shift. There was quite a lot of movement in the rear coupler as the bolt that goes through was loose. It was a brand new part and still terrible. If you are unfamiliar with how it works, let me explain. It comes with a small split tube that fits through the coupler and rod, this hold the gear linkage to the coupler. To make it a nice snug fit, when you screw the large self tapping screw into the tube, it opens slightly, clamping the tube and couple all together. When we had bought this new Empi one (after already have two other ‘vw genuine’ new ones break in the space of a few months) I hoped it would be better. As we went to fit it, the screw was so loose that it just fell straight out of the tube, we had to improve with a bolt, which didn’t expand the tube and clamp it all together. It wasn’t going anywhere, but it was sloppy. We tried to fix this now by manual opening the tube a little so it was a tight fit, and the fitting the right size bolt.
The guy in the back of the car park where we were doing the work was very helpful, he got all his spare bolts out and helped us find a good fit. He also had a welder if we needed it. In the end we found what looked like a more secure solution and stuck it all back together. We also chopped off our previous modification from Mexico, thinking it was part of the problem now.
Then we drove off for a test drive and to find a car wash, the radiator clogged lid with mud from the mountain road. Apparently finding a car wash is easier said than done. As we drove to the second one, it became clear that the gears were not ok. We tried to just the shift plate, that did nothing. We pulled over one of the pits that they have in the petrol stations, we couldn’t wash the car (yet again) but we could get under and check what was going on with the linkage while the other person wiggled it.
Now we saw the problem. The metal part of the coupler is made in two parts, which are joined together by two small points, punched on the with a chisel. Ours was no longer joined. When you went to push the gearstick to the side to select 3rd or 4th, instead of the coupler rotating the gearbox input shaft to line up the gear, it just swivelled internally and nothing changed. That explained a lot. We drove back to the welder, whipped the coupler off and got him to tack weld it. It was pretty fast really, what took us far longer was rigging up a makeshift hosepipe to the tap in the corner to clean out the radiator ourselves. We couldn’t drive over the mountain road without our radiator. Now, finally we had a successful test drive. The gears were back, the brakes worked. We were ready to leave.
We had planned to head towards El Cocuy, but instead we had learned that there was a VW meet in Chicamocha Canyon. It’s a few days to get over there and so we abandoned our plan to visit the glacier, and took a different road back towards the middle of the country. With our day of repairs, we didn’t have much time left and so we drove an hour or so on a slow mountain dirt road that wound through the mountains to reach the small town of San Andres, where we crashed for the night outside the local church.
In the morning, after a few supplies and trying some of the odd looking local baked goods, we headed a short ten minute drive back out of the town to get some videos of the bridge. We had arrived here in the twilight and decided it would be worth retracing our steps for before we continued on through the mountains.
The road was slow and rough as we continued on towards Bucaramanga. Lorries had churned sections of this into a quagmire as well, and I was glad that we hadn’t bothered to wash Ruby properly yet. We’d be doing it again as soon as we got to the other side anyway.
We aimed to reach the south of the city that afternoon, so that we could go and buy a few bits there the following day. We knew there was a nice place to camp by one of the paragliding schools and we slowly bumped along towards that. It was another entire day of driving to cut through to the other main road, not the optimistic 3.5hrs that googled reckoned.
However, before too long we climbed the final hill towards the campsite. It was a great view to end the day with and we watched the weather the swept across the huge valley below, periodically drenching the city in rain while we planned where we needed to visit the following day.