A VW meet at Chicamocha Canyon

Having no desire to camp in the city itself, we planned to be in and out having got what we needed, with time to head to the canyon that night. The canyon isn’t too far, around an hour or so and so that gave us plenty of time to hit the city with our shopping list. 

We decided to finally take the plunge, and after eyeing up the ‘proper’ camping table in Decathlon for some time we went to buy it. Our is not only small, but a weird height. This one was adjustable, foldable and waterproof. We sorted that, and were about to leave the car park when I realised I had managed to loose the parking ticket. We found a security guard and told him, he looked rather unhappy and asked if we had all our documents. I went to fetch them and returned. He looked torn for a moment before saying that really it was a lot of paperwork and if we just pulled into the left lane, he’d open the barrier for us. After getting lucky with that we continued on to the next stops, some new bolts for the suspension. 

Then we headed for Home Center. With the purchase of the new table, I had plans for our old one and so we stocked up on a few things there that we’d need. As we stood in the aisle pursuing drawer sliders, a voice spoke up next to us.

“Your camper is illegally parked.” It said. “You’re getting a ticket.”

Having caught us completely by surprise, we didn’t question how someone might know it was our van. Then after a moment we realised it was our friends from Costa Rica whom we’d spent a night or two with at Pavones around the New Year. Of all the places, we bumped into them here, in a mutual hunt for drawer sliders. The world is an oddly small place at times. After a quick catch up, and a promise that we’d see them soon enough on the road, we headed off for more shopping.

I was fast reaching my tolerance for city driving here which I don’t like, as well as hunting for the things we needed, coupled with a general chaos and lack of parking. We made a final stop for the cats flea stuff before saying enough was enough and heading back out of town towards the canyon. 

One final was required to wash her. You can’t be turning up to a VW meet looking the state we were in.

After a largely successful day, we pulled into Chicamocha canyon with the last of the light. 

What a view it was to wake up with the following morning. 

With the meet happening the following day, I spent a very long time butchering our old table and refitting it under the work-surface to make a new pull out section of worktop. As with everything in our van, it’s a matter of millimetres to get something to fit and now I had to deal with three set of drawers and getting them all lined up. 

I hate installing drawers. 

After much rage, it was finally done and I could sit at the new proper table and enjoy the view for the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow we needed to be at the meet relatively early, however, luckily for us it was only about ten minutes away. It appeared that we would be meeting in the car park for a theme park in the canyon, for reasons a little unclear to me. 

The next morning we set off to a lovely day with hopes of meeting lots of new VW friends and hopefully finding some parts. We had been in touch with the organiser before to try and find out how this worked, there seemed to be some kind of all inclusive ticket for the weekend but it was pretty expensive. Then we realised that’s because everyone was paying to stay in a hotel with fancy dinner. We asked if we camp there but we were told no, it didn’t really seem to be you typical VW meet, but we went along anyway. We thought we’d see how it panned out in the morning and we could tag along if we wanted, or move on to somewhere else if not. 

When we pulled into the car park a whole area had been reserved for the meet. Row and rows of classic cars stood in the morning sun. People milled around, having a look. A few people came to chat with us and someone offered us a beer even though it was about 9am. A few people gave us contact details for if we needed parts. Everyone was nice enough but it just didn’t really have that ‘meet up’ feeling. Maybe it’s because we used to going to one with buses and so everyone is camping and hangs around there vehicles socialising there. Here, everyone basically had a beetle apart from a small handle of buses. So they drove here and then went to enjoy lunch and a day out in the theme park rather than staying with their cars. After an hour or so we decided we had had enough, and headed on our way. It was nice to meet a few people and see some nice cars, but we had no real interest spending a load of money on the food and theme park. 

With our Saturday evening now free, it seemed a perfect time to head to La Pacha, so we headed off. meeting the usual friendly police en-route.

Funnily enough, it’s right next to where the nice hotel is that the VW meet was going back to later, but this up in the hills away from the main road, a nice little eco lodge. By accident, we ended up in the picturesque town of Bachira when the sat nav took us to a spot in the middle of nowhere that we had never told it to go to. Still, we got to see this cute little town, so it wasn’t all bad. 

Back on track, we headed into La Pacha. We were here for the curry. The owner is English and lives here with his Bolivian wife and son. He owns a nice little campsite, with a couple of cabins to stay in as well. Apparently they make a mean curry and we were happy to critique it. The campsite was a little on the pricey side for us, but it is in a lovely location. 

We parked at the bottom next to the old local school bus, now turned into a makeshift movie theatre. Justin showed us around. There was a natural swimming pool, with some nicely made showers and toilets. Further up the hill a chill out area had some hammocks with a gorgeous view out across the valley. It was clearly a more affluent area, everything was glamping this and eco pod that. We set ourselves up and made a dinner reservation. I was ready for a curry and I wasn’t disappointed. The brownies too, were pretty great.

While La Pacha was a little out of our normal budget, we couldn’t help but stay another night. For a start, it was Sunday and I’m not such a fan of going place on a Sunday. Secondly, we were enjoying a break from the long drives. It had a been a trek to come down here and we decided to treat ourselves to one more night. Justin had created something like what we were interested in doing ourselves in the future. A nice little off grid campsite with a small restaurant in a beautiful location. We could see the appeal. Lizzie maybe couldn’t, after the dogs chased her into a small tree that she was completely incapable of coming out of again. I followed her howls of anguish to where she was stranded just about head height. Lee came to the rescue and she retreated to the safety of the van while we settled in the movie bus to watch a film. 

Aimee was her usual weird self.

After the first peaceful night, we anticipated the second. However we were awaked by a flock of incredibly loud screaming birds at about 5am, apparently they come and go, Justin said. On the whole though, it had been a tranquil place to hideout. I only wish the showers had actually been warm, after deciding to dye my hair the day before and having an absolutely freezing shower to try and wash it off with after.

Now we were ready to leave, we had some new suggestions from Justin to try. We were heading to Florain to see the fantastic waterfall there. It was still a long way though and so we adjusted our  drive to break it up with some these new recommendations. We hadn’t even made it to the main road though, when the clutch cable snapped. I was pretty smug though, we had already got the new on in Barranquilla, and while I had hoped it would last more than a couple of months since it’s last change in Panama, we were at least prepared. It was a dry day. We had just bought a new floor mat too and so we rolled off the side of the road and got to work. 

Civilised breakdown spot

Before too long, I wasn’t so smug anymore. The cable we had been sold was not the right one for our van, it was about an inch too short. Lee decided it was worth driving back to the hotel where the VW meet had been over the weekend. It was only around 3km away and maybe we’d be in luck and someone would have a cable. It seemed a long shot. There’d only been two bays at the meet up and the event was over now. Still, we had no better idea. With first gear only, we made our way very slowly to the hotel. 

Fortunately, it wasn’t too far and just at the point our engine started to get way to hot from only driving in first, we arrived. The car park was nearly empty, and one of the last cars was leaving. It was a bay. I pulled over and Lee legged it over to them before they left for good. It turned out they had a spare cable, and it was the right length. They insisted on giving it to us for free, instating that we were family, before heading on their way. I couldn’t quite believe our luck as we got the second cable ready.

Our saviours. Funnily enough driving another Ruby

We probably should have waited to fit it but we wanted to get moving. As we tried to poke it though, it kept catching on the inside of the tube. Thunder rolled in the background. We wiggled the cable. The rain started. The cable wouldn’t move. Where the first one had slide through the conduit as easy as you like, this one didn’t want to play ball. As the rain began to fall we were dry for a little while, sheltered by the van. Before too long though, the car park disappeared under water and we retreated inside, already soaked to the skin and freezing. When the rain relented we rolled out the puddle and tried again. Eventually, it was back together and we were back in business. We got changed out of our sopping wet clothes and set off.

Now I was warm, dry and driving again, I could stop to take a minute and realise how lucky we’d just been. We could appreciate not only that but the amazing community to which we belonged, just by owning Ruby. Our new friends were right, we had never met but we were already part of the family. It’s those experiences that make owning one a pleasure, she’s old, rotten and somewhat unreliable, but you’ll meet the most amazing people whether you get there or not, and that makes it the trip of a lifetime. 

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