A Trip Back Home

As is ever the way, a 8.30am flight sounds fairly sociable. Then you work it back and realise that despite the fact the airport is only half an hour away and its a domestic flight, you still gotta get up at 5am. The taxi arrived bang on time, outside the gates at 6.30am. I loaded my bags and said goodbye to Lee, this would be the longest time we’d spent apart in ten years! I cant say I envied him hanging around in the damp mountain weather while I got spoilt at home. First though, there was a lot of travelling to be done. Three flights, two trains and over 30 hours of travelling would see me back to East Sussex. I hadn’t seen my family in nearly three years. My parents had renovated their home. My niece and nephew had grown up and both my sisters had new partners and new houses. It was hard to know what to expect, but I was looking forward to catching up.

While in my head I thought I would have free time, my near three week holiday from my holiday disappeared in a flash. Trying to see my friends and all my family, as well as visit Lee’s family in Birmingham took up most of the time. I also spent a lot of time catching up on all the lovely cheese and other food that isn’t available in the Americas.

I remembered what the English countryside looked like, even though now it was a dried out brown after an uncharacteristically dry summer. It was still perfect for an evening stroll through the fields of cut hay, here it was light so much later in the day. Not only did I see people, but i also squeezed in a trip to Birmingham to see our old house and cats. Even after all this time, our big ginger boy Ben, remembered who I was.

When I wasn’t being a social butterfly, I spent many hours buying and researching things for the camper. This was the first opportunity we had had to buy hard to get parts. We were going to do a suspension upgrade as well as stock up on many much need things. Finally, we could service our cooker as well as replace the leaking sink tap. That was only the start of the endless list of parts I needed to buy. While being spoilt rotten and being taken out for many a nice meal, I instead spent all our money on parts. I wasn’t sure it was all going to fit within either the size limits or the weight ones.

In the meantime, Lee updated me on the endless rain that had somewhat ruined the flower festival and of the predicament of another Dutch overlanding couple. The state of the roads in Colombia coupled with the poor quality diesel was giving them a whole load of problems with their modern European emission system and I now added an ECU programming tool into my ever growing baggage. After weeks of rain he was keen to get out of Al Bosque and head somewhere new. While I had been off on a jolly, Lee had spent many days returning back to the city to try and sort out our TIP and then help everyone else. Finally, several weeks after we had started the process the new paperwork had come through. All we needed now was new insurance.

Before I knew it I was back at Heathrow airport again, with my bags full to bursting. Despite my best efforts, it hadn’t all fitted in and early that day I had needed to post our new CV joints ahead as that was 7kg of weight that I didn’t have. Now it was time for another 30 plus hour journey. The first part went smoothly, and soon I was in Colombia’s capital airport. The internal flight to Medellin is just 30 minutes, unfortunately our flight was delayed over 5 hours on top of a 5 hour connection. By the time I got out of the other airport at 2am the following day, I was so tired I barely celebrated the fact that I had made it through customs without being searched. All our new parts had come in duty free, a pretty big saving. Now I was reunited with the cats and Lee, and also the freezing fog of the mountain. After spending three weeks in the blistering English drought, it was odd to return to the cold.

Next, let the upgrades begin.

It appeared I had brought the UK weather with me. While it definitely wasn’t as hot up here at 8,500ft, it was sunny again. That was good because I needed a lot of space to begin sorting out the mass of things I hd brought back. We decided we would hold off on raising the van as it would be a fairly labour intensive which would be a lot better done in a garage. If we got time though, we’d fit the new air shocks that had arrived from Amazon. In terms of part replacement, the first priority was the brakes. We also needed new insurance before we could go anywhere.

First off, we decided to try and sort out what was going on with our parcels. We caught the bus down into the city to go and speak to DHL and UPS. We also decided to try and get insurance. In reality, we achieved none of these things. The insurance companies either didn’t exist or didn’t insure foreign vehicles. We then wasted some time trying to find a non-existent UPS office and not getting very far with DHL either. In the end, we bought ourselves some new storage boxes so at least we could say we had achieved something, and caught a taxi back. Then someone drove into the back of the taxi, somehow it seemed a fitting end to the day.

With the weekend here, we couldn’t do much about chasing up parcels or insurance, so we focused on our brake upgrade. After some research, I had got hold of the parts needed to convert our rear drums to self adjusting ones. As much as I would have loved to fit discs, that was very, very expensive. While most people would tell you that the amount of adjustment required on the stock shoes doesn’t make this upgrade worth it, I strongly disagree. We had got through a brand new set of brake pads in just two months, the Andes mountains are not kind to any part of your car. I welcomed anything that meant I didn’t have to regularly crawl under the van. For the first time in a long time too, we looked forward to having a handbrake.

The drums and shoes are pretty much identical, aside from the self-adjusting aspect. It had taken some scrounging around in England to get the necessary adjusting bars and mounts for the bottom of the shoes, but thanks to the availability of parts in the UK I had got everything. It didn’t take too long to swap over the shoes and go for a road test. It did not go well. Nothing seemed to have changed. the next day I pulled off the drums again to see our new shoes in a puddle of brake fluid, so now it was clear we needed a new wheel cylinder. That shouldn’t be too hard to find. Famous last words.

As we couldn’t do much else, we went ahead and fitted our front air shocks. A straightforward swap, that may need a little tweaking in the future. The rear ones were a lot bulkier than I imagined and they were going to need some custom mounts in order to be mounted, so for now they lived on the roof rack with the rest of our upgrade parts.

Before we could begin a wheel cylinder hunt, we waited for the weekend to pass. Bert and Ilona took us all out for pizza to say thank you. Jason had helped smash their DPF apart in my absence and the programmer I brought from the UK had sorted out the engine management code. All six of us sat around the table, sharing huge pizzas and enjoying a good job well done. They were ready to leave, soon it looked like we’d be the last ones left, again.

There are two classic VW parts shops in the city, and the cylinder is used on a range of years, I was optimistic. That was until both shops said no. It seemed like we’d need to get one posted from the capital and we also resorted to old faithful; facebook, for help. That was when Leo messaged us, he had two new wheel cylinders which he had bought for his bus. It turned out though that he had a Brazilian bay and that they didn’t fit, he said we could have them. Once again, we headed to the city.
We met Leo near the metro where he invited us to join him and his friends for lunch. After eating one of the typical local lunches, he also paid for us. Then he took us to see his bus, a cute little blue Brazilian bay. He offered us a bag full of wheel cylinders as well as one of the bobbleheads of his dashboard, once again refusing any money. To round it off he said he would drive us back up to the campsite so he could meet Ruby. What an absolute legend he was. Even better than being fed and taxied around, we could now finally fix the troublesome brakes.

It terms of our other problems, we had enrolled David to act as translator and chase up UPS and DHL for us. Both our parcels were here, but stuck in customs. UPS being particularly awkward. Slowly though, we were making progress. Our insurance was sorted for us by Ana, the customs agent from the port in Cartagena who did a really solid job of getting us another three months for about $50. Now we were insured, we just wanted to get going. It was a quick job to swap the wheel cylinder across and this time on our road test, finally, we had brakes. They would improve more as we drove and the self adjusting mechanism tightened up the gaps, but for now it was actually possible to leave. We just needed our parcels.

Finally, after David had made countless phone calls on our behalf, we were notified that our CV joints were at the depot. We headed down to collect them and pay an extortionate $100 import bill. Still, at least they were here. With a bit of time left to kill, we walked over to the brewery in El Poblado for a celebratory beer. Jason and Cara had offered to cook dinner that night so we didn’t leave it too long before we ordered a taxi to take us back.

Once again, a simple thing was not so simple. The taxis all wanted to take us down the toll road, which, Lee told me was pretty expensive. That and the price of the taxi was a lot really, and also completely unnecessary. Eventually, one picked us up, drove us around for half an hour before dropping us back at the square when we told him to take the free road. While we had started off early, things were getting a bit late. With all the taxi quotes insanely expensive, we decided to try and get the cable car instead. The bus too is an option, but it only runs every hour so requires good timing. If we left now wed miss it and as we now know from previous experience it doesn’t run late.

With this in mind, we walked to the metro. It was rush hour and here the pandemic was truly over. A full carriage arrived at the station. Everyone on the platform collectively leaned into the open doors, forcing everyone inside to jam in further. It almost seemed to be a sport, or tradition. People merrily flung themselves into the crowd, laughing and crushing everyone else. I know understood why everyone put their rucksacks on the front. When you’re that squashed, it’s pretty uncomfortable.
After a sweaty ride through the city, we got in the huge queue for the cable car. There are two needed to get back. The first was no problem, the second we hoped was running. Apparently it had been shut in the week but we hoped that it was open now. As we reached the station we saw the pods of the second car, swinging down through the valley. However when we reached the platform, it was barricaded off. Now we were stuck on completely the wrong side of town, with no choice but to get a taxi.

Luckily, we did find a taxi as we were in a pretty out of the way area. We hopped in the back and sat there as he drove us back all the way we had just come. It was well over an hour drive to get back and the city was gridlocked. This was also not helped by the fact that they apparently do their bin collection service at rush hour too. I sent Jason apologetic messages about our large delay and we edged closer. While we had originally left at 4pm, we didn’t make it back until nearly 8pm. I was very grateful that we now sat straight down to a piping hot bean stew, jalepeno bread and a glass of red wine. After that end to the afternoon, we had no interest in cooking.

Now, only one packaged remained. The same predicament also affected Cara and Jason, as they waited for the delivery of the Starlink. Happily for them, after a lot of waiting too, the next day it arrived and they too could finally leave. That just left us in Al Bosque and suddenly it seemed very quiet.

A day or so later, we finally got the message. Our parcel had arrived! I had pre-emptively been packing. We decided that whether it came or not, we were out of here. We had waited for it for three weeks and as much as i wanted the parts, enough is enough. We were glad it hadn’t come to it though, and we packed our final things so that we could collect it that afternoon as we left the city. Finally, it was time for a new chapter in this beautiful country and we couldn’t wait.

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