To hell with those other guys, praise Sir Issac Newton, gravity is great! After what felt like 40 days in the desert, I was finally able to get the wheel off the van, find some brake fluid, clamp off the bad caliper, and gravity bleed the brakes, yes that little bit took 5 days. Everything is slow down here, and there was lots of running around, not to mention I couldnt get the other wheels off to even check the other brakes for their condition even though I used 1.5 cans of PB Blaster on them and had a breaker bar. A special thanks to the guy who rotated my tires for me really getting those lugs on good and tight…I really appreciate it! Once it was finally time to go, I tested everything on the smaller hills I had already come down, and it was garbage, but I couldnt stay up on that hill any longer, I was near my limit. I hoped there would be no cows in the road today as every other day they would inevitably be there blocking the motos from coming up the hill, but lucked out…..today was just a different broken down car midway down the hill, blocking my lane. Luckily no one was coming in the oncoming lane and I made it down, followed by slowly limping my way to Neiva, a reasonably sized city an hour away if I had working brakes, so obviously it took me a bit longer. On a related note I had emailed the Chevy US site requesting part numbers for rotors, calipers, and a master cylinder, mentioning that I was trapped in a desert in Colombia. As I had already talked to the Neiva Chevy I knew finding the parts would be difficult as they had no idea what to do with an Astro. I have yet to hear back from Chevy US. F-Chevy
I made it to Neiva but by then it was night and the chevy dealer was closed so continued on looking for somewhere safe looking to sleep, when my brakes went again. As luck would have it I ended up at a 24 hr tire mechanics shop, better than nothing….or so I thought. Since I couldnt get the other wheels off I had him tackle the other lug nuts, and figured since it was so damn hot and I was desperate with time running out on my visa I would pay him to put on the spare set of brake pads I had so I could limp my way to Ecuador for repairs. He ended up causing more harm than good, and when I wasnt looking let my Master Cylinder bleed dry. What the hell, your just supposed to be putting the new pads on, why would you even take the calipers off?? Great, he just undid everything I had done in the desert. Much time was spent tracking down new rotors, as mine were shot. After running around Neiva we found a guy who knew of a shop in Bogota that sold only American parts, I had asked to get the address but forgot when all was said and done, I figured it would be a great resource for others in case of trouble…sorry guys. The old pads only had 15K on them, not that many miles for a set of pads, even with a loaded van. These things were in terrible shape, and had took the rotors with them. Since I had to remove the calipers to put on the rotors, and since my good buddy had already let a bunch of air into the system, I decided to take the calipers apart and clean them while I was at it. These things were also in terrible shape, and what I suspect was the route of the problem. With a lot of effort I managed to get all but one of the pins free, and regreased them. I also took out the pistons to give them a cleaning, they were usable but also not great, so gonna need four calipers when I get a chance as well. Turns out sitting for 4 months by a salty sea is a recipe for disaster when it comes to move parts, especially important ones. Tough lesson learned, wont be making that mistake again.
I also wasted a bunch of time running around between the DIAN trying to get an extension on my vehicle importation. They couldnt help me, it was too small a city, but they did call to Bogota and told me I needed to go there with a certificate from Chevy. Cool no problem, I only have 2 weeks left. Oh by the way, you need to do it by the 15th, not the 19th….ah hell, now I have even less time than I thought. Driving down to Tatacoa I already had 2 cops who couldnt read my extension and while one was on the phone checking my visa date, the other threatened to put me in handcuffs. I laughed as I knew I had a month left, and am pretty sure they cant do that, and I only pay a penalty, but either way I would rather avoid finding out. There not all bad though, last night I was awoken at 11:30 in the night by the cops. They didnt care that I was sleeping in the van, just that I was sleeping in the van in a dangerous section of town. They told me to follow them and off we went to where the set me up in a safer section, where I had a problem free night.
So after the DIAN tells me they cant help me in Neiva, I go to Chevy but they wont give me a certificate, something about legal stuff, since the van isnt there for them to see. Yeah I know that, thats the whole problem…if I could drive it I would swing by so you could look and give me the Cert, but that would be pretty dangerous with no brakes. Come on, where did the Chevy Cowboy go, I am sure he has my back. I then asked if they could at least give me a written note in Spanish to explain why the wouldnt help me so I could take that to the DIAN, they said sure, come back tomorrow. I went back the next day, this time bringing the mechanic and one of the shot rotors. That did nothing for me, and they told me to come back the next day for the letter. Day 3 they were busy but told me to come by later, so I left them my Colombian number and asked them to text me as I was sick of this game…I am still waiting for that text. Fool me 3 times…..nevermind. I finally stopped going back as they clearly had no intention of helping me. F-Chevy.
To go off on another side rant, while I like my van, I have grown to hate Chevy. You have to be a god damned mechanic to own one of these pieces of crap. I am constantly playing catchup, rather than preventative maintenance on this van. Add the terrible customer service I have received and I will now be boycotting Chevy and all affiliates, and recommend you do as well. Heres a quick review of my problems off the top of my head, I know there are others. Per recommendation I changed the coolant fluid from Dexcool to the green stuff, as the Dexcool has ended up a bad decision by Chevy and causes rust in the systems. Due to a known and ignored issue I slid through a stop sign in Panama City, luckily avoiding hitting anyone, so removed the ABS fuse which means I dont have ABS brakes. Many people have had this problem, yet Chevy never did a recall or extended their warranty or anything, they simply ignored this issue that clearly puts lives at risk. I have doors that wouldnt open, as well as a rear hatch that wont shut (I cable lock it though its obvious it wont shut, yeah that wont attack thieves). My rear view mirror fell of, though that was probably due to all the Jesus bling. My AC stopped working due to cheap vaccum hoses….I am sure there is more.
On top of the chevy related problems I have more, naturally a year on the road will take its toll on your stuff. Of the two batteries my auxillary battery is dead, which means no fridge, lights, computer or camera charging, and the fantastic fan, while providing a breeze from the opening, does not have a working fan….so its not so fantastic. The other battery looses its charge quickly though I can go about 5 days before it goes dead on me. My power inverter is also dead, so if the battery did work I still wouldnt have that power. Any zipper I have, computer bag, awning cover, etc is stuck shut from the salt. My awning screened room zipper stopped closing so its worthless against the bugs. hmm, I know there is more.
When things go bad you are forced to look at the bright side, otherwise your just gonna bring yourself down. Neiva doesnt have much going on, and I had no intention of stopping there. There are little if any tourists as everyone either goes to the Tatacoa desert, or the nearby San Augustine ruins. Even if I had stopped there it wouldnt have been the same experience. I never would have met the people I did by being broken down at the shop. Every day all throughout the day and into the night the same group of 20 or so guys would stop by and see how things were going for the gringo, and provide their expertise on what I should do, all different opinions of course. At times it was annoying, I was constantly interrupted from working on the van, and explaining the same things over and over to them. If I chose to go back to work they simply stayed and watched looking over my shoulder. When I had decided I needed to do it myself so I knew things were done properly I still had the mechanic, his 16 year old son, and his 7 year old daughter sitting there watch me. The day I bled my brakes the mechanic was literally in the wheel well, in my way, watching the air bubbles come out of the bleeder valve. How on earth could that possibly be interesting? Several times I had 4-5 people at once trying to work on my van. I am sure it was clear I was loosing patience, and several times told everyone to just stop, that I was doing it myself. But in the end they were great people, who showed genuine concern for me. As no one spoke any English it was also great for my Spanish. I got to know them and their city, and while its hot as hell and I would rather not go back for that reason, I will be making a point to return there everytime I am in Colombia to stop by and say hello. The mechanic had constantly invited me back to his home though I declined, sleeping in the van at the shop. Once I was finally up and running I finally took him up on his offer and followed him to the barrios. His family was amazing and we had one of those nights you read about on these blogs. I figure I now consider them my Colombian family, so not all was wasted on this misfortune.
After about 5 days of living at the 24 mechanics shop and running all over Neiva, I finally got out of there too, but at this point I had had it. I had already been contemplating what I should do, and had posted up some questions to the guys on Expo the previous month about options to leave the van in South America and return home for a bit of…….work. Ugh I feel nauseous. I have mentioned previously that some issues with the IRS left me with 1/3 less of my planned budget for this trip. Turns out that probably isnt fully resolved, as this years tax return has been under review for 3 months now and they wont give it to me. After 4 calls to the IRS its clear I cant do anything about it from Colombia as no one will tell me anything other than keep checkin in, even though I told them if I am getting notices sent home I wouldnt see them, which means more fines racking up to look forward to. Now that I had been on the road longer than planned I had been counting on the return towards the original budget as well, so now I am at only having 50% my planned budget for the trip. Add the fact that my 1st post about the trip on Expo had me naively estimate 6 months to Argentina with the possibility of a 12 month round trip, and once again I have another recipe for disaster. I think I am about month 14 into the trip at this time, so either I haul ass down to the end just to say I did it, or I go back and try to regroup, returning to South America a bit later, to do it right. The repair costs didnt help, so the decision has been made. I am headed north to look for work, as well as address the issues with the van and my stuff mentioned above….not to mention I am way overdue for a haircut. Its not as bad as the title to this post sounds I just like being dramatic. I had a great trip over the past 14 months and dont regret a single thing. I met amazing people and saw amazing things. The blog will be going quite for awhile, but once the tires hit SA dirt again you’ll be hearing for me.