With all my preparations in the weeks prior to our trip, I tried to imagine all possible scenarios involving van troubles. I made a small tool bag with some of the essentials…Crescent wrenches, box wrenches, a diagnostic computer, volt meter and on and on.
The driving reminds me of driving back in New York, only on steroids. Narrow roads, high speeds and illegal passing.
After a long day of sweat dripping hiking in Tayrona Park, the darkness forced us into the town of Fundacion, hurried to find a place to call home for the night. We crossed a hap hazard 4 lane road into a security guard station to get a recommendation.
As “van” prepared as I was, the exceptionally high curb in Fundacion shredded my rear driver’s side tire. The van shifted one foot to the right immediately after hitting the curb as it wobbled across the opposite shoulder.
Before I was able to get out of the van, many Colombians on motorcycles, rickshaws and on foot were surrounding the van, eager to help. It took 3 minutes to shuffle the gear of 5 people living in the van in order to get to the tools stored in the back. Within 5 minutes, my new comrades and I were installing the spare tire. In all the preparations, I’d never inspected the spare tire to be sure it was inflated. Although low in air pressure, the full size spare tire was good to go. I was particular about installing the lug nuts myself to prevent stripping of the threads. As I was installing the tire, my Colombian friends were stripping the threads holding the spare tire under the van.
The following morning, after spending 50 mil col pesos ($25.00 USD) on a used tire and 14 mil col pesos ($7.00 USD) on installation, we left town with the winds at our backs.
As we approached San Gil, the noise coming from the right rear wheel that started two months ago heading back from a Mt. Baker ski trip, started to intensify. Five kilometers out of San Gil, the noise was now unrelenting after hitting a large speed bump at a high speed. At this point, I had Anik drive and I sat in the back by the wheel to diagnose the noise. My first thought was that it was a rattling gear. As we entered San Gil, we found a great place to park and stay where I could take a better look. What I saw made me cringe. The top bolt that holds the shock in place had worked its’ way out. The noise was that of the bolt shifting up and down with every vibration of the road.
After jacking the back wheel up, I made a friend named Andres, from Bogota. Through limited communication, with the help of Andres’ jack, we were able to align the shock to reinstall the bolt. After numerous failed attempts, I realized the threads were stripped. My amigo drove me all around town to find a replacement bolt, which failed. He took me to a machinist who was able to true the threads on the bolt. One tool I failed to pack was a ratchet and sockets, which sent us to hunt them down. After an hour of traveling around town, the trued bolt was installed in seconds.
I never imagined that Colombians would be so kind and helpful. They seem to feel it’s their duty to help foreigners as they travel through their country. Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen nothing of the current stereotype that North Americans hold of Colombia. VIVA COLOMBIA!