So we made it to Mexico City after half a year of journeying from Tofino down the West Coast. It seems there is where our luck decided to run out.
I’m not usually one to ask for help, but I’ll warn you now that by the time this post is over, I will be asking for your help.
Upon entering the city we headed straight to the mechanic to check on some issues Big Blu was having. First order of business was getting the gas tank down to solder the parts that leaked and made it impossible for us to fill up more than 3/4 tank. While this wasn’t as big an issue at sea level, the altitude burned a lot of gas, and 3/4 tank didn’t get us very far.
The tank emptied, dried, soldered, and placed back in its proper home by end of day, we headed back to our AirBnB pad for a night’s rest before proceeding with the troubleshooting of the mysterious starting issues we had now run into twice.
The sun is setting, it’s rush hour, the mechanic’s shop is closed, my phone’s wonky international service isn’t working, we’re on one of the DF’s busiest inner-city thoroughfares, “el periferico,” going uphill around a bend. Big Blu decides this is where she’d like to buck, lose power, and eventually stall.
This is NOT good. I’m ashamed to say I lost my shit right then and there. I had no idea how we were going to make it out of this situation. The darkening sky would make it harder for the traffic to see us, for us to see anything at all. My phone wasn’t getting through to any number and anyway the only person I had to call was our AirBnB host. We had no idea what was wrong with the car and I didn’t feel comfortable getting out of it anyway for fear an inattentive driver would hit me going uphill. I panicked.
Gabriel kept his shit together quite nicely however and sent me to have a breath and calm down while waving a rag a few yards down the way to make sure no one hit us. Meanwhile he proceeded to fiddle with this and that hoping something would work. After a bit, a good samaritan stopped and helped him out, and together they thought that they had fixed the issue by tightening the spark plugs.
Big Blu drove another 15 minutes before she started bucking again, with almost no power uphill. It seemed the more gas we gave her the less she moved. My panic set in again while we desperately hoped for an exit, fighting against the imminent nightfall and hoping there were no more hills up ahead.
Finally we find an exit. A quick look at our surroundings led us both to decide within a fraction of a second that it would be better we didn’t take it. Another grueling 15 minutes of hiccupy driving allowed us another exit, this time marginally better, but we had no choice, we had to take it, Big Blu wasn’t going to make it much further. With luck, a gas station lay a couple miles from the exit, and downhill. Good thing because Big Blu had stalled completely. She made it the last few yards on gravity alone.
We found ourselves at a busy gas station in a shady part of town, with a van that mysteriously refused to go and not enough knowledge to troubleshoot. It was now dark.
Thankfully I had managed to get a text message conversation going with our AirBnB host and that made me feel a bit better. At a loss as to what to do next we asked the pump attendant if there was a mechanic he knew of. He advised us to call our insurance company.
GENIUS! Why didn’t I think of that, of course we had insurance! Now if only we had a phone.
The pay phone across the street allowed us to make the call and the insurance company assured us a tow truck was on the way, to sit tight. And sit tight we did, for three hours. At one o’clock in the morning, after an interesting night-time tour of the city via tow truck, a very tired Gabriel, Phi, and I, set up camp outside the mecanich shop, glad to have gotten out of a sticky situation unscathed.
The next day we tell our tale to the shop owner who proceeds to check our fuel pump and decide it’s the root of our problem. By the end of day we had changed it and test driven the car, everything seemed fine. We set up camp again thinking we’d be ready explore the city the next day. The events of the night before now seemed like a distant story we’d tell our kids one day and laugh. No biggy.
The next morning we turn the key and….. Nothing. Big Blu won’t start. :(
Maybe the fuel filter. By end of day we think the problem is resolved. The next morning, the car won’t start.
Maybe something’s obstructing the gas flow in the tank of the lines pre-pump. We resolve the issue, the next day the car won’t start.
Like a bad remake of Groundhog Day, for the next month, every day unfolded the same way. We thought we found the issue, we worked on fixing it, we tested the car, the next day, it wouldn’t start. Sometimes it would start but the pump would be cavitating, or the fuel pressure be crazy hectic, or it would drive fine for 30-40 minutes and then just quit.
Every day was a day closer to our visas and temporary import permit running out. The clock was ticking.
One evening she stalled out and refused to start at “reforma” and “Mississippi” one of the city’s busiest roundabout intersections, in a business district, where, waiting for the mechanic to come save us, we witnessed, amidst the constant merry-go-round of traffic, a guy in a bike get hit by a car and be taken away by ambulance.
Everyday we woke up thinking today was the day and patiently proceeded to look at this as a free crash-course in mechanics, and everyday our efforts fell short of doing anything at all.
To say Phi was starting to get real bored would be an understatement, but we did our best to entertain him, taking turns taking him on long walks and play sessions at the nearest park.
We became very familiar with the Tlalpan borough, in the south of the city, which was completely devoid of anything tourist related. We met a great couple and their lovely coffee shop. They were expecting a baby and we kept joking that he/she would be born before we made it out of Tlalpan. Indeed, they ended up having a beautiful baby boy just days before we left town.
Every Monday a market set up at the intersection where we camped. We saw no less than four markets be set up and broken down.
Eventually, our mechanics, who had resorted to very graciously not charging us a single cent for labour, feeling bad that they couldn’t get down to the root of the problem, gave up. They had tried everything they knew.
Luckily, Gabriel had met a lovely gentleman who owned a car parts business and knew of two guys who were experts with vanagons. He sent them over and we thought we’d be done that day. They got the car going and we drove it up to their shop in a borough 45 minutes north.
It wasn’t the kind of place we thought we could spent the night, so after each session, we made the commute back to Tlalpan. Somewhere along the drive, every time, sooner or later, Big Blu would fail.
We did the commute back and forth for about a week, everyday thinking the next day would be the last.
As it became more and more evident that the issue was intermittent, it became more and more undeniable that the root of the problem was electrical. Besides, at this point we had changed everything. The pump, the fuel filter, cleaned the injectors, changed the spark plugs, tuned the AFM and the timing, changed the fuel pump relay, changed all the lines of the whole fuel injection system, changed the distributor for a new electric one, etc…. There was nothing left in the fuel injection system to change. It had to be electric.
Ugh, what a mess. I’d seen the nest of wires under the dash, I wasn’t ready to start taking it apart and troubleshooting in there.
It’s at about this point that, randomly, one evening, after having been in the van all day trying to pass the endless hours between our play sessions by catching some zzz’s, Phi and Gabriel went for a walk while I tried to get some blog work done.
Twenty minutes later I get a panicked phone call. It’s Gabriel. He’s at the vet. Phi’s not doing good. I need to go there now.
“What? But he was just fine twenty minutes ago.” “He’s not doing good Jade, he might not make it.”
I pack everything up immediately and I run to the vet just a couple blocks away where I find Gabriel and his red eyes staring at me desperately. He’s still catching his breath as he tells me “He was just playing with me and then randomly sat down and cocked his head and started convulsing. I ran him here as fast as I could. They’re checking up on him. I didn’t run fast enough, he was vomiting blood”
“Wait slow down, what’s going on? Is he alive, did he get hit by a car? What do you mean he just started convulsing. It’s not your fault baby, everything’s going to be ok. ”
The vets thought maybe something was obstructing his digestive track. It wasn’t for sure, but what was for sure was that he was in a state of shock and wasn’t going to last long if we didn’t get to the root of the issue fast. Despite the risks of the anesthesia, we opted to open him up and left our hopes in the unfortunate probability that he had swallowed something that the surgery could remove, and that he would wake up from the surgery.
We stared at his little face in the oxygen cone on the operating table just before they put him under. He seemed so happy to see us there. I’ll never forget his big eyes looking up at us in confused bewilderment and the love that transpired in that moment between the three of us.
As it turns out there was nothing in his system, but he was bleeding out internally. Symptoms seemed to fit a physical trauma or a rat poison. Both were completely improbable. He had been under our supervision all day. And the day before, and the one before that, for the three infernal weeks we had spent so far in this god-forsaken town. Maybe it was the vaccine we had given him the day before. They assured us it wasn’t.
We would have to hope he would make it through the night to do lab tests in the morning. Gabriel and I waited outside in the van, sending him as many positive vibes as we could, until we fell asleep from exhaustion. I was sure he would be alright. It just didn’t make any sense for him to drop dead out of the blue.
At two o’clock in the morning, the night shift vet rapped on our van window. Phi had moved on to another place.
I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense! He was just playing. He’s gonna be fine.
But his little body was most definitely in that awful state between life and rigor mortis in the sterile metal kennel. His body still warm from the automatic processes that had not yet understood they would soon be shut off permanently from lack of direction from whatever that thing is that keeps our gears churning.
We asked he be cremated so we could take his ashes back to the beach.
The next day we attacked the electrical system with new found ardor to get the F out of the city. We found a few false contacts and some shady wiring and by the end of day it seemed we’d resolved the issue.
We headed back through our now-very-familiar commute from the Chabacana metro area to Tlalpan down the Viaducto and made it 85% of the way before the RPMs started doing their crazy drop on the tach and the engine started bucking. I, behind the wheel, lost my shit completely.
Up until now we had taken our roadblock mostly in stride. Sure we’d had a few desperately bad days and I’d thrown a few tantrums, but at the end of it all, the whole trip had been worth all the trouble because we’d found this wonderful companion who woke us up every morning with an overly abundant lust for life. Now we were still stuck in the same god-damn borough, stuck in the same god-damn commute, the god-damn traffic seemed to get worst every time we drove it, we were now a god-damn month into this mess and we weren’t one god-damn step closer to solving the problem, and on top of it all, the dog was dead.
I did my best to make it the last few miles through my sadness, frustration, anger, sobs, eye-waterfalls, and Big Blu’s hiccups. When we reached our “home” in front of the Tlalpan mechanic’s I broke down completely.
I wanted to sell the van and go home. I was done, exhausted, tired, finished. However, selling a van that doesn’t go usually doesn’t make you much cash, and even less in a country where it’s illegal to sell your vehicle. I was exhausted, yes, but not ready to swallow our losses. I felt out of options, claustrophobic. A panic attack set in.
Gabriel and I made the decision together to keep trying to get it working. If we could just get it back to the coast, the ocean would wash away our woes.
It took us three more days. The first, to go release some pent up energy at the amusement park, the other two to troubleshoot. We had exhausted our options under the parts of the dash with the instruments which was rather simple to disassemble and were about to try our luck at taking off the whole dash to see what we’d find. At this point we’d given up on the help and were doing everything ourselves. All the screws were out when I looked at the keys in the ignition and said to Gabriel, “wait, let’s hotwire the car and see what happens” “why?” “Because it’s easier to change the ignition switch than take off the dash, so we should rule that out first.”
A quick YouTube video and two paper clips later and I can confidently say that I can now steal Vanagon without a problem. (Yes that makes me nervous about mine)
More importantly, the engine cranked, then started, and all our symptoms disappeared. The fuel pump made no sound. The RPM needle was no longer dancing on the tach as if it were conducting a dubstep orchestra, the engine didn’t buck, or fail.
I wasn’t sure weather to laugh or cry, so I did both. Out of relief, out of frustration, out of finally being finished, out of it having taken so long and cost so much for a $6 part, out of the prospect of leaving the city, out of the prospect of leaving the city with Phi in an urn, I laughed, and I cried.
After a pizza party and final goodbyes at the shop that had welcomed us like family, free of charge, for a month, through our entire emotional turmoil and given us a bathroom, a shower, and friendship & support, after final goodbyes with the new elated and nervous family that ran the coffee shop and also welcomed us like family and blessed us with their friendship, we set off for the coast.
Destination: Puerto Escondido.
We had spent a lot on the month of repairs and so Gabriel had taken on a contract job in the states to go refuel the bank account. First he would drive me to Puerto and make sure I got there safe and settled. There I would wait for him to return and we would drive out of the country together before my visa and the van’s temporary import permit ran out. At least that was the plan.
We took the Acapulco road because it avoided the mountains. The first night on some remote beach, we said our final goodbyes to Phi as we lay his ashes on the sand and sat in silent tears as a candle burned out.
After two days of driving, we arrived in Puerto one unbearably balmy late afternoon, exhausted. Completely fried on all levels. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually spent.
We didn’t take the precautions we normally do. We’d heard Puerto was a sweet and safe surf spot and so we rolled up to the beach at La Punta and set up camp, then went to sleep. We didn’t put everything away like we normally do. It was stupid hot so we left one of the back windows cracked open to let in some air so we could breathe.
When I woke up with my alarm at 5:30, something wasn’t right. I didn’t remember leaving the blind pushed back or the screen open. Maybe Gabriel had gotten up in the night to let in more air.
“Baby, did you open the screen?” I asked as I realized the window was open on the other side as well, and that screen open.
“No” he said as I scanned the premises for all of our belongings. Everything was right where I’d left it and for a second I assumed he’d done it in his sleep and didn’t realize. It wouldn’t have been the strangest thing he’d done in his sleep. With that thought I reached for the computer where I had stashed it, but didn’t make the contact I expected. Nothing was there.
I looked around again. Nothing else was missing. Besides, for someone to get it, they would have had to come into the van while we were sleeping and know exactly where it had been put. Maybe I had put it somewhere else in my exhaustion. In the dark I searched for it. Coming up short, I turned on the lights and repeated to Gabriel more insistently, “you’re sure you didn’t open the windows?”
“Yes?” he said, and with renewed interest popped his head from the top bunk to see what I was going on about. His eyes met my bewildered gaze. “I can’t find the laptop”
“I left it right here, under the blanket, nothing else is missing. My wallet was closer, the hard drive is still here, someone would have had to have slipped in and taken it while we were sleeping, but left everything else. It doesn’t make sense. But this is where I left it. I can’t find it anywhere.”
The fact that one of our screens was nowhere to be found after doing a check around and inside the van confirmed that, indeed, someone must have come into the van and taken our laptop while we slept. We didn’t wake up, fortunately or not, I don’t know. And why would they take the screen? Wtf?
On the bright side, they’d left everything else.
Our reflex was to go to the police, but they were closed. We came back to town and stole some wifi on the iPad to immediately change all of our passwords and turn on the “find my phone” feature on. It came up dry. Jade’s MacBook Air is not online.
That day we hit up all the pawn shops with our number telling them we’d buy our laptop back if it made its way into their hands, with a finder’s fee, of course. It would prove to be in vain.
At first I was surprisingly calm about it. Almost numb really. I mean, what was a computer after losing my puppy. My puppy!
Gabriel stared at me in pure confusion as I sobbed and balled uncontrollably across from him at the cafe table, unable to catch my breath long enough to explain to him why I was so upset.
Between sobs I managed to clear things up: “pictures” “Phi” “gone” sob
I had lost him all over again. Him and every other picture we’d taken in Mexico.
You gotta know when to give up. This trip had had its ups and downs, but this was the breaking point. My emotional gage was running on fumes and with two days before having to put Gabriel on a plane for his work trip, I had no intention of staying in Puerto alone, or any desire to continue with our trip. Chile could suck it. I wanted my mom.
“We’re selling it.” I said as I pulled up Kayak on the iPad to search for tickets “home,” whatever the heck that meant.
“I wanna go home”
“Are you sure?” Gabriel asked tenderly, wanting nothing more than for me to be happy.
“God I love him. At least I still have him” I thought. He knew how much this meant to me. We had had this conversation many times in the last few weeks. To travel the world was the only thing I’d ever known I wanted to do and giving up short of reaching our goal felt as empty as death. What would I do at “home” I would get there with my tail between my legs and admit that I had failed at attaining the one thing in life that I had known wanted. I would return to the kind of life I had lived before, the kind where existence is routine and habit, where your goals just consists of living out another day after another empty day. Sure, at some point I’d find enjoyment in it again, but my purpose, my reason for being, it would….
That terrifying thought of giving up on your dreams had kept me through all the bullshit so far, but this was the last straw.
He saw this in my eyes. He saw the defeat, and he saw the pain, and he desperately wanted me to find a solution that would make me happy. He didn’t judge me when I said I was done. He just squeezed my hand in a matter that said, “we’re gonna be ok baby.”
All in all, I live a pretty privileged life, and I’ve met many people in my day that would trade their existence in a heartbeat to find themselves in our situation at that moment in time, it still being exponentially more comfortable than the situation they find themselves in daily. For me, at that moment in time, it was time to suck up my pride and admit to myself that I wasn’t as strong as I had thought. I conceded that maybe there is a life beyond giving up on your dreams, and maybe travel wasn’t really worth as much as I had made it out to be worth.
I would find a new purpose, I would find a new reason to be. I had to come to terms with letting this one go.
We hit up all the car dealers and put a sign on the van. “Se Vende, For Sale” with our phone number, and we waited for a call while we googled everything we could about how to sell our temporarily imported vehicle in Mexico.
As it turns out, we can’t.
It could be done, everything can be done in Mexico, but we’d be putting the buyers at risk to have the van confiscated, and I’d hate for someone to be in that situation more than I’d hate being in that situation myself. The only thing we could do really would be to sell it for parts.
We could sell the board, the fridge, the solar panel, and other such things separately and make a bit of money there. We’d lose out on a lot of investment still, not to mention the sacrilege that is dismantling a perfectly good 1980 Vanagon Westfalia for parts because you’re too much of a pussy to proceed with your travel plans, but never mind all that, my mind was made up and I’d deal with the shame. Gabriel had already found a buyer for the longboard who’d pay almost what we paid for it, and give me free rentals while I was there to boot. Things were falling into place, I’d made the right decision.
I had thrown out a cry for help over a few Internet forums and one guy got back to me saying he was in the area and would like to look at some of what I had to offer so he could pimp out his ride. He and his girl came to meet me at the cafe where I sat. While Gabriel surfed I recounted our month of misfortunes. The van, the dog, the computer, the exhaustion. Within minutes, the conversation turned from attempting to purchase parts to convincing me that I had to keep going.
They were also headed to Guatemala. We would go together. Their dodge camper Scooby and my Big Blu were bound to meet, and so what if Gabriel couldn’t be there for the next while, they’d chaperone me. Their friendliness, and their beer, pepped up my spirits. By the time Gabriel came back from his sunset session, I had agreed to take the “for sale” sign off the van and continue the adventure down the coast, kind of solo, until Gabriel met up with me again.
So today I’m sitting in a hammock overlooking the ocean at Zipolite, just south of Puerto, where the Argentinian couple and I have been relaxing for the last couple of days. I miss my puppy, and I miss my husband, but the spirit of adventure is starting to poke its little head through the dust cloud of sadness and confusion left behind by the storm that just turned our world upside down.
Was I meant to reach the breaking point to rekindle my love affair with travel? Were Gabriel and I meant to have some time apart? Was the loss of our puppy a necessary pain in helping me finally deal with the death of my father in a positive way? Did I simply have to reach this point to find a certain humbleness and question my self importance? I have so many questions left unanswered that only time will work away at slowly, in its mysterious ways.
Meanwhile, I told you I was going to ask you for help before the story was over, and so here it goes:
We’ve been providing you, our faithful readers, with stories, free of charge, for the last 3 years. Blogging has been a giant investment of our time and money, and by doing it, we need to travel around with equipment we’d rather not have. Freedom’s just another word for noting left to lose, and to travel with the gear necessary for the images, videos, and stories that we share, we have to sacrifice a whole lot of our traveling piece of mind.
Now short a computer, we have no way to continue blogging. We could, of course, get a new one. It would require for us to invest more money, which means time away from travel, into our blog.
Just a few weeks ago, we were really excited for the months to come. Before the fiasco with the computer, I was in the middle of redesigning the site and had weaved together a fabulous team of photographers and storytellers from different parts of the world to transition We Travel and Blog into a collective, in order to add more fuel to the travel inspiration and help spread our message of ethical travel by incorporating local voices and stories. What’s more, just days before, we were selected by a TripAdvisor derivative as one of the top twenty photography blogs of 2015. It seems this year, the fire was really getting going with the blog.
However, we’re currently looking at this as a test of our intentions, and of our readership.
We’d like to know how much our stories are worth to you. If you enjoy our tales, if you’re at all inspired, if you ever read something we wrote, or saw a picture we took and thought “hey, that’s pretty cool!” If you’d like to see more of what we’ve been up to and what we have up our sleeve, please consider that we’ve invested the last three years of our lives into this full time job, traveling, yes, but working while we do, to bring you inspiration and help teach the world to travel more ethically. Please consider that, while we do have a great time collecting stories and putting them together, we’ve never charged for any of it, and have put in a substantial amount of our own money into it. We’ve opened up a GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds to purchase a new “work station” which means a laptop and the Adobe Creative Suite for the year. Dependent on how well the campaign does, we’ll consider the investment of our readership, versus the investment that we have to continue to put in to keep the blog going and propel it to the next level. We’ll weigh out the scales and make a decision on whether, at this point in our lives, we’d rather focus on simply enjoying our travels, or if we would be making as big a mistake dropping the blogging ball as I almost made trying to sell Big Blu.
It’s going to cost us about $4,000 CAD to get back up on our feet and continue bringing you stories. Of course, we don’t expect to raise the full amount, but if everyone reading this post right now gave us just a dollar, we’d be able to take a large chunk off of our out-of-pocket expenses. What’s more, it would mean a lot to us to know we’re being heard.
Although we do think it is fair to ask for a bit of compensation for our hard work, we also understand that some people our there feel that donations are just another word for getting nothing for something. Because of this we’ve added some reward levels. You’ll find prints of Gabriel’s photography, as well as some van-life adventures with us as part of the rewards system.
Is anyone out there? Is anyone listening? Should we keep plugging away at this? Or is it time to just soak in the moment and keep these few upcoming years’ worth of adventure to ourselves? What is our blog worth to you? Do you want to hear more from us? If you do, please consider throwing us a bone, and know that we’ll forever be grateful for your generosity, whatever the outcome.
As always, thanks for reading.