When you go travelling, you will undoubtably have days were you think to your self “Why the f**k am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this misery when I could be at home drinking tea and being happy?” Its just what happens when you are out of your comfort zone and things go wrong.
Today was one of those days.
To be honest, I cant even say It started well. With plans of crossing the border before the crowds, I got straight on the road at half 6. This was later than I had planned to set off, as I had sort of slept in a bit by mistake. With nothing quickly available to eat, I decided to ignore my hunger and crack on. I’m not good at being hungry. I never skip breakfast. This was already a bad day.
The next issue came to light about 100 meters down the road when I noticed the breaks felt rather spongy. They were still working, but I pulled over anyway to take a look. Things seemed relatively ok to my untrained eye. There was maybe a slight leek around the master cylinder, but the break fluid level was fine. Besides, I was on a mission, and I resolved to crack on and deal with it when I had more time in Mexico. This was probably one of the biggest (and most costly) mistakes I have ever made/will make in my entire life.
The border was about 20 miles away and I was going to get to Ensenada! Everything could wait till then. They have great cheap mechanics, I have a contact there, there is a good cheep campsite and great waves. I had been waiting to cross over for 2 months and Today was that day! I’m just letting you know what my mindset was early this morning, so you don’t judge me too much in this. I just want to say, I’m still unsure on the right things to do in these situations (I suppose I know some things now…), but yeah, hear we go:
So I am on Interstate 5 heading south, pretty sleepy, there is a steep hill which I have to accelerate pretty hard to make it up. Suddenly there is this knocking sound, a deep, low, banging, in time with the engine. Not exactly massively noticeable but definitely there. For the first time I realise there is a bit of smoke coming from the exhaust. Definitely not good. What do I do now? On the main highway almost in Mexico? All I could think was crack on, it will all be fine, its not that bad. your going to make it. I now know I should have stopped and got it sorted. Maybe I would be in a better situation than I am now in, who knows? Maybe by this point the damage was already done.
I still had to get my Mexican car insurance and change some money. So I limped in to San Yisidro, where I was told to get that done. By this time things had got worse. In fact, When I was pulling in to the carpark of the insurance place the engine conked out properly! By now I really knew I had to get this sorted, even I could work out what was going on. I had over heated. Severally. Maybe that day, but I’m now starting to think maybe before, maybe even on the drive down from San Clemente… But something was majorly wrong, and It was happening at the worst possible time.
The lady in the office was really nice, and really helpful. But just my luck, there were no mechanics close by. So much so, that apparently the closest was probably across the boarder in Tijuana! The lady at the till was actually from Tijuana, and said she new a really great mechanic over there which was quite close, and cheaper than anything in america. she had been there, and knew it was a nicer part of town (not saying much though…) She even drew me a map of how to get there. Looking back, I don’t really know what I was thinking, but at that time, driving in to Tijuana seemed like my best option. Clearly lack of food and sleep was playing with my thoughts.
I got my Mexican car insurance and went to get money out from the bank so I could change a load in to Pesos. My day has been so stressful I actually forgot how stressful this part was! I couldn't get money out! I knew I needed a lot of cash for Mexico, but for some reason my card was being declined by the bank. Being hungry and tired, this really stressed me out. I then got further stressed out when on the phone to Thomas cook cash passports, getting put on hold countless times, being passed around to 100 different employees, to each of whom I’d have to explain my predicament, all the while being charged for it! In the end I was told that there was nothing I could do! My only option was to go to a cash machine, but I’d have a limit of 300 dollars which might not be enough if the repairs stared adding up... not what I wanted to hear.
So that was stressful.
But I was going to Mexico. With my Pesos in one hand and my directions in the other, I forced the truck to start again.
As you can imagine I didn't make it far, I actually very nearly completely screwed myself over, as I did make it back on to the freeway heading in to Mexico! Somewhere In my head, sanity must still have lurked, as when a sign appeared saying “last American exit” I realised I wasn't going to make it. If I didn't take this exit I could end up broken down in the middle of Tijuana. It was that thought which made me take the exit. That was the first good decision I’d made all day.
The engine conked out again about 300 meters after that. I rolled, powerless, in to a parking lot, with smoke billowing out from under the hood.
This was when I hit my full low, finally, I think, realising my situation. I had invested everything I had in this truck, my wheels and home for the year, without it I had nothing. I got out the car and just sat on the ground. Head in my hands, I did the only thing I could think of; I called home.
Always there, always knowing what to do, always making me feel better whenever I’m down are my Mum and Dad. My Knight and Hobbs in shining armour. Somehow, even from the other side of the world they saved the day. Having access to internet, they got me a number of a tow truck and found the number of a great mechanic who specialised in engine rebuilds. Before I knew it I was on my way back to San Diego.
So there it is. It could almost be a “and thats how my trip ended” moment. From what it looks like, I have blown one or both of the head gaskets (V8s have 2) and probably messed a lot of the bearings and pistons up by driving it while it was over-heated (the banging sound). Actually the blown head gasket is a result of over heating as well, but I just HAD to keep driving. I have now been told it could all have been avoided for 10 dollars, all I needed was a new thermostat and I would have been able to see when the engine started to over heat (still unsure why that happened). But there we go, everyday is a school day.
In actual fact, the next few weeks will be school days for me. I have made a deal with the mechanic; Im going to help him with the engine rebuild as much as possible, along with other things (cleaning the workshop), so he will be effectively be teaching my how do it! Suppose you could call me an apprentice or something now! Im hoping this will reduce the costs, as I will be doing a lot of the labour myself… I have actually already started! Greg (the mechanic) was busy, but he said I could crack on if I wanted. Using my Haynes manual I have taken out the radiator, alternator and air-con units.
To look on the bright side, today may have been one of those ‘blessing in disguise’ thingies. For one this could have happened in the middle of the desert, which I dread to think about. But also It means that when I do eventually leave, I know I will have a good, working engine. And to throw some sugar on top, I have always wanted to learn all about engines, to take one apart and be taught what all the bits do. What is travelling about if not to learn things? To gain new experiences and knowledge? I may be feeling depressed at this moment in time, but in a few weeks I’ll be back on the road, stronger and more prepared than ever. Who knows! Maybe one day I’ll even laugh about it!
Unfortunately, as my good friend Aragon was fond of saying, ‘Today is not that day’