Tag Archives: brakes

Chilly chilling in Chile

This weeks route

This weeks route

We started out from Antofagasta 11 days ago refreshed and relaxed after our great visit with Shauna and Julian.

Thanks again guys!!!!

Thanks again guys!!!!

Checking out The Arch north of Antofagasta

Checking out The Arch north of Antofagasta

We kept heading south and found a good place to stop for the night at Pan de Azúcar National Park right on the ocean.

Checking out some bizzare artwork in the desert

Checking out some bizzare/cool artwork in the desert

In Pan de Azucar (Sugar Bread) National Park

In Pan de Azucar (Sugar Bread) National Park

Our beachside camp

Our beachside campsite

Definitely not warm enough for swimming though

Definitely not warm enough for swimming though

Dry desert hills and beaches

Dry desert hills and beaches

The next morning we dropped into one of Chile’s best seaside resort towns, Bahia de Ingles, to have lunch before deciding to head to Huasco for the night.

Lunch by they beach

Lunch by they beach

The beach and blue water

The beach and blue water

On our way to Huasco Dave felt something go with the front brakes while stopping. We looked and couldn’t see anything obvious so continued. A few kilometres down the road we began hearing some scraping and then all of a sudden we didn’t have any brakes! Brake pedal to the floor with no results… We managed to slow to a stop without hitting anything and again checked everything over. We took off the front wheel and had a closer look. We saw that the left front brake was completely missing a brakepad! Not good. The brake backing plate was still there, but all of the brake lining was gone! We tidied it up as best as we could, and then with the help of a friendly neighbour, Juan, we plugged the brake line so we could at least get to a repair shop. Of course it was a Friday night as well. Juan said we would have to go back 45 mins to the larger town of Villenar to get new pads installed. We camped out in front of Juan’s place and took off the next morning and very slowly, made our way to the mechanics.

We managed to find a brake specialist garage in Villenar, but unfortunatley there we no pads to suit our van anywhere in town. Thankfully they knew what they were doing and set about making a complete new set of pads by using our old backing plates. This involved cutting and drilling new linings and riveting these to the existing backing plates. This was all done by hand – we didn’t even know this was possible. New hand made pads fabicated and installed for less that $80. Not bad at all! And best of all they work great! We decided because it took most of the day that we’d head back to the coast and to Huasco where we hadn’t managed to see much the night before.

It was a Saturday night and we thought we could park at the waterfront for the night. However we were soon accosted by many a passersby (mostly drunks) and so we returned to the safety outside of Juan’s house! This time he invited us in to meet his wife and of course partake in some Chile Pisco. They also have a crazy dog and I was trying to ask them what his name was but with my barely passable spanish I only got doggy. Guess it turns out his name is ‘Doggy’ or when he’s misbehaving, ‘Dog-ito’! We also learned that Juan’s 3 previous dogs were also called ‘Doggy’. Juan may not be the most creative sort but he was a great help, and host, to us!

In the middle of the night we woke to hear some kids walking by and then some time later we woke to a thump and the van shaking. Both of us woke up yelling to ward off the culprit who had assaulted the van and Christine even jumped up in a flash and was at the front doors. When we quieted down we looked around, listened and heard nothing. Oh well, the punks must have done a runner! It wasn’t until well into the next day that we realized what had happened was that one of the suspension springs had given way! It was the cause of the middle of the night disturbance, not hoodlums!

So the metal spring that broke was not in our plans at all. We gingerly drove back to Villenar and went to see our new friends at the brake garage to get a recommendation for this next repair. He gave us one and said that they’d be able to look at it first thing Monday morning. Being Sunday we had to try and entertain ourselves in this small little town which we found not to be so easy…

On Monday morning we got the van looked at. The mechanic dismantled the suspension system and removed the broken spring. He tack welded it back together and then indicated that we should come with him to get a suitable replacement part. We all jumped into his car, for what we thought would be a trip to the spring shop. So we were quite surprised when he pulled up outside a car salvage yard. Because we were in a small town, and the van is an ’88, they had no replacement parts, and no way to make any. Oh well – so we started hunting around for similar size suspension springs.

Christine out spring hunting

Christine out spring hunting

Amazingly we found a great match that looked in good condition and paid by weight. It was less than $5. By 5:30pm we were back on the road with a new (to us!) spring and ready to get going south. After weeks in the deserts of Peru, Boivia and Chile we were desperately in search of trees and forests!

The next 2 days were completely dedicated to driving. We even slept on the road both nights, one night next to at a police control stop and another at a highway rest stop. Great amenities here with free hot showers at most of the rest stops. We eventually made it to the start of the Chilean Lake District that we were so excited for! We stayed 3 nights in the Villarica and Pucon area, however we had lots of rain and cold and didn’t manage to do much besides trying to stay dry and catching up on emails.

Ginger back amongst the pine trees

Ginger back amongst the pine trees

Today was the first day that we actually could see some of the volcanoes that are around these parts! We’ve come a bit further south again, and are checking out some more of the lakes district before going up and over the pass into Argentina. Our last and final country!

Volcanoes over the lake

Volcanoes over the lake

All our winter gear on again!

All our winter gear on again!

And we are also counting down the days we have left with Ginger as they are numbered…

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Into the coffee regions

This week has been a pretty laid back one. We vegged out in Villa de Leyva for 4 nights recovering from our big hike in El Cocuy. Not exactly sure what we did there during that time but get caught up with our families and email, oh yes and eat a lot of pizza. We eventually headed toward Bogota and made it pretty close before it started to get dark. We went looking for a place that some previous overlanders had given GPS coordinates for on their blog – but we just couldn’t find it. However, in the dark we managed to stumble upon a pretty nice camping area with hot showers and owners that gave us copious amounts of ‘aromatica’ which is a hot drink of infused fruits.

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

The next morning we saw what a nice place it actually was and the owners were super friendly and again gave us some more free cups of the fruity tea like drink. They were also very interested in the van and the younger son said it was his ‘sueno’ or dream to have a vehicle like ours and travel like us. We gave them a little tour of Ginger, got some pictures and then headed toward the big city.

Our mission for Bogota was to find a wedding dress shop! Christine could not find that many online here in South America, but there was one that sold nice dresses and looked good. The map from the website was incorrect but thankfully our GPS eventually got us there. Of course Dave was required to stay outside and ended up being harassed by the parking attendant for the entire time he was waiting there. The dress mission was not successful but was very informative and gave Christine a few things to think about. Like how difficult it is going to be to try and find a dress on the road! That will be an ongoing mission we think.

After fighting our way out of Bogota traffic we headed north east towards the coffee district. We were a bit nervous about road blocks as everyone and their dog are on strike down here – coffee growers, truck drivers, miners, teachers, etc… We had no problems with strikers, however the road was long with a huge mountain we had to go up and over with tons of slow moving vehicles. On our descent we literally drove between 15-28km/hr behind molasses like trucks. Needless to say at the bottom of the mountain our brakes overheated and gave way. Pressing the brake pedal to the floor with no effect is never fun! By this time it was late at night (8pm) and we don’t really like to drive in the dark. However what can you do! We continued on to Salento, a cool small artesan town, and found our recommended hostal/camping site at La Serrana EcoFarm and Hostel. We found a spot alongside another overlander from British Columbia and got some dinner before falling into bed. We had started the day at 2,900m elevation, dropped down to 300m, climbed back up to 3,300m and then dropped again to 1,500m – no wonder the brakes were overheating!

Salento is a cool little town with lots of “arts and crafts” shops as Dave would say.

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Swinging in Colombia

Swinging in Colombia

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

Salento is also really close to Valle de Cocora which is the principal location of the Wax Palms. It is the national tree and symbol of Colombia and a protected species, especially from all those folks that used to use it for celebrations of Palm Sunday (no joke!). We took a jeep taxi to the start of a day hike and climbed the mountain for the great views. Of course we had cloud coverage and couldn’t see a darn thing!

Heading up the mountain

Heading up the mountain

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

A great view from the top

A great view from the top

But on the way down we did get some wonderful views and I think pictures!

Cocora Valley

Cocora Valley

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One not so good thing is the dogs around here! As we wrote back in Mexico, Christine’s mom got bit by a dog and since then Christine’s been a bit skiddish about them. Dogs down here are a whole different breed and are not like the nice friendly pets at home. Christine went to check out the view of the valley from the other side of our Hostal and was charged by 2 vicious dogs. There were lots of bared teeth and saliva but thankfully they didn’t bite. It was a close call though!

Tomorrow we head south and hope that we don’t come up against any roadblocks!

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Mazatlan to Acapulco

This weeks progress

What we thought would be a day waiting for Ginger at the mechanics turned into three days, and an unplanned return on the fourth after a brake failure.

On the first day the mechanics stripped all of the front brakes apart, but couldn’t get the new parts they needed to rebuild them… so we left Ginger there with her parts strewn all over the workshop floor and went in search of a hotel.

The next day they managed to finish the brake work and also replaced all of the fuel lines from the tank to the engine as they were convinced we had a leak in one of the lines. They were also convinced that our fresh water tank was the fuel tank… but we had been smelling gas, so let them do the work anyway. When we went to pick her up at the end of the second day they had forgotten that we also had issues with the temperature gauge, but promised that they could do it first thing in the morning. So, another night in Mazatlan for us.

Killing time in Mazatlan

The next day they had the temp gauge replaced by about 2pm, but we decided to spend a another night, rather than risk driving after dark trying to get to our next destination – so back to the Mar Rosa RV park we went.

During our time in Mazatlan we saw how they celebrate Halloween and more importantly Dia de la Muertes or what we call All Saints and All Souls Day. This is to remember people who have died and they even think they come back to visit. Hence the reason why they make these sometimes quite elaborate alters with picture and food and flowers. It’s also a national holiday although we didn’t see much closed up but we were in the touristy area.

Typical family altar

We had also had the front sway bar removed while in the workshop, as both of the brackets that mount the sway bar to the lower suspension arms had broken and were making terrible noises on all the dirt roads we were driving (this was often the main interstate highway). Now it seems that in taking the sway bar off they have also somehow removed or loosened the rubber stop from the passengers side, as we now have metal to metal contact when we hit the bigger potholes and topes (speed bumps) that Dave seems determined to not see.

The next morning we set off nice and early on our way to Sayulita, only to have a horrific grinding noise start on the front left brake about 20km down the road. Thankfully we were able to pull into a Pemex gas station, from where we called the Green Angels (an amazing free roadside service available to all tourists). About 45 minutes later we had both wheels off of the drivers side of the van while trying to work out the issue. It turned out that the new brake caliper body was rubbing against the inside of the wheel rim. The Green Angel mechanic arranged to have the offending part of the caliper body ground away, and then happily sent us on our way content that his work was done.

We were not so convinced that the problem was solved, so decided to take her for a test drive, but head back towards the original mechanic in Mazatlan while we did so. As expected the grinding noise returned after the first application of the brakes. We managed to nurse Ginger back to the mechanics, where it was decided that the retaining brackets provided with the new calipers were not good enough, and was allowing the caliper body to rotate and hit the inside of the wheel rim.

Troubleshooting the brake issues

Once the old brackets were put back on all seemed to be fine (and still good a week later). It was once again mid afternoon in Mazatlan, so we headed to our now very familiar Mar Rosa RV park for one final night.

The next day we had an easy drive with no mechanical issues all the way to Sayulita. This turned out to be a very touristy small town, with more white faces than locals, but it also had a great little RV park, right on a beautiful beach and within walking distance of plenty of restaurants and bars.

The beach at Sayulita

It was in Sayulita that we met some other travellers with the same plans as ours. These guys are driving three camper converted Sprinter vans (soon to be four) down to Argentina. We had a good chat about each others plans, and they were even nice enough to introduce us to a great taco stand nearby that had absolutely amazing coconut shrimp. These guys are keeping a blog at www.southerntiptrip.com.

Ginger and two of the Southern Tip Trip vans

We decided to keep moving, so headed out early again for a 500km day down the coast, to what we had read was a great little eco resort with a nice pool and grounds right on the beach. We had planned on about 7 1/2 hours to cover the distance, as the roads here aren’t great, but eventually took over 11 hours of solid driving to get there. I did give the brakes a good test when I locked them up because of an unsigned tope which I was about to hit at 80km/hr… We also had hours of slowly swerving around the coast highway, trying to avoid the killer potholes that looked big enough to swallow Ginger whole.

The main coastal highway

Another great section of road

Vultures cleaning up some roadkill

The last two hours of the trip was in the dark, along the windiest road I have ever driven, with the threat of livestock on the road around every corner. This was not a good day, and not one of us enjoyed.

There were some nice views – very reminiscent of the Oregon coast

We were both very happy to finally reach our destination though! This was short lived and we were dismally disappointed to find out the pool was empty and going green, the camping sites were completely overgrown and there was no longer any power or water available. A couple of beers and off to bed, knowing we would just get up and get back on the road again in the morning.

The green pool and broken playground

The next day, 250km down the road, we found a great little site in the back of a hotel in Ixtapa. This had shade, power, water and wifi, and was only 100m from a beautiful beach with bars and restaurants. We spent a couple of nights here, and even managed a full day of chilling out.

Chilling with a margerita

Watching the sun set from the bar

Our lovely site behind the hotel

We are now in Acapulco, and plan to go see the famous cliff divers tonight. The RV park here is nice, but they are only just setting up for the season, so the pool’s not ready yet. We will probably head on again tomorrow.

The view from our bed

What else this week? We put the finishing touches on our fly screens and have them in full use every night. They may not look too flash, but they make the inside of the van a lot more comfortable, especially when we can sleep with the back door open.

Dave sewing up the mosquito screens

The back screen – fantastic for sleeping

Screens on the side doors – and our water filtration system at work!

We also finally made a decision about travelling back to Melbourne in December. This was an issue that we had been trying to find a solution to for a long time. Basically Daves brother, Steve, is getting married in early December, and we had planned to both be there for it. Unfortunately Mexico does not allow you to import a vehicle and then leave the country without it. The vehicle becomes illegal if you do, and can be confiscated – not something we need right now. This left three possible options.

1 – Christine would stay with the van while Dave went home for the wedding.

2 – Drive all the way back North to the USA and leave the van there while we both went to Melbourne.

3 – Drive all the way down to Costa Rica and leave the van there.

No one is really happy about it, but we eventually decided that Christine staying with the van was the only truly feasible option.

So Dave has booked his tickets home for the wedding. Luckily Christine’s sister Rita is going to fly down and spend most of this time with Christine.

Dave is flying out of Cancun on the 21st, which means that we need to get over the Yucatan Peninsular before then, which is also why we are moving on most days.

In short, we are doing great and still really enjoying ourselves, especially now that Ginger Lee is running well once again. We are driving most days, but keeping them short so we can enjoy the beach in the afternoon. Our Spanish is still terrible, but hopefully we can find a good school once Dave is back from Australia.

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