Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Smuggling and Hovering -- Peru and Chile

by Scott

One of the bigger hassles for overlanders is the inevitable vehicle repair. Finding parts is hard. Finding good mechanics is even harder. I recently lucked out on both fronts.

While back in the states, my shopping list included an air box, coolant sensor, various filters, assorted gaskets, caliper pins, wheel studs, shock bushings, fuel injectors, and glow plugs. Imagine the pit in my stomach during our flight to Peru when they handed us the customs form that specifically called out the restrictions on auto parts, boat parts, motorcycle parts, and RV parts! Used parts are an absolute no-no, which included the air box and the rebuilt injectors, and new parts must go through an extensive and expensive import process.

A small sample of what was in our baggage

Rather than sleeping through our red-eye flight, I came up with a plan. We would not declare any of this stuff. Instead, if we got questioned, we would insist that the parts were for a Peruvian friend with an off-the-grid beach house. Truck? What truck? These parts are for a diesel generator!

While waiting at baggage claim, we observed the process at customs. All bags went through the X-ray, but people were not being searched. So, I stuffed my pockets with injectors, and Heather put the glow plugs in her purse. These were the small, but expensive parts. The rest stayed in our luggage. We chose the line with the two young female scanners, making the sexist assumption that they might not recognize car parts. It was 2am, so maybe they were just sleepy, but either way, it paid off. We walked through customs with a thousand dollars worth of undeclared parts for El Tigre. I didn't even get to use my well-rehearsed generator story.

The next step was to find a mechanic. I usually do all the work myself. The couple of times we've used mechanics have confirmed that no one else should be allowed to touch El Tigre. This time, though, I was nervous about doing it myself. I had never changed glow plugs or injectors, so I decided to leave it to a professional.

At the grocery store in Arica, Chile, I approached a guy who had an "HR Diesel" sticker on his truck. He recommended them, so I went there first. However, they refused to work on Chevy diesels, as they are extremely rare in South America. I went down the street to "Canchaya Diesel", another sticker I saw at the grocery store. It was siesta time, so we waited...and waited. I finally decided to walk around the block to see if there were any other options.

Beyond these gates is an overlander's oasis

As luck would have it, "Centro Diesel Turbo" ended their siesta a bit earlier than their competition. Jonathon, the mechanic, was super friendly, and told me to bring the truck over. He and Flavio, the owner, looked over the situation, and we all talked about our concerns. They gave me a short tour of their facilities to convince me that they could handle any unanticipated difficulties. They had an onsite welding shop, machine shop, and injector laboratory. Oh, and they'd do the job for less than $100 USD!

Don't judge a book by it's cover, this place was outstanding... and a really quiet campsite

We returned the next day, and I spent 7 hours hovering over Jonathon. He was the ideal mechanic--patient, methodical, and meticulous. I couldn't believe when he asked for the torque specifications for the injectors. I was even more surprised when he pulled out his torque wrench. I thought for sure he'd just go by feel. Are we still in South America?

Jonathon only lost his cool one time when I was trying to help a little too much

We ran out of daylight with a few more injectors to go, so we slept in the lot. It took Jonathon another 3 hours the next morning to finish up. Meanwhile, Flavio took me into the lab to test my old injectors to see if any were suitable for spares. Though the job took a little longer than expected, they stuck to the original estimate...less than $100 for 10 hours of labor! I gave Jonathon a $20 tip for the Spanish lessons, the injector tutorial, and especially the hovering. These guys can touch El Tigre any time.

It was worth the money just to not have to contort myself into the wheel well

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Down for the Count...a Darwin Award Nomination

by Scott

Each year, Darwin Awards are posthumously given to those who have ungracefully removed themselves from the human gene pool. Given that guys are testing their bullet proof vests in their basements, I will have some stiff competition this year. Plus, technically, I'm still alive, but it seems that is only a matter of time. Here's my story.

Heather and I have had the same down booties for about 15 years. In that time, they've lost most of their feathers. While we were back in the states, anticipating the frigid cold of Bolivia, I decided to shop for some new ones. Holy Cow! They go for $80/pair! Being frugal and resourceful, I came up with a plan. For $7, I bought a like-new Land's End down vest at the Salvation Army store.

It didn't take long to realize this was an outside job.

I carefully cut the seams on our booties and spent hours upon hours stuffing them with down transplanted from the vest. It was incredibly tedious work, and I was losing half the down to the wind. Looking around my father-in-law's barn, I came up with an idea. He had a 10-foot long section of 1/2" diameter clear PVC tubing. I figured I could suck the down out of the vest and blow it into the booties. Since the tube was so long, and I could see through it, I thought I could stop sucking before inhaling any feathers. I was wrong. Those things move really fast.

Immediately, I had the kind of ache in my chest you get when the pointy ends of Doritos get stuck in your throat. Three days later, I was googling the effect of having feathers in my lungs. Since the down didn't come from live geese, and Land's End probably cleaned it before putting it in the vest, imminent death seemed unlikely. However, on day 10, I was researching the ramifications of coughing up bloody phlegm. Google said I could do that for a week without concern. Yeah boy. On day 20, I was no longer coughing up blood, but I still had severe bronchitis. My feet, though, were very warm.

This is after. The before shot would've looked like saggy business socks.

I finally decided it was time to try antibiotics. Without going into the above detail, I explained to the Chilean pharmacist that I've had an infection in my lungs for 3 weeks. Without a prescription, she sold me a week long supply of amoxicillin. I took my last pill this morning, yet I still started the day with my routine half hour hack fest.  

Though I'm obviously of unsound mind and deteriorating body, should I finally succumb to these damn feathers, I hereby bequeath my overstuffed down booties to my nephew, Braxson. When they eventually lose most of their feathers, please remember Uncle Scott, and just buy some new ones.

Enjoy the booties, little buddy, and remind Aunt Heather to contact the Darwin people.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Checking In! On the Road Again.

Back in the saddle. On the road again.

We've recently returned from a visit to the USA to visit family and friends. It was a whirlwind trip packed with so many fun things, I can't do it justice in a blog post. For most of the time we stayed in Ann Arbor, MI with my parents. We also made a visit to Indiana and Kentucky to visit Scott's family as well as an awesome visit to Portland, Oregon to see old friends and visit our favorite part of the country.

The Matthews Family

Scott's brother's family and his Mom

Scott's other brother, Shane

Our time in the USA was a welcome contrast to our travel life. Sometimes it's good to change things up. Thank you to all the people who made it happen - especially Mom and Dad Matthews. During the visit, we never asked ourselves (or each other) where we would find water, diesel, or propane. I never wondered when we were going to be able to wash our clothes. The GPS was rarely used, and we didn't study guidebooks and maps to plot our next few days or weeks. We never reached an elevation that required special, high-altitude precautions, nor were we far from the luxury of air-conditioning if we felt uncomfortable. We had access to all the fresh food, craft beer, and high-speed internet that we could ever want. We did not have to struggle to communicate, but we also worried that we might lose the little bit of Spanish that had stuck in our brain. We feel rested and pampered and look forward to another perspective-changing episode of adventures and travel.

While we were in the USA, we left El Tigre in Tacna, Peru, and jumped through a few hoops to put the vehicle permit on hold. This was so that we would not have to worry about getting back before the permit expired. The return trip was a bit tenuous considering we were smuggling $1000 worth of truck parts not available in South America. We didn't learn that we had to "smuggle" the parts until we were actually on the plane from Dallas to Lima. The 5 pounds of smoked salmon and 3 pounds of parmesean cheese were the least of our worries. Fortunately, we walked right through customs with fuel injectors and glow plugs in our pockets, and bigger, but cheaper items in our bags. Even more fortunately, we were thrilled to see the truck parked just as we had left it.

El Tigre's resting place in Tacna, Peru

We spent a few days in Tacna getting our house back in order, then moved on to Chile. In Arica, we prepped El Tigre for the impending cold weather of Bolivia. We plan to spend a few weeks there before spending the rest of the year in Chile and Argentina. Onward ho. South-ish, in a zig-zagity fashion.