Thursday, July 9, 2015

Local Scenes

Goat and Volcano

It took 20+ years for me to finally drive to Guatemala so I wasn't going to leave immediately. I wanted to spend enough time here that I got to know tailors by name, my favorite restaurants, the fruit vendors, watch the government collapse, etc. Maybe I fit in here because I'm almost living a normal life and when I was living in Austin I was treated like dirt because I was living like an escaped convict. But Austin rent is around $750 a month and it's $120 a month here. I could probably find a cheaper situation but I like where I'm at. Still, change is unavoidable.

Guatemala street scene
But I've been busy back at the van. If I had a real source of car parts I would go hog wild on that thing. But my approach is take the maintenance seriously and make almost no upgrades. I made an exception with the new upholstery and dash cover. That was an aesthetic upgrade 7 years in the making. I'm content with everything as it is. There are a few changes I'll make but they are minor. Having lived in the van for 5 years I didn't intend to camp my way through Central America. No, that's for young surfers. I want to practice piano and guitar. I thought I wanted to learn some Spanish but it turned out I only wanted to play guitar. I think the key to writing a few essays was having one big project that I can't get my head around, so I used the other essays as a way to avoid doing any work. If I had no other project then I would probably not write anything.

The garage that put the dual mufflers didn't support the exhaust so they get loose at the exhaust donut.

 But I feel that I could use a change of scenery and I have to mobilize to renew my visa anyway, so I figure I'll move south. I remember 9 months ago when I came into Guatemala I got so lost in one village and ended up on a steep down hill on the side of a volcano and the brakes were hot and the altitude was killing the idle and I couldn't find anywhere to turn around. It was very stressful as it was dark too and I was being forced to drive down this volcano at night and I knew it was the wrong way, so finally I did a 20 point U-turn in the middle of this narrow street and I believe I backed into a telephone pole, a gate, and I hit a house, stalled, hurt my neck, ran over a chicken, had all the neighbors out looking at me. But I wasn't going to drive down that volcano because it seemed hopeless to get back. In fact, much of the driving in Guatemala is beyond the normal capabilities of the van, or any vehicle. One gypsy couple drove through in an old Ford van and they said Guatemala was the hardest driving country thus far. The valves on their engine were ruined and a mechanic would resurface them and seal them with a bit of compound but within 100 miles the compression was low again and this happened quite a few times for them to get out of Guatemala and they hope to rebuild the motor in Mexico. Then I watched a video about an epic VW journey from Chile in some 1970 VW van. Watching videos like that should be required for any van gypsy. Because the goal of driving some 45 year old vehicle from Chile to Alaska is noble, interesting, but without watching the video I could tell you that yes, it's possible, and yet, you will spend more time fixing the vehicle than driving it. The roads of central America simply devour vehicles like a pitiful VW hippie van. Take my beloved 1974 Vespa Ciao moped. I drove that all over Atlixco and at one point I had to wrench on it every day for a month and a half. For every hour I spend riding it I had to spend 4 hours working on it. I think I finally resolved most of the issues with the carb and the inner tubes but it was frustrating. I only rode it once here in Guatemala and that ride confirmed my feeling it doesn't belong on these roads. But, even knowing everything I know, of how hellish it is to ride that moped around cobblestone streets with no suspension...I believe I could ride it to Chile or Argentina. I know that it's technically feasible to ride a 70cc moped 5000 miles through central and south america. Sure. Why not? I also know that for every hour I spend riding it I will spend 2 hours working on it and repairing broken shit.

So, I'm hesitant to drive the van anywhere, knowing that Guatemala eats vehicles. I would warn anyone driving to Lago Atitlan to simply take a bus. Don't drive your car there. Just don't do it. Those are the longest steepest roads in all of Central America. The VW van was stuck in that lake area for a week because it had no compression to get up the hill. Going downhill is kind of death defying and you will die if your brakes fail, but you must consider how you are going to get out. You have to have a low gear. And a bus will take you there for like $1, so why drive?
New in line transmission fluid filter after 2 years.
Making epic trips is great adventure, but if you do it in some ancient vehicle with more character than horsepower, then you are going to spend most of your time working on the vehicle. The guy driving the VW van seemed to charm all the mechanics into letting him sleep in the garage and use their tools. American garages would laugh at such a suggestion. Between Panama and Mexico I think he rebuilt the motor 10 times. He even took a bus and bought a used motor and put that in and it didn't last one day. And the motor then lasted only long enough for him to drive to the next mechanic. He languished for 5 months in Tapachula trying to fix his motor. And with the right parts that job takes 7 hours. It took him 5 months because every attempt to repair something was done at a sloppy machine shop who are not equipped to deal with 40 year old vintage German vans. Furthermore, that crappy 4 cylinder air cooled engine has no business in Guatemala. So, would you spend 5 months trying to repair a motor on a VW van that is worth about $400 in any city in America? All 1970 beater hippie VW vans are the same. They all have the same rigged electrical system, hopelessly hot wired. Dozens of stoned hippies have tried to make it work and have used standard bolts, metric, tape, who knows? It's all a big mess. Parts for those vans are all Chinese aftermarket so they will often be broken out of the box, and you waited 3 weeks for that part to arrive, so that means 3 more weeks waiting for a replacement. 6 weeks waiting for a distributor cap. See? It becomes a question of endurance. Do you want to drive from Chile to Alaska, or do you want to drive this specific crappy VW gypsy van from Chile to Alaska? There's a big difference because getting married to a crappy VW van that isn't even rare, is a personal choice. I won't call it crazy, but I think people lose sight of their priorities. This guy gets married to the van, sacrifices for it, bleeds, months and months of working on it, as his own girlfriend it's predestined. He's simply determined not only to drive to Alaska, but to drive this specific piece of shit van to Alaska at all costs. His girlfriend leaves and he basically says, "Oh, well, it sucks, but I have to get this van to Alaska." Where is it written that he has to get this van to Alaska? Did John the Baptist predict it?
But he doesn't actually admit that he's made a choice to marry this van and this trip. No, he seemingly believes that his trip is predestined, so he's unable to stop since he's come this far. Now he's simply not going to stop for any reason...this shitty van is going to get to Alaska at all cost, where it has absolutely no business because it's going to destroy the engine when it gets 40 below zero and has no coolant!

I have spent the last 7 years doing the required work to keep the van running and I never abuse the van. The moped requires a lot of work to keep running and I'm the only person who can do that work but I also never abuse it and deliberately didn't ride it here in a city that would destroy that moped. Could I ride it Chile? Yes. Would it take years? Yes. I could see myself breaking down somewhere and requiring a trip to Italy to buy parts to get the moped running again. You see how insane that would be? To take a plane to Italy to buy parts for a 1974 moped that is broken down in Peru, so I can continue the trip to Chile? WHY THE FUCK DON'T YOU JUST FLY TO CHILE? Oh, because the trip's definitions require I ride the moped, and not just any moped, but this specific piece of shit 1974 Vespa Ciao that I bought for $200 in Los Angeles and could replace in any major US city for $300. For some reason I have to get this moped to Chile.

Well, that doesn't appeal to me at all. The logistics and time required to accomplish that trip are actually within my abilities, but it's not a good value for my time. I might buy a motorcycle in Colombia and do the trip to Chile and back, sell the motorcycle, and then take a ferry to Panama and buy a totally different motorcycle. Shipping the motorcycle to Panama costs $1300, which is the cost of the motorcycle. So, why get married to that particular motorcycle? It makes no sense. This whole trip is not intended to take my van to the limits, although that has happened, but to put myself in a position to write and practice some music. I will not completely discount the idea of driving to Chile in my van with my piano and moped. No, I believe that would be possible and I know I could do it. But, I will not try to do that trip in one season. I am at the stage in my life that a trip like that is not simply a trip, that will be my life and if I drive to Granada or Antigua or San Jose or Quito or Buenos Aires, then I'm not going to pass through, get a taco, and drive on. No, I'll stop and get an apartment and live there for 9 months. That would mean a trip to Chile would take around 9 years and that's fine with me. It took 20 years to get to Guatemala so it might take me 20 years to get to Chile. I don't mind. I don't love driving the van through Central America when it is full of my music equipment. It's completely wrong scenario for that kind of trip, but it could be done on different terms such as driving a few days, maybe a week, and then stopping for 9 months. That's what my situation is right now and it's long enough that I have almost completely forgotten the stress I felt when first arrived in Guatemala and was stuck on the side of volcano and I couldn't turn around and when I made it to Quetzaltenango I thought, "That's it. No more. I don't want to drive to El Salvador." But now 9 months later, I have no misgivings about driving further south into the country with the highest murder ration in the world.* I know I don't want to tour Guatemala at all because this country devours vehicles like El Conquistador, but I know that the Pan American highway is not dangerous and will never be as mountainous as it is in Guatemala. This is the most mountainous area I've ever seen. To do almost anything you will be driving up a 3000 ft volcano and back down again and then back up and then back down. Your vehicle will be toast in 2 months. Destroyed. But that doesn't mean you can't rebuild it over the course of 3 tiresome months, relying on the kindness of strangers, having people mail you parts, living next to a vat of used motor oil and dog shit. It's fun!

 I write this as a reminder to myself that although I can do anything I set my mind to, that doesn't make my goals noble or worthwhile.

I've never had these valve covers off until today. No need, they can't be adjusted. But I heard something that was probably exhaust leak at the gaskets and I wanted to make sure the rocker arms and springs were at least visually where they should be. I don't know what the specs are but the rocker arm bolts were all slightly loose, and I'm thinking that's how they should be. Head bolts were tight. Of course I didn't have a new gasket but I'll pick one up eventually.

*The problem with crime statistics in Central America is their lack of depth. The reason murder rates are so high here are partly because the police do not investigate any crime. A crime must be investigated by the victim. And the victim does not call the cops when he finds the criminal. No, he digs a hole. And for those mouth breathing Fox News enthusiasts I want to point out the chain of events caused by a completely irresponsible gun trade climate in the United States. Here's a good article about a year old. The guns are sold legally to agents of Central American migrants in The States. Why would a gun dealer ask any questions of an El Salvadorian trying to purchase guns in San Antonio? Ha! And lose a 10% profit? No way. So, the gun is used a bit in the States, and when it has to be disappeared it is smuggled to El Salvador, where the really rough gangs control territory like immature Liberian teenagers. They would surely squeeze people for protection payments, like the mob, if anyone had money to squeeze. Since farmers already live in makeshift metal huts, squatting on farm land, there is no money to get. So the goal turns to simply bullying, and control of territory that they don't benefit from. All accomplished with Mr. Smith & Wesson courtesy of an infantile gun dealership strategy up north. Now, hold on to your hats because it gets better. So, the gangs force other teens to pick sides, using the guns, and require murder of traveling gypsies in vans named after Spanish conquerors to join the gang. See? And either you join or you die. So, Americans who think El Salvadorians are migrating to Texas out of some burning desire to pick lettuce in a farm are sadly mistaken. These El Salvadorians are fleeing, not migrating. And they are fleeing none other than the guns that were purchased in that loathsome state of Texas, where they got more bullets than brains. And the Texas Governor has the grotesque blindness to blame the El Salvadorians for trying to cross the border illegally. Pretty funny coming from the asshole whose irresponsible gun trade is actually the cause of the conditions in El Salvador that the teens had to flee from in the first place. I guess idiocy has no limits, but the indignity of going to the country that caused your misery to begin with is not lost on El Salvadorians. They must think Americans have completely lost their minds.
To be fair, the migration might happen even without the guns because the corruption in the government hinders all progress and the economy is teetering on collapse, but currently the guns guarantee it. Keep trading guns like they are sex toys and you will keep spreading poison throughout the world.

I'm developing a Central American Marshall Plan, we'll call it Oggy's Plan" and it will include a complete cessation of gun trade in the United States to mitigate the gun violence in El Salvador. We need people like George Marshall who went from being Chief of Staff of the Army during WWII to winning the Nobel Peace Prize for saving Europe twice. He might be the last person who was truly "Non-Partisan." He was a hero. Violent when violence was the only option, and peaceful when peace was needed. If Stalin had been remotely sane in 1947 then the world would be completely different today. We simply need another George Marshall to brush aside these loathsome bullies like Trump and Clinton and Bush and Rand. These people are imposters compared to Marshall. I really can't believe such a man existed when we have some of the most disgusting people now either in office or running for President. I have to believe Marshall would be horrified by the poisonous political climate today. He would think Trump was a practical joke. Marshall was in two World Wars, was the chief adviser in WWII and then immediately set about to rescue Europe from economic collapse and possible invasion by lunatic Stalinist Communist troops. Trump, by contrast, built a golf course on protected Scotland sand dunes. It's actually hard to call Trump a man if I also call Marshall a Man. It's really evidence that not all men are created equally. Marshall was cut from finer cloth. Trump is an embarrassment. Just imagine putting Trump in charge of rebuilding Europe in 1947. I have nightmares thinking about what would've happened.

What Marshall did for Europe is what Central America needs, and it needed it about 10 years ago. It's the best solution and the easiest since all we need to do is review what Marshall did and adapt it to Honduras and El Salvador. Instead of support, Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon and Reagan opted to exploit and devour and now we have a total clusterfuck in Central America while Europe had a stronger economy in 1957 than it had before WWII, totally recovering from epic destruction in about one decade. El Salvador on the other hand has a worse economy in 2015 than it had in 1920. Shit like that doesn't happen by accident and rescuing Central America will take something like the Marshall Plan.

Please, God, reincarnate George Marshall and make him become Secretary of State again! And while you're at it, please bring back another Sargent Shriver. We have enough assholes running for office and need some men.

Here's Marshall's speech in 1947 that was followed by 15 years of action that proved it was not lip service- "Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the USA. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."


Anonymous said...

You're having fun.

Oggy Bleacher said...

I stayed in Guatemala long enough to see the government collapse. that's cool. I advocate nationalization of all utilities.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you about getting shit fixed in CA. It ain't fun. Machine shops asked to make a round hole make a square one instead and then look at your like you are speaking english.
El Salvador was one of the BEST countries we visited. The people were amazing. The food was superb. Politics beside. \
Papusas. With the tiniest shrimps your have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Costa Rican Food is for shit, and expensive. They want to think they are american and have american beliefs, but the crime and the murders and shit doggery are legendary. don't linger, head for Panama.

Oggy Bleacher said...

I don't want this to turn into a quest to keep the van running. I understand that kind of quest but I'm really over that quest because it's kind of exhausting and at the end of it all I get is shitty old van...that runs. That's not a good payoff. It doesn't help me play piano at all. I might end up at a machine shop no matter what.

I am slightly nervous about El Salvador but any change in food will be welcome. Listen, I ordered Carnitas with the entire dead hog on a big platform covered with bug netting, his eyes rolled back in his head. They cut a hunk of skin, fried the skin, gave me a chunk of the hog's nose...and fried that...some hoof...and some tidbits of meat...and that's the BEST meal I've had in Guatemala...eaten with the dead pig staring at me from 5 feet away. Everything else is tasteless.

I'll probably end up in Panama but it's $2000 to ship a vehicle to Colombia. $2K to ship a $1K van. Why would I do that?
I really just want to buy a motorcycle in Colombia and go south like that.

Anonymous said...

You can Che.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.