Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why Jesus Made Me Sell My Van

I promised an essay explaining why I no longer officially own the van and now the time has come. This story is so epic, involves something like 4 countries, many corrupt officials, bribery, thievery, forgery, lies, deception, tears, blood, money, property. Sex is remotely involved by not in a way that would make sense to go into detail about. I'm not like some Hollywood fucking screenwriter who reads a scene about a kid visiting his mother at a hospital, where she is a nurse, and thinks, "Hey, why don't we make the mother a stripper instead?" And some fat fucking producer with a hemorrhoid inflammation pillow in his Mercedes Benz nods and says, "Yes! A stripper!" So, I'm not going to give you sex.

God, where to begin? I'm simply trying to find a place to write and be at peace and my self-destructive tendencies landed me in some ridiculous sweltering Nicaraguan beach community. Ok. The van was running ok. No major problems on the horizon. I thought I could make it back to Mexico and renew my ego and rest and get all the parts that would break between Nicaragua and Mexico. That's what I thought. I was going to drive back when I get a call that a friend wants to take the drive north to see Central America. Well, my visa was running out in Nicaragua so I had to go back to Costa Rica or else continue to Guatemala and then to Mexico. Honduras and El Salvador are simply too rustic/lawless for me to enjoy with a big digital piano in the van. I can personally handle any travel situation, but when the van is involved, not to mention the 1974 Vespa ciao moped and illegally forged documents, then things get complicated and they get complicated for the wrong reasons, reasons that are frivolous, superficial, materialistic, and I don't like them. So why torture myself more than I have to?
Ok, so I'll go back to Costa Rica....sure. Costa Rica refuses to allow me to enter due to having used 3 months of my car calendar and the van has to be out of the country for 3 months. Well, Nicaragua only gives 30 day how the hell am I going to spend 90 days out of Costa Rica when I am only allowed 90 days in all of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala? The math does not add up because I will have to go to Guatemala, but I can not return to Nicaragua...and if I leave Guatemala into Mexico they will also tell me I can't come back for 90 days. Which means the 90 days I have to remain out of Costa Rica turns into 180 days in Mexico...waiting for Guatemala to allow me to re-enter. See? And then make my way back down after 6 months. Oh, for the love of God! I was denied entry into Costa Rica and could not return to Nicaragua for 5 days...and then my time would start again. Trapped with Cuban refugees. Sick and tortured for other reasons I won't go into. Sweating. Self-loathing. Finally got back into Nicaragua and then immediately toured Granada and Masaya to feel sorry for myself and pout with glue sniffing street kids in Granada...where the steep side incline of the streets flooded the rear oil seal. Replaced that seal in Managua...but only crossed my fingers the bearing was ok. More on that later.
Me and El Rey being goofy. (Yes, I made denim short shorts because I got jealous of all the sexy women walking around showing their ass.)

Waited out a month in Nicaragua, mostly tortured and scratching my ass, haunted, nightmares, awful awful misery and hopelessness. Then went back to Costa Rica and embarrassed myself at this posh Italian bar on the beach, playing jazz standards solo on my piano, stoned, drunk, sweating, butchered Nat King Cole songs. The sound went out and these strobe lights would not stop flashing in my eyes. Lost my lightbulb. No sound and no applause. Only the sound of my tinnitus and the waves crashing in my head. Slinked out of the bar as soon as the first Michael Jackson greatest hits song started to the cheers of the Hawaiian shirt set.

Ok, camped on the beach for 3 weeks until sun poisoning roasted me...then drove inland to find refuge in the mountains and ended up in a rushing river at midnight searching for thermal pools, that were non-existent. But this swarm of fire ants was not my imagination and I was savaged by a swarm of ants until my feet were bleeding and swollen and I dove off a broken dam to hopefully crush my skull because of the pain, but survived. Anyone who has been swarmed by fire ants will know the fear that swelled in my sweat. All encompassing pain and torture, running through a bamboo stand, bleeding from the arms and face, screaming for help and finally diving into the water to drown the ants clinging to my skin with their fierce jaws. Awful.
Oggy, looking for a Ford dealership
Basically, it was a tour of the northern volcanic mountains of Costa Rica and I feel it's important to caution anyone going in that direction. There is no easy way out of the Lake Arenal region. From La Fortuna to the Pan American highway, the road south is an insane climb into the mountains that will overheat any vehicle. And the road west to Tilaran is only slightly better because gravel trucks will keep the speed down and break your windshield with stray rock. Either way will kill most vehicles.

Oggy in his element
I survived that trip and immediately fled north but also recognized a rumbling in the axle that was either the front wheel bearings or the rear wheel bearings. But the rear bearings have all been replaced fairly recently so it must be the front bearings, and that's why I brought front bearings with me. So I changed all 4 front bearings with new grease and new seals. I was clumsy about taking the old bearing races out, but it was the first time I did such a job and now realize a bearing drift or slide hammer or brass drift is the way to go rather than use a jagged screwdriver or socket extension.
But the rumbling didn't change. Made it to Nicaragua and did some more work and the rumbling never changed. What could it be?
Drove north quickly with growing knot in my stomach because now I had entered Nicaragua and El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala which are wastelands of car parts. They can't spell Ford. They gleefully would shake their heads when I told them the manufacturer name. "No, no hay Fords aqui. Solo in Mexico."
Oh, they might order a bearing or seal and it would arrive two weeks later and be the wrong part and that would mean another 2 weeks waiting for another wrong part. So I made it Quetzaltenango...the city of 5 volcanoes...and the bearing was almost complete toast...but we were rolling. Until the gas situation returned. Remember I had some awful gas problems in Nicaragua that only cleaning the gas tank would solve. But this time, not only was there no gas in the filter I had installed...but when there was a little bit of gas the engine ran like crap. Lurching and dying and stalling and falling apart and running like a rented go kart. And it's 200KM between Quetzaltenango and the closest Autozone in Mexico. Wait...
Oggy, praying to Aztec Gods for help fixing van

Wait...I am getting ahead of myself. I said I sold my van, but I had already sold it by the time I reached Guatemala...because.

Ok, way the hell back in July 2015 I had to leave Guatemala after a 9 month stay with vehicle extensions I obtained at the airport in Guatemala city. That whole story is somewhere on my blog but I'm too tortured to hunt it down right now. Basically, I took a shuttle to Mexico to renew my passport visa. That bought me 90 more days...and with the new passport stamp I drove to the airport and the SAT folks extended my vehicle permit to match the date on my passport. Now, remember that the 90 days applied to all of Central America down to Nicaragua, so I could use all 90 days in Guatemala but I could not use 85 days in Guatemala and then expect to spend another 90 days in El Salvador and Nicaragua. No, there would only be 5 days left on my 90 days and El Salvador would refuse me entry or Nicaragua would fine me and torture me.
Well, I left Guatemala with about 2 or 3 weeks to reach Costa Rica. This was insane but I thought it would be no problem to spend 3 months in Costa Rica and then be back living in Guatemala in 4 months. Ha. That was July 2015 and I only recently got back to Guatemala...about 9 months later. Well, when I crossed the border of Guatemala and El Salvador they did see that I had enough time to reach Costa Rica but they were puzzled by these extensions. After some special discussion I was given the green light. My lack of Spansh fluency really hurt me here because I needed to know that my permit had been cancelled properly and I only assumed it had been cancelled because they were letting me leave. So that was June or July of 2015. Now, flash forward to innocent Oggy cruising up the coast of El Salvador...and reaching the border at the Hachadura border, a location I thought was ok. Well, the timing was all wrong because it was Semana Santa, the festivities surrounding Jesus Christ being murderer, tortured for religious crimes by the Romans 2000 years ago, denounced by his own people, claiming divinity, killed, then returning from the grave to prove he was indeed divine. It's totally crazy, but the parades are cool.
Well, there were all kinds of extra fees because it was a holiday. That's the cool way to get things done; don't close the business, just charge double! I would pay all that but the bank was closed and then we were not allowed to drive ten feet in front of the border to go to a hotel so we had to drive in a ridiculous route. blah blah blah. The details are actually the good stuff, but it would definitely take 300 pages to write all the details of this insane trip, the misunderstandings, the coca cola in glass bottles, the bribes, the stares, the children, the dogs, the chickens, the family dinners. the broken air conditioner, the cold water, the sweat, ants, mosquitoes, spiders, more dogs, police, nails in tires. It goes on and on and I would never shut up if I described all the details. So, the next day they say the van can not enter! THE VAN CAN NOT ENTER GUATEMALA! The vehicle permit from April of 2015, the permit I obtained at the airport in Guatemala City HAD NEVER BEEN CANCELLED, at least in the computer. "I'm sorry, there is nothing that can be done in your case. You can enter but your van can not. You will have to go back to El Salvador."
This was very bleak and was the second time I had been denied entry to a country. But now I was trying to go North so it added some knots to my stomach. (The rumbling from the axle was growing louder and louder too at this point)
Well, this was a classic "gatekeeper" moment where you are told by the supervisor that nothing can be done and you must leave, too bad, so sorry, fuck you. I mean, the gavel has dropped on your ass and your fate has been decided and you can barely understand what has happened and it wasn't your fault but it sort of was your fault. Basically, when I obtained the vehicle extension in april 2015, I was supposed to go back to the airport and get that same extension cancelled...and then I could go to the border and into El Salvador. And if I had done that then I would've been allowed back in Guatemala. But because I had simply driven to El Salvador and the officials had allowed me to leave without explaining they were not cancelling my permit, that meant the permit was invalid and now I had violated about 100 laws and the vehicle could never again enter Guatemala. Too bad! Awful awful feeling of abandonment and futility. And the banks were closing and it was a lonely feeling to know everything in my van would soon be in some thrift shop in San Salvador. Well, the truth is that I simply needed to pay the right amount of money to make the problem go away, but I was trying to find the best way to suggest such a thing in an official office. I mean it was like trying to bribe the DMV test giver to overlook too many wrong answers. Try to do that with some grace. The solution came down to this: I paid $50 more dollars to pay a fine for failing to cancel the last permit. That would allow me to wait in El Salvador for 3 months and eventually I could re-enter Guatemala. But if I wanted to drive into Guatemala immediately then I would simply need to "sell" my van to my passenger. The title would be transferred and technically my passenger would be importing the vehicle and I would be listed as an "additional driver". So fucking humiliating. Not to mention my driver's license is forged and my passenger had no driver's license. But this solved the problem and I had to take a bicycle taxi into the small town to get the bribe fee money. And then we were in Guatemala eating a taco.

Unintentionally ended up in Antigua for Semana Santa. Like a religious Disney World.

Ok, flash forward to trying to get out of Quetzaltenango and yes, there was rumbling problems I knew I would investigate in Mexico...well, my original plan was to stay in Guatemala but because the van was now owned by my passenger who had a plane ticket out of Mexico I had to leave with them so the permit could be cancelled because the permit was in their name....and immediately after trying to leave Quetzaltenango the van fuel system grinds to a halt on a mountain road. I backtrack to a hotel. There was major sickness involved that I don't want to get into the details of except that it complicated everything and involved numerous trips to a drugstore. Anyway, I go to investigate the fuel problem with a grave look on my face like I was buring my youngest daughter. I look back at the fuel tank and see the dreaded differential fluid leaking from the rear wheel, the brand new oil seal, and that explains why the brakes were pulling me off into a death drop over a cliff every time I stopped for a goat or pot hole. Ok, I investigate that axle and see it is almost totally ruined. But when I start the van up to get some drugs at the pharmacy it runs ok so I decide to postpone cleaning the fuel tank because maybe it has fixed itself.  This is insane, irrational, but the alternative was dropping the fuel tank at midnight in the mountains. I wasn't thinking clearly and I also had a passenger to consider.

So I spend a sleepless night pondering what to do because:
A: The van is not officially mine. The permit is in my passenger's name. I can't leave without my passenger.
B: No Ford parts are available in Guatemala except on the back of a flying unicorn.
C: If I hadn't noticed the rear bearing seal leaking I was content to continue to Mexico. I can't fix it in Guatemala and it is actually running ok and not making too much noise, but it was the source of that rumbling.
D: We are really close to Mexico. Only one mountain pass to Huehuetenango and then down to the border, and then up to Comitan, where there is an Autozone, where I can easily wait a few days and get the work done. Or if luck is with me I get all the way to San Cristobal.
E: Why not tempt fate and risk everything?
F: My passenger is sick and claims the air is poison in Guatemala. (This could be true because that whole region was apocalyptic, dry, dusty, filled with volcanic ash and air pollution).
G: My original destination was Mexico.

I wake up and decide to hit the road to Mexico...and the van promptly breaks down...or is stalling and sputtering so badly I decided to do some crazy things with the fuel system. I decide the tank is obstructed, but I also decide the fuel itself is contaminated. So, I use a spare fuel tank (radiator overflow reservoir) with new gas and hope gravity will feed the fuel into the filter. But it doesn't feed the filter. I prime the hose with a hand pump and that finally gets it to flow...and I have the fire extinguisher close at hand and my emergency training is to tell my crying passenger to simply aim the extinguisher at me and "spray until I stop screaming" Tears and weeping follow these instructions.

But we only make a few miles before the fuel flow seems to kill the engine completely, either floods it or else the fuel is full of water and the plugs are fouled.
It was too chaotic to get pictures.

Well, the original set up with the fuel pump sucking from the tank was very bad but at least I know there is fuel in the tank and I have stalled completely and there is no more fuel in my radiator overflow reservoir on a very remote region where there is nothing but a goat and an abandoned evangelical church. Blah blah. I hook it all back up and it fires up and we drive off toward Mexico and I swear that was the lowest moment of my 8 years of owning the van. I have never completely stalled and died on the road like that (knock on wood) and never used a tow truck. But to have that problem on that remote area was very stressful and dangerous*. Fortunately, that was the last of the problems. The van never stalled again...the bearing got worse and worse but I rolled into my destination in Mexico after a fairly insane descent to the border at La Mesilla, and got the parts and cleaned the tank and added filters and replaced the bearings and seal and even rented a new apartment and bought a hot plate and made an appointment to see a dentist for my annual cleaning**. There was a part I skipped about the Mexican corruption at the border and more forged documents, but I'll detail that in another essay. Basically, be very cautious about driving through Central America. Take a vehicle you can lose and don't fill it with a bunch of priceless guitars, and definitely don't drag a 1974 vespa Ciao moped because there is nowhere in Central America you can ride a moped that has no suspension, the gas is horrible, it's illegal to take two motor vehicles into all these countries at the same time, and parts are impossible to find and everyone will want to buy the moped even if you know they won't be able to ride it. 

Epilogue: The person I transferred the title to left on an airplane back to the United States. I kept the van and the defaced Title because the bastards will have to pry the keys from my cold dead fingers before they take it from me.

*Speaking of danger, I passed numerous fatal accidents, and the saddest one was at the Honduran border where I saw a parked carnival truck pulling a trailer of these little carts for kids to spin around on a track while I was waiting for my passport stamp...and I thought to myself that it's a hard life for a Honduran carnival ride operator who has to cross border to go to a circus...and maybe two hours later I pass the crumpled remains of this carnival truck and the smoldering wreckage after a head-on collision with a demolished passenger car. It had happened maybe twenty minutes earlier and officials were already on the scene. Later I passed the carnival where the truck was trying to get to and noted an empty location on the fairgrounds. Also, on the same day, I passed a horrible head-on collision between two big trucks carrying soda. "Carnage and death, that's what I get to see in Central Fucking America," I ranted to no one. On the flip side, there is at least one fatal accident every day on Texas roads.

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