with a bit of difficulty.
After over 2.5 months, 6600km, 7 countries (and surprisingly few breakdowns), we wake up and head for the U.S.of A.
We arrive at the border, get in the back of a long line of traffic filing into a single lane stretching out along a steep hill... not our perfect situation. We pass the long line of cars to get to the top of the hill and then let most of them pass us explaining amidst fingers and curses that we wouldn't be able to brake on the hill. Woops. We eventually pull up to the booth expecting a few hours and a strip search (of at least our vehicle)...and instead we are waved in uneventfully. Amazing.
The agent explains that there is zero communication between the borders/countries, and for us to close our mexico vehicle permit (receive a refund of our deposit) the only access to the mexican aduana is on the other side, where people are waiting in line to enter mexico. Of course. We circle around and park the bus before entering on foot with our paperwork. The lady explains that she can cancel our paperwork, but only after we pull the bus up so she can inspect the VIN and take a few photos. Easy enough.
We pull up, she takes her photos and as we prepare to leave she explains that we can only leave by crossing back into mexico. Wait, what? Apparently we crossed the very official painted line that represents the border between US and Mexico (as directed by the aduana official) and now are basically out of the country, or at the very least in between countries. We protest (obviously), and she walks off to try and pull some strings. The last thing we want to do is go to the back of a long line of grumpy hillside traffic again. We begrudgingly pull into the mexico lane and up to the inspection light - where we are thrilled to get a green light (no inspection). Sadly, as we pull forward the guard overrides the light and waves us over for an inspection anyway. Doh!
We try to explain what happened and why we are here (driving into mexico to get to san diego), but we barely understand ourselves and they do a short search before waving us ahead. We wrap around a few back roads, talk to a few guards and somehow are ushered through a gate that puts us at the very front of the long line of cars entering the US. The guards literally stop traffic and usher us through a few lanes back to the starting point. For a few moments we feel not only lucky to not be starting over, but also like VIPs.
This has to be what we will miss the most about mexico... Jen and i have always struggled with rules. We know they exist, we know they need to...we just struggle when they apply to us. In mexico- there are no rules, and when there are; you can almost certainly find a way around, over or under them. Viva Mexico!
Soon we are back (officially) in the states, a 3-in-1 border crossing done in less time than any single one in the last few months.
We wind through the mountains back towards San Diego and the last few miles we merge onto the freeway. A freeway filled with lots of manic, stressed out people apparently trying to get to work or some other very important place (like all the ugly big box stores we're passing along the way). I realize 20 minutes in that my hands are clenching the wheel, my back is tight and I'm barely breathing. I'm tighter than i remember feeling in months...and we haven't even gotten out of the car yet. Welcome back indeed!
Luckily, we are heading to Rosa and Patrick's, where it's almost impossible to feel anything but comfortable. We immediately unwind and catch up on each others' world travels since last getting together. They were our last stop before entering mexico on the way south, and while we were touring mexico and central america they were off touring china and southeast asia.
They cook us an amazing meal and we share a bottle of wine before crashing in the bus for the night. In the morning we take E in for some brake work. While the bus has been running surprisingly well, one of our rear brakes has seized up a few times in the last week and the front discs sound like it's time for a change as well. Patrick takes his usual donuts for the mechanics to ensure we end up near the front of the pack. Despite not having an appointment, they take care of the bus within the day. We know it puts us a day back of our plan, but better to have the comfort/peace of mind before moving north.
In the morning we take off, hit a local vintage bus parts store for a new distributor (2 guys in the last week have come up with a similar theory that a bad distributor might be causing our struggles to keep timing/calibration... and it's worth a shot). We swap out the distributors in the parking lot, grab a Bull Taco for the road and then hop on the freeway.
Sadly, that's about where our progress ended.
We made it about 20 miles north before our rear brake froze up again. Argh. We pull over at the rest stop, bleed the brakes to free the wheel up but after every 4-5 times hitting the brakes, it's stuck solid again. We decide to turn around and take the bus back to the guy (who we've already paid to fix the problem) and attempt to navigate freeway traffic without touching our brakes. It feels like a uber-realistic video game with high consequences. All goes well for a few exits until we see 100s of brake lights up ahead. Doh.
I try downshifting to avoid the cars ahead of us and our clutch drops loose to the floor. Now we have sketchy brakes and can't get into gear! We pull off the exit, hit the one-use-only brakes and coast to a stop on the side of the road. I check the clutch cable and both sides are connected. Not good- as that means the problem's deeper and not something I'm going to fix here, half way in the road on a busy freeway exit.
We kick start the bus and creep along in a rattling first gear a few blocks before stumbling upon a mechanic and pulling in. The bus dies as soon as we let off the gas.
It's Friday the 13th and our day sure feels like it. We are both eager to move north to friends and events we've been looking forward to... but its clear we need to deal with a few things first.
We have them put E on the lift, check the cable and confirm that we've blown our clutch and won't be going anywhere else today. We walk away looking for a bar- and a place to sleep.