It's a VW christmas
One more sunrise surf session at Flores and we finally make it out of town. It was sad for us to leave, but we also know for certain it won't be long before our toes are back in the sand in or near El Cuco. We both had another amazing day in the waves and left with giant smiles on our faces despite not really wanting to go. We drove a few back roads around the break and through the tiny centro a bit looking for vistas and dreaming of living nearby and walking to the break every morning... then we finally broke free and left town (with only a quick discussion about whether to stay yet another night).
We headed up the coast to El Tunco, the backpackers favorite in the area, knowing we could get a decent place to sleep and at this point more importantly- good wifi to plan our next few days. We pulled into town, went immediately to get jen's favorite ever smoothie (the Chainana), then proceeded to a hostal. We checked in, took a much needed shower and then walked the beach and watched the surfers before heading back and sharing in a christmas eve feast with the handful of international travelers staying at our place. They really went all out and it was awesome of them to include us in the celebration!
After a good night's sleep went further north and spent the morning at El Zonte, our favorite on the way south in the La Libertad area. Much slower and calmer than Tunco, but with less infrastructure (and sadly a less dependable wave). We pulled under the same shack where we stayed a week on the trip south and saw the giant warm smile of our old host. So glad to see he's still here, swinging in his hammock exactly where we left him over 2 years ago. He welcomed us and watched the bus while we walked up the beach and grabbed breakfast. The heat was bearing down on us and we discussed staying, but opted to move off the beach and head inland (never an easy move for us).
Heading inland, we stayed the night in Santa Ana nearby the Guatemalan Border. Pulled in road weary and thought there was nobody there, but eventually they came down. They proceeded to open the gate, helped watch our clearance and warn us to take the surfboards off the top (and eventually stood on the bumper) to make sure we had enough clearance to make it inside the gate.
We got comfortable and sent off some christmas emails before heading out to the bus to try troubleshooting some electric issues we've been having with the house batteries. Headed south we could stay off grid for about 3 days using only solar but these days we drain the batteries overnight. Seems fine in CA but wont make us happy when were further north and have the ability to camp for longer/cheaper. We've been putting off the issue but today even our drive didn't top off the batteries, making matters worse still.
We pour some tequila and head out in the heat to see what we can find. I clean some connections and wiggle some things before finding the cable connecting our house batteries to the car battery is extremely loose. I think it can't possibly be that simple, but tighten the nut and then hop upfront to start the engine and watch the gauge. Success!!
Pleased with what has clearly been the simplest road repair we've ever done, we toast and cheer and i rev the engine for a few minutes to top off the battery for the night. After a while i think about turning the engine off, but instead decide to head back and see if i can adjust the carbs and see how many cylinders were running on at the moment (hint:usually less than 4).
I stare for a second wondering why the engine seems so clean and then it instantly hits me as i inhale a whiff of gas...our engine is coated in fuel as it streams out of the fuel pump!
I sprint up front, turn off the engine and grab the extinguisher just in case. Ive read WAY too many horror stories about just how easily VWs burst into flames and images of burning vans stream through my head. We head inside to pour another tequila, both thinking about how we aren't likely to reach a mechanic on christmas day and knowing that our plans to exit the country in the morning are surely toast.
On the upside we discuss...the fire extinguisher still hasn't been used and the fact that we discovered this problem while parked rather than by seeing flames out the back while driving up the highway are both huge wins! I read a few forums looking for tips and send emails off to a few local VW clubs before heading back out to the bus to sift through spare parts.
As it turns out we have not only a spare fuel pump but also a packet full of spare gaskets that happens to hold the ones we need for the fuel pump exchange. I honestly don't recall purchasing either and am convinced its a minor christmas miracle. Obviously someone along the way told us to buy them as we clearly had no idea early on what to carry or why. Jen and i haven't exchanged gifts for years since starting our savings (now affordable living) plan, but as we sat at the table unwrapping the pump and gaskets it seemed clear we'd been given a gift this year in the form of easily obtainable parts.
I check into my emails and the forum and am shocked that during time for christmas dinner back home i've gotten responses from both. Hints and ideas guiding the repair from the forum and someone willing to come out first thing in the morning and help from the local club. Amazing. Truly amazing.
This is the unknown factor we had no idea of when buying the VW. We are always around someone willing to help and the community of VW aficionados is not only huge but also full of some of the kindest and most helpful humans on the planet. We head out to the bus, fresh tequila, and flashlight in hand and proceed to tackle the repair.
Within the hour we are back inside, feeling excited and proud that our repair (not the repair we set out to do mind you, but the more important one we ran into along the way) appears to have been successful. It's not the way we intended to spend the evening of christmas, but we're beaming like the plastic angel atop the tree with pride that we had not only found a potentially catastrophic issue, but also repaired it ourselves without needing help and without losing days off the road. It turned out we didn't need them, but the fact that someone was there to help us, confirm our paths and lend a hand if needed was a tremendous weight off our shoulders.
I continue to be amazed not only by how perfect the simple systems of this bus are for our trip, but also by the sheer selflessness of those we encounter in these countries and by the VW community at large. We are humbled to be a part of that community and look forward to a day that we actually know enough to help some other traveler in need, wherever we might be. I don't know what it is about the VW, it's history and its culture, but somehow it truly seems to attract the best people and bring out the best in all of them.
The last email back from a complete stranger (in a foreign country and language, on one of the most important family and religious holidays of the year) was about his willingness to come help us either then or in the morning (he also wrote back at 5am the next morning just to ensure we didn't need him) was simply- "It's always a pleasure to help. As i always said, 'not all of my friends have a volkswagen, but everyone who has a volkswagen is my friend'."