Colombia: Back in Bogotá

Out is the engine...

Continuation from < Page 2 < !

Sunday 20 April 2008, Bogotá
We are still in Bogotá, almost 7 weeks since we first arrived, with a 10 day break over the Easter holidays in Villa de Lleyva. Initially we had thought to complete this report when we had finished in Bogotá, but as that date becomes more indefinite, we decided it is time to bring those of you, who are trying to follow this journey, up to date. Before I go any further I would like to reiterate something my mother said to me on the telephone. I was telling her about some of our frustrations and her answer was, "You took on a challenge with this trip and I suppose this is just part of the challenge." I have remembered this quite often in the past few weeks.
The first thing that most people, we have been in contact with, want to know about is the truck. Well, on our return from Villa de Lleyva, we went back to Oswaldo and arranged to have some tests done - including a compression test. But nothing is easy - he had to make a special tool to fit our engine before doing this test! In between we took the truck back to another garage to have a new clutch fitted. We had been assured that it was just a matter of going a short distance away to buy one at a spare parts dealer. So they proceeded to pull the clutch out while we got the money together for the new one. Of course, once the truck was in pieces and we put the money in the mechanic's hand, the spare parts dealer says, sorry, I was wrong - the one I have is not the correct one! Three days later (2 nights spent sleeping in the garage in the camper) the truck was reassembled with our clutch reconditioned - I think. There were a number of things we had asked to have done in this workshop during the waiting periods, but there are 2 things we've learnt about workshops in this country: 1) the further back in the workshop they put your car the longer it will be there, 2) they can only concentrate on one job on your car at a time so you need to be constantly ready to suggest the next job when one is finished or the mechanic will be put to work on one of the cars at the front. We left this particular workshop feeling like we had paid too much for a job half done.
The next stop was a suspension place to re-bend the springs and install the new shock absorbers we had ordered from the States. They actually did a good job, took very little time, and they didn't overcharge. We had one small problem with the dampeners of the springs and they fixed it immediately when we brought the truck back a few days later.
Saturday, at the end of week 1 back in Bogotá, found us in Oswaldo's workshop where we thought we would be having the compression test done. It seems the tool that was especially made doesn't fit his test kit and has to be modified. Much frustration followed this pronouncement. Eventually, sometime during the afternoon, he did manage to get his scanner to read our computer. This was assisted by the chance arrival of a colleague who made some helpful suggestions. Having found some error codes we optimistically thought that our problems might soon be over, especially when Juergen found a posting on the internet by someone who had had just the same codes appear.
Not to be. Monday found us back in a workshop - where our vehicle has been sitting ever since - and the compression test was eventually completed late in the day. 2 of the 8 cylinders were found to have no compression. The only answer was, as we had much earlier feared, to disassemble the engine completely. And as we had also feared, almost all the necessary replacement parts had to be sent from the States. Week 1 was spent in workshops and then a good part of weeks 2 and 3 was spent in and out of internet places trying to track down the parts we needed at prices we thought were reasonable.
It is now time to make mention of a local man who has been an incredible friend to us during this whole time. We met Alvaro through Juergen and Eli when we first arrived in Bogotá, and since that time he has helped us in many ways. He helped us initially by suggesting workshops we might try and when we had problems understanding the mechanics or making ourselves understood, he acted as an interpreter over the telephone. He has also helped us get parts shipped from the USA to Colombia. He has invited us into his home where his wife, Liliana cooked us a lovely meal and their 18 month old daughter, Mariana, provided us with delightful interaction that only a child can offer. They live in a very modern, nicely designed and detailed, apartment that would not be out of place in an upmarket part of any western city. Although fairly small, it has all the space necessary for comfortable living. It was a very interesting contrast to the older building that we are living in.
He also offered us the use of his parents' apartment that Eli and Juergen had been staying in. We accepted the keys initially thinking we could use it sometimes for power for the computer and maybe to cook or take a shower, while still sleeping in the parking lot in our camper. Within 24 hours of receiving the keys we had moved in completely because the truck was in the workshop to stay for the foreseeable future. His parents made us feel very welcome and confirmed once again how friendly and helpful the Colombians are.
The apartment, on the top floor of a 3 storey building, is a little rustic in nature, with a tin roof and no insulation or lining except in the bedroom. As a result it can be quite cold at night - the temperatures drop to around 10°C overnight here - and, if the sun is out, it can be quite warm during the day. There is only cold water but we are both old hands with 'bucket baths' from various places we have travelled in Asia, so we heat a pot of water on the stove and go for it. As mentioned earlier, this area is right next to the airport and directly in the flight path, so it can be noisy due to air traffic - particularly between 6.00am and 10.00pm. We also have a building site right below our bedroom window which operates 7 days a week and one night they didn't stop cutting metal rods with an electric saw until well after 10.00pm. Despite all of these things, we are immensely grateful to these people for this place to stay. It is a secure neighbourhood with everything we need nearby, and it is a lot better than it would be spending all this time in a hotel room and eating in restaurants. And it's free - that's right, these incredibly generous people have given us unlimited use of this place with no expectation of payment.
During weeks 2 and 3 we spent most of our time in, or near, the apartment. We would leave to shop, visit the workshop or go, sometimes for hours, to the internet trying to sort out the spare parts from the USA. I got sick with a cold and spent some of the time just laying in bed, sleeping or reading. I have read some amazing books, some of which I happened to pick up in a book exchange along the way and several that I bought in Australia when I was home. Included were the "Kite Runner" and the new Harry Potter. This one I read twice in the space of 4 days - it was so exciting the first time through that I read it too fast and decided to just re-read a few bits. I got completely engrossed once again and re-read the whole thing! And Juergen has had his cities to build. I keep telling people that it is fortunate he has had this to distract him because otherwise the waiting would have driven him quite mad!
Since having no vehicle we have had some interesting experiences with local buses. We had been told that almost all the buses that drive along the main road from the airport head toward the centre. Twice we have been caught out and hopped on a bus only to find it turning off this road within a few blocks. One day this happened and we got off, crossed the street and caught a bus going back the other way, checking first that it was going to the city centre. We were soon back on the main road, but then it stopped suddenly and the driver climbed head first into the engine. He fiddled around for a while and then, arms and hands covered in grease, pronounced it fit to drive on. A little further down the road we passed a bus from the same company stopped on the side of the road and not looking like moving soon. Our driver made some comment about his bus being better than that one and found it incredibly funny. Taxis in Bogotá are very reasonably priced so we tend to catch a bus to wherever we are going and then get a taxi back. Invariably we are carrying shopping from the supermarket or more things from the camper that we have discovered we need and didn't bring to the apartment initially.
During this past week (week 4 since Easter) we have managed to get out and deal with a few bureaucratic things. We needed to go to the DAS office, to extend our visas, which is some considerable distance from where we are staying. While we were waiting for a bus to take us to the city centre, from where we thought to take another bus to the north where the office is, a bus stopped which just happened to be going north directly. I was a bit unsure at first but then the woman sitting in front of me asked where we were going. I showed her the address and she spoke to the driver. It turned out that we could get off the bus in walking distance to the office we needed. I chatted with her as much as language allowed along the way and, when the driver told us it was time to get out, she got out too. I thought it was coincidence that she needed the same stop, but she actually got out to make sure we found what we were looking for. She walked the 4 or 5 blocks with us until we arrived at the correct address and then went back the way she had come. I won't repeat myself again about Colombian people, but we do have experiences like this most days. Getting visa extensions was quite simple but a little time consuming. After we had been to the bank to pay the fee and got our passports photocopied, we lodged our forms, were almost immediately digitally photographed and fingerprinted, and then asked to take a seat in the waiting area. 2 hours later Juergen got up to ask how much longer we would have to wait and was directed to a desk where a woman took our passports out of her drawer, put the expiry date of the extension onto the stamp that was already in there, and then handed them to him. We have no idea what that was about - maybe we should have asked sooner. Most of the time our Spanish is sufficient for what we need, but in situations like that it is just not that useful.
After that we took a taxi to the Canadian Embassy to get Juergen's identity verified for the RTA, the department in New South Wales that issues driver licenses. His will expire in May and it has been quite a trip trying to work out how to get it replaced. The process appears to be quite simple when you look at their web page - download a photo kit, take it with a photo and photocopies of your license, passport and one other piece of identification to the local Australian Embassy to get it all witnessed and then send it to Australia. The first problem with that is that the last Australian Embassy we were anywhere near was in Mexico City a year ago or more, and the next one will be in Chile which we probably won't reach until later this year. Bogotá has an honorary consul who is not permitted, 'by law' (his words), to carry out this function. Juergen emailed the RTA and explained the situation and all their answer contained was a reiteration of what was on their website and that we should contact DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia) to find out where our nearest Embassy/Consulate would be. He then phoned the RTA and asked if he could go to the Canadian Embassy and got pretty much the same reply as in the email. Eventually I phoned DFAT and got a really nice woman who suggested that we go to the Canadian Embassy and ask them to do it, since they look after Australian's consular needs in the absence of an Australian mission, although she couldn't say if the RTA would accept that. So that is what led us to the Embassy last Wednesday. The consular agent there eventually decided that she could complete and sign the paperwork, but it was incredibly expensive - somewhere around $A80 in total!
The next day we walked to the International Airport because we understood there was a 'post office' there. Colombia has no government postal service - just a number of private companies who send letters and parcels. We arrived at the terminal to find every entrance door with a sign saying clearly in Spanish and English "Passengers Only" and a security guard standing there. Since we supposed that the postal service would be inside, we decided to attempt to walk in. No-one stopped us! We found an information counter and the girl told us in English how to find the office upstairs. Down a narrow corridor past phone booths we eventually discovered what we were looking for. The next shock - for a 30g letter airmail to Australia it would be something just over US$60!!! The other option would take 3 weeks instead of 3 days and would be only US$12. At this stage his license will be out of date by the time the new one gets here anyway, so we obviously took the second option. And after all the time and expense we are still not sure if the RTA will accept it!
So this is how we are spending our time while waiting for parts to arrive from America and for our truck to be put back together. Yesterday we went back to the workshop - first time since Monday - and saw our engine looking like new, sitting on the shop floor. They have painted the block red to match our truck and when Juergen said that wasn't necessary, the answer from the mechanic was "presentación"! So if the parcel containing the valves arrives on Monday and if the other two parcels we are waiting for arrive sometime this week and if the mechanics don't get sidetracked, we might be out of here in a week or two - but neither of us is holding our breath...

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