Colombia: Still in Bogotá

Bogota skyline

Tuesday, 13 May 2008, Bogotá
Yes, we are still in Bogotá, and still waiting for our truck to be finished... In the meantime the waiting is really getting to us, both physically and emotionally. I don't know how many deadlines, when the truck should have been ready, we have already passed. The original statement was something like 2 weeks; yesterday it had been in the workshop for exactly 6 weeks. And every time we receive a new deadline we get our hopes up and we start working towards it. All those small decisions like: shall we go shopping at the supermarket (all large supermarkets are quite a trip away, so we usually have to return by taxi), or shall we wait another day and go shopping with the truck, so that we can stock up for leaving Bogotá; shall we clean the apartment we're living in or shall we wait until we do our final clean before leaving; it would be good to get all the laundry done so we're ready to leave, and we normally have to leave it for 2 days at the lavanderia etc. A day later all this preparation falls back into a hole, and we notice that we have wasted a lot of energy for nothing...
The last promise to get the truck was for Thursday last week, which then got delayed for whatever reason until Friday lunchtime, when I actually took it for a test-drive with the mechanic. Despite a few minor issues, the first few miles went rather well, the engine being at least a lot quieter and smoother than it has ever been. We drove up a really steep mountain to test the performance, and then on the return downhill section "Murphy" struck us again: suddenly there was some weird noise and the engine was running rough and blowing blue smoke. Diagnosis later on Friday was that the exhaust valve on the eighth cylinder got stuck, which meant disassembling the heads again, inspecting the damage and repairing the valve and guide. So once again we are waiting, uncertain if replacement head gaskets can be found in Bogotá, and if the next test-drive will pass without problems...
We can't even entirely blame the mechanic for all the problems, since "Murphy" (the Irishman of "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" fame) has had his fair share of responsibility almost from day one. Just a few things which went wrong:
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  1. When we first decided to go for a full engine rebuild Oswaldo got quotes for parts, to be shipped from the USA. Parallel to this I went searching on the internet for prices, and then we sat down and compared. A lot of the prices I found were significantly cheaper than his connection in the States, so in the end we agreed he would order the engine kit (this was only a couple of hundred Dollars more, but the most urgent), which contains all the pistons, rings, bearings, cylinder sleeves, gaskets, and other small parts; I would order valves, which I could get for less than a third of his price, and most sensors, which he couldn't even find through his connection in the USA.
    As soon as possible I placed my order for the valves and guides, to be shipped to Miami, from where a local friend has a quick and reliable forwarding connection to Colombia (we had used this shipping method before for some small items ordered from Amazon). For the first time ever they had some problems with customs, and the shipment took over 3 weeks instead of the normal 5-8 days.
  2. Just before the valve parcel finally showed up Oswaldo checked his order and discovered that the valve stem seals were not included, although all gaskets (including these) should have been part of his kit. So I had to place another order in the USA to get these shipped directly - freight and duty was more than the 16 valve stem seals.
  3. This parcel with the valve stem seals was sent from New Jersey on a Wednesday, processed by customs in Bogotá the following Monday, but then not delivered to the workshop until Friday late lunchtime = almost another week wasted!
  4. Oswaldo finally realised as well that he had been unable to get an Oil Pressure Sensor, which was damaged during removal, even though from the beginning it was clear that I couldn't find it anywhere online, and he said he would order it together with the engine kit.
  5. Earlier I had searched several days online for the necessary Camshaft Position Sensor and Injector Control Sensor, but could only find two suppliers who stocked both. One was Oregon Fuel Injection, the other a guy on eBay, whose prices were about half of the Oregon supplier, so I ordered them there. This parcel, for which I paid $110 incl. postage, got lost (Miami claims that it never arrived there)!
  6. So after waiting far too long for the sensors to show up Oswaldo searched locally, and finally found them at a local FORD dealer, but - are you sitting comfortably? - the price was a little over US$800 for all 3 (that included the Oil Pressure Sensor, at just under $100 the cheapest of all - they cost only $13 in the US)!!! We hesitated and considered for a few hours and, being sick of waiting any longer, finally agreed to the outrageous price. By now we could have almost received them from the States.
  7. During the test-drive last week the bargain Oil Pressure Sensor didn't function...

Yet it's not all "Murphy's" fault either. The way people work here can drive one up the wall. On a Monday (six weeks ago) the compression test was done, on Tuesday it was decided to take the engine apart, on Thursday we had the list of parts needed. We also had the quote from Oswaldo's connection in the USA, so I was anxious to get my orders in on Friday before noon so that they could be shipped on Friday afternoon, making use of the fact that air freight is usually moving over the weekend. No, instead I received the final details from Oswaldo late Saturday and the parcel was sent on Monday... Those 3 days might have meant that the parcel would have been through customs before the company in Miami encountered their problems - then it might have arrived 2 weeks earlier - but who knows...
Or take the last few days: on Friday evening it was clear there was a problem with the valve, Saturday the engine rebuilder wasn't working, but the workshop where the truck is was. Yet yesterday, Monday, in the late afternoon they were still busy pulling the second head off. All coolant, freshly bought and filled into the engine on Friday, was spilled into a drain instead of being caught in a clean bucket and re-used. Then later they complained that, when taking the heads off, coolant had leaked into the cylinders and mixed with the oil, so they had to change the oil again. Also it was clear yesterday by lunch-time that they needed to replace both cylinder head gaskets, yet only today, after the heads came back from the rebuilder, was somebody sent off to find the replacements - of course too late to finish the job today! And it has gone on like this the entire time... I'm ready to bet anything that greasing the front axle, a small job I have asked for several times during the past 3 weeks, will still not be done by the time they are ready for the next test-drive, which should be tomorrow...
Our main issue with all of this is probably the uncertainty and just "hanging here". If we had known any of this right from the beginning, then most likely we would have used our time here very differently.
Even before coming to Bogotá we were discussing the fact that we like the Colombians in general, and maybe Yasha should make use of her qualifications and look for a job here teaching English. Most of the well-paid jobs are in Bogotá, but initially we felt this was not the place to stay for any length of time. After the car problems arose it still didn't appear worthwhile looking for a job - for only 2 weeks, the advised timeframe to fix the truck. 6-7 weeks, the period we have now spent waiting for the repairs, would have been a totally different story: taking a job would have nicely filled some of the time and the huge hole in our wallets (from the engine repairs). Instead, many days were wasted, so many days that for the rest of this year we'll probably be almost rushing south in order to catch the right season, and somehow we doubt that there will be another space to stop elsewhere to do some teaching.
Alternatively we could have tried to book a trip to the Galapagos online, and taken a local flight to Ecuador and back, instead of sitting here both bored and anxious. It would have also allowed us to do that trip before peak season (basically around the time we would have arrived in Quito had there been no truck problem). Now we might face fully booked boats and another tedious wait in and around Quito.
Tuesday, 27 May 2008, Bogotá
We finally picked up our truck on Thursday 15, and then set about readying ourselves for a short trip to run the engine in and check out any problems, before returning to Bogotá to tighten bolts in the engine and have the oil changed. It took us a couple of days to move everything from the apartment back into our camper and to go shopping for supplies. It was certainly necessary to do some cleaning in the camper also, since it had been standing in a workshop for almost 2 months, where they are constantly running very smoky diesel engines. Everything was covered in a sooty, black sheen. But Sunday midday found us on the road heading for Los Llanos, a plain which covers a vast expanse of South-Eastern Colombia - in area almost half of the country.
Leaving Bogotá seems to take forever as the suburbs stretch out further to the south than one could imagine, but then we reach the turnoff toward Villavicencio and the road starts to take us downhill, through a number of tunnels (one of them the longest in Colombia), to the outskirts of Villavicencio. We travelled on to the heart of Colombia (the geographic centre of the country) just beyond Puerto López, to spend the night.
Villavicencio is right at the foot of the mountains, but the road to Puerto López takes us through the Llanos proper. The land is very flat, particularly after being in the mountains for so long, and seems to go on forever. There is a lot of water around, and the fields are lush and green, with an abundance of vegetation. The area is obviously very fertile, and a lot of rice is grown here, as evidenced in the fields and also by the number of mills we passed. There were several small airfields with crop dusters standing around, so we suppose aerial spraying of crops is carried out extensively. The land also supports a great many cattle, and we saw evidence of gas or oil exploration - we had wondered why there were so many oil tankers on the road here. Los Llanos is quite obviously a prosperous part of Colombia.

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