This is a story of a car. We have however very few pictures of said car and Brylee maintains that pictures of cars are incredibly boring and so we will supplement the story with pictures of macaws we saw in Honduras. Macaws beat cars every time.
Hold onto your hats this is a doozy.
Our feet hurt and our backs are tired. After 8 months carrying our bags on our backs we were more than ready to abandon the snail way of life and upgrade. It was time to enact a plan we had made before leaving NZ, time to buy a van! The plans were big, get a van with enough space that we can install a bed, maybe a small cooking area and be self-sufficient on the road. We could go where we wanted when we wanted. We could even pick up other travellers along the way. A beautiful dream – our own van. We really wanted to buy in Guatemala as from everything we’d heard so far it seemed like we would have the smoothest and most straight-forward time changing the ownership there. We knew what we needed too, something practical, something like a Toyota which we could fix easily and find parts for everywhere. Yup a Toyota would be perfect. So we bought this.
Well actually not this one, but this idea, google gave us this pic. But it’s black with a white roof, and it’s a 1979 VW Kombi.
Ahh, the screams of anyone who knows anything about cars is ringing through our ears, yup we did it, a VW Kombi – the world’s most unreliable vehicle. But look how cute they are! His name is Pingu and he would be our friend and take us all through Latin America. To be honest giving any car a good once over was hard in Guate without paying for a mechanic, for example we ended up buying this one in a petrol station in the middle of rush hour, we couldn’t lift it up and get a good look at it which was frustrating but we had a friend who sold used cars with us to help negotiate and our seller was from the Kombi Club (seriously there’s a Kombi Club in Guatemala) and prized himself on caring for his Kombis so compared to other options we’d viewed this seemed like our winner.
Our first suspicion that we may have made a horrible error was on the drive back to where we were staying. While our test drive had not brought up any big questions this longer drive indicated that actually the steering on this beast was terrible, and seriously what was wrong with the engine? We were chugging up a hill in 2nd gear and barely advancing. Chug chug chug, come on Pingu you can do this! We crawled into the driveway and went to bed, ready for a big day of getting our ownership papers changed at SAT the Guatemalan transport authority tomorrow.
Upon rising we discovered that Pingu had a present for us – a flat tyre. Naturally we had no jack, no spare, and were a few kms from any viable places to get these. Cue a walk to the store 2km away for tools, a return, a trip back the same way with a tyre, and a return with bright spanking new wheel. We weren’t too miffed, annoying yes but we had checked out the tyres previously and had already planned to replace a couple today, it just would have been nice of Pingu to hold out until we could actually drive down and do it. Ah well we’re set up now and off we drove into the city, only having one minor pant dampening incident when the accelerator pedal popped off, no worries, it just lacks a bolt – we’ll get to that after. We arrived at SAT, well to be precise at one of the many lawyers outside the SAT building, we had been informed that this car changing business was definitely not something to be attempted sans legal representation. We weren’t entirely sure what was in store but we were guessing it was a touch more complicated than the NZ process of walk into the LTSA, pay $9, sign a paper, walk out. So into the lawyers we walked and were met with a barrage of rapid Spanish, if we’d thought car Spanish to be a touch specialised and hard to follow legal Spanish was a killer, surprisingly during our time in Xela we had never learned the Spanish for avadavat. Why on earth would we need an avadavat to buy a car you ask? Oh coz the previous owner had changed the colour. And? Oh yeah, that’s a big deal here. A really big deal. Any changes at all and suddenly you’ve got inspections up a wazoo but hopefully our little letter from the lawyer with help circumvent that – for a price. But that was a worry for another day, as it turned out we would not be making it to SAT today. Bird break.
First we had to go….somewhere, for….something. We had no idea what but it was clearly very important. No problem, one of the friendly girls at the lawyer’s office would go with us and help. Off we popped in our trusty Pingu, a few minutes down the road and we sputtered to a stop. What the hell just happened? It didn’t take long to figure out – the fuel gage was broken and when the guy who sold it to us yesterday at a petrol station said he just filled the tank he was full of shit. Ok, no big deal, do a run to a petrol station with a can, get a small bit of petrol and get ourselves moving, Done and back on our way when our lovely guide promptly turned us into a one way street – gaaaah! This is not the most restful first journey – did we mention that all of this was occurring in Guatemala City, a crowded behemoth full of horrific drivers? And our indicators also didn’t work. Smoothly enough we manoeuvred through getting back on track when, poof, we stopped again. Seriously what now?? The fan belt. Naturally we had no idea how to change a Kombi fan belt which would have to be different to every other fan belt in the world, also where the hell would we even find one? Giving up on our mission for the day we sent our helper back to her office and went about changing the belt. We won’t bore you with the 2 hour agony that was the changing of the fan belt but eventually, via the petrol station, we were back on the road and limping off, tails between our legs to try again tomorrow. As we slowly but sure- well slowly chugged up the hill we finally knew the truth. All those people who talk about amazing adventures in Kombis were propaganda tools for VW. Kombis suck. Oh and on the final extra steep bouncy stretch we managed to only break down 6 times.
Waking the next morning we were full of joy and sunshine so very ready for another wonderful day of car adventures. We (ok MIkey) had discovered that the cause of the problems the night before was a loose HT lead so we temporarily glued that on and off we zoomed. Wait a minute, we WERE zooming! What the hell? Suddenly we’re climbing hills in 3rd, even 4th! We’re flowing like a black dream down the road, one little lead and everything is changed. Uneventfully we sauntered into the lawyer’s office, and equally as uneventfully we completed our task of the day before, gathered all our bits and pieces, paid money where they told us to pay money, paid more money because – well we weren’t entirely sure why but it looked like progress and off we went confidently striding into the SAT building. The friendly SAT lady told us everything looked good, our letter should be more than enough for the colour change (money well spent!) we just needed to wait 24 hours for the computer to update the payment we’d made (taxes and, some other stuff…) and we’d be good. Since it was Friday we needed to wait until Monday and spend the weekend getting Pingu set up. Sufficiently satisfied we putted off in the nearly-ours Pingu. After a short pull over to adjust the accelerator pedal (we really should fix that) we pull out and heard a sickening snap – and that was our steering gone. Now on the one hand the guy who sold the van really should have let us know that the steering was only held together by one very shoddy bolt so that you know, it didn’t do something like snap while we were driving around a corner on a hill so we could plummet off the edge and die. On the other hand we now knew why the steering had been a bit off and it was a relatively simple thing to fix. Fortunately for us we had snapped right in front of a mechanic, possibly the greatest mechanic in the world – should you for some reason ever need mechanical repairs in Guatemala City get yourself to Juan Pablo at Autobox Services the man is a saint! Originally Mikey just wandered over to get a couple of bolts and borrow some tools but do we really need to tell you by now that it just didn’t turn out that simply? Long story short some genius had welded the steering to the chassis and this was not a 2 minute fix. Screw it, we needed tyres anyway. We decided to leave Pingu in Juan Pablo’s capable hands and take the weekend off car duty, come Monday we would have everything ready at SAT, the steering would be fixed, new tyres would be on and we would be good to go.
We had a lovely relaxing weekend.
Come Monday we were ready to tackle SAT. We got past the first hurdle – everything was good on the computers. Finally we had made it to the sacred inner sanctum, the long waiting line for car related activities. Waiting, waiting, waiting and finally we were at the desk! We suspected we would have difficulties as soon as the guy looked at our faces and grimaced, no we’re not from here, yes we have the papers we need, yes we can speak enough Spanish to survive this transaction, lets just get it done! All good, fine, fine, ok, then came the colour change.
“You’re just changing the colour?”
“Nothing else, just the colour.”
“You changed the colour?”
“Actually, the guy who owned it before us did it”
“Just the colour?”
“No others parts?”
“Seriously, just the colour…that the other guy did”.
Now at this point Jerky Asshole the third could have simply looked at our pricey avadavat and given us out new title but nooooo
“You need the receipt from the place that did the colour change”
“But we didn’t even do it, we have no receipt, we cannot get a receipt”.
“Well I couldn’t possibly change the colour on the title without it. No receipt, no colour change.”
And of course, no colour change, no getting the van across borders. Well F@#k you very much small man in a menial job. Back to our lawyer who said she could get one for us, amongst the stress we had to appreciate a country where our lawyer was hunting down a forged document for us! After getting sick of waiting we thought we’d wander over and pick up the van, a touch of brightness in the day. Naturally it wasn’t ready and we would have to come back tomorrow, and now that we had no van we had no time to go and pick up our fake receipt and take it to SAT. Good, looks like we get to do this all again tomorrow.
Tomorrow came, we got to our lawyer who had the shiney forged document (and fresh bill) for us. Over to SAT, this time, this is it!! Oh no, we didn’t even make it past the first stage this time, see THIS receipt doesn’t have the word factory on it, so how could they possibly know that this is a place that paints cars, maybe we could find another one? Oh sure, not a problem, let us get right on that. Our lawyer was pretty confident she could get another one – in two weeks or so. After pulling various sad and stressed faces she promised to do it as fast as possible – Guatemalan fast – we held out limited hope. So into the bus one more time, oh good, wrong bus, this one dropped us off about 15 blocks from the mechanic – “Hey, what’s that sound? Thunder? Oh good”. Saturated and miserable we finally arrived at the mechanic so we could have this conversation…
“Hey guys, how are you doing?”
“Bad, we could use some good news”
“I have really bad news….”
You know how sometimes you really need to lift a car up to see what’s going on with it, you know how there are problems you can only really identify when you pull it apart a bit. This van had all of them. We’re not exaggerating one bit when we say had we driven any further in it, it would most likely have blown up. With us inside. After going back to our friend’s place, crying, ranting, and throwing our toys all through the house we came to a decision. The problems were fixable, not cheap but fixable and we’d come this far. We would hand over more (quite a bit more) of our hard earned cash, fix this thing and get moving. And while the receipt was being hunted down and the car being fixed we would go to El Salvador. Perfect plan. And perfect it was, El Salvador was a little piece of paradise that helped get us back in the travelling spirit.
After 2 weeks we reluctantly but optimistically headed back to Guatemala.
First, to the lawyer, new receipt – check. Off we go to SAT, past the first hurdle, easy – upstairs we go. This receipt is fine? Great ok, sooo? Then we were informed that we had to pay more money due to us not changing the ownership within 2 weeks (and whose fault was that hmm?) as well as some various other monies for various things fine whatever, off to the bank, money paid let’s get this DONE!
“Well you see, there’s a problem…”
Now one of our documents was a bit old and worn at the edges which made it a touch hard to read the last number in the serial number in the corner, not impossible, just hard, oh and the number was written out again directly below it.
“But that’s not the point, I need to read THIS number, so you need another one, you’ll need to go to the police, it’ll take about 15 days….”
This was when Jerky Assholethe third menial office worker SAT man got bombarded with a flurry of very imperfect but very impassioned Spanish. Oh HELL no we were not leaving without that ownership paper today, NOW. Latin passion should not be overestimated, suddenly this insurmountable problem just didn’t seem that big, 15 minutes later we walked out the proud owners of a hunk of shit Kombi, that should be all shiney and new by now. Do we really need to tell you what came next? Parts were hard to find, being built blah blah blah – screw this, we’re going to Honduras, we’ll be back in a month, then we’ll take this money pit and drive off into the sunset with it. Please enjoy some non-bird images from Honduras.
One month and a helping of dengue later we were both feeling pretty exhausted with the whole thing. Even if dear old Pingu was road worthy when we got back, did we really want to deal with this vehicle on an on-going basis? But what about all the money we’d sunk into it? We’re talking months of travel, gone. What to do? We arrived back to Juan Pablo our friendly mechanic and saw Pingu still in pieces.
“Ok guys, I can have it all done in a couple of days, there’s just this one little problem with the serial number on the engine.”
That’s it, we’re out.
We’re now in Nicaragua, the van is in Guatemala, the papers are signed and Juan Pablo is holding onto it and will try and sell it for us. Here is our last view of Pingu.
So if anyone wants a Kombi – it now runs well, there isn’t a problem with the serial number (engine or document), you would have no difficulty changing the ownership as it now says black – all in all it’s a great purchase for a traveller, just not us. Really we should have listened to our past selves, this blog is Two Legs Good for a reason, and our two legs are good enough for us, they’ll carry us as far as they can with the money we have left. And if we EVER mention buying a Kombi again slap us. Seriously.