After several failed attempts over the course of 15,000 miles (all involving minimal effort on my part), I finally decided to get my steering bushing replaced on the Taco. Throughout the entirety of Central America, 9 countries later, I make the commitment to get this taken care of. It became increasingly easy to say, “I will do it in the next city,” but as the dirt roads of Bolivia hover in our near future, I am presently more aware than ever that rugged driving is quickly approaching, so I can no longer f* around.
When I brought the truck for a tune-up, in Colorado almost a year ago, they informed me that I was in need of new bushings. I shrugged this off, mostly because it was expensive and it was not a priority at that point in our travels. We just wanted to hit the road. We are now in Southern Colombia, talking about our crossing into Ecuador, and I am beginning to get a rising sense of anxiety as I think about the unpaved roads of Bolivia and Argentina. It is time to pull the trigger and install new bushings. In speaking to the mechanic, he reported that the bushings are totally destroyed. I expected this. It explains the large amount of play in the steering that I have felt ever since we purchased the Tacoma almost 2 years ago. The whole situation reminds me of a T-shirt I recently saw being worn by the first mate of our Panamanian sail to Colombia. It read “procrastinators unite,” then under that it said, “tomorrow.”
The hefe at the mechanic spoke perfect english and he even lived in the states most of his life This was good, as clear communication is important in these type of situations (especially since my Spanish mechanic vocabulary is somewhat limited). He even offered us camping at his farm, an hour away (Colombians are suspiciously friendly), but we decided to stay local. We are in Cali, Colombia and this major Latin American city of 2.7 million is hectic. It is Friday, Colombia plays the World Cup tomorrow, the weekend is here, and the truck can’t be worked on until Monday. Shit just got real.
We decided to drive south, out of town, and stay at whatever cheap no-tell motel (popular Latin American hotels frequented by men and their mistresses) we could find. They are muy economico, gated, have security, and are in close proximity to the city. As we cruise the streets on the lookout for such an establishment, we notice people giving us the thumbs-up, waving, smiling, and communicating a general sense of approval through various hand motions. We are being welcomed by the city folk, perhaps because they can tell by our plates and rig that we have traveled a great distance to arrive at the lively city of Cali, Colombia.
A newer model Toyota Landcruiser pulls up next to us. I can see the woman in the passenger seat is trying to take photos of me, without me noticing. The couple could be my parents age and appear to be upper class. I glance over and she hides the camera. I roll down the window (we are at a stoplight) and give her the go ahead-take my photo. I like the attention. She takes a few and smiles at me. I ask them If they can recommend a cheap hotel. She responds, “Follow us” (in espanol). It is early, we have nowhere to be, are unemployed, so we follow them. We pull into a gas station, they make calls, she flirtatiously winks at me, and it seems that they have found a place for us to go. We pull some U-turns and continue to follow them through the city streets. I am not completely sure why, but I felt good about this situation. I think one should trust their instinct, and mine was telling me to trust these complete strangers with whom I can barely communicate.
After 20 minutes of traffic, following, driving through this unfamiliar South American city, we are finally at the destination hotel. We thank these strangers, exchange information, they provide us with their phone numbers, shake hands, wish each other well, as we go our separate ways. It was like they woke up that morning in search of lost gringos to provide assistance. They went completely out of their way for almost an hour, made phone calls, and drove in the opposite direction of where they were initially headed, to provide us with much-needed help. This happens a lot south of the border. I cannot visualize any American doing this for a foreigner in the states, but maybe that is just me.
I enter the hotel, inquire about a room, but the hotel clerk informs me that they are unable to accommodate dogs. I am not surprised. In typical Colombian fashion, the employee goes out of her way to provide us with the name of another establishment that is able to take dogs. After 30 minutes of hunting for this “other place” and asking various street vendors for directions, a strange man appears from out of nowhere. He is wearing tight, bright colored clothes, driving a Volkswagen pickup truck car, and makes a claim to own a hostel. I trust this man for some reason. We tell him we have a dog, he winks at Lupe, and we negotiate a price for a room on this street corner. We now follow him. I felt good about this, and the price was right so one cannot dispute.
The hostel is clean and comfortable. We have our own room and we are the only ones here, so this is all good. Now I sit with the young soccer hooligan who works here, and despite the fact that he doesn’t speak a lick of English and my espanol is no bueno, we drink beer and root on Colombia as they school Greece in the World Cup. We will wait until the weekend is over to bring the truck in for repair.
It has been very common for an unusual chain of events, such as these, to unravel into a positive outcome. Since we have been on the road, an important lesson that has been learned is to have extremely loose plans (if any at all). See where fate brings you, take a leap. Most of the time this will work out in your favor. When things get strange or you feel uneasy, you have the ability to get out.