Our over-the-water cabana’s over-the-water patio, nearest land to the East is Cuba
Solo in in the HOV lane, cruising 10 mph over the speed limit, blinders fully engaged, blocking the pissed off stares and looks of jealously, of my timid fellow commuters. Podcast waves rolling through the torched speakers of my 2001 Subaru forester, drowning out various rattling noises left over from last months smash-job, an icy/spicy/dicey slide off of Jackson Creek Road, through a snowbank and into the comforting arms of the well placed guardrail. This particular HOV lane maneuver has evolved over the past four years, into a calculated gamble. The sign advertising the $341 minimum HOV lane fine, is the constant reminder of the consequence I’ve yet to face, yet I continue to roll the dice, betting on my now four year CHP evasion streak.
Its in these moments of hectic, road rage inducing Southern California traffic, where I find the time to reflect, dream, and let my mind wander back and fourth from past to present and into the not too distant future. This 45 minute commute has become the adult version of the many hours of youth spent mowing lawns dreaming of adventure in lands far and wide, beer runs at home and desperate housewives down the block. This is also about the time of my drive when all of my seven thirty AM calls to friends and family have been declined or have rang through to voicemail, the time when fleeting memories flash by, reminding me of the world outside of my work grind bubble. This is one of those memories.
In Belize, everything is Belizable
Knowing that our transmission was failing we opted to drive to the nearest mechanic, not the one we most trusted or needed but a fellow that had fixed our brakes in painfully slow fashion, months ago. As we were limping slowly into the outskirts of Ladyville, the traffic backed up behind us, children staring, the transmission grinded through its last gears. We rolled off onto the shoulder, I looked at Marlie, with her consenting nod, I turned off the engine, not knowing whether or not that might be the last time. Cool, calm and collected, Marlie walked the hundred yards to the nearest gas station to call the mechanic, sending out our SOS smoke signal. Hot, pissed off and anxious I pulled out a camp chair, placed it in the shade of the van and chain smoked the last of my menthol cigarettes, pondering the last three days of bad judgement and questionable decision making.
The furthest Northern point the van made it to on its own volition
After spending a glorious, stress free, week in an off the grid rustic over the water cabana, 45 kilometers out into the Caribbean on Glovers Atoll, it was time to head in and make our move to store the van in Mexico. Seven days of pure relaxation, deep sea fishing, shark baiting and intermittent thunderstorms, we caught the choppy, salt drenching two hour panga boat ride back to the mainland, where unbeknownst to us, it had been raining nearly the entire week. As we motored up the river to the jungle lodge dock, it was obvious by the debris strewn bank that the river had risen and fallen considerably since our departure, our captain assured us that our van was parked on high ground and that we need not worry, as when the river does flood, it only partially submerses our parking spot. We dismounted the boat and our gear quickly, anxious to see whether our van had been flooded out or not. As per tradition she rumbled to a start on the first go, now the rain soaked sod we were perched on and now in, was to be our final hurdle.
No worries island life on Glovers Atoll
We loaded up our gear, our new island friend Ben, cranked up the Credence Clearwater Survival and slowly made our way out of the mud. Spirits were high, the music pumping, road beers were cracked and we drove out on 400 meters of dive gravel. As we retraced our path back to the dreaded (Rasta) village of Hopkins. We shortly arrived onto the main road, only to find a large pond blocking our intended path, what once was a road was now the remains of a river. As far as we could see to the right, muddy brown standing water, and to our left 14 kilometers of a mud puddle ridden road that we had yet to traverse down. With no other option and the days ticking down to our flight out of Cancun, we opted to ford the muddy river.
After successfully fording through a puddle 300 meters long, the water seemed not an obstacle but a challenge. Letting all caution out the window with the breeze and CCR, we went for the next puddle, full steam ahead. This calm, sane looking puddle gradually sucked us and our confidence into its depths. After 200 meters, the van was leading the fight, charging forward the water rose up the sides, until it was sloshing over the hood and up onto the windshield, not to be deterred I steeped on the gas and howled as I flicked on the windshield wipers. Outwardly I exuded confidence in our puddle vanquishing abilities, inwardly my mind raced on how we would have to use a snorkel to attach a football field long tow rope to a tractor to get sucked out. After a minute of slow motion, white knuckled captaining of the ship, we saw land on the horizon, the van had slowed to a crawl and our wake was surfable at this point but it appeared the tides had turned and dry ground was plausible.
There are a few distinct times in the van when all hell broke loose, the death by drowning, 70 minute dust blinded semi truck tow out of the tunnel strewn, single lane death road of the Canyon Del Pato in Peru. The nighttime gravity defying 75 km/hr tope (speed bump) jump on our way to meet up with friends in Mancorra and this idiotic attempt at surfing the van through uncharted waters. These are the moment I remember most vividly, the lowest of lows and the elation that follows when one realizes that for the third time the van had tempted fate and come out seemingly unscathed. When made it into Hopkins high on adrenaline, dropped Ben and bid our goodbyes, stopping only long enough to grab for a few cold ones for the road.
We proceeded to happily meander our way down the road to the village Seine Bight, planning to wrap up some loose ends with Marlies project, to say our see you laters and to gear up for the cruise North to Mexico. Along the way there were a few warning signs, weird shifts, sudden lurches and strange engine gasps, that were foreign to our now well van-tuned ears. After fifty kilometers of ignorance and hiccups we finally pulled over to check the vans vitals, and when Marlie pulled out the dipstick of the transmission fluid, smoke billowed out, deflating our morale and our signifying that something was seriously wrong. After limping onto the Placencia peninsula, we began the search for a transmission mechanic, something rare in Belize and practically extinct in our neck of the mangroves. Two days, two mechanics, one part flown in on Tropic Air, one transmission flush and we were cruising northward, surprisingly to both of us, hiccup free.
We stopped for the most expensive beers in Belize at a five star resort along the Hummingbird Highway and spent the afternoon frolicking in the river soaking up what was to be our last day in Belize. A side trip to pick up our things at our accommodation in Belmopan, another to pick up my surfboards in Bermudian Landing, and after saying our goodbyes to our dear Horse friends, one pit stop to purchase a wooden bowl as gift. The van simply wouldn’t shift into gear, there we were, sitting at the spot where our time in Belize had started, 5 months prior. We eventually willed the van into moving, now driving, both of us silent, thinking over the events that had transpired the past few days, realizing something we both didn’t want to believe was inevitably happening, our cherished home on wheels for the past 18 months was dying, and our dreams of completing the Pan American along with it. We eventually hatched a plan to drive it into town, have it reassessed by a certified mechanic and get an estimate on a transmission rebuild, park it, hide it and make our way to Mexico without her.
As the sun set on the mean streets of Ladyville, sketchy cars rolled by, checking us out once and then slowly over again, eyeing us up for a nighttime raid. Wary of our surrounding and our situation we patiently awaited our mechanic, mixing up rum drinks and taking in what was to be our last sunset in Belize. In what should have been a somber time, we rejoiced at the times we’ve shared and laughed at how far the van had actually made it. 44,000 kilometers, 12 countries, the entire length of the South American continent, the Darian Gap, nearly all of Central America and all the while housing countless wild friends from home and the road. Thankfully our tow arrived just after the sunset, and before the raid, we mixed up more drinks and enjoyed our ride, hour and half back to Belmopan in one hour, as the driver reached speeds nearly 120 km/hr.
On this day of biblical resurrection, I was sent a photo from a dear friend who took the time out of his Belizean vacation to drop by the mechanics house and check to see if our van was still parked on the lawn where we hastily left it eight months prior. There she sits baking in the sun, weeds keeping her cozy and ants happily camped in our once mobile home, awaiting our return and a new transmission. It is time the van and our journey are resurrected.
I’ve sent a transmission rebuild kit down to Belize, at our command the mechanic will begin the process of dropping our tranny, shipping it to Mexico to be rebuilt and when its complete, reinstalling our refurbished tranny. This is a story that will continue, there is no date set, nor do we have a set plan, but we still have the dream. Mexico is nice in the fall we hear and surely the van would look good at a ski area next winter, parked up for the night, tucked in by snow, propane heater on full blast.
Training for pushing the Van
Marlie training for hooking up the tow rope in the lake we miraculously forded
A picture of the van crossing the Caribbean sized puddle
Syd the Kid
We’ll be back. Especially here.
Beauts in Love