After driving a good 20km or so with Brookbanks following behind, it was clear that Ariel was a genuinely nice chap who was going to do everything he could to help us out. He knew we had a long day and insisted that we stopped for a bite to eat and explained how a Colombian coffee could make the situation much better. In fairness, he wasn’t wrong. After we’d finished up in a restaurant on the side of the road, he drove us to the center of Pasto and directly to a mechanic known locally as the Maestro. Ariel was not wasting any time. He knew we needed to get back on the road and was going to do everything he could within his control to make sure that happened as soon as possible. The Maestro’s workshop was no bigger than my old bedroom in London but he seemed confident that he was able to help. He parked my bike up in the car park opposite and told me to be back at first light. Ariel then drove us on to a hotel just further down the road were we both passed out pretty much immediately. First thing the following morning, The Maestro was hard at work seeing what was possible with the damaged bike.
It was clear that the crank case had taken a major impact and Jon and I really couldn’t see that bike leaving Pasto any time soon. The Maestro made it clear that sourcing parts for a DRz in Colombia was difficult at the best of times never mind from the small town of Pasto but he did also make it very clear that he was confident he could work with the damaged parts to get the bike up and running. I liked his optimism but the task we had set him was no minor job. Despite having full confidence in his ability, I really wasn’t sure if the damage was repairable without sourcing new parts.
We’d contacted our Suzuki lifeline who immediately jumped on grouping the parts we needed together in the UK but from what we had read online, Colombian customs were likely to hold on to the parts for up to 20 days. After all the time we had spent partying in Bogotá and Medellin, that was time we simply did not have. We also looked at the option of buying a new engine or even a new bike in Colombia but again, from the info we had found online, registering the bike in my name could be a lengthy process in itself and that was only after we had found a suitable bike. Without the necessary paperwork crossing the other South American borders would no doubt either involve hefty bribes or may not even be possible at all.
It was important at least one of us made it all the way down to the bottom of Argentina to complete the mission so we decided to give it until the 25th November before Jon would have to ride on solo. I would then do everything I could to get back on the road and see if I could eventually catch him. This option was far from ideal. Jon doesn’t speak any Spanish and the risk of him having an accident or major break down in the middle of nowhere alone was clearly not a nice thought.
During the course of the next 7 days, we watched the Maestro perform some wizardry neither of us believed would ever be possible. Within hours on the first morning the bike was on its side and the damaged part of the frame was cut out. The next job was to repair the magnesium clutch housing cover. He had it sent to a local specialist whilst he worked on a fix for the crank case itself. Without welding equipment in his workshop, Maestro relied on a welder further down the road to botch up the crank case. The welder requested that the engine was dropped out of the frame before any welding could take place. Maestro quickly got to work and within no more than an hour or so the engine was out and in between his legs on his scooter as he tootled off down the road to hand it over to the welder. Unfortunately, due to a backlog of work, it was the welder who held up this process and my engine was simply dumped in a queue.
Pasto had little on offer for us to kill time whilst we waited for the welder to jump to it and we found ourselves eating in the same chicken restaurant, Mister Pollo, twice a day everyday we were in town. It rained every day and the Tough Miles spirits were at an all time low. This, however, is where Ariel stepped up to the challenge of being a Tough Miles Skipper remarkably well. Before we knew it he had us out nailing bottles of rum until the early hours of the morning and looking like a couple of idiots trying to dance salsa in an attempt to forget about the situation with my engine. Just what the doctor ordered.
After waiting the course of a weekend, bearing in mind EVERYTHING shuts on Sundays in Latin America, the welder then dropped more bad news on us. He was unable to weld the crank housing up whilst the engine was still in one piece as the vapors from the oil were effecting the quality of the weld. He insisted that the engine was completely stripped before he could attempt another weld. It was yet another wet afternoon in cold and windy Pasto when we received this news and we both really started to doubt if a fix was possible. We would be relying on Maestro to completely pull the engine apart, then relying on the welder to seal the crank case and then back to the Maestro to completely rebuild the engine.
We had no choice so we had to agree to it. Within minutes Maestro had his apprentices step to it. Like lions to a kill my engine was torn into a hundred pieces and spread all over the workshop floor. I could barely watch. I thought that was officially the nail in the coffin and my DRz was officially over. The crank case was then back between the Maestro’s legs on his scooter and straight to the back of the queue at the welders yard.
When we finally received the parts back the results looked reasonably promising and the Maestro was absolutely adamant he could have the engine rebuilt in no time.
The damaged part of the frame had been replaced by welding in a new piece which had been bent to the perfect shape and even included an engine mount which exactly mirrored that of the original and within an afternoon the engine was completely rebuilt. It seemed the guys had really managed what they promised they would do.
Maestro and his team had performed an incredible job and by day 215, Thursday 22nd November the bike was up and running and ready for its first test ride to make sure everything felt OK. Other than the kick-start spring being seated in the incorrect position causing a nasty noise, the bike felt as good as new. Once this had been addressed, the following morning we were packed up and ready to give it its first serious ride. After our goodbyes to the Maestro and his team it was onwards to Ecuador to see how far this repair job really would make it. Maestro and his team had turned a bike around which in the U.K. would be dismissed by an insurance company as a complete write-off. All this labour came in at just £170 GBP. Unbelievable.
We owe so much to Ariel for pulling over and offering to help us that day. Without him my trip could have ended right there and then in Pasto. Other than the promise that I would send him a Beatles CD on my return to the U.K., Ariel wanted absolutely nothing in return. Ariel, thank you so much!
Whilst on the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, we met up with two other riders from the States known as the Enduro Bros. They were also on a mission to Argentina on a similar time scale and after they stopped for a short stint of volunteering their plan was to catch us up so we could ride four strong. Just 7 days after we had left Pasto with the newly repaired bike we received a Skype call from one of the brothers, Aaron informing us that his brother Nathan had had a serious fall and completely shattered his leg. Unbelievably we later realised that he crashed in pretty much exactly the same place as I had just outside of Pasto. They too had to endure day after day of Mister Pollo whilst Nathan underwent serious surgery to insert metal pins into his leg. It was only at that point I realised just how grateful I am that this trip can go on.
The bikes feeling good. Time to keep drifting. Next stop Ecuador.