So buying El Torito may not have been the best decision that Andrés and I have made. I think our first sign happened about 30 minutes after we dropped off the former owner and were driving through Bogotá. I have to mention that before we got to South America, Andrés downloaded some maps that you can use on your cell phone without wifi or a data plan. Amazing! The one we’ve been using is Maps.Me. We took it for it’s first real spin when we were driving through Bogotá trying to get back to our hostel. I was focused on following the navigation while Andrés was driving. We were both stressed out because Bogotá traffic is crazy so when we turned down a street and were promptly pulled over by the police, we had no idea why. It turns out the navigation had us turn the wrong way down a one way street. Whoops! Andrés was asked to step out of the vehicle and chatted with the police for a while. They attempted to “show him how things worked in Colombia” by asking him for a bribe. As it turned out we had spent all our money on the car and tolls so were literally had no cash on us. Andrés cheekily told the police they could follow us to an ATM so he could get money out, but that was going too far, even for them. They let us continue on our way, but it still shook us up a bit as this was one of our first experiences with El Torito.
Our luck with El Torito has kept the same trajectory. The day we were hoping to leave Bogotá, we got to the car to find the battery was dead. We hoped we could get a jump from a taxi driver, but to no avail. The car just wouldn’t start. It turned out that the break pedal stuck while it was parked so the light was on all night and killed the battery. The former owner had mentioned this to us, but we didn’t see the break light on when we left it so we assumed everything was fine. After getting a new battery, the car still didn’t start. We began to fear this was going to be an expensive repair for a car we had owned all of two days. Since it was a Sunday, finding a mechanic was going to be impossible. We hoped that the next day we would be able to get everything resolved and head out.
On Monday we hit the streets looking for a mechanic close by. Mechanics in Colombia are notoriously unreliable so we crossed our fingers hoping to find someone who wouldn’t screw us over. Luck was on our side as we asked a place who sent us to someone who was more familiar with older model Nissan Patrols. The guy walked with us to where our car was parked and figured out what was going on in a matter of minutes. It turned out we had mistakenly taken out a fuse for the car starter thinking it was the fuse for the brake lights. He got our car going for a very reasonable price and we were eternally grateful.
We ended up heading out of Bogotá the next day because we had to stop by a nearby town to pick up our permanent car paperwork. At this point I should mention that the can runs on natural gas in addition to regular gasoline. The car has a switch that controls which energy source the car uses. The original owner showed us how to switch it the first day we saw the car, and it didn’t seem difficult so we didn’t ask any questions about how to do it. Fast forward to the day we finally leave Bogotá. We were driving through a suburb when the car runs out of natural gas. We were at an intersection and no matter how many times Andrés tried to switch to gasoline, the car wouldn’t start. I got really anxious and decided to try to find a mechanic or anyone who would know how to fix the problem. After walking around frantically for 15 minutes, I came back to find Andrés was finally able to switch it.
We continued on our way and finally made it to Sogamoso after what felt like forever. To say that the ride was uncomfortable is an understatement. The car has no suspension system so going over the smallest pothole or speed bump rocks the whole car. It’s also fairly slow because the vehicle is made out of solid metal and weights a ton. Going up the mountain roads took a long time. By the time we were getting to Andrés’ family’s house, it was past 9:00pm and pitch black outside. The house sits on the top of a mountain up a steep road. As we turned toward the house the car stalled out and wouldn’t turn back on. We were so close to our destination, but the car didn’t want to cooperate. After sitting there for several minutes trying to get the engine to turn it finally started.
The next few days were met with frustrations and a lot of running around back and forth. We got some electrical work done on the car, which we hoped would take a couple hours. Instead it took the whole day to switch out the tail lights and get a few little things fixed. The next day we got seatbelts put in (the others were a joke and didn’t even buckle). It was only supposed to take 30 minutes but that turned into the whole morning. Everything seemed to take multiple times longer than we expected and it seemed impossible for us to get everything done in our one week timeframe.
To top it all off, we were still having trouble with the car starting in the morning as well as not turning back on after it stalled out. The morning we had an appointment with the mechanic, the car wouldn’t start. Andrés and his stepdad spent an hour trying to figure out what was going on. It finally turned on after they hit the starter with a stick. I’m not sure who thought of that, but it worked. We went to the car electrician who told us he didn’t think it was the starter, but rather a gear that links the starter and the engine. Unfortunately it was Saturday and the electrician told us all the mechanics would be drunk already so there was no point in trying to go that day. Since we had the time, we decided to get the natural gas in the car re-certified as its yearly permit had expired a couple days after we bought the car. When we got there the gas technician told us that the records showed that the natural gas tank had been removed, which it clearly hadn’t. He said it may have been an error in the system so we should stop by on Monday.
By the next day we figured out the problem in the car had to be the starter. We took the car back to the car electrician on Monday and he took it out and confirmed that was the problem. Of course he couldn’t find the part in Sogamoso, so he would have to order it from Bogotá which would take a couple days. When he did get the part in, it was accidentally the wrong part so it took about a week to get the car up and running again.
During that last week Andrés and I had started seriously considering switching cars. It felt like one step forward two steps back every time we did anything with the car. We also saw that a German couple who had their van for sale on Drive the Americas was having difficulty selling their car and they were coming close to the end of their trip. We has communicated with them midsummer and really liked their vehicle, but we were concerned about buying the car legally and also trying to sell it at the end of the trip. After lots of consideration and going back and forth, we finally decided that it would make more sense for us to buy another car instead of spending more time and money getting El Torito in order.
At this point we are just hoping someone will buy El Torito for what we bought it for plus the added value we’ve put into it. Luckily Andrés’ family is helping to sell it while we are on the road so we don’t get held up any longer. Additionally, we finally got back around to trying to re-certify the natural gas in the car so everything will be in order when it’s sold, but the technician confirmed that the car is supposed to have had the gas tank taken out. The new tank’s number doesn’t match the records and who knows what will have to be done to get all the paperwork in order. This is just more confirmation that we made the right choice in getting another vehicle.
I’ll post more about getting our new car and all the cool stuff it comes with it the next post!