Aaron was convinced it was a problem like we’d been experiencing earlier. On our last day at Cabo, I left the key in the KLR and had been experiencing electrical issues since. I assured him this was not the cause, but it wasn’t until it refused to be push started that we began thinking of other problems.
Something was seriously seized. I took apart as much of the bike as I felt comfortable trying to find the problem.
After that useless exercise, we rolled the bike to the other side of the road expecting that hitching a ride the few miles back to Todos Santos would be easier than finding someone willing to take us the hour ride to La Paz.
We were wrong. A kindly gringo named Ivan passed us by going towards La Paz, turned around, got the KLR in his truck, and took me to La Paz (Aaron followed on his DR, which was still running strong).
He was in a rush to get back to his wife, who was waiting at their temporary home in La Paz expecting a baby any day. Despite this, he still offered us the use of his roof, which we gladly accepted as our new campground.
As soon we we settled, we frantically searched for ways to get the KLR working again… or replace it. We still weren’t sure what we wanted to do yet. We remembered Johnny Campbell said he had some contacts in the Baja, so we emailed him and were connected quickly to Ramon.
Ramon is a young dirtbiker. He was’t riding at the moment, though, because his mother wanted him to go to school. He showed up at Ivan’s house while we were coming back from Walmart (Yes, I know… we go to Walmart sometimes). It was late though, so he promised to come back the next day at 9:00 and bring us to his mechanic.
In Mexico, 9:00 is not 9:00… but in fact a vague amount of time after that. So that’s when he showed up. He didn’t actually take us to his mechanic, either. A popular story we were hearing online and with riders was that their mechanic had just died two weeks prior. So we were basically going blindly into a garage that Ramon thought might be OK. There was another KLR in the shop already, so that was comforting and Luis, a head mechanic, seemed like a good guy, so we left the bike there for diagnostics.
When we returned later that day, we were told that it was the camshaft. Basically, we’d need to replace all of it.
About this time we found out that there was a tropical depression headed towards La Paz that would make for some serious rainfall. Camping on a roof, obviously, seemed like a poor choice at this point, regardless of how cheap it was. So with Ivan’s help, we found a good, cheap hotel called, “The Oasis.”
As the ominous clouds we’d noticed earlier in the distance closed in on us, we felt a sense of satisfaction as we checked in, unloaded our bags, and checked our emails in the hotel lobby. But at just the moment we logged on to Facebook, the whole building began to shake.
It only took a second for Aaron’s expression to change from beleaguered to knowing recognition. At that moment, he shouted, “Earthquake!” We, and everyone else in that hotel fled for the street. There was a nice moment there where we could look along the road and see people from all the buildings nearby standing awkwardly and looking somewhat terrified.
Afterwards we talked about how ironic it would be to leave the roof of a one story building during a storm for safety reasons to immediately be crushed in the shelter we sought by a 6.2 earthquake.
The first night at The Oasis had peacocks loudly squawking at each other in the courtyard. We were pleasantly surprised to never see those birds again after that.
We spent the next couple days scrambling to find the parts I needed. We eventually found a whole new engine from a guy in Florida. The total cost for it would have been about $1800. This, of course, wouldn’t have included labor.
Additionally, by all credible sources, it would also have cost us nearly two weeks. “Overnight Shipping,” apparently, is a joke in Baja because they ship whatever is being sent to San Diego first, then to Mexico City, and then to Baja. We spoke to a couple guys who knew ways to get around this, but it just added to this unpleasant situation and made us feel overwhelmed.
It’s difficult having so much time and yet being able to accomplish so little, especially when we were so used to making distance almost every day.
When we were finally at a point of deciding to buy this engine, as we could possibly find a working bike for cheaper but feared the paperwork involved in abandoning and buying bikes in Mexico, I made one last visit to a local mechanic, Dagoberto. He wasn’t working on our bike, but we had a lot of time on our hands and regularly stopped by his shop to talk. He was a bit alarmed by the price I told him I was about to pay for the engine and, within a few minutes, he located a KLR650 engine at a different garage in La Paz.
Ecstatic, I went back to the hotel to tell Aaron. We rode off immediately to check with this mechanic, but, as we should have expected, the shop was closed. We learned rather early on in La Paz that the posted open hours of any garage is not to be taken literally. Several times we went to check on my bike and ended up waiting; just sitting outside on the steps as if it were our full-time job. Anyways, we went back to the hotel and waited until the next day.
Long story short, the engine looked not great, but we needed it to work, so we thought it would. When Aaron brought it to Luis, he had each mechanic in his garage look at the engine and they all said basically the same thing: these parts are awful. Luis said that it was against his work policy to put such bad parts into a bike and said that if he used them we would ride away fine, but we would soon be cursing his mother on mainland Mexico.
I wasn’t there when he said these things. I was back at the shop where we picked up the engine, being held as collateral should Aaron decide to flee. When he returned and told me what happened, I appreciated that Motos Baja had standards and wouldn’t just fix a bike for a few miles, but, having the hope of a cheap and easy fix thoroughly destroyed, I was a bit unhappy.
Adding to this was the fact that it had barely stopped raining for several days. More often than not, we were thoroughly drenched and trudging through miniature rivers that congested the streets.
It was about this point in time, we believe, that Luis decided he had to get us moving. Within a day he found a KLR650 engine head in Cabo and had a guy drop it off. This only cost us about $350 and we could finally rest assured that progress was being made on the bike. That was huge, because we were coming to the end of our first week and felt like we had nothing to show for it.
A couple days later, we met some adventure riders at Applebees. We were riding by, saw the bikes, and decided we had to stop. They were two English guys (Tough Miles) and a Canadian. As good as it felt to meet up with like-minded travelers, they were all intending on jumping on the next ferry; 5pm that day. We all wished we could have joined, but we’d have to wait for the next ferry, which was the day after the next. Later we were rather glad we didn’t make that particular ferry, though, because the storms we were experiencing forced that ferry to stay out in the Sea of Cortez for an extra 8 hours.
When the day finally came for us to get on the ferry, the rain had stopped and I was finally happily, but warrily, riding the KLR. We were only heading for the ferry booking place in La Paz for information and, thus, hadn’t packed the bikes all the way and were wearing t-shirts and sandals.
Before we left the garage for the last time, so we thought, we had a good conversation with a French expat, Lucas, now living with his family in La Paz. We felt it a shame that we only started talking on this, our last day in La Paz, but he offered his assistance should we ever find ourselves there again.
As we rode to the ferry shop, we reached a stop sign and were right next to another adventure rider, Ben. When Aaron started talking to him, he was a bit surprised. He figured we were locals, judging strictly by our lack of bags and attire. We decided to join forces. We decided together that we would stay in La Paz one more day to go out on Lucas’ boat to try to see whale sharks and catch a marlin.
For the sake of anyone reading, I will now fast forward the next two weeks.
We didn’t see any whale sharks and the boat had some issues, but we still had a great time.
The next ferry came and the KLR broke down again. We watched it leave with Ben inside. His itinerary didn’t leave any time for a longer stay in La Paz. We still hope to meet up later in our trip.
We continued to have amazing and relaxing days in La Paz staying with Lucas, his wife, Nathalie, and their son, Thomas. We went snorkeling with sea lions and spent days wandering from restaurant to restaurant. Some nights we slept on their boat. Some days in Thomas’ room.
The ferry, which left only three times a week saw us watching on shore as it left almost pretty frequently from then on out. The shop would give the bike back, saying it was fixed, but it would always break down on the few miles it took to get from La Paz to the ferry. This led to an awkward amount of farewells to those we’d made friends with and an unusual amount of farewell lunches.
We would often say things like, “What a beautiful place to want to escape so badly,” and, “I never knew purgatory would look so nice.”
In the end, the vast majority of the engine head got replaced. The cause, it seemed was the cam shaft sprocket’s pin which shook loose and ground a ring around the inside until it settled into its own, upside-down, placement which messed everything up.
They also had to address some electrical issues which were mostly cleared up by replacing the brain and putting a switch on the headlight to reduce the amount of electricity I use.
On what I think was day 22 or 23 of La Paz occupation, we finally boarded the ferry. When the helpful lady behind the counter got our paperwork in order he told her that we had dreamt of taking this ferry for weeks. She told us that we would be disappointed. Aaron, seemingly not to notice, then proclaimed that she was the benevolent angel of light to our trip. She was amused.