22 July, 2014

I'm In Full Compliance (Yeah, Right...)

I got this piece in a roundabout way from Elizabeth Wright, who got it from Damon Russell, who wrote the original post about driving in Belize. My comments, in italics, simply describe the sorry state of my ride, against the criteria as laid out by Damon. I thought you'd enjoy both parts. Thanks Damon, for letting me use your stuff.

Having no towing, roadside assistance, or much by way of service stations in Belize, driving a car here requires a slight rethink of what to bring and how to determine if you should or shouldn’t go on. Here’s a few tips:
  • In addition to a spare tire and jack and lug wrench, I’d suggest you also carry basic tools, a recovery strap to get you out of the drains, a heavy hammer to bang the bent rims back to stop the tires from leaking after potholes. A tire pump is another must-have accessory, as well as bungee cords, zip ties, steel wire, etc. A machete is also a good thing to have. The smaller one works good for the car. If you wander deep in the bush, a chainsaw might be a good idea as well.
  • I have a jack, one of those cute little hydraulic numbers. It's great except it's really too small to be of any use. It takes at least two or three 2x4s under the jack before it can make contact with the axle.
  • A friend of mine has one of those hydraulic floor jacks, like you see in a garage, that he travels around with as his jack. I'm jealous. I've got a spare tire hanging on the spare tire rack on the back of the Isuzu. I can't remember the last time i checked its pressure. I do have a new lug wrench. I bought it at the same time as I bought the jack. I've got the strap and have used it, having to have the Isuzu towed from Carmelita back to Corozal (roughly 25-miles).
  • I have the heavy hammer, a 2-lb sledge, just in case. I have a tire pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Unfortunately, I usually keep it under my work bench at home (I know, it's a compliance issue). I have a whole assortment of bungees, zip-ties, and some stainless steel wire. The bungees rubber strands have long ago gave up all their stretch. Now, they make a marginally good rope.
  • The wire I've actually put to good use. it's what holds my headlights in the grill - more about this later. Machete is in hand, bouncing around the back of the Isuzu somewhere. It also doubles as a bottle opener for those pesky coconut bottles. you just lop the top off and have a refreshing drink of coconut water, pretty much anywhere along your journey. I'm not so sure about the chain saw. That might just be overkill. 
  • If your battery goes dead, a “jump start” in Belize usually involves the helper removing the battery from his car and either turning it upside down over yours while you start your car, OR they’ll remove your battery, install theirs, let you start your car, then switch them back.
  • I'm ahead of the game for this item. I have heavy-duty jumper cables from the states. The rubber insulation is cracked and beginning to peel. I like the tip about turning the other battery upside down. I hadn't considered that.
  • If you have a pickup with NOBODY in the back (pan), they’ll look at you funny. Stop and give them a ride. 10-15 people is about the limit for passengers, although at the checkpoints they may balk at 5 to 7, depending on who’s driving, and who’s in the pan. 
  • No pickup (yet). I'm hoping that's my next ride. The most people I've ever seen in a pickup was seventeen - infants on up to the grand parents. Mennonites too. Not a smile in the car-load.
  • Seat belts are to be worn at all times, when proceeding through police checkpoints. Put them on at least 100 feet before the policeman and put down your beer, or hand it to the passenger, unless they’re a small child.
  • This one is easy. I've done both parts several times. It's amazing how the old seat belt habit kind of fades away. I have brought bottles of Guinness for the ferrymen. Does that count?
  • If you have a large hole in your windshield, clear shipping tape may be used to reduce wiper wear and rain entry into the vehicle during the rainy season. Otherwise, remove the glass until the first rains come, or if required to renew your registration.
  • No hole in the windshield (yet). Dianna's car (long since gone away) used to have clear tape over the hole in the windshield where she took a beer bottle from a passing bus. That counts.
  • If your wheels are bolted on with 5 lugs, you can break at least three off before you need to concern yourself with getting it repaired.
  • This one may be considered a partial compliance issue. I'm only missing one lug nut each on two wheels (both rear wheels). Isuzu lug nuts seem to be somewhat hard to come by down here.
  • If you stop for tacos during your travels, do NOT forget to toss the garbage out afterwards. If you don’t, you’ll be infested with ants or TacoCats the next day.
  • I've had geckos living in the Isuzu for months. I'm assuming they're finding something in it to eat, otherwise they'd be long gone, I'm sure.
  • Baygon or Fish [local bug spray] is an acceptable starting fluid for gasoline or diesel engines.
  • I've used both, and, I've also used WD-40. All three work exceptionally well.
  • Tires have wear indicators at 2/32” tread depth as required by the USDOT. You’re not in the US, so if the tire holds air, keep going. If the belts are exposed, cut off anything that might stick out and scratch the paint.
  • This is clearly a compliance issue. I have four relatively new tires, purchased at Caribbean Tire. However, two of them do have a near constant slow leak. The only reason I got rid of the old tires was that they were well over seven years old and the sidewalls were beginning to crack. Ok, I wimped out on that one.
  • If your car has every exterior panel the same color, it’s considered rare and increases resale value. If it also has no broken windows, it’s probably new here in Belize. Give it time to acclimate. It’ll happen soon.
  • I do have several cracks, one that runs virtually the whole width of the windshield. I'd say that puts me in compliance here. Panels are all the same color, but all are nicely dented and/or scratched. Also, the left rear door can only be opened from the inside.
  • Gauges, speedometers, warning lights, etc. are distractions. Pay no mind to glowing “Check engine”, “ABS”, “SRS/Airbag” warning systems and the like. Nobody cares about that stuff. Pay attention to the road, why are you looking down?
  • This one we're a winner on. The speedometer quit working about seven months ago or so. The Check Engine light has glowed brightly since we bought it seven years ago, and the lower panel of the dash is hanging on by a thread. I can't find where the bolts go, and after a couple of months, the bolts themselves have wandered off.
  • If you brought in a car with navigation and cruise control, that’s cute. If it’s a hybrid, that’s even cuter. We need them here, all we can get. Thanks!
  • Navigation - isn't that what the windows are for? Cruise control - what helps you hit the sleeping constables at speed. I'm waiting to see our first all-electric down here. That'll be a hoot.
  • Exterior illumination is a luxury that even government agencies can’t afford. Don’t expect that single red or white light up ahead to be a motorcycle, it’s likely another car.
  • I already mentioned the headlights. An additional feature that they have is that on low-beam, the headlights shine about 5-feet in front of the car. I'd hate to blind an oncoming driver.  Currently, I'm missing one backup light and my right turn signal isn't working. That I need to fix. They will nail you on that at traffic stops. I got a warning for not having two brake lights a few months ago. They both work now.
  • In the US and Canada, they drive on the right side of the road. In England and much of the EU, they drive on the left. In Belize, we drive on both.
  • This is so much more convenient. It gives you so many more options.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I strongly encourage having a 10 mm wrench to disconnect the battery terminals for convenience and a full size vise grip in the glove compartment,

When a rear tire blew out on the Western Highway about 3 miles west of Cheers restaurant, I was able to find a relatively flat spot to change the tire, got the scissor jack out and realized the handle was no where to be found (hidden in the Subaru it turned out, first tire i had to change in this 13 year old car). I put the vise grip on the end of the jack and 57 turns later I was changing the tire.

You better be prepared and good at alternative thinking if you are going to try to stay in Belize.

Dennis in Monkey River

JRinSC said...

You know Dave, the best thing to do is look for a small trailer with a closed, locked cover.

In this trailer you can have your big jack, a welding rig, acelatine torch, vice and all kinds of neat stuff. You'd leave the bed and cab free for all that other stuff. That way you'd always be prepared both for your truck and others you meet on the road. Can't you see it now.. "Ethel, who was that stranger that fixed our truck?"

The mental image is just too cool.

Toodle oop. (Been watching Mcleod's Daughters lately)


Dave Rider said...

Hi Dennis,

Of course, after all those turns, your arms were so tired they were shaking. Then after changing the tire, you were too pooped to continue driving.

Nice story and good recommendations for tools and thinking.

Wow! There's just so many skills and things necessary to be able to live down here.

Thanks for the tips.


Dave Rider said...

Hi Julian,

There used to be some guy up in the Olympia area who was called 'The Highway Hero.'

He had a fancy painted truck and supposedly cruised the highways and byways looking for disabled motorists that he could stop and help.

I always assumed he was sponsored by some radio station. It never occurred to me that he was simply a civic-minded guy who took it upon himself to keep our roadways safe for whatever tried to drive on them.

Now that I think about it, he may have been a mechanically-minded super hero.

Ekchuah is the Mayan god who presides over and protects travelers. He's usually shown as a dark-skinned male carrying a bag over his shoulder. He is also recognized as the patron and protector of cacao and cacao products. Can you say chocolate?

Hey, if he's in charge of both things, what to worry, right?

Now Ethel can answer, "That was Ekchuah, our highway hero. Uh, did he leave any chocolates?"