So Jacqui and I are sitting in a familiar place yet again. Several times we’ve returned, and each time seems a little more dramatic than the last. On this occasion we arrived riding on the tailgate of our friends’ truck to spend yet another Dolphin-less night at Tres Amigos. Shall we rewind a bit?Read More
During the past five weeks Jacqui and I have soldiered on each day with our occasional, and understandable, ups and downs. As the Dolphin project finally dwindled to mere touch ups and packing, it seemed the magnitude and stress of it all had finally caught up with us. What should very well have been the easiest part of this entire project, had become the most difficult.
From the day we started on the Dolphin till completion we worked seven days a week to get our home back, the one day we didn't work on construction, we spent the entirety of it shopping for parts. I think it's safe to say, when move-in time finally hit, Jacqui and I were burnt out. For the last few days of work, which should have taken mere hours, our belongings were half in the Dolphin, half scattered around us. No matter how hard we searched for inner motivation to finish the dwindling tasks, our feet were dragging and we were in snappy moods. It's one of those moments in life where anything and everything suddenly becomes far more interesting than the task at hand.
BUT!....The Dolphin is complete and tomorrow morning is the big day of departure! We’re hoping our first stop, North of Puerto Vallarta, will gift us with good wind for a long overdue kiteboarding session. But before we hit the road, a few before and after pictures of the Dolphin.
Finally departing is a bittersweet feeling. Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island) has definitely become a home to us. We have friends, locals and within the RV park, that we recognize daily. We have favorite spots to hang, know the best food around and have gotten to know the lay of the land. This will always be a place that we remember fondly. So Jacqui and I would like to offer an ode to our home from the past month and a half.
The day after arriving Dolphin-less at Tres Amigos, Jacqui and I woke to the air of uncertainty. We still had no price quote from our mechanic, and very little information due to our poor Spanish skills.
Knowing that the solid metal differential was bent in our Dolphin, I was unsure what these mechanics were going to be able to do. In my old place of employment, Engine Works, we would sublet out most heavy differential work to our crazy Australian Pete of Pete’s Gear Shop. This left me with a lack of experience in this area of repair, and wondering how on earth they could straighten this thing. I was half expecting the mechanic to call and say it wasn’t possible.
This became one of those moments in life that requires a little self-reflection. I definitely like to have control over a situation, and I work hard to help eliminate unknowns in my life. However, this was a time when I had to let Jacqui tell me to stop stressing since there was nothing I could do. So on the advice of our Tres Amigos neighbor, we decided we should drop by the mechanic at midday for a little information and progress report. At least in person, pointing and gestures could assist our poor Spanish skills.
On a beautiful sunny day we made our way to the tiny local dock to catch a water taxi (panga) into Mazatlan. With everyone loaded up, the boat took off to make its first stop at the second Stone Island pickup area. It was here that things once again took a drastic change for Jacqui and I. There’s really no way to make sense of how these things come together. To review…
Our major car accident had absolutely no injuries. Our vehicle was hit in the “perfect spot,” not causing more serious or flammable damage. After the accident, people we hardly knew offered us a place to stay while we figured out what to do with our Dolphin. When we decided to repair the Dolphin, there just happened to be a retired carpenter in the RV Park who was unbelievably happy to help us. Now, stepping onto the very same boat as us…was Dani.
I won’t say either Jacqui or myself particularly knew this Dani fellow. Dani is a local who does carpentry work, and owns a piece of property on Stone Island where a friend of his does mechanic work. Dani had previously referred me to the welder that did work on the Dolphin, and had offered to let me use a few of his tools before disappearing for weeks. I had all but forgotten of his existence, but there he was standing in front of us.
Jacqui and I were happy to see a familiar face and exchanged greetings with Dani. He informed us he’d been away for the past few weeks, and then asked how things were going with the Dolphin. After a quick rundown of our situation, Dani insisted on personally driving us to the mechanic. He wanted to talk with them, and translate for us. He was concerned that because of our poor Spanish, the shop might try to rip us off, and if we needed a new differential, he had connections to help us find one.
Just like that everything changed again. Five minutes earlier the future was foreboding. Unknown costs, unknown solutions, unknown outcome. Suddenly we had a local on our side, and what an amazing person Dani, barely more than a stranger, turned out to be.
We hopped in Dani’s old beat up Nissan, his wife and one year old daughter sitting in front, and began experiencing what it was like to drive with a true local. As we drove with no one wearing a seat belt, and the baby in mom’s lap, Dani darted in and out of traffic only slowing to honk and wave at all the people he recognized in the street. After cutting off a bus, darting through a gas station parking lot and blasting by a cop, a taxi in front of us stopped suddenly. Dani locked up the brakes and barely dodged the collision. This was met with absolutely no emotional response from anyone; just as normal as a right turn here I guess. After tagging along for some time while Dani ran errands, we finally arrived at the mechanic shop that had our Dolphin.
Dani really chopped it up with the shop for us. He asked the questions that were needed, assured Jacqui and I we had picked an excellent shop, and was talking strategy with the guys in the office to get us a good price. He told the shop that we have been coming to Mazatlan for five years, and that we were his good friends. He also informed the owner of the shop we have lots of tourist friends in our RV Park who are always looking for a good mechanic, so if they take good care of us, they’d get more business.
The shop was still unable to give us a price at the time, due to subletting out part of the work, but we left with big smiles and confidence that things were now going our way. We spent a couple more hours with Dani running errands and getting some delicious Mexican seafood cocktails. I certainly can’t tell you everything that was in the cocktails, but at least octopus and shrimp were identifiable. Finally we hopped aboard a Panga again to head back to Stone Island.
Two days later, full of excitement, we finally returned to pick up our home. The mechanic asked me to hop in the pit, then gave me a tour of all the work he completed. Despite the language barrier, I got the distinct impression he was excited to show what he’d done to someone who could understand and appreciate. Jacqui and I gave lots of handshakes and thanks to not only the mechanic, but the rest of the staff who had helped us. I took our Dolphin for a brief test drive and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face that she was cruising straight as an arrow.
With the enthusiasm running through my veins, conversational caution was thrown to the wind. For the first time it felt like I had a real Spanish conversation with someone. I got to know that the mechanic lived on Stone Island, told him our travel plans, places we want to see and why on earth we’d want to try to drive to Chile. We showed him pictures of the crash, and he asked me if I had done all the work myself. In the excitement of the conversation I answered yes. Luckily Jacqui was kind enough to show me my mistake by swatting me and saying, “Y yo!” (And me!)
This of course reminded me to tell our mechanic that Jacqui is a good woman, pero muy peligrosa (but very dangerous).
Perhaps those Pimsler Spanish tapes are finally paying off for Jacqui and I. Perhaps we’ve learned far more Spanish than we thought, and just needed to stop being timid about conversations. Maybe it’s just as simple as the immersion we’ve put ourselves in, is filling us with Spanish like osmosis. Whatever the reason, it was an amazing feeling. Jacqui and I have wanted to learn Spanish for the sole reason of conversing with locals. After all, that is where the true richness of this adventure will come.
So when all was said and done, we paid a grand total of 4300 pesos (about $330USD). For the amount of work that was done, unbelievable! I can proudly say that, despite the exterior battle scar and not being completely finished, the Dolphin feels mechanically and structurally upgraded from the day we began this journey. If I’m not mistaken, some of the suspension work done has even left the back end of the old girl sitting a bit higher. Woohoo! Ground clearance! The thing our old girl lacks more than anything else!
For the first time in nearly 5 weeks, Jacqui and I are parked on the beach at Tres Amigos, in our very own Dolphin.
Jacqui and I are really eager to start sharing stories of our adventures on the road, but… we’re still not done fixing the Dolphin! Just like that stubborn download that speeds along then suddenly takes forever to complete the last 10%, so our rebuild progresses.
During the heavy construction, each day ended with a sort of instant gratification. When we put the tools away we could stare in pride at how much was accomplished. Progress was so apparent to the naked eye it seemed like things would come to a conclusion in no time. Now it’s the filthy finishing work that consumes our days and makes it obvious that this is no quick project.
Crawling under the car to install a sheet of plastic to line the wheel well is necessary, and will leave you washing mud out of your hair, but it’s not the sort of work that you sit back and admire at the end of the day. The same is true with taping, priming, electrical and plumbing. All these tasks rob hours of time but never are seen when completed. So…I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive us for our lack of zealousness in photo taking this past week.
Despite the snails pace things have taken on, after another week of work, the old girl’s insides are really starting to look like our home again. We even had another creature encounter. After finding a small plumbing leak, the decision was made that the heater would need to be removed to access it. A couple screws and a quick tug later a mummified rat was discovered. At least it was already dead, unlike a certain series of previous spider encounters.
Outside of construction, life in Tres Amigos RV Park is slowing considerably as many of our new friends are leaving to head north. Goodbyes are never a happy affair.
Don’t let my construction and goodbye complaints mislead you though. Jacqui and I, when not filthy and tired, are still happy to be where we are. After all, when we complete a long day of work we can get clean with a boogie board in the ocean, or sit on the beach watching the horses being led on their twice-daily walk. We’re in a place people pay tons of money to come visit just for a day, the prime example of that being the cruise ships that pull in every Wednesday. Jacqui and I always manage to get second looks from the cruisers when they realize not every gringo on Stone Island came on their boat. This is especially true if we’re carrying construction materials.
So now I will make a cautious attempt at a prediction. If things continue forward with minimal hiccups, we should be hitting the road again by next weekend!
It’s been nearly three weeks since the car accident outside Tepic. Jacqui and I have been working hard everyday to put our beloved home back together. Today we reached a major milestone! With the installation of all exterior paneling and the door, it's excited to see how close we are to getting back on the road.
We have tried to recycle as much as possible, but have still gone far beyond throwing her back together. I can happily say, even unfinished as she is, the Dolphin is much sturdier than the day we bought her, or the day we embarked on this journey. So now, a bit of review is in order.
When we first started disassembly on the Dolphin, it was very disheartening. The further we tried to remove things damaged by the accident, the more rot and corruption we were finding that had already been there.
Even rolling off the factory floor in 1985, the Dolphin was essentially made of toothpicks and staples (yes, literally staples), which is true of almost all RV’s, even today. They’re naturally flimsy things, and with good reason. The vehicles they are built upon have limitations, and every extra pound puts stress on the suspension, engine and robs fuel mileage. So when your RV gets to…let’s say, 29 years old, there is bound to be a combination of problems that you’d find in poorly constructed homes AND in old cars.
When we finally gutted enough out of the Dolphin to make sure we were going to have a solid foundation to work upon, this is the sight we saw:
This is looking at the passenger side of the vehicle after quite a bit of work. A whole new wheel well arch was cut out of plywood. Rotted beams were replaced and held together with screws instead of flimsy staples. All wood that would be exposed to road conditions received a rubber coating to protect from rot.
This is post construction on the driver's rear corner of the Dolphin. The accident jarred the old girl so hard that this area, which was already weakened by dry rot, split and bulged out. Luckily this area didn't require excessive amounts of work since the rot hadn't spread too far.
This is a good look at how much floor we replaced. The entire structural integrity of the Dolphin depends upon anchoring everything to the floor, so this was a necessity. The bottom of the floor was sealed against water and double layered with plastic to make sure we won't get any rot. Finally, we reinstalled the bathroom wall, you can see its structure in the middle of the floor.
The walls of the Dolphin were dislodged and moved left during the accident. We used a come-along attached to the frame to pull the entire structure into alignment. Once everything was situated where it belonged, our new floor became the anchor point for all the walls. Heavy duty brackets, screws and bolts now make sure everything is as sturdy as can be.
With everything bolted in place, all exposed wood under the vehicle was coated for weatherproofing, then the siding went back on.
Even with the driver's side of the Dolphin looking nice, there was quite a project left just around the corner. The door and its frame were mangled so lot's of hammering and creativity went into straightening the door, siding and trim pieces. At the same time a new entry step was constructed, and the combination dining seat/entry cabinet was reconstructed trying to reuse as much of the original as possible.
All of the exterior siding that could be salvaged was installed. But a few pieces were mangled beyond repair, and some were just outright missing. So we made a trip into Mazatlan to buy raw sheet metal, cut it to shape, and primed it for installation.
The wood around the wheel well was coated with a rubberized spray before the metal was installed. Then our new metal was wrapped around the inside of the wheel well with a little finesse and persuasion from a mallet.
At last the Dolphin takes shape again. While still being far from done, she looks full of promise.
After a hard day's work we got ourselves some Licuados (Mexican milkshakes) to go. Of course in Mexico they have special 'to go' cups.
And an extra special thanks to John. He managed to escape from most photos, but he's been out there every day helping us rebuild the Dolphin. As a retired professional cabinet maker and carpenter, he's brought on a level of professionalism to our Dolphin construction that neither Jacqui or I could have ever done by ourselves.
As Jacqui and I woke that morning in 3 Amigos RV Park, there was hope in the air. We crawled around our belongings to emerge out the front, still functional doors of the cab, where so many friendly faces greeted us. Taking our first shower in days seemed to wash away many of our troubles and doubts. Clean and refreshed our friends Debra and John treated us to breakfast. Having gone to bed with no dinner, a hot breakfast and good company was building us up to deal with what had to come…making a decision about the Dolphin.
With the help of our friends we investigated and probed until the decision was made: we will breathe new life into the Dolphin. There are significant amounts of damage, but at the end of the day, the Dolphin is just made of plywood and sheet metal. If you have the time and energy to dedicate, which we do, the materials really aren’t that expensive. So the re-remodel moves forward while Jacqui and I do our best to stay positive.
I won’t lead you to believe every aspect of this project is smiles and positive attitudes. While we tear out entire walls, gut the interior we worked so hard to put together, and discover problems that were long hidden even before the crash, emotions definitely run high. It all seems so extremely overwhelming, and it’s hard to visualize this project ever coming to a conclusion. One moment Jacqui and I are working as a team, the next our frustrations with the project can leave us fed up with each other. We frequently have to take a breath and remember that it’s only a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. It’s humbling moments like this that remind us we are human. We fight, we love, we argue, we agree, we work, we play, but most importantly, in the end, we’re a team. We both know we’ll push through this small hurdle and love our trip even more. After all, the harder you work for something, the more rewarding it is in the end.
But all of the credit can’t be given to Jacqui and I. The rebuilding of the Dolphin wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful people we are surrounded with. I’ll leave out names, but I’d really like to share their actions.
Currently Jacqui and I are staying in a beautiful, giant RV parked directly on the beach at no cost to us. Honestly, it is larger than many apartments I’ve lived in. The couple who own this beauty had to fly home for an emergency, and even though they’ve only known us for a week, when learning of our situation, they offered us to stay here without hesitation. But even that wouldn’t be possible without our current next-door neighbors who were responsible for arranging everything. Despite having only known us for a week, they have gone above and beyond kindness to help us. They’ve connected us with skilled workers in the area, left groceries outside our door when we woke, treated us out to breakfast, arranged storage for our Dolphin and altogether have been amazing, supportive and wonderful people to be around. The ability to ever repay them is truly beyond our grasp.
The generosity certainly doesn’t end there. We’ve received gifts including a new shade canopy and a collapsible 50ft hose. One of our friends is a retired cabinetmaker who has an amazing amount of carpentry tools he’s made available for our use, and so many other people are giving in ways that aren’t tangible. Advice, lending a hand or even knowing there’s good conversation, when the last thing you want to think about is the project at hand, goes a long way. It’s times like these Jacqui and I are reminded that we never travel alone.
As it currently stands the Dolphin is very much in pieces, but soon we can start rebuilding the old girl stronger than ever. Tomorrow a welder is coming to reinforce some areas that we’ve decided were never strong enough from the beginning. Jacqui and I both hope to share some rebuild progress with you soon.