Sunday 25th January 2015
We docked in Algeciras (Spain) at 2:30am and made our way down to the car deck, my stomach was churning, we were both extremely tired and just needed to sleep. We had decided to return to the ‘LIDL’ car park at ‘Palmones‘, just six miles away, which is the place where Shazza had ‘made me‘ buy the ferry ticket to Morocco. I was secretly hoping that by some miracle of miracles the engine problem would have somehow sorted itself out !!
The ferry doors opened and I turned the key in the ignition, ‘yee hah‘ the engine roared into life at the first attempt and we drove up the boat ramp and onto Spanish terra firma under our own power. My elation was short-lived, we were driving towards the ‘Immigration Check-Point’ and the engine cut out again !! ‘Big Momma’ started again and fortunately after showing our ‘British’ Passports we were waved straight through. From there it went rapidly down hill, we were off the Port and on the Motorway and the engine cut out again and again, we were getting no more than One or Two hundred ‘metres’ each time. We couldn’t stay on the Motorway and so I just persevered, it took us Ninety minutes to travel the six miles but finally, at 4:30am, we arrived at Palmones and the ‘LIDL’ car park, we closed the blinds and went to bed !!
You would have thought that being so tired after days of sleep deprivation that I would have been ‘dead to the world‘ in seconds, but no, there was far too much going on in my head. When we last checked the Internet for ‘FIAT‘ dealers that would take Motorhomes the nearest was Malaga !! Then of course there was a rather large ‘unknown’, what was the problem or more importantly how expensive was it going to be to resolve ? We awoke to a lovely sunny morning but it was only 8:30am, I don’t think that I had managed to grab more than a couple of hours shut-eye and I was still tired. However, I wasn’t yet in ‘panic mode‘ and had still retained my logical thought processes.
When we had parked up in the early hours we just stopped in any vehicle parking bay, however, in daylight, this was not a good position as it was in a single bay and ‘Big Mommas’ front end protruded into what was a vehicle exit lane, so first job was not only to re-locate to a double parking bay but one which would permit a tow vehicle to get access to me. It being Sunday, unlike the UK, Supermarkets do not open, so the car park would remain relatively quiet and we had no problems moving Big Momma to an appropriate space, which was also very conveniently situated next to ‘MacDonald’s’. We had sufficient provisions on-board but ‘McD’s’ provided free access to WiFi. Now, it being Sunday, a call to the Breakdown Assistance would have been pointless, of course they could have come and rescued us but where would they take us, the garages would all be shut !! Generally, the European Breakdown assist people first identify a garage that can not only accommodate the size of vehicle but also they confirm, with the garage, that they will be able to accept you, this was not going to happen on a Sunday !! So, I decided to just stay where we were for another Twenty-four hours, well we had everything we needed and there was enough sunshine to keep our leisure batteries topped up via the solar panels. I didn’t waste the day, we may have been back in Europe but there was still a little matter of the ‘language barrier‘. It’s okay having the limited ‘tourist‘ vocabulary, ‘Buenos Dias‘, ‘Dos Cafe Con Letche‘ and even ‘Lo Siento No Hablo Espanol‘ but that wouldn’t quite cut the mustard trying to explain to a motor mechanic the history of what had happened ! This is where the convenience of MacDonald’s WiFi came in extremely handy. On my iPad I had a ‘Translator App’, but I needed Internet access to use it. I had drafted out some key points, in the sequence of events as they had occurred, now I needed to translate it into Espanol !! The problem with some of these type of ‘Apps’ is that they do not always accurately translate what you have typed, for all I know the mechanic I handed this translation to, may end up reading something like “My wife has been serviced by an infected Moroccan who has given her a good seeing to with his Injector” !!
Monday morning arrived, we were up early, we wanted to get the ‘wheels rolling‘ as quickly as possible, quite literally ! I knew what questions the RAC would be asking so had everything prepared, Length, Height, Width, Weight, can’t think why they wanted all of this information on Shazza though ? I even had my GPS co-ordinates ready and a brief resume of what had happened. I guessed that the Central Call Centre for the European Breakdown Assistance was based in France, you see, once a policeman there are just some things you never lose the knack of, like picking up little clues like the pre-recorded message was in French !! Details passed, the French connection would now pass on the information to their Spanish counterparts and a Breakdown truck would be dispatched. It took a little over two hours for the breakdown truck to arrive, there was just a slight difference between the battered old Landrover that rescued us in Morocco to what arrived on the ‘LIDL’ car park …………………….
I knew that this was probably going to be an expensive repair, water inside engines is not good, I also knew that we were back in the ‘Civilised’ world and with that would come ‘Uncivilised’ garage charges, I also had in the back of my mind that we may not be permitted to stay in ‘Big Momma’ whilst she was being repaired, and I also knew that I didn’t know how long this was all going to take, but in that brief moment, sat high up in this monster truck, I felt a certain relief.
We arrived on an out-of-town Industrial Park, the driver asked if I was happy to reverse off the back of ‘Monster Truck’, under his supervision of course, whilst he operated the hydraulics, wow ! I didn’t need asking twice, what an experience this would be, Shazza took up her station at the back and halted traffic and then I eased ‘Big Momma’ off the back and onto the road, what a team the ‘three’ of us made. The driver spoke to the garage workshop supervisor, who had been expecting us, then after I had signed his paperwork off he went into the sunset !! Now the moment of truth, fortunately, the Supervisor, spoke a little English but I gave him my handwritten ‘Spanish’ interpretation of what had happened. I kept checking his facial expressions to see if he was having trouble deciphering my notes, there were no tell-tale signs, no outburst of laughter or him calling over his mechanics and saying “Hey guys, want a laugh, come and read what a Moroccan did to this Englishman’s wife” !!
At the bottom of the notes I had explained our situation and asked if it was possible to stay with the van and to sleep in it at night, the Supervisor, who I got to know was called ‘Pepe‘, said that it would be alright, another moment of relief. I asked if he had understood the translation or whether he needed any further information, he said that he didn’t and that the information I had provided was sufficient. However, the garage closed for ‘Siesta’ between 2-4pm and it was just fifteen minutes away from that period. No problem, ‘Big Momma’ was still parked outside the workshop so whilst they went for lunch we sat in the van and had a coffee and waited for them to return. Over here, Siesta appears to be a bit ‘Hit and Miss’, some places close for Siesta and some don’t ? The businesses in this Industrial Park all opened at 09:00am until 2pm and then re-opened at 4pm until 7:30pm. When they returned the first job was to do a major re-shuffle of the cars already in the workshop to make room for ‘Big Momma’, I let them drive it in, it was a tight squeeze and I wasn’t going to be held responsible for damaging someone else’s vehicle !! My mechanic was assigned and first job was to attach the ‘Diagnostics Machine’, I was told by ‘Pepe’ that this would check the whole ‘EMS’ (Electronic Management System) and should tell them the source of the problem. It was a long process, however, eventually, the ‘Device’ reported that there was a lack of pressure through one or more of the fuel injectors, my mind immediately flashed back to ‘Mustafa’ who had not managed to remove or clean the fourth injector !! It was time to get out of their way and let them get on with sorting out the van. ‘Pepe’ told us that we could sit in the van, make coffee, eat our meal, no problem and asked if we needed ‘Water’ or ‘Electric’, I asked if it was possible to plug-in to their Electric Supply, he went off and got an Adaptor and we would now be able to keep the Fridge and Freezer working, we couldn’t use the gas for safety reasons as we would be shut in the workshop overnight, but we now had lighting and could keep our iPhones and iPads charged up, we could even have watched a DVD but we were not in the mood and we were both very tired. Once 7:30pm arrived and they had locked us in, we could not leave the van because the workshop was alarmed, we were prisoners for the night, but a very nice cell it was too.
It was a sort of ‘Wildcamping’ experience with a difference, I wasnt kept awake by strange unidentifiable ‘night noises’ and we were more than safe and secure. We had a reasonable sleep, certainly the best we had had for several nights, no traffic noise, nightclub music or dogs barking, however, I was still mulling over how long it would take to fix ‘Big Momma’. ‘Pepe’ had already forewarned me that if ‘New’ Injectors were required that these would have to be ordered from the FIAT factory in Italy and it would take three days to recieve them. It didn’t help when he rubbed his fingers together, indicating that these would be expensive !!
Although the garage mechanics didn’t start work until 09:00am, we were awoken at 07:30am by the roller shutters on the outer doors being opened, then vehicles were driven out of the workshop and parked outside, that was it, we had to get up and get washed and dressed, ready for the workforce arriving. There was no point in us hanging around the workshop, we had already been told that at best it would be another day as the Injectors needed to go away to a local specialist to test them and to see if they were repairable. ‘Pepe’ gave us directions to get into the town, a half hour downhill walk !! so we gave him our mobile number in case he needed to speak to us and off we went to explore a town that had been on ‘next year’s’ travel itinerary !!
Well I guess if we were going to be stranded anywhere, this is the place to be stranded ! We had stayed away from the workshop as we didn’t want to get under their feet, or to hold them up. I have a habit of wanting to watch what they are doing, just out of interest really, but then I tend to ask a lot of questions, so it was best to just stay clear, the quicker they got on with finding and resolving the problem, the quicker we would be out of their !
At this point I do have to sing the praises of the RAC European Breakdown Service, I actually thought that their job was to just get my vehicle repaired at roadside and on my way again or get me and my vehicle recovered to a garage, then that would be the end of their involvement. However, I discovered that this was not the case, whilst the ‘Call Centre’ dealing with me were in France, they were in contact with their counterparts in Spain so it was very much a dual effort. My first ‘Incident Manager’ was Steve, although as my issue spread over days and Steve went off shift, other ‘Incident Managers’ took over but all had my ‘live’ file and knew exactly what was going on, as well as what had been done, at every stage. I received a phone call and text message to advise that a recovery vehicle was on route and an estimated time of arrival, they had found a garage that could deal with the problem and they had made all the arrangements with the garage. They phoned me to confirm that the breakdown truck had arrived and that we were on our way to the garage. Once at the garage they phoned again and told me that they would remain in contact with them to get regular updates and that if ‘I’ had any problems and needed translations their ‘Spanish’ colleagues would do this for me (fortunately for me ‘Pepe’ the workshop manager spoke very good English) They asked if we wanted hotel accommodation and although we told them that the garage was letting us sleep in the van, which suited us at the time with all our possessions inside, they said that if we changed our minds that they would organise a local hotel and arrange a taxi to collect us. Steve told me that they would stay in contact until the vehicle was repaired and we were on our way again. I really appreciated this level of service, they actually provided not only a friendly and calming voice at the end of a phone but they gave us a reassurance that we were actually being looked after. At this time, even we didn’t know just how much more we were going to need them !!
We had been out all day, from 9:00am until 6pm, it was one hell of a ‘Shazza Expedition’ at just over 15km !! but when we got back ‘Pepe’ told us that the Injectors had been tested, confirmed that they could be repaired and that they would be collected and re-installed on Wednesday morning. I asked him if he thought we would get away before the start of there ‘Siesta’ period at 2pm, he didn’t want to commit himself as he said that the Injectors had to be put back in, then a full diagnostics check carried out. I was getting concerned that our Cassette toilet was now getting full and there was nowhere to empty it, although we did have a spare that could be used if necessary, but the grey waste was on the brink of being full, not insurmountable problems but ones we could do without having to think about at this time.
When we left the garage to go walkabout in ‘Estepona’ again ! my shins were already hurting from yesterday’s ‘little jaunt’, I told Pepe that we would come back at 1pm, I was rather hoping that this would spur them on to try to get the job done, I was aware that they also had ‘other’ customers vehicles to attend to and they could get stuck into one of those and forget about my van.
When we returned we had hoped to see the vehicle ‘parked up’ outside the workshop ready to go, but it wasn’t !! However, I was pleased to see that all the Injectors had been re-installed and that the laptop diagnostics computer was running, now it was a race against the clock, there was just one hour before ‘Siesta’ !! Everything was completed with just ten minutes to spare, the diagnostics reflected that everything was okay and now just the bill to pay !! I knew that this was not going to be cheap and I was correct, I was presented with a bill for €1,457.27 (£1,187.67), that was a bloody expensive tank of Moroccan Diesel !!
We thanked them for their assistance and hospitality, we had actually got to know ‘Pepe’ quite well and spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of days engaged in ‘general’ chit chat, he wished us a safe journey. Our first destination was just Thirty something miles away, we were headed for ‘Los Barrios’ where we could hopefully this time find the ‘Repsol’ service station that sold Auto-Gas (LPG/GPL) and also ‘fill up’ with Diesel, preferably, of the ‘Uncontaminated’ variety !! Then we would head to the West Coast of Spain, just below Cadiz, to the Campsite at ‘Conil de la Frontera‘ just a further 57 miles away. The AP7 Motorway was just a five-minute drive from the garage so that should help us complete our journey and be set up with a nice cuppa by tea-time.
We had just left the slip road and got on to the Motorway and the engine cut out again !!
To be Continued (Again !!)…………………………….