Mishaps on the Mountain

7 Apr

It’s never good when you hear a loud pop and smoke pours out from the hood of your car. It’s especially not good when you are on a windy, two-lane mountain road in the middle of nowhere. With two little kids in the car.

I promptly pulled the kids out of the car, in case something else exploded or caught fire in the following moments. Of course, then I had to keep them in the practically non-existent area between the road and the cliff drop-off. Fun times, especially for the adventurous three year old.

This is precisely why I don’t plan to ever drive this stretch of road by myself with the kids. I do love a good adventure, and often, I admit, I even love a good misadventure. But it’s a bit more stressful and much less exciting with the kids involved. We were on our way to Juquila to visit their abuela. It’s not an especially fun trip to begin with, but it is always nice to see my fabulous mother-in-law, and the kids were thrilled, of course. Breaking down on the mountain is even less of my idea of a good time, though. At least Conan was there, though, and it was still daytime. There are always pluses in every silly situation.

Almost immediately after Conan lifted the hood, another car stopped to see if we needed help. A man assessed the situation with Conan. They decided it was some kind of problem with the radiator. Solution: let it cool down, pour lots of water into it and try to get further down the road (which means up the mountain, in this case).

The car did not agree with our proposed solution, however. We did get slightly further up the mountain, slowly, sputtering and chugging along like a long freight train desperately trying to pick up speed. We got to the next safe-ish spot to stop- a spot not right on a curve, so other cars have time to see us and go around us. And there we stopped. And sat for a bit. Conan popped the hood and flagged down a truck to give us more water. Since we’d only managed to drive for about three minutes, at a snail’s pace, this just-add-water plan didn’t seem very promising. The kind folks in the truck promised to tow us to the next town if this extra water didn’t take us far enough.

Indeed, the car was more incredulous about the idea than I was. We barely made it a minute up the road when it became glaringly obvious that it was not a sufficient solution. I was also slightly incredulous about the truck pulling us up the mountain, because the truck was already overloaded with palm branches, probably headed to make someone’s roof. There were a couple guys up on top of the palms, too. It wasn’t a truck made for towning, either, and it looked older and more overworked than our car. I wasn’t completely convinced they could make it with us, but it sounded great. And we didn’t have other options. There’s no AAA car service on the road to Juquila. There’s not even cell phone service, even if something like AAA existed. Besides, this is Mexico; where there’s a will there’s a way. Anything’s possible, especially with duck tape and a prayer. Sí se puede!

And it worked. It was slow going, but faster than walking with the kids and the suitcase and Khalil’s three big toy trucks that he insisted on bringing. The thick rope that they had tied to something under our car and something on their truck broke at one point. But no bother. They retied it. We continued, Conan braking furiously during the downhill parts to not hit truck and send palms cascading on top of us. (Perhaps the palm free-fall was my unrealistic concern, but you can see from the pictures below why I imagined that possibility.)

The view from inside the car while being towed by this truck:

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Khalil, of course, was pleased as punch when he realized we were being towed. Because tow trucks are cool. Even if this wasn’t an actual tow truck. Pesky details. It was a definite bonus for him. Lucia kept asking why we were going so slow and if we were ever going to get to Juquila.

We made it to the next town, which is so small that we might even call it a village. They only have cell phone service in this one spot of town, when the wind isn’t blowing too hard in the wrong direction. Conan set off on his quest for super glue, aka Plan #2. There certainly wasn’t a mechanic in town or any kind of car parts shop. It’s the town of the Piedra Mujer (yes, you translated that right- the woman stone). Unfortunately, that’s about all they have there- the stone that looks like a vulva that helps you find a partner. And unfortunately, we were in search of super glue and not romantic partners at the moment. There was no super glue to be found.

We left the car near the cliff where you can sometimes get cell phone service and went to wait for one of the passenger vans that go back and forth from Juquila to Rio Grande, the bigger town at the bottom of the mountain.

While we waited, we watched the local folks who were standing on the road taking advantage of the spring break traffic to stop all the cars and ask for donations to build a new church. They stopped cars by holding up a rope across the road, a common and very effective strategy. It was entertaining for a couple of minutes and then that wore off. Several people walking by gaped and talked about our light-skinned children, especially little blonde Khalil. “No soy bebé” Khalil kept saying, (I’m not a baby), overhearing them say, “look at the baby!” We bought the kids quesadillas that a lady was making on the hot comal in front of us. We all used a bathroom with no toilet paper but that at least had soap. (I had forgotten the cardinal rule of traveling with my own toilet paper. I did have soap in my bag, of course, since it wasn’t necessary.)

Finally the van came and had two open seats for us. Well, we had to walk a few feet down the road to where they were dropping off someone else, but we got two legitimate seats, not like the extra sitting-on-a-suitcase or on a bucket seats. So one kid on each lap and we were off again.

We had a lovely home-cooked meal upon arriving (breakfast at 1 in the afternoon for Conan and me), and Conan set off to find some kind of glue to get the radiator semi-functioning again. The plan was to make it back down the mountain to Rio Grande, where there are mechanics and car parts and all. He found some glue in Juquila that’s not actually for car repair but that promised to withstand high temperatures and set off back towards the car, about 45 minutes away.

He came back about 3 or 4 hours later when the glue still hadn’t dried. So much for him making it to work that night. We spent the night in Juquila and set off the next morning to see if the glue had dried. We left the kids with their abuela for spring break, so I felt way less stressed about how things might or might not work out for us and the car. Mishaps without children and their tears and their bathroom necessities are much easier to cope with.

There was one little spot where the glue wasn’t completely dry, but the radiator bust seemed mostly sealed up. We poured in tons of water, I said my prayer to the patron saint of travelers (and Barga, Italy), and we headed down the road. We stopped and poured in more water every few miles, and the car continued to chug along.

Happily, magically perhaps, we made it to Rio Grande. By then, however, the mechanic who my father-in-law had called to help us out was no longer available, since we’d said we’d be there early in the morning, and it was certainly late morning by then. “Did he expect us to be on time? Where does he think we are? This is Mexico!” I complained to Conan, only mildly bitterly.

Luckily, however, Conan remembered another place down the street with a sign for radiators. And the mechanic was home and ready to work on a Sunday. He got us the part we needed, which luckily was not a whole new radiator, and fixed it in an hour and a half. And best of all, we had exactly enough cash on us to fix the car and have a couple tacos for breakfast. (Because of course there’s no ATM in this “bigger” town, either.) Complete success! The good life! Thank you, Saint Christopher and super glue! Until our next mishap!

 

 

 

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