Or, “Dr. Dirtbag loses to Mexico, part 2.”
[This part was not photogenic, though the next was. — ed.]
Finding our way out of Chihuahua late in the morning, we calculated that we would arrive in Toluca after midnight, but that with some possibly ill-advised late-night driving, we could still nearly stick to our original plan. (On hearing that we gueros were headed to Mexico, one of Pablo’s friends advised us to never drive at night, and to run over anyone manning a blockade who was not obviously one of the Federales. But we were running out of options.) From Chihuahua, Mexican highway 45 heads southeast through Delicia to Jimenez, leaving the truly barren desert for something more like the area around Las Cruces, including regular arrays of pecan trees.
We were feeling rushed, but optimistic: with only a day’s drive to Toluca, the Ford with the ghetto fuel injector was running well. But at the last toll plaza before Jimenez, the van once again died. Mike paid the slightly impatient lady in the booth, then mercilessly flogged the starter until the car was able to keep running long enough to limp into the parking lot. We had found another good place to break down, but were even more doomed.
Finding no payphone nearby, we milled around aimlessly. To avoid the heat, I took over a recently-vacated covered table. One of the previous occupants returned with a rag to clean it off and, impressed by my obvious guerosity, tried out his limited English. I sort-of explained our situation, and he immediately broke off his poor son’s surreptitious make-out session to ask that he take a look at our van. The son asked a few questions, tasted some oil in the coolant water, and declared that we were in bad shape.
Fortunately we were at a full-featured toll booth, with some kind of semi-official Chihuahuan aid station across the road. After waiting for some Federales to finish a photo shoot against the mountain backdrop (flashing lights, puffed-out chests, etc.), we scampered across the highway to ask for help. One of the men at the aid station lent us his cell phone, and after some back-and-forth with the insurance company, and a long, very awkward period trying to use our combined few hundred words of Spanish to make small-talk with men knowing only a few dozen words of English, we drove the van onto another tow truck.
This one was immaculate and modern compared to the last, driven by a father-son team who knew a bit of English. The son was even studying programming, so I tried to encourage him to stick with it. The aid station chief had recommended a particular mechanic in Jimenez, and the tow truck driver agreed, pointing him out as we drove into town. The mechanic was closed for the day, and there didn’t seem to be much to do in Jimenez, so we settled into a surprisingly-empty hotel with internet to consider our options.
While most things in Mexico are cheap, including fuel pump replacements, the dozen or so replacements it would require to reach Mexico City would add up, not to mention taking more time than we had. Being my usual pessimistic self, I was leaning toward either making a run for the border in Mike’s van, or setting it on fire, fleeing back to the US, and claiming the insurance. However, Mike suggested another option: a detour to Copper Canyon on the way back from a shorter trip. We had deliberately skipped the canyon, partly because it was out of the way and partly because the State Department suggested that going there was a bad idea. But at this point, it seemed no riskier than the Chihuahuan barrio, and preferable to utter defeat. If the car took multiple days to repair, we could seemingly get there by (many hours of) bus. If repairs went quickly, we might even be able to coax the van an extra few hundred miles on the way home.
It was early, we were bored, and Jimenez is not exactly a happening place, so we turned to the Iternets for entertainment. I had never seen “The Three Amigos” in its entirety and, amazingly, it turned up on YouTube. It was the perfect movie to watch at the time: a cornball 1980s Steve Martin comedy full of Mexican stereotypes, made even better with Spanish subtitles. Laugh now, and deal with life in the morning.