By Pato Che
Six hundred and twenty miles. That’s how far we made it before the engine melted away, along with our trust in the mechanics back in Guadalajara. “Scrap metal is all it is, really,” he said as an excuse in case the engine were not to hold its promises: a return journey all the way to Alaska and back.
We try to sleep so we can forget where we are but it is in vain. Outside, the violence that shakes the heart of Mexico surrounds us, and that’s exactly where Adelita’s engine has decided to die away.
Hearing the dogs bark all around us feeds our paranoia. We parked the van in front of a tire repair shop, forty miles off Concha del Oro, Zacatecas, where stories of kidnapping and tourist bus robberies are common daily news.
“Still, it’s safer here than there”, says the head mechanic as he points out the dim lights of the nearby gas station. “They are closed at night now because they were robbed a few times already,” he adds in the darkness as he leaves us, taking with him our last ounce of hope.
We could leave the vehicle here and just go. But, where to? And how? We’ll have to spend the night here and see what fate has in store for us…
A little earlier
We don’t really know why we decided to come this way. Yesterday, we were still talking about going to San Luis Potosi and give the engine a rest. I’m thinking that, by now, we’d probably be having a cold beer at Ernesto’s bar.
The idea of a cold beer brings back memories of the night before. We had just spent the week-end partying hard in Aguascalientes, where we had stopped to visit an old friend, Carlos.
While Emma and Mihi had gone straight to Saltillo, Roberto and I had been received like kings and invited to spend a day at Blanca’s ranch, Carlos’ girlfriend, with her horses, around a BBQ and enough to drink to quench anyone’s thirst.
Leslie, a friend of Roberto’s who was traveling, also joined us; Carlos and Oscar had the party going.
Fortunately, the week-end had ended without any trouble; no scandal had aroused and we had had nothing to be ashamed of after this little reunion. All smiles and happy with all the beer we had drunk, we also played with Blanca’s young nephews who unexpectedly dropped by at the ranch.
The only problem was that we had to hit the road again and say goodbye to our wonderful hosts.
The brightest day
When we first arrived in Aguascalientes, we were overjoyed because the car had passed the 500 miles mark proving it was good to go.
The journey from Guadalajara had been rather nice. It had felt like taking a ride on a bright sunny day of June. At the military checkpoint, we were even able to laugh a little.
– Where are you going like that, young men?
– To Alaska, officer, says one from inside the van.
– To Alaska? No problem on the way in, did you?
– No, all good, thanks for asking.
– That camera, is it on?
– No, no, of course not, officer…
– Let’s check the van!
One of the soldiers passed in front of the windshield and jumped in surprise when he realized that the counter of the camera was running. After that, he avoided passing in front of the van again, but the scene was already in.
Little by little, the atmosphere at the checkpoint had relaxed and the officers even wished us good luck in the end. But the luck soon vanished.
The pearl of Guadalajara
“See, your mother didn’t even cry,” I told Roberto as we left Guadalajara. “Only because the neighbors were there,” he answered.
Because, as the van was being repaired, the Razo Anaya’s house had been filled with life and joy. First, thanks to the youngest son’s return with his little family; then, when Mihi’s brother-in-law came to visit; lastly, when the Argentinian of the group showed up.
Teresa worked hard in the kitchen, even after realizing that her little baby had become vegetarian. In spite of the hippie looks their son was now wearing (long hair, beard and those same old pants), both parents understood the meaning of the project he had joined and decided to be fully supportive.
As proof, Teresa had organized a collection of clothes that could be brought to the SOS Children’s Villages and wrote down a list of the few items still free of OGM at the local supermarket for her girlfriends.
This is why she ended up with tears in her eyes the day we came back from the mechanics workshop with a pitiful look yet again; even if it meant being more behind schedule for us, it also meant we’d spend one more day with her.
A day of joy for Teresa meant another day of frustration for us. Three months earlier, Adelita had arrived there spluttering smoke and drinking gallons of oil.
That was when “The Wolf,” one of Roberto’s friends, recommended us to go and see Rafa Blake (weird name for an auto mechanic). “He’s expensive but pretty effective,” we had been told.
Our cheapest option would have been to change some parts of the engine and set it all up again, “no guarantees.” The other was to change almost everything. “If, by doing this, we make it all the way to Alaska, it will have been money well-spent,” Emma had said.
So it was. Many of our little piggy banks were broken in order to gather all the money needed for the operation. Unfortunately, in spite of sounding trustworthy through his religious posts on Facebook, Rafa never showed any real motivation in doing his job.
“Let’s not interfere so he gets things done,” we thought. But, when 2 months had gone by and Adelita was still at the workshop, I decided to go to Guadalajara myself and stay there night and day, if need be.
No sooner said than done. That following month, we were there every day. The chief mechanic gave orders and we ran all over town to look for the missing parts. I don’t know how many trips we made to find the correct item, the perfect screw or the perfect tool but we found them all.
It was all a vicious circle. The chief would let us “help” him but he would disappear for hours and come back with yet another car whose situation was more urgent than ours.
The day finally arrived: the engine was ready, I sat behind the wheel and started the van. I’ll never forget how Blake sighed with relief and admitted to being afraid I thought he would steal from us.
We were supposed to test the resistance of the engine upon 500 miles, but if we went past 250, “all should be fine.” This is how, after many test drives on the belt highway and a short drive out to what is left of Chapala Lake, we had decided to be on our way again.
But, when we were about to pass the threshold of 620 miles, the engine melted away and left us stranded into cochiloco territory.
We spent a frightful night. Mosquitoes bit us. We prayed that no one would stop and get out of their car and finish us off. We flinched at the slightest noise.
The following morning, as the desert sun brought us back to reality, Rafa Blake gave us a few ideas on how to resurrect Adelita but none of them produced any kind of reaction. The engine was truly dead.
Eventually, Adelita made it to Saltillo with the help of a tow truck. Thanks to the latter, she entered the dilapidated workshop of a gruff, drunk mechanic whose life stories would have made a great soap-opera; he didn’t know a thing about Facebook. A real mechanic, after all.
*cochiloco: nickname given to a character of the movie “El Infierno”, directed by Luis Estrada. “El Cochiloco” (Joaquín Cosío) is a drug dealer who loves wearing gold and rides around in luxurious cars.