11th March 2004 Mexico 6

I pottered along in the general direction of Oaxaca. I don't drive very fast, in built up areas I crawl. There are road humps everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. They call them topes. Sometimes they are marked , usually not. Often they more or less hidden from view in the road surface. Sometimes they are really vicious. I probably cross at least 50 every day, and just about every day I miss seeing one or two. With the RV pots and pans crash, everything in the fridge crashes, doors open and cupboard contents spew out, the tow bar digs into the road surface. So if I crawl through the towns there is less of a bump if I hit one by mistake.

There are various hints that one is around. If you see a small knot of people gathered at the side of the road then they may be waiting for a bus, which means there are topes. Topes are at every bus stop. Or the people may be just curious bystanders, watching for the results when someone crosses the tope too quickly. Well if you just standing, why not be with the action? There are roadside stalls everywhere, selling drinks, fruit, food, pots, you name it. One favourite spot is by a tope, the speed you have to go over the damn things you have time even to bargain for something that's on offer while you are crossing. But they are sometimes out in the countryside for no apparent reason. Maybe it's a bus stop and there is no one waiting for a bus.

While on the subject of roadside stalls, and there are lots, almost every house along the road will have a little table with something on it and someone sitting, waiting for a customer. I am intrigued though by the way sometimes everyone jumps on the same bandwagon. In one place there were stalls selling birds in cages, animal skins stretched out on a rack, and something else I could not determine. But there must have been 50 identical stalls in a period of about 3 miles. In one village in the space of about 100 yards there were at least 8 huge signs offering WC facilities. In another every alternate stall had strings of sausages hung up, dark red strings and green strings, they looked quite attractive. They were all hung on identical stretchers at right angles to the road with the strings of red sausages nearest the road, and the green farther back. Even if the rest of the stall was just knick-knacks, they would have the sausages.

Some 100 miles short of Oaxaca I passed round the edge of a town I saw a workshop offering washing and lubrication. I needed an oil change and the building was high enough to get my van in so I had the oil and filter changed at a cost of $12. I don't have the van washed. I think the older and scruffier it looks the less likely it is to appeal to bandits. As it was late afternoon I asked if I could park alongside for the night, no problem, just don't run over the dog! Then I drove to around the town but suddenly there was a bang and steam spraying everywhere. I waited an hour, refilled the radiator, and started to drive towards the service station but only got about 200 yards before the same thing happened again. I abandoned the van at the side of the road and took a taxi to the lubrication place, they had struck me as being honest, and also spoke a little English. You need a mechanic they said. Yep I said. It seemed to me like a cylinder head gasket had gone. Come back in the morning at 9 they said, we know a good mechanic, and they drove me back to the van. In the morning the first mechanic was too busy, they drove me to the other side of town, an associate of the second mechanic, I think he is sort of partner, eventually took the job on, gave me a ridiculously low quote, and then we drove my van round to the workshop. Fortunately he too can speak a little English, enough for us to communicate.

Turns out it was a cylinder head gasket as I suspected. At intervals during the day I would jump into a pickup with Louis the mechanic, we would buy bits from various parts stores which I would pay for, he would work on again. He kept on working until about 11 pm (we even went out looking for parts at 9.30 pm) and he was back at 9 this morning. I guess I might have spent approaching $40 on parts. The engine is almost all back together now. I just noticed the mechanic carefully making a gasket for the water system from something that looked like a piece of cardboard. Just the final touches now, couple hours more maybe, make sure it goes, and see if the bill really is as little as I was told. Then on my way, passing the lubrication place, I need to say thank you and leave a tip.

It's midday and the job is finished. $250 total including the bits I bought. Didn't quite break the bank. And if anyone remembers $250 is about one third the cost of my getting just the idling speed fixed in Tucson last year.....And as a bonus we replaced the temperature sender unit on the way. My temperature gauge now works. I will have advance warning if the water is going to boil again.

Best regards

David Barker

Continue to 7