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Thu Oct 9, 2014, 05:27 PM

Dangerous Mexico part 1

It was 10 at night in the border town of Agua Prieta and I had just handed my car keys to some guy and his buddy. Nothing to do but trust the universe at this point. I did ask his name with the vague thought if I never saw him again at least I might have a clue for an investigator. He said it was Guadalupe Lucero and to trust him all would be fine, but I promptly forgot the Lucero. The "sub-journey" that had begun 4 hours earlier had been a little stressful.

My friend and I were on our way back to the ranch after a week in the Casas Grandes, Chihuahua area. We had left town around 4 and moseyed up to Janos, stopping for Queso Mennonito. At Janos we made the left hand turn onto Highway 2 and headed west across the flat plains towards the upper end of the Sierra Occidental and the San Luis Pass where the road crosses from Chihuahua to Sonora. It is a short but steep and curvy climb and can be as thrilling as any roller-coaster with the many large trucks and lack of any shoulder. It also seems to be edging into some kind of a travel nemesis of mine, as I broke down there about 10 years ago as well. That time was with two vans full of 13 Germans and all our luggage.

I only hit one bump or pothole pretty bad, but it didn't seem to affect the steering or anything other than to jolt us old gals a bit. This is the worst I have seen the road since the first trip some 19 years ago. It was bad then, but has been in pretty good shape in all of the subsequent trips.

As is our habit, we pulled off to the little rest area at the summit with its strange picnic table, bbq grill, and shrine. The air was extremely humid from the remnants of a tropical storm that had dumped large amounts of rain from Phoenix to down past Casas Grandes and all in between. That made the mandatory sunset photos a little dull but it is still an exhilarating spot to look at the trucks going up and down that 1000 foot drop to the plain of El Valle below. There were some businessmen also taking photos and back up the hill we noticed a military vehicle and a small group of soldiers half lurking in the bushes. We didn't plan to stay long as the view was hazy and we were looking forward to possibly making it to AP before dark. And of course our favorite spot to eat there, Ristorante Herradura. Plus I did need to get the car back across the border before midnight. You get charged a $400 deposit now and you can't be late!

Would you buy cheese from this place? If you tasted it you would!

Honey too!

Hazy view into Sonora from the San Luis Pass at the border between Chihuahua and Sonora.

Fellow travelers stopping for cigars and photos.

Big truck coming through the cut.

Military guys hanging out in the bushes.

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Reply Dangerous Mexico part 1 (Original post)
Kali Oct 2014 OP
Wait Wut Oct 2014 #1
Kali Oct 2014 #2
pinboy3niner Oct 2014 #4
CaliforniaPeggy Oct 2014 #3

Response to Kali (Original post)

Thu Oct 9, 2014, 05:48 PM

1. Hazy or not...

...that's a beautiful picture!

I've eaten cheese from places in WI that didn't look nearly that nice. It smells awful, but...omg.

Damn. Now I want some real cheese.

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Response to Kali (Original post)

Fri Oct 10, 2014, 06:47 PM

2. Part 2

After short stretch of the legs and a surreptitious photo of the military guys, the mosquitoes had us ready to take off again. We got back in the car, I turned the key to start the engine and it wouldn't turn over (you knew that was coming, didn't you?). Oh shit! What the hell? Try again. And again. Maybe that bump back there loosened the battery connections. Get out and look under the hood. Nope, they are fine. It was the right front that bumped the hardest on whatever it was (we both missed seeing it and were shocked by the "impact". I am checking the cables off the battery and it looks like the starter wiring heads off down to the front right. I think the starter is down there. Shit, whatever it was must have smashed or broken something on my starter! Meanwhile the businessmen have taken off and it is getting darker. Two women looking under a car hood and getting in and out of an obviously disabled car but those military guys aren't even reacting, much less looking like they might help.

A big red truck pulls over into the rest area to let other big trucks go on by and my friend walks over to see if they can maybe help us. We waste time looking at fuses and trying to see under a too-low-to-the-ground car in the dark. I am positive it is not the battery, I just bought the car at the end of last December. I must have damaged the starter. Finally we work out the half-assed idea to grab our traveling papers and head on down to Agua Prieta with these guys to find what we thought they said was a mechanic that they knew. Did I mention I haven't ever gotten around to getting an international phone or calling plan for my cell?

The first problem was getting two largish middle aged women into a semi cab. My friend went up first and so was the one who ended up having to crawl back into the sleeper. I made it up there (thank god for all the years of scrambling up tall horses) - barely and had to arrange myself on a wobbly speaker between the two cab seats. I had to lean back against the sharp edge of the floor of the sleeper and straddle the floor shifter. It was awkward because there was nothing to hold on to or brace against other than with my feet and back. My poor friend ended up lying down and not being able to see much - we are both long past the size and age of sitting cross-legged on the floor with any comfort - certainly not for the length of that ride.

Off we went down the mountain! Banda music blasting, gear shifting, muscles cramping. First screeching stop was in an outside curve to let a livestock truck coming up make the curve. wooo hooo! I thought the view was exhilarating from a little car! The view from up in the cab was way more...puckering!

Turns out the two gentlemen were a father and son team, from Mexico City taking a load of metal - tools - parts - ??? to Cananea - possibly to the mine, I didn't get it all. Usually my friend and I work as a team with our Spanish and she couldn't hear back where she was, so I was trying to do all the conversation alone. Plus I was feeling just a little stressed about the situation. I came to the conclusion later that it may have been their first run up north as well. That was because they were driving pretty dang slow for Mexican truckers on that road. Everybody was passing us and we seemed to be taking about two hours to do what can be done in one. Maybe it was just the seating. We passed through the Ag checkpoint fine and then came a new-to-me, west-bound, Federal checkpoint that seemed to make the truckers really nervous. I got the feeling they didn't want the cops to see us and I don't know if they ever did but the way the son was shuffling papers in his side window like he was trying to block any view of me sitting there was obvious and I thought kind of suspicious. That ended up taking some time and apparently an unexpected fee, that they grumbled about. Also lots of banging on the trailer and cab which helped keep my friend awake. LOL

Finally we were heading through town and looking for the mechanic. It became clear that they in fact did not know anybody in particular, but rather had been confidant we would find A mechanic. There seemed to be none along the highway, at least none open. Only tire repair. Finally at the west end of town we had them stop at a (the last?) Pemex station and I was ready to get a cab back to the border crossing and try to deal with things from the US side (fantasizing about the wonderful promised help of the Kia warranty - including roadside assistance - my car was still under). However they had said they were going to find us a mechanic so that is what happened. They asked one of the gas attendants and he called somebody he knew and then we waited for the mechanic to show up, possibly with a tow truck (a somewhat rare commodity) It was now around 9 PM.

Guadalupe and his buddy showed up a half hour later or so. He was driving an older suv type vehicle and wearing a large gold cross. He spoke more English than anybody else so far this evening and in fact had worked for a tow company in Douglas before losing his papers (!). He was very confident and full of "don't worry, it will be OK" and even said he could get back to the border with the car by midnight - either by driving it or towing it (obviously with a strap or chain, not on a truck). What choice did we have but to give him the keys and wait?

I suppose we could have gone back along for the ride, but the truth is we just didn't want to do that drive two more times tonight. Besides we had some more ethnographical adventures to enjoy.

We had the presence of mind to have him drop us off at the aduana office instead of waiting at the gas station, before they rushed back to El Valle and the Pass. To kill a bit of time we took care of getting our passports exit stamped - something I have never worried about in the past but rumor has it there may be a tightening up of that procedure to go along with the stupid car extortion. We also spoke to the bank person about the possibility of the car being a little late and getting some kind of extension. Yeah, right. I had tried to tell my friend that would be pointless, I have heard too many stories already. After that ten or 15 minutes killed, we went out to sit on the low wall in the courtyard and wait. We watched the late-night returnees coming home from their jobs on the US side and the shoppers with their crap from Wallyworld. Then we moved to the bus stop across the street and sat on actual benches as the wall got hard fast. The bus benches got pretty uncomfortable too, but they had the advantage of being able to observe traffic coming from the east. Also the homeless barefoot guy and his "enterpise" - whatever it was.

To our backs was a parking lot for the border workers and a government building. It had a guard and a locked gate just to our left as we sat. Just on the other side of the gate, still on the outside of the fence, facing the street, the homeless barefoot guy who had been walking around the area earlier, started building a cardboard and blanket structure against a wooden frame that was already there. He pulled out these large pieces of cardboard and made a floor or bed inside and used some for walls along with the blankets/fabric pieces. All of this was on the sidewalk yet kind of behind what looked like a closed shoe shine stand. (or bus ticket kiosk?) We assumed he was going to bed, but after a while people would randomly walk, ride a bike, or drive up to the area and talk to him or get out and go in his little shack for a bit. I assume he was selling drugs but it was strange, the behavior and the rather open goings on. I am pretty sure it wasn't sex but I am also not positive it was drugs. Maybe he was reading fortunes, it was odd for sure. The ones going past us were all polite and said "Buenas noches" like it was a normal occurrence to be out late at night visiting some barefoot guy in a cardboard shack next to the bus stop. One guy was carrying a five-gallon bucket with aluminum cans in it like he was trading them for something. Next time I go to AP in the daylight I will check out if he is still there.

Midnight came and went and we were getting sick of sitting there, tired and a little loopy. We determined we would have to give Guadalupe at least until 2 AM - if they were towing the car they couldn't go full speed on those hills and curves. Even if they drove it, there would be the repair/starting time and the check-point as well. I knew two hours was not going to happen, and I had already resigned myself to the loss of the deposit before he even got my keys. It was starting to get chilly and I was nodding off, about ready to go across and get a room at the Gadsden since it is in walking distance. Every car that appeared to our right after we moved to the benches created a slight rise in heart rates until the fatigue finally killed all hope.

Then suddenly there it was! The suv. And right behind it, my car! And it was driving on its own power. What a night. It turned out that it WAS the battery, they had taken a spare up there and switched it out. The second worked fine so they reinstalled mine and jumped the car and were off. The big delay ended up happening at the new Federal checkpoint. They couldn't tell the cops what was in the car (because they didn't know) so it got a thorough going-over. There was pottery, alcohol, my laptop, her camera, my title and registration for fucks sake! The ONLY thing I could figure out that went missing was a small multi-tool pocket knife and the plastic cover for the positive side of the battery terminal. That was it. The pottery was manhandled and on the floor but none broken, laptop fine, cheese still there, booze, luggage - all of it. I bet the battery cover and my tool is up there on the pass. I am so tempted to take a day trip to go look. There is a new road to the crossing at Antelope Wells/El Berrendo and I want to check it out. hmmm.....

Wow this is long and there are no pictures, sorry. And I still have a little bit more. We aren't on the US side yet....

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Response to Kali (Reply #2)

Fri Oct 10, 2014, 10:37 PM

4. Wow! All that and you haven't made it across the border yet?

Buena suerte to you! I hope your next update will be posted from back at the ranch. And soon.

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Response to Kali (Original post)

Fri Oct 10, 2014, 10:15 PM

3. Well, that's amazing, and I look forward to reading the rest!

Good god, woman, are you nutz???

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