“Come camping in Mexico with me! “Toni begged. Usually I don’t need to be asked twice for such an invitation but it had been a rocky summer. Funds were scarce. Toni loved this trip to a certain surf spot that she did yearly with a group of friends. Her enthusiasm finally won me over. Then the catch. “You need to drive.”
Really? I had terrible car karma. My road trips usually ended with me broke down on the road somewhere. Just the year before I was driving cross country for a wedding. The car broke halfway. I missed the wedding but did end up spending 4 peaceful days in a cabin of a ranch hostel in the Rockies. I ignored the red flags that went up.
The rattling started past Rosarita. Too late to turn back. It turned into a loud clunking that we knew was not going to end well. Slowing down, I pulled over to the side. A loud sound of metal hitting concrete, the car shuttered and stopped. Outside the car we looked around this long stretch of hot, dusty highway. The sides of the road were overgrown with arundo cane. Nothing could be seen beyond that except one small gravel road just ahead that disappeared into jungle-like foliage. It looked like it was going to be a long walk.
A few feet down the road it made another bend out of sight into some palms. We walked around the bend to find ourselves looking out over a sea of colorful tents on a gently sloping, sandy beach. We started laughing in relief that we weren’t going to be walking for hours.
Fortunately, the campground manager, Luis, spoke perfect English. Our Spanish was definitely limited to the basics, not figuring out how to get a car repaired. A couple of boys that worked there pushed my jeep down to the campground. Finding help so close was just the beginning of our surprises. They pushed it into a garage that had a mechanics pit and then one of the boys took off to get his dad. He was a mechanic.
It didn’t take his dad long to let us know that this was no quick fix. Back on PCH were parts of my transmission. It was going to take a few days and cost more than I had brought on this trip. Ok, keep moving forward. I gave the mechanic what money I had to start working on it.
I would have stayed at this truly inviting campground but Toni insisted, “We can’t stay here, people are expecting us, they will be worried if we don’t show up!” In a matter of minutes she had used her minimal Spanish to talk the mechanic into loading all our stuff into his pick-up. We piled in with his three kids and a dog to go to the other campground.
This campground was beautiful in a different way. A dry, arid bluff on sheer cliffs that dropped to a gray pebble beach with turquoise waters. Toni’s friends were convinced my car would be gone when I went back for it. I trusted my car was safe but it had seemed like it would have been easier to have stayed where I could be in contact with the mechanic. The universe had other plans.
Toni and I borrowed a car to drive to Ensenada to get money to pay the mechanic. We discovered that the banks would only let us withdraw specific but random amounts from each individual bank. This seemed to average about $30 a withdraw. We wandered the streets looking for banks, stopping for spicy tacos and icy Tecates to get us through the day.
The mechanic was at our campground when we got back. Without Luis we were at a loss at what he was trying to tell us. One of the guys in our group came over to translate. Not only did I need a new transmission but when it fell off the car it took some other parts with it. The money I had managed to scrounge up was not enough. Well, it’s not my way to despair. Nothing could be done that moment; so I did what I came to Mexico to do, enjoy.
Around the campfire that night I sat with the guy who helped earlier. We talked for hours in the glowing firelight. Everyone in this group was from different places but he also lived in LA, worked in the film business and loved punk rock. My concerns drifted away in the moment as we watched fireworks being set off over the ocean.
Despite my broken down jeep, I enjoyed cheap lobster and margaritas on the sun-warmed terraces in nearby Puerto Nuevo. I met many kind locals that I would never have encountered if I hadn’t needed to find every bank in town. I fell for that guy while we listened to the ocean crash on the cliffs. What I hadn’t been able to do was get enough money out of the banks to pay the mechanic. I would have to stay longer to go through the process of withdrawing again when the banks reopened.
Then that wonderful guy came over and handed me the last of what I needed. “I always carry extra money in case of an emergency,” he smiled, “now I know you have to see me at least one more time.” Twelve years later we are still exploring the world together, now with our beautiful daughter. Thanks to that jeep that broke down on that hot, dusty road.
Btw, after we got back I got rid of that jeep and Greg helped me find a new car. Amazingly, I’ve never broken down on the road again. I seemed to have finally worked through that car karma.