Thursday, 27 November 2014

Adventures driving in Mexico with Big Red the Jeep

I recently drove with my most excellent house/dog-sitters, Anne and Mike Howard of, who are globe-trotting travel bloggers of some renown, from Puerto Vallarta to Austin, Texas.  I needed to renew my permit for the Jeep for another six months, which means a trek to the border and re-entering with a new permit.

Anne and Mike had been staying at my apartment with the dogs for about 6 weeks while I was up in Calgary.  They fell in love with Mazatlan, my dogs, and apparently many people here returned the love.  They were very popular people, and for good reason.  They are young (both still in their 30's), energetic, engaging and friendly people with many fantastic stories of their travel adventures on an extended honeymoon.

I flew to Puerto Vallarta because flights were much less expensive to there from Calgary.  They drove down and picked me up at the airport - then we were on our way driving north.  We stopped in Tepic, Durango and Saltillo for a night each, then up to Austin where they had friends to stay with before flying back up to New York.

I planned to meet up with a fellow driver in Laredo, Texas, a border town, the next day to drive tandem with him back over the border and back to Mazatlan, 1060 kilometers.

However, my Jeep had other plans.  

I had experienced some signs that all was not well with the Jeep when we sat at the border crossing on the way up for over 2 hours in the heat, idling the motor.  But, after a some TLC at a Pep Boys after crossing, it seemed to be fine. 

I left the hotel at 5 am in Laredo to get to the border crossing, 4 kilometers away, at an early hour when it wouldn't be busy.  My travelling partner was driving behind me on the highway when the Jeep suddenly began back-firing and stuttering.  I pulled off and he followed me to a parking lot.  The Jeep died.  I told him to go on without me, I would have to get it towed to a Pep Boys for repair - and god knows what was wrong with it.  

He had it set in his mind that he was going to drive the entire distance in one day and so was not about to delay his travel - he left me in the dark in an empty parking lot in a border town.  I didn't know quite what I was going to do then.

As bad as that guy might be, another guy was great.  A man in a pickup pulled up near to me (I was a little nervous about that) and rolled down his window.  I rolled mine down a little.  He asked if I was okay - did I need help? What a lovely man - he was Mexican-American.  He drove to a Pep Boys to see if they were open (they weren't) and then came back and called a tow truck for me to get towed to the Pep Boys and wait for them to open.

They opened at 8.  I sat in the Jeep needing a bathroom but finally got in and explained the issue.  They took the Jeep in and said it was a blown distributor.  It was replaced and I was back on the road by noon - $500 lighter.  But it could have been worse.

Then I was faced with driving on my own across Mexico.  I debated with myself about it, but in the end I sucked it up and figured I had no choice - anyway, a lot of people do it every day and the toll-roads are excellent.  I actually decided to wear a black, loose-fitting shirt and no makeup or earrings to make myself as non-attention-grabbing as possible.  Anyway, a middle-aged woman with short grey hair, in a 1998 Jeep, isn't going to get much attention.

The first day, leaving around 1, I drove to Saltillo and stopped for the night before dark at 5ish.  About 300 kilometers, but with an hour of processing at the border for my visa and the car permit.

The next day, I was on the road at 9 am and drove the rest of the way, descending out of the mountain passes 30 kilometers from Mazatlan before dark.  The Jeep ran like a dream.

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