Thursday, February 10, 2011

throwing in the toalla

The bus ride to Puebla was interminable. Four movies before the lights went out. It was a bit surreal driving on these little, crappy roads through the dark, dark night. It provided some views that we usually miss out on, quick glimpses of families settled around dinner tables in their front yards, waitresses beckoning truck drivers with their menus on the side of the road. Despite the fact that the seats go waaaay back, I still found no way to be comfortable enough to sleep. Adding insult to injury, I was the ONLY person awake on the whole bus. I finally fell asleep after we got off in Villahermosa around 2am to refuel. It was a relief when the sun came up. It was a bit creepy revisiting the road to Puebla, and reliving our nightmare drive from Chiapas. No fog this time, just little puffs of cloud and a clear view of the mountainside and the snow-covered Pico de Orizaba. In the hills, cemeteries of pale blue and pink crosses set against the green mountain.

Back to Bronco Transmisiones to check on the van. We took it out for a test drive and all seemed okay. After having the van back at the hotel for the night, Wil felt the gears seemed to be working but the back wheel (the one that fell off) was making a weird rubbing noise and the brakes felt soft. Wil wanted to get it checked out before we left Puebla. The look on Miguel's face when we pulled in to the garage was priceless (these effin' Canadians who just won't leave!) It soon became clear that this was not going to be a quick fix. I'd been feeling crappy since the Yucatan. Miguel drove Wil and me to the pharmacy to see a doctor and check out my weird stomach ailment. With a free doctor on duty at the pharmacy, you know you're leaving with a prescription but what a service! I spent the day resting at the hotel as Wil and the kids whiled away the day at the garage, driving hither and yon with Miguel trying to find a new drum for the wheel. We decided to spend another night, to give me a chance to rest and to give the mechanics time to change what they needed to change.

We hit the road first thing in the morning -- so happy to finally be leaving Puebla. It was starting to feel like an episode of The Prisoner. It was so great to be back in the van, in our space with all our stuff. Heading west, hoping to do some camping in the countryside, aiming to see my folks near Guadalajara in a couple of days. We decided to first head for the Grutas Tolantongo, a place a guy at the garage told us about — a camping spot with caves and rivers, ziplines and most importantly, quiet. We drove through the desert, tumbleweeds two feet across filling the ditch, the occasional funnel cloud picking up all sorts of dust in the expanse, a crisp, blue sky overhead. We climbed up to 10,000 ft. Even sitting in the car we could feel how thin the air was — low grade headache, strange pressure in the sinuses, the sun's heat feels positively heavy. For a while, we followed a funeral on the side of the road — a Suburban carrying the coffin followed by forty people on foot holding flowers.

A couple of hours out of Puebla, the gears starting acting up. As we backed out of an Oxxo, the van did the now-familiar lurch in reverse when Wil engaged the clutch. Shit. Our very tenuous faith in the van started evaporating. A few minutes later as we climbed up a steep incline I watched Wil grimace as he struggled and failed to find third gear. Not long after, fifth gear crunched and popped out. We put the bungee cord back into service. The further we got from Puebla the higher the level of tension in the van climbed. The friction in the back wheel must have made the brake fluid boil again because the brakes just weren't right. We were approaching Tolantongo. After a forty-five minute drive away from the highway into nowhere, we started heading down into the valley. The pavement soon turned into dirt, the road turned into switchback. We could see the valley floor below us and saw a sign on the side of the road telling us the campsite was seven kilometres away. We SO wanted to spend a night in the country. Could we take the chance that we wouldn't have the gears to get us out of the valley if we made it down? We SO wanted to pretend all was well but it wasn't. We pulled over and had a family meeting. We broke it to the kids that our Mexican roadtrip is over. We turned around (mercifully Wil waited 'til later to tell me the brakes were giving way as we backed up to turn around with a five thousand foot drop behind us) and started heading for Austin. Keep your fingers crossed that the gears we have will hold until we get to the border.


Jenny Wren said...

Oh my goodness - I am saying prayers - lighting a candle - and keeping my fingers crossed. Sending love to you all and will watch for your next post. xxxxx

sally said...

Oh Sas, it sounds exhausting and sad too. It brings me back girl, it brings me back. All those nervous drives on the switchbacks. Lots of love to all of you as you experience the high and lows of travelling together as a family.


ajm said...

my heart sunk and opened wide for you, william, and the kids reading this entry. safe journey across the border. write again soon, so we don't worry too much. xo

PK said...


Big hugs waiting for you at home .

Caroline said...

Everyone has said it sad and sorry. you gave it the good fight. Safe trip home and hopefully one day you'll be able to tell the story and laugh.