. exam in 7 days and some 4500km yet to go. The prospect of our new troubles coupled with the day of the Lord being Sunday here in Mexico not to mention a holiday Sunday at that, our options were running thin. So when all else fails you either throw your arms up or call "Daddy" to bail you out. I already covered the "Hands up" working for Club Med years passed so we opted for the latter. My dad, having an excellent relationship with his Ajijic mechanic, called in a favor to send out a "Mexican rescue". At 5:22 pm the Mechanic confirmed he was on his way. Knowing towing out from our current location would be impossible not to mention it was difficult for anyone to see us from the road above, I manged to get the engine running without the fuel pump connected. In low gear, Lea at the wheel and myself sitting in the engine bay manipulating the throttle, we slowly drove up the hill to a safe and visible location. With nothing left to diagnose and fatigue mounting we decided to hunker down and wait. At 9pm, 10pm, 11pm, 12am still no rescue team! We drifted off to sleep and were woken just after 1am to a barely running Ford pick-up, home-made tow dolly and two Mexicans. We loaded Etien on the dolly backwards (rear wheel drive) and the four of us were stuffed into the cab of the old Ford. Two hours into the a very uncomfortable ride with Lea on my lap and the stick shift between my legs, our rescue vehicle started running into trouble. In addition to not having a gas Gauge, speedometer, or even a clutch (insert rough ride here) we now had a blown-out front tire. I glanced over my should but was relieved to at lease see the spare sitting in the bed of the truck. The four of us spilled out of the pick-up in the dark quiet night wondering "what next". Unfortunately the mechanic was unprepared for this and lacked not only the tire iron to remove the lug nuts but also lacked a jack. I grabbed the tire iron from Etien and my jack. Unfortunately our jack is specific to our vehicle and was incompatible with the Ford
. The two Mexicans set off up the road in search of help. How ironic! With nothing left to do I examined the spare and soon realized not only did this poor puppy have bulges on the sides and was bald, but also was nearly flat. Fortunately we had packed a tiny compressor for Etien and I promptly started filling the "Mexican-style" spare. After an hour they returned in another pick-up truck (roadside assistance apparently) with a jack and we were on our way praying the bald, bulging spare would hold out another 100km. I had asked if we needed to stop for fuel, not wanting anymore surprises but was assured we would be fine. After paying a toll road we were pulled over by the Federales (Mexican FBI) who then extorted our driver saying he would need to pay a fine as he was not a licensed tow truck. After 160 pesos ($16) bribe we were granted a pardon on the "fine" and found our way on the road again. On our final approach some 200 meters from the shop, now 6:30 a.m., the pick-up ran out of fuel. The mechanic ran to his shop, pulled out a jerry-can and a scooter, darted off to the gas station and returned with some gas. Finally at 7:00 a.m. it was time to unload from the dolly. I tried just in case, to start Etien rather than having to push it and to my horror Etien started without fault. Everyone was stunned after enduring so many hours of a painful return to Ajijic, only to have what appeared to be a flawlessly running engine. Of course, we knew the problem persisted but how was the mechanic going to figure out the problem now that it was running smoothly? We returned to my parents' house and slept for a few hours and returned to the shop later that day
. Both the mechanic, my Dad and myself could find no fault. We enjoyed our unplanned return but the ever-pressing exam loomed. We set off again the following day with a skeptic outlook and plans for a stop in San Antonio to tour the River Walk and a stop in Austin to visit my former roommate from my Club Med days.
We managed to cover some 822km before we found ourselves in the same predicament a mere 30km outside Saltillo, our planned overnight destination. It was already 4:30 p.m. and again I found myself head buried in the engine attempting to discover the elusive problem. Going back this time was not an option. At this point our problems were beginning to sink in and the question of making it back for my exam was no longer as much a priority as making it back at all. We spent the night on the side of the road again after exhausting our efforts and patience. Trucks roared by throughout the night and no one stopped. In the morning we discovered we had no cell coverage and I continued my efforts to get Etien at least running. To our fortune, an Angeles Verdes (Green Angel) was driving past and rolled back to help. The Green Angels are a Federally funded roadside assistance team and members are highly regarded in the community with a long-standing tradition and brotherhood within the organization. They drive green pick-up trucks with push-bars, jumper cables and other tools to aid stranded motorists
. They tour set routes on the toll roads throughout Mexico. We were not on a toll road but on this day fortune was on our side in some small capacity. With the help of our Green Angel, Omar, we determined that the mass airflow sensor (abbreviated to MAF in Spanish) was faulty. Omar then convinced us to tow Etien Mexican style which is in fact a rubber tire strapped to his front pumper and pushing us along the road. We were extremely ambivalent but Omar was very convincing. We then found ourselves being nudged very gently and with extreme skill by Omar of the Green Angels. With just the right amount of force he would push Etien to 80 kms/hr and release as necessary around the ever-winding roads towards Saltillo. We stopped in at a parts place only to find that the MAF was unavailable. Omar offered to put us up for the night which we found extremely generous and accepted his offer. After a quick shower we set off for dinner with our new-found friend Omar and his girlfriend Grace. My Spanish being now our only form of communication was a god-send. We were both stunned by a group of blonde-haired, pasty white Mennonite children singing for handouts. It was a bizarre sight and Grace commented that they were like "Chucky's" referring to the '80's horror movie Chucky (sort of a mix of Chucky and Children of the Corn). It was hysterical. Omar left us the run of his home and slept at his girlfriend's place. Can you image someone doing that for you in Canada or the US? The following morning Omar picked us up and proceeded to drive us around town "looking for MAF in all the wrong places" (hee hee). We ended up at a Mexican parts store where the owner ironically had studied English in St. Catharines, Ontario, a mere 100 km from Toronto. Grateful to use his English, he was able to locate a MAF in Loredo, TX, the border town of the seedy Neuvo Loredo, Mex. The decision was made to put Etien on a flatbed to the border and walk across the border, pick up our MAF and return to install and be on our way
After another Federale bribe, this time 200 pesos ($20), we unloaded Etien in the parking lot in Neuvo Loredo, thanked our patient and helpful driver and set out to return our vehicle bond before heading across the bridge. I was reluctant to leave Etien in a questionable town but the thought of leaving Lea with Etien was even less favourable. We decided the best course would be to leave Etien and go together as night was approaching and some of the seedy inhabitants would be on the prowl for stranded tourists. I thought it would be a good idea to re-confirm the part and called the shop on the other side only to have my heart sink as they said they did not have the part nor could they get it. I have no idea what lines of communication had been breached but we were now totally F*&@ed! We decided to inquire about a tow just to the US border in Loredo where it would be safer and we would have access to new resources. We were outraged when they asked us for $350 US just to take us a few meters across the bridge. I even lost my cool a bit and proclaimed they were "es criminales" with such a price tag. It was now night and I found myself again head buried in the engine trying to remain calm in a now dismal situation. There was no choice here - I had to get Etien running just enough to get across. Some copper wire strands wrapped around the contact needles in the airflow sensor and the hallowed out pen from Lorne Park Car Centre (thanks Reto!) to create a vacuum leak and a few Hail Mary's - again - did the trick. We were running, poorly, and smoke billowed from Etien's ass as we inched in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the bridge towards US Customs. I can't tell everyone how stressful this point of the trip was for me, I felt much like Lea must have felt on Angel's Landing weeks ago (good times!). Fortunately, after answering the numerous questions from the US Customs Official regarding our multiple entries back in Tijuana into Mexico, we made it onto US soil
! We tweaked our engine to the new "makeshift calibrations" and called it a night at a rest stop as it began to down pour.
In the morning, the rain continued to fall and we were able to locate a wrecking yard in Austin, TX, 300 km north, who assured us they had the mass airflow sensor. We managed to make it and were relieved to see a huge graveyard of VW's and soon we were replacing the MAF. Back in the game, we made a quick stop at Scubaland Adventures where my old roommate from Club Med headed up a dive shop. It was great to be reunited with John and he and I reminisced about the Club Med days before it was time to get on the road. We did the math and figured making my exam was still a possibility barring any more problems if we drove more or less the entire time. We set off tail tucked in, for the remaining 3000km only to hit some winter weather in...you guessed it...Dallas, Texas! They never get snow this far south and it was soon clear they were totally unprepared. The snow soon accumulated on the highway as we came to a standstill in traffic. We tuned into a local radio station and soon were in hysterics listening to the callers commenting on the conditions and the radio host's advice. For us it was a usual snowfall like at home but for Dallas this was a "state of emergency". Dozens of cars were in the ditch and we could see transformers exploding followed by blackouts along the roadside. We listened as a caller told his story about how he needed a new bumper as he spun out on the mass accumulation of 1 inch of snow in a residential neighbourhood, begging motorists to stay home. But the highlight came from the radio meteorologist (who was having a heyday in the limelight) when he proclaimed "if y'all are stuck in a rural area and can't git help you can go ahead and burn your spare tire for heat but you'll have to siphon some gas to getter lit
. It'll burn for 'ours and also send out a whole lotta smoke fer miles lettin crews know yer there". We both laughed and hoped they'd remember to take the spare out of the trunk before setting it ablaze (sorry John). We envisioned dozens of Texans setting their tires on fire. Folks, keep in mind that the cars in the ditch and the calls of desperation began at 2 inches of snow which accumulated to about a foot. The highway shut down for approximately 3 hours due to blackouts and ice. We re-routed north figuring Oklahoma and northern states would be better prepared. Fortunately, the storm tracked east and we had clear weather for the remaining journey. It was however, extremely cold as we drove through the night.
We covered a great distance when our next surprise came in the form of a sticking gas pedal. I soon found myself at the helm of a speeding, uncontrollable Westy with no means to stop. After repeated attempts of reaching down to free the stuck gas pedal it was clear something had gone terribly wrong. My heart raced along with the rpm's as my mind searched for a solution. Not wanting to end up stuck on the shoulder at night in the freezing temperature, I raced up an exit before turning off the key and putting the gear in neutral, coming to a stop on the off-ramp. After waiting for my heart to settle down, we pushed Etien onto the downward slope toward a gas station
. We sat there for a moment wondering why all of this was happening to us and why someone had it out for us. On my back again under the car I discovered the linkage had been damaged, perhaps something to do with dragging it through Mexican rivers weeks prior. An hour past before I was able to rig some bungees in the engine to keep the throttle from remaining in the open position. Both frozen we climbed back into the Westy only to discover my toes were now white and painful, the beginnings of frostbite. A painful hour passed before circulation returned and we were able to get going again. What next?! Now we had to make up more time so we drove countless hours to the border where we worried about our crossing. However, the Border Official seemed uninterested in us and waived us through. We drove out of Sarnia both totally spent, slept 2.5 hours and continued our final 200km stretch to home.
We parked Etien in Lea's garage and we both had a sigh of relief knowing it was finally over. At the same time we were deflated knowing our trip was now over as well and we longed for lost time. As we looked into the back of Lea's garage Etien was now in the penalty box having played hard with faults and flaws, but nonetheless bringing us home in one piece.
I managed to make it to my exam, and despite my lack of preparation feel that things went well
We will miss our adventures but await the rise of Etien for our next trip.
We started this trip with a mission: "Two People, one mission, take a 20 year old VW camper bus and drive it to where the land ends in Mexico! and try and make it back!"
We thank everyone who helped us along the way and are grateful for the people we met, in good times and in bad. Thanks for following us along our journey and tuning in. Until next time ...
Roger and Lea
So our last entry came from Ajijic, Mexico from the comfort of my parents' home. After a full breakfast, we reluctantly said our farewells and prepared to make our way north on Sat. Feb 6th. We managed to cover some 300km before once again, Etien wouldn't have any of it and came to halt outside Lagos de Moreno. We happened to be on an upward hill but were unable to pull off the road given the absence of a shoulder. In a dangerous position I reluctantly dug through our stuff to get to the engine to see what was wrong ... again. After a few transports and buses passed close it was clear we needed to get off the road one way or another. We put Etien in neutral and rolled backwards down the hill and pulled off the road down an embankment. Now at least safe from traffic we were able to properly look at our situation. Hours passed under the hot Mexican sun to no avail. We had no choice but to make "The Call" but to whom? We were 300k from Ajijic on a late Saturday afternoon. Pressure mounting knowing we needed to be back in Toronto for an important Fire Dept