Even in Paradise, the sun doesn’t shine every day.
It was chilly Sunday with highs in the mid-60s. I know that doesn’t sound terribly brisk to those who have been through some really cold weather, but that represents a drop of about 20 degrees for us. Add to it some very heavy winds that whipped up dust and sandstorms and, well, let’s just say we were not in our usual uniforms of flipflops, tank tops, and shorts.
But, hey, it is the middle of November.
A mechanical problem with the van had restricted our travel. We thought we were losing our transmission. Turns out, it was only the speedometer sensor that was failing. As it did so, it made the transmission shift funny and put the whole van into what is called “limp-home mode.”
We were really nervous about it all and talking about it with Rob, one of our new friends.
“I’ve got the best mechanic on The Baja,” he said. “I’ll send you to him. They just replaced the transmission in my Escalade. It cost me $1,200.”
We went to see Rob at his office the next day where we met Charlie, a pleasant young man who was wearing a Baja 1,000 T-shirt.
“Take it to the shop and Jose will take care of you,” he said.
“What’s the name of the shop?” I asked.
“It doesn’t have a name,” Charlie said. “It’s the one a half-mile up from town.”
“Which side of the highway?” I asked.
“The left. There’s nothing on the right side,” Charlie patiently explained.
Now, you must understand that finding places in Mexico is extremely difficult at times.
There are many major streets that have no name and those that do don’t always have a street sign and most of the houses and businesses don’t have address numbers out front. We ran into this when we lived in San Jose del Cabo and I went searching one day for a computer supply store a friend had told us about.
“It’s a few doors down from my friend’s bakery, but across the street and up about a block. It has a blue door,” our friend Eve told me before I left. “There’s no sign or anything, but you can’t miss it.”
Well, I did.
I found the bakery and walked about six city blocks in every direction searching out the computer store with a blue door, only to find that there were lots of stores in that part of town with blue doors. I knocked on all of them and found a place where they made hand-rolled cigars, a place where they sold some pretty fancy clothes, a hat shop, a tequila shop, but no computer shop.
So, when Cara and I drove down Highway 5 to find the repair shop, she was a bit apprehensive.
But Charlie’s directions were solid.
It was exactly a half-mile town on the left side of the highway among some other old, disheveled buildings.
The repair shop is small. It is basically a hollowed-out cinder block structure with a free-standing carport where Jose and Charlie work their magic.
It was clear that the Snap-On tool salesman had never been there. There were no fancy tool boxes and the work bench was assembled from scraps of wood pieced together. There were no hydraulic lifts or power tools, just one pit area Jose and Charlie could climb down into and stand as they made repairs.
Jose quickly diagnosed the problem as a bad speedometer sensor and told me it would take three days to get the part from Mexicali. Since time, for the most part, is meaningless down here, that was fine. He said to come back Saturday at 10 a.m. when he’d have the part and be able to make the repair quickly.
I showed up Saturday at 9:45 and the gate was closed. Back in the lot, an older gentleman was sorting tools and doing some general cleanup.
“Jose is a little late, but he’ll be here soon,” the man said.
He wasn’t terribly communicative and a bit wary. He was short and slender, but had sinewy arms that gave him away as a man who has done some serious labor in his years. He had a small tattoo on his neck that had blurred with the years and fished in his pocket for a Marlboro.
“Just a few minutes…just a few minutes,” he said.
Everybody has a story and I tried to learn his.
“I’ve been here about eight years,” he explained, looking at me quizzically and, I am sure, wondering why I asked. “I came down from Mexicali.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The police. They are too hot up there,” he said, his eyes squinting. “They put you in jail. The police are not hot down here.”
As I waited, a gentleman with kind eyes and a big smile pulled his old van onto the lot. He was having trouble with it and wanted Jose to take a look.
We immediately struck up a conversation.
Hector told me he was a retired pharmacist who once owned five farmacias in San Felipe.
I told him I was really impressed with the prices of the meds I take for blood pressure and my AS and he explained that the drugs sold here are the same quality as in the United States.
“The manufacturing companies buy their chemicals from the same places as the manufacturers in the U.S., but the people who make the drugs in the U.S. earn about $1,000 a week. The people here make about $100 a week,” Hector said. “We also don’t have insurance companies that pay the big prices like up there, so the prices go way, way down. Just remember that whenever you can, buy the generic brands. The name brands are always more expensive. The generics are just as good, they just don’t have the brand name.”
Hector said now that he is retired, he does some light carpentry and woodwork on the side. He handed me a card and I promised that if I ran into somebody who needed work, I would put them together.
It turns out that Hector also likes to fish and does a lot of shore fishing.
“There is a U-shaped pier on the south end of town that you can walk out onto and fish. They get a lot of white bass and calico bass and corvina there. They are not really big..about like this,” Hector explained, holding his hands about a foot apart. “You can also fish from the sand and catch halibut.”
We discussed baits and methods and, pretty much, all you need to do is go to the local fish market, pick up some squid, put it on the hook and go from there. The rest is up to you.
“Call me sometime,” he said. “I like to fish and I like to have somebody to fish with.”
About 10:45, Jose and his son Santos rolled up. Santos is about 12, but it was clear he was there to learn his father’s trade. He immediately hopped out of the small truck and started picking up debris scattered around the lot.
Jose came over, shook my hand again and showed me the replacement part.
“This will fix it,” he assured me.
The actual repair took about 15 or 20 minutes and when he climbed down to the pit to replace the part, he made sure that Santos was at his side, teaching his son how to make the repair.
Jose was interrupted a couple of times as customers and friends dropped by for a quick estimate or just to say hello.
But, soon enough, the repair was made and Jose took our van for a test drive.
He pulled back onto the lot and smiled.
“Perfecto,” he said.
I paid the bill, which came to $900. That’s pesos, which converts to $69.23 in U.S. dollars. An hour’s labor in the U.S. would have cost more than that.
We woke up Sunday morning to a gray sky, dulled by the whipping winds that stirred the sand and bent the palm trees.
It was chilly.
Still, we wanted to celebrate being mobile again, so we went for a little drive to check out the southern part of town, where there are some delightful beach houses and the waters drop off much deeper than the shallow shores along the malecon.
We stopped near the Pier, as Hector referred to the marina, and saw some of the locals fishing. The shrimping fleet docks there every night, so the water has some depth. We will have to head that way when it warms up a bit and the winds die down to see if we can catch dinner.
We cruised the malecon and saw a couple of families clamming on the beach.
The town was quiet, calm, nothing like the noisy crowd that filled the oceanfront to celebrate the shrimp festival our first night here.
We ended up at the Jolly Mon, a little place across the street from the complex where we live. The Jolly Mon is a bar/restaurant in a little shopping area that includes a couple of real estate offices, a farmacia, a little shop that sell pottery, T-shirts and bathing suits, and a mercado where you can do some light grocery shopping without having to drive the seven kilometers to town.
All of those places offer WiFi. In fact, the little market has some tables set up in the entryway where you can log onto the Internet, get a bite to eat, and reestablish contact with the outside world.
The Jolly Mon had several football games on the big screens behind the bar. We bought a couple of squares in their weekly football pool for the Kansas City-Seattle game. We also wanted to see who would win the NASCAR Chase. But mostly, we just wanted to relax a bit.
To get here we travelled across four states, one time zone, one international border, and switched from daylight saving time to standard time. We had driven the final 150 miles of our trip with clenched jaws and white knuckles as we nursed the van from just north of Calexico to San Felipe. We sweated out the repair.
Now, it is finally time to relax.