Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wheel of Fortune

Last Friday dawned with an azure sky, few clouds, and very little chance of rain. In short, it was perfect weather for a road trip. Our friends, Colleen and Bruce, were in the market for a new ceiling fan. Rumor had it there may be some name brand fans available in Orange Walk or Belize City.

They invited us to tag along, as we wanted to look for a few items ourselves in that part of the country. And as our new RAV was with our mechanic to get a minor part replacement, we figured it would be a fun way to spend the day.

You might remember from my previous post that Colleen and Bruce bought our Rodeo. This would be her maiden road trip with her new owners. Bruce had already gotten the car detailed and had swapped the tires from their old Rodeo, as they were newer.  She was looking spiffy.

We hit the road for Orange Walk, which is about a 45-50 minute drive. After checking out a few stores, it became apparent that we would need to go to Belize City to find any selection of good quality fans.

We loaded ourselves back in the car. With Bruce behind the wheel, David acted as co-pilot to provide a heads-up for speed bumps. Colleen and I were in the back seat chatting away as usual. With some light jazz playing in the background, it was a delight.

At one point, we rode over a patch of highway and all of us noticed a peculiar sound, but it seemed to go away and we wrote it off to it being a vibration from the road surface.

Then, out of nowhere, there was a loud noise and front driver’s side hit the pavement. Bruce masterfully guided the car, which was travelling at about 55 miles per hour, off the highway and onto the shoulder.

For a moment, there was stunned silence. We all then checked with one another to make sure everyone was okay. I thought we had blown a tire. We got out of the car and walked around to the front to see this:

The. Tire. Flew. Off! IT FLEW THE F*&^% OFF! By all rights, the car should have flipped and probably more than once. Clearly our guardian angels went into their own form of overdrive to keep us all safe and sound.

All of us were initially at a loss to explain how it could have happened. Colleen mentioned that from the corner of her eye, she caught the tire hopping down the highway and into the jungle.

Now let me tell you something about the stretch of highway we were on: there is absolutely nothing but jungle and bush for miles in either direction. No houses, no villages, no nothing.These shots should give you some idea of what I mean.

If you look toward the back of the car you can see the groove that the brake made in the macadam. You can also see how steady Bruce kept the car as he made his way to the shoulder. 

At about this point, a pickup that was driving behind us pulled up, and the driver got out to see if he could help. He said he saw a big puff of smoke. We suspect that it was from the tire first getting stuck under the fender, then more when it broke away and scattered whatever marl was on the undercarriage. 

We quickly came to regard Mr. William Usher as a life saver. While he wasn’t familiar with the area, as we worked in Belmopan, he did have co-workers in the area. He got in touch with them, who in turn promised to arrange for a tow truck and a mechanic. And let me just tell you, tow trucks are a rarity in this part of the country. After checking once again that we all were okay, he provided Colleen with the name and contact number of his co-worker and assured us help was on the way.

In the meantime, the guys went in search of the tire. It took three attempts wading through thorn bushes and muck, but the tire was finally located. And believe it or not, it and the rim were in good shape. The same could not be said for David and Bruce’s legs. Both looked like they had been attacked by a herd of cats.

While the guys were battling the thorn bushes, Colleen and I worked on coming up with the remaining part of the rescue mission. We sincerely doubted there would be enough room in the tow truck, should one be found, for four of us.

Colleen called a friend of ours to see if he could come and get us. Unfortunately, he was at the Belize airport waiting for his flight to be called. However, his wife was driving back and would need to come down this stretch of highway. We got in touch with her, provided as good a location that we could (there being no landmarks or mile markers on this stretch), and settled in to wait.

Fortunately we had sufficient water and some leftover breakfast tortillas that we purchased on our way to Orange Walk. We had the flashers on and opened all the windows, plus passenger side doors to catch the stray breeze.

All told, we waited for about an hour, then Colleen’s phone rang (that’s another thing – the fact that a signal could even be found considering the location we were in was a miracle).  The cavalry were on their way, and we saw a black Chevy Suburban with our friend’s wife coming in the opposite direction, flashing its lights. On the heels of this, we got the call that the tow truck was on its way as well.

It had been agreed between the four of us that Colleen and I would ride back with our friends to pick up Colleen’s car. The guys would stay with the Rodeo and wait for the tow truck. At this stage, we presumed the car would be towed someplace in Orange Walk and be out of commission for at least a day or two.

Colleen and I arrived at her house about 45 minutes later. After using the bathroom, Colleen changed her clothes, and I sucked down a cigarette. The guys called while we were at the house and let us know that instead of being towed to Orange Walk, the mechanic was in a place called Carmalita Village (about a 50 minute drive from Corozal).

Colleen and I hopped in her car, drove into town to grab food to go at one of our favorite restaurants, Jam Rock. The owner thoughtfully put a rush on our order having heard our story. Adrenaline was still pumping as we waited for our to-go boxes. I will say the glass of white wine I chugged down did take off  a teeny edge.  

I paid for lunch and with food at the ready, we got back in Colleen’s car and headed for Carmalita Village. Now Colleen drives a cute little Tracker, which she swore would never be used outside of town.  Unfortunately with our car being with the mechanic, we didn’t have a choice. Along the way, Colleen stopped for gas to ensure we could get down there and back without incident.

While on the road, we heard again from the guys. It seemed that after making multiple runs with the mechanic’s wife to a junk yard and car parts store in Orange Walk, the mechanic was optimistic the car could be fixed that afternoon. But this being Belize, we thought it was better to be prepared that it wouldn’t happen.

As an aside, there happened to be another weird coincidence that day. David unknowingly had put more money in his wallet than he thought. This turned out to be a huge help, because many places here don’t take credit cards, especially in small villages.

Colleen and I arrived in Carmalita Village, but overshot the lane we needed to turn into. I called the guys, who just happened to be returning from their latest parts run and were approaching in the opposite direction. We followed them in and it’s a good thing they were in the lead. I doubt we would have been able to find this place on our own. It was sort of in the back of beyond.

Work was underway on the tire when we arrived. It seems that when the tires from Bruce’s old Rodeo were put on his newer one, not all of the lug nuts were tightened as much as they should have been. As those loose nuts started going, the rest followed suit.  We also came to find out that the battery had died, because of having the flashers on for so long, along with the passenger side doors and back door open. Damn those little courtesy lights! Fortunately, the mechanic had a battery charger and all was well on that front.

It’s at this juncture that I want to spend a couple of moments describing what it’s like here to visit a mechanic. One might think of seeing high-tech equipment, bays for cars to be worked on, and mechanics in uniforms wielding state-of-the-art tools. Nope, not here. Most of the mechanics work at their homes, using whatever yard space they have to park the vehicles they need to attend to. Very, very few have any type of diagnostic tools. This is old school. Replacement parts are scavenged from junk yards.  If the vehicle owner has some money, some parts, and I do mean only some parts, can be purchased from auto parts stores. Often the local mechanic is a gathering place for village residents to socialize and, as in this place, buy food from the small hut on their property that provides sodas, water, and snacks.

We waited for about an hour or so for the tire and ball joint work to be completed. Bruce took the lug wrench and checked the other three tires. At least half the lugs on all the tires needed to be tightened anywhere from a quarter to half a turn.

By this time, adrenaline was ebbing a bit. We were all tired and sunburned. It was during this time that we noticed that the mechanic had the cutest pit bull puppy ambling around the yard. It was obviously well taken care of and was having fun in its own puppy way.

However, there was a young man who thought it was great fun to pull the puppy’s legs, making it cry and yelp. Now Colleen is a woman who has a huge passion for dogs of any kind. After seeing what was going on and, being on her last nerve of the day, she popped out of the car and marched over to the man. As she was reading him the riot act (which he duly deserved), I have to admit thinking, “Good Lord don’t let her get arrested, ‘cause between the four of us we probably don’t have money to make bail.”

Fortunately the guy stopped antagonizing the dog, the other people in and around the area laughed at him, and he went away. Colleen apologized to the mechanic, who said the guy deserved every bit of the chewing out she gave him.

It just about at this point that David’s phone rang. It was our mechanic calling to let us know that the he ordered the wrong model year for the part that needed to be replaced and he couldn’t get back that day to the place he bought it. However, he had moved ahead with changing the oil and transmission fluid. Yippy Skippy! Like Colleen (and the rest of us), David was working on his last nerve or two and let the mechanic know his thoughts on the matter. He also let the mechanic know that we would pick our car up that evening. After explaining where we were and what had happened to Bruce’s car, our hope was to be back in Ranchito in about an hour. Would he still be open? The mechanic thought so. Now as our mechanic doesn’t work the weekends, if he didn’t let us get our car that night, we would have had to wait until the following Monday.

By around 4:45, Bruce’s car was finished. It was agreed that Colleen and I would follow the guys back, should any problem came up with Bruce’s car.

There isn’t much of a twilight here and when the sun sets, it gets really, really dark. Driving on the highway and through villages is scary enough during the day. You never know when a dog or person will dart across the street, there is a legion of bad drivers, horses, cows, and you name it that you can come across. Driving at night? Man, even worse. There are very few street lights and some drivers neglect to put on their headlights, or some that do prefer the high beams. Whatever adrenaline that had ebbed from our bodies was now restored on the trip home.

We got to Ranchito and our mechanic after about an hour’s drive. Fortunately, even though he was officially closed, he did find our keys (eventually) and we were able to bid Bruce and Colleen adieu and head to our respective homes.

David and I threw back a stiff drink after feeding our dogs. The second drink we savored a bit more and we let the whole adventure of the day wash over us. David checked his wallet. He left that morning with about $700. Between helping out with the parts for the Rodeo and paying our mechanic, he had $10 left.

The next day, Colleen and Bruce took the Rodeo to another tire place in town to have everything double-checked. That tire company confirmed that the original lugs could not have been put on properly.

David and I spent a quiet day at the house, but every once in awhile we would look at each other and say, “It flew off! IT FLEW THE F*&^% OFF!”

Needless to say, it will probably be a bit of time before we embark on another road trip.

1 comment:

  1. And we live to tell another tale! Where do ya want to go next week?