mexico : we’re all going to die

We worked all one summer to save money for a three month trip through Central America.  Siri and I painted an apartment building on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill - just the two of us.  I was the maintenance man for that building and I set it up that we each got paid $17.50/hr for the time it took to paint the building.  We did an excellent job and it completely bankrolled our trip.  We rounded out our hiking equipment with new sleeping bags, tent, backpacks, boots, first aid kit - everything we might need.  We went around to university professors at the UW and got three of them (each) to sponsor us so that we could earn college credit while on our trip and in return we submitted papers and gave talks to classes.  We were ready for our adventure and flew out of SeaTac Airport.

We landed in Puerto Vallarta and made our way south and east via bus. In Tulum, Mexico we bought a banged up Mazda GLC from some Texans.  $1000 and we drove away with the car with Texas license plates and into Guatemala and parts south.

While we were in Costa Rica, at our most southern point, we were just about out of money - which was fine because we already had our return ticket back from San José.  And we had our little car to sell for spending money in the meantime.  But we weren’t really ready to go back to Seattle yet.  Not ready to leave the days of freedom with no jobs and no responsibilities.  So, we decided to flip it around.  We refunded our tickets, had Matt get the checks, forge our signatures, cash the checks, and then wire us the money.

For a few days we had to subsist on star fruit and coconuts. It was a strange experience to be at the furthest southern tip of our trip, in a so called 3rd world country, and not have enough money for even a meal. At this point nearly everything that we owned had been stolen from us. We had a couple of changes of clothes each, our toiletries, our money belts with our passports, but not one penny between us.  We had a car, but only enough gas in it to make it to the gas station.  When the money from our tickets arrived we celebrated by going to our favorite restaurant for lunch.

Our plan was to drive north all the way to Seattle from our most southern point Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica.  We made it as far north as Mexico - crossing all of those Central American borders for a second time - when our plans were overcome by events.

We had picked up a video camera and we were documenting our return journey.  Driving past a very cool looking church I realized that Siri had her seatbelt off and was hanging out the window with the video camera to get a good shot.  You can hear me saying on the video “Hey, get your seatbelt on!” and Siri’s response “Oh, we’re all going to die, we’re all going to die.” 

Not five seconds after she had sat back down and clicked her seatbelt there was a loud screeching sound. I looked out my window to see our own car’s hood passing us in the other lane - in fact our whole car.  The tie rod had broken on the driver’s side which caused the front driver’s side wheel to snap to a ninety degree angle to the car.  We had been going about 45 miles per hour and around a wide turn which skirted a ravine.  The car performed a quick 540º spinout as we left the road at speed and then commenced to rolling down the hillside three full times.  I am still quite proud of myself because when we were upside down for the first time I reached forward and turned the engine off.

The little Mazda GLC landed right side up.  Two tires had come off their rims, neither door could open and the radiator had been stuffed back into the engine.
Siri had banged her knee on the dashboard a bit, but other than that we were physically fine.  The video that followed had lines running through it (the camera was damaged during the crash) and my voice is about 4 octaves higher than usual.

We had just bought a very large basket in Guatemala.  We put everything we owned into that basket and tied it to the middle of my staff.  We each put an end of my staff of our shoulder and, with the basket swinging between us, hiked up the hill to the road.  Before we headed off I had taken the license plates off and pried the VIN number off the dash and the driver’s side door jamb.  I didn’t want to be fined in any way when we left Mexico without the car we entered with.

Just as we reached the road a farmer came along in a newer Ford pickup truck with two men in the cab and two men riding in the truck bed.  He stopped, looked down at our car, and then at us with a question.  I had seen how south of the border there is not much waste.  If an object or machine has any utility then it will be put to use.  I knew that the engine in the car was likely fine and certainly a lot of the parts.  I said to him “ ¿Este carro? Este es tu carro.”  Which means “This car?  This is your car.”  He replied in excellent english, “Do you want a ride?”  He gave us a ride to the airport and Siri’s dad lent us the money for tickets to his place in Santa Barbara, California.

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