Sonora-The Endurance Test

(Continued)...Before leaving Jalisco, I was given two rules by everyone whose advice I had sought and these were to STAY ON THE TOLL ROADS and NEVER DRIVE AT NIGHT. I was behind schedule, and so decided to press on to my day 1 goal of Ciudad Obregon, in Sonora. I did stick to the toll roads though, with the philosophy that it is wise to break only one rule at a time!

 As the sun went down outside Culiacan in Sinaloa, traffic became scarce and the road took on a very lonely feel. Ahead in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky and before long, big drops of rain began to spatter the windshield. I drove through the desert storm, actually turning the heater on! I felt quite warm and cozy as I steamed along full speed ahead on the smooth two lane highway. Eventually, I overtook a little Nissan truck and as I passed it, could see that there was a family of ten in the back of the truck exposed to the storm. They huddled together tightly, children and adults, like a group of penguins all facing the middle of the truck bed while the rain lashed at their backs.

 The storm passed and I came to a military checkpoint, manned by grim and bored looking soldiers armed to the teeth. I as always put on my most charming smile and pulled into the inspection area. They seemed a bit puzzled to see a young guera (blondie) driving alone through the desert in the middle of the night in an old car, but I was more than happy to prattle off in my increasingly good Spanish about my journey and my art. When asked to pop the trunk, I gave the soldier a big grin and told him he was about to see something very different! The two others came over as I opened the trunk and swept aside the big green sleeping bag to reveal the giant palm leaf. Military flashlights illuminated the jungle scene hiding like a secret world inside Carlito’s trunk, and their eyes all lit up like little boys. “Orale que chido!! Esta es un hoja?! Que tipo es?...” After I had answered all their questions, they wished me luck on my journey with big smiles, Violent Hippie biz cards in hand. I drove away into the darkness feeling both quite amused that I had laid waste to their normally dour demeanor, and glad that I had been able to bring some entertainment to their otherwise dull night watch.

 Somewhere around two in the morning I rolled into Ciudad Obregon, and just for good measure I went to the truck stop gas station just beyond the city. Although I was craving a hot shower and a soft bed, I knew that I had neither the budget nor the time and so had long resigned myself to using the “Pemex hotel system” (Pemex is the only petroleum company in Mexico, and owns all gas stations). As I prepared my front seat nest, I glanced over at the small building and saw a sign that read “Regaderas-24 Horas”. I blinked. The sign was still there. Really!? Showers?? I made my way into the building and asked the middle aged man behind the desk how much the showers cost. They were 40 pesos. Being that it was a truck stop, I had visions in my mind of nasty unkempt little stalls and decided to inspect the showers before paying. I walked down the hall and opened one of the doors, and my jaw dropped at what I saw.

 A spacious and spotless rock tiled private room, all surfaces polished to perfection, greeted my eyes. It looked like a bathroom in a 5 star hotel, complete with dressing area and large mirror with a freshly changed garbage can. No funky smells, not a spot of water on the floor. I thought I had stepped into a dream. I ran to grab my bathroom bag, handed the man 40 pesos (about 3 bucks) and proceeded to have the most heavenly hot shower. Then I returned to Carlito and slept like a baby until 7:30 in the morning.

 When I woke up, I got out to make a coffee on the camp stove and noticed a pool of antifreeze under the front of the car. I had seen it the night before but assumed that it had been there when I pulled up. I popped the hood and immediately the cashier came over to help. There seemed to still be a normal amount of liquid in the reservoir, but when I started Carlito and then turned him off, a small flood of antifreeze poured out of the pump. The man informed me that my water pump was broken, and that yes, it was a very serious issue here in the desert. He had a mechanic friend back in Ciudad Obregon, and made a quick call. Within ten minutes, I was driving to meet him.

 The shop was a small family owned affair, my favorite kind in Mexico or anywhere. When I pulled in the son, an extremely handsome 18 year old, immediately went to work under the hood and a woman with a warm smile offered me a glass of water. The whole job took about 3 hours and set me back 1,500 pesos (much more than Vallarta but still only about $110, in Canada it would have been much more), during which time the woman and I shared views on life and Mexico. She was a beautiful, kind soul like most working class Mexicans, and I hardly noticed the time passing or the temperature rising. Before leaving I convinced them all to pose for a picture with Carlito.

 It was about 11:30 am by the time I left the city. Although I was feeling like I needed more sleep, I wanted to put at least a couple hundred kilometres under our belts first. This decision proved to be a nearly fatal error… (to be continued).