No, we didn’t disappear, but we hit an unexpected car problem. Again. In almost the exact same location where we ran out of gas during our first unfortunate ‘incident’ a year ago.
Driving back ‘home’ to Valladolid from Merida, we are cruising comfortably along the autopista (highway) when, behind us, we spy a number of cars eager to pass. Norm slides over to the slow lane. Let the speedsters roll on.
That’s when we both hear -- and he feels -- IT. Was that a crunch? Scrape? Grind? Gnash?
Are those sharp rocks we are hitting? Oh no! Uh oh.
The toll booth is looming. Let’s pay our toll, pull over at the rest station there, and investigate.
Is it possible to drive our mid-size SUV on shredded rubber?
As we both gingerly open our doors to investigate, our mouths drop open. A large flap of black rubber protrudes from the flat right rear tire. Ye gods, this cannot be…but ye gods, it is!
With a deep sigh, Norm opens the car trunk, looking for the ‘donut’ (spare tire). He is ready, anxious to repair, and move along.
At exactly the same moment, a heavy-set man bursts forth from the men’s washroom. He sees us poor little people scattering about like lost ants. Then glances at the ragged rubber piece hanging in limbo. Suddenly, without a word, he crouches down beside our ailing car investigating this poor excuse for a tire.
Without a word, he takes over. He examines the torn and useless tire, reaches into our open car trunk, pulls out the donut. Norm steps back to stay out of his way. This stranger has a ‘take-charge’ demeanour.
We are thinking: is he helping? Who is he? Why is he doing this? What happens next? Especially important questions since our Spanish (except for Norm) is almost nil while the stranger’s English appears non-existent.
We cannot communicate easily. So, we watch.
Suddenly, because one of his buddies joins him, we realize these two knights-in-shining-armour are truckers. This toll booth/washroom/rest stop is popular among them. They are in charge of mighty long-haul trucks (Called Dobles. A Mexican specialty. One truck, two trailers. Each trailer is at least 40 feet: an illegal configuration in Canada.) You need a lot of overtaking space on a normal road to pass one of these moving beasts.
Heads down studying the situation are Norm, Trucker # 1, Trucker # 2. Spanish flows. Norm listens. I watch.
First, the examination. Then loosening the lug nuts before the car is jacked-up. Uh, oh. Problemo numero uno. The jack doesn’t raise the car high enough to free the destroyed tire.
Truckers 1 and 2 search nearby spaces for something. They wander to and fro and up and down, picking up pieces of debris, studying them with frowns, then discarding each unsuitable object. Finally, Trucker 1 returns with an appropriate piece of wood to set under the jack. It is enough. The car can be safely jacked up, the torn and tattered tire removed.
Expertly and efficiently, the two truckers install the donut tire. But they discover problemo numero dos: there is insufficient air in the donut. We cannot drive on it.
That’s when I finally realize these two truckers are mega trailer drivers hauling Dobles. Trucker 1 jumps into his cab, drives his monster truck closer to our car. Jumps down, reaches behind his cab and performs (to me) a minor miracle. He pulls out an air hose attached to his on board compressor (who knew?) and while I watch with open mouth, he pumps up the donut.
Now, he smiles at us, we are ready to roll again. But, he points out the warning label on the donut: do not exceed 80 kph.
Total time for this tire-off/tire-on exercise: 15 minutes.
Norm offers remuneration to both truckers in appreciation for their services.
They politely refuse. No, they smile. Not necessary.
On The Road Again
Once back behind the wheel, Norm activates our four-way flashers and carefully brings our SUV speed up to 75 kph. Behind us looms this giant Doble, large enough to crush 4 small autos. Our Good Samaritan Trucker is protecting us. Making sure the donut holds. Making sure we can make it on our own. Like a father who watches his young son take his first steps.
And then, when he’s satisfied, he roars out from behind us, waves, and passes us in a flash, but not before he blasts that loud horn of his as a farewell gesture.
Oh, but geez, we didn’t even get their names!
We are still flabbergasted by our experience. How many times have we heard of murder/mayhem/robberies/ on Mexican highways? How dangerous it is! Or this caveat: You will likely be fine, until you're not.
Here in the Yucatán, we continue to experience nothing but genteel and hospitable people. They often offer to help lost and misguided strangers.
We are still not out of the woods yet. This SUV we are driving belongs to Carlos, our friend, neighbour and landlord. Uh oh.
As I write this, Norm and Carlos are in the backyard sharing a bottle of mezcal together.
I am certain they will soon come to an amicable solution.