I’m living down here in my trailer in an RV Park on the Sea of Cortez in Baja for a couple more weeks, working on “Senor Madre, the Joy of Homemaking, My Life with the AngloArabAsian Brothers,” or whatever I’m finally going to call it, that’s the full-mouthed working title. Writing by night, kitesurfing by day, living on fresh grilled fish, veggies and water. An occasional super burro. No cerveza. Mushy juice from mangos in the juicer.
In thousands of miles of driving through both Baja and mainland Mexico, I’ve had a few highway breakdowns. I once wrote a story titled “Repeatedly Attacked by Primitive Native Mechanics,” about running five days in a 1950 Oldsmobile with a Corvette engine during La Carrera Panamerica, the old Mexican Road Race, border-to-border from Guatemala to Texas. The great Hershel McGriff—he won the first La Carrera Panamerica, in 1952—was driving and I was navigating. We spent a lot of time in junkyards along the way, getting the rear swaybar patched, welded and re-welded. Hershel’s lead foot and the torque of the engine kept twisting it.
The story should have been titled Repeatedly Rescued by Resourceful Local Mechanics. Time spent broken-down in Mexico has always been quality time for me: excellent adventures. There’s always a mechanic nearby who’s ready and happy to fix your car (the older the better) with a hammer and bailing wire. You need springs for a 28-foot travel trailer, here in the middle of nowhere along the Baja Highway, 250 miles even to the next gas station? Step into my junkyard, I’ve got a set right here, under my bed in my trailer. That actually happened to me.
The Baja Highway is a trip. I’ve only driven it in pickup trucks, vans, and an Expedition towing a travel trailer, but what I want to do is speed down its 1000 miles in a sports car like a Mazda Miata or Pontiac Solstice GXP—anything bigger or faster would be downright nuts. And it’s unwise to drive at night, because the road is riddled with potholes and littered with T-boned livestock. I can’t believe I actually stopped along the road like a stupid gringo tourist and took this picture of this real dead cow, last month.
Another time, my Astro van died just south of Ensenada, driving the 2000 miles home after a winter in Los Barriles with my two boys, Tai and Maks, who were 8 and 6 at the time. We were stuck for two days, and hitched a ride with a local cowboy into Ensenada to an auto parts store for a fuel pump. I chatted with him in Spanish, and Tai could follow the conversation, coming off two months in the local second grade. The kids were great companions through it all!
This is what I heard yesterday, from Senor Fred Velasco: You need an ignition switch for a ‘60s Jeep? I think I have one in my toolbox. Also a steering-wheel puller, to do the job, right now, no problem.
I’ve got a borrowed Jeep CJ-5 to drive. It’s way cool, only 40 years old. It’s jacked up about 8 inches and has humongous 33-inch tires and bodywork that’s been through the wars. It uses the old AMC straight six engine, prompting Senor Velasco to say, “Ah, it’s a Rambler.”
The Jeep Rambler belongs to my friends and RV park neighbors Tanis and Laurence, although actually it’s owned by their beautiful children, Savannah, 13, and Brody, 11.
They’re bffs of Tai and Maks. The four of them have spent eight winters together, here at Verdugo RV.
Tanis and Laurence had their own recent excellent adventure, when the Jeep began spouting hot water as they drove down from La Paz. A "bomba de agua" had blown up. Senor Ramirez had the old part in his garage, for 120 pesos, and wouldn't take any money for the repair. Laurence gave him 200 pesos anyhow.
I got the Jeep out of storage, and it started right up—without the key, Tanis said she never uses it. I drove about a mile on a dirt road to get a full-on Mexican slicked-back haircut, by Ana in her cinderblock haircutting shack at her house, marked by a barber pole made for her by another Verdugo neighbor Glen, an old Master Sargeant tough as nails but soft in heart, with the same crewcut he wore for 40 years in the Army. He doesn’t get his own hair cut at Ana’s any more because she has a jealous boyfriend.
I drove from Ana’s to the Pemex Station, still on dirt roads. I gassed up the Jeep, but when I tried to pull away from the pump, the steering wheel was locked. Tanis had the key. In Eugene, Oregon.
The impatient guys at the gas station pushed the Jeep against the wall. I hitched a ride back to town on the back of a quad—“I’ve been there,” said its rider—and went to Senor Velasco’s, knowing he spoke English and was a good mechanic. He was better than good, he was ready to do it now.
He dropped what he was doing, loaded two toolboxes into his van, and there at the Pemex pulled the Jeep’s steering wheel and replaced the ignition switch with the one he had, a GM part. Even got two keys with this one. A couple hours, road service, 500 pesos including parts. A few years ago it would have been maybe 300, but the gringos have landed.
The Jeep is back on the road, and it’s one of the coolest rides in Los Barriles. Thanks for the great wheels, Savannah and Brody!
Top 10 High Performance Cars
I’m proud to admit that I’m a track-time hog. One of the reasons I’m an automotive journalist is to get on the track with the latest high-performance cars. Every minute I’m on the track makes me feel a day...Read More
Perfect Catalina Day in an 09 Forester
I know that people don’t drive around off-road all day in their Subaru Foresters, but I gotta tell you how good the Forester is in the dirt. It’s fantastic in the dirt. How they get a suspension to work that well both on the road...Read More
Mercedes C63 AMG, a Badass Benz Totally Built by AMG
On February 25 I flew into Phoenix from Baja, where I live in a 29-foot trailer in an RV park on the beach in winter. It had been a great six weeks, kitesurfing by day and writing by...Read More
Ferrari 333SP Prototype at Daytona
Here's the trouble with life: You sometimes don't know whether you should do a lot of preparation or none, or whether you should listen to a lot of people or nobody. Not that the opportunity to drive a Ferrari 333S P at Daytona could ever under any...Read More
Back to Blog list