Mexico’s Miracle Mechanics
Need a great mechanic? Try Mexico.
This morning the 4-Runner won’t start and we can’t figure out the source of the problem. In addition, the mufflers on our two Suburbans both need the attention of a competent welder.
Todos Santos is only 6 or 8 blocks long in each direction. There are only two paved streets in town. There are no yellow Midas muffler signs. No auto electrical shops with advanced diagnostic equipment. What’s obvious in Todos Santos are a handful of restaurants, a couple of schools, a few curio shops, the famous Hotel California, and not much else. There is a phone book. It lists people by their first name and it sells for 70 pesos at the only bookstore in town.
Finding auto repair is a word-of-mouth effort. The team sets off to find a mechanic who can weld mufflers back together, and one who is an electrical systems wizard.
In a few minutes the right questions are asked of a few helpful locals and market forces work a near-miracle. An electrician rips into the dashboard hacking at wires and surgically removing a car alarm system that had shorted out and no one knew had been installed. It took him about five minutes to fix. Ditto for the muffler guy. Total bill for repairs to all three cars: about $40 US, or 400 pesos. We are on the road by noon.
The Mexico and Mexicans Most Tourists Will Never Meet
Abut three miles east of Todos Santos, opposite hundreds of acres of huge white plastic-covered tomato greenhouses, behind 8-foot high chain-link fence and gate that are guarded 24 hours a day sits several rows of fibre-board homes. Each home measures about 12 by 15 feet and shares its one-half-inch-thick walls with neighbors on three sides. Instead of doors each home has a single opening with a cotton sheet through which waft the smells of frying tortillas, meat and beans. There are no windows in any of the homes. Water comes from four spigots mounted in the courtyards. The bath and toilet is a separate concrete building at the far end of a dusty courtyard.
This is the Empaque Labor Camp, and our guides are Elena Ascensio, the Founder of the Classroom on Wheels, and Aaron Baldacci, a volunteer. Elena’s a petite, beautiful 30-year old Mexican woman who speaks flawless English in addition to Spanish. A teacher in another local school, Elena founded Classroom on Wheels three years ago to enrich the severely limited educational opportunities in the camps.
“Even though the children go to school at the camp, the teachers are so de-motivated that they often don’t even show up for school,” Elena said.
Empaque houses perhaps 50 to 60 families, each with many small children. Parents work in the tomato fields owned by one of the world’s largest growers, Batiz, who imports the laborers from the poorest parts of Mexico, often Chiapas. The people are darker-skinned than most Mexicans, often a bit shorter in stature, and the subjects of prejudice and discrimination by their countrymen. The children, however, are just as boisterous as kids anywhere.
The guard waves us through the gate. Immediately the Baja3000 team gets to work disgorging hundreds of pounds of books, clothes, toys, games, soccer balls, puzzles, paper, art supplies, paints, pencils, and crayons. The kids tear into everything faster than we can unload it. Soon our concrete-floored, tin roofed, chain-link fenced play area is squirming with dozens of kids. The excitement ratchets up each time we open a new box.
Everyone is on the floor: the kids, we 8 Gringo guys, Elena and Aaron, adults and parents from the camp. The kids light up with the twin stimulants of attention, and exciting new stuff to explore. The play goes on for 90 minutes. Some of us are drenched in sweat. At the end Aaron leads the kids in a few songs, including this one sung to the tune of the French Freres Jacques:
“Como estas? Como estas?
Muy bien, gracias, muy bien gracias!
Y-y tu? Y-y tu?”
Soon it’s time to leave. Down the road a kilometer or two is an outdoor restaurant called El Gato, and for two hours Elena and Aaron answer our questions about the lives of migrant laborers throughout Mexico. For me, this intimate discussion is one of the high points of the trip. We have a common experience in visiting the camp, and expert interpreters to help us make sense of what we have seen.
Out to San Jose Del Cabo
With a few hours of light remaining, we strike out to San Jose del Cabo. The plan is to check out Monuments and Zippers, then just grab a cheap hotel to crash in and prepare for the final donations on Sunday. After about an hour drive we pull into Cabo San Lucas. Everyone who has been there before is shocked at the growth and traffic. We soon discover that our arrival was during semana santa or holy week, so EVERYTHING was booked solid. The GPS tracking of that evening looks like a spiderweb, starting in town and fanning out until we finally find an expensive room for the crew at the Suites & Hotel J&M. One objective is to have a safe place for the cars and cargo. When the decision is made, Rob guides team El Dorado in through the narrow passage off of the street into the protected courtyard interior. While focusing on the sides and urging Joe to proceed, a cooler on the roof is scraped off the Suburban and destroyed by the sneaky, low plaster roof.
Baja3000, winner determined
The trip, “Baja3000” is named for each team’s budget, $3000. In addition to this challenge, Bob had a gaggle of grueling guidelines, each of which had points associated with them. Teams were judged on journaling, photographing remote missions, wildlife, locals without teeth, staying under budget, you name it. Team Westside was out from the get go, but teams El Dorado and Burbank had a spirited debate, rich with exaggeration, lies and yelling. In the end, Team Burbank is awarded the trophy and bragging rights.