We’d been driving most of the day, from a Pemex truck stop on a lonely stretch of highway to Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas, Mexico. After a quick break to check to see if a laundromat was open (it wasn’t) we decided that the 90 degree heat and general wear of constant driving or adventuring, we would treat ourselves to a hotel room and shower. Savannah had been running great that day, even up and over the passes as we dodged huge potholes in the road. But something didn’t suit her in town and on our way to the hotel, while climbing up a narrow town road, the check engine light came on and I started to lose all power functions. I was able to muscle her over mostly to the side of the road (without power steering) but her butt-end was still sticking out.
We popped the hood to check the fluids and tried the OMDII reader to see what was up. The same codes showed up as earlier for a bad camshaft sensor… whatever that is. Hoping it was just bad gas again, we waited for a bit and tried starting her again… nothing. No crank, no clicking, absolutely silent with no signs of starting any time soon. Stumped, we put the hazards on since we were blocking traffic and tried to figure out what to do next. Andre said he’d try to push the van off the road if I put it in neutral so we would at least not be blocking traffic. But as soon as I did, the van started to roll backwards since we were on a hill. Andre was no match for Sav and now that the brakes wouldn’t work (since there was no power), I pulled the emergency brake to stop. Now we were even more in the way of traffic…
Luckily a Ford dealership was in town – somehow we’ve gotten lucky with every breakdown being within a few miles of a Ford service station. We tried calling the dealership with either no one answering or hanging up once we started talking. Andre was able to get ahold of a tow truck service nearby, and after difficulty understanding each other over a phone call, they switched to WhatsApp messaging with much better luck. He gave him the details of the van and the guy said within 20 minutes a tow truck would arrive.
Meanwhile, we sat in the middle of the street while local traffic, taxis, and motorbikes honked and squeezed by the van. It was usually the taxi vans that honked and honked until we stepped out and tried to express that the van was dead, as if the hood up and hazard lights didn’t show that enough. Some people got mad, but there was really nothing more we could do.
Finally the tow truck arrived behind us. The guy approached the van and asked if I could back up to behind the tow truck, which was parked down the hill. “No hay potencia” – the google translation I tried to use for “there isn’t power.” He motioned that him and Andre could push it backwards if I put it in neutral and I could steer it to try to get down the hill and behind the tow truck. It was really scary… without power steering it took a lot of effort to turn the steering wheel to weave around the cars in the road. I kept hitting the brakes if I felt like it was getting pushed too fast for me to turn but they didn’t work. Finally I turned to sort of parallel park behind the tow truck and pulled the emergency brake in time to not hit the little red car parked a bit behind the tow truck. I was covered with nervous sweat but all worked out in the end.
I stayed in the van while the chains were attached to pull Savannah up onto the flatbed. As the chains were tightening up and sounded like they were under incredibly tension, I wondered if this was how the driver lost his right eye. Finally under tension, I climbed back up into Savannah and steered the wheels in the direction he motioned while she was pulled up onto the flatbed. Once up, he motioned for me to put on the emergency brake and turn off the key (that allowed me to put it in neutral). We then climbed into the front seat of the truck and rode three across.
The roads were hectic before we had broken down and now in the tow truck with all of Savannah’s 9000 lbs behind us, it seemed even more crazy. He didn’t stop at most stop signs, I’m not sure if he physically could. I found myself slamming my right foot down for an imaginary brake like my Mom used to do while she was teaching me how to drive. We took the turns pretty quick too and I watched in the side mirror as the body of Savannah swayed. Eventually, we saw the Ford sign on the main strip and I felt a huge sense of relief.
We pulled in, but it was apparent the service station was closed (it was a Saturday). Our tow truck driver did us a huge favor and chatted with the Ford dealership attendant who told him where he could drop the van. We would be able to get an appointment first thing Monday morning at 8 AM. The attendant opened up a gate to the back parkinglot of the dealership and we unloaded Savannah there. The tow was 700 pesos ($35), which really isn’t that bad given he arrived within 20 minutes. We tipped him 50 pesos and thanked him a ton, especially for being so patient with me while I stressed and didn’t know what to do while he was loading Savannah.
The hotel we had been looking at with a cool stone tub was now on the opposite side of town, so we pivoted and found a hotel nearby the dealership that we can walk from on Monday. We had been talking about maybe taking a break from traveling for a few days in a town, and now with Savannah being moody, we’re forced to anyway. This place is pretty cool though, and cheap, with a big stepped pool in the center of the hotel. I forgot my swimsuit in the van, so Andre found me a cheap suit from the local supermarket! As well as some flowers to cheer me up 🙂
We’ve eaten lots of pizza, watched Netflix, slept in, and swam, trying to make the best out of being stranded for a few days. Fingers crossed it’s an easy-ish fix tomorrow and there is a part in stock for whatever is broken. Once we’re mobile again, we’re planning on checking out Sumidero Canyon!
Andre’s post here!