San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
After a mind-expanding long day with ghosts, pyramids, and mysterious ancient art in Teotihuacan, our little tour group cruises along the Autopista with just two hours to go before hitting San Miguel de Allende and home.
Gene, an archeologist from the University of Texas, Jaime, our Mexican guide/driver, and me, a transplant from Los Angeles, are basking in the afterglow of history and art when the ’95 Oldsmobile’s engine suddenly quits as we tool along in the fast lane. Luckily we are coasting down hill, and Jaime gets it started after repeated tries, and the three of us breathe sighs of relief as the car chugs forward.
Then the engine quits again, and with skillful manoevering through the trucks and rush hour traffic, Jaime is able to get us on the right shoulder where we roll to a stop. When the car starts once more, we exit at the next off-ramp and inch into a tiny town that seems to have nothing more than a little tienda, a big cemetery, and, thank goodness, a garage.
It’s dark by now, and the mechanic rigs up a light to check under the hood. Three other men and a boy playing with valeros (those two clacking balls on a string) – and Jaime, of course – watch him do it. Gene and I observe the animated discussion and gesturing of all six of them through the windshield.
Gene mumbles in the back seat that the problem is a speck of dirt from bad gasoline clogging up the fuel filter, but the committee under the hood thinks it’s the fuel injection. They fiddle with that, the sparkplugs, and the engine – which before had a smooth and quiet idle – now sounds like a threshing machine. When they give up on the front, they jack up the rear and change the filter. Gene and I are still in the car as it lurches upward. The street is totally black but for the lightbulb on a cord dangling from one man’s hand.
I have to go to the bathroom. Gene says that he doesn’t want to sound like a chauvinist, but I am the only woman here, so I shouldn’t get out of the car. I have no fear, but I can’t imagine any toilet anywhere near. So I stay put.
Gene had forgone a fabulous lunch at the La Gruta Restaurant in order to see more of the Teotihuacan pyramids, and even though I had been plying him with snacks from my bag, I worry about him. He seems to have low blood sugar or something. I thought there was nothing left, but I find a tangerine from the previous night’s Posada. He gives me back half and I give half of that to Jaime out the window.
Jaime retains an air of cheerfulness and confidence. Because I had taken a previous tour with him, and because of our wonderful day today, I’m not at all worried about how we would get back to San Miguel. Jaime will take care of us. He’s young, but smart and inspires confidence. At least in me.
Not so with Gene. He frets about the different mechanical possibilities of the car trouble, and tries to figure out plans B and C if we are indeed stuck. He has good reason to worry as he is scheduled to leave tomorrow for Texas at 6 a.m.
Finally the car won’t even start, it is now after nine, and all six surrounding the car agree no more can be done tonight. Gene and I confer that we think there are too many cooks under the hood.
Jaime talks to a tow-truck guy who is flatbedding a car to Queretero, half way home for us. But we would have to sit inside the car on the truck. Gene and I don’t like it, but we say what the heck and get out of the Oldsmobile, stiff after so many hours of sitting there. But the driver reneges, it seems it is illegal to do that. One of the kibbitzers then agrees to take us up to the Autopista toll booth. By this time, Gene and I don’t ask any questions, we just get in the car with Jaime.
Up at the toll gate, Jaime talks to the policeman parked in his unit, I guess he was explaining why we were up there. Then along comes a bus marked “San Miguel de Allende.” Jaime flags it down, and – a miracle – the bus stops. We run, and climb on board. Incredulously sinking into seats, we can’t believe our luck: very few buses to SMA at all, and we got one! We flagged down a bus on the autoroute and it stopped! Gene and I laugh, only in Mexico!
At Queretero, everyone but us three and a snoring guy across the aisle get off, and a woman carrying a decorated snack tray gets on. Jaime hops up and takes orders from us, water for me, Coke for Gene (the sugar, I think), and Coke and chips for Jaime. We all debate about telling the sleeper we are at Queretero in case it is his destination, but no one does. Almost immediately on the road again, Jaime asks me for a plastic bag, which he uses in the back of the dark bus as a urinal, and then tosses out the window. The cars behind the bus must think it’s raining. My problem isn’t so handily solved and I try not to think about it.
When we drag off the bus at last in San Miguel, Jaime finds us one taxi and he takes another. Kisses all around, handshaking, muchas gracias. adios.
Gene and I agree as we part at his hotel that the pyramids were incredible, but our car trouble was a fascinating Mexican experience of its own.