Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yokohama in Loreto

Regular readers of this Blog may be under the impression that my life in Loreto is one of uninterrupted bliss and tranquility - parties, walks on the beach, dinners with friends . . .

While that is true for much of the time I spend living here, occasionally reality does intrude into this ideal lifestyle, like what happened a couple of weeks ago on the drive back to Loreto from the Airport in Cabo. I was about at the halfway point of the trip, 250 km from home and I had just driven through a small hamlet with “rumble strips” on the highway at each end of town and a “Tope” or speed bump in the middle.

So I was still driving slowly as I was leaving town, rumbling over the exit strips but when I reached the end of the strips my car kept vibrating. Being lost in thought at the time, listening to satellite radio, it took me 10 or 15 seconds to realize what was wrong – I had blown a rear tire. Fortunately, I had not yet started to speed up again and traffic was light on the straight stretch of road I was on.

Unfortunately, Mexico Highway #1 does not have shoulders and by the time that I realized what was wrong with my car, I had to stop - NOW! So, I managed to pull off the road – just – and, because I happened to be in a boulder field at that particular place, I was only able to get about 6” off the pavement before I had to stop. When I got out and looked at my driver’s side rear tire it was completely shredded and wrapped around the wheel – I was going no further.

Changing the tire on a vintage Denali requires the partial disassembly of the rear cargo area to get at the tool kit that is required to crank the spare tire down from it’s storage area underneath the chassis. When I had finally accomplished this, I inspected my spare with some trepidation as I tried to remember when the last time I had used it was – and trying not to wonder whether it still had enough air pressure.

Next I had to position the jack under the axel, using several rocks to establish a solid base and then I had to hunker down on the pavement of the highway and start removing the lug nuts from the wheel. It was about at this point that I realized how lucky I was!

#1. It was still daylight, an hour later I would be doing this in the dark

#2. It was a straight stretch of road and vehicles could see me as they approached from either direction

#3. The oncoming vehicles in the lane I was sitting in, had been slowed down passing through the town I had just left

When I finally had the wheel off the axel, (being interrupted frequently, whenever there was a car or truck approaching in my lane, causing me to retreat from the pavement to the relative safety of the roadside) it was time for the next moment of truth – putting the spare on the car and seeing if it was still sound. So far, so good, - it was a bit soft, mind you, but (dare I say) “good enough for Mexico”! At this point I admit I just threw all the tools and bits and pieces into the back of the car, my pit stop had taken half an hour and I could see I had about an hour of light left – and two and a half hours drive ahead.

Gingerly I steered back on the highway and drove slowly for the first few hundred yards until I was convinced that the spare tire was going to hold – at least for the time being. As I gained confidence in the new tire, I gradually speeded up until I was back up at the regular speed, but I was still unable to relax. It wasn’t just my imagination – it seemed everywhere I looked, on either side of the road, I could see the remains of blown out tires! And now I was travelling on a ten year old spare with no back up tire if it blew out – oh yes, and it was getting dark!

However, the remainder of the trip was blessedly uneventful, even though the last hour was in full dark, and under normal circumstances I avoid highway driving at night, with the exception of the occasional 15 km drive home to Loreto Bay after dinner in town. The main hazard of night driving is stray cattle on the road, a very real threat for potential collisions, as was brought home again recently when a Mexican friend of mine hit a cow on the highway just outside one of the entrances to the development, while he was driving back to Loreto after dark.

The next chapter of this story began the following day, when I set about the challenge of replacing the blown tire. There are several tire shops in town, but none of them carry the Yokohama brand and, since this was a new set of tires six months ago, I did not want to use a mismatched replacement. Here is where fate (or perhaps karma {carma?}) comes in.

As luck would have it, I happened to know a friend of a friend who is in charge of distributing Yokohama tires in Mexico and when I contacted him about my predicament he said that he would check with his Dealers in La Paz and Tijuana to see if they had the required size in stock. No luck, but he then arranged to ship one to the TJ Dealer from his office in southern California. More than a week passed by the time that the tire had cleared customs and arrived at the Dealer, who then had to drop it off at the Bus Depot, as the bus freight service, called Baja Pack, was the best way to ship it from Tijuana to Loreto.

The following week I picked up the well travelled tire at the Bus Depot in Loreto and then went to the Bank and deposited the cash for the tire and freight charges directly into the Dealers account, (cheques and credit cards are not commonly used for such payments here). Finally, I took my new tire to one of the Llanteras, or Tire Shops to have it mounted on the rim and replace the spare.

But wait, there’s more! As soon as they removed the old tire from the rim, they discovered that my new replacement was an “R17” size, not the “R16” size of the original – back to the drawing boards! All the way back to Loreto Bay I was on “tenter hooks” until I could check my email to find out if I had originally ordered the right size or not, and, although it was small consolation, I had ordered it right!

So, I had to begin the whole operation again, with the gracious assistance from my friend in the States who had to ship a replacement in the correct size to the Dealer again, and I in turn, had to return the oversize tire back the 1,000 km to Tijuana by bus. As I write this at the end of last week, the correct tire should be at the Dealer’s any day, following which he will be re-shipping it to me and, hopefully, sometime early next week I will have successfully replaced the tire I blew out over two and a half weeks ago – maybe!

Years ago I remember reading somewhere the somewhat “tongue-in-cheek” comment: “Every definitive statement in Mexico should be followed by the word MAYBE!”; as in, diesel fuel 20 km - maybe, or English spoken here - maybe. Over the years I have come to realize that there is a lot of truth in that rule, and, what would be a straight forward transaction back home in North America, tend to become more complicated here in Mexico.

While waiting over two and a half weeks, and exchanging numerous emails, to have a tire replaced might sound unreasonable by the standards I was once used to. Here in Mexico, even mundane exercises in day-to-day life can take on unanticipated complications and become a “project”, having said that, I for one consider these inconveniences a small price to pay for the many benefits of “Living Loreto”!