Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trying to Chill in Loreto

I think that my recent, and currently ongoing, experiences with the refrigerator in my house will provide a small, but valuable counterbalance to the predominantly “good news” messages that have been the norm in my posts to this Blog. 

Several weeks ago I noticed that the digital temperature display inside my fridge was no longer working, causing one of those “take-it-for-granted” reality check moments.  Like in most other households, a basic appliance like the refrigerator is one of those things that, as long as it works, one doesn’t normally spend any time thinking about.  Until it stops working – and then, all of a sudden, it becomes the focus of one’s attention . . . until is repaired and starts working again and life goes back to a normal state of indifference again.

However, one of the realities of living in a small community in a remote part of the Baja in Mexico, is that whenever something goes wrong with any of the more complex devices that makes life here easier, more comfortable, or more entertaining, the solution is often considerably more challenging that what we would be used to where we came from in North America. 

Of course, this generalization does not apply to everything – for instance, it has been my experience in the past that car mechanics here in Mexico are more resourceful than many of their counterparts I have had dealings with elsewhere.  For example, when my power steering pump died during a visit to Cabo San Lucas several years ago, the mechanic (who was working from the courtyard of his family home) had to order a new pump from the mainland, and it took several days to arrive.  However, when he went to install it he discovered that he had been sent the wrong part and the mounting bracket did not align with my engine block.      

But rather than re-ordering the replacement part, which would have entailed another 3 or 4 days wait and the associated expenses of extending my already longer than anticipated Hotel stay, the mechanic spent several hours disassembling both pumps and transferring the new working parts from the replacement into the housing of my old pump, which he then reinstalled on the engine.  A solution that I think would not likely have been considered by most of the mechanics I have had dealings with outside of Mexico.  The difference here being that mechanics expect to FIX things, not just replace old parts with new ones until the vehicle starts working again – perhaps this is an unfair simplification, but such has been my automotive repair experience elsewhere.  

But back to my refrigerator!  When the problem with the temperature display first occurred the fridge continued to work normally – for a day or so – during which time I half hoped the problem would somehow resolve itself spontaneously, no such luck!  The next thing I noticed was a “click/whirring” sound that repeated over and over, like the mechanism was trying to reset itself, unsuccessfully.  This symptom went on for apparently random periods of time before eventually the compressor kicked in and resumed the cooling and freezing functions again, albeit temporarily.

By this point it had become clear that there was not going to be any Divine Intervention and that I needed professional help to find a solution.  It is mainly for situations like this that I pay for year-round Property Management, since locating, arranging for, and communicating with, in this case, a qualified Appliance Repairman here in Loreto is not the straightforward exercise it would be where I used to live.  And so it was, a few days later, Antonio from my Property Manager arrived at my house with a Spanish speaking technician.

The good news was that the technician quickly identified that the problem was the electronic circuit board that controlled the temperature and display function – the bad news was that he was unsure where a replacement could be found; but it would be almost certainly from the Mainland, and he had no idea how long it might take, or how much it might cost to get it here.     

Meanwhile, the periods of “clicking and whirring” were getting longer and the periods of cooling and freezing were getting shorter, with the result that things in my well stocked freezer were starting to slowly thaw and the refrigerator section was turning into more of a pantry than a cooler – in other words, action was required faster than the Mexican solution was apparently going to deliver.

 So I sat down at my computer and in a short time I had found an appliance parts distributor back in Calgary, called them by Skype (internet based phone) and, with the model number of the fridge and the description of the part I needed, identified the part number, which they then confirmed that they had ONE in stock – in all of Canada!  So I gave them my credit card information to prepay for it and told them to hold it for pick-up.

Next I began the search for a potential courier to bring the part from Calgary to Loreto.  I knew of one couple who were coming down in a couple of weeks but when I got in touch with them they were able to tell me of another friend from Calgary who was coming down the following week.  After exchanging a couple of emails the arrangements were made and a few days later my “savior” arrived bearing the necessary circuit board.

However, in the meantime the fridge was now off more than on and I had to make some alternate arrangements in the form of borrowing the freezer in a nearby unoccupied house of a friendly neighbor and keep a bag of ice in the refrigerator to maintain some degree of coolness for the contents.  The day after the part arrived I had a return visit form my property manager and the technician who went about replacing the circuit board – but, unfortunately, the same problem persisted. 

After pulling the fridge out of the wall cabinet and disassembling the back panel he pronounced that it was now the main circuit board that was the culprit – and, of course, the same problems existed with finding and delivering the part to the Baja from elsewhere in Mexico.  So now, drawing on my recent experience with the procedure, I again called the same parts distributor in Calgary, who, once again (fortunately) had the part in stock, which I again I prepaid for to hold for pick up.  I then got back in touch with the original couple, whose trip was now only about a week away, and they kindly agreed to pickup this second circuit board and bring it with them when they arrive next week.

As I write this, my refrigerator is still not working over two weeks after I discovered the initial problem, I have gone through daily bags of ice, made nightly visits to my neighbors to get my evening entrĂ©e from the borrowed freezer and have discarded some vegetables and dairy products that have had a dramatically shorter shelf life in my barely cool fridge than normal.  But I am cautiously optimistic that the second circuit board will be the cure (there’s not much else electronic that could go wrong!) and I have also realized that however much we take these “modern conveniences” for granted, life does go on with or without them.

I have also come to appreciate how important a seemingly small gesture like a friend picking up a part and bring it here in their luggage becomes, when I am faced with the challenge of sourcing that hard to find component here.  But even more importantly, this refrigerator episode has brought into focus how different a world I live in here, than where I came from – and while this is an example of how not all those differences are positive, on reflection, I realize that I do take some real satisfaction from having found (what I hope to be) a solution.  Learning to deal with the bad, as well as celebrate the good – that is an important lesson to learn while “Living Loreto”.