There's not much to Mahahual - in the sense of it being a very small village - and it's not that far away so taking a bus and renting a bike (as someone recently suggested) would be an inexpensive option to driving. That's true. But freedom to go off the beaten path requires a vehicle so I took the van as always. The first day was relaxing, a few beers, great ceviche, and a good book on the beach. Very nice.
28 kilometers north of Mahahual is El Uvero. Neither town nor village as far as I know, but a group of houses stretched about 10 kilometers on the seafront between a pot-holed dirt road and the ocean waves. There is a paved road that makes those 28 clicks somewhat easier to maneuver than the coastal road, but it too has its share of potholes so numerous that what was once intended to be a two-lane road is naught but a single-lane weaving path through lagoon and overtaking jungle brush. It's only two-lanes when there's another vehicle passing. At which point you can kiss your starboard paint job good bye.
Intrepid traveler that I am, I drove to El Uvero then hit the coastal road for about 8 clicks to visit a friend who lives in one of the last houses along that lonely stretch to the north. Had an enjoyable visit meeting the neighbors, shared some wine and guacamole, and finally, before it got too late, said my goodbyes. Just over 7 kilometers and more than a few kidney shakes later I was anxious to hit the paved road when the van, quietly and without fanfare, stalled.
Something like this had happened a few months ago and only about a week after replacing the engine (it's an old van) and the mechanic who repaired said it was jut an electrical connection that had come loose from the jarring. With great hopes but negligible actual mechanical ability, I peered over the top, crawled underneath, shook and (lightly) tugged on every wire I could find but they all seemed intact. Though I'm not much of a mechanic, a faulty alternator was my next thought. Nothing I can fix. So I grabbed what few articles I had consisting of camera bag, binoculars, walking stick - a handful to carry - and proceeded to walk back the 7 clicks before nightfall.
You might say things are cooler in the late afternoon than midday and you might be right, technically. But this is the tropics and cooler comes at about 3 AM or under a cold shower (at any time). I tried to enjoy the walk as best I could and admire nature. To my left, the lagoon, swamp, and mangroves. To my right, houses from all economic levels and many very protective dogs. And in the middle, me. There were times during that forced march where the tune of "Boots" rumbled in my head. It's one of those catchy tunes that once you've heard it a few dozen times blindfolded is never forgotten. I'm betting that you can't get through it once.
But there was no discharge in this war and I finally made it back to the door I had left a long two hours before. Greeting me, I inquired "Did I leave my hat here?" (I had) and he had it in hand. I continued "I seem to have misplaced my van as well." Consummate host that he was, I copped a shower, change of clothes, and cold beer. Even toothbrush and toothpaste. A real B&B! By then it was quite late so the plan was to check on the van in the morning and bring along a tow rope to get it to town.
Daybreak might have been too late given the scene we found once we made it to the van. I had left the van unlocked - actually had no choice in the matter since there was no juice - but I failed to take the jack handle with me when I left it. You would have remembered to take the jack handle wouldn't you? Of course you would have. During the night, enterprising socialists decided I didn't need either the spare or right rear wheels and had removed both. Plus everything that wasn't trash from the inside - all of which I fully expected to lose. But the wheels? Bastards. The spare wasn't a great loss as the rim was bent and banged into shape with a big hammer and the tire pressure was maintained with two compressed bottles of No-Flat...but it's the principle of the matter I say. As well, they could have taken the right front tire which was brand new. Must have been too dark to see well. Good.
It could have been worse. I could have stalled somewhere on the 28 clicks of nothingness and a far longer walk back to town. They could have taken all four wheels, cut wires to get to the battery, heck even the engine - they had enough time. But I guess they only needed my spare change, gallon of oil, and sundry odds and ends. Fortunately my shoes didn't fit them so they were left behind. Not that I wear them but it's the principle of the matter. I hope it's the wrong grade oil.
We continued into town but the mechanic, Manuel (at KM55 next to Hotel Kike - pronounced Key-Kay) was off doing repairs in Bacalar and wouldn't return before noon. Time for breakfast, lots of coffee, a bit of planning, a few phone calls to ensure the dogs were cared for, verification that I had a room for the night (this was the day I supposed to check out). In exchange for wonderful hospitality and a sense of humor, I loaned my friend and benefactor a portable hard drive of music and movies before he left to go about his business. Noon came. The mechanic and his helper hauled me to the van to investigate. Not before stopping for gas for the trip. Well, two stops for "gas": one at the PEMEX station for gasoline and one at a local tienda for beers. Hey, it was afternoon, hot, and they had a bit of driving to do!
Upon arrival we had obviously given the miscreants time to return and now the rear brake drum had been removed as well. A spare battery and some bare wires held by hand to the terminals was used to verify the alternator was inoperable but that one battery didn't have enough power to run the van back to Mahahual and besides, a wheel was still missing. Back we go to Mahahual to cannibalize another truck on the lot for a brake drum and wheel, pick up a couple of batteries, a decent set of jumper cables, and returned to El Uvero. Oh, and we got some more "gas". It was indeed a hot day.
One wheel replaced, one battery jury-rigged, we were off. Off course, just before Mahahual we ran out of battery juice for all that is normally supplied by the alternator and jury-rigged another battery now sitting on the front bumper. If a van could crawl, we crawled to the auto yard. Going over several topes (the "sleeping policeman" AKA speed bumps) with a battery balanced on the front bumper is quite the exercise. I was ready for more than a few beers when we arrived.
The alternator was quickly removed and just as quickly determined to be unusable. No surprise as this was, so it seemed, the original alternator on a vintage 1997 van. I was, of course, hoping otherwise. Ha. A replacement was ordered from...Chetumal. "It will be here manana", I was promised. Fortunately, the replacement brake drum, rim, and tire were somewhat easier to find.
Manana came and went after several trips to the mechanic while he called, cajoled, and, perhaps threatened the supplier. I kind of doubt that last but it sounded aggressive enough to me. "Manana". Another day. Noon time came and it was no longer manana (morning) but still manana (tomorrow) and the part was on its way. 5PM.
Indeed the new alternator came as promised, was installed by flashlight, and after a half hour of running to ensure the battery was still well enough to take a charge, I paid my bills, was profusely thanked by the mechanic who hoped to see me again soon, returned to the back room of the hotel for my affairs, and left Mahahual.
For those of you not familiar with Mahahual, you can look on the map above. There is about 55 kilometers of paved road running east-west with all of about 5 houses along the way. It's all brush, marsh, and lagoon on either side as you're driving north of Laguna Bacalar to get to solid land otherwise known as the Yucatan Peninsula. At the end of that paved road is the Highway 307. Mostly a two-lane country road by USofA standards. No one except fools and truckers (because they have the law of gross tonnage on their side) drive on Mexican roads at night.
I write this because what happened next could have happened anywhere along that God-forsaken stretch of nothingness called the road to Mahahual. The serpentine belt started shredding under the hood. Makes a hell of a noise though not quite as sinister as a timing belt going, it's still something. Fortunately...comes from good clean living...it happened in town and not so far from home or so late at night that a short taxi ride brought me the final few kilometers.
The dogs were quite happy - well, ecstatic is more the right word - and even the cat deigned to brush against my leg as I unlocked the door. I was home.
A final note: Hotel Koox Matan Ka'an is THE place to stay in Mahahual. Centrally located, comfy, and clean. Gerben, the manager, will go out of his way to make sure your stay is enjoyable and everything meets the highest standards. I can't thank him and his staff enough for their assistance during this "eventful" episode.