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Tequila Sunset

by Takeo De Meter

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

Since my 18th birthday on March 13th, 1965, I had already built a solid reputation for getting lost under way and, this time, again, I did not put my reputation to shame. Don‘t ask me how I did it, but the next morning I passed a sign: Xalapá 95 Km. Hmm. My aim must have been off again, waaaaay too far North. Long drives bore me to death and I tend to be a little careless about taking the right turns. Checked fuel and estimated that I just might make it. I did.

Xalapá is not a village, it is a town and there are some shops, so I shopped around: shovel, pick axe, wire saw, axe, rope (!), 5-ton ratchet chain hoist with 20 metres of chain which can be used horizontally as a hand winching implement, some assorted tools, decent torch + carton of batteries, another 2 jerrycans, Coleman® kerosene lamp and a cooker from the same brand, assorted pots and pans and some more „stuff“ and a set of tin boxes to stuff all this stuff in. I also had one of my Coke®-cooling 10 kg CO2 fire extinguishers recharged. Next thing I went to find was a hotel with decent plumbing: it‘s not because one day I live and work in the jungle in primitive conditions and have to shower either in the rain or under a garden watering can suspended from a tree branch, or that I have to dig a hole in the ground to take a dump that I have to enjoy this same shit during what some call a „vacation“. My job is my job and I do it for money and I do it well, not unlike Hideki‘s hooker, but that does not mean I have to enjoy it. This was supposed to be a „holiday“ but it was starting to closely resemble my job. Grr.

I found a hotel called „La Vega“ or something which means the fertile valley and I enjoyed the luxury of a lenghty soak and scrub in a hot tub followed by a shave so close that I cut my face several times. Fresh after-shave lotion burned the ticks out of my skin and I even retrieved a fresh, clean white shirt, white slacks and white socks from my backpack. Truck was parked in the hotel yard and a couple of young boys were happily washing and showering it inside and out in the expectancy of receiving the $ 20 I had promised them, 10 each. Condition was to get rid of the donkey shit stench that was still pursuing me. Hotel cook had sold me a couple of gallons of the hypochlorite that he used as a disinfectant / kitchen de-smelling / de-cockroaching agent. That same cook‘s wife had taken my dirty clothes and promised to wash and iron them for another $ 5.

So, feeling as happy as a pig in a pool of sewer sludge but a lot cleaner, I set out to recon the township of Xalapá. In the main street I found a shop that sold me a real Panama white hat and I thought I looked kinda smart. The air was pleasingly warm and I settled at a table of a sidewalk café as the Yanks call it, or „une terrasse“ in french. Ordered me a large Tequila Sunrise, which I sipped through a long straw. Perfection in the Sierra Madre.

A female voice asked me in french what had taken me so long, accompanied by some sarcastic giggling. Damn, these two again. Obviously also gotten here, but by a shorter road. They did not ask if they could sit at my table, but simply did so, ordered drinks for themselves and started to make more obnoxious comments about my driving skills, making it very clear to me that, for some reason, they both hated men. This was not my idea of a pleasant conversation, so I made it very clear to them that I did not give a flying fuck in a rolling donut about their story and that they could get a punch in the face if they got on my nerves. Instead of pissing off immediately, they sortof apologized and said something about their truck. Still under a somewhat tense atmosphere, we all three concluded that it had probably a blown head gasket. There was, of course, NO Land-Rover garage nearby, not even in Vera Cruz some 75 miles away. Hmm. Interesting. I said that I would think about it and might have an idea for repair and that they could find me at my hotel the next morning if they wanted. I paid my bill and left.

Juan‘s garage looked more like a blacksmith‘s shop than anything else and I had to look where I put my feet among all the junk that littered the floor. He did not have any spare parts for us but he had the ONE item that might save the day: a large, old-fashioned and belt-driven portal milling machine that once stood in a railway company‘s repair shop. The S I cylinder head was small enough and the portal of the machine large enough so that it could be clamped near one of the pilars, where the bed wear would be the least. Three hours later we had a flat cylinder head, at least flat enough to try a more or less decent repair. We also gave the head a hand valve lapping job, using spit and grinding paste. Re-assembling the head was not much of a problem since Juan had a valve clamp for us to use, but then came the BIG prob: NO new head gasket.

It was not much work to transfer the pattern of the old head gasket to a 1.5 mm sheet of copper and to cut it out with a jig saw (by hand of course, only takes a little patience). Solid copper, however is not as compressible as a proper head gasket and I suggested an old trick I had seen used in Ecuador: linseed oil with siccative (oil paint dryer). Gets as hard as solid rock and you‘ll be up shit creek with no paddles the next time you‘ll try to pry that cylinder head off, but it will hold. It was late afternoon when we test started the S I engine and let it run warm first and then cool off as to set the sealant we had used. Then we re-tightened the head and let her run for half an hour. All looked good. If anything, they were pleased with their repair for which I charged them a meal that we had at some passably clean imitation of a cheap restaurant, but it was very good. I got a lot of jealous looks from local males because these two looked really good when washed. I knew by then that they were very much in love with each other and had both dumped their guys for good; so much for an evening out with two girls. I went to bed rather early that evening.

Another morning in Mexico and this time I had really decided to make it ti the seaside. To go SOMEWHERE, not just aimlessly driving around. The kids in the yard had really well cleaned my truck, I did not know a Land-Rover could look THAT clean. My clothes were washed and ironed too and the good woman had even washed my rucksack so that got better-smelling too. Kids told me they had to get UNDER the truck to get rid of all the manure, so I put in an extra $ 5.--. Kids happy, truck clean, me happy. Drove to Juan‘s workshop first and checked truck all over, topped up oil and water. Driving member welds were still holding, so better not disturb them. Tires looked crappy and worn though, so Juan had the pleasure to sell me five new ones that looked a bit like Firestone SATs, but were definitely another brand, don‘t remember which one. Tires were $ 25.-- each or so, not a bad price. On my way out of town I drove by some street stalls wehre I bought a pair of fluffy dice to dangle from my rear view mirror. Even then that was totally out of fashion but I thought it looked kinda kewl.

Veracruz is a port town as so many others but I did not drive into the city, instead, I drove by it to a place called Boca del Río where I stayed until the next day and then drove further south, following the coast. Road surface was almost acceptable, the 2 1/4 engine burning some 12 litres of regular per 100 Km at speeds ranging between 50 and 70 Km/hr and about 1 litre of oil per 1.000 Km, which was also good. 5 hours of driving later I had covered some 300 boring Km, seeing the ocean left of me and trees right of me and the ass of a semi-trailer in front of me. Door tops lying in the back, I had put the canvas top back on to shield me from the July sun and rolled the sides up as to get some breeze but got a lot of road dust in the bargain. Not that this would have made any difference. I had driven closed cars in the dust and it came in anyway, through the least aperture. Dust is dust and it makes me feel dirty, itchy and overall yucky and miserable. So 5 hours a day of eating dust is more than enough for me and it took vast quantities of coke (some of it spiked) to endure it. I was asking myself if I was having fun now. I had had it for the day and and found a dirt track that led towards the shore where I found a stretch of beach on which four or five Willy‘s jeeps were parked and some people stood / sat around them. A couple of small tents stood there too. I parked the Landy and went to greet them. When they saw I was not just someone driving a Landy for his work, they made me feel welcome amidst them. They were a group of friends from Mexico City who liked their Jeeps and were on their way back home from a holiday in Belize. A friend from Belize had accompanied them for part of their way back. They loved to take their vehicles off-road and it took little time indeed before we were engaged in an animated all-oil, grease, mud, breakdown and generally yuck conversation about 4wd and getting from here to there. One word led to another and to a really stupid decision I would make later.