Zen and the Art of Truck Maintenance

Torreon and La Presa

We were stuck in traffic somewhere in Torreon when the virus began to take hold. I remember Lucy saying something like “May be you should pull over…” when a wail rose from the back seat and the cab was filled with the stench of disease.

9:00 am: Weaving our way through morning commute on our way to fix a busted muffler. The garage owner is a cousin of our friend Gustavo. My mood is on the upswing and I drive merrily, cutting other drivers off, dodging cars, pedestrians and other smaller objects. Without a camper, the 3.5 ton truck feels like a toy.

9:10 am: Julia complains she doesn’t feel well.

9:15 am: Julia starts to vomit. We keep plastic bags in the truck, no problem.

9:20 am: Lilly starts to vomit.

9:45 am: Stuck in traffic, we run out of plastic bags. Problem. We switch to plan B – roll down the windows and fire at will. Morning traffic gets blasted.

10:15 am: At the repair shop, the manager is expecting us. She’s a nice lady and I get to exercise my Spanish, trying to explain the issue. Finally, I get the message through, pointing with my hands. The “mufflo”, a 3 meter long pipe, is hanging to the frame by some sort of silent allegiance it must have pledged to the other parts. “It’s all the off roading we did over the weekend”, I reason with myself, trying to silence the creeping suspicion that we haven’t called it “the rusty camper” for no reason. We leave the truck at the shop and go for a walk in the center of town.

11:30 am: The town center is nice, but since the city was founded some 150 years ago, it lacks the charm of older colonial towns found in this part of Mexico. We sit down at a classy outdoors cafe. Several young women are chatting and sipping  cappuccinos. Julia is vomiting in the decorative palm pots and Lilly falls asleep on a nearby bench. Our mood gets grim. Questions, to which I have no clear answers, are being asked about the nature of the entire trip.

12:30 pm: We hop in a car, provided courtesy of the car shop, and head to a hotel we’ve booked in the meanwhile. Mid-day commute and the leather seats get messy when both kids start to throw up in unison. “No se preocupe, son ninos, van a estar bien manana”, comforts the driver. Good man.

4:00 pm: In the hotel, both kids are running high fever. All of our medications are in the camper, which is in another part of town. I hail a cab and go to look for a pharmacy. We strike a conversation with the driver and he gives me pointers to a few local joints “bien chido”. I note them down for future reference but decide to skip.

5:30 pm: Pick up the truck. It’s been outfitted with a new muffler in shiny silver. If I keep changing parts at this rate, I’ll have to rename it to “the knight in shining armour”. Gus’ cousin has given me such a good price that I almost feel ashamed paying the bill. “It would have been for free it my cousin didn’t have to send it to another shop specializing in mufflers.”, informs Gus later.

7:00 pm: Back in the hotel, the situation has deteriorated. We administer the meds I’ve brought and wait…

Rewind 4 days ago.

We arrive in Torreon. It becomes apparent when discussing good camping in town that we won’t be allowed to camp. We’re invited to stay at friends’ houses. Not one, but three! After a short debate, the consensus is that we should go to Roberto’s. Roberto is a popular figure and he’s offered that we stay at his place, although he hasn’t met us before.

“Bienvenidos! Pasa, pasa”, greets us Roberto as we are ushered in. More of a mansion than a house, the place is fabulous by any standards. Volumes weigh down bookshelves running all the way up a 2 story high ceiling. We meet Roberto’s wife Lourdes and their daughter Rebecca. Roberto has been around Mexico a lot and is a big fan of the outdoors. We discuss facets of local life and culture and we get a truckload of advice on places to visit, things to do and not to do. Lilly and Julie get quickly comfortable with Rebecca and start looking up to her, after she sits down with them at the piano and teaches them how to climb on silk ropes (fly-dancing, as the sport is apparently called).

The next day is spent running around auto repair shops. I’ve decided that I hear some knocking in the front of the truck and I turn out to be correct. “You may want to fix this”, informs me the mechanic tongue-in-cheek, pointing out at some vital parts on the steering that look in need of immediate attention. I acquiesce.

The shop calls a few hours later to let me know that some of the parts are not in stock. “No te preocupas”, they advise. Looks like a phrase I’ll be hearing a lot. I take the advice and we all go to a kids party at Gus’ and Bessy’s house. Then dinner at Sr. Kimono – a fancy sushi restaurant – with all our friends. Turns out Sr Kimono is owned by Paco – a member of the group. We are treated to delicious sushi, some of the dishes a fusion b/w Japanese and Mexican cuisine. Then Paco breaks out a bottle of “special tequila”…

We wake up on Sat morning feeling much better than anticipated. I call the truck shop to inquire, eager to get going rock climbing. “It will be ready in 2 hours”, they assure me. 6 hours later, it is. We load up Gus’ Jeep and our truck with gear and head out to La Presa – a canyon in the vicinity of Torreon. We swerve at dusk onto a dirt road, which quickly turns into loose rocks, then gradually gets worse. I thank the sliver of common sense that prompted me to leave the camper in Torreon. We cross two rivers with 50% success as I get stuck in the second one, meters away from the shore. “The water looks shallow enough”, I wonder, “is it the terrain or the driver?” Gus tries to pull me out with the Jeep but the truck’s too heavy. Paco’s truck joins in and with common effort I am out of the water. 10 min later, another late arrival from the group gets stuck crossing the river. This time, it’s a Grand Cherokee. We already have the routine worked out, so he’s sorted out in a matter of minutes. Repeat with a Toyota pickup sometime later…

On shore, there are several tents with people we know and some we don’t. We quickly remedy this and socialize with everyone. A campfire is lit up and we do the same old, which never gets old, with the carne asada. The meat is even better complemented by local wine from Casa Madero 3V in Parras- the first winery in America. Excellent stuff, try if you get a chance.

In the morning, we go climbing. This time, Gus and company have chosen easier routes so that kids and beginners like me can enjoy. I try some more difficult stuff but I am stopped mid-ascent by a ledge, blocking the way up like a mini roof above me. “Don’t sweat it, you’re only getting started”, tries to console me Boris, as I wipe clean my bloody knees, a side effect of not having proper climbing technique…





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  1. Vera G
    November 11, 2016

    .Finally I found out what you were doing in the middle of the river on Saturday evening. We were checking your position via the satellite and it made no sense. My original guess was that the signal was not properly positioned on the map and that you were camping by a river, not in the river.
    Based on my observations from that evening, I think you were in the the river for a bit longer than you try to make us believe. 🙂

    • rustycamper
      November 11, 2016

      Let’s just say I was fishing

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