Dramas in Central Mexico

Having spent the best part of a week at the hot springs, it was time to move on. We had planned to wait to Puebla to sort our brakes and hopefully a few other issues with the camper, however the horrific grinding noise coming from the front needed immediate attention. It turned out that Pachuca, a few hours south had a VW parts shop. We set of with Jaro, leaving Hanno and Kikki to find a vulcanizadora for their rapidly deteriorating tyres.

We had nearly made it to Pachuca, when we got pulled over at some kind of checkpoint. They took great pains to try and explain to us, using google translate that we did not have the correct license plates to drive. This isn’t true. This is indeed a rule, but it applies to the inside the ring road of Mexico City, still several hours away. We pretended not to understand, and after a while they gave up and let us go. Little did we know, this was a pre-cursor for the day to follow.

We found the shop and bought the brake pads. Jaro went on ahead to find the spot for the night and we opted to drive out of the busy town and find a smaller local garage. We found one on the outskirts of Mineral de Chico, a small town to the northeast of Pachuca. It was a simple enough job, and before long we had our new pads in and could see the state of the old ones. One side was down to bare metal, hence the horrible noise. I had even check them a few weeks ago and there had been some material left, the ridiculous amount of downhill and worn them down pretty fast. The disc wasn’t too damaged though, so we had got there just in time. Much happier now we had our brakes back, we headed into town to find a cashpoint.

Woops…

It turns out that the cashpoint was next to a pasty shop. Proper Cornish pasties. An interesting story. Around a hundred years ago, Some people from England decided to ship mining equipment over to Mexico to mine the coal there. Once the equipment arrived, they spent two years building the road that would bring it up here to the mountains. Not only did they bring their equipment, they brought their food and so the famous Cornish pasty ended up here in Mexico. Lee loves a pasty and couldn’t resist buying one. The owner of the shop had in fact been to Cornwall to learn the proper art of Cornish pasty making and therefore was incredibly excited to have two English people in shop. He wanted us to come in and showed us his ‘English collection’. He had a policeman’s hat amongst other British memorabilia. Next to it stood a proper red phone box. It was a surreal moment to walk into a Mexican kitchen in the mountains and be confronted with an English phone box.

Next he wanted to see the camper, he sat in it and took selfies. Then he took a load of photos with us. Then someone else who works there got excited because he owned an old golf, the VW club strikes again. The only regrettable thing is that we lost all these photos in ‘the great phone reset’, maybe we will get more later though. Lee is adamant he needs to go back for another pasty, which he claims are better than the ones from Cornwall.

It was at roughly this point that we got a message from Jaro, saying that there was no access to the camp spot as the national park had closed. Apparently as of today the state of Hidalgo had gone into red alert and everything was shutting down. Hanno and Kikki had now caught up and scoured the mountain for a suitable spot. All campsites were closed. They found a small dead end dirt track in the mountain and we pulled down it in single file. Nearly out of sight, this would do for one night.

Darkness fell while Aimee and Chico explored the woods. Jaro started cooking, I turned the heating on, we were still at high altitude an it’s chilly at night in the mountains. Then the police arrived. They explained that we were on private property and we had to go. They weren’t very friendly. There were no signs for private property down this road to nowehere. They blocked in our campers with their car and while telling us to leave didn’t actually let us. We assumed they wanted money, they kept mentioning a fine. Initially we refused to pay, asking for a ticket and to go to the station. Conveniently the station was shut, so we would have to pay now. They threatened to tow our cars when we asked where we should go when everything was shut. While Hanno and Kikki tried to negotiate a price I directed my terrible Spanish at the other one. I explained we had a humanitarian visa, we were not American and we had no choice but to be in Mexico. When he eventually realised we were not American his attitude changed a bit, he even tried to suggest places where we could go. I explained we didn’t have much money, we weren’t wealthy tourists. Meanwhile, Kikki was about to call the tourist police to check the fine was the correct amount, if only she could find any signal. Then she noted the car had no license plates. The cop I was talking to go back inside and talked to the other. It seems in a moment the situation had changed. For one, we were not rich gringos, secondly we had noted their lack of plates. Before we knew it they told us to leave and which road to take, then reversed out. They had been there for well over an hour.

Fortunately, we had found Aimee. We drove out in our convoy, past 10pm with no idea where to go in the dark. We watched in our mirror for them following us, but at the first junction they went the other way. We pulled over in the first Pemex to come up with a plan. After over an hour of arguing, they got nothing from us. I was glad though at that moment that we hadn’t been alone. We decided the best plan was to go to a Pemex, we needed to get out of the city though. We didn’t want to meet the same car again, they had told us we needed to leave the state tonight but that was hours of driving and over a hundred miles. We thought a Pemex out of town would be fine. We set out, negotiating random tyres and other obstacles in the middle of the highway in the dark. The first place we tried said we couldn’t stay, then wanted money. The second also wanted money, this isn’t normal for Pemex and it looked a bit sketchy so we tried another. This one said it was fine, but then someone said we had to leave by 6am. Not exactly ideal, but as it approached midnight we didn’t have much choice.

After not the best night, we moved our camper around in front of the shop at 6am and bought a coffee. Bruno was having alternator issues that morning and needed a place where they could repair it. Having now come east, we toyed with a few different plans. In the end we decided to drive to Cantona, an archaeological site that we hoped would be open as we would be in the yellow rated state of Puebla. Again, another few hours to go, we left with Bruno unable to turn the engine off.

It wasn’t to be our lucky day again, even though we had left the state into one that was not red, it wasn’t long before another police car with no plates tried its luck. They pulled over Bruno in front and all of us stopped. This time it didn’t take them long to give up, perhaps our biggest mistake the night before had been trying to speak Spanish. It is much easy to say you understand nothing. Before too long we were off again. We crossed the state border on a back road and then put our foot down to cross the next state of Tlaxcala. After this we were in Puebla state, we hoped we would have less problems here.

This was true in a way, no more police hassled us and we arrived mid-afternoon at Cantona. It was shut. There wasn’t much else in the area. Hanno went down to a building just down the road and asked if we could park there for the night. We were done with messing around. The guy was friendly enough, he owned a restaurant and let us park on his drive for free. Glad to have a place where we couldn’t be bothered, we could relax a bit. Hanno and Kikki started taking apart their alternator on the drive as it began to rain.

A little while later, it seemed that the regulator had gone and fortunately they had a replacement. With Bruno working again, Kikki made a cake to say thank you to the owners. We made some bread to contribute and the boys played chess on the drive. At some point the owner’s friends stopped by, this was quite the day for them with all these odd vehicles turning up at once. They all wanted photos with us and our campers, a friendly bunch. A guy on his motorbike broke down outside and we gave him some fuel, maybe getting ourselves some much needed good karma.

We hesitantly let Aimee out, even though we were right on a road with regular trucks driving past there was a speed bump directly in front which meant the traffic could only go very slowly. The traffic wasn’t too much of an issue, but of course the first thing she wanted to do was explore the other side of the road. Never mind the fields and trees this side, no, the other side was more appealing. As it got dark, we went to find her and discovered she had got through the fence and was now stuck in the locked down archaeological site. At first when the security guard approached with a torch you could see he was suspicious of us two snooping around the gate in the dark. The Aimee bounded past him up a tree. We looked on apologetically, “Lo siento, mi gato….”

Then he was quite accommodating. He unlocked the gate so that we could both go in and grab her out of her tree. From then on she was contained to the camper, no more dramas. I couldn’t ask him to open the gate twice, that’s just embarrassing.

While it wasn’t the quietest night, it was nice to be able to fall asleep knowing we wouldn’t get a knock on the window. In the morning we flew Steve out over the pyramids we had not been able to see as a small consolation.

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