A week of bodywork in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

It was a novel experience to arrive at our destination well before lunchtime. We wanted to get out of the car park before it filled with the Saturday morning traffic, and this coupled with a relatively short drive meant that we arrived at the Villa Esmerelda early. We had decided to spend a couple of nights at a hotel in the town, as this is a little more pleasant and often cheaper than a city based campsite. At 225pesos a night per couple, we got to share a room with air conditioning, hot water and Wi-Fi. The campers were outside in secure parking and the cats allowed in the room. It was a good thing we had some parking sorted, as our clutch cable snapped as we pulled into the car park, thankfully Hanno and Kiki were there to help give us a shove, We had also driven most of the way on three cylinders, as one of the HT leads had really given up. I vowed that we wouldn’t leave Tuxtla without a new set.

As we had made an early start, we easily settled into the room with the afternoon free for activities. The main attraction in Tuxtla is the Sumidero Canyon, as Ruby was out of commission for the time being, we all set off in Bruno. It’s been a long time since I sat in that seat, and it brought back memories of doing the drive to La Paz back during our time in Baja. Lee got the short straw an ended up in the back, the only bonus of this was that we shut the curtain on him and paid entry for three people. After the entry gate, the roads climbs steeply towards the canyon viewpoints, of which there are several. The first is nice enough, but nothing particularly special, below you can see the boat tours going up and down the river.

We continued along to look at the others, one is a short walk from the road through the forest which brings you out onto a rock platform jutting into over the edge. The view was definitely getting better on this side.

It was safe to say the best one is last, and we finally felt like it had been worth the trip when we got the last stop on the road.

Back at the hotel, we waited a few hours before heading out for the evening. In the meantime we met the very excited hotel manager who wanted to take pictures of us with the cats.

In the evening, we picked up a taxi outside and headed to Parque de la Marimba. Apparently the square fills with people dancing in the evening, which seemed worth seeing. We sat at a café in the square and were served by a waitress who wasn’t at all clear on their menu. Lee tried pozol, a drink made from maize and cocoa. It tasted about as good as it looked. Hanno didn’t fair much better with some kind of weird tea, I played it safe with water and decided that a Nutella crepe was a better use of my money.

Around an hour later, a couple entered the square, where lots of people where gathered on the square on metal benches. The performed the most cold and distant looking kind of samba I have ever seen. As I far as I was aware, the Spanish dancing if extravagant and passionate, full of emotion. These too somehow managed to look like they were managing to distainfully social distance, while holding each other. Her full face visor did nothing to help the image. As the moved stiffly around each other in little circles, we waited for the crowd to join in. Funnily enough, no one rushed too. We fended off children trying very hard to sell us everything from clothes and bracelets to small wooden animals. In the end, we decided food sounded more exciting and walked from the square towards the restaurant, Las Pichanchas.

This seemed to be one of the only ‘proper’ restaurants in the town. They also had dancing in the evening, but not ones that required audience participation. We were greeted by a friendly waiter, who asked us if we had a reservation, which we did not. Looking around at the other two tables that had people, this didn’t seem an issue. We settled down with a menu.

They had a traditional set menu, and we asked if they could swap the main meat dish for fish. Unfortunately they couldn’t, so Hanno and Kikki went ahead with it and in a matter of minutes had their food while we still tried to decide. The place had begun to fill up and so we ate a rather staggered meal between the four of us. We tried some slightly odd plantain dish and some other local vegetable soup which was pretty good. We also had to try Pumpo. A drink created here that’s main ingredients were pineapple juice, vodka and fizzy water. It was served in a gourd, and every time anyone in the restaurant ordered one they ran several bells interspersed amongst the diner, and each waiter, regardless of whether he was mid-conversation or not shouted out, “PUMPO!!”. We sat there picking at the last bits of our huge meal, when the entertainment started.

Two guys manned a massive double layered xylophone, and then the dancers began to file in. There an introduction in very fast Spanish, and the dancing began.

There were several different dancers, and different costumes for each one. The last one was more on the creepy side as the guys wore some painted wooden masks. It was definitely an enjoyable evening, with good food to accompany it.

Incredibly full, we heaved ourselves into a taxi and headed back to the hotel. It had been a while since we had shared a room back in Mazatlan, and the cats did not take kindly to the change. They chased each other around the room for most of the night, meaning we got barely any sleep. That clearly wasn’t working. Not long after sunrise, Hanno and Kiki decided they’d had enough an sought refuge in Bruno.

We didn’t have to worry about another night however, as the next day Hanno and Kikki decided to move on. We had already committed to staying longer, we were waiting for our gas struts from England. The ones we had fitted back in the ranch had already failed and the roof was almost impossible to lift. Our new ones were en-route, as were a set of new HT leads for the engine. We headed to reception and changed to a single room and spent the rest of the day being lazy in it after a sleepless night.

We decided that on Monday we would see if we could get Ruby’s bodywork fixed while we waited. I taped our HT lead on, and having fixed the clutch cable the day before, we headed off to Elio’s VW garage.

We met Elio, a friendly guy who is the mechanic for one of the classic VW Clubs in Tuxtla, ‘Buscompany’. We planned to get the worst parts of the van fixed; the bottom of the passenger door and the two doors steps on for the cab. One was non-existent and the other not too far behind. In the end, it wasn’t much more money or time to do most of the van. We would get all the major parts rusty parts fixed and resprayed for under £200 and a week of work. We could stay in his garage for free while the camper was being worked on. Perhaps not the most thrilling week, but Ruby desperately needed attention and we still hadn’t got our new struts anyway, so we committed. I took photos off all the areas he agreed to patch except for the back door. We had had a huge dent in that since very near the beginning of trip when Lee had an argument with a telegraph pole. It would be nice to drive her looking good again and maybe it would motivate us to wash her every now and again…

We turned up the following morning, ready to go. Before too long they made some space for us in the garage and the older guy named Luis, who was the designated bodywork bloke, started work. By the end of the first day some of the worst bits were already covered in filler.

We spent the next few days concentrating on trying to make a bit of cash online to pay for the work. We picked up our gas struts mid-week, as well as the new HT leads. Some of the kids in the garage were very keen to help me fit them, which required making some new brackets as they weren’t quite long enough. It was somehow fitting. Ruby was built by my teenagers in England and now in Mexico the trend continued! The Subaru engine was a talking point for every customer that came into the shop, Elio would open the engine bay and show them, a Subaru!! Throughout it all, Luis ploughed on, 10 hours a day, everything done by hand.

On Friday night, they held their own little church service in the middle of the garage. After that they invited us to join them for some pizza and some rice milk. We tried to keep up with the conversation as best we could in our broken Spanish. They then invited us out to the square with them. It was nice of them to include us, so we all hoped into Elios’ bay and drove off towards the town centre.

They wanted us to try marquesitas, these are made from a crepe like batter poured into a big tortilla press and cooked over an open flame. Little stalls around the side of the square made different types, both sweet and savoury. I went for Nutella and Philadelphia cheese, and oddly ok thing to mix together, while lee went for two different types of cheese. They were pretty good, a bit like eating a crepe, but crunchy. Elio’s family were very friendly, trying to buy us drinks and letting us try all their food.

Once we had eaten our marquesita, we hopped back in the kombi, they wanted to show us a viewpoint of the city. We parked on the street and walked up several flights of huge stairs to the monument at the top, where we were rewarded with a view across the whole city.

We then drove around the city to the viewpoint on the other side! They tried to buy us more food, but I was pretty full at this point and also pretty tired, after enjoying the view for a bit, we headed back.

Trying to concentrate and speak Spanish takes it out of you a bit when it’s for hours. We seemed to be the only tired ones, the rest of them went to bed late and got up early without batting an eyelid while we lay in the camper and wished the garage’s resident cockerel would not start crowing at 5am.

We weren’t the only ones to not have a restful night. Aimee had come back the other day and had managed to hurt herself (again). Her face was contorted with pain and she was unable to put an weight on her back leg. Any attempt to get near it was met with a fierce look which signalled that we would lose a hand if we went any closer. After leaving her a day to see if it improved, it was clearly going to need medical intervention, so Saturday morning we took a taxi to the vet, leaving Luis to finalise our paintwork.

After her previous attack in Baja where she suffered a broken leg, it’s fair to say that we were concerned that she had suffered a similar injury, Although there were no signs of a break like last time, she still was reluctant to place any weight on her rear leg. The garage did have some overly excited guard dogs, but they barely seemed bothered by Aimee and in the street, a small cat litter lingered outside most days. It was hardly a place were we felt she would be threatened. A drugged up Aimee was taken to be x-rayed, whilst we crossed our fingers for some good news. The vet eventually returned and invited us to the x-ray room, where we met a fairly pissed off cat in a cat straight jacket. Clearly the drugs weren’t enough to stop Aimee from attacking their hands. They told us she had a bite from another cat which was now infected. He gave us a medley of drugs to give her and we headed for home. This took rather longer than normal, as Lee flagged down a Collectivo as opposed to a taxi. This is basically the local bus service. We got in the wrong one, and the friendly driver dropped us off at the right one when I told him we wanted to go to Chedraui (a big supermarket that was close to garage). This was fine until we realised there are several Chedraui’s and we were going to the wrong one. After getting out and walking to the nearest place to pick up a taxi, we made it back with our drugged up cat.

That night was the last night we planned to stay at the garage. We returned back to a finished paint job. They had struggled to match the colour, so had needed to paint a black coat first to match it, it was the first time in a long time that she had looked so tidy! Ruby looked so good we spent the rest of the day polishing the panels that hadn’t been painted. Elio had invited us to a VW meet that night and we wanted her to look the part.

The local meeting point for the BusCompany club was Autozone, and bays filled the parking lot. It was quite clear that we were the only people who used theirs as a camper and right from the start we got a lot of attention. We were initiated into the club with our own window sticker too.

At one point I sat in the door of Ruby while seven girls of various ages rapid fired questions at me. What was my hair colour natural? What’s the furthest I’d travelled? What was the cat called? I tried my best to keep up, but in the end it was a welcome break when they said the club wanted to drive to the viewpoint we had been at the other night. We set off across town in a huge VW convoy.

All the people were very friendly, and a nice guy even bought us some dinner from one of the street food vendors. A corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise, parmesan and hot sauce. As is often the case, it sounds a little suspect but is surprisingly good. It was past midnight, before we headed, exhausted, back to the garage for our final night in Tuxtla. The next morning we would drive to San Cristobal de las Casas, a mountain town around an hour away and thousands of feet higher. We were very grateful for Elio and his family’s hospitality, his son even made me a notebook for drawing in when he found out that I made jewellery. They were lovely kind and considerate people, who had let us into their family as well as the great job Luis had made of Ruby. When we left that morning, we hoped that we might meet up again the following weekend in at Laguna Montebello, we didn’t know then just how far from the truth that would be.

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