We had a run in with the law in Durango!

Posted: July 28, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
Tags: , , , ,

**Note** I do not have many pictures in this post. Due to the situation outlined below, you will see we were much too busy to take pictures. If you have to have pictures, please read another one of our posts. Thanks!

At Some time during the afternoon, we decided to head out to a campsite that promised hot water spas. It was approximately 30 miles to the first site or 65 to the second. We figured we could not lose. If we couldn’t find the first, then we had the second as back up. We left Durango going south-east down a small hwy 23. I use highway lightly as this is more like a secondary back road we might find in the states. Not in a hurry, we enjoyed the sights and navigated the topes, in the few towns that we came to. The towns equated to some houses and a few businesses selling tacos and empanadas.

As we left the last town in our rearview mirror, the roads became increasingly winding. Fewer people were around and only an occasional taxi or motorbike would pass us. Ahead we saw the mountainous skyline looming. Our GPS, not having Mexico maps installed, only showed that the road was going to snake through the mountain like the plastic straw you might give a kid to sip their juice from. The road, winding back on its self with each turn, almost heading back in the opposite direction before sharply maneuvering in the other direction.

We managed to make it through this s-curve debauchery without incident, except a little car sickness. Out the other side we began looking for the first hot springs location. Trying to decipher each sign, making out each word that we could, piecing it together to see if it was ‘the one”. We drove a ways farther and soon realized that we should have already found it. There had been no apparent sign indicating camping or hot springs.

Fortunately we had a back up plan. We would continue on in before dark and make it to the next location. It was at the end of hwy 23, actually a dead-end. There was no way we could miss this one right?

As we were coming into the area of town where we expected to find the campground, we noticed a utility worker tending to a down power line on the side of the road. We didn’t think much of it until, we noticed people sitting outside their houses and businesses. Apparently, the main line had been damaged in a storm earlier that day. The whole town was without power. Undaunted, we trudged on further out-of-town to find our campsite. The road began to narrow sharply. There was barely enough room for one car to pass through. It was a two-way street, but you had to pull over to let anyone through from the opposite direction. The houses were literally feet from the street. It was a little unsettling as there was no cross streets for “escape” if need be. People were watching us drive by, as if we were the grand marshalls in a parade. It appeared that there may have been a festival in progress before the power outage. Many people lined the side of the streets.

We pulled out the other side of town and noticed on the GPS, that we were at the end. Right about then, we saw where a large rock slide had fallen and covered the road. Debris, mud, and gravel still littered the road as we traversed the piles of rubble. Larger piles on the side of the road indicated they had made an attempt to clear it. The road became clearer as we passed the site, but we soon realized we had not found our campsite again. We opted to turn back toward Durango to try to get a room for the night before pitch darkness fell. As we were pulling back into town on the narrow street, a new Chevy truck with four younger men in it pulled up to Bernard in the lead, and said “What are you doing out here”, as he shined a flashlight in his face. I said out loud to myself and Angela, “Aww Bernard, do not stop”! We did not need any problems. Fortunately, Bernard told them we were looking to camp. He was told there was no camping around there. We gladly started back toward Durango. We headed back through the mountains, and small towns, and desolate areas. It seemed to take longer, especially since we were all tired and irritable, so there were no conversations.

As we finally pulled into Durango, it was getting dark and we could see police lights ahead. “Great, just what we need, another checkpoint stop.” No, this time it was a road block. The road was completely impassable, due to a large fair that was going on that evening. Cars were u turning to go another direction. Of course there were no detour signs to follow, so we decided to follow the cars. Around the fairgrounds we went. So far, so good. The couple of cars that were in front of us were taxis. Surely they would know their way around this road block. That is exactly what Bernard was thinking when he followed them into the fairground field, through the parking area, into a super swamp mud hole and out the other side of the field.

We exited the gate and immediately realized we were not in Kansas any more. The road was more of a two-track rutted trail. I have been to off-road parks with fewer obstacles than this! We were on a greasy, pot hole, rutted, wet trail that passed by small houses just outside the fair gates. Ok, it must be a small subdivision that we must pass through to get back to the main road. All of a sudden the taxis gained momentum and began criss crossing in different directions. We latched onto one and followed. We passed homes with people standing outside, almost as if we were the main event for the fair tonight. We were doing water crossings that would make any overlander proud. I looked at my floor boards several times expecting to see filthy brown water/ sludge come streaming in. We didn’t drive through the mud puddles, we drove into them and back out the other side. All the while we were on what appeared to be streets in a neighborhood. Somewhere in there we also came across a fire burning. I do not know if a house was on fire or if the locals were roasting marshmallows, laughing at us gringos trying to find our way out of the maze.

After what seemed like hours, we circled around for probably the 5th time, and finally found a paved road. Bernard took the road and then, to my chagrin, he whipped a u turn and headed back into the neighborhood. Now, I know Bernard like to play off-road, but this was ridiculous, without radio communication, all I could do was follow. All of a sudden we were back in the grassy field of the fair grounds. Bernard pulled over, threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know, I’m lost”!

I decided to lead and try my hand at getting us back out in the direction that we came from (back by the road block). Maybe by now they had cleared it and we could go the direction we knew. As we pulled up to the intersection, it was clear that was not the case. Red and blue lights pierced the dark sky warning of the detour. I pulled up to the intersection behind another officer directing traffic to see if he might offer directions. Bernard pulled in behind me.

I turned off my headlights, leaving on only the parking lights, so as not to blind him. He cautiously approached the passenger side, so Angela rolled down her window. I asked “Se Habla English”? No, he said. Great! I began in mixed Spanish and English trying to ask for directions, but it was not working. He spoke into his radio and indicated someone was on their way that knew English.

A couple of minutes later, another officer showed up with his lights flashing as well. We were starting to make quite a spectacle of ourselves sitting on the edge of the road with two police cars and lights, while all of the people exiting the fairgrounds drove by. The second officer spoke some English. He spoke enough that we could tell him where we were trying to go, and get directions. He finally said, “Follow other officer, he take you”.

We hopped in our trucks, started them up, and then grabbed for the gear shifter. It would not budge. I pressed the brake even harder trying to release the lever. Still, nothing. I turned the ignition off, restarted and attempted to shift. No luck. Meanwhile the officer is sitting in the street waiting for me to follow. I tried everything I knew. Unfortunately, it seemed as if maybe a fuse was blown or something not electrically releasing the gear selector. I got out of my truck and let Bernard know what was going on.

The officer was waving his hand to follow him. I waved back and said, “it wont go”. Both officers drove back to where we were. I tried to explain it to the English-speaking officer who said “ Oh, I know”. He proceeded to jump into the front seat and press the brake pedal. As he did that, he aggressively pulled on the handle. He tried again, each time increasing the grip on the lever, as if he man handled it, maybe it would magically work.

What happened next was a similar situation, only now we were joined by two additional officers. At this time, I am sure all of the passer-byers thought they had encountered a huge drug bust. There were police cars, lights blazing all around us. Traffic was being diverted, by yet another one. It was quite a scene. Each time a new officer approached, the English-speaking officer would tell them the problem. Each one of them jumping into the front seat to try to “muscle” the lever into gear.

Lights everywhere!

After this went on a while, one of the officers began canvassing the traffic looking for a bilingual attendee. Finally, they approached with a girl in her early 30’s. She said, “They asked me to translate for them. What is the problem”? I explained about the detour and the new problem with the gear selector. She relayed the info, and informed us that they had called a mechanic and tow truck. I was not very interested in having a mechanic work on the vehicle on the side of the road, not knowing their credentials. All we needed was a hack job that would lead to more problems. She informed us that the tow truck driver was the mechanic also.

When the truck arrived, the officers filled him in to the situation. We spoke to the girl who was translating and she told us of a good hotel, and of the officers plans to get us there. We also, amazingly, learned she was from Gainesville Georgia, only here visiting relatives. Boy was she a God send! All the way from our home state of Georgia just to translate for us! She wished us well and left, knowing the truck was there and all was well.

I tried my best to communicate with the tow truck driver. He was all over my truck. Under the hood, under the frame, under the dash. He was just under everything! I grabbed the book and went to the fuse page, trying to locate which fuse might operate the release. Finally, I showed it to him, and he went under the dash to try to locate any burned fuse. We worked together in silence, a little grunt or groan here or there, checking each one, until we determined they were all good. He then decided he would tow it where we needed it. I told the officer, it could not be towed with the type of tow truck he brought. It was the style that only picked up two wheels. I either needed a flatbed, which still would be difficult with it stuck in park, or would have to remove one of the driveshafts.

The scene

The driver quickly dove under the truck, and began working. I thought he was pulling the driveshaft. As it turns out, he removed the shift cable from the selector so we could manually place it into drive. He borrowed a 13 mm wrench from me, and within minutes we were ready to go. I asked him what was the charge and he held up his hand, jumped into his truck and was gone! Talk about service. He just did what it took to get me going, never charging or trying to make a buck towing me. I stood there perplexed. Where are all of the bad people of Mexico?

We were finally ready to follow the officer to the hotel. He motioned for us to follow him. He left his lights on and we were off! He professionally navigated back streets avoiding traffic snarls, and turning many times throughout our nearly 20 minute convoy through Durango. We pulled up to the hotel, and the officer walked us inside. He spoke with the clerk, apparently letting him know we needed a room. After checking the computer, we were told, they did not have one available. The officer did not miss a beat, he motioned us to follow him. We turned up the street and over a few more blocks to another hotel. He again jumped out of his truck, ran inside and spoke to the clerk. This time we had a room! Knowing we could take it from there, he walked over to me, held out his hand into a big hearty handshake, one you would get from an old friend. He smiled largely, and then was out to the curb to say good-bye to Bernard and Angela. This man went above and beyond the call of duty. Not only for his position, but for mankind. Here we were three foreigners, that didn’t speak his language, broke down, and yet he stayed with us until we were safe in a hotel.  I’m beginning to believe God has placed these people in our paths. I Love America, but would not necessarily expect the same selfless acts as the tow truck driver and officers showed us that night!

It turns out the next day after a little research on the internet, that my brake light switch, which also controls the safety release on the gear lever was bad. I went to Auto Zone (yes they have them in Mexico), to try to get one. Unfortunately, they did not stock it, but we were told they could get it in 3 days. We would be in Mazatlan in three days, so, they made arrangements to have it sent to the store there. I was equally impressed at the service of this store. The person helping us followed up by email later making sure we were able to get the part. We did and it is back in the truck working great now, though I did have to manufacture a part to hold the shift cable to the shift lever. Thanks to Auto Zone they had a part I could modify. I couldn’t ask for a better situation being 2000 miles from home in another country!

  1. Chef Bourque says:

    I am impressed with the way you guys are handling the situations you are encountering. Is there a retirement village close to this place? How hard is it to find a chicken to make a gumbo? LOL Be safe and keep in touch. AIEEE!

  2. I am sure there is a retirement village somewhere around here. Chickens everywhere. We don’t need an alarm clock anymore. The chickens wake us at the crack of dawn! I would much rather have one in gumbo then out my window. 🙂

  3. James says:

    Ha look at you guys gettin’ in trouble already. Overlanding at its finest. Enjoy my friends, And STOCK up on spare parts. Autozones disappear south of Mexico.

  4. UnwireMe_Com says:

    Good story 🙂

    I agree Janie. Mexican people were really nice to me. The only negative encounter I had were with some of the Police. Even the military guys at checkpoints were ok and fine to deal with.

    -Rich Polanco

  5. Colin says:

    Great story, glad it had a happy ending for ya!

  6. Daniel says:

    Great read and good lessons for all!!! -Daniel

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