A little help from the locals, Belize
Checking/cleaning connections and testing voltage. Thats what my day looks like. Less than exciting, but i’m painfully aware that there could be worse backdrops. We could easily be stuck on the side of the highway, or alongside one of the lots outside of every town where the residents have decided to dump their trash so that the already litter filled streets don’t pile higher and wider. I go through my checks knowing that i’ve already done so twice but also that i’ve missed something or the engine would be starting. The people we met at the road yesterday show up again to see if they can help. They probably stressed out about us and our safety all night.
Yesterday when they happened by jen was standing on the side of the road with jumper cables, just waiting for someone to slow down enough or offer to help...it would typically only take 4or5 cars for someone to ask, but only a few cars are passing today..oddly slow. The lady asks if we need help, but they are on foot, have walked miles they say from the “taj majal” they are staying in down the beach. When we tell them we drove through mexico both their eyes grow wide like saucers and her hand finds a place over her heart. “Weren’t you robbed?” she asks and we log the mental scratch for how many times we hear this question from americans. She doesn’t seem to trust our account of mexican safety and continues to ask questions. She looks at us like were a circus act but also is genuinely concerned for our well being. I think she wants to offer us a few one way flights home to save our lives from what will be certain death by cannibals. Before walking away she almost jumps on the hood of a car passing by and tells the guy to pull over and help us...not exactly our approach but very effective.Today they are departing for a tour, which means that along with them they have brought Hugo, their driver for the day. Hugo knows maybe less than me about vws, but he’s a logical man thats willing to listen as i list off everything and double check my logic. We use his strong battery to trace the voltage through different wires and everything seems to lead back to the coil that i installed yesterday. Voltage is clearly reaching the coil but not coming back out. Just as we discuss me returning to Dangriga to pickup a second coil it hits us (okay, really it hits him). “Have you checked the fuses” he asks. This guy could go down in the annals of history with the geniuses of the world. I run up front knowing already that we’ve found the solution. Indeed we blew a fuse, likely when the coil exploded over a massive pothole on our way out of town. I’ll have to go back and reread the blog to be certain but i feel like i already learned the lesson about checking the easy things first..
I pop a new fuse in place and we fire right up with the help of a jump from his battery. The lady is still busy showing jen the diamonds on her toenails, which she insists are real...suddenly i’m worried for her safety instead of the other way around. They certainly didn’t need to stop, but they did- and their simple gesture delivered us Hugo and a big difference in our day.
Still believing we have an issue with the alternator (and may only have an hour or so before our battery dies completely) we pack up hurriedly and rush out of town for Dangriga, where at least we have access to parts and mechanics as needed. We pull into Dangriga and marvel at the flooding that looks to be imminent. The two rivers that run through town are already pressing against their banks and the rains that have been passing through the area don’t show any signs of letting up. As we watch a full tree tumble over and over as the river spits it and millions of gallons of mud out to sea, we make a note that if it starts raining we should leave town before we get washed out with it.
At the parts store we see they are closed until 1:30 for siesta. We shut off the engine and a quick turn of the ignition proves the battery is completely dead- just in time. As we lock the doors to search out a lunch spot the same guy from Tad and I’s visit rides up on a bike that looks like he built it from random plumbing scraps on the side of the road. “Sounds like your missing a cylinder or two” he says in a deep creole accent with his tongue slipping out the gap between the few remaining teeth in his mouth. Our savior! Sylvester, as it turns out does work at (or at least hang out at) the parts store and has plenty of experiences pulling apart vehicles on the side of the street out front.
By appearance, Sylvester isn’t exactly the guy you’d hope to run into when stranded in a foreign town but he might just be the posterboy for the ‘never judge a book by its cover’ campaign. His scrawny yet strong body is on view from the (same as three days ago) dingy yellow shirt that hangs open save the one button left hanging on by a thread. He is dirty from head to toe and his smile looks more like a snarl. The veins pop out of his overworked hands and he shows us his scars and describes that he’s been in 49 accidents in his 61 years “but everything still works”. You have to ask him 3 times to understand the simplest of sentences and he curses like a sailor. Regardless, he is our best chance of vw knowledge in the country and he seems willing to work for free. He is immediately crawling around in the mud under the bus refuses to use our mat so that it doesn’t get ruined. After a quick test he assures us our alternator is fine, but since we have to wait anyway he assists with a few other tweaks around the bus. We ask if they can load test our battery, but he pops the top off and shows us that we are low in acid in one compartment...wish i would have thought of that. This is officially a day of showing how stupid we are, but the current tally of things destroyed by belizean dirt roads is now coil, fuse, battery (and our rear safari window).
The store still doesn’t open for an hour so he leads us over to his favorite place for lunch. As soon as we place an order (theres no menu and the question from the lady is simply “one order or two?”), he says “gimme money, ill be right back”. All we have is a 50, so we hand him literally our last dollar and discuss whether we will ever see him again as he walks his bike down the street. 15minutes later he pops his head in to hand us change for whatever he bought down the street and tells us to enjoy our lunch and he’ll meet us back at the shop. We dine on rice and slew chicken while watching the next storm build on the horizon. Once were back he’s poetry in motion, grabbing the money from us like were longtime friends, exchanging it for the battery acid and filling it before we even tell the shop owner whats going on. As he fills the battery acid starts pouring from the bottom...clearly a problem. Luckily they sell batteries, and while it doesn’t do much for our daily budget it does have us starting from our own power for the first time in days.
By now the rains have come back in full force and the guys are tossing cinderblocks out front to make walking from the street to the store possible. Its full on downpouring and we wonder how long we have before floating out to sea. Remembering our pact earlier, we thank sylvester with our remaining bottle of mezcal from the rally and head out. Now all the questions about why we joined the rally and what it all meant make perfect since. Without the scavenger hunt we never would have been able to thank our favorite belizean street mechanic! We hurry across the bridge out of town, refuel at the station and make our way back to Hopkins for our spot on the beach to figure out whats next and join the gringos for friday night at the bar. Just another friday.