It wouldn’t be the first time a road trip between Mexico and Canada clobbered us with challenges and frustrations, but our recent trip last week might top them all.
We knew we would need to take our truck and trailer back to Canada within the next 2 years – our truck was not the correct type or year to be imported – and since Grant’s family had planned a reunion for the August long weekend, we decided that would be a perfect time to drive north. Our intention was to leave Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, drive 2 or 3 days on smooth Mexican toll roads, eat our way through American restaurants, spend a couple of days in my Canadian hometown with my family and some friends and then hop on a plane to Alberta for the reunion on Friday. Somewhere in there we would take our trailer and our truck to a consignment lot and eventually jump on a plane back home. It was a good plan. It should have worked. But…..
The first snag was that we really wanted to have the trailer painted a spiffy black, so it would look a lot younger than its actual years. Of course, when the painter guy said it would take 2 days, he actually meant 4 days, which meant we didn’t get away until Saturday morning. The driving days would need to be longer, the restaurants more fast food than sit down, but we could still make it. Until Guadalajara. Only 4 hours from home we hit our biggest, and scariest, challenge to date.
Guadalajara is a REALLY BIG CITY and we knew it was going to be tricky driving a truck pulling a 30-foot trailer through there. But the highway goes straight through the city. It really is just put the car in Drive and go straight. Unfortunately, Mexican motorcycle drivers seldom just go straight and, on this Saturday, a young man on a motorbike decided it would be faster if he could just weave in and out between vehicles, making the 2 lanes into 3. What he didn’t calculate well was the width of our dually truck and that trailer. As he tried to drive between us and the car beside us, he scraped against the side of the truck, bounced off the trailer and landed under the tires of a Jeep behind us. We didn’t see this happening, but we did hear the squeal of brakes and tires and when Grant looked in the mirror he saw the Jeep run over the young man. We still didn’t realize we had been involved in this accident until someone beside us yelled for us to pull over.
And that’s when we realized this was serious. It looked like the young man was okay, but we still didn’t have a clue what had happened and no one around us was speaking any English. Immediately we pulled out our insurance policy and called an agent – please come, we’ve been in an accident. It didn’t take long until our agent was there as well as the agent of the other driver. Still, no English. So of course, we did what we always do when we can’t speak the language – we called our friend Francisco. 35 times we called Francisco over the next 8 hours as we sorted this all out at the side of the road.
In Mexico, accidents are basically about the insurance settlement – you don’t leave the scene until the insurance has been settled. For the next 2 hours the police measured scratches and took photos and wrote statements while the insurance agents negotiated. Finally, our agent told us that they had reached a settlement – everyone would pay their own damages and that would be the end of this. Huge sigh of relief. Maybe this would be okay. The motorcycle guy obviously had injured his legs and feet, but basically seemed okay.
And then his dad arrived and decided that he was most definitely NOT taking that settlement, and in fact was deserving of receiving money for his injuries. Now I get that Dad was worried for his son, but the police were very adamant that this accident was the young man’s fault and he did not deserve any cash, but Dad was not having it. Either give us money, or we’re going to court.
At that point our agent told us that the deal had fallen apart, we would be going to court on Monday, which meant our vehicles would be impounded tonight. And they could keep them impounded for up to 2 months if they needed further investigation. Oh my gosh. 4 hours into the trip and our vehicles were being seized.
The negotiating continued. The police and the insurance guys kept pushing the father to accept the deal they were offering. If we indeed went to court on Monday, he would probably lose and then he would be responsible to pay all the damages on all the vehicles. But Dad stayed firm and then he made the call that escalated this all to the next level – he called an ambulance for his son. Now this young guy had been sitting there for 3 hours and definitely should have gone to a hospital, but calling an ambulance increased the severity of the situation – and that is when we got the call from Francisco who was clearly upset. The agent had called him to tell him that Grant – as well as the driver of the jeep and the motorcyclist – would be going to jail for 48 hours. Until court on Monday. Grant was going to freaking Mexican jail. I stood there shocked. 48 hours? In jail in Guadalajara? Where no one spoke English? This was so not good. The police lined the other driver up with Grant and 2 women officers came with the necessary paperwork to process the arrests. By this time our friends in Bucerias were frantically calling everyone they could think of who might be able to help. Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance of Francisco and Veronica arrived to see if he could help. He didn’t speak English either, so we will never really know what went on, but he started negotiating with everyone, pushing them to let us go, trying to find a way to make a deal. By this time 5 or 6 hours had gone by and just when we thought the day couldn’t get worse it started to rain. POURING with giant hail stones. They let us jump in our truck and then the streets flooded. Water to the top of the police car’s tires. Just so dark and dismal as we sat waiting for them to take Grant to jail. We hadn’t eaten since 7 am so we were starving. Our agent had gone to buy us a bottle of water, but we had nothing else.
The police kept going back and forth to the hospital and finally things shifted for us. The police had continued to pressure the boy and his family to make a settlement. They continued to resist until the police said “Enough, this accident is your fault and you’re going to jail. You’ll be paying all the damages as well as paying fines for dangerous driving”. Right there they arrested him and took him from the hospital to the jail. They were still planning to come for Grant and the Jeep driver, but after his arrest, motorcycle dude’s family left him alone – they had had enough of this mess – and he agreed to take a settlement. To pay for his own damages and not go to court. Which meant we would be free to go. It was another hour or two before all the papers were drawn up. We had to agree to:
- not press charges
- not ask for damages
- pay the police officers 500 pesos for all their hard work (negotiated down from the 1000 they asked for at first).
By this time, it was after midnight. It was still raining, and we had to find a hotel. We were exhausted, hungry, scared and just really grouchy. But we were okay, Grant was not in jail and the hotel we found agreed to take puppy.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of our troubles. Not even close. The next morning, we came out of the hotel and saw we had a flat tire. After changing it, we left the hotel, eager to get out of this city. We had only been on the highway for 2 or 3 minutes when a siren pulled us over. You have got to be kidding me. I don’t know if we were flagged in the system or if it was a coincidence but again we were on the side of the road trying to talk to policemen who did not speak English and did not look happy. We finally understood that we were not to drive on this highway with this vehicle – we could only drive on the side road, the lateral. Fine, we will do that. And we would have to pay a fine. On Monday. 1200 pesos. Oh my gosh. I do not want to stay here another day. Can we pay you here somehow? Well if you give us 2400 pesos we can pay your ticket for you on Monday. So another 2400 pesos down the drain to the Mexican ‘legal’ system. But we were free to get out of town.
Over the next few days we had challenge after challenge. 5 hours inching along in a 106 degree lineup to cross the border into the US. Vehicle problems. Tires wearing. 5th gear shot. Some kind of broken belt. Which pointed to some other part that was needing to be replaced. The realization that it was now August and Grant’s driver’s license had expired in July and he couldn’t renew online because it was time for a new picture. Every day more hours behind schedule.
We had already told our family we would not make the reunion by Friday. But Saturday. We would be there Saturday. Our oldest daughter was driving 2 days from Vancouver, so we were not about to give up. But each day it seemed less likely. Our flight was booked for 5:00 on Saturday morning and Friday at noon we were still in South Dakota. Which meant we had to drive through South Dakota, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. We had to drop the trailer at a consignment lot 40 miles north of Regina. We had to drop the truck at our mechanic’s shop. Which we did. At 2:30 am. One hour before having to head to the airport. One hour to spare. After 1 week on the road with accidents and breakdowns and border delays and police encounters, we had arrived with 1 hour to spare.
I know you’re asking why we keep doing stuff like this. Why do we keep driving back and forth hauling vehicles full of weird stuff, encountering weird people and experiencing weird situations? I guess because we’re weird people who are in the middle of doing something pretty extraordinary. Trying to build an unusual life in the best way we know how. Yes, we could have stayed in Canada until all our ducks were in a better row, until our language was better and our bank account bigger. But then we would have missed hugging little Perla today, would not have little girls who need a safe home living with us on weekends, and would not have realized that the things that are most worthwhile in life are always the most difficult.
“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” – Rising Strong by Brené Brown.
In the end, we had a fun weekend with family from Canada and the US and Sweden. We celebrated being Swansons. We hugged our daughter and played fetch with our puppy and ate soup with Uncle Paul and Aunt Rita and celebrated cousin Albin’s new log home. We told our stories and laughed about the whole crazy adventure. And then we got on a plane and came home – because this is now home and it is indeed all worth it!