Christmas In Durango

Durango Christmas Story

Excerpted form Mexico From the Driver's Seat

Christmas. Durango. Hotel Gobernador. Car no go. No worry. On road too long. Don't care. Another day, or week, doesn't matter.

In Mexico things always work out, but not always the way you expect. I'm thankful the car made it over the "Devil's Backbone" (el espinazo del Diablo) from Mazatlan.

The problem appears minor C a clogged fuel filter. No mechanical problem is minor for me, so I'm prepared for anything.

I don't bother to ask at the front desk for a mechanic. Experience tells me the desk clerk (or manager) would smile brightly as he gave me directions to the Chevy dealer, then sadly shake his head as he remembered it's Christmas Day. He'd only be doing what he'd been taught tourists want to hear.

Roadies like you and me know better. Mexican mechanics are one of their national treasures. They can fix things with few or no parts, or make the ones they need.

I lift the hood to attract the guardia of the parking lot. I do better with mechanics (often called maestros) in Mexico than in the U.S. There I'm not worried about losing my dignity or appearing unmanly.

I'm just a dumb gringo, so it's okay if I don't know exactly why the darn thing won't work. It's kind of like being "just a woman" in the old days before everyone got liberated here. It frees me from a lot of stress.

The guard nods wisely as I say I think it's the filtro sucio (dirty filter) that's the problem. Of course, he doesn't do that sort of work, but he has a friend who does. Of course. in only fifteen minutes, everything will be hunky-dory. Mexicans are often optimistic about time, so I agree, but don't count on it.

After about twenty minutes, I return to see how it's going. By golly, there's a young guy there, Alejandro, and he's working away, though he has a pained look on his face. The filter requires two wrenches of the same size. He has a very mismatched set of tools that doesn't have two of anything the same.

We're in luck. I have a good set of Buffalo brand wrenches. The filter won't budge, but he can remove another long piece of fuel line, take the filter to another friend who has a vise and then they can get it off. Makes perfect sense to me. Maybe I've become Mexican.

In less than an hour the operation is done. The proud surgeon stands back from his patient and grins. I pretend to inspect. We stand together with the cold Durango wind at our backs and the warm Chevy eight cylinders roaring at us.

Alejandro guides my fingers under the filter to show me that there's no gas leaking. The filter's so cold from the gas that it's hard to touch. He instinctively understands, gets a white cloth and puts it under the seals. No leaks. I nod and act satisfied. I shake his hand and tell him I'm impressed. I am, too.

Time has come to pay. I know that nobody's going to come out on a freezing cold Christmas Day for free. Before I ask Alejandro what he wants, I look at the shiny matched set of wrenches he's putting back into their plastic case. He handles them with as much care and respect as if they were made of bone china.

He hands them slowly to me, eyes downcast.

Le guste? I ask. (Do you like them?)

Si! Muy fina. (Oh yes! They are very fine, nice, good.)

My friends have never accused me of terminal generosity, but I knew then that the wrenches would be in better hands in Durango than in mine anywhere. I hand them to him.

Un regalo, I say. (A gift.) I knew I didn't have to but then I ask what he will charge for his work. He tells me to buy the guardia a coffee. I do better than that.

Back in my room, I ran a steaming bath and unpacked my portable jacuzzi. I settled into my bubbles and sighed, "Ho, ho, ho"

Giving does feel good. As always, things worked out in the Mexican way. I made a friend, learned something about myself and had a warm place to sleep. It was a good Christmas.

The Gobernador-Presidente, Av. 20 de Noviembre #257, is one of my favorite hotels. It's a converted monastery. The Hollywood folk stay there when filming in Durango, but I like it anyway. I stayed there when I worked with MTV. The rooms are quiet and they have tubs, so bring your jacuzzi!

Next, I'll tell you about a lady who touched my calloused old heart. Susana Eger Valadez runs the Huichol (Indian) Center in Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit & has one of the most touching stories I've heard. She's one of the people who are truly making a difference in the world. While you and I are just living, she's quietly saving people's lives and a whole tribe's way of life. I felt truly humble in her presence.

"Mexico" Mike was lost in the ozone for a month, but unfortunately found his way home. As usual, he was gone too long and got lost, but he did update Sanborn's Travelog in Baja.