The storm has been building for days. The heat is getting unbearable, the air thick and murky. Clouds that gather during the day always disperse in the wind before any relieving rain can fall. So the heat and the humidity build. Even the birds are too hot to move. The heat builds. The clouds build. The clouds disperse.
Until today. Today it is going to rain, and when it rains here, it really rains. Torrents streaming off roofs, rivers in the streets, sheets of water instantly drenching anyone who steps outside down. A constant deluge for hours on end. Today it is going to rain like this. Today, the day my windscreen wipers stop working.
Such is life with The Jeep.
Now, possibly the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my PhD is that logistics can totally screw you over. You can be as bright as a button and have the best ideas and analysis in the world, but if you can’t get from A to B then you’re stuffed. So I had to buy a car. Buying her was fairly traumatic (see Los Coches y el Cochino) but she repaid my perseverance by repeatedly, and in a variety of interesting ways, trying to ruin my life. Obviously there were standard car problems: the radiator dying, the clutch dying, the battery… dying. Essentially everything that could die, dying. But this is probably pretty standard if you buy a fourth (fifth?) hand vehicle that’s had the living crap kicked out of it in it’s short life (why would you buy such a vehicle in the first place? I hear you ask. I refer you to Los Coches y el Cochino and the desperation thereby induced. Plus I’m a fucking idiot). It’s the other things that are a bit more trying.
Like the fact that there aren’t any windows. I mean there’s a windscreen, so that’s a bonus, and some plastic rear windows that you can zip on if you feel like it, but nothing for the front. You could again reasonably question my decision making at this point, but in my defence I asked where the windows were and the guy motioned to the pile of plastic for the back ones – at the time I assumed they were all there. Anyway, this isn’t too big a problem – I’m in the front, shielded by the windscreen, it’s the poor bastards in the back who suffer. But with hindsight, I now know to always check the existence of windows when buying a vehicle. Especially if you’re planning to do fieldwork. In the tropics. In the rainy season.
At least the windows don’t actually endanger lives through their absence, unlike the tires which have, on occasion decided to go AWOL. Now I’m no mechanic, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to look like this:
Again, you might again ask why I bought a car looking like this, but this time it wasn’t my fault! I bought a car with seemingly faultless tires, only to have them treacherously commit harakiri whilst I was storming down a motorway. The overflowing rubbish dump we’d just driven past may have had something to do with it, but I suspect it was just The Jeep trying to kill me.
That time I was too good for her. Pausing only to swerve violently into the oncoming traffic and swearing piteously in at least two languages (there might have been a bit of Mayan in there too) I guided us to safety and waited to be rescued. We were only a few miles from home on a busy road so it wasn’t too big a deal. But she learned from this, and the next time waited until the perfect moment…
In my first year, my supervisor came out to visit and we went on the mother-of-all roadtrips. From Cancun we headed south to Chetumal and then across the base of the Yucatán Peninsula to a seriously awesome Mayan site called Calakmul, which is in the middle of nowhere.
We spent the morning fruitlessly searching for manatees and so by the time we were properly in the middle of nowhere it was late afternoon and we were hurrying to make sure we got there before dark. “A-ha!” says The Jeep “now is perfect”. So she stopped working. We were going downhill, so I didn’t notice at first, but she just died. We rolled on a bit. I tried the ignition. We rolled a bit further. I tried the ignition again. This was repeated for a mile or so until we reached the bottom of the hill and stopped.
“Hmmm” says I.
“Yes… hmmm” says my supervisor.
“Uh….hmmm” joins in Becky The Long Suffering Field Assistant.
Having clarified the situation, we decamp and open the bonnet. My supervisor, to be fair, probably knows something about cars, having suffered similar traumas in Africa during his PhD, but I’m pretty clueless and I don’t think Becky will be offended if I put her in the same category. So we stare at the engine.
“Hmmmm… I think… I think it’s a problem with the … um, yeah that…”
“Yeah, could be. Or the… um the other thing….”
Glad to have identified the problem, we set about solving it. For various tedious and largely inexplicable reasons, we couldn’t get towed (actually the big reason was fairly explicable: we were in the middle of frickin’ nowhere). So I intrepidly set off to a nearby ranch. Which it turned out was not in fact nearby and was also not, in fact, a ranch, but just a field with some horses.
“Hmmmm.” I keep walking. The jeep and the other disappear from view behind a hill. I’m not really sure what I’m looking for, but it sure as hell isn’t a sign telling me it’s 30 clicks to the next town. “Hmmmm. ” I keep walking. The hill that hides the jeep disappears from view and I realise that I probably could have explained my plan to the others. Oh well, it’s a little late for “could haves”. I keep walking. And then, unbelievably, I come across my very own Robert Downey Jr. era Sherlock Holmes to combat The Jeep’s Moriarty. Admittedly, he’s pretty well disguised as an overweight Mexican picnicking with his family, but I couldn’t care less.
He’s remarkably unsurprised at finding a random blond foreigner walking down the highway in the middle of nowhere and asks what’s occurring. I explain and, incredibly:
“Ahh, OK. Soy mecanico. Sí quieres, puedo checkar tu coche?”
Fuck you, Moriatyjeep, I’ve found a guardian angel in the form of a random Mexican man picnicking with his family by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere! Gratefully I jumped into his car (plot twist: he was a kidnapper! Nah, only kidding) and within ten minutes our new best friend had fixed everything. If you’re interested, a tiny but apparently essential connection hidden away underneath had maliciously disembowelled itself. A bit of polycarbonate cement and some TLC and we were as right as rain.
Sadly, The Jeep did have the last laugh as the delay meant we turned up in the middle of the night at a terrifying jungle campsite run by an equally terrifying Quasimodo-esque woman and where the permanent tents had names like “Mantis” and “Tarantula” and were filled with… mantises and tarantulas. Or actually, creatures far more dangerous and sinister… but that, as always, is a story for another day…