Ramblings: Driving the Baja is Always an Adventure

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By Judy Ristity

Driving the Baja is an adventure, but a trip not to be taken lightly. It takes planning, lots of it. Alex and I have a “Don’t-Forget-To-Bring” list we’ve been using for over twenty years. Today I added one more important item to our list.

On departure day I pour coffee into our to-go cups, triple check the list and lock the front gate. Before we pull away from the curb we clink cups and wish each other “safe trip”. We drive by the Malecon and observe the rising sun throw golden rays onto the sailboats. I miss La Paz already. Then I take a deep breath, grit my teeth, and prepare to countdown nearly one thousand miles.

Before we’ve traveled two miles we must stop at the gas station and top off the tank. Doesn’t matter that Alex filled up, checked the oil and tire pressure the night before, he refuses to leave town without squeezing a few additional drops of fuel into the tank.

Many expats go through similar preparations before driving the Baja. Our friend Rosa is no exception. The following is a series of updates she emailed me as her adventure progressed:

We left the house this morning, stopped at Pemex put gas in my car, drove a block away and my car starting conking out and then stopped a block and a half from the Toyota dealership. I could just scream and cry. Thank goodness this didn’t happen in the middle of the Baja although I always carry water and food with me.  I believe in being prepared for emergencies.

I’m writing you from the Toyota dealership across from the Soriana. It looks like the guy at Pemex put diesel fuel in my car. Positive thing is the dealerships service center is open and the car was towed there. It looks as if they might be able to get to my car today. I don’t think I’ll risk leaving tonight. If it gets done today I want to drive the car around for an hour to make sure all systems are in working order before I head up the Baja tomorrow.

It took Toyota from 8:30 am to 6:50 pm to repair my car. Their waiting room was comfortable and they have windows where I watched them lower the fuel tank and clean it. Even though it took them all day I am grateful for their concern and efforts to get me back on the road.

After I drove out of Toyota service center I went back to the Pemex station and spoke with the super in charge. I explained the situation and he asked me for a receipt, I told him I wasn’t given one. He gave me a little smile as if to say, “You’re screwed!” 

 I keep a log in my car which has all information regarding fuel and maintenance. I opened to the page with the heading La Paz to Sacramento 8/23/2019.

When I showed him what I had written and repeated the conversation I’d had with the attendant, he asked me to wait while he checked the computer. He returned with the receipt which exactly matched what I had written. He left the receipt on my log, I’m not sure if accidently or knowingly. He asked me what I wanted him to do about it.

I took a deep breath, looked the other way for a moment, looked him in the eyes and said, ’I want to be reimbursed for the fuel, the tow truck, my repair invoice from Toyota, and since I can’t make it to Santa Rosalía, I want to be reimbursed for a night’s stay in town.’

He phoned the manager. I was asked if I could return in the morning at 8:30?’ I was at the station at 8:20.

I explained the situation to the manager and handed him copies of my records and receipts. He called the attendant in and asked if he remembered me. The attendant shook his head. I smiled and repeated our conversation: ‘You asked if I was paying by card or cash. I said ‘Cash’ and handed you 1000 pesos. You didn’t have change and went inside to get it.  When you returned I told you to give me 100 pesos and keep the 14 pesos as a tip.

After hearing my account the attendant acknowledged he had filled my tank but couldn’t remember putting diesel in my car. I showed him the receipt which clearly showed he had. I felt bad for the guy as he told me it would take him a year to pay it off. However, I explained that we all make errors, but it was not my mistake and I should not have to pay. He apologized, I shook his hand, and the manager reimbursed me for all costs: the fuel, the tow, the Toyota bill, and the hotel.

I’ve been told I have a certain aura – I am not the person one wants to go up against.  I don’t get angry or cause a commotion, I’m just very matter of fact!

I always document things I feel might be an issue and travel is one. I may not have come out of that situation on a positive note had I not kept a log.

The manager at Pemex and the Toyota service department get five stars from me!

Rosa is meticulous. She is also bilingual. Her story would have ended differently if she were neither. We may lack her attention to details and her Spanish skills, but we can do one simple thing which I’ve added to our To-Do-List – when we drive into a gas station, get out of the car and make sure the correct nozzle is inserted into our fuel.

Judy Ristity finds humor in the ordinary, then looks again and discovers the poignant.