Many times when you’re nomadic you may come across housing accommodations that may include the use of a vehicle. While staying near Akumal, Quintana Roo, MX at Rancho Amor, I had such an opportunity to use the owner’s vehicle that was stored in a palapa. Below is my account of “getting mobile”.
The evening before, I was walking by the large dining table under the palapa (Big house) and noticed a set of car keys on it. The property manager had said he was going to try and find them and it appears he was successful.
I slept well the night before so I must have been pretty tired. Woke up with a bit of a scratchy throat. Thought it was from the overhead fan blowing on me all night. Didn’t think much of it.
This morning I decided to try and start the owner’s Chevy Blazer. No luck. Dead as a door nail. Boy this would have saved a lot of walking. I decided to go to town and on the way stop at the property managers office and let him know the battery was dead. He kindly lent a battery charger for me to use so I could get it going. I tried the fast charge and no luck starting it so I let it trickle charge for several hours. The next time I tried to start it, I was successful. Wheels!! Backed it out of the garage and starting hosing it down. It had a pile of bat shit on the roof and hood.
I then took it for a test ride around the jungle subdivision and see what it is like here. All of the homes are walled off with big gates out front. I couldn’t see behind the walls enough to get a look at the houses but some were huge complexes not rustic like where I was staying. The roads are crushed limestone and one lane. I went far enough to see what it was like without getting lost so I turned around and headed back to the Rancho Amor casita. Once I shut off the engine, I tried restarting it. No luck! Reconnected the charger at that point.
After a few hours, I tried it again and it did start. This time I thought I’d take a ride into the nearest town of Akumal to see what it was like. I told myself I shouldn’t shut the engine off or I’d likely be stranded. The highway divides Akumal with one side for the residents and the other side (beachside) for tourist. Entering the town I noticed a small convenience shop and private parking lot that looked like the only parking available. There were a dozen small tourist shops and a hotel at an archway. I drove through the archway to see how close to the beach I could get. The road seemed to have speed bumps every 75 yards along with potholes galore. I did catch glimpses of the ocean between residences and condos. It was a bright blue.
I drove until the road began to curve away from the ocean and decided to turn back. I was starving at this point and had spotted what looked like a taco stand with a sign out front so I decided to stop. It turned out it wasn’t a taco stand but an outdoor restaurant. I didn’t see anyone around except a couple of guys sitting at the tables so decided to poke my head into the building where I heard people talking. It was the kitchen. Ask if they had carry out and said yes but decide what you want off the menu out in front by the street. I ordered some kind of pork burrito (couldn’t pronounce the name). I also noted they served Lion fish tacos. I never heard of Lion fish being eaten. I do know they are not indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico and they are driving away the barrier reef fishes. While waiting for my food I met a man from Chicago here for a visit. He said he hadn’t been back to Akumal in three years and wanted to reconnect with friends he had made from before. He said he knew the owners of the restaurant we were in and had known the chef for 15 years. After I got my food, the woman chef, Gynna, comes out and sits down at a table with a laptop and said she was going to post a video on her website of hunting Lion fish and then preparing them. I told her I’d be interested in seeing that so she gave me a business card with her facebook info where it was to be posted. Click Here to see the Lion fish hunter.
Well, off I go with my late lunch to the running Blazer I had parked in front of the restaurant. Drove back to Rancho Amor and devoured an incredible meal. I think I’ll be going back to try the Lion fish tacos next.
Rest of the day was spent Skyping and emailing. Talked to the owners about their Blazer battery and they left it up to me if I wanted to replace it. I didn’t have to think too long about it since it would get me mobile but wasn’t sure where to go to find a replacement battery. The owners suggested WalMart in Playa de Carmen and using tools in the thatched garage. I looked in the storage palapa and there were no wrenched any where. Decided tomorrow I would see if the property manager had any.
The next day I woke up with a worse scratchy throat. Started gargling with salt water hoping it may nip it in the bud. The plan was to get a battery for the Blazer. Didn’t know where or how yet, but thought I’d try.
My first stop was at the property manager’s office. This office is a small two story building behind a walled complex with a wooden gate. By the way the hardwoods they use in Mexico are beautiful and some of the gates are gorgeous. Most gates also have a pedestrian door built in or next to them. This one was right next to it and just had a friction closure. Of course, I left the Blazer running and once I opened the gate I was greeted by two large brown dobermans. They began barking but not growling, so I put out my hand hoping they would calm down. Nope, not until a younger guy came out of the second floor office onto the wrap around porch and yelled something to get them to stop.
I introduced myself in English hoping he understood and luckily he did. He was the property manager’s assistant. I began asking for tools to change a battery. He said the property manager was away for the day in Cancun. Great! I thought no battery today. But he was able to contact the property manager by cell phone and after explaining things, he suggested I go to a big store like City Club in Playa de Carmen to have someone replace the battery. I liked this idea since I did have to mess with borrowing tools and busting some knuckles. I also knew exactly where this store was located having seen it at Centro Maya where I was the day I was getting internet service.
So I thanked the property manager’s assistant and off I went to Playa. Took a wrong exit and ended up driving through downtown Playa de Carmen before getting back on the right road to get to City Club (which also happens to be right across from Sam’s Club). I pulled up close to the obvious garage labeled with Bridgestone and thought they would be the ones to do the battery. Got inside and found a receptionist and said “Hablo Inglese?” No she responded. I then slowed my English and made gestures and her manager turned around and told her to have me show her what was wrong.
So out to the truck we went and I opened the hood and pointed to the battery and a light bulb went off with her. We went back in and the she explained to the manager what I was after. Funny, I didn’t see any batteries around. The manager knew some limited English and explained I needed to go into the City Club to purchase the battery and they would install it. Great, the word “Club” tipped me off I needed a membership card to get in. I explained this to the manager and he opened up his billfold and produced a card. He then escorted me to the store to purchase a battery. Along the way, he said “pay me back cash?” I stated I needed an ATM to do that. Fortunately, the mall has several so he was OK with that. He spent a long time looking over the batteries and even asked me the vehicle make and model by pointing in a spec book hanging next to the batteries. Anyway we found one the looked like the one in the truck but he was still unsure so he got on his cell to his receptionist to have one of his mechanics come over to the store.
When he arrived he looked it over then said he needed to go look at the vehicle and off he went. When he got back he did confirm it was the right battery and the manager went and slid the battery across the floor toward him, expecting him to pick it up and carry it. The manager was a younger man by far and I thought this was kind of arrogant. Guess when you’re in management in Mexico you don’t get your hands dirty or do physical labor. While they were checking out, I left for the ATM. I remembered the location from the day before and was able to withdraw $3000 pesos.
When I got back they were already changing the battery and as I approached the manager he handed me a bill for $2075 pesos. Once the battery was changed and the the truck started right up, I paid the manager $2100 pesos. I did ask if he wanted to take care of it inside and he said no. He also kept the bill and I didn’t get a receipt. Now I do know the the battery was marked at $1399 pesos. So after thinking about this, I think I just paid a “Gringo Tax”. I didn’t complain, just happy to be mobile.
I went down to the McDonald’s and celebrated with a late lunch chicken salad wrap. Also was able to get help connecting to the wifi there so at least I have a free wifi hot spot I can use in Playa de Carmen if I need it. I’ve found out that the McDonald’s wifi requires a password to get access, but it is the same at each one that I had visited.
Later that evening, the property manager came by on his four wheeler and dropped off a fist full of keys. Said to return them on Monday. It appears he holds his weekend sacred. These keys gave me the run of the place including the Paylapa (main house). Later that evening I toured the Paylapa upper floor and found it had one bedroom, one bath, a loft bedroom, a living area and small study. It does have a wrap around deck, but no real views as the thatch roof hangs too low to see anything. While descending the spiral stair case which have irregular steps made of logs, I trip on the last step and fall to the concrete at the base on my knees. Ouch, skinned and bruised knees to add to the blisters on my feet from the sandals I’ve been walking in. Shower and off to bed.
Lessons learned: 1) When immersion traveling, look for opportunities to get use of private vehicles with housing. This doesn’t occur often but is well worth it to get mobile. 2) Watch for free wifi hotspots, they can be helpful when mobile to stay connected. 3) While most Mexicans are extremely helpful, be aware of the “gringo” tax.