As we were driving back to La Paz to eventually catch the ferry to the mainland we ran into our first car trouble of the trip. I was driving, and as we just pulled into one of the main boulevards of La Paz, the engine just stopped. While going about 30mph I no longer had any power over the car. The batter didn’t die, the engine just stopped. Yikes. So using my ninja-like reflexes I managed to steer the car off onto a side street with the remaining momentum and park it to figure out what happened.
We tried numerous times to start the car, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. We took a look at the engine and busted out the Chilton manual to see if we could diagnose the problem ourselves at all. At first Steve thought it might have been the alternator, but we really couldn’t be sure. Luckily we were in a dense enough area of the city that we were able to walk a few blocks down and find an auto parts store. We poked in and asked if anyone knew where a mechanic was so we could get our car looked at.
Luckily we were pointed in a direction only a few blocks away. We felt defeated, but determined to get back on the road. We walked into the desolate, dirty, and unkempt mechanic shop to find a guy sleeping in a white van. We excused ourselves and asked if he could help us. He spoke no English whatsoever, but we managed to tell him our car was just a few blocks down and we needed help. Him and a younger co-worker of his took us in their truck and they popped the hood and tried to visually and electronically diagnose the problem.
At first it was very difficult to communicate with the mechanics, especially with tons of verbs we had no idea how to say relating to car parts and such. Luckily one of the mechanics called his friend across the street from the shop who owned a car stereo store who spoke a little English and he managed to tell us the mechanics wanted to tow the car to their shop to check it out. They pulled a short chain out of the back of their truck and hooked it up to the front of our car and carefully pulled the car over a couple blocks to their shop.
We hung around in the shop and watched longingly and (mostly) silently while they poked around and tried to find the problem. After a while they were able to figure it out, one of the parts in the ignition coil was bad. They sent another mechanic off into La Paz to find the part we needed for us. It took him about 1.5 hours before he finally returned as the afternoon continued to drag on and on. In the meantime, Steve went to a mini-mart and got some Tecate Light as a peace offering to the mechanics for all of their wonderful help. They were gracious and it helped lighten the mood in the shop.
When the mechanic returned with the part we crossed our fingers as they installed it and tried starting the car once again and we heard the wonderful sound of the engine starting in our little Honda! YAY! It was like music to our ears and we all cheered. They put the car back together and charged us about $1200 pesos ($100) for the part and labor…wow. We made some new friends and thanked them profusely and they sent us on our way 4-5 hours later that day. Unfortunatly we missed our chance to hit the ferry terminal to get any documents and tickets we needed for the following day, so we went straight to our hotel and decided to take care of that stuff the next day, Friday.
All in all, for what it was, the experience couldn’t have gone any better and now our car is fully functional again and we are back on the road. For all the negativity we had heard about driving in Mexico and dealing with mechanics and such, it made us wonder…would breaking down in the US be any better? I mean, instead of hooking a chain up to the car we probably would have had to call a tow truck and paid for a 2 block tow, then pay at least $80 for a diagnostic on the car, $45-$70 an hour on labor and THEN the part probably would have cost an arm and a leg not to mention they might have had to order it in and we would have been stuck for a day or two while the car was being worked on. I don’t know, but like I mentioned, it all worked out great in the end for what happened. We are just glad to be on the road again :)