Destruction of the Dolphin

On a beautiful sunny morning we lazily packed camp and prepared ourselves for the goodbyes to come. We were finally leaving Mazatlan to continue south, and that meant we were going to drive back to 3 Amigos RV park to give all the hugs and handshakes our new friends deserved.

We set out on the road later than intended, smiling. We were in no rush, simply driving as far as we desired for the day. It felt so good to be driving again, and it seemed like our Dolphin also loved getting to stretch her legs. As we stumbled upon a quaint little town to have some lunch, we lingered a bit to snap photos. We wandered around amazed at how many beautiful places there are in Mexico, we couldn’t have been in better moods. There was no way to know how quickly things could change.

We continued driving on the windy, narrow roads, loosely hoping we could make it to Tepic before nightfall. We were absorbing the beauty of the changing scenery when Jacqui pointed to the left to show me where people were pulling over to see the view. Riding high on all the positive energy of the day I made the quick decision to pull over and try to snap a photo. A quick glance forward showed no one coming so I committed to making the turn. As our Dolphin came around full swing a flash of red caught the corner of my eye. A car!

It was too late to veer back into the lane, brakes were useless since we were already turned with our side exposed. My eyes widened, staring straight, my hands tightened on the wheel, time began to slow and I mashed my foot into the accelerator with everything I had. We couldn’t stop, we couldn’t turn, but if we could just go a little faster we could clear before he came. Feet moved, time slowed, inches moved, time slowed. Suddenly the inside of the car and my ears erupted with Jacqui’s scream, her scream could mean only one thing, we weren’t moving fast enough! Time slowed, millimeters now. Jacqui’s scream of terror was replaced with an even more terror infused scream, the scream of tires. The other driver was doing all he could to stop. My eyes widened, I stared ahead so hard I could almost will the Dolphin to move faster.

Then came the sound and impact as the car collided with the Dolphin. The whole vehicle began to swing around then she pitched. We were still moving forward, I was still staring forward, but the view in front of me was twisting. Time was moving so slow all I could do was think, ‘it’s going over, it’s flipping over.’ Further and further the Dolphin leaned onto her left tires as the crunching continued and cabinets flew open behind spewing their contents. ‘It’s going over, it’s going…’ Time skipped a beat to make up for how slow it had been moving and we were stopped….upright.

I looked Jacqui in the eyes, “Are you alright?”


Shifter thrown in park and e-brake pulled I rushed out to check on the other car. Three people were standing outside; two men and a boy no more than ten years old. The only Spanish word to flood my mind spilled out, “Enfermo, enfermo…. Are you enfermo?”’

They were alright, everyone was alright. Slamming on the gas trying to get clear of the accident had caused their car to run into the soft, sheet metal and plywood rear of the Dolphin. In fact, they hit the perfect spot, if such a term could be justly used while describing an accident. Any further back the Dolphin would be so soft she’d shear in half, and a pinch farther forward only exposed the gas tanks, in front of that the propane tank, then finally in front of that the most precious cargo of all...Jacqui. In the mad rush of duties and necessities that came after the crash, time skipped forward again.

The sky was already darkening and Jacqui was sitting on a stone ledge in front of a half dozen memorials erected on that very corner. As I approached her she looked up at me, her eyes were glistening with the tears that were so close to coming out. In that moment a rush of guilt filled me. This accident was my fault. I may have been visibly clear to turn, but we were too close to a blind corner for it to have been a good decision to do so. As I looked in her eyes she didn’t have to say anything for me to know the questions that were locked at the tip of her tongue, they were all over her face. Is the Dolphin done? Is our trip done?

I have little experience with body work on cars, but I’ve spent enough time working on vehicles professionally to know what I was looking at. The Dolphin is a marriage between a Toyota Pickup and a camper body built by National RV. The Toyota itself had no condemning damage; it would take little to repair. The rear axle had been slammed into and was misaligned, but the frame was unbent. However, the amount of damage the camper had sustained left our home, by definition, totaled. In other words, the cost of repairs would far exceed the value of the vehicle. The door was mangled and fell off when I tried to open it. The entry step was missing and a large section of the floor was buckled. The bathroom was all but leveled, the impact had dislodged my bolted down toolbox that became a sledgehammer as it sailed through the air. The right and left walls on either rear side of the RV were separating and bulging; ready to spill the contents within. Our poor Dolphin was a sad, sorry sight.

The ruin of our bathroom

As I explained this to Jacqui we both agreed, no matter what the outcome of all this, we would not give up on our journey.

The police and an insurance adjuster came shortly. Everyone was kind, helpful and polite. Even the three others from the other car held no malice, and were far kinder than you’d expect anyone to be in their situation. When the tow truck came it was definitely a sight to see. The truck was not big enough to hold the Dolphin, but he loaded it on anyway with the front tires hanging off the back of the truck. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the other car was in tow behind with the three other people riding within. Only in Mexico was definitely ringing through our minds. That night we slept in the mechanics parking lot in the crippled remains of our Dolphin, with all our personal belongings littered around us. Our morale was low, but we were doing our best to keep our heads high. Very little sleep came to us that night.

All our belongings, including the door, piled in the living area with us.

When morning came we asked the mechanics to fix the suspension so our Dolphin would at least drive. After all, the work needed was more than I was going to be able to do alone. It was as we spent our day wandering Tepic that Jacqui and I discussed how lucky we are. We were safe. We were stranded in a beautiful warm place sipping coffee in our shorts and flip-flops. We had good friends and family everywhere who wouldn’t hesitate to help us. We realized, from the moment we began this journey, we may be the only two people in the Dolphin, but we’ve never been alone. On the road it would seem every other time I’d open the hood to check the oil someone would ask if I needed help. In Baja we had amazing friends who housed us, fed us, transported us, entertained us and helped us. And even now, we were a short drive from people we barely knew in Mazatlan, but they were already arranging, and doing everything they could to help us.

Discussing just how fortunate we are while we wait for the Dolphin.

The day wore on and the Dolphin was made road worthy. The three others from the crash came to us at the mechanic shop and asked if we could help them pay for bus fare home. They were out of money and thanks to me, car-less  After realizing just how expensive bus fare was, we offered them the best thing we could…a ride to Mazatlan and money for the remainder of the bus ride.

With a giant length of rope we made two passes around the entire rear of the Dolphin to keep her from splitting open in the rear. The last thing we needed was for the water heater to fall out on the freeway. I took her for a quick test drive and was surprised that the old girl felt the same as she always had. No noises, no rattles, and she even drove straight as an arrow despite the steering wheel being a bit off center. (Nothing a simple alignment can’t fix.)

Tying our Dolphin to keep her together for the drive

So we loaded up our belongings, our passenger’s belongings, and all people in question to make the slow trek back to Mazatlan. You really have to hand it to our new Mexican friends for their bravery. They loaded into the back of a car with a person they’d been in a car accident with, and joked, conversed or slept the whole ride there. When we finally dropped them off, they shook our hands, exchanged contact information and asked us to call them if we were ever in their hometowns to say hi.

Our passengers in transit to Mazatlan

When at last we pulled into 3 Amigos trailer park late that night, we felt as if we pulled into the safety of home. Sleeping in the ruin of our Dolphin came easier that night.

Decisions are in the works, another post coming soon.

To be continued…