Right boat, right time

The day after arriving Dolphin-less at Tres Amigos, Jacqui and I woke to the air of uncertainty. We still had no price quote from our mechanic, and very little information due to our poor Spanish skills.  

Knowing that the solid metal differential was bent in our Dolphin, I was unsure what these mechanics were going to be able to do.  In my old place of employment, Engine Works, we would sublet out most heavy differential work to our crazy Australian Pete of Pete’s Gear Shop. This left me with a lack of experience in this area of repair, and wondering how on earth they could straighten this thing. I was half expecting the mechanic to call and say it wasn’t possible.

This became one of those moments in life that requires a little self-reflection. I definitely like to have control over a situation, and I work hard to help eliminate unknowns in my life. However, this was a time when I had to let Jacqui tell me to stop stressing since there was nothing I could do. So on the advice of our Tres Amigos neighbor, we decided we should drop by the mechanic at midday for a little information and progress report. At least in person, pointing and gestures could assist our poor Spanish skills.

On a beautiful sunny day we made our way to the tiny local dock to catch a water taxi (panga) into Mazatlan. With everyone loaded up, the boat took off to make its first stop at the second Stone Island pickup area. It was here that things once again took a drastic change for Jacqui and I. There’s really no way to make sense of how these things come together. To review…

Our major car accident had absolutely no injuries. Our vehicle was hit in the “perfect spot,” not causing more serious or flammable damage. After the accident, people we hardly knew offered us a place to stay while we figured out what to do with our Dolphin. When we decided to repair the Dolphin, there just happened to be a retired carpenter in the RV Park who was unbelievably happy to help us. Now, stepping onto the very same boat as us…was Dani.

I won’t say either Jacqui or myself particularly knew this Dani fellow. Dani is a local who does carpentry work, and owns a piece of property on Stone Island where a friend of his does mechanic work. Dani had previously referred me to the welder that did work on the Dolphin, and had offered to let me use a few of his tools before disappearing for weeks. I had all but forgotten of his existence, but there he was standing in front of us.

Jacqui and I were happy to see a familiar face and exchanged greetings with Dani. He informed us he’d been away for the past few weeks, and then asked how things were going with the Dolphin. After a quick rundown of our situation, Dani insisted on personally driving us to the mechanic. He wanted to talk with them, and translate for us. He was concerned that because of our poor Spanish, the shop might try to rip us off, and if we needed a new differential, he had connections to help us find one.

Just like that everything changed again. Five minutes earlier the future was foreboding. Unknown costs, unknown solutions, unknown outcome. Suddenly we had a local on our side, and what an amazing person Dani, barely more than a stranger, turned out to be.

We hopped in Dani’s old beat up Nissan, his wife and one year old daughter sitting in front, and began experiencing what it was like to drive with a true local. As we drove with no one wearing a seat belt, and the baby in mom’s lap, Dani darted in and out of traffic only slowing to honk and wave at all the people he recognized in the street. After cutting off a bus, darting through a gas station parking lot and blasting by a cop, a taxi in front of us stopped suddenly. Dani locked up the brakes and barely dodged the collision. This was met with absolutely no emotional response from anyone; just as normal as a right turn here I guess. After tagging along for some time while Dani ran errands, we finally arrived at the mechanic shop that had our Dolphin.

Riding with the locals

Arriving at the mechanic shop

Dani really chopped it up with the shop for us. He asked the questions that were needed, assured Jacqui and I we had picked an excellent shop, and was talking strategy with the guys in the office to get us a good price. He told the shop that we have been coming to Mazatlan for five years, and that we were his good friends. He also informed the owner of the shop we have lots of tourist friends in our RV Park who are always looking for a good mechanic, so if they take good care of us, they’d get more business.

Dani and I speaking with the mechanic

Our girl is in pieces

The whole rear of the Dolphin gutted, suspension parts all over.

Leaf springs with their bollted on reinforcements

Differential disassembled 

Julien, that big gear is what you need to replace on your Jeep BTW!

The shop was still unable to give us a price at the time, due to subletting out part of the work, but we left with big smiles and confidence that things were now going our way. We spent a couple more hours with Dani running errands and getting some delicious Mexican seafood cocktails. I certainly can’t tell you everything that was in the cocktails, but at least octopus and shrimp were identifiable. Finally we hopped aboard a Panga again to head back to Stone Island.

Two days later, full of excitement, we finally returned to pick up our home. The mechanic asked me to hop in the pit, then gave me a tour of all the work he completed. Despite the language barrier, I got the distinct impression he was excited to show what he’d done to someone who could understand and appreciate. Jacqui and I gave lots of handshakes and thanks to not only the mechanic, but the rest of the staff who had helped us. I took our Dolphin for a brief test drive and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face that she was cruising straight as an arrow.

Getting the tour.

Very advanced lift system...a chain hoist!

All put back together

Quick alignment check. 

With the enthusiasm running through my veins, conversational caution was thrown to the wind. For the first time it felt like I had a real Spanish conversation with someone. I got to know that the mechanic lived on Stone Island, told him our travel plans, places we want to see and why on earth we’d want to try to drive to Chile. We showed him pictures of the crash, and he asked me if I had done all the work myself. In the excitement of the conversation I answered yes. Luckily Jacqui was kind enough to show me my mistake by swatting me and saying, “Y yo!” (And me!)

This of course reminded me to tell our mechanic that Jacqui is a good woman, pero muy peligrosa (but very dangerous).

Perhaps those Pimsler Spanish tapes are finally paying off for Jacqui and I. Perhaps we’ve learned far more Spanish than we thought, and just needed to stop being timid about conversations. Maybe it’s just as simple as the immersion we’ve put ourselves in, is filling us with Spanish like osmosis. Whatever the reason, it was an amazing feeling. Jacqui and I have wanted to learn Spanish for the sole reason of conversing with locals. After all, that is where the true richness of this adventure will come.

So when all was said and done, we paid a grand total of 4300 pesos (about $330USD). For the amount of work that was done, unbelievable! I can proudly say that, despite the exterior battle scar and not being completely finished, the Dolphin feels mechanically and structurally upgraded from the day we began this journey. If I’m not mistaken, some of the suspension work done has even left the back end of the old girl sitting a bit higher. Woohoo! Ground clearance! The thing our old girl lacks more than anything else!

For the first time in nearly 5 weeks, Jacqui and I are parked on the beach at Tres Amigos, in our very own Dolphin.

Quick checkover after the drive back to Tres Amigos

Our garage. It has a pretty decent view.

Jacqui putting some finishing touches in the bed area for our first night back in the Dolphin

First dinner at home had to be a good one!