Nov. 14-20: Monte Alban and some marvelous Mexican mechanics

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Transamerican trips require occasional pit stops. In Santa Maria del Tule near Oaxaca, Martin of Team Uyarak found a decent-looking workshop where we took our trucks for oil changes. I admit that until that point, all that the term “oil change” involved–as far as I was concerned–was draining the engine oil, replenishing it, and changing the oil filter. Thankfully Martin knew better, and so la bestia received some serious TLC. Not only did she get treated to fresh engine lube but also to new differential oils (front, rear and transfer) and transmission fluid. Especially her front differential showed that it had been about time.

 

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Afterwards our impeccably dressed, soft-spoken mechanic turned his attention to Uyarak, the three-ton Swiss beast. This was probably the first Land Rover he worked on, and so he seemed quite happy to let Martin do at least half of the job. After five hours in the shop, he merely charged us MXP500 (approx. USD30). We were so impressed that we added a hefty tip, which he accepted reluctantly — but he wouldn’t let us go without taking several pictures of the trucks and us.

 

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The following day we took a bus from downtown Oaxaca to visit Monte Alban, a partially excavated civic-ceremonial center of the Zapotecs located atop an artificially leveled ridge at 1,940m. Monte Alban is considered one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica.

 

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Thanks to Fraenzi and Martin, there are photographic records of yours truly visiting this magical place.

 

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Fortunately my Mexican cell phone has a built-in lens, so I was able to able to reciprocate the gesture (although not the quality) despite my failure to bring my own camera.

 

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Steps. At one point I’ll need to read up on the history of steps.

 

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Monte Alban’s architectural layout is impressive. Historians consider it one of the finest examples of early urban planning.

 

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Fraenzi and Martin used the site for some photographic experiments…

 

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… with obvious success.

 

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We also enjoyed the view of downtown Oaxaca.

 

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Following a sweaty and mosquito-infested night on a parking lot next to the visitor center in Tehuantepec (with two-lane traffic on both sides), Fraenzi unearthed a beautifully renovated posada in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we were allowed to park our trucks on the tiled patio.

 

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I then spent most of the day at the Toyota dealership in Tuxtla Gutierrez to get la bestia‘s front brake pads replaced and have her front axle wheel bearings checked out. The latter had already been flagged as an issue by a mechanic in southern California (who wanted to charge me USD700 to change them), but when Martin recently noticed the serious play of both tires, he gave me a stern look and said, “you gotta take care of that. It won’t last until Patagonia.”

 

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And so my Toyota saga continued. I showed up at the dealership just after 2PM and without an appointment. Following some initial confusion, I was told that they would be able to squeeze me into their full schedule, but only for replacing the brake pads, which I had brought along. I pleaded that they also take a look at the bearings. They agreed. After checking them, the master technician opined that rather than focus on the brakes (which still had some tread left), they should prioritize the bearings. Two hours later he stopped by the (wireless-equipped and air-conditioned) waiting room to ask whether I’d be willing to wait longer so that they could replace the brake pads as well. Half an hour past the official closing time, he and his apprentice decided that a large nut inside one of the bearing cases needed to be replaced. They promptly sent one of the service technicians on a motorcycle hunt across the city to find a suitable replacement. He returned with the correct part around 8PM. At 8:30PM la bestia was finally ready to go — following six hours of unscheduled maintenance by some of the most compassionate and dedicated ad hoc aides I’ve come across on this trip.

Toyota: your cars may lack sex appeal, but your service culture totally rocks.

 

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Since Harry had patiently waited in his crate for the entire six hours that la bestia had been jacked up on the car lift, he got a special treat: he was allowed to sleep on the bed. Needless to say that he enjoyed every minute of it.

 

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The drive from Oaxaca to Tuxtla Gutierrez (540km) took us two days due to winding roads and steep inclines. Fraenzi and Martin will now continue to San Cristobal de las Casas and then head northeast toward Yucatan; Harry and I are going to spend another night in Tuxtla and take our time to explore San Cristobal. May our path and Team Uyarak‘s cross again soon!

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