Sleeping tilted on a slope is always uncomfortable. With one wheel sunk deep into the sand, even my 14-inch gel-infused orthopedic memory foam mattress was useless. I opened the door, half asleep, half hungover, and tried to process the scene. La Chichona and I were surrounded by people… in an artisans’ market.
There were all sorts of stands: food, paintings, woodcraft, jewels, etc. An old lady was selling coffee and pastries. I walked up to her, sat by her side, and sipped my coffee. I had 3.5 tons of steel stuck in the sand, and no idea how to get it out.
The caffeine got me moving. I sympathized with the market folks. They were friendly and cheerful despite the early hour. I reached for my shovel and started digging. Nothing better than a forced morning workout to cure a hangover. I had been shoveling for a while when I heard, “What exactly are you trying to do?”.
A tall old gentleman with a thick white mustache was examining me. He looked like the hippie Ron from Parks and Recreation but with a darker skin. I explained my plan: to remove the sand and make a launching ramp. “I see” he said, adding a long pause. Then, he politely suggested there might be a better plan. Indeed, there was enough sand to keep me digging for a week.
My lack of experience and knowledge was obvious. I asked him for advice. The old man’s plan was first to lift the van, then to level up the hole with sand. Once the van were flat, we would create a long and solid launching ramp by stacking rocks together.
We dug around the wheel to create room for the jack. It was long and exhausting. We took turns and he called on the market folks to help. The old man was strangely fit his age. He manoeuvred the shovel with great efficiency and asked a lot of questions about the van conversion. The old man taught me how to use the shovel with little energy and how to set up the hydraulic jack I didn't know I had. So much to learn…
Within hours, the crowd got bigger and more diverse. Passerby were curious by the little gathering and the artisans were happy to welcome more visitors to their stands. People shopped, ate, and hung out. Everyone helped. Some shovelled, some carried rocks, and other brought us snacks and moral support. It was a spiral of positive energy, contagious, and uplifting.
We spent the entire morning building the ramp to realize it would not work. La Chichona was too heavy. She kept pushing the rocks down into the sand. We hit a brick wall and stopped. A weird guy showed up in his pyjama robe and holding a tea cup. He walked around the van, examining different angles, and sipping his tea in silence.
The man was in his fifties. His skin was burnt by the sun and his long hair was yellow and scruffy. He looked like he got struck by lightning. The weird expression on his face made me uncomfortable. He seemed crazy, like someone who knew too much. I greeted him with a smile. He ignored me and kept walking around the van, then he left. The sight of him circling la Chichona like a shark worried me.
The weirdo came back later with four car rugs. Then in a thick German accent he said, "Put a hard surface on the sand first, wood is good. Then add the rocks and cover them with rugs, the more the better. You will need a lot of speed to get out. Oh! And turn off the ASR." He was weird and rude, but also German. Germans are good at solving problems.
Getting la Chichona out had become a full team project. The old man was extending the ramp with branches. The weird German was levelling the rocks and six other guys were pushing la Chichona from the back. On the fourth push, I pressed the pedal and heard "GO! GO! GO! GO!" The German grabbed the rugs from the rear, ran to the front and placed them before the front wheels. I sped up and in one final roar, la Chichona jumped out of the sand.
The whole market was cheering and clapping. I went back and hugged every person who was up for it. There was a palpable feeling of accomplishment in the air, like a team who scored the winning goal on extra time. Even the weird German cracked a smile.
It was early afternoon when the wind picked up in La Ventana. Objects started to get blown away and people picked up their stands. I helped the old coffee lady pack up and got invited for lunch. She was the old man's wife. Both took a liking in my adventure. I accepted, hungry and grateful.
We talked a lot about the challenges of travelling. The old man told me about his youth as a carpenter. He met his wife over fifty years ago and together they travelled throughout Mexico in search of a better life. He kept repeating that I should not travel alone. That travelling with a friend was good, but travelling with a woman was better. When I asked why, he slowly finished chewing and added, "Because women awake our protective instinct. Women make us care".
I left their house, full and grateful, and pondered over all that happened that day. Twice I got in trouble, twice I got rescued, and both times by strangers. People who should not have cared came out of their way to get me out of trouble.
This was La Ventana. Now it was time to go get my girl.