I don’t believe in God. At least I don’t believe in the Christian conception of an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, single-entity god, ready to send me to eternal perdition if I don’t toe the line. But I am spiritual, and I do believe in karma. And compassion, particularly compassion. In fact, the older I get, the more I believe in the power of karma and compassion, and the more I try to live my life in accordance with these principles. And I think events over the past couple of days really show why.
Last night, I decided that I would leave Zacatecas this morning. After all, I’ve been here since Thursday afternoon, and I’ve nearly walked myself to death, trying to see virtually every street in the city. It’s time to be sitting in the car for hours at a time again, letting my blisters and muscles heal. Yesterday, I also visited Guadalupe, the city immediately to the east of Zacatecas, and felt like that was my little side trip.
And on the way to Guadalupe, a very strange thing happened. I pulled into a Pemex to fill the tank. Since I’m a paranoid type, I never hand the key to the attendant to unlock the filler door. I always either unlock it before I get to the station, or I step out of the cab and unlock it myself. I know this is borderline crazy, but if I lose my keys, it’s basically a disaster. So I pulled into the Pemex, stepped out and unlocked the little door so the guy could fill the tank. I then unlocked my camper, and pulled out stuff to wash the windshield, and went about that task. Once the tank was full, the gas cap was nowhere to be found. The attendant, José, and I had a long discussion about it, him thinking I must have taken it off and put it in the camper, and me saying that he must have misplaced it, and it was really his responsibility since he had filled the tank. But to humor him, I searched the camper, and then the grounds of the station. He rooted through his little storage area, the trash, and everywhere else he could think of. Finally, he went to his own car, pulled off his own gas cap and gave it to me. While I wasn’t exactly comfortable with this, I figured that my cap was surely around there somewhere, and soon enough he’d find it and we’d be even. On my way back from Guadalupe, I stopped by the Pemex again, but no luck. The cap was still missing. I promised José that I’d make a super-thorough search of the camper later, but I doubted I’d find it as I was quite sure he had removed the cap. We were at a draw, though I did have his gas cap.
As I drove off again toward my hotel, I really wondered about this weird situation. While it was happening, my suspicious side worried that it was some kind of scam to distract me while someone stole stuff out of my truck. For that reason, while we were searching for the cap, I wore my backpack with my camera and laptop within, and had my phone, wallet, and passport in my pocket. The camper was locked, so there really wasn’t anything to steal there. Further I tried to keep a close watch on everything that was going on. But at the same time, José seemed like a really nice and honest guy, and I could tell he was trying his best too. Giving me his own gas cap was above the call of duty. Despite thinking it over and over, I couldn’t resolve in my mind what had happened, but I suspect one of the two guys at the pump when I arrived must have grabbed it. So I put it out of my mind, still feeling a bit bad about having José’s gas cap, but I figured he’d have an easier time replacing it than I would.
This morning I woke up and thought to myself, “Kim, why the hurry? You still haven’t seen Chicomóztoc or Jerez, and seeing such small and out-of-the way places is precisely why this is a road trip in your own truck rather than an airplane/bus combination. Stay another day.” So I paid for another night and set out for Chicomóztoc or “La Quemada,” an ancient ruin about 50 KM from here, with the plan to see Jerez later in the day.
I spent a couple of hours climbing up and down Chicomóztoc, and it was an amazing experience, though an incredibly challenging site physically. I had to climb dozens of stairs that were 12″-18″in height, clamber over rocky inclines, and hike about 4 km. According to INAH, the vertical rise of the site is 150 meters, or almost 500 feet, which I don’t doubt. I’d recommend this site, but it’s not for the out-of-shape. After I literally felt my ears burning from the intense sun, I hurried the last stretch to the top, and then descended as rapidly as I could, hot and tired, but happy I’d made the effort.
From there, I drove to Jerez. And just as I entered town, I saw an AutoZone. Still feeling bad about having José’s gas cap, I pulled in to see if I could get a new one for less than the $35 USD I imagined the Toyota dealer would want. As it turns out, I could, and it was only 99 pesos or about $7.61 USD. A bargain compared to a guilty conscience, so I snapped it up. As I was getting back into the truck, I heard someone with a Southern California accent, say in English, “Hey, are you from Massachusetts?” I could hardly believe my ears. If there aren’t any gringos in Zacatecas, well you REALLY don’t expect them in Jerez. I looked around. And there was a young couple getting out of a white Toyota pickup.
“Yes, I am from Massachusetts, Boston in fact.” I replied. “Where are you all from?”
We started talking. They had some weird rattle in their truck, and a mechanic had told them it had something to do with the steering. I told them about my mechanical exploits, and offered to take a look. I also mentioned that I had a full box of tools in the camper, and would be happy to help in any way I could. Janet said, “You must have been sent by God to help us.” I kind of chuckled at this, but we looked under the truck, and then went for a spin together so I could hear the rattle. They needed a rubber steering bushing which mounts the steering box to the frame, something that AutoZone likely wouldn’t carry. But we went inside anyway to see. No luck, but I did tell them that it was something they could live with for a while without worrying too much. Meanwhile, I told them about my adventure, and they told me about theirs.
Isaul and Janet (not their real names) are a young couple, late 20’s, from Southern, CA. They’ve decided to get out of the American rat race and do something else. They’ve sold everything and have now lived here for about six months in a small town of about 2,000 people in a house owned by Isaul’s family. Since I’m fascinated by people who drop everything to do something “crazy” like moving to Mexico, I immediately wanted to know more, and suggested we have lunch together. They agreed, and since they know Jerez, I followed them to the Centro Historico.
We parked near the mercado, and went in for comida casera. There we all just kind of hit it off. I was fascinated that they had decided to chuck it all in and live a totally different life. Janet is learning Spanish, and they are working to open a café in their little town. Isaul is finishing a degree online. They both are excited about living some place where people have a real sense of community, where they gather in the plaza to see and be seen, and to live where people don’t just work, watch TV, sleep and repeat. This is precisely what appeals to me about Mexico too. So we ended up having about a two-and-a-half hour lunch, and talked about their adventures, my adventures, learning Spanish, life in Mexico, photography, and all kinds of things. And I feel like I finished with a couple of new friends.
Was this karma? Call me crazy, but I feel like my effort to get José’s gas cap back to him created the good karma that then led me to meet Isaul and Janet. Because if I hadn’t stopped in that AutoZone, I would have missed the experience of meeting these two wonderful people. And they must have done something good too (besides be so nice), because I picked up the tab. (All of 200 pesos, LOL.) And José? I brought him his gas cap a couple hours later, and he was happy to have it back.