The beautiful Hotel Victoria overlooking the city of Oaxaca
We got El Jefe off the trailer and fired her up. (I know she's got a man's name but it doesn't feel right to call a car a man......like, "He's running fine today.") The sound of El Jefe always gives me the chills when I first hear her throaty growl and feel the power. I drove her through the hotel grounds and was happy to have a handle on her again. Geezer and Rene showed me all the interior improvements from last year: the new and improved racing seats, repainted and sleeker interior, hooks behind the seats for our helmets, a better clipboard for the route book, a sturdier water bottle holder with a custom spot for a can of Go Fast, a working trip computer (!), and best of all a brand new windshield!
We tucked El Jefe in for the night and made our way to the hotel bar where we had the luxury of sitting outside in this paradise to enjoy Coronas and tacos de arrecheta as more racers arrived. What a killer view of the city below! The Coronas were fresh and don't compare to what we get in the U.S. Less than 5 people were in the bar for happy hour and Rene pointed out that though it was quiet now, soon it would be filled with racers.
The beautiful view from the Hotel Victoria bar
The beers went down quickly and so did the peanuts mixed in with roasted garlic slivers. Geezer and Rene took turns telling the story of how they met. The short version is that Geezer stopped into Rene's mechanic shop which is next door to Tumbaburros de Zacatecas and told him he had a 1952 Ford Victoria that he needed some help with. He asked Rene if he knew of a chassis for it, but Rene couldn't recall seeing any.
A couple of days later Rene was in a junkyard looking for parts for a friend and he had to use the bathroom which was all the way in the back. When he came out there right in front of him was a chassis from a 1954 Ford! He ran to TBZ and told my dad they were going for a ride. My dad didn't ask where or why and he really didn't know Rene at all, but my dad is always up for an adventure. The chassis was perfect and Geezer bought it for scrap metal weight, maybe $100, and that is where the building of El Jefe and the foundation of a wonderful friendship between Rene and Geezer began.
We did a lot of laughing that night and later as the place began to fill we talked to some English chaps in the table behind us. Simon Jefferies was really friendly and came to our table and told us they were rookies driving a Mustang. Geezer said, "Oh, my buddy, Todd, from Minnesota builds Mustangs for the PanAm....." and before he could finish Simon said excitedly, "YES, we know Todd; we are waiting for him to bring our Mustang!"
Last year there was a lot of political unrest and rioting in Oaxaca so the race start was moved to Veracruz, but tonight from our perch in the Victoria hotel overlooking the beautiful city we could hear the joy and celebration of mariachis playing and fireworks going off for hours.
Later in the evening after Geezer retired to bed, Rene and I returned to the bar and saw some friendly faces and joined the table with the team from the yellow original PanAm Lincoln, #101 - Brad Kaplan, Derek Dwyer, Fernando, and Valentine. I remembered them from last year, especially the fact that they always had smiles on their faces, even after going off the road in Mil Cumbres and hitting a tree. They were fine and the car was back on the road a day later, and they had even bigger smiles. That is the spirit of La Carrera.
They had just arrived today, like us and we swapped notes on the amazingly steep and dangerous mountain pass between Puebla and Oaxaca. Brad, in his unique way of seamlessly switching between English and Spanish, said that a car went over a railing on that pass just minutes before them. As they slowed down they saw the medics standing at the railing just gazing down the cliff as there was nothing that could be done.
The crazy mountain pass just north of the city of Oaxaca. The white line in the left middle of the picture is a bus on the crazy road.
It was getting late and I'd already had dinner and my share of beers but there was a plate of taco fixins on the table and they invited me to eat. I noticed all the regular items - beans, meat, fresh corn tortillas, salsa, guac, etc. but I pointed at a fuzzy pile of reddish brown stuff and said, "What's that?"
"Grasshoppers!" Derek said with a smile and a full mouth. Something strange happened in my brain because I instantly decided it would be a good idea to try them - they are the local specialty of Oaxaca after all. I grabbed a pinch hit of the dried out buggers....err...bugs and luckily the bar lights were dim as I popped them into my mouth without noticing torsos, legs, or worst of all eyeballs! They weren't that bad....I've had worse....but once was definitely enough. Someone pushed a can of tonic in my direction and I waved it off saying I wanted the full experience. The only bad part was that a piece got stuck in a molar and was with me for a while, and my stomach was a tiny bit upset later, but it passed. Now my new nickname is Chapulina, which means Grasshoppa. And Derek? He kept making taco after taco and piling the grasshoppers in there, saying he liked them. But then he disappeared for a while and we looked around the table and I was thinking someone should go check on him in the bathroom. But he soon returned and in response to our inquisitive looks and asking if he was okay he said, "Um, yeah, I was just talking to my girlfriend..."
Chapulinas (or chapurrines - dried grasshoppers) in a jar for $5 USD
It was a wonderful evening and we are stoked yet relaxed, and tomorrow race registration begins.