The Broken Radiator

Yesterday, Oct. 14, beloved priest of the Salvadoran people, martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, was canonized in Rome.  The people have waited 38 years for this honor.  We celebrate with them.  He is considered the “saint of the Americas.”


POP! SZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Clouds of steam begin seeping from under the hood of the car we are riding in.  Don calmly observes, “This can’t be good.”

Four of us had left San Salvador at 9 AM and had been climbing curve after curve after curve steadily up, up, up the switchbacks of the mountain near Santa Ana.  We were trying to reach the Rue de Flores, Route of the Flowers, one of El Salvador’s noteworthy tourist attractions.  It was to be a break in our work agenda because the rainy season had just ended and the flowers were at the height of the bloom. We had tried it several years ago and saw a short segment of it until the rains and foggy conditions made it prohibitive to proceed.

This time we hoped to see more.  The proliferation of colorful, tropical flowers WOULD have been spectacular; the waterfalls WOULD have been flowing abundantly; the little artisan shops in the towns along the way WOULD have been stocked with characteristic Salvadoran handmade items.  Our hope was to take numerous photos to use on our website.

However, the malfunctioning vehicle gave us no choice but to pull off the side of the road on a dangerous curve with only isolated poor homes scattered here and there and to investigate what happened.  The vehicle was perched precariously no more than six inches from the side of the road and the edge of the deep ravine below us.

Our friend who drove us filled the radiator with water, and we sat awaiting it to cool before we could turn around. We were not in a good location in terms of being seen by vehicles coming behind us around that curve, but we had no choice but to sit there and wait it out.

Our translator then announced, “We are not safe here; it is dangerous in this lonely, remote area; we could be robbed.”  I began camouflaging the cash by tucking it into  the bottom of the tissue box, wrapping the i-Pad in my sweater, hiding the camera in the cooler under the sandwiches.  A thief would never think to look in those places for our valuables.

Don got on his phone, “Siri, car repair places in this area.”  Response: “NONE!”  There is no equivalent of AAA in El Salvador.

After a short eternity our driver turned around, and we began to drift down, down, down the hairpin curves of that long mountain road we had just climbed.  He was using a combination of the emergency brake and the car brake while trying to start the car. Don was sure the brakes were going to burn out.  I was imagining he would lose steering as the vehicle accelerated particularly as he passed a slow-moving truck in front of us.  YIKES!  FINALLY, as we continued to descend the mountain, we began to see clusters of homes and, ALAS, something resembling an auto repair shop.  We stopped and explained the situation.  Seeing the guy shake his head No was not what any of us wanted to see.  That mechanic was unable to repair the damage; however, he pointed us downhill a few hundred meters farther to a place that should be able to help us.  We continued to drift to the next repair shop and saw a nod by the mechanic and felt instant relief.



As five male heads leaned into the hood of the car assessing the damage, made a diagnosis, and determined a game plan, the mechanic’s 12-year-old son began grabbing a series of wrenches and screwdrivers to pull out the radiator, and we instantly saw the problem — the end of the radiator was cracked from top to bottom.  At one point the mechanic walked over to the fence and grabbed two long metal strips resembling coat hangers stretched open and took them over to the vehicle, and I wondered if he planned on jerry-rigging something together inside.  Even I, who knows NOTHING about car repair figured that wasn’t going to do the trick.  He did not have a new radiator but offered to drive into town to locate one.  We found rocks in the shade along the wall to sit and wait.  His gracious wife offered chairs, food, and the use of the outdoor bano (toilet) while she continued to hand wash the family jeans in the pila (outdoor sink)I took her up on the offer of the bano but continued to sit on the rock in the shade.



 Two kids were endearing in trying to entertain us.  The boy pulled out his wallet to show us his currency collection.  He had colones (the former Salvadoran currency), paper money from several other Latin American countries, including Cuba.   We gave him and his sister each a U.S. dollar to add to his collection.



The mechanic returned from town having no luck finding a new radiator.  We’ve now been there a couple of hours.  The rock is not getting any more comfortable, and the mechanic will need to go to a junkyard or into another city to try to find one.  He gave an estimate of the cost of repair, and Don paid it.  Now Don and I need to figure out how to get back to San Salvador, since this could go well into the night.  Our friends don’t want us to take the buses which could take several hours, involve switching buses, and not be safe.



Our driver, insisting on accompanying us back to the city, called a friend of his in Santa Tecla, and they made an arrangement with the mechanic to drive all of us that far together.  Don paid the mechanic for that fee and the 12-year-old mechanic pulled out a 2’ X 6’ board to serve as the seat for the three guys to ride in the back of the truck while I had the luxury of sitting in the front seat of the mechanic’s truck.  Off we went for a three-hour ride into Santa Tecla for our driver to pick up his friend’s car to deliver us safely back to the guesthouse in San Salvador six hours later.



After our friends dropped us off, they made the long return trip back to the mechanic’s house to see what was happening with his car.  We didn’t find out until the next morning.  Apparently, the new radiator was insufficient to fix the vehicle, and it needed to be towed to our friend’s home.

We found out the next day that the vehicle’s entire computer system was blocked and now needed to be assessed to see if it will be considered totaled or be repairable.  He is supposed to send us information to let us know.

Our dear friend was embarrassed by the event and kept apologizing to us for the day not being successful to meet our needs and for inconveniencing us.  We kept repeating that these things happen with no predictability.  He will have a large repair bill to deal with, and we feel bad knowing he will be unable to pay it.  As distressing and stressful as this long day was for everyone, we gave thanks to God that no one was hurt (or robbed!) and everyone made it back to his respective home safely.

This incident is a typical example of the deep care the Salvadorans have always shown us.  They go above and beyond the norm prioritizing our safety over their own needs.  Things could have gone very wrong that day on so many different levels, yet I never felt fearful knowing the decisions our trusted friends would make would be in our best interests.


    Afflicted with Hope / is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.