Automotive adventures in Jamaica

Went to JA this last week for my brother in law’s wedding (my father in law’s family from there).
Rented a mini-bus Thursday to take ~13 of us to Frenchman’s cove (beach).
There’s a drought there and protesters had made a roadblock to protest water shutoffs.
We diverted to take an alternate route, but local thugs made several copy-cat roadblocks (with rocks & tree trunks) to demand money from vehicles.
After paying ~$10 to get through two roadblocks at a third one they demanded more, much more.
Bus driver complained we’d just payed at last one couple hundred yards back.
They went behind the bus to communicate with the last group.
I got my nephew-in-law to jump out with me and quickly clear the blockage, much to the surprise of the other locals hanging around.
Jumped back in the moving bus and got away. Now my in-laws think I’m Indiana Jones.

Sunday a few of us go out in my sister in law’s 18 year old Toyota minivan, to visit family members up in the mountains and another beach (Ocho Rios).
We stop at a couple of houses, take one cousin with us to the beach, everything is fine.
Take the cousin back to her house, quick drop off, it’s getting dark. My s.i.l. opens the hood. I get out to see what’s up.
She’s worried the mountain roads might make the engine overheat, so she’s pouring cold water over the radiator.
I mention this isn’t gonna help anything, especially since it wasn’t actually overheating.
I look in the reservoir and it looks like it’s half full of mud.
I tell her she should get the cooling system flushed out and put in fresh antifreeze.
“Oh we don’t use antifreeze here it never gets freezing cold.”
I lecture her that antifreeze/coolant also prevents corrosion.
About 5 miles up the road, climbing a hill the engine starts stumbling. “Oh, the temp gauge is pegged on hot.”
We do the heater on full show for a few hundred yards. Hot air out the vents, but gauge still pegged, engine running worse, CEL now on.
No shoulder. We pull over at first opportunity ~ 1/4 mile further.
I see that the radiator had been patched with epoxy, and the crack has re-opened
All we have is a half full 500ml water bottle. I pop the hood. See the windshield reservoir is full with about 1/2 gallon of water.
I pull the hose off the hood nozzles and pump that into the radiator. Now I’m McGuyver too.
I suggest if that’s not enough we can pee into the water bottle to supplement, but a policeman comes by with a 5 gallon jug he carries for just such occasions.
Refill radiator, refill windshield washer.
We’re on the road again, but the engine is missing. I break news she’s down a head gasket, maybe more.
Twenty miles later temp starts rising, pump out washer into radiator again. Gets us to a gas station. Refill. Make it home.
Good times.

And so? Did you fix the radiator? Was it leaking? Bad thermostat? Maybe bad radiator cap? I remember driving in Jamaica many, many years ago and that feeling that you’re on your own out there, no parts, no help. And every time you stop, at what seems like the middle of nowhere, within moments a crowd of people emerge and watch you flounder, discussing your clumsy efforts as if they knew what to do. I finally realized they were just really bored, and you were the evening’s entertainment.

Steam and coolant were coming out of the newly formed crack.
I’m back in the states now.
The minivan is off the road until it gets a new radiator, and maybe a head gasket.
Toyota parts are widely available.

In most 3rd world countries, NOTHING is “widely available”, especially car parts…

@Caddyman, have you ever been to Jamaica? There are genuine Toyota dealerships there.
At any rate, as of when I left Monday afternoon, a shop there had a new radiator available for installation.
A “shade tree” neighbor also offered to patch it again with epoxy, but I told her to get the new one.

And there are Toyotas EVERYWHERE. They have these fantastic Toyota tour buses:

I quite irrationally want one.

And they drive those Toyotas (and everything else) on those narrow, twisty mountain roads like they’re in a Grand Prix.

OT, but here’s a place with crazier traffic than Jamaica:

Have things gotten worse, or is this just the same old set of problems? We went to Montego Bay for our honeymoon, and everything was fine. There were a few areas of town that we were warned to avoid, but we never had problems. We went to Ocho Rios with no trouble, and travelled through the cockpit to a rum plantation. We did hear that the area around Kingston was very dangers and resolved to avoid it. And we did see armed troops occasionally. Where was the Army?

Yeah, Toyota owns the Third World…The favorite military vehicle in the Third World is a Toyota Pick-up with a heavy machine gun mounted in the back…

When you employ someone to work 10 or 12 hours a day 6 days a week but you don’t pay them enough to feed and cloth themselves let alone a family, well sooner or later there is going to be trouble…

How common is such activity throughout the Caribbean? I have considered spending a week in Puerto Rico but similar stories from visitors there have discouraged me.

I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting there, but I’m told that Jamaicans take things like cars far less seriously than we do. I suppose if everything around me were beautiful all year around, I’d feel the same way.

My elderly parents were perfectly comfortable driving in Puerto Rico. That part of the world includes some of the richest places (Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands, etc.) and some that are very poor. Jamaica sounds… interesting.

Great story ! We went on a cruise last year and only spent the afternoon there so I can’t say I know much at all about the country but everything you say sure makes sense; old cars with low but neglected miles.

If it weren’t for the seriousness of it, the video posted by circuitsmith of Ethiopia would be kind of comical. After seeing a large number of pedestrian near misses in that video I had to check.

Almost 23,000 road accident fatalities a year there and over half are pedestrians. The only surprise to me is that the number isn’t higher.

Pedestrian fatalities are the majority of traffic deaths in much of the world. And bicycles and scooters most of the rest. Very sad. Whole families balancing on a scooter is ridiculously dangerous, but I doubt they feel they have any alternative. Besides never going anywhere together.

We had no problems in Jamaica the last time we were there, but then like @dagosa we were on a cruise. The cruise lines are very motivated to make sure their customers stay safe. The people we met (non-cruise employees, btw) were extremely friendly, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely even though I’d personally have liked to spend a week or two there just getting steeped in the culture.

@circuitsmith "And they drive those Toyotas (and everything else) on those narrow, twisty mountain roads like they’re in a Grand Prix. "

Phoo, you aren’t kidding. We took a tour bus from Falmouth to Dunns River Falls (highly recommended, btw). The route is a winding cliff-side narrow road, and our driver just flew. Cars going both directions? No problem! Slide up the middle of 'em, they’ll make room… Probably.

The only thing that slowed him down were hills - those buses are great, but they’re pretty underpowered for any sort of climbing work. I found myself getting happy when I’d see an uphill climb ahead.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica in 67-69, working at a vocational training camp in the absolute middle of the island, near a place called Christiana. It was so long ago that it seems a bit like a dream now, but I was there. Then there were country buses that ran routes every day and would toot their horn in a certain pattern unique to each bus, so you could hear it coming from the next valley and know it was the Shooters Hill bus or the Brown’s Town bus. Not too many private cars then, lots of rural taxis that were ride sharing. You waved them down, told them where you were going, they told you the cost, everyone shoved over and you got in.

We taught auto repair and fixed the trucks that the camp used. Rebuilt shock absorbers, welded broken leaf springs and frames, patched together everything. And drove like fools, rocketing through towns, chickens flying out of the way, ducking into the ditch to avoid a bus, horns blasting and hoping the donkey got out of the way. The camp driver drove a 10 ton stake truck off the road, off a cliff, into the top of a mango tree. 25 teen age boys in the back. They all had to stay in the truck and one by one they climbed down the tree while the rest moved around in the truck to keep the balance. When the last got out they cut down the tree and destroyed the truck.

I learned a lot.

P.R. is part of the United States. A whole different ballgame…But the Island is way overpopulated so you will feel the squeeze…But the beaches are nice…

Rod, the Yucatan is quite safe. It is far away from the parts of Mexico plagued by drug gangs and they know their livelihoods depend on tourist traffic. You can get yourself in serious trouble if you go looking for it, but Yucatan is quite safe. We had a great week there (Cozumel) in 2011. If you’re on the mainland,you might want to rent a car, but no need on Cozumel.