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SVO Diaries, Part II

The caravan filled up DM&E's tank with Sonoma olive oil, which carried them through Guatemala and Honduras

By Novella Carpenter

Last time we saw David, Mali and Emilio, they were headed south, out of the United States, scrounging used fryer oil for their 1980 diesel VW Dasher. The first thing they encountered going into Mexico was "The Fence." David wrote, "Under a darkening sky, we approached Naco, a small border crossing near Douglas, Ariz. We saw The Fence. It was as ugly as could be. [The Mexican] side is decorated with banners, one telling us that over 2,000 persons had died crossing the border, and how many more would have to die?"

I feared for our diarists themselves, especially with posts like this: "It was scary driving at night, mainly because the road was windy [and] not marked well, and the trucks shined their lights in our eyes. Plus our windshield wipers were crapped out and left streaks. We experienced our first contact with the dreaded 'topes,' speed bumps from hell, which are sometimes marked [but] often lie hidden. Even driving over them at a crawl would usually give the Dasher a horrible scrape."

Another thing that they hadn't planned on was a dearth of veggie oil. David and Co. realized this in Parral, where David posted, "I searched for oil for hours in Parral on a warm sunny day. There was not a drop to be had! Everyone throws out their oil at night, and they throw it in the garbage. Ninety-five percent of the time they don't have anything."

But as someone said, while unhappiness is at the table, joy is taking a nap. Later, David discovered some good stuff: "Me and Emilio stumbled into a jackpot! A papas frances (french fry) place where they kept their oil! Fifty liters of Mexican gold! We were so thrilled, because we'd been running on diesel for the past 20 kilometers. The folks said that they sell it sometimes for one peso a liter, so we gladly paid them 50 pesos and hurried off to a park so Emi could play while I filtered. Whee!"

Did I mention that DM&E are my heroes? They even found the time to cook with their veggie-oil car. David reported: "One funny thing is that I did make a rice and beans cooker for the car. We tapped into the coolant lines in the back above the veggie-oil tank with 3/8-inch hose and coiled a copper tube into a nice shape and put it into a cooking pot with holes in top for the tubes. It cooked a batch of rice in about 1 1/2 hours coming back from the Lancandon jungles. It's really funny to smell not only hot oil but rice and beans cooking!"

Just as our heroes feared they would soon run out of oil in southern Mexico, they encountered a caravan of two yellow veggie-powered buses (see www.sustainablesolutionscaravan.org). Being kind SVO-ers, the caravan filled up DM&E's tank with Sonoma olive oil, which carried them through Guatemala and Honduras, until they came to David's favorite country: Nicaragua. He wrote: "Nicaragua has a fantastic transportation infrastructure, composed almost completely of retired U.S. diesel school buses. You can go anywhere--and cheap. The buses are patched together with baling wire and duct tape and are decorated and painted beautifully. But they spew out the most hateful plumes of black sooty diesel smoke. Nicaragua produces tons of veggie oil, corn, cottonseed, soy, palm oil. It would be practical and efficient to convert at least their public transportation infrastructure over to locally produced vegetable oil, the price of which would quickly become competitive with foreign-produced diesel, and the money would stay in Nicaragua, make more jobs and improve the environment and health of the people. It's a no-brainer, except that the government is corrupt to the core and in bed with U.S. and European petroleum interests."

Costa Rica and Panama were a blur, the highlights being teaching impromptu classes and having a press conference with the sustainable-caravan folks in Costa Rica and many tire-related problems in Panama. Most of you must be dying to find out how they crossed the Darian gap, right? Stay tuned for next week's installation.

Novella lives vicariously through David and Mali--so what? Email her at [email protected]

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From the July 14-21, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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