It was about time for me to pop my Siete de Agosto cherry. In truth I had been avoiding coming down here into the depths of the Barrios Unidos for weeks. It just freaked me out every time I had been stuck in a traffic jam here that vendors would almost press their oil stained faces up close to the car and wave wing-mirrors or windscreen wipers at me. Or worse yet, with just a cursory glance at my car, these vehicle experts would identify some flaw or fault in my ride as yet unknown to me.
It’s amazing really, in probably the space of six square blocks you’ll be able to find anything you need for your car. Stray from this area and you’ll end up in another whole district within this barrio that is dedicated only to construction materials. Wander too far in another direction and touts offering the company of young women will be pressing flyers into your hand with addresses to nondescript and windowless residences.
So, you get the idea. It’s not really the ideal setting for a gringo to be wandering around without knowing more or less where he’s going. But, as I said previously, it was time for me to best the Siete de Agosto so that I could replace the rubber piping around the doors to my Ford, replace my long worn down windscreen wipers, update my fire extinguisher and price a replacement or two for my headlights.
Swinging around the corners, driving ever so carefully so as not to bump any other car even though it seems as if the whole area is double and triple parked, I managed to locate a place for “cauchos“. This would be the place. 40 minutes later and the vendor was not able to find any replacement. I went to another shop. He pointed me to another associate and then from there I found someone willing to do the work.
“There are no replacements for what you need.”
“These cars are very safe and not a lot of things get stolen from them, so there are no available replacements.”
“Are there a lot of stolen goods sold here?”
“More than you can imagine.”
It was then I realised that I was incredibly safe here in this section of the Siete de Agosto. These businesses were all covered by an informal set of security guards. They did not have uniforms or anything like that, they were just there. They were not obvious at first but then you could see that messages were passed by word of mouth along streets and that everyone was paying attention. There was almost no police presence, there were no neros or street people begging. Stolen goods are fenced here and the sales are used for money laundering, and it appears to be very effective.