When things started to go haywire
Africa to Gaul - October 22nd to November 5th
Oh golly, it's been a long time since you last heard from us. We're way behind on our work of keeping you all in the know, but there's a good reason: we've been without our inspiration for weeks now, since the 16th of November when we dropped Hajji back where we found her, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Ren and I have been in the UK and Ireland since then, with heavy hearts and lively livers, trying not to think too much about our girl. But now, with less than a week left until we get home to Ottawa, we know it's time to wrap this thing up. Here it goes...
Our return to Europe from Africa, from Morocco back into Iberia, was to see us get healthy; unfortunately, our repairs were to come at a price to our beloved. What was about to happen to Hajji, over the next two weeks, would be more traumatic to her than the previous four months put together.
We rolled off the ferry back in Algeciras, this time into a dark and cloudy Spain, and hit the highway out of town. It had been a tiring few days recently, so we only made it a little ways toward Cadiz before we came to a stop in a dimly-lit corner of a hotel's parking lot just off the road. With no appetites, Rain and I just snuggled down to rest. A short rest it turned out to be. At 3am we were both raaattled awake by a massive jostling crash to Hajji's rear end, and we opened our eyes to see strange flashing blue lights all around. We bounced out of the van and saw that a garbage truck had reversed right into us!! The trash men were sorta just standing there with goofy looks and kept shrugging their shoulders! We told them it was cool - "no preocupen" - and they hauled their garbage away into the night. Then we had a dozy doze.
After an afternoon in Seville, wandering through the gardens and eating Doritos, Hajji and her newly scarred bumper brought us into the south of Portugal. We spent a night on the beach at Quarteira, under the gaze of more-well-to-do caravans, and ate Portuguese sausages. But we've got the bug in us, and needed to keep moving. North toward a place called Troia, recommended us by Amanda Gray, a friend from Ottawa who had rented a place there a few summers back. We rolled into a weird world - it was all sort of pre-packaged and designed to be pretty, like a life-size version of a model city. The hills were placed, the trees manufactured, and the buildings like cutouts. We took to it and its hotels, where we made like we belonged and took swims in the pools and long showers in the change rooms. Having abused the facilities in this twilight world, we hit the road again to make it around the bay and into the town of Setubal.
Crooning along the highway, eyes on the road and Ren's legs, and not on the gas gauge. A slow roll sets in. "We're losing power!" I scream like a fluffer. And Hajji floats right off the road onto the shoulder...gas is kaput. The second time this trip we've let her get so thirsty. But industrious Rain sticks that thumb out and a moustache man picks her up, gets gas, and drops her back. Hajji slurps the swill, and we make it to Setubal.
So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, and now a diesel run-out. Hajj is feeling the wear.
Shab city! This place is the crumbs! Falling apart, creaky cracky, and rundown...Setubal was home for the night. Ren and I made for an internet joint so as to send our friend Neala Kelly, (who you will remember from our time in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary), a little birthday rap we puked up. Got to the cafe, put in the memory card, the computer then spat it out, and did something sneaky with all its contents: it garbaged every single picture and video we had taken since Italy! So, first thing's first - we found a scuzzy corner of the city and redid the rap for our galpal Neala J.
The wonderful and talented, Neala Kelly. With, from L to R, Alex Derry, Ineke Erwich, Ben the Impaylor, and Morgan Quinn.
You can see the racy video we made for her if you're friends with at least one of me, Ren, or Neala on Facebook. Get to it. Warning: many curse words and rudeness and lewdness.
From the armpit of Portugal, the next step was obviously its heart: Lisbon. We got to this magical city, parked underground for a change of pace and space, and left to traipse about, checking out the city's 2nd-hand shops. We did the vintage dance for a few hours, but wanted Hajji to take us in her arms, so went back to the city's main square and down to the parkinglot to take her. Open the door, get in, turn the key, and nothing. Not even a burp or a squeek came out of the old girl. And when Hajji doesn't even shudder, Ren and I start to. This was awful...the engine wasn't responding at all. We get the attendant down, he calls a tow truck, the tow truck man has a look, bangs around, and our Precious purrs to life. When asked how he did it, the little mechanic mimes that he just banged her with the tire iron; he shows us the sweet spot for the next time, and demands that we pay him €66.
So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, and now a near death. Hajji is saying something.
That night, we parked in the shadow of a hum-drum tenement building in the skirts of Lisbon, ate pasta again, and in the morning went to the famous flea market for trash and clothes. Then we split.
The next destination, 30 km to the NW of Lisbon, was a place of magic, of such beauty that that hobbled stud Lord Byron, while on his Grand Tour in 1809, commented that "the village of Cintra [sic] in Estramadura is the most beautiful, perhaps in the world." He called it a "glorious Eden", and I agree, no kidding. Ren and I walked through the town and in the hills above it, and fell in lust with Sintra.
And that's Sintra
Both photos courtesy of: http://almanlangit.blogharbor.com/.../4/14/1888134.html
After the stroll, Hajji needed to flee from the parking-ticketmen, and we perused the streets for a suitable berth. Coming through the oldest part of the town, and through a stone arch, I stopped, having spied a beaut. Brake. Put it in reverse. Roll back. Bang! Next second, there's a man at my window, and he looks peeved. Come to think of it...he looks like a cop. Turns out, silly me, I pulled back right into a policeman on his motorbike! I said sorry. He turned and skulked off. Ren sat there snickering, just baffled at the luck we'd been having, and he came back and yelled at her thinking she was being disrespectful! He couldn't find no humour nowhere that guy.
So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, a near death, and now a vehicular assault on a police officer. Hajji needs a break.
And so do we. Time for some family to tend to us.
It's North, back to Spain, to my cousin Bry and his incredible family. They live outside of an itty-bitty town called Redondela, kinda close to Vigo in the NW. Their house is set on a hill, their vegetable patch is a real dandy, their hens are generous, their dog Max is blind, and their two children are the living embodiment of that new Dan Brown/Tom Hanks movie, "Angels and Demons".
That's Bry, Nico (Demon), and Claudia (Angel).
And that's Nico, Susana, and Claudia.
God, they took care of us. Bry's wife Susana kept preparing such good food that made us plump and happy. They took us around the area, showed us some beautiful sights, and made sure we were always looked after. My cousin Bry, Susana, their daughter Claudia, and their son Nicolas, are such amazing people and I love them. But, like it always happens, time flies, and we had to go before we wanted to. With goodbyes bade, Hajji was packed again, and the key turned. But just like in the underground lot in Lisbon, nothing came of it. We tried the hammer attack...still nothing. This time, she was really gone. The local mechanic was called, and after a tinkering, he started her up! But he quickly let me know that he would have to take her from us that night, for she needed a new battery...oh crumbs!
So let's see: a garbage truck ka-blamow, a diesel run-out, a near death, a vehicular assault on a police officer, and now a real death. Hajji...christ, we got to take better care of her!
Two days and €130 later, Hajji was pronounced fit. We said goodbye for serious this time, and pushed off. The Spanish Kaulbacks stood waving in our rear-view, around the bend, and we were gone. They had been so fantastic to us for those 3-turned-6 days, and I'm staying super pissed until they come to Canada and let Ren and I take care of them.
Marcus and Lauren, on the road again, with a strong battery propeling us, and propel us she better, cus we've got to make it to France in two days! And for those two days, every second I felt like Al Joad, hoping and wishing and willing those four wheels to keep on rollin'. Hajj was sick, and tired, and every mile was a trial. John Steinbeck wrote it like I felt it:
"Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses; for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean a week here. That rattle, that's tappets. Don't hurt a bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along, can't hear that just kind of feel it. Maybe oil isn't gettin' someplace. Maybe a bearing's startin' to go. Jesus, if it's a bearing, what'll we do? Money's goin' fast."
- John Steinbeck, 'The Grapes of Wrath'
See you in France babies...