Tossed and turned all night wondering what pleasures tomorrow would bring. I eventually saw the sun come up, kissed Lauren goodbye and hiked out the road.
Not much traffic flowing by at sunrise but eventually a lone tuk-tuk comes puttering along. As I was running him down he gave me a crazy look probably wondering what this greasy gringo was doing standing out in the middle of the desert at sunrise. I explained the situation in my craptastic spanish and asked him if he could pull our truck into town. I showed him our 4Runner stuck out in the sand and he laughed.
“No puedo!” (I cant!)
I eventually settled on just a lift into town instead. 30 minutes of puttering along and we arrived into the “blessed” town of “Ciudad de Dios”. A true 1-horse town scratched out of the sands of the Peruvian desert. The dusty pueblo is huddled around a small trickle of life-giving water running down from the Andes mountains.
The entire town was still asleep but the mototaxi driver knew of a mechanic in town and took me to him.
We banged on his front-door for a while which eventually produced a groggy man in greasy cover-alls. He yelled at the driver for waking him up and told us to hold on.
When the mechanic returned to the door he said he would be able to help me but we needed to get a taxi because he did not own a car himself. In any other place I would think twice about a mechanic who did not actually own a car… but hell I was desperate.
I sent the moto-taxi driver off to find us a real taxi. He soon returned full-size taxi in tow. We all piled into the car (including the mototaxi driver who said he didn’t have anything better to do!) and headed back out into the desert to our stranded 4Runner.
Back at the dump site, the mechanic and I futz around for a while, first trying a futile jump start that lead us nowhere. I showed him all the troubleshooting steps I had taken the night before. He agreed that it was an issue with the fuel pump and asked if I had checked the fuel pump fuse.
I laughed in his direction and proudly proclaimed “It was the first thing I checked!”. He then asked if I had re-checked it after mucking around slicing all the wiring leading to the fuel pump.
I sheepishly replied no… pulled the fuse and sure enough. It was popped. DAMNIT!!!! We grabbed a new fuse, popped it in, got another jump, and I could hear the fuel pump whir to life. The truck turned over on first crank.
Back in business!!
We shook hands and exchanged hugs. The creepy cab driver hugging Lauren just a bit longer than seemed necessary.. and set off on our merry way.
Wind in our hair, we were only a few hours behind schedule. Things were looking good.
We rolled into another minuscule town and I remember thinking “This would be a crappy place to break-down”
Sure enough… 10 seconds later the 4Runner lost all power. I calmly pulled the truck over to the side of the road in front of a small dusty shack.
Lauren gave me the look… “Fuel pump?”
I jumped out and popped the hood, she starts unloading all the stuff from behind the passenger seat so that I can go through the whole removal process again.
A small crowd quickly gathers around the strange gringos in the silver truck.
As I am wrenching on the fuel pump, a small Peruvian man exclaims that he knows a mechanic in town and runs off to find him. OK, Sure.
I am underneath the truck trying to crack the fuel lines so that I can remove the fuel pump and get a better look at it when the man returns with the mechanic. I meet him and he seems like a nice enough guy, I tell him I am having trouble getting these fuel lines off and ask for his help. He says no problem.
I get underneath the truck to get a good angle on one of the fuel line bolts from below and he is wrenching from the top. Problem is; I can’t see what he is doing and by the time I realize that he is actually wrenching and twisting the steel fuel lines in circles, instead of working the bolt, the damage is done. Now we have a dead fuel pump and a cracked fuel line.
I cursed for a long while… especially when out of desperation I cranked the truck and the fuel pump sprang to life, spewing fuel all over the inside of the truck through the cracked fuel line. What the hell is up with this moody damn pump!! One second it works, the next its dead.
The mechanic apologized profusely. He then explained to me that he is actually a moto-taxi mechanic and doesn’t really know much about cars… DOH
With not many options for repair here I decide to try and JBWeld up the cracked fuel line. JBWeld job completed we now play the waiting game for it to set up.
The Moto mechanic offers to give us a tour of the town in his mototaxi, with nothing much better to do we agree and are skated off around the town in his sweet Batman tuk-tuk
Eventually we end up at a local bar, the mechanic buys us sympathy beers and we swap stories of life. He has spent his entire life in this little town but we are surprised to find out that he has 2 children who are studying medicine in Lima. When we explained that is where we are headed he insisted that we look them up when arrived and gave us their info.
We had about 4 hours to kill at the bar waiting for the JBWeld to setup, needless to say we were all feeling good by the time we returned to the truck to see if our rig had worked.
Back to the truck, I work the ignition while the mechanic watches the line. I crank and hear GAHHHHH as the mechanic spit fuel out of his mouth, I knew the fix had not worked
OK, time to regroup here. My rookie mechanics skills have just dug us deeper into a mechanical black-hole. I asked the mechanic where the next real town is, he explained that is about 30 minutes up the road. After spending 15 minutes trying to figure out the Spanish word for “Tow-Truck” (FYI: its “grua”) We eventually arranged for a farmer to tow us into town the next morning.
Now the last thing left to do was reassemble all the crap I had removed during troubleshooting phase #2. I crawled into the back of the truck and started moving some wires around the fuel pump when suddenly…
WOOOSH GIANT FLAME!!!
OH SHIT!!!!! OH SHIT!! OH SHITT!!!!
I reeled as giant flames leaped from the exposed fuel pump hatch, I stared through the flames and saw 17 gallons of freshly pumped gas directly underneath. My mind processed that I must have sparked the recently hackjob fuel pump wires together and then processed WELL NOW IM GOING TO DIE!
I look up and see Lauren at the drivers door who is singing along with my chorus of OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT
I am frantically grabbing for something to throw onto the flames to extinguish them, unfortunately the only thing readily available is the trucks title and all our important paperwork. Not good fire squelching equipment.
In a moment of completely idiotic desperation I get the bright idea to try and BLOW out the fire. Ok… yes I know. Looking back that was the dumbest thing I could possibly do. But I was freaking out here!!
I blow on the flames and WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH the fire gets 10 times bigger, the flames licking the plywood hatch above it and singeing the actual roof of the 4Runner. BAD IDEA!!!
I scream to Lauren “WE NEED TO RUN!!!”
As I look over at her I see her grabbing something red. I realize its the friggin FIRE EXTINGUISHER we had recently purchased at a hardware store in Huanchaco. DUH! Thank God Lauren has a much cooler head than me, it did not even cross my mind.
She tosses it to me, I fumble with the crazy Peruvian safety mechanism cursing the bastards who designed this thing. With my beast-mode adrenaline strength I completely rip the plastic safety lever apart and start going to TOWN on the interior of the truck.
I lit that thing up like the 4th of July. Spraying the white extinguishing dust all over the place, I did not let up until it was a white Christmas inside of the 4Runner.
Fire extinguished, Crises adverted. My adrenaline dumped and I begin shaking uncontrollably as I turn around and see a group of about 15 men, women, and children who had no idea how close they all just came to being blown to smithereens.
Lauren ran around the truck and we hugged each other laughing and crying interchangeably for 10 minutes as the clueless Peruvians wondered what the hell was up with these weirdos.
I tried to explain to them the gravity of the situation but it must have been lost in translation as they simply shrugged and walked away.
After all the calamity we asked the man who owned the shack where we broke down if we could spend the night in front of his place. He was very friendly and quickly agreed, also offering up the use of his shower/bathroom if we needed.
That night Lauren and I sat on the tailgate, drinking cheap box wine, watching the traffic fly by on the Pan-American highway contemplating life and death. We agreed that after all the “dangerous” places and things we have done on this trip, it would be pretty ironic for us to blow our own damnselves up.
Later, as we lay in our extinguisher dust covered bed completely caked from head to toe in dust, dirt, and gasoline we could not help but laugh hysterically at our pathetic situation.
It is not the beautiful beaches, tall mountains, and rum drinks that we will remember when we are old and gray. It is the parts of this journey when we are at our lowest, when most people would give up and walk away, when we question why the hell we ever started this damn trip in the first place. These are the times that stick with you. These are the times that draw us closer. These are the times that we are happy we have chosen one other for this journey. We are in this thing together, thick and thin, and we would not have it any other way.
Oh well, Tonight we sleep and we shall see what tomorrow brings. Don’t forget we are still trying to make it to Lima and the clock is tick tick ticking!