A Moment In...Between Here and There
The whole of South America at our feet, or rather wheels, we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts Conti and Jose and turned towards to the road ahead. We set out from Santiago with high spirits. After jumping over all the hurdles necessary to purchase and outfit our little van, we were eager to take Marquito out on the open road. The first two hours of the journey went smoothly, as we worked out the quirks of driving this old vehicle on the highway: speakers can only go so loud before they crackle, gas peddle can only be pressed so hard before the van simply will not go faster, the bed will shake as we move over bumps, and we will hold our breath each time a large truck shakes us with their turbulence. All part of the adventure.
Unfortunately, adventure decided to kick things up a notch early into the drive. We returned from a lunch break, with full bellies and stretched out limbs to find the car wouldn’t start. Turn the key…and nothing. A moment of panic ensued, the kind where your stomach drops ten feet and you feel absolutely sick with worry. Dreams of coasting down the continent quickly dissolved into nightmarish thoughts and regrets …had we purchased a lemon? Are we about to become those travellers? A call to our mechanic and a jumpstart from a fellow driver brought us back on to the highway and our road trip ambitions back into focus. However, before we could laugh at ourselves for being melodramatic, Marquito began to die on us. Piece by piece: first the radio, then the lights, then the fan and eventually, the ability to accelerate. A stroke of luck lurched our dying van to the side of the highway beside a small restaurant, a small building surrounded by absolutely nothing but highway and open field. Phone dead, dreams devastated, we trudged into the restaurant in search of help, a power outlet and hopefully someone who understood our awkward mix of English, Spanish and hand gestures.
What follows is incredibly hilarious in retrospect, but at the time was entirely overwhelming. Our calls for help alerted the attention of a well-intentioned but incredibly intoxicated woman. A stunted conversation ensured, peppered with her hiccoughs and giggles, a comedic contrast to frantic gesticulation and miserable expressions. Nevertheless, she was wonderful drunk angel, and an indispensable source of help. After disappearing for twenty minutes, this female Bacchus returned and conjured up a man she introduced to us as a mechanic. The mechanic struck an intimidating figure: large and burley with a shaved head and an obvious penchant for threatening tattoos. At home perhaps, he would not have seemed so menacing…but when you are stuck on the side of the highway in a foreign country, the intensity is always higher. Not very many words were exchanged, but once he pulled out a yellow rope and tied it to Marquito, we ascertained that he intended to tow us somewhere. A squealing of tires, and a few seconds of no movement quickly turned into a franticly fast rip across the highway and down a gravel road. With mere inches separating the back his van from the front of ours, we were alarmed to find our brakes non functional and our steering capacity drastically reduced. As he halted suddenly we just managed to swerve out of the way of rear-ending him at an frighteningly high speed. Shaken, we emerged from the van with pale faces to the sound of the mechanic getting a good hard chuckle at our stunned expressions.
As he led us into his workshop, it quickly became apparent that the engines normally he worked belonged to motorcycles. He was a biker. Three custom choppers stood looking very impressive in the corner. A few minutes of broken Spanish and frantic translations on our phone revealed to him that we were from British Columbia, while he revealed to us that he had friends there. His friends were also bikers. Indeed, he had friends all along the road across the Americas, as he informed us that he was a member of the Chilean chapter of the Hells Angels. The sound of crunching gravel alerted us to the arrival of another biker, a leather clad companion who the mechanic referred to as “mucho loco”. Our level of discomfort grew to comical proportions. The notion that we were stranded out of sight of the highway, with a broken car and with two members of the Hells Angels to keep us company left us on the verge of panic. Yet instead of turning into a horror story, the two bikers proved to be absolute gentlemen and excellent hosts. Having decided that he was unable to fix the van, he called us a tow truck and showed us around his studio. Meanwhile, the fellow biker had been preoccupied with rolling a joint, and upon completion, he held it up and offered us some. Sensing an opportunity too unique and hilarious to pass up, and in need of a little relaxation, we did indeed share a joint with two Chilean Hells Angels. By the time the tow truck rolled up, we had spent a couple hours in their company. A hazy, nerve-wracking and ultimately, amusing experience. Finding ourselves stuck precisely in between Santiago and our intended destination, Pichilemu, we opted to have our van towed 100km towards the ocean. A sickeningly high fee would leave our wallets feeling barren, but it was either move forward or find ourselves at square one again. With the sun setting in the east, we waved goodbye to our biker companions and once again hit the road. We may have been sitting up high in the cab of a tow truck, as the driver chain smoked and our little van looked at us from the rear view mirror, but at least we were on our way, heading west to the sea.