Another adventure a little too close to home
The flurry of activity before leaving on an overnight trip seems to be heightened here. At least, I don’t remember ever hiding my pots and pans from the windows’ view to deter a break-in by those enamored by the gleam of stainless steel. Or putting important documents in my pillowcase. One of the reasons we put off doctor’s appointments for so long is because a trip over Death Mountain to the big city just seems, well, overwhelming. And, the chances that those test results from the hospital lab tell of more hazardous symptoms than the actual process of getting there seems unlikely. I think I’m safer staying home.
But, last week, we had somehow convinced ourselves a trip into the city was necessary.
We were finalizing the last details and locking up the house when our little stray dog looked at us with that pathetic face that reminded us how terrified she had been last time we left her home alone. We saw flashes of the horror — pieces of the landlord’s rocking chairs chewed to bits on the porch — and decided to throw her in the car with us. We thought it best to inform our neighbors, responsible for feeding the dogs, that we were taking one with us, so they wouldn’t spend the 2 days looking for the dog we would have in the truck.
Rain had been coming down for days and today was no different. Non-stop, jungle rainy season, can’t-get-anything-done rain. So, when we stopped at the neighbors house, truck loaded and ready to go, Joel saw the soupy muddy mess outside and offered to pull over, close to her house. I jumped out into the deluge, ran to tell her about the dog and dove back into the safety of the truck.
In the meantime, a car had come up the same narrow road, so we were only halfway on the road to accommodate this rare occurrence. With the truck in 4WD, Joel angled to get the truck fully back on the rough pavement, but in that effort, the truck slid backwards in the sludge. The ground was so soggy that the road sat a couple inches above the thick clay mud, and even that short depth kept the knobby tires off the road in that moment. In one quick motion, we careened backwards down the hill, sliding like a 1-ton ice skate, down the hill, completely out of control. My window went from stormy gray sky, to green branches, scraping their way along my side, as I screamed, “God, please help us!”
And then, we stopped.
In the position of roller-coaster riders about to take that final dive, we sat with our legs higher than our heads, looking straight into the air. Somehow, the truck had stopped, but my side was completely blocked as the body of the truck rested precariously on this side of the hill. Joel yanked the emergency brake on and (at my insistence!!), jumped out of the truck so I could crawl over the console to get out the driver’s door. We saw the truck sitting at the soggy edge of the end of the hill and realized there was no safe way to get the cell phone or anything left inside, including our little dog, who apparently was as scared as I was because she had secured herself to Joel’s backpack and refused to budge when we yelled at her to come with us.
In our panic, we made a quick plan — Joel ran down the hill to one neighbor to try to get someone with a tractor. I went back to another neighbor to use the phone. But, without our cell phone, I couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number. I finally found the name of a man with a backhoe, but his wife said he was working in an area with no cell reception. Joel’s attempt for help was also of little use. The neighbor’s worker looked at the spectacle and said our truck was so steep and so heavy that it would pull his truck down if he tried to tow us out. He drove Joel to the top of the hill (1/4 mi.) to look for a tractor at the lumber yard, and then charged him 2 hours wages for the gesture. Meanwhile, the rain continued to pour and from my living room window, I saw the truck sinking deeper as the the ruts we had just made in the neighbor’s yard created rivers of water coming to pool under the tires, causing the clay that was now holding the truck in place to give way. I feared that the truck would let go in one quick motion and land on its back, or worse, continue to topple onto its roof and I prayed for the rain to stop and help to come quickly.
As Joel ran from neighbor to neighbor, I continued making phone calls until we negotiated a man to give up his lunch break to bring his backhoe to tow the truck out before it was too late. He said he could be there in 25 minutes because the backhoe was in one town and the driver in another and he would have to see. Of course, we tried to guess if we could wait that long (25 min would probably be much longer, given the circumstances). But, what choice did we have?
Our neighbor helped us lodge cinder blocks behind the wheels we could reach, but the truck was angled so steeply with its nose in the air that everyone surmised it would easily cruise over them if it had the notion. Although one side was completely accessible, we didn’t dare go near it to retrieve our things, in case it gave way in the movement of opening or closing doors.
I asked the neighbor’s wife, who was headed to the bus stop on the main road, to stop by our pastor’s house and ask him to come. When he arrived, Joel jumped in his car and they ran to find a faster solution (someone with a backhoe who wasn’t on lunch break).
Shortly after they left, a man arrived on a motorcycle, wanting to assess the damage. By this time, quite a group of neighbors had gathered to see what would become of these crazy gringos and their shiny truck. Joel warned me to keep an eye on the growing situation, in case others weren’t as concerned by the hazard of opening the truck’s doors. Motorcycle Man surveyed the damage, walked to the truck, and then talked to our neighbor who pointed to me.
“Are you the one I should do business with?”
“Perhaps, my husband has gone to look for help.”
“Well, I’m the one you talked to on the phone. I have a backhoe.”
(My thoughts: “Are you kidding me?!?!?! Why in the WORLD did you come down here in your lousy motorcycle and not bring the backhoe?! We only have a matter of minutes, here, buddy.”)
My words: “Well, that would be great if you could help us. I’m afraid we’re in a bit of a hurry though, so if you don’t think you can get it here in time, we’re going to have to ask someone else.” (Like I have a Plan B right now!)
“Well, I can do it for $100.”
“Fine. But you have to hurry.”
Motorcycle Man seemed humored, “Yes. I don’t think the truck will hold much longer.”
Motorcycle (turned Backhoe) Man and our neighbor made a plan. They used a heavy chain to secure the truck to a pole across the street until he could arrive with the heavy machinery. Traffic would have to wait. But no one seemed to mind. They liked the excuse to stop and enjoy the show we were providing. Motorcycle Man sped off up the hill (with a push of our neighbor) and went to find his elusive backhoe. Our neighbor came over to me and whispered, “$100! That’s crazy! He is trying to rob you. That is more than 2 hours of backhoe work and he will only work for 30 minutes.” I reminded him that I didn’t have a lot of options right now and this was the brightest hope we’d seen in the hour since we’d gone off the road, but inside, I regretted not negotiating with Moto Man in my hurry.
I sat down in the middle of the road, knowing there was nothing left to do.
(And then I remembered that the truck was chained to the power line, and given the way things were going today, I should probably have my little pity party in my driveway instead!)
It seemed like ages, but I eventually heard the rumble of heavy machinery slowly (oh, so slowly!) creeping its way down our hill. I was surprised to see Moto Man was also the backhoe driver. (So, had it been he who was on lunch break??)
I called Joel and told him to abort whatever plan he was on and to return to the site of all this pandemonium. Within minutes, he came running down the hill.
Being more familiar than I with the current prices of backhoe work, Joel went directly to Moto Man and when he found out I had already agreed to $100, declared, “That’s crazy!” (our neighbor’s sentiment exactly). Joel acted as though he didn’t need this man and would be happy to find a suitable alternative and suggested that they re-negotiate the terms. Someone humorously reminded him that he wasn’t in much of a place to negotiate, given that our truck was still sliding and it was now beginning to rain again, and they quickly settled on $70, still a ridiculous amount by everyone’s calculations, but quite a bit less than what it would cost if the truck were to slide any farther.
Moto Man, now enjoying being the star of the show, took his time securing his machinery and hooking up the truck. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when the backhoe finally held the truck by the chain, knowing it would finally be safe, the town would not lose power, and traffic could eventually recommence today. Joel carefully crawled inside the truck and listened to Moto Man yell instructions from the cab of the backhoe. Then, suddenly, Joel jumped out of the truck! “KRISTA, WHERE ARE THE KEYS?!?” My biggest sigh of relief (in fact, even a nervous laugh escaped), came after we found the keys, when Moto Man jerked the heavy truck from the place where it was lodged on the hill and slowly, panel by panel, we all saw there was not even a scratch on my side! Then, examining the ruts where the truck had stopped before plummeting over the hill, ruts made in the muddy mush that no one even dared to walk, no one could believe or understand what had kept the truck in place! “It’s a miracle!” someone shouted.
I’m pretty sure I saw angel hand-prints on the back bumper!
And then these feet headed off to San José!