The amazing helpfulness of strangers on the road, adversity is sometimes the greatest icebreaker.
One the way from the dinosaurs footprints to the lovely colonial town of Villa de Leyva I found some great small roads in the mountains with breathtaking views and the occasional driving challenge including a fallen tree. After five hours of small twisty roads I rejoined the main highway south and was cruising along on the smooth tarmac. Unsure of the next junction I looked at my sat-nav screen briefly on a straight bit of road, when I looked back the two cars in front had stopped dead (as the front one had seen something tasty in a stall and was negoiating a steep off ramp) and the car in front of me had done and emergency stop, that few seconds plus a 3te truck meant I could not stop as quickly as the duster in front of me so there was a big crunch as i hit him.
It was clearly my fault, I was behind and I should always be able to stop even if the car in front brakes sharply on a straight road (you can see the road in the photo below. Thankfully and most importantly no one was hurt the driver was a bit cross as he was entitled to be but I apologised completely and accepted blame
When the very nice policemen came along I was lucky to have the assistance of Ivan, a local coffee grower who also works for Microsoft and has an English uncle, he recognised the plates and saw I was surrounded by four local guys so stepped in to assist with translation and good sense.
We all agreed that it would be best to settle things there and then so we drove to the nearest town and the police took us to an independent garage to get the damage assessed, my new friend Ivan has a brother who is a garage owner and he looked over the damage by video link so we were able to come to an agreed price for the damage. The policemen very professionally oversaw the whole transaction and made sure that everyone was happy at the end with a hand shake to seal the deal. Just in case they agreed to be photographed with their ID numbers in case there was any issue in the future or when leaving at the border.
Once the immediate crisis of the damage to the other car was sorted out in a formal way my thoughts (apart from beating myself up for being stupid, which I did a lot of) turned to my own car. At this point Nelson was leaking a good deal of fluid from the radiator and would not get far – thankfully my new friend Ivan restores classic Toyota FJ jeeps and lives nearby so he knew of a garage that specialised in radiator repairs in the same town. So off we set topped up with about 4 litres of water and made it to the “dogey” side of town to some rough roadside garages. Much negotiation later they agreed to repair the radiator for the princely sum of 25 pounds (at this point it was nearly dark and I was going to be stuck overnight if I could not get the radiator watertight)
To my delight the young man in the photo above was very professional, we replaced the main hose which had split in the accident and was the main cause of the water loss (those who laugh at the fact I carry all the hoses as spares take note). We ran the car for a few minutes and it did not seem to be leaking any more. However when I switched off the engine he spotted a few small drips coming from one side so it was on to stage two – proper pressure test of the radiator which found two small leaks. It still amazes me that from the back of a run down shack he produces a proper pressure tester and a compressor !
He very carefully repaired the radiator with solder, retested it and found another small leak, repaired that and repressurised it just to make sure, all in all a good job well done and with a cheery smile.
In the photo above it is already 6pm, they are about to shut up shop but hung around asking about my trip and the car taking turns on google translate and with my poor Spanish, thanks to the Radiadores !
The other really nice thing is that “my” two policemen stayed with me the whole time, advising me to lock the car while the folks were working on it and helping to retrieve the steering guard that had “gone missing” in the course of the work (reappeared after a stern word from Ivan and the policeman). I think they were genuinely worried that some of my kit would get stolen or I would be overcharged so I was very grateful for their oversight in the end they spent about three hours with me until the end of their shift.
My new friend Ivan invited me to stay at his coffee farm or Finca, in the picture above you see Gosha from Poland, Ivan who helped me and his wife Maria who is among other things an interior designer and they have done a wonderful job with this house. Tomato herb and cheese toasties never tasted so good !
In the evening Ivan gave me a tour of the coffee production facilities which are very clean and well organised, they produce special premium and rare coffee here and sell it directly to European specialists. I was very impressed by the attention to detail, the quality control and the working conditions on this farm, apparently it is an educational example to try to bring up the quality of production in the area to improve margins for all the farmers – clearly it is a real passion for both of them who have digital marking “day jobs”
In the morning I was treated to three different types of coffee, their normal one (no bitter aftertaste at all) and two special types one honey in flavour and one herby in flavour. It was a pity that Lee was not there as she would have really appreciated the subtle flavours.
The next morning Ivan and I hammered, leavered and pulled the front of Nelson back into shape, some strong trees were used as anchors and the weight of the truck itself used to pull the bumper clear of all the wheels and steering so that Nelson was at least operational again.
As things settled down I ended up replacing more of the hose work as it had fouled very slightly on a pully and was gradually wearing through the main water pipe to the radiator – this last repair and the full replacement of the coolant was done by head torch in the next campsite !
I was helped in this last endeavour by this little kitten who ended up sleeping in the passenger seat of my truck overnight and got a bowl of milk for assisting me !
So that was a heck of a day, every overlanders nightmare is a major road traffic accident and I have now had one, it is amazing that only 17 hours after the incident I have sorted out the damage, fixed my car and found new friends and got back on the road again, never mind learning more about coffee than I every expected.
I am blessed that no one was hurt, thats the most important thing, but also I am humbled by the generosity of strangers in moments of crisis it just shows that our true nature is to help each other when we are in need and I thank everyone involved for creating a wonderful memory from a disaster of my own making !