Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

On the Road Rage Again

After a few people sensing my despondency, and several attempts to motivate and revitalise me, it’s an unlikely contender that gets my thanks for giving me and this journey a sense of purpose again.

The pleasure I got from staying put is hard to overstate. Despite an engine rebuild the bus continued to leak water, and I was nervous about 100 problems that might manifest themselves at any time, so my subconscious brain didn’t want to drive anywhere and did a pretty good job of getting my conscious frontal cortex to come up with excuses why I shouldn’t.

But eventually after a week I was able to tear myself away from the comfort of good friends, the good flying and a familiar routine. The bus started second time, not an ominous sign, but not a good one either. Nothing about being on the road again seemed enjoyable. Even less so when I crossed back into the chaos of India. Traffic, incessant fucking horns, chronic potholed tarmac, kamikaze oncoming 17 tonne trucks, and an instant scrape to the low hanging exhaust on a speed bump which means it needs welding, again.

A rickshaw slips back into the side of me as I’m driving past and instantly shatters the toughened door glass. It’s a sound that makes you want to duck for cover and I need a few milliseconds to understand what’s happened and make sense of the spiders web of shards that remains in the door. The rickshaw driver has the nerve to start out expecting me to pay for his bent rain cover, until he sees the extent of the damage to the bus, and while I’m sweeping up the glass he makes a discrete exit.

Getting the glass repaired is the even more tortured than I imagine. The absence of any English speakers means I don’t realise the glazier only has offcuts of toughened glass to offer. Toughened glass can’t be cut, so the job requires 3 hours of sifting through piles of glass looking for a piece that will fit, give or take a few millimetres. I don’t know this as I’m waiting in the now unlockable bus and expecting him to return with a cut piece ready for fitting in no more than 20 minutes so after impatiently waiting 2 hours I flip out and my stroppy fit results in the search pace intensifying, and eventually a tinted piece which acceptably wide and only 10cm too short is found and fitted, with another smaller bit wedged into the gap.

“If you want to charge me a westerner’s price I expect a western quality job” I tell him in English knowing my words mean nothing. I hand over 60% of the price we’d agreed pointing to the smear of silicon filling the gap between the panes and he accepts.

The next day I give the bus a proper check. My usual daily routine is to check the oil and water, then spend 10 minutes staring at the engine to see what there is to see. It’s hard to do that while you have people hanging around waiting to see you off, so it didn’t get one in Pokhara.

The coolant is down by 4 litres. The whole system only takes about 7. This means the leak should be big enough to spot easily, so I crawl around and sure enough its part of my heat exchange system and quick but dirty to fix.

So as I set off I’m feeling pleased that that mystery of the water leak is finally solved and in my head I’m calculating how long before I reach Calcutta and thinking positively about how the windscreen and exhaust could be repaired when I get there.

But the funny thing with the brakes that started yesterday evening is un-ignorabley worse today, and because I’m low on fuel I might as well fix it sooner rather than later, so binding brakes don’t increase my fuel consumption.

I pull over and my good humour is evaporating fast. This part of India is one of the dirtiest I’ve seen, and I’m going to have to crawl around under the bus. I’ve not got much Indian cash, and it’s Sunday so I can’t change any money, but happily I know the brakes well and can save on mechanics a mechanics fee, so I find a good spot and peel off the wheels myself and try to free up the blocked drum, but it’s just not releasing. After almost fainting in the heat, I give up and call a mechanic from across the road. I shouldn’t need to spend any money on parts, just a well placed smack with a hammer. I can budget for a mechanic with what I have in my pocket. Again the language barrier means he doesn’t understand the problem even though by now I’ve developed a creditable skill for understanding foreign conversations, based on context, hand gestures, facial expressions and the occasional English word that pervades every language. It’s like a vague but reliable sixth sense. Frustratingly my hand actions, which to me are clear and obvious, just leaves him staring blankly back.

I’m sick of it and I’m thinking fuck this, fuck this fucking truck, fuck this fucking country, fuck vegetable oil, fuck driving around the fucking world, fuck every Indian truck driver that ran me off the fucking tarmac today, and fuck this mechanic that can’t even understand me.

Deep breath. “I’m here because I want to be” I resentfully mutter my mantra which has become wholly unconvincing since I’ve been in India, but the irony helps me keep sane. An hour later the drum is off and the brakes have been stripped and checked unnecessarily, because the problem is the wheel bearing. Almost certainly as a result of sitting in a damp field for 2 months, near the drain pipe for my acid wee, it is pitted and therefore is ceasing, behaving like a blocked brake, and worse, the side with the etched part number has been scratched off by the rubbing so there’s no easy way of tracking down another one.

A guy comes to my rescue in more ways than one. He speaks terrible English but can understand some of what I say. I’m so relieved to be understood. It feels great. On the way into town to look for a replacement bearing we have to ride by his house to pick up his license and helmet. As I arrive in the little tenement farm, I’m first stared at with a fear that might great an alien landing but then the sister urgently wipes down the newest of the 4 plastic chairs and places it in the middle of the room for me. My hero sits in the second best chair against the un-plastered mud brick wall, and starts to tell the family the story of this treasured find sitting before them. I follow the gist with my sixth sense.

"He’s driven from England to our village ... his bus is like a house inside ... the number on the bearing is worn off." No detail is spared and his excited pace makes time for pauses that build suspense as he eyes each of his siblings and parents gathered in the room and huddled out through the doorway. They listen intently, consuming and savouring every word. The mother pulls her veil over her mouth and gasps incredulously each time the intonation merits. His eldest sister’s wide dark eyes flit between the words coming from her brother’s mouth and me sitting on my plastic throne picking out the details in my clothes and dirty fingernails that illustrate the story. The youngest five siblings vie for position in a silent wrestle outside, eager not to let their fight drown out any of their brothers words. Then the father asks why my driver isn’t fixing the car. “He’s the driver, and he built the truck,” there’s a pause for more gasps “and he’s an engineer.” says my hero, and the father turns his gaze slowly up at me with the respect a beloved king or emperor might inspire, shaking his head slowly at the wonder of the world and what man can do in it.

I’m glowing at the thought of how the story is being retold and embellished by the family to the neighbours and on. I’m not suckered into believing I’m a legend, but it’s motivating and humbling to be adulated, even for just a few minutes. While I’m lost in the frustrating challenges of this journey it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Later, on the way into town, we crossed the River Ganges, the first time I’ve seen the river. The bus has made it (almost) to the Ganges. Not bad for a junk bus that started from Thornton Heath.

We didn’t find the bearing and it looks like it’s a rare size which might need special ordering while I’m forced to camp in a disused petrol station. None the less I’m honestly back to believing that “I’m here because I want to be.”

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