by Takeo De Meter
Bowl Of Noodle Soup Slipped
from my muddy
hands and fell upside down In my lap, accompanied by the loudest Baka
neeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!(*) I may have ever shouted
in my miserable mudcrawling life and it made my Japanese travel-companion-and-lousy-cook,
Hideki, almost run and go hide under the truck into the deep clay-like
mud we had planted his old SII in.
had been trying all morning to keep the truck on the muddy track that
was the last part from the road leading to Valle Perezo, smack
dab in the middle of the Venezuelan nowhere. All good will but a bit short
with his 1m56 he could barely see anything above the dash of the truck,
so he aimed it more or less in the general direction of where we were
trying to get. Till a deep mudhole in a washout got us. Up to the door
handles in the yuckiest , stinkiest and slipperiest jungle goo known to
Man, we crawled out of the back, fell into the mud, crawled out, fell
back in and so forth till we settled, exhausted, sitting on the tailgate
that we had managed to open. Not high and dry, of course, feet still in
watery mud, but sitting on something man-made and that alone gave some
degree of comfort in our minds. Dont ask, such is life when you
try making some sort of a living by going to places where no cockroach
has gone before. We had still three days to spare before we had to get
to the excavation site where we worked so we decided to wait for the other
two trucks that would follow us twenty-four hours later, rather than to
try to winch, dig or swear ourselves out. So Hideki, trying to make up
for his lousy driving, asked me very politely, in the best Engrish that
he could produce, if it were OK if he made us some lunch. So we reached
inside the truck, got our gasoline cooker out and half an hour later noodles,
in a poor imitation of a bad greasy spoons way, were boiling in
crappy tablet chicken broth produced by Knorr de Brazil Ltda. Hideki insisted
he was cooking Ramen, a delicate Japanese noodle dish with sliced pork,
but I would have compared it with Yuck boiled in Eeeww and spiced with
the omnipresent red-brown mud we were covered in.
ratfare he had produced and clumsily handed over had scalded my thighs
and some of my more precious belongings and I was cursing him in a way
that would have embarrassed Gengis Khans whoremonger. Having jumped
up in pain, I had landed behind the truck, of course, and my burns were
now soothed by the coolness of the sludge I was slowly sinking into. It
took him more than half an hour and a large part of the inventory of The
Nihon Go Dictionary Of Bad Language to help me get my 85 kg back onto
the tailgate. Unfortunately, there was more of the stuff left in the pot
and, short of shooting him, I ate some of it so I did not hurt his feelings
too much. My feelings were not hurt either, and neither was my pride but
my whatsits where hurting like hell. When he told me that his wife, back
home, was a really bad cook and that his family admired his culinary skills,
I wondered what he ever saw in her. Oh well, I may also have a girlfriend
someday and the Gods may know why. Yes, but maybe no, perhaps, as my sister
Etsuko would say. (BTW, Etsuko has the best Sushi restaurant in Fujisawa:
Okina Zushi, 2-24-38, Zengyo, Fujisawa City, Kanagawa 251.087, Japan.
Tell her Takeo sent you but bring your wallet anyway).
Half an hour
later, around 6 PM, washing the foul taste of Latin-American chicken broth
cum noodles out of my mouth with some even fouler-tasting local Guaro,
we were still sitting on the very same SII tailgate, feet and legs dangling
20 cm deeper in the goo, sighing. Hmm, must think of of setting
up camp. Hideki kinda read my mind and suggested we get the tent
out, but he immediately understood, by the expression on my face, that
I had NO intention at all of camping in water. Then it started to rain.
Hammocks hanging between the top of the windscreen frame and the rear
canvas hoop, I tried to get some ZZZs under my improvised mosquito netting.
At midnight, the temperature must still have been around 35 in the shade,
much the same temperature as the rain. Celsius that is. Canvas top leaked
too, of course. Felt like trying to sleep under a warm shower.
The next morning I sortof kinda woke up, sweating like a team of horses,
in what must be like a sauna, hot sun shining on the canvas of the SII
and trying to steam-boil all the soaked contents of the truck, including
me. Rolled up the sides from the inside and clambered out and onto the
hood where I had a drink of water from my canteen, sitting on the spare
wheel. OK, what next, I thought by myself, looking around the truck which
was now sitting, sunk deep, into what looked like a sea of mud that was
starting to dry in the scorching heat. Since that washout was part of
what had been a track against a steep sloping side, the water contained
in the mud would soon drain out and then we could start to DIG the damn
truck out. I quickly calculated that that would involve moving some 15
- 20 cubic yards of earth with a pair of foldable army shovels. I could
immediately think of some more pleasant occupations. Hideki, from his
side, reminisced about what his father had told him about digging fortifications
and tunnels on Iwo Jima and some other dream-destination islands. He also
added that his father hated digging, which I understand.
Waiting for the two other teams to show up was, of course, the thing to
do since we would then have 8 pairs of arms and 8 shovels instead of two
of each. Hideki fully agreed so we made ourselves comfortable in the back
of the truck, in the shade of our canvas top and I cooled us a couple
of cans of Coke® with one of the four large CO2 fire extinguishers
we always carried in the truck for this purpose. And since Coke® beautifully
mixes with most anything, we dozed our afternoon away after getting seriously
sloshed on Coke®&Guaro. Hic.
A loud Chopchopchopchopchop that was getting louder and louder
with in the background the whine of a turbine engine woke me rudely out
of a really nice dream involving Asian dream creatures and then I felt
something real hot between my legs as the hovering Alouette II blew the
smoke pot from the truck body capping where Hideki had put it and straight
into my lap. Some slapstick action followed as I tried to get rid of the
damn burning-hot smoke pot, half choking to death in a dense cloud of
stinking red smoke. Which action ended as I found myself laying on the
ground next to the truck coughing and swearing that, this time, I would
strangle Hideki with my bare hands, much to the astonishment of the chopper
crew that had dismounted and asked themselves what the tumult was all
While I emptied my canteen down my shorts in order to try to save at least
some of the family jewelry, Hideki-San profusely apologized to the crop
sprayers for catching their attention (he had popped the smoke can as
soon as he had heard their faraway rotor while I was still sleeping) and
asked if, perchance, they had seen 2 Land-Rovers on the same track, heading
South, towards us. Yes they said, about fifty miles North, on the very
same track, and they had even seen both teams digging with shovels. Must
have gotten caught in the tail of that storm, they thought. Hmm. At least
we now knew where they were.
We offered them a drink of CO2 cooled Coke® and they promised to drop
a drogued message canister (empty noodle can with my scarf tied to it
and a piece of paper taped inside) to the excavation site we were heading
for so that our bosses at least would know where we were and why. They
also thought the CO2 Coke® icing trick was kinda cool. Hideki even
proposed to use the fire extinguisher down my shorts to which I replied
with the proposition to make him swallow the damn fire extinguisher, sideways.
He did not insist. The crop sprayers wound up their turbine and left.
Good, I thought, now I can quietly kill that %$#@!!!! Jap in my own time.
Okok, you dont kill a good friend for a couple of roasted nuts,
do you ? (Although I know a couple of guys who actually WOULD). Anyway,
that did not get us where we wanted to get and most of the afternoon was
spent so we decided to make a serious digging effort the next day. I politely
asked Hideki not to make any culinary efforts anymore and attacked a can
of sardines with my pocket knife. I washed the fish preserves down with
another can of Coke® and settled in my hammock The night was hot and
moist and as unpleasant as it gets but very uneventful, which was good.
day saw us digging, digging and digging. Started with a trench around
the truck, about 2 ft wide and about 3 ft deep so that the wheels got
freed. Imagine the Series II sitting in a rectangular pit in the ground.
The ground was draining so the digging went kinda well before it would
dry out too much and get very hard. That trench took about 4 hours to
dig. Next digging exercise was the way out in the form of a ramp, sloping
about 25 degrees and some 12 ft long for the width of the truck. That
took another 4 hours of serious earthmoving work with little shovels under
an unforgiving sun. More rain would have spelt disaster - heck knows what
more would have washed away, or worse still, what may come washing down
from that hillside. Mini-landslides are very common here but they are
mean enough to drown and bury man and machine alike.
Fired up the truck what was no problem at all, got her in 2nd low and
gave it a try with a lot of accelerator pedal, what brought her out of
the hole, halfway the ramp, where she dug herself in again,
into the still soft earth. Shut down engine immediately, as to not make
it worse and being kinda glad that we made it THAT far out. Got out of
truck to assess new situation and decided that a winch or another powerful
pull was needed. We would have used the winch in the first place, problem
was that we did NOT have a winch. OK, I know, I know, I didnt ask
for yer comment, did I ? Now lemme go on. We did have a rope, though.
1 3/4 in. manila, about 150 ft of it, brand new, coiled and wrapped and
we were supposed to bring that to the work site. Right there and then
I could not care less if their rope would get dirty or not.
The year before, I had seen a neat trick in the Congo, which was then
still called Zaire, performed by 2 men who used a couple of tree branches,
one about 7 ft long and the other some 20 ft long, both about 7 or 8 in
in diameter and a length of rope to pull an old Citroën van out of
a ditch. It had worked well for them, so why would it not work for us
and I explained my plan to Hideki who sortof grinned and nodded politely
but I could hear him think Yeah, right ! in Japanese. Yes,
but maybe no, perhaps.
sooooooo desu ka he asked. (lit.: Is that so?)
so desu I replied. (It is)
It was dark by then, and I did not feel much like hacking away in the
vegetation with a razor-sharp machete in the dark - the tool is dangerous
enough to use in bright daylight, so we decided to attack some canned
food under the light our Coleman® kerosene lamp and also emptied the
first fire extinguisher to cool da Coke®. The ensuing night would
have been as uneventful as the previous one if it had not been for a nasty
little mosquito stinging me right into my left Gluteus Maximus, occasioning
heavy bum scratching for the next 5 days. Real adventurous travelers get
bitten by snakes, run over by elephants, chased by rhinoceros, attacked
by dozens of lions or have to wrestle crocodiles at least once a week
during their holidays. Not me. I get stung in the ass by a mosquito. Well,
I was not on a holiday - that may explain it.
day, as you may have guessed, involved the production of copious amounts
of wood chips as we tried to cut us a couple of suitable poles for our
winching experiment. It also involved the mandatory foul language from
my colleague when a near machete miss almost gave him a fresh hair parting
You shouldnt havent oughtta swung.
Followed by some rude references as to my ancestry and the presumed trade
of my mother.
Anyhow, a couple of hours and a dozen swearwords later we had the cut
the poles as described earlier and started to rig up: the shortest pole
gets planted vertically into the ground and the second one is applied
in a perpendicular plane to the first one. Rope is attached to a convenient
tree on one side and to the vehicle on the other. Rope also rounds the
horizontal pole somewhere in the middle, where it forms a cross with the
vertical one. Now each man gets to his end of the horizontal pole and
both push in opposite directions as to wind up the rope round the vertical
pole. Sounds easy but is not really easy and it sortof kinda works. Point
is that you try to achieve a 1:10 leverage ratio or better and, considering
that a person can push some 100 kg of force (x 2), that gives you something
in the order of 1.5 - 2 tons of pulling power. (See perfect artwork by
It is slow,
very slow even and it is hard work, but inch by inch and foot by foot,
the S II moved forward, pushing, pulling, digging, swearing like a drunken
coolie lying in a gutter in Macao, we got her out in only five hours.
Phew. Damn heat, sweat and bum itch.
As we had moved the truck a bit down the track to safety and sat down
again on our now familiar tailgate settee and had poured us a couple of
CO2 - cooled drinks, a familiar sound contrasted strangely with the omnipresent
bird noises and we soon saw the front of one of the two other trucks,
which came behind us, appearing on the track, working their way up in
our direction. No, they did not drive straight into the pit where we had
gotten out of, the drivers were not all THAT drunk.
While we got together and were trying to outbrag each other about how
deep, how stinky, how muddy and how much digging, I also admired the 5-ton
hydraulic winch both vehicles were equipped with.
is bad, Shiiit top