Beauty in the breakdowns: a place to rest our heads

by Kim on January 23, 2013 · 46 comments

We spent the morning of our second day of the rickshaw run at the mechanic in Barmer. The night before, as the sun was setting, our rickshaw had sputtered to a permanent stop on the side of the road.

To our great relief, another rickshaw run team, the Holy Cowabunga Dudes stopped to see what the matter was. We didn’t know what was wrong, only that our rick had been running fine until, suddenly, she wasn’t. The Dudes fiddled with our engine, disassembled and reassembled our carburetor, then jumped up and gave a clap of the hands in a “well that should be better now” fashion.

Except it wasn’t better. Our rick wouldn’t run. And now it was dark outside and we were twenty kilometers from the nearest town. Earlier in the day I’d said to the girls “We aren’t going to drive after dark, are we?” and they’d responded “Oh no, definitely not, that would be crazy.”

As the Dudes towed us into town, literally roping our rickshaw to theirs, I realized that we weren’t technically driving past dark after all. This was much more dangerous. “I must be more specific!” I said aloud to the nighttime sky. Trucks and kamikaze motorcycles zoomed by, their high beams blinding us. “Please get us all safely to a hotel,” I prayed to the universe. “Tonight,” I added, in case there was any confusion.

Towed in the night, Rickshaw Run

Towed into Barmer. You can see the green rope connecting the rickshaws.

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The Barmer mechanic opened his hand to reveal the source of our problem. A tiny, metal clip had broken, jarring loose some important piece of our rickshaw’s inner workings.  “All fixed now?” we asked the mechanic. He gave a silent, definitive nod. We hopped back in the rick and fired her up. It was early afternoon and we were running behind. It was time to get out of Barmer.

We drove for several peaceful hours down dusty, mostly-vacant roads. We passed women carrying pots and bags on their heads and men leading camels by rope. The other rickshaw teams were hours ahead of us. We felt like the only people for miles.

Women carry goods in India

We stopped for chai in a tiny village. School had just let out and the children surrounded our rickshaw in hoards, giggling and tentatively touching her orange paint.

It was mid-afternoon when we broke down again. Two men driving a brightly painted Goods Carrier truck stopped to help us. We’d run out of petrol, pulling air into the tank, and now, though we’d refilled it, the fuel would not flow to the engine. The men fiddled with the plastic tubes connected to the gas tank and then one of them put his mouth to the tube and sucked. Fuel began to flow again. We clapped and cheered. The man and his friend smiled sheepishly, hopped back into their truck, and drove off.

Two men help us fix our rickshaw. Rickshaw Run 2013

The GPS told us that we’d soon reach a small city and we decided to stop there for the night. There were still a few hours of daylight but we didn’t want to risk getting caught on the roads after dark again.

We pulled into town and drove slowly through. Men stared without smiling. The women (there had to be some) were noticeably absent. Someone directed us to a guesthouse and we parked the rick outside, intending to ask for a room. Mobs of men crowded around us, leaning into the rickshaw and working themselves into high-pitched frenzy.

The energy in the air was wrong. “This doesn’t feel right,” Sarah said. “I know!” Hannah and I agreed.

We didn’t know where we’d go but we had to get the hell out of Crazy Town. We started the rick and kept on driving.

The sun was low in the sky now and to our unpleasant surprise the roads were beginning to deteriorate. Huge holes pocked the asphalt. BAM! Our rick hit a pothole. BAM! BAM! BAM! Over and over we slammed into the street.

We were at serious risk of a flat tire or, worse, jarring a spark plug or clip out of place and sidelining us, alone, after dark, in the middle of nowhere.

We couldn’t go back to Crazy Town but we couldn’t go forward either. The rick was acting up, running funny, losing power. It was pitch black now and we were miles from any city. We were, as my grandma might say, in a pickle.

The rickshaw was on her last leg as we bumped by a tiny village. Village, in fact, might be too strong of a word. Five shambled structures sat at the intersection of two dirt roads. A group of men stood in front of them. We stopped the rickshaw. We had to. The men stared but kept their distance. Who knows what they were thinking?

A man stood making chai under a corrugated metal lean-to. We decided to order some tea and formulate a plan.

We sat and talked through our options. We could drive on towards the next town a few hours down the road. This was risky because it was dark, the road was bad, and we were prone to breakdowns. If the rick died on an isolated road we’d be stranded.

We could sleep in the rickshaw here in this tiny village but a bright-orange, pimped-out rickshaw draws a lot of attention. We didn’t think it wise to hole up in the rick overnight, especially because she only came to life with a jump-start. It’d be impossible to make a quick get-away if we met any hassle.

Our third option was to sleep here, on the makeshift seats in the chai shop. We agreed that we felt safe here and intrinsically trusted the man who’d motioned for us to sit and drink his tea.

The kind man who gave us a bed

The kind man (with mustache) who gave us a bed

Sarah folded her hands together and placed them against her ear, cocking her head. “Can we sleep here?” she asked, though she did not speak his language. The man nodded and pointed to three woven beds in the back of his shop. “Thank you,” Sarah told him. “Thank you so much.”

Our beds, night 2. Rickshaw Run

Our beds on night two of the Rickshaw Run

The man brought us pads for our beds and heavy blankets to sleep under. He showed us a hidden place where we could park our rickshaw. And then he did the most astounding thing; He made up a bed horizontally at the foot of our beds. He would sleep there for the night. And while he did not say a word we sensed that he slept there to put us at ease and protect us.

It was freezing outside and we lay in our beds with all of our clothes on. I pulled my sleep sack over my face and I watched through the thin fabric as this man readied himself for the night. He sat in his bed and wound his turban tightly around his head, then he leaned over at the waist and prayed.

I knew I was witnessing a private and personal moment but I could not turn my eyes away. I could feel the lines of faith blurring. I had faith in this man, that he would be good and respect us, and he had faith in something too. I could feel a connection to everything as I lay there under my borrowed blankets. The connection was trust. It was goodness. This was magic, or something like it, as real as the stars in the sky.

The next morning we woke at sunrise and piled our bags back in the rick. We pushed her onto the street and tried to start her and when she wouldn’t go a few men from the village ran with us down the road, pushing the rick until she puttered to life once again.  As we rolled off down the street I leaned out of the rickshaw to snap a few photos of the village. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” we yelled from the rick. The men stood in the morning light, watching us go.

Small village in india

A few men from the village, India

Click here to read all of my posts from the Rickshaw Run.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy January 23, 2013 at 9:46 am

Wow. Kind of one of the best travel stories ever, people really are amazing all over the world :)

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Tracy, that was one of the things that the Rickshaw Run taught me (I suppose I knew, but we always need reminding): That people are good. Most people are good.

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Jennie January 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Tears. I love what that man did for you guys!

And I love that it was okay in the end.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I know, I will never forget that man or that night under the stars. It was all okay in the end.

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Carmel January 23, 2013 at 10:01 am

And that was only day 2.

Wow, you guys have a lot to digest. Thanks for sharing it as you do!

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I know, right! I could write a whole book about the Rickshaw Run!

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Lauri January 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

Wow. There are no words. Just Wow.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm

That’s how I felt too, Lauri.

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Rhonda January 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm

What an amazing night. What a blessing to have faith in the universe to guide you in the right direction.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Thanks Rhonda. It really did feel like we were guided there, in a way. I think we all knew that it was right to stay and that everything would be fine.

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max neumegen January 23, 2013 at 8:14 pm

there is a word that Overland Travellers use to describe why we travel.
the “Essense”.
“something that cannot be explained, only experienced.”

thank you for being able to put into words the “Essense”,
“a private and personal moment but I could not turn my eyes away. I could feel the lines of faith blurring for me. I had faith in this man, that he would be good and respect us…”

the “Love” from one fellow human being to another.
maybe that is why we travel.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Hi Max,

Absolutely. I love this idea of the “essence.” This was definitely an experience that was very hard for me to describe. I’m glad I did it well enough to translate it to all of you.

Love is something I am learning a lot about out here on the road.

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Hannah January 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm

My favourite memory of the whole adventure :)

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TammyOnTheMove January 23, 2013 at 11:58 pm

That was only one day? I can’t believe that man sucked the plastic tubes. :-)

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Tammy, he wasn’t the only one! There were at least three of four people that sucked those tubes for us during the course of the run (and getting a mouth of petrol in return). I couldn’t believe it either.

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Nick Rutten January 24, 2013 at 7:18 am

That’s a great story. There are so many kind strangers in the world, popping up where you least expect them.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:36 pm

There really are. It has made me want to be one of those kind strangers, too, when the need arises.

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Sarah Somewhere January 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

Such a beautiful account of a magical night. I’ve never experienced such a strong feeling of intuition as on that night, knowing we would be safe. I loved reading about that private moment of prayer you witnessed that I never knew about; so beautifully written. I’ll never forget those men as long as I live. Thanks Kim :)

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Thanks Sarah :) I love that you were there and understand exactly how special it was.

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Steve C January 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

You nailed it!! A simple traveler’s story and told with feeling and drama. You’ve got talent! I’m so glad I found your blog.

I hope you won’t in any way, equate your rickshaw in India with a VW camper van in Europe! VW engines can have issues too, but not anywhere near the conditions you had in India.

Sometimes the most difficult experiences can become our fondest memories.

You go girl!

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Thanks Steve! I’m so glad you found my blog too.

I don’t mistake a rickshaw for a VW camper van- I know the experience would be completely different. But thanks to you have added campervan trip to my (very) long list of things I must do.

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Kristin Thomas January 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I am in awe of your bravery and the good hearts of strangers. What an amazing tale you have to tell!

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Oh, thanks Kristin! It is wonderful sharing the stories with all of you.

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Amanda January 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm

What a beautiful, beautiful story. It’s stories like these that remind me to keep faith in humanity.

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Kim January 24, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Agreed. My whole drive through India recharged my faith in humanity. India is crazy and has a lot of quirks, but the heart of India is so big.

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Sofie January 24, 2013 at 11:57 pm

You’ve gotten me quiet again. I can’t wait to read more about the Rickshaw Run and maybe, you should write that book!

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Kim January 26, 2013 at 12:54 am

Thanks Sofie. It’s so fun to tell the stories. Now about that book… someday!

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Gerald Englebretsen January 25, 2013 at 2:23 am

Riveting read. Your ‘guardian angel’ defines what is good about travel. Also experiences which amble unexpectedly from nowhere and yet become the most powerful of memories, as Hannah says. Your initial adrenalin levels must have been at peak.
Love this story.

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Kim January 26, 2013 at 12:55 am

Thanks Gerald. Yes, initially our adrenalin levels were quite high, but I was amazed at how comfortable and safe we felt,despite the circumstances.

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EarthDrifter January 25, 2013 at 2:28 am

There were three of you and there happened to be three cots out back. Sometimes we just have to embrace the luck we come across. :-)

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Kim January 26, 2013 at 12:55 am

I never even thought about that coincidence, but it’s true! So, so amazing.

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Tia January 25, 2013 at 9:23 am

This story brought tears to my eyes. The kindness of total strangers – strangers that have nothing and don’t even speak the same language – will never cease to make me smile and have faith in the world.

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Kim January 26, 2013 at 12:57 am

Tia, I completely agree. That man asked for nothing from us but just did what I can only assume he felt was right. We all have this obligation, I think, but we don’t always act on it. I was awed by the whole experience.

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lily February 7, 2013 at 8:03 am

grew up in india. heartbeat stopped while reading.
Wow. i love the comment left ” i love that it was okay in the end”

love how honestly you wrote it.

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 9:05 am

Thank you Lily. It was all okay in the end :)

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Lucie February 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

This man did look so king. Beautiful story again!

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Kim February 25, 2013 at 3:55 am

Thanks Lucie!

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Jana March 24, 2013 at 12:51 am

I just came across this post, and I just have to tell you this is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read in a long time. This is the sort of thing traveling is all about!

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Kim March 24, 2013 at 3:26 am

Thank you Jana. This is definitely one of those experiences that will stick with me through the rest of my life. It was magical, and exactly the sort of thing I dreamed would happen way back in the days when I was at home and dreaming of traveling.

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Ross July 30, 2014 at 12:12 am

Great story. I know it was a long time ago now but I am doing it in a few months and came across your blog. Sounds like some adventure. keep up the good work.
Ross recently posted..How to Climb Mont Blanc

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