Saturday, November 10, 2012

61.Yala Adventure - Stuck In An Elephant Crossing!


I swung the wheel to the left to avoid the water-logged potholes on the causeway. Suddenly, without warning, the offside of the van tilted wildly and sank into the earth with a tremendous crash and a thud and explosion. Everyone screamed. When I stepped out, I realized the driver's side was unnaturally higher than normal and the front wheel was jutting out of the wheel bay at an unusual angle.

I walked around the front to have a look. Deepa was already out and examining the damage. The left hand side of the bumper was resting on the concrete. The concrete under the offside wheel had caved in. The vehicle was balanced on the lower suspension arm resting on the concrete. As the wheel crashed through the concrete, the good Bridgestone tire I had on that wheel had burst leaving a gaping hole through which I could push my hand through, which also explained the explosion we heard.

And the crash of the concrete giving way, and the thud as the suspension arm hitting the concrete with the total weight of the fully loaded van plus the forward momentum, and the explosion of the tire all accounted for the blood curdling noise. The van was stuck in the concrete.

And what I saw next brought me out in a cold sweat. I was standing on a steaming heap of elephant dung.

 We were stuck in the middle of an elephant crossing!  And, this was the time they cross!

This incident took place two years back. We were visiting ‘Yala National Wildlife Park’ in the southeastern tip of the island. Actually, we were on one of our ‘road trips’, where we plot plans on the go.  After visiting Kataragama, we had decided to visit Yala as well.







Those who have been to Yala National Park must be aware that only certain classes of vehicles with enough ground clearance are permitted in the Park. Actually the 4X4 are the ideal vehicles for that terrain.  They form convoys of about ten vehicles, which are accompanied by a guide. As it was the end of December, the trails were damaged by the rain. There were huge pools of muddy water in the middles of the rutted tracks.


And we were very much disappointed as that day there weren’t enough wild animals to be seen as we expected.







And, if you have had the experience you would know that driving in the middle of convoy presents certain problems. If you drive alone, over a track with an uneven surface full of potholes, you wouldn’t speed over them. You would use caution when crossing the muddy pools with unknown depths.  However, here the leading 4X4 light vehicle with the Guide onboard would speed over the broken track forcing the normal street vehicles like ours, which are fully loaded also to follow suit at the same speed.

So, the vehicles suffer a lot beating hurtling over the broken trails. My fiber engine guard underneath the engine dislodged on one side knocking on an edge of a pothole and was being dragged along all the way. I couldn’t warn the guide as honking, stopping or getting out of vehicle is not allowed.  The engine guard had taken quite a beating as I later discovered.






It was after dusk when we returned to the ticketing office where I crept under the vehicle and removed the guard and put it into the back of the vehicle. By the time, we set on our 12 kilometer journey over the rutted track through the wild to the main road, all the other vehicles had left and we were alone. And on this road, there are several causeways.

I swung the wheel to the left to avoid the water-logged potholes on the causeway. Suddenly, without warning, the offside of the van tilted wildly and sank into the earth with a tremendous crash and a thud and explosion. Everyone screamed. When I stepped out, I realized the driver's side was unnaturally higher than normal and the front wheel was jutting out of the wheel bay at an unusual angle.
I walked around the front to have a look. Deepa was already out and examining the damage. The left hand side of the bumper was resting on the concrete. The concrete under the offside wheel had caved in. The vehicle was balanced on the lower suspension arm resting on the concrete. As the wheel crashed through the concrete, the good Bridgestone tire I had on that wheel had burst leaving a gaping hole through which I could push my hand through, which also explained the explosion we heard.

And the crash of the concrete giving way, and the thud as the suspension arm hitting the concrete with the total weight of the fully loaded van plus the forward momentum, and the explosion of the tire all accounted for the blood curdling noise. The van was stuck in the concrete.

And what I saw next brought me out in a cold sweat. I was standing on a steaming heap of elephant dung.
We are stuck in the middle of an elephant crossing!  And, this is the time they cross!

First, I tried to calm everyone down although I didn’t feel so myself.  That day in addition to my family, there were others like my sister’s family, my mother, a cousin, and a friend of our son’s.  So, we had enough manpower and woman power as well!
Though I was asking everyone not to panic, my subconscious mind was screaming that we were stuck in an elephant crossing at the wrong time.

And let me explain, for the benefit of those who know about Sri Lankan causeways and wondering how on Earth could a causeway collapse.  And also for those who don’t know what a Sri Lankan causeway is in the first place.

Causeway is a bridge where a waterway and a highway cross each other at the same level.  In other words, the water flows across the road in the middle of the causeway.  The road descends  downwards a slanting concrete ramp to meet the water flowing across over a flat bed of concrete and then ascends along another upward slanting concrete ramp on the opposite end. The water flows over only when the water level is high in flash floods. In normal dry weather, the water is tunneled across under the flatbed.

So the chances of a flatbed collapsing is very remote as it rests firmly on the earth and not suspended like a normal bridge.
In this special case, the zero maintenance of the ancient concrete, together with decades of constant exposure to the elements had led to structural failure. Not only were there potholes on the flatbed, the flash floods had also carved under the concrete slab leaving it suspended unsupported at certain places. Unfortunately, my front offside wheel was passing over one such weak point when the concrete gave way resulting in a cave in, trapping it there, making us stranded in the middle of an elephant crossing!

After I got everybody to calm down, we thought of the operation at hand.

“First we’ve got to take the vehicle out of the pothole freeing the wheel,” I said.  “It’s dangerous to push it forward. So let’s push it backwards.”

So while some of us heaved the van out of the hole others it  pushed backwards. 

It didn’t work. It was stuck.

Then we changed the strategy.

“Let’s use the engine power, “I said. “Few of you please get into the back of the van to weigh it down for better friction as the back is up.”

“And as I’m all muscle like Schwarzenegger, I’ll try to lift the wheel off the hole, who’s going to reverse the van?” I joked.

Chunji, my brother-in-law said, “You get to the driver’s seat, We’ll do the lifting.”

So Deepa, being the muscle man’s wife, gritted her teeth and went to lift the van. While a few were pushing back slightly, others were heaving the front left side of the van by the edge of the wheel bay, window and door frames and all the surfaces possible to take a grip on. While they rocked and heaved, I shifted into reverse and let in the clutch while stepping smoothly on the accelerator.

At the beginning, nothing happened.

But, in a few seconds, the wheel climbed out of the hole. I was careful to hit brakes as soon as I was safely out of the trap as our guys were all over the vehicle body in various postures. After they moved out of the way, I backed the van up over to a safer place.
One major step was over. So far, so good.

Next is to change the wheel. I had recently bought this sporty alloy rim set and to my dismay, the rim of damaged wheel had also suffered some scratches.

I shone the flashlight on the undercarriage and checked for visible damages. The brake hoses and pipes were intact and no visible brake fluid leaks. The sump was not leaking oil. But  the lower suspension arm was dented. The wheel alignment must be shot. So once the wheel is changed we’ll be on the move.

Chunji and I brought the spare wheel, wheel brace and the jack and lever to the front.

Just then, a tractor came rattling along out of the dark and pulled up parallel to us. The driver climbed off.  We were jubilant about this god sent Good Samaritan but this feeling didn’t last long as the dude seemed to be drunk like a skunk and could barely keep standing.

“What’sh the problem shir?” he asked.

I kicked the heap of elephant dung out of the way so that I could kneel down to place the jack underneath and explained the situation to him.

The dude punctuated my speech with his swearing.

“You need any help, shir?”

“Yeah, you could have been a lot of help if you arrived a bit earlier.  We practically lifted the van put of that hole.” I said while Chunji was placing chocks under the wheels. I loosened the wheel nuts.

“Can you shine your headlights on this job?”

“Ooopsh, these lights are not bright enough,” he said.

“Okay. No problem.”

“Holy shit, This is the @$%$#& elephant crossing. You’d better change that fast and get the hell outta here”

“Dude, that’s what I’m trying to do,” I said looking for a suitable spot to place the jack.

“Shtep back shir. I can do it.”

“Don’t worry. I can do it.”

“Shtep back shir. I’m @#$%&^ mechanic.”

So I ‘shtepped back’ because he was supposed to be a mechanic. All I wanted was to get the job done, by hook or crook. However, I was watchful because the dude was stupid drunk. And of course he was trying to jack up the engine sump.

“Dude, don’t jack up the sump.  It’ll be damaged. Jack up the axel.

“There ishn’t enough room under the akshel.

“But don’t jack up the sump. That jack must be lowered. Give it to me”

“I am a @#$%&^ mechanic. Don’t try t o teach me about @#$&^% jacksh!”

He pulled the jack out, clung on to the side of the van for support and climbed on to the jack to weigh it down. The jack didn’t budge. A stream of abuse poured out of his mouth.

“But when you twist this valve and get on to it, it won’t do the trick because this is not a hydraulic jack. It is a mechanical one. You have to twist the handle the opposite way to lower it.”

“Are you bonkers shir?  When you looshen this thingy and get on to this, thish,  it’sh gotta come down. I know my jacksh.”

We persuaded the dude to step back and chunji and I got the wheel changed.

He was becoming more of a hindrance than help by the minute. If it wasn’t for him, we would have been through by this time.

“Where are you from shir? Colombo?”

To dudes from these remote parts anywhere in the Western Province was Colombo. Moreover, it was a convenient answer, too.

I put damaged wheel in the back of the van.

“Cool. Where about in Colombo?”

“Anderson Flats, Narahenpita.”

“Fantabuloush! I’m planning to come to Colombo neksht week.  Gimme your phone number, shir.”

Come on. Gimme a break!

“456123,” I invent these kind of numbers for situations like this for its easily repeatable pattern.

“What the hell kind of number ish that? That’sh a fake number ishn’t it?”

“Why the hell should I do that, when you stopped by and volunteered to help us?”

“Okay, Ish thish Mobitel or Dialog?”

I returned the jack, wheel brace and levers to the back of the van and slammed the door shut.

“That’s Tigo 072.”

The dude pulled his cell phone out and was fumbling with the keys to add it to contacts.

“072… where the@#$% ish thish goddamn zero?”

I was now getting pissed off at this dude for his swearing and cursing, irrespective of the ladies and children. And the kids were broadening their horizons on their vocabulary and language usage.

“Hang on a second,” I said to my sister.  “Would you please write this number on a piece of paper for him?”

“Okay tell me,” she said with the pencil poised.

“Why? Write my number will you? 072 456 123.”

She wrote it for him.

“Shir, gimme a ring to check if this is genuine.”

“What the hell is this? Dude, my phone battery is dead.”

“Okay, as shoon as I arrive in Colombo, I’m gonna call you, okay.”

“Sure dude, I’ll be there to pick you up.”

I walked around the van to check if we were leaving anything behind.

I sighed with relief when the engine started.

“Shir, then I’m gonna call you. And when you were shtranded in our territory I helped you, and when I come to your territory, you return the favor, okay?” he screamed.

“Of course, why ever not?  Consider it’s done. Thanks very much dude. Then Bye,”

I shifted into first and let in the clutch. The van started climbing the concrete ramp.

“Oh, my god. The wild elephant would’ve been better.  He was a real pain in the lower regions.”

“That’s what. And the way he was cur…” Chunji’s voice was drowned because everybody started scolding that dude at the same time. Only my mother who was hard of hearing when she is not wearing the hearing aid, and she lacked the technical knowhow to understand what damage the dude was really trying to do said, 

“There are still good Samaritans like that, who would go out of their way to help the needed.”

I realized the van was pulling to s side as soon as we were on the level road.

I later realized it was just because I had mismatching alloy and the normal wheel at the front, though I wanted to mount the spare wheel to the alloy rim, all the tire workshops were closed for the night.

Actually what I should have done was to have exchanged the spare wheel to one of the rear alloy wheels and have matching wheels at the front.  I didn’t have the right mentality to think this up partly because of that wild elephant threat and partly because that dude was driving me nuts.

Finally, we reached home in the small hours of the morning. And I love that vehicle for not letting us down, no matter what.

And this heron must be it!
And what my mother said later, “Tch, even though you underwent all that trouble and spent so much to go to Yala and see the animals, all I saw was a common heron”



This immediately became a hit with my son.


The tire a few hours before the incident
This post is simulblogged in Sinhala @: මගේ ඩෙනිම and මට හිතෙන හැටි

15 comments:

  1. Hey Schwarzenegger,I read this nice description for the 2nd time because..... hmmm...because I like it.:)
    Btw, That is not a so called "common heron" but an "Asian open bill" (ආසියානු විවර තුඩුවා)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Sindhu.
    Wow, I'm very much impressed about your knowledge about birds. Actually I'm not very good at it. What my mother said was a කොරවක්කා, to tease me a little. She had a wonderful sense of humor.
    So this is an Asian open bill! Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It seems that there is a great demand for u as a Sinhala writer. I too read it and forgot about this post.Your photos are very beautiful, especially the one with a wide expansion of deep blue sky.I saw your korawakka and couldn't stop laughing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blue Lotus, we can't expect the same traffic to an English blog. Still this isn't doing too bad as this has a wider coverage internationally, though a lot of my fans don't think it is necessary to comment.

      Maybe you know that it is the fellow bloggers who comment on your blog mostly. That is because only a blogger knows how awesome it is to receive a comment on a blog post you wrote.

      Still I feel more at home writing in English.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  4. Perfect reading experience dude, I really love reading your holy shit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dheyshakaya: I really appreciate your enthusiasm in the English language and the your courage to comment on this.

      And that is, not forgetting the fact that you reading this for the second time.

      But most of the time I publish the English version first and translate into Sinhala later. This is an exception.

      Happy reading!

      Delete
    2. Anyway, dude is smoothly on his gears. I do not hesitate to tell you that I gonna no perfect knowledge in English. But I'm trying to improve it. It suits me your writings right exactly the way I needed to read. Thanks buddy. You asked "How you came to say dude is a great?" by commenting on my post මොනවද දන්නේ?, now you see most of buddies are honestly appreciating your writings, I saw that with a few posts of you. Great Dude. (This is not an attempt "taking you over the rope". ha...)

      Delete
  5. Oh!! what an experience it was. There seem to be so many places and things that we have missed on that day due to bad weather, So let's go once again together, in a vacation when all the FOUR of us could spare some time :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah! That's right. Let's see. Better Luck Next time!

      Delete
  6. yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhh take me alsooooooooooo....i am so so jealous....and also if i was there i would have lifted up the van with one finger :P

    the drunk man was classic huh? and the number you gave is very funny and smart too....

    i love this part.
    So Deepa, being the muscle man’s wife, gritted her teeth and went to lift the van

    and this
    And the kids were broadening their horizons on their vocabulary and language usage.


    well written Dude. can feel both the fear and tension you all went through but still there are places we can laugh out loud too...

    :D :D :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. That's a very generous comment.
    Don't think we don't miss you.

    ReplyDelete
  8. i know you do...i miss you toooooo

    two more years hopefully....:D

    ReplyDelete
  9. As join for my job now a days im also dreaming about my own vehicle i knw it may take some time but now im looking adz,vehicles prices after ur post im thinking what the hell i should go for 4wd town ace cz i also want to travel every where but buying a four wheel drive in these days is like need fortune.

    ReplyDelete
  10. All the best with your wheels! And when I was your age I never thought about a van. Only cars. But now, a family man, I'm very comfortable with the extra space and the height from the ground.
    Townace is an awesome vehicle, Panda. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. what an article! sure you have put some good few hours on this. credit should also go to your excellent photographic skills.

    ReplyDelete

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