#22 - Wrecked in Patagonia
26 December 2001
(Cancha Carreras, ARGENTINA) – Have you ever been
in that frozen moment of time, when you understand that disaster is
on top of you, no avoiding it. Time really does slow down. Or maybe
time doesn't slow down at all. Maybe it's slow because looking back
on things later, that is the moment when it went wrong. You can recall
that precise second when it was very clear that you were in trouble.
Rewinding from that instant you second guess what could have been done
differently. Going forward, the disaster plays out second by second,
feeling, light, pain. And you run it again and again in your mind with
macabre fascination, like picking a scab, to understand this thing
that has upset the world as you know it and scattered all the plans
so carefully laid. The day after Christmas, just after crossing the
border from Chile back into Argentina, on a gravel road in an empty
stretch of Patagonia, the Land Rover rolled.
had left Ushuaia on Christmas Day heading north to the Moreno Glacier.
Overnighting at a gas station parking lot in Puerto Arenas, Chile,
we were up early the next morning to hit the road again. In Puerto
Natales, the main port for cruises up the Chilean coast, we stopped
to sample some fine seafood. I had baked eel which was outstanding.
It was really shaping up to be a nice day. After a couple hours of
driving we hit the border outpost. "Let's stop here, it looks
so rustic!" said Jody. So we piled out, browsed, went to the bathroom,
then went next door to do the border paperwork. All the little non-important
things that normally get forgotten after a week or two. It was a windy
Five kilometres after the border on a sharp right
turn with a soft gravel shoulder, in seconds, the accident played out. "Don't
turn so hard!" "Huh?" The Land Rover slid briefly in
the lose gravel shoulder and then, the front wheels bit and it tumbled.
Rolling over onto the left side, the driver's side, CRASH, and then
CRASH again as we came to rest on the roof.
I still remember the feel, now, days later. Going over onto the
side I felt a huge blow as I hurtled into the side wall. And everything
was black. I mean, it didn't turn black, it just stayed black the whole
time except for the little pain firecrackers that seemed to flash in
the distance. It was funny, I had expected to see the road twist in the
windshield, or see my life flash in front of my eyes, but nope. When
we went over onto the roof I slammed off another surface. The second
time was like a solid football tackle, but still it was black. Until
we stopped, and the debris tumbled softly around, wind whipped through
the shattered windshield, and I saw the upside down ground.
Lying there, left arm gripped in the folded metal
of the box, I couldn't move, couldn't get free. 'Gotta do a triage,
figure the damage.' "Jody!" I yelled. "Yeah! I'm out!" she
called back. Years of gymnastics training at work. As she said later,
the truck went over and as soon as it stopped she clicked off the seatbelt
and flipped out through the window. At once she was around to the other
side to help Gulin. "Gulin, are you ok. Gulin! Gulin!" Gulin
started wailing, "Jeeeff, Jeeefff".
Jody - "Gulin!"
Gulin - "Jeefff"
Jeff - "I'm fine"
Jody - "Gulin!!"
Gulin - "Jeeeeeeeffff"
It was almost comical for a moment. After the accident I was thinking
big picture thoughts. The women are fine. Wiggle the toes - ok. Fingers - ok.
But the left arm was bent underneath me, I couldn't get it free. Wierd thoughts
were running through my head. 'Maybe I'll have to cut it off, that's alright,
I'm alive. It's only the left arm.'
Finally Gulin got out with Jody's help. I figured
I was good and stuck, but wiggling my elbow back and forth I managed
to find a gap in the metal fold and with some tugging popped free.
I crawled outside and looked around. The wind was whipping past, our
toilet paper streamed away into the distance across a flat empty plain.
Inside the truck the water from the internal tank dripped off the chaotic
scramble of luggage.
"What should we going to do?" Jody
asked. I looked around dully. At that moment it seemed as though everything
was over. The truck upside down, our gear scattered along the road,
the cargo containers cracked open and spilling out our clothes into
a pile of water inside. I reached down beside the truck and picked
up my little digital camera, batteries gone, covered in dust and blood.
Suddenly there was this gigantic problem, almost inconceivably impossible,
in the middle of nowhere. A huge need to just walk away and leave everything
behind hit me - we had almost a ton of equipment and no truck. I put
the camera into my pocket, picked up a couple of books that had been
thrown into the road and put them in a bag. Gulin was bleeding on her
hand and face, and looking at the truck hysterically. "What should
we do?" Jody repeated. "We have got to get to that border
post several kilometers back." I said slowly. Jody looked around, "You
both are bleeding, I'll go." She snapped some pictures of the
wreck with her camera, threw on an extra shirt scavenged from the debris,
and set off into the wind. I hugged Gulin. "We're all ok. It's
going to be fine." And we started gathering our belongings into
owe so much to the many people that helped us out in the next couple
of hours. Four Israeli travellers in a pickup saw Jody walking and
picked her up. They came to the accident scene, helped us gather a
few things, and took us to the Argentine border post. The soldiers
at the border post virtually adopted us. Gently cleaning Guin's wounds,
another of the guys dashed back to the truck to pick up Jody and most
of our packed luggage. They fed us, gave us their best chairs, and
threw some more logs on the fire to warm us up. I went back with two
soldiers to the truck and we tried to flip it over, no luck. A passing
farmer saw our problem and got his two sons. We tied ropes around the
truck and it eased it upright, changed the two blown tires, hauled
the roof rack back on, and towed the thing to the border post - one
truck in front and one behind to brake. Later on, the accident report
was typed up on a battered typewriter. A hundred sights, sounds, feelings,
summarized in a few innocent sentences - "On Dec. 26, 2001, three
kilometers from Cancha Carreras, there was an accident involving a
green Land Rover..."
Thinking back on the accident now, I have
such good memories of the day and night we stayed at the little ramshackle
border post in the middle of nowhere. The soldiers there are posted
for a month or two at a time and it is so remote that things are run
like a boys camp. Dinner was a huge pan of roasted lamb with some biscuit-like
bread. They gave us champagne. After midnight the squad room was cleaned
out so that we could sleep on the floor near the fire. They radioed
for a tow truck from Rio Gallegos, 300km away, and even took us out
to the lonely intersection of roads where we waited for the country
bus in the comfort of the pickup truck cab. The accident knocked us
down, but those Argentine soldiers picked us back up, dusted us off
and set us on our way. Great guys.
Back in Buenos Aires, we're a long way away from
it all. The truck was towed to Rio Gallegos and then we had it flat-bedded
3000km to the capitol. After a couple of days of research and phone
calls, we got on the 36 hour bus all the way back up the road we had
driven a few days before. Though the economy is really in the trashcan
and riots still flare up occasionally, I'm glad we had the chance to
come back to this beautiful city. The attitude of the people here can
be summed up in the words of the insurance manager on the first day
that we met him. He apologized as the three of us wedged our chairs
beside his desk and said "My office is small, but my heart is
big." The truck is a writeoff. We don't know what exactly
our next move will be. But the expedition will go on. To the soldiers
at Cancha Carreras, the tow truck operator who made a 600km round trip
with his wife to get our Land Rover to civilization, Vespirini Transport
who insisted on taking us sightseeing after agreeing to haul the truck
to Buenos Aires, Hernan at the Grupo Bavaria Land Rover shop, and the
folks at AIG - you have made our hearts big too!