The Digital Adventures

Chapter 4D

Music: On the Road Again by Willy Neslon and Country Roads by John Denver

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Few Consolations, Moving on


A miracle dispelled the gloom, a warm and friendly miracle. As we prepared to bed down for the night, a pretty blonde head poked through the front camper Hap, followed by a body that was suntanned and solid, dressed in short shorts, and curved in all the right places. “Say there, chaps,” she said in a fetching British accent, “thought you might be Yanks. We heard you clear across the camp. Just got here, we did. Hitched all the way from Seville. Wonder if it would inconvenience you chaps if we laid out our sleeping bags near you. It’s rather dark and spooky out there and my friends would feel safer with some Yanks around.” The friends were two: one tall, genteel, poised, the fashion-model type; the other, short, freckled, red-haired, cute, vivacious. Something for everybody! Welcome travelers! Good-bye gripes! Ole!

The girls looked as good by dawn’s early light as they had by lantern. The coffee they woke us with was as heavenly as the breakfast in bed that followed it-our first of the trip. After introductions, we learned that Elizabeth, Barbara and Mira were all nurses, born in New Zealand, trained in London, hitching through Spain and France before going to work. Little did they or we know then that they’d come half way across Africa with us and almost end up in some Arab’s harem.

The girls took over our shopping, cooking, cleaning, and pot-washing. Never was a trans-world expedition so pampered. Our camping in Europe was supposed to condition us for the rigors of Africa; but it was more like being prepared for a sojourn in a seraglio. It was surely, as are all honeymoons, doomed to end, but for the moment, we made the most of it.

The nurses had caused us to forget our beautiful customs clearance girl in Madrid until her cable arrived. The Spanish customs officials, she said, had agreed to release our equipment, duty-free, if we posted a $1,000 bond which would be returned to us, they promised, when we left Spain, provided we took all the equipment out with us. Al left for Madrid to seal the deal while the rest of us decided to put the delay to good use and take advantage of our location and company. If you have to be stuck somewhere with somebody at sometime, you couldn’t ask for more than springtime in Jerez with three adventurous Kiwi nurses.

Jerez, more formally, Jerez de la Frontera, is a most remarkable town: in no place on earth is drinking so important. In Jerez it is refined; in Jerez it is an art; in Jerez it is everything. If Bacchus were looking for a ball, if Dionysus wanted a drink, they’d head for Jerez; its cup runneth over.

Four days after he’d left for Madrid we received a telegram from Al: he’d gotten our equipment out of customs and would be arriving in Jerez that night with it and Manu. Since the Jeep repairs were also finished, it looked as if we’d be ready to leave Spain at last. I spent the morning convincing the girls to come with us to Africa, as far as Tunis where they could catch a ferry to France, and the afternoon at Blackie’s, discussing the trip with his friends and saying good-bye. As we were leaving. Blackie gave me something he said we might need-a .38 pistol.

On the way back from Blackie’s the Jeep began to knock and stall so badly that we just made it to the shop at Puerto. There a German mechanic, whom we called in for consultation, found that three of the rods were worn. They should have been replaced, he said, when the engine was dismantled during the original repair, but the workers were probably too lazy. Parts would again have to be ordered from Seville, the engine taken apart once more, and our expedition set back another week.

I broke the bad news to Al when he pulled in from Madrid that night with Manu and our equipment, but he didn’t seem to mind the delay-nor did Leila, the customs clearance agent, whom he’d brought back with him, and who looked devastating in tight stretch pants and high leather boots as she explained shyly, “I had a few days’ vacation coming, and I’ve always wanted to go camping.” From the way she clung to Al, I suspected she’d just as readily have spent them climbing the Matterhorn or exploring the Arctic Circle if he had happened to be heading in those directions.

Even after Al had explained that Leila had offered to help us with our customs problems in Cadiz, Barbara and Mira were still so jealous they didn’t speak to him, except to let him know he could expect no special favors from them when Leila had gone. “But what the hell,” as Al said, “isn’t a bird in the hand worth two in the (African) bush?”

Our problems in Cadiz were not easily settled, even with Leila’s assistance in pleading, translating, cajoling, explaining, promising, and threatening. Aside from the complications involved in arranging to post bond for our equipment, we were anchored by a shipping agent who discovered a slight mistake on the invoice attached to our oil. It was a simple oversight that consigned that shipment to The Trans World Record Expedition rather than to a particular one of us, but one that his worship of petty regulations wouldn’t allow him to ignore and whose rectifications required a cable from us to Macmillan Oil in New York, a cable from Macmillan back to us in Cadiz, followed by letters from us to the shipping company, the shipping company to the customs clearance agent, the customs clearance agent to the shipping company, the shipping company to us, us to the customs clearance agent, the customs clearance agent to us, us to the assistant chief of customs, the assistant chief of customs to the chief of customs, and the chief of customs back to us, the last granting us permission to claim our equipment-as soon as the initial bonding arrangement had been effectuated. A sharp clerk in the States would have taken it on himself to settle the whole mess in a minute, but in Spain there is no premium on initiative, no reward for innovation, no bonus for speed, for what’s the use of hurrying when tomorrow is sure to be the same as yesterday.

It was the same everywhere in Spain: slow and sloppy. For instance when we went back to the shop to pick up the Jeep, we got no farther than Blackie’s house (where we’d gone to say good-by again) when the engine conked out. Blackie towed u back to Puerto where we complained and raged; but they still wouldn’t look at it until mañana.

When we had first arrived in Jerez, in mid-April, people had asked if we were planning to stay for the famous spring fair which would begin May 7th.

“No,” I’d always answered, ‘Tm afraid we’ll have to miss it. We’d love to see it, but we only plan to be around Jerez a few days. By the 7th of May we’ll be crossing Egypt.”

Well, May 7th came, and the only thing we’d been crossing was the stretch of asphalt between the auto shop at Puerto and the customs shed at Cadiz. Two thousand miles we’d put on the Land Cruiser-and moved not an inch on the map. But that morning we were ready at last. The equipment was out of customs, the Jeep was out of the shop, and we were ready to roll. We closed down the camper and loaded up the cars, taking hours to find space for the recently added passengers and equipment. The canvas sides of the Jeep were strained to bursting, the top of the camper was covered with new tires, and six sloshing four-gallon jugs of Jerez wine hung from the Land Cruiser’s back bumper. An English tourist waited for an hour with movie camera in hand to record our departure. The camp manager wept to see us leave. The German mechanic wished us luck. Blackie and his family waved goodbye for the third time.

  • Photo caption on page 52 of the printed publication:
    Many of the stone bridges we crossed in Spain dated back to the Crusades, and most of them hadn’t seen repairs since then.

Fourteen miles out of Camp Pinar, on the road to Gibraltar, the Jeep broke down again.

There were some surprised people at the spring fair in Jerez that night.

By the third day of the fair our Jeep was in far better shape then we, though we somehow managed to pack everything again and get moving toward Gibraltar, the fourth country on our itinerary and our last in Europe.

As we drove, the shortwave set, which had been released from Spanish customs, brought us up to date on the world we had left a month before and heard little from since.

A fanatic terrorist group, El Farah, organized by Syria, had attacked Israel through Jordanian territory, and Israel had vowed reprisals, inflaming the Middle East.

In the Rann of Kutch, a miserable salt marsh on the sub-continent, India and Pakistan were shooting over a disputed boundary line, throwing tanks and planes into the worst flareup since partition.

Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia had broken relations with the United States, claiming we had armed his enemies in Thailand and had helped the South Vietnamese raid his territory.

In Vietnam itself, American Marines had moved out from Danang to fight their first ground battle of the war against the Vietcong.

The world was heating up all over our route, but in wondering how these wars and feuds would affect our trip, we looked too far ahead. One of our worst problems was coming up just around the bend: the Spanish blockade of Gibraltar.

  • Photo caption on page 54 of the printed publication:
    In Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the five members of the Trans World Record Expedition were finally together, studying the route on our map. Our home for the next 16 months was the trailer-camper seen here in its erect position with the door open. From left: Woodrow, Manu, Steve, Willy, Al. Not all would make it to the end.

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