Break downs around the world

I have written about Mongolia’s highlights and for today, I was thinking about giving you an update on the highlights of Ulan Bataar. It seemed like a logical thing to publish to complete my series of articles about one of my favourite countries. But then I realised that I didn’t feel like writing about tourist attractions at all. Instead, what I feel like doing is telling you some funny stories from my travels.

If you’ve been abroad, you know that transport comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the modern, well-maintained cars we see on our streets, or a train where you know you won’t catch bed bugs. And just because in the past years, most bus companies where I live have started to include wifi doesn’t mean that’s the standard all over the world.

No chance of wifi on this bus.
No chance of wifi on this Fijian bus.

Transport off the beaten track in Fiji, for example, meant being squeezed into a bus in between people and huge bags of vegetables, driving at the amazing speed of 30km/h while listening to Fijian music. It was definitely worth it, though (more about this in another post).

Taking a taxi can be quite an interesting experience, too. My favourite break down of all times was in Cuba. After our round trip, we had four days in a beach resort in Varadero. A private shuttle was supposed to take us there. But after standing at the airport for more than an hour, repeatedly hearing that there was a shortage of taxis (there is a shortage of pretty much everything in Cuba so we were not surprised), we decided to share with an elderly German couple, Robert and Regina. They were nice but they were older than us and not used to any comfort lower than what they have at home.

Still, Robert and Regina were nice enough about the state of the taxi we squeezed into. They were still nice when we stopped at a restaurant and our driver emptied a bottle of water into the radiator, though that was the first time I saw a frown appear on their faces. The frown deepend a couple of kilometers later when we had to stop once more to refill the water. And they definitely were not amused anymore after two more kilometers, when we stopped again.

They still took it amazingly well. The driver was nice enough to have stopped near a small shop at the side of the road. He went out, started cursing so extensively that we could understand it despite not speaking Spanish, and told us, once again in Spanish, that he would not be going to Varadero and we needed to take a different taxi. Or that was what I understood with the three Spanish lessons I’d had before coming to Cuba.

At the little shop, our taxi driver refilled the water bottle and emptied it into the radiator. There was a cloud of steam so huge, I think all of it evaporated within seconds. I tried to ask him about a different taxi. Our transfer had been prepaid and we were still about 40 kilometers from Varadero. While I felt sorry for our driver, I didn’t want to have to pay for the second taxi.

Unfortunately, communication was difficult and he did not understand my questions while I did not understand his answers. So we walked over to the shop, got coconut ice cream and sat down in the shade. From time to time, clouds of steam rose into the air above the taxi but they got smaller every time. I don’t know how long we spent waiting or how many times the guy refilled the water in his radiator. He must have manually cooled down his car enough for the water not to evaporate. We debated on how often he had been in such a situation and concluded that he didn’t look as if he had no idea what he was doing. It was probably a common problem he was used to.

After what felt like ages, we were told to get back into the car. Back home, I wouldn’t call 40 kilometers a long distance. But when the temperature of your car keeps rising, it feels like you still have to go to the end of the world. We made it. It took a long time but at one point, we arrived. There were no more break downs but I’m not quite sure our taxi driver made it back to Havana.

I would have understood the radiator problems if this had been our shuttle to Varadero. But instead, we were in a new car. Maybe that was the problem, those new things are very hard to fix with a screwdriver only.
I would have understood the radiator problems if this had been our shuttle to Varadero. But instead, we were in a new car. Maybe that was the problem, those new things are very hard to fix with a screwdriver only.

Cuba isn’t the only country I’ve been to where people drive cars that would not be allowed on any road in Germany. And the locals adapt. My second favourite taxi ride was in Dakar, Senegal. I went there to a surf camp and quickly fell in love with the city. It’s chaotic, it’s hot and once you get to know the locals and can see past their attempts to make as much money off you as possible, they are amazing.

I met a Swiss stewardess there and we spent a couple of days together, exploring Dakar and travelling to Senegal’s north. One morning, I spent a long time waiting for a cheap taxi. When I finally got one, the taxi driver didn’t go far. We stopped at the nearest gas station to refill the air in his tyres. We went on for maybe five more minutes before we had to pull over at the next gas station. Once again, he refilled the air in his tyres. It was never about fuel, always about air.

And amazingly, we made it all the way to the city center. Thank god he knew the locations of all gas stations around the city.

Each day we came home from the beach, we attached our surf boards to the roof of a taxi. Sometimes, we made it home without problems. Other times, we had to push the taxi first to get it started.
Each day we came home from the beach, we attached our surf boards to the roof of a taxi. Sometimes, we made it home without problems. Other times, we had to push the taxi first to get it started.

Now that I’ve shared my favourite transport stories with you, I’m curious about yours. Where did you break down? Do you have any funny stories to share with me from abroad?

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