Friday, March 28, 2008

Mossy's Backpackers #22

Author's note: to those that don't know, every word of the story of Haap is true. Sadly.

“Have you guys picked one yet?”

Max looked up from the mess of rental car agency pamphlets strewn across the table just long enough to scowl at Greg before returning to his work.

“Ah, I think we’ve got it down to these two,” Cate replied, pointing at the two leaflets open in front of her. “If we can decode their insurance policies we might finally be able to make a decision.”

“I knew I should’ve gone to law school like mum and dad wanted,” Max muttered.

Be sure to mention that next time you call home.

“Maybe we should get to Kinghaven and just buy a cheap used car,” Cate suggested.

“No way, no how, no thank you,” Max said without looking up.

“Why not? It wouldn’t be that much more expensive than renting and we’d get most of the money back by selling it before we head home,” she said, looking to Greg for support. “I met this Italian guy who actually sold his car for almost twice the amount he paid for it!”

“Obviously,” Greg replied with a mischievous grin, “he has yet to tell you the tragic story of Haap.”

“Hap? Who is that?”

“Haap is short for Hope And A Prayer,” Max said with a pained expression. “It was the name I gave the car I bought the day I got here.”

“No way… the day your flight arrived from Vancouver?”

“Yup – jet lagged and sleep deprived I went used car shopping and found Haap.”

God was that ever a brilliant decision.

Rot in hell.

“I’m guessing getting around on a hope and a prayer didn’t work out so hot?”

“Oh not at all!” Greg laughed as he pulled up a seat, eager to hear the tale one more time. “It ended up being very hot indeed. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?”

“I’m going to need a…” Max began before he was cut off by Cindy placing an opened beer in front of him. “Yes, one of those.”

“I love this story,” Cindy told Cate. “Usually you hear stuff like this second, third or fourth hand, but we actually know the dumb git directly!”

“Thank you for the encouragement,” Max said dryly before taking a lengthy taste of his beer. “Everyone all settled in then?”

“Yup, I even just went to the loo so no bathroom break required over here!” Greg said happily.

“Alright. So. I bought Haap from this dodgy bloke at a backpacker’s car market. It was the cheapest small car there and it did okay on the test drive. Other than me almost hitting another car at an intersection.”

I will never get tired of this story.

“I don’t really know much about cars, all I was looking for was something cheap that would last for my trip here and maybe two days past that. So I pay up, decline the mechanic check-up because it was an extra hundred bucks I couldn’t afford…”

Brilliant move! Ha ha ha ha ha…

“… And get it back to the hostel. The next day I hit the road for a town about 100 miles away… it ended up taking me five hours to get there.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t get hopelessly lost?” Cate said with a wince.

“Nope, the engine overheated about 20 miles out of town, leaving me stranded on the side of the highway for two hours,” Max said as Greg began to whistle ‘Some like it hot.’ Ignoring this completely, he continued. “But I met some incredible people that day – this old English couple, who were going in the opposite direction, came back to see if I needed help and then went to get a mechanic to check the car out.”

“We English are a fine lot,” Greg said smugly.

“Not as fine as the mechanic though,” Max laughed. “He drove out to see me, towed me back to his garage, fixed things up and sent me on my way. Free of charge.”

“Oh that’s so sweet!” Cate said.

“He was probably half-English,” Greg grumbled.

“So. Not a very promising start to things,” Max continued.

Understatement of the year.

“In the coming weeks I discovered that Haap’s optimal highway speed was a rather modest 60 km/h. That led to me spending a whole lot of time driving on the shoulder to let other drivers pass. Then one day reverse stopped working…”

“No!” Cate cried out, her hand covering her mouth.

“Uh huh – from then on backing up required me tossing it in neutral and getting out to push. I also had to get five or six jump starts before I caved and bought a new battery. Most of those were at the side of the road after I pulled over to let the engine cool off.”

“I can’t believe you kept driving that junker,” Cindy said.

“I figured I’d drive it till it fell apart. Besides, driving that slowly gave me time to admire all the scenery a whole lot better than those poor sods going a hundred,” Max shrugged. “The beginning of the end came at the end of a long day when I stopped for gas. I started Haap up and smoke started billowing from under the hood. Turned out I had blown the head gasket…”

“Oh, that happened to my brother two years ago,” Cate said. “You didn’t keep going did you?”

“Lasted another two weeks,” Max said with a hint of pride in his voice. “Every road trip began with two huge jugs of water in the trunk. I had to pull over every fifteen minutes or so to cool off the engine and refill the radiator. Except on rainy days… Haap did much better then.”

“You’re insane,” Cate noted.

Bang on, girl. Bang on.

“Probably,” Max allowed with a smile. “I ended up abandoning it at a hostel after the local mechanic wouldn’t even take it for spare parts. Which was total crap, the seatbelts still worked perfectly!”

“Yeah and that was about it!” Greg said happily.

“I can see why renting appeals to you,” Cate told him as she rubbed his shoulders.

“Yeah, but I don’t regret it at all. I met so many friendly people, locals and tourists, that I never would have otherwise. It was a really good experience and I learned a lot from it.”

“And it gave you one ‘ell of a story mate,” Greg said as he raised his beer. “Here’s to Haap: may he find the joy in car heaven that he never found with Max behind his wheel.”

“To Haap,” Max said, clinking his bottle against Greg’s. “My first car… and probably my last!”

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mossy's Backpackers #21

“Max? Wake up mate.”

Make the bad man go away.

“Come on, we need to get going,” Greg said, grabbing Max’s shoulder and shaking roughly.

Oh God, don’t do that…

“Unless you want me to ruin that shirt,” he finished aloud.


“No shaking,” he mumbled. “Contents are volatile and under extreme pressure.”

“Gotcha,” Greg said as he took two big steps back. “Regardless, we need to get moving. The sun’s only been up for a couple hours and it’s already hot. If we wait much longer we’ll get fried on the road back to Mossy’s.”

“Mossy!” Tobias said excitedly, almost falling off his log. “We should call him, get him to pick us up!”

“Lovely idea, except for two things,” Cindy replied from her seat beside him. “One – he’s probably in as bad a shape as we are, or worse. And two… nobody brought a cell phone.”

“Bloody hell,” Max groaned and rolled onto his right side, coming face to face with the blackened end of a large log. “Who let me sleep so close to the fire?”

“You were quite insistent,” Cate said from behind him. He flopped onto his back again and looked to his left to see her sitting cross-legged beside him. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he grunted back, somehow managing to inject some affection into it. His effort was rewarded with a laugh and a tussle of his hair.

“Alright, seriously – get off yer arse,” Greg said. “We’re all dehydrated already and it’s only going to get worse.”

“Fine, fine… I’m up, I’m up Captain Sunshine,” Max grumbled, shaking sand out of his clothes. Cate stood up and attempted to clean off the blanket they had been sharing. Once most of the sand was set free she folded it up and stuffed it into her daypack.

“We all set?” Diego asked as he placed the last empty into a grocery bag. “Oh, don’t forget the guitar Max.”

Max slowly turned around to find the hostel’s acoustic guitar resting against a pile of driftwood.

Oh yeah…

“Right. I forgot I was that drunk,” he said quietly.

“You do a pretty good Jack Johnson,” Cate said as she passed it over. Without a word Max put his head and right arm though the strap and slung the guitar across his back.

“What, you’re not going to serenade us on the walk back?” Greg asked.

“I’m almost sober now,” Max replied flatly.

“So that’s a no then?”

“Technically, I believe that was a ‘hell no’,” he said as he led the way off the beach and onto the road. Before long the eight of them were strolling along side by side, effectively taking up both sides of the road. Cate was immediately to his right, with Jay and Tim beside her. To his left were Greg, Cindy, Diego and Tobias.

“You know,” Tim began, “I may be a long way from friends and family but I can’t remember ever having a more enjoyable New Year’s Eve.”

“Same here,” Max said with a smile.

“Me too, I’m going to miss you guys,” Tobias said sadly.

“I think I’ve had one better,” Diego said, “but I don’t really remember it. All I know for sure is that I was 18, single and on a beach in Cancun.”

“Now that’s a recipe for a damn good night,” Tim said with more than a hint of admiration in his voice.

“Well I’ll email you some of my pictures to make sure you remember this one,” Cate said as she patted her daypack.

Oh no, photographic evidence…

“Can I, um, have a look at those?” Max asked.

Good thinking! Now to drop it in a way that looks accidental…

Oh shut up.

“Yeah, of course,” she replied as she pulled the digital camera out and passed it over. “Just use the left and right arrows to scroll through them.”

The first few depicted the party at the hostel, including a particularly sexy shot of Greg eating one of the tacos Diego had cooked up.

“Nice mate,” Max said, tilting the camera so that Greg could see it.

“Oh lovely, ye got me good side,” Greg said.

“What?” Cindy said as she looked over his shoulder. “Oh, that’s not a shot of yer bum at all.”

Max laughed loudly and returned to scrolling through the pictures. Next up were a series of shots taken during their drunken promenade to the beach. The highlights were unquestionably the set of Tobias falling into, landing in and being hauled out of the roadside ditch. Twice.

“I don’t know how you’re able to walk right now,” Max told him.

“I don’t feel a thing but I suspect that’ll change by dinner,” Tobias said. “Speaking of which, if you need me between one and five I’ll be in the shower. Draining all the hot water out of this district.”

The last pictures documented their arrival and subsequent partying at the beach. Plenty of smiling faces around the fire, a few shots of Tobias and Tim passed out in the sand and…

That’s a keeper.

“I like this one,” Max said quietly as he showed Cate the photo of him playing guitar while she rested her head on his shoulder, eyes closed and smiling.

“Me too,” she said, looking slightly puzzled. “Who took that?”

“That would be me,” Cindy answered. “It was too perfect, how could I not?”

“Thank you,” Max told her sincerely. “Man, I can’t believe we’ll all be going our own way in a few days. It’s gonna be so weird without you guys around.”

“Emailing just won’t be the same,” Tim said. “So I guess there’s only one thing to do: yearly reunions.”

“That’s easy enough for you lot!” Greg cried. “You west coast hooligans will be in the same bloody time zone back home. Me, Cindy and Tobias will be the forgotten Euros in no time!”

“Like we could ever forget you!” Cate laughed as she reached over to retrieve her camera from Max.

“Hold on, we need one more shot on here,” he said. He then jogged forward about twenty feet before stopping and placing the camera on the road, facing the group. “How long is the timer on this?”

“I dunno, like five seconds?” Cate called back.

Max swore under his breath. It was going to be close. He set up the shot, laying stomach down on the road line to make sure everyone fit in the view finder. Satisfied he had the shot he wanted, he rose to a crouch and set up the timer.

“You’ll never make it!” Greg yelled cheerfully.

“Just watch me, fat man,” Max yelled back. “As soon as I reach you start walking forward, okay?” Without waiting for a response he pressed the button to start the timer and broke into a sprint.

Oh my God I’m going to be sick…

He skidded to a halt as he reached the group, spun on his heel and as one they took a step forward just as the camera produced a loud ‘click’.

“Oh, that could be a good one,” Jay murmured. They reached the camera as a group and Max reached down to collect it. He brought the picture up on the digital display and showed it to everyone. They all agreed that only one word could describe it.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

The story returns this Friday, March 14th

I've been busy with other things but I'm hoping to get it back to a weekly update. At least until the conclusion of Mossy's Backpackers.