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My Bowl Of Noodle Soup Slipped

from my muddy hands and fell upside down In my lap, accompanied by the loudest „Baka neeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!“(*) I may have ever shouted in my miserable mudcrawling life and it made my Japanese travel-companion-and-lousy-cook, Hideki, almost run and go hide under the truck into the deep clay-like mud we had planted his old SII in.

Poor guy had been trying all morning to keep the truck on the muddy track that was the last part from the „road“ leading to Valle Perezo, smack dab in the middle of the Venezuelan nowhere. All good will but a bit short with his 1m56 he could barely see anything above the dash of the truck, so he aimed it more or less in the general direction of where we were trying to get. Till a deep mudhole in a washout got us. Up to the door handles in the yuckiest , stinkiest and slipperiest jungle goo known to Man, we crawled out of the back, fell into the mud, crawled out, fell back in and so forth till we settled, exhausted, sitting on the tailgate that we had managed to open. Not high and dry, of course, feet still in watery mud, but sitting on something man-made and that alone gave some degree of comfort in our minds. Don‘t ask, such is life when you try making some sort of a living by going to places where no cockroach has gone before. We had still three days to spare before we had to get to the excavation site where we worked so we decided to wait for the other two trucks that would follow us twenty-four hours later, rather than to try to winch, dig or swear ourselves out. So Hideki, trying to make up for his lousy driving, asked me very politely, in the best Engrish that he could produce, if it were OK if he made us some lunch. So we reached inside the truck, got our gasoline cooker out and half an hour later noodles, in a poor imitation of a bad greasy spoon‘s way, were boiling in crappy tablet chicken broth produced by Knorr de Brazil Ltda. Hideki insisted he was cooking Ramen, a delicate Japanese noodle dish with sliced pork, but I would have compared it with Yuck boiled in Eeeww and spiced with the omnipresent red-brown mud we were covered in.

Anyhow, the ratfare he had produced and clumsily handed over had scalded my thighs and some of my more precious belongings and I was cursing him in a way that would have embarrassed Gengis Khan‘s whoremonger. Having jumped up in pain, I had landed behind the truck, of course, and my burns were now soothed by the coolness of the sludge I was slowly sinking into. It took him more than half an hour and a large part of the inventory of The Nihon Go Dictionary Of Bad Language to help me get my 85 kg back onto the tailgate. Unfortunately, there was more of the stuff left in the pot and, short of shooting him, I ate some of it so I did not hurt his feelings too much. My feelings were not hurt either, and neither was my pride but my whatsits where hurting like hell. When he told me that his wife, back home, was a really bad cook and that his family admired his culinary skills, I wondered what he ever saw in her. Oh well, I may also have a girlfriend someday and the Gods may know why. Yes, but maybe no, perhaps, as my sister Etsuko would say. (BTW, Etsuko has the best Sushi restaurant in Fujisawa: Okina Zushi, 2-24-38, Zengyo, Fujisawa City, Kanagawa 251.087, Japan. Tell her Takeo sent you but bring your wallet anyway).

Half an hour later, around 6 PM, washing the foul taste of Latin-American chicken broth cum noodles out of my mouth with some even fouler-tasting local Guaro, we were still sitting on the very same SII tailgate, feet and legs dangling 20 cm deeper in the goo, sighing. Hmm, must think of of „setting up camp“. Hideki kinda read my mind and suggested we get the tent out, but he immediately understood, by the expression on my face, that I had NO intention at all of camping in water. Then it started to rain.
Hammocks hanging between the top of the windscreen frame and the rear canvas hoop, I tried to get some ZZZs under my improvised mosquito netting. At midnight, the temperature must still have been around 35 in the shade, much the same temperature as the rain. Celsius that is. Canvas top leaked too, of course. Felt like trying to sleep under a warm shower.
The next morning I sortof kinda woke up, sweating like a team of horses, in what must be like a sauna, hot sun shining on the canvas of the SII and trying to steam-boil all the soaked contents of the truck, including me. Rolled up the sides from the inside and clambered out and onto the hood where I had a drink of water from my canteen, sitting on the spare wheel. OK, what next, I thought by myself, looking around the truck which was now sitting, sunk deep, into what looked like a sea of mud that was starting to dry in the scorching heat. Since that washout was part of what had been a track against a steep sloping side, the water contained in the mud would soon drain out and then we could start to DIG the damn truck out. I quickly calculated that that would involve moving some 15 - 20 cubic yards of earth with a pair of foldable army shovels. I could immediately think of some more pleasant occupations. Hideki, from his side, reminisced about what his father had told him about digging fortifications and tunnels on Iwo Jima and some other dream-destination islands. He also added that his father hated digging, which I understand.
Waiting for the two other teams to show up was, of course, the thing to do since we would then have 8 pairs of arms and 8 shovels instead of two of each. Hideki fully agreed so we made ourselves comfortable in the back of the truck, in the shade of our canvas top and I cooled us a couple of cans of Coke® with one of the four large CO2 fire extinguishers we always carried in the truck for this purpose. And since Coke® beautifully mixes with most anything, we dozed our afternoon away after getting seriously sloshed on Coke®&Guaro. Hic.
A loud „Chopchopchopchopchop“ that was getting louder and louder with in the background the whine of a turbine engine woke me rudely out of a really nice dream involving Asian dream creatures and then I felt something real hot between my legs as the hovering Alouette II blew the smoke pot from the truck body capping where Hideki had put it and straight into my lap. Some slapstick action followed as I tried to get rid of the damn burning-hot smoke pot, half choking to death in a dense cloud of stinking red smoke. Which action ended as I found myself laying on the ground next to the truck coughing and swearing that, this time, I would strangle Hideki with my bare hands, much to the astonishment of the chopper crew that had dismounted and asked themselves what the tumult was all about.
While I emptied my canteen down my shorts in order to try to save at least some of the family jewelry, Hideki-San profusely apologized to the crop sprayers for catching their attention (he had popped the smoke can as soon as he had heard their faraway rotor while I was still sleeping) and asked if, perchance, they had seen 2 Land-Rovers on the same track, heading South, towards us. Yes they said, about fifty miles North, on the very same track, and they had even seen both teams digging with shovels. Must have gotten caught in the tail of that storm, they thought. Hmm. At least we now knew where they were.
We offered them a drink of CO2 cooled Coke® and they promised to drop a drogued message canister (empty noodle can with my scarf tied to it and a piece of paper taped inside) to the excavation site we were heading for so that our bosses at least would know where we were and why. They also thought the CO2 Coke® icing trick was kinda cool. Hideki even proposed to use the fire extinguisher down my shorts to which I replied with the proposition to make him swallow the damn fire extinguisher, sideways. He did not insist. The crop sprayers wound up their turbine and left. Good, I thought, now I can quietly kill that %$#@!!!! Jap in my own time.
Okok, you don‘t kill a good friend for a couple of roasted nuts, do you ? (Although I know a couple of guys who actually WOULD). Anyway, that did not get us where we wanted to get and most of the afternoon was spent so we decided to make a serious digging effort the next day. I politely asked Hideki not to make any culinary efforts anymore and attacked a can of sardines with my pocket knife. I washed the fish preserves down with another can of Coke® and settled in my hammock The night was hot and moist and as unpleasant as it gets but very uneventful, which was good.

The next day saw us digging, digging and digging. Started with a trench around the truck, about 2 ft wide and about 3 ft deep so that the wheels got freed. Imagine the Series II sitting in a rectangular pit in the ground. The ground was draining so the digging went kinda well before it would dry out too much and get very hard. That trench took about 4 hours to dig. Next digging exercise was the way out in the form of a ramp, sloping about 25 degrees and some 12 ft long for the width of the truck. That took another 4 hours of serious earthmoving work with little shovels under an unforgiving sun. More rain would have spelt disaster - heck knows what more would have washed away, or worse still, what may come washing down from that hillside. Mini-landslides are very common here but they are mean enough to drown and bury man and machine alike.
Fired up the truck what was no problem at all, got her in 2nd low and gave it a try with a lot of accelerator pedal, what brought her out of the hole, halfway the „ramp“, where she dug herself in again, into the still soft earth. Shut down engine immediately, as to not make it worse and being kinda glad that we made it THAT far out. Got out of truck to assess new situation and decided that a winch or another powerful pull was needed. We would have used the winch in the first place, problem was that we did NOT have a winch. OK, I know, I know, I didn‘t ask for yer comment, did I ? Now lemme go on. We did have a rope, though. 1 3/4 in. manila, about 150 ft of it, brand new, coiled and wrapped and we were supposed to bring that to the work site. Right there and then I could not care less if their rope would get dirty or not.
The year before, I had seen a neat trick in the Congo, which was then still called Zaire, performed by 2 men who used a couple of tree branches, one about 7 ft long and the other some 20 ft long, both about 7 or 8 in in diameter and a length of rope to pull an old Citroën van out of a ditch. It had worked well for them, so why would it not work for us and I explained my plan to Hideki who sortof grinned and nodded politely but I could hear him think „Yeah, right !“ in Japanese. Yes, but maybe no, perhaps.
„sooooooo desu ka“ he asked. (lit.: Is that so?)
„so desu“ I replied. (It is)
It was dark by then, and I did not feel much like hacking away in the vegetation with a razor-sharp machete in the dark - the tool is dangerous enough to use in bright daylight, so we decided to attack some canned food under the light our Coleman® kerosene lamp and also emptied the first fire extinguisher to cool da Coke®. The ensuing night would have been as uneventful as the previous one if it had not been for a nasty little mosquito stinging me right into my left Gluteus Maximus, occasioning heavy bum scratching for the next 5 days. Real adventurous travelers get bitten by snakes, run over by elephants, chased by rhinoceros, attacked by dozens of lions or have to wrestle crocodiles at least once a week during their holidays. Not me. I get stung in the ass by a mosquito. Well, I was not on a holiday - that may explain it.

The third day, as you may have guessed, involved the production of copious amounts of wood chips as we tried to cut us a couple of suitable poles for our winching experiment. It also involved the mandatory foul language from my colleague when a near machete miss almost gave him a fresh hair parting line.
„You shouldn‘t haven‘t oughtta swung“.
Followed by some rude references as to my ancestry and the presumed trade of my mother.
Anyhow, a couple of hours and a dozen swearwords later we had the cut the poles as described earlier and started to rig up: the shortest pole gets planted vertically into the ground and the second one is applied in a perpendicular plane to the first one. Rope is attached to a convenient tree on one side and to the vehicle on the other. Rope also rounds the horizontal pole somewhere in the middle, where it forms a cross with the vertical one. Now each man gets to his end of the horizontal pole and both push in opposite directions as to wind up the rope round the vertical pole. Sounds easy but is not really easy and it sortof kinda works. Point is that you try to achieve a 1:10 leverage ratio or better and, considering that a person can push some 100 kg of force (x 2), that gives you something in the order of 1.5 - 2 tons of pulling power. (See perfect artwork by Annette)

It is slow, very slow even and it is hard work, but inch by inch and foot by foot, the S II moved forward, pushing, pulling, digging, swearing like a drunken coolie lying in a gutter in Macao, we got her out in only five hours. Phew. Damn heat, sweat and bum itch.
As we had moved the truck a bit down the track to safety and sat down again on our now familiar tailgate settee and had poured us a couple of CO2 - cooled drinks, a familiar sound contrasted strangely with the omnipresent bird noises and we soon saw the front of one of the two other trucks, which came behind us, appearing on the track, working their way up in our direction. No, they did not drive straight into the pit where we had gotten out of, the drivers were not all THAT drunk.
While we got together and were trying to outbrag each other about how deep, how stinky, how muddy and how much digging, I also admired the 5-ton hydraulic winch both vehicles were equipped with.


(*) This is bad, Shiiit top