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The Land-Rover and the Priest


Way back in the late seventies we had been contracted to drill for water in the Tabernas area in Andalucia, Spain. Not that the Spanish were not capable to drill for water, but these particular wells required drilling through solid rock to a depth of some 400 meters by a diameter of 420 mm and they simply did not have the required equipment at the time and we were equipped to drill for oil through most anything.

Of course, all that could go wrong inevitably went wrong and at a certain time we were chewing up drilling heads faster than a Series III blows fuses. And since the logistics geniuses in our company had conveniently located the main stores near Madrid, getting spares and replacement parts involved some extensive travel untill we could convince other geniuses at the head office to let us relocate the stores to somewhere closer to where we were working. Lack of personnel was another curse and that is why Juan and I drove one of the locally purchased Santana Series II 109 ragtop diesels to the capital of Spain on a very nice and warm day in June to get new parts for the drilling rig. Maximum attainable speed was about 70 kph, acceleration had to be measured using a calendar and the distance was some 800 km, so I guessed we would arrive the next day or so. Anyway, the work site was located some 40 km off a main road and that meant 2 hours of rattle, shudder and shake on potholed gravel farmtracks that could shake one’s kidneys right down into one’s boots. And one can rest assured that as many quality manufactured parts fall off a Santana as off a Land-Rover. So after said two hours of cursing and making very rude remarks about the presumed trade of the mothers of those who might have been responsible for the maintenance of said crappy tracks, we arrived at the main road and as I started to build up some speed on the asphalt (speed, yeah right), Juan told me to pull over and stop, which I did, thinking that he had heard a new noise in the truck that I had missed.
It was not a noise for which he made me stop, far from it. It was an old man wearing a long black robe. The robe was very black and the man was very old. Looked as he had been born like at least a century ago. He also looked very much like a priest. I had not noticed him, standing by the roadside, hitchiking, but, then again, I would not have noticed a penguin either. Juan is a very catholic man and Spain is a very catholic country, so it would be very normal to find a very catholic priest trying to hitch a ride. The man said he was going to Madrid and asked if we could take him with us for some distance. We were going to Madrid too and instantly became aware of the fact that I might find some difficulty in conversing with this very holy man, since my religion involves praying to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, rather than to any European deity.
After introducing ourselves and bringing the Santana up to cruising speed (which took about half an hour - attaining the speed, that is) we had very much run out of conversational material and i had no intention at all to initiate a theological discussion on top of a rattling diesel, accompanied by a screaming gearbox. But Don Miguel (spanish priests are to be addressed by Don + their christian name) had a brilliant idea: let us pass the time by chanting an appropriate litany. A WHAT ? Yea, you got it right, a litany. Great. The good man even added that we could compose our own, according to circumstances, and that it would even be better if we made it a rhyming litany. Now I have done weird things in my life and some of them were very, very weird indeed, but I swear to all the Gods that I had never before participated in the composition and chanting of deeply religious Land-Rover (ok, Santana) prayers while on the move. He would start, all would chant the answer “Ora pro nobis” (Pray for us) and then we would go on taking turns, making up the neverending prayer as we went. Also, all had to be done in Spanish.

“Santa Clara, para que no salgamos de la carretera. - Ora pro nobis” was the opening by Don Miguel. (Saint Clara, to prevent us from falling off the road - Pray for us). “San Ildefonso, para que non nos pelleemos con mi tío Alonso - Ora pro nobis” was my following since it had to go counterclockwise and Juan was sitting in the back. (Saint Ildefonso, to prevent us from quarreling with my uncle Alonso - Pray for us). It made my travel companions raise their eyebrows, but my contribution was accepted. And so it went on and on and on and on...

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Fifteen solid hours of chanting and hearing that $%&$#!!! engine and gearbox later, i.e. in the middle of the night, we arrived in Madrid and drove the good padre to his destination at the convent of Saint Something. He thanked us profusely and we made our way to the other side of town where we spent the rest of the night at the bar of a very dubious all-night-open tavern and washed down the prayers with an industial quantity of DYC (Dragados Y Constucciones) brand spanish whiskey (Dredgings And Constructions - this brand REALLY exists !!) mixed with Coca-Cola® untill we were sober (hahaha) enough to get to our warehouse at 0700 hrs to pick up our spare parts.
As fate would have it, some of the parts we urgently needed were missing and would only arrive the next day (swear, curse, blasphemy, threat etc...). So Juan and I retreated to the local Cockroach Inn where we got totally, absolutely and terminally legless, plastered, sloshed and even drunk and slept it out till the next morning.

Next Morning, 1100 hrs.
Parts loaded in back, diesel engine happily spinning like a bucketful of empty corned beef cans in a hand-cranked washing machine, first gear crunched in, off we went, back to the boonies in Da Deep South.
“Le hasard fait bien les choses” say the French (fate does things well) and I got lost leaving Madrid, ending up at the Puerto De Los Leones, a mountain pass due east of the city, a mere 45 degrees off course, proving nothing else than that Spanish whiskey DOES evil things to what is left of one’s brains. A moment later, as I was about to attempt to perform a typical 17-point Land-Rover (oops again, Santana) U-turn, Juan told me to pull over and stop, NOT AGAIN !!! Again. Grrr. A short, black shadow, silhouetted against the midday sky, on top of the hill, with one arm raised. If this had been a spaghetti western, I would have gone for my shooting iron, but I pulled over instead. Don Miguel greeted us with great enthusiasm and praised the lord. I, myself, instead, swore to burn the cheapest, foulest smelling, stinking incense that I would find next time I would visit the Goddess’ shrine in Nihon. Re-grrr.
Juan climbed into the loadbed and the good Don Miguel got the co-driver’s seat, of course. He was about to say something but my glance anticipated his words and he obviously thought it to be wiser not even to mention the word “Litany”. Instead, he sat silent in his seat and enjoyed the Cacophony For Worn Cogs and Screaming Bearings, accompanied by the Crescendo for Diesel Knocks with a background choir of Firestone S.A.T. And the nice thing of all is that Don Miguel kept his silence for quite a while. But nice songs don’t last, they say, and then Don Miguel said something to Juan who, in his turn, told me to pull over and stop. Which I did. Much to my astonishment, Juan and Don Miguel traded places and Juan told me to drive on. I drove on.
In whatever reflecting surface that was left of the centre rear-view mirror I could see the old priest gesticulating while sitting on one of the wooden crates we had loaded and placing odd objects (at least trying to) that he had taken from his small suitcase on the left rear wheel well. Juan told me not to worry about it and to just drive on.
Fifteen or so minutes later, I realized that the old man was celebrating a roman christian mass in the back of our truck and on the move with that. Well, after all it seems to being done on board of moving ships, trains and even airplanes, so why not in the back of an old Santana. Don Miguel later explained to me that there are no restrictions at all as to where or when for performing religious acts, according to his faith. But I must say that this, at the least, seemed a bit weird to me.
Back in the south, we drove him to his parish and we parted company. I never saw Don Miguel again, not heard of him, but I am very sure that now, after all these years, he must be in paradise.

Disclaimer: this really happened. It is not my intention to make fun of anyone or anyone’s religion by sharing this story.

Takeo.