Snakes and Suzukis

In the planning stages of our trip I’ve never felt particularly worried or concerned about what we are planning to do. Our trip has always seemed like a big road trip in a small car; nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to write home about. In fact, I was thinking that it’s barely an adventure because we are driving in a car when so many people now do a similar route by bicycle. This illusion was shattered thanks to the emirates onboard flight map. The 17.5 hour flight between Auckland and Dubai was 17,000KM. As I sat there, knees pushed towards my shoulders due to the seat space, watching our plane fly around the globe I began to get a lot of anxiety about what we have actually committed to doing. The flight path shown on the screen covered a very large portion of the globe; yet we are driving further than the plane flew. Twenty. Thousand. Kilometres. I could no longer tell myself this was just a run of the mill road trip, in fact, I suddenly realised that those people who said we were crazy might have been on to something…

My newly discovered anxiety about the trip was compounded by the fear that the car we had purchased online might not actually exist. Our worst fears seemed to be confirmed when I arrived at the listed address of the ‘car yard’. A suburban street in Romford, London. Identical house after house, with no sign of a car yard. I cursed Tony’s name (the car dealer) under my breath and sat on my pack to think for a minute. After a wider search around the area, I came across a narrow alleyway that terminated in an allotment sandwiched between the residential houses, there were a number of cars parked here and while one might be stretching it to call it a car yard, it certainly looked more promising. As I rounded a corner, I saw it. Our mighty Suzuki Wagon R. It was sitting in the middle of the car yard, unlocked, looking like it was ready to go. Shortly after, one of the workers of the car yard showed up and we sorted out the paperwork, within 15 minutes I had the keys, and with a gruff goodbye there I was driving out of the yard. Of course, I couldn’t get far because the car wasn’t insured yet (a legal requirement in the UK) and wasn’t taxed either. While I was on the phone trying to sort these things out, Tony showed up. Tony looked like a bit of a character. A large man in his 50s pulled up in a brand new range rover, he had a gold chain around his neck and some gold rings on his fingers. He certainly looked the part of the used car salesperson, and my heart sunk a little bit as I realised we had probably been ripped off a little bit with the car. (Disclaimer, he may or may not have been wearing the chains and rings, I don’t know if I actually saw them, or if my mind is creating the image based on the vibe I got from car yard and our experience there)

I drove the car to my uncle’s place in Cambridge, where I’m currently based attempting to sort out everything we need for the car. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with the car that might prove problematic on our trip.

Problem number 1: On fitting in the sump guard and getting under the car it became apparent that there is severe corrosion on some parts of the undercarriage. The rear exhaust pipe and muffler are in particularly bad shape, to the point I would probably be able to push my finger through the rust. It’s not so bad I thought, the car will still run if the exhaust falls off…

Problem number 2: One of the wingmirrors is a bit loose and looks like it could fall off. Still, duct tape should stop that happening

problem number 3: The car is missing the petrol cap and the petrol flap pops open; I.e, very easy for someone to siphon fuel.

Problem number 4: Despite a nice snow flake symbol being present on the fan dial, there is not actually any air conditioning, it’s just a fan. I’m sure we won’t miss that when it’s currently 43 degrees in parts of France.

false advertising

Problem number 5: The car has done 106,000 miles, approx. 180,000km. This isn’t a problem in itself, the car engine sounds alright, and it drives quite well. There is not however, any record of the timing belt (Cam belt) having been changed. Unfortunately, cam belts are quite an expensive thing to replace, we could be looking at 1000NZD. It’s one of those things we don’t really want to spend money on, but are asking whether we can afford not to. If the cambelt breaks we will likely suffer damage to the engine, and it could bring our trip to a premature end.

As well as sorting out all of the dramas with the car, I have managed to do a couple of fun things while I’m over here. I caught up with some old friends in Annecy, France, and managed to get rock climbing again for the first time since I tore my ACL. It was quite easy climbing, however, I encountered a challenge that one would never find in New Zealand. As Erwin (my French friend) tied himself into the rope and I began putting him on belay, I saw a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye. Turning around I noticed there was a 50cm snake on the ledge with us and it was looking directly at us. It’s important to note that it had taken two pitches (rope lengths) to abseil onto this ledge, and the ledge was only 1.5m wide by about 4 metres long. In short, there wasn’t anywhere to go but onto the sheer wall if the snake decided to approach us further. Erwin began jumping and stamping on the ground, because he had been told that snakes feel the vibrations and will try and keep away. This might be true in a large area, but on our small ledge, the snake didn’t have anywhere it could go, and wasn’t particularly concerned by the stamping anyway.

Erwin began climbing, while I kept one eye on the snake. When Erwin got to the top of the first pitch and began preparing to belay me, I began putting on my climbing shoes, it was at this point the snake decided it had no fear of me whatsoever and began moving across the ledge towards me. I tried to stamp a few times and kick a bit of brush in its general direction to warn it off, but was also hesitant about aggravating it. It was with great relief that Erwin yelled ‘on belay’ and I was able to set off up the wall. I can now confirm that my fear of snakes is greater than my fear of exposure.

Unfortunately, the saga didn’t end there. We were climbing on limestone, which is known for having lots of good pockets and cracks to slip hands into. As Erwin was leading across a traversing section of exposed wall he ran out of hand holds, there was however, a small ledge section at head height measuring 0.25m by 0.5 metres, with some shrubs growing in it which would have been great to grab hold of. However, as he searched for a hold, I hear, ‘holy sh*$’ (read in French accent), there is anothersnake here. Erwin quickly traversed past, but I then had to wait knowing that I would have to cross the same section of wall.  It was a bit of a relief when we finished the 8th pitch with no more snake sightings. Subsequent internet identification revealed the snake was a viper and was venomous.

Josh arrives at Heathrow on the 13TH of July. Lots to do on the car before he arrives, but i should also manage to catch up with a few relatives in Scotland. Until then…


(Apologies for any glaring errors in this, trying to write an update on a cell phone keyboard is a bit of a mission)

2 thoughts on “Snakes and Suzukis

  1. Hi Luke
    You can buy a spiral thingee at an autospares to stick in the fuel tank pipe to prevent syphoning..
    Also, you might find find it’s not difficult to change the belt yourselves on that car..
    Stay away from snakes !!


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