The bus was well and truly stuck, immobile as my savings.
I tried rapid acceleration, both forward and backward, but no movement was sufficient to dislodge the vehicle, and only served to bend the rear bumper. I despaired for my deposit. The manoeuvre also dislodged the pipe from the recycled water tank, and faintly unpleasant water was coursing out, pooling under the tyres, the very area in which work was required.
I was standing back, pondering a solution when a Roads Authority vehicle rolled up, and two workman got out, looking faintly amused, as if this well-set trap had lured the weak-minded into its clutches once again.
They sized up the situation, but seemed disinclined to waste valuable Friday drinking time on helping tourists. One suggested a solution – jack up the back tyres and insert wooden planks under them. See if that works. He stood back.
It took ten minutes for me to even locate the jack (it being the size of a small office stapler), and by that time the fellows had extracted a plank from their truck and cut it in half. Satisfied that they had done the bare minimum, they scarpered.
I crawled under the vehicle, among the newly formed mud, and cranked up the tiny jack. After thirty minutes I had the rear wheel off the ground sufficiently, and I was able to jam the wooden plank under it. I secured it with the tell-tale boulders I had noticed earlier. Once the procedure was complete on one side, it was repeated on the other.
The children meandered around, occasionally pummelling each other, alternatively sauntering up to complain about the lack of internet, and the extreme ‘stupidness’ of everything. At no stage was there an offer of assistance.
Just when the task was almost complete, we had more visitors. This time it was the police – a wagon cruised in and two officers casually donned their hats and sunglasses before strolling over, trying to look as disinterested as possible.
“How’s it goin, bro?” one asked. As if it wasn’t obvious.
I explained the nature of the difficulty and the proposed solution. They circled the vehicle, sending each other not-so-subliminal signals about the shortcomings of tourists in vans. They did not offer to assist. They merely watched. In truth, I was nearly done, but a token effort might have been nice.
“I think I’m just about right to go,” I said. They stood even further back to as to gain more perspective and/or to avoid closer association with the upcoming potential catastrophe.
I revved the engine into the red, put it into reverse, and dropped the clutch. The beast bounced out of the obstacle, spitting gravel like a shotgun. The police were gone before I could thank them for their ‘assistance’.
I assessed the damage to the undercarriage – it was apparent that the back bumper had been previously repaired with ill-fitting screws, probably from an incident in the exact same trap. I kicked the water pipe back into position, and it registered only a small leak. The carnage was not so obvious that I might not be able to distract attention from it by stealth and misdirection. Maybe the deposit could yet be salvaged.
We got back on the road. Less than 500 metres further along there was a designated viewing point, complete with laser-levelled turning circle.
Mount Cook was beautiful, apart from a minor scare when my daughter decided to go for an ill-advised walk to ‘touch the glacier’ when the sun was going down and nearly lost her way in the dark. On the positive side, the beer was cold. Photography opportunities were unlimited, and less perilous.
At the end of the holiday I rolled the beast into the Camper company’s lockup and dropped it like a hot potato, making sure to complain about its other, more significant failings. They didn’t even notice the damage, such as it was, and handed back my entire bond.