Pakistan – The Fall

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A mountain road like many other we have driven, a few tight turns and narrow passages leading to a small lake and a glacier we want to explore. The exhausting  days  on Hunza Lake have taken their toll and we need a distraction. The view is glorious, spring has arrived and apricot trees as large as our oak trees line the road. We are invited to drink a salty tea inside one of the small flat, mud roved houses that make up this small village….a reminder of the Tibetan culture that is not far away. The old couple feed us on dried apricots and apricot stones that taste of almonds. Parked beneath snow capped mountains, we plan an excursion up the glacier. The path is lined with slippery slate and precarious boulders, but  the sight is spectacular. Both Giulio and Lusira walk the two hours it takes to reach the top, a small snack and time to turn back, the weather is changing. I feel exhilarated and fulfilled, this is part of what travelling is about. I plan future excursions with Luca…the children are exhausted but proud devouring the hot soup prepared by Tanja.

It is with these thoughts in mind that we descend to meet the other members of the ‘China group’ and it is perhaps this total tranquillity and sense of satisfaction that makes the next few days seem even more surreal.

Halfway down the slope, as I help Luca keep on track, I see to my horror the road disappear  beneath our wheels. “STOP”  We halt just in time, the gap is from wheel to wheel, 3 metres wide. I jump out  but have no immediate reaction, seconds pass loudly and Lusira is passed out of the window. Harald and Tanja join me quickly, I instinctively try and jam stones under the wheels , where they have fallen away. I quickly realise the road is handmade , and what seemed solid from above, from below is incredibly unstable. The sprinkling of soil on top, hid the telltale signs and the wall is now again crumbling under the weight of the truck. Harald screams to move  away from below, the stones are giving under the right wheel. I see Giulio looking out of the side window ….then in a few split seconds the truck is hurtling forward in a wild attempt to reach onto solid ground. This is the image that will repeat itself many times in my mind in the next few days – frozen by the adrenalin running through me. A mad nine ton truck flying desperately forward, scrambling in search of firm ground. For a few split seconds I think it will make it, but the wall continues to open like a zip as the truck passes. I feel sick  as the inevitable happens. The truck flies over the edge of the road and crashes heavily on its side on the next terrace, stopped by a stone wall from falling down the slope……images of a small crushed body and an unconscious , lifeless husband…I run screaming to the truck. Luca, to my confusion, jumps out vertically like a rabbit, when I reach the cabin… “Giuli?!!  Where’s Giulio??” – but unseen to me, a few seconds before , Giulio had been passed to Harald through the window and is sitting wide eyed on the rock beside Lusira – My family is safe!!

Is my glass half full or half empty? I juggle with this thought all day and all night. Of course it’s half full, but the truck nevertheless looks in bad shape…and I feel despair.

Luca has hit his head and has a large lump on his temple – he is in shock and we try and persuade him to lie down. I prize myself  through the broken window and enter a world of strange perspectives and wild jagged angles. I have to think hard to work out exactly which is the  cupboard with our passports and money. I’m walking on the wall and the floor is the ceiling. Lentils, chilli powder anchovy oil and diesel is somehow spread everywhere. The fridge has hurtled to the other side, smashing the window and tomatoes litter the mattress. We will surely have to abandon  our truck and fly home.

I have long realised that time is a slippery concept that  grows and contracts like an elastic, but now a new thought occurs to me. Solid objects too can change their identity, they are tightly bound to a specific space and context; if you drastically change these elements you no longer know their value or significance. I no longer know what’s important or useful to salvage ….clothes for the night or my travel diary? My head spins and I give up after taking the strictly practical things. Little amulets collected along the way are floating in olive oil along with Lusiras’ paintings and precious shells. The special order  of objects that once gave them their identity has been swept away in a few seconds and anarchy reigns in our much loved nest.

Once we have filled the unimog with what we feel is important, we leave the scene. One kilometre down the road is an empty guest house we can use to store pour belongings…and to sleep. We need to collect our thoughts. Villagers have migrated to the scene of the accident and diligently help us…again the glass is half full. Here in this valley people have seen their homes disappear beneath 50 metres of water. Only two years ago the ‘Hunza Lake’ was an embryonic rain cloud. I feel humbled.

The unimog too is a mess of objects we are all crammed in the back, when to my horror one minute after leaving our truck Luca shouts “NO….EVERYONE OUT!!!”  We clamber desperately over mountains of stuff that is blocking the doorway ,  throwing the children out and scattering like sheep . The road is now giving way beneath Haralds’ truck. Horrified we huddle together with the children. Tanja looks up and sees in a few seconds her truck crashed a few metres beneath ours “ What a terrible picture” she exclaims, but luckily it is not to be. There are many men now to help and the road is quickly stabilised beneath the truck .  I walk down to the guest house with Lusira on my back (shoes lost) together with Tanja in her socks (no time for shoes) feeling as if  we have taken part in some badly scripted,  terrible American movie….

The story is long…much too long, but the outcome is simple (and to my disbelief even today) but happy. We have managed to save the truck in a complex rescue operation. No large machinery would risk the bad road, so with three pulleys , many small jacks and levers and twenty men digging, the truck was pulled back onto its wheels in less than 24 hours after rolling over.

Holes were drilled into the rocks to anchor the pulleys, and the  large heavy  objects were secured inside the truck to minimize damage. The side I imagined caved in and open like a tin of beans, is strangely in tact…even the Pakistani paintings haven’t suffered too much. …but will the engine start?? And what other hidden damage?

After the first night huddled all together in a coldest of beds pushed next to each other, we sleep a deep and easier sleep, again everything is possible. The next day I salvage objects I had irreverently thrown in disgust, and hoard them jealously inside the guest house away from the elements, mentally visualising myself placing them back in to their old place. The engine starts after a few hours of  fiddling. The diesel filter is damaged and needs to be bypassed……but for now all else seems intact.

-we can most probably drive home-

A little dynamite handled with ease in this mining area is used to remove a large boulder awkwardly placed in front of our truck. A new track will have to be cleared to get us back on the road. Luca (very bravely – I was shaking and couldn’t look) drives the truck slowly and carefully down the slope. Men follow with shovels ,strangely silent and  ready to intervene… but it’s not necessary. Our group of ‘China crossing’ travellers, came immediately to help and support us on hearing the news (thank you..) and there is a cheer and emotion as the truck parks in front of the guest house. Only Lusira frowns with a few speckles of unhappy tears marking her face as she spots her poor crooked truck. She wasn’t involved in the rescue and sees it for the first time since it rolled.

But no time- we must drive tomorrow if we are to cross China with our present visas. After lunch there is a hive of activity that touches me. Everyone is doing something to bang our truck into a drivable state and to make our little nest homely again.

Tanja helps me order the anarchy of objects littering the guest house floor, and in four hours I manage to repack everything into the truck. Diesel smell and all, we will sleep in the truck tonight. Giulio is very unsettled and needs to be reassured. This morning he told Luca that he thought he (Luca) was very small and had died. His games in the past two days relive the scene. Lego cars roll over cushions and Giulio eerily echoes the very same words pronounced during the accident. I need now to spend a little time with my kids. 

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19 responses

  1. Shraddha

    thanx god ur all alive and without injuries. What a shocking report this time to read, horrifing just while i read it, sending u lots of love and everything else what u need to recover from this life threatening day. abrazo shraddha

    17/06/2012 at 11:00 pm

    • Thank you for your kind words….all o.k. the vividness of the moment is fading and tranquility returning. Kids have recovered from the shock and are planning new version of the truck! Love to you Sameena

      19/06/2012 at 9:56 am

  2. Hi Guys, glad to hear that you all ok. Thinking of you a lot as you move onwards. Keep that glass half full…

    18/06/2012 at 4:11 am

  3. Totally gutted for you guys.

    18/06/2012 at 7:48 pm

    • Don’t be too gutted! We’ve found our ‘half glass full’ actually every day it fills up a little more, but thanks anyway Love jusalulu

      22/06/2012 at 7:24 pm

  4. Truly an amazing adventure – the silver lining in this is the strength of a community of people gathering to assist…what a beautiful thing for your kids to witness!

    19/06/2012 at 4:58 pm

  5. Eric Quimby

    The ironic thing is that here in the US if something like this occurs you may have 3 or 4 people standing around asking how much you want to pay them to rescue you with their speedy equipment, but in less developed countries you have men helping with their bare hands and primitive means who are happy with a simple “thank you”. I am so glad that your families are happy and healthy and that your children are able to share these adventures with you, vehicles can be mended. It’s interesting that in our most tragic moments that we find our strength to move on, thank you for sharing that others may learn from your experience.

    20/06/2012 at 10:55 pm

    • Thanks for your words of encouragement. Yes, it’s amazing what many hands and a bit of good will can do, something we tend to forget not only in the states but also in Europe…. Actually the writing this time helped to ‘exorcise’ the bad feelings, and bring some sense to the events. I’m glad some sort of message came through Love jusalulu

      22/06/2012 at 7:25 am

    • Lars

      No, out on the trail in US too, 4wheelers help each other with no regard for compensation; so long as the party in need is polite.

      24/06/2012 at 10:22 am

  6. angelo

    HOLY COW – jeez we where in shock reading this, SSOOO f… happy that you all are well and the truck is running!
    we’re over the moon to know you safe and well, just take care and we eventually meet up in greece or ancona!!!
    loads of love from switzerland
    connie & angelo

    21/06/2012 at 11:35 am

  7. Chris

    Eric — not sure where in the US you live, but around my parts, folks are incredibly kind and helpful. This is indeed a wonderful article, but there’s really no need to diminish the generosity of many Americans by making a blanket statement such as you have. I have never been stranded roadside without anyone stopping to offer help, and I’ve never been asked for money. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    22/06/2012 at 4:15 pm

  8. Wow, an amazing story, and so far from home. I am glad you are all well, and that the children are adjusting to the situation. This is an amazing experience. Oh and for Eric above, I have helped many people in similar situations flip their vehicles over as well, and with nothing more than a thanks. Perhaps it is location dependent. In the USA If you were in a similar area (dirt track/4×4 roads) people around would help if they at all could, but in a city you would be more hard pressed I should think. In part because once you were physically out safe, well there are means to get the truck over, but out in the mountains not so much. Safe travels to you and your family!

    22/06/2012 at 6:07 pm

  9. Eddie Mann

    Wow. Amazing, terrifying and beautiful story. I am happy for your outcome and spirit.

    Cheers, Eddie

    26/06/2012 at 5:31 pm

  10. Ciao mattacchioni! Era un pò che non vi facevo visita. Sono contento che ve la siete cavata e che i cinini siano sani e salvi……su di voi non avevo dubbi!!!! Siamo tornati da poco dalle sospirate ferie e ieri sera abbiamo cominciato i lavori di ristrutturazione della palestra di arrampicata: finalmente tutta la struttura ci è stata data in gestione e i lavori di ampliamento richiederanno molto tempo. Vi sono vicino con la mente e con il cuore. A presto. Il Bacco

    04/07/2012 at 11:10 am

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