Our van was fixed by a god
Our camper van was fixed…by a god!
C hugging up a steep, winding road in our little VW campervan, I frowned.
The van was straining to climb the slope. With a horrible grinding sound, it lurched to a complete standstill.
My husband Jeremy and I looked at each other.
‘Uh-oh,’ Jeremy said. ‘That sounds expensive!’
‘Never mind,’ I said optimistically. ‘Whatever’s wrong, we’ll get it fixed quickly and get on our way.’
Jeremy and I were on the trip of a lifetime. We’d said goodbye to rainy England and flown to California, where we’d purchased our trusty van. Our plan was to spend a few
years exploring the vast continent of the Americas, camping by crashing oceans and sparkling lakes, crossing empty deserts and traversing the mighty snow-capped Andes.
We’d saved up for years, quit our successful careers, sold our stuff and taken the biggest leap of our lives.
Eighteen months in, we’d arrived in Ecuador – and that’s where our beloved van gave up the ghost. We had it towed to a garage, where we were informed that it needed a brand new gearbox.
‘Great,’ I said to the mechanic. ‘How long will it take to fix?’
He shrugged. ‘We need to order in the gearbox.’
‘How long will that take?’ I asked
him anxiously. ‘Weeks. Maybe months.’ ‘W-what?’ I said, not believing what I was hearing. Coming from the UK, we take it for granted that parts can be ordered and cars can be fixed. Not for this van!
We ordered the gearbox, at eye-watering expense. When it arrived, weeks later, it didn’t fit.
We tried again. No luck that time, either.
We tried converting the gearbox to a manual one - that didn’t work.
We tried everything. Even the van-maker in the USA said it was impossible.
Meanwhile, we were stuck in Ecuador. We couldn’t even sell the van – Ecuadorian bureaucracy prevented it. Anyway, who would want a useless van with an irreparable gearbox?
Nine months passed. By now, we were running low on funds - not to mention patience.
‘I can’t do this any more,’ I said to Jeremy. ‘We need to move on.’
So we travelled by bus to the Bolivian capital, La Paz, to do some voluntary work while we waited.
While we were there, we decided to check out the Alasitas festival.
Alasitas celebrates Ekeko, the Andean god of abundance, prosperity and good luck. It’s said he saved the people of La Paz from starvation during an indigenous uprising and siege in 1781.
Bolivians flock to the event, where everything they desire for the coming year is sold in miniature form. Little piles of money, tiny passports and suitcases, small versions of foodstuffs, computers, phones, you name it. Sugar cube-sized house bricks represent a new home, and there’s even a trade in tiny
We were stuck in Ecuador for months
certificates, certificertififificates, as a way of asking Ekeko for a new job, visa, degree, marriage, or divorce! Goddolls
In among the wares sit little Ekeko dolls, watching. Sometimes he’s offered offffffoffered a smoking cigarette and gifts are pinned to his poncho, to please him.
In a blend of modern Catholicism and traditional beliefs, Alasitas purchases are blessed both by priests and shamans. Everyone channels their hopes towards the final arbiter, Ekeko, believing he has the power to grant their wishes.
‘We should ask Ekeko about our van,’ Jeremy said to me.
half-joking, but I seized on the idea at once. ‘It’s got to be worth a try,’ I replied hopefully.
So we bought little models of a VW van, a suitcase and passports for luck in our travels, a pile of mini banknotes and – just to be double sure – a handful of little bricks to represent our home.
Flamboyantly-dressed shamans were crowding the pavements, burning coal stoves and waving people’s miniatures amid the smoke,
chanting and chattering. Meanwhile in the packed church, a priest was hurling great arcs of holy water over the crowd – little houses, cars and bags of money were splashed as people jostled along, holding their hopes aloft. We stepped away from the throng into a side street. A woman was sitting quietly on the pavement in a brown hat. Something drew us towards this shaman.
We knelt down and asked her to bless our van, to plead with Ekeko for help. She quietly chanted, tying colourful strands of wool around the van, before handing it back to us.
We went home, made a little shrine out of our purchases, and went to sleep.
The following morning, I was writing in a cafe when Jeremy emailed me.
Trying not to get over excited but …. just had an email from a parts supplier in holland who say she can find us our gear box.
Trying not to get overexcited but…. just had an email from a parts supplier in Holland who says he can find us our gearbox. The hairs on the back on my neck were standing on end. Who was this guy in Holland? We certainly hadn’t contacted him. Had Ekeko really listened? It seemed he had, because two months later the gearbox had been shipped out, fitted and tested. Astonished VW geeks told us it had never been done before - but we’d managed to pull it off. As we climbed into our VW van and drove away from Ecuador, I said a silent ‘thank you’ to Ekeko.
More than 12,000 miles later, we finally pulled into the southernmost city in the world – Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. Our final destination.
We tearfully glanced upwards and gave a little nod to our Bolivian god, who’d somehow rescued the adventure of a lifetime.
God of abundance: Prayers granted
Trip of a lifetime: Saved by Akeko
Back on the road: What a relief!