We’re currently stranded in the small village of Langar along the Wakhan Valley. Our rear suspension is broken.
The morning had started on a positive note. After a good night’s sleep, we chitchatted over breakfast with a Dutch couple. They were making their way to China from The Netherlands using public transportation and expressed an interest to buy our car if we make it to Mongolia. After a quick bite, we packed up and started for the day.
We had been making good progress this morning, covering nearly 105km in 2.5 hours, and had decided to stop at a beautiful point overlooking the Hindu Kush mountain range. We wanted to take some photos to send with thank you notes to friends and colleagues, who had donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctor’s Without Borders on our behalf and on account of this rally.
We finished with the photos and climbed back into the car to set off. As we popped open a can of soda to share, we heard a loud CRACK and our car sank.
“What was that?” I asked
“Shit. That was our rear suspension,” Moritz replied.
We climbed back out and checked the underside of the car. We couldn’t see much, but the car was very low and had very little ground clearance. The next town was Langar, about 10km away. We crossed our fingers and hoped we could make it there in order to find a garage or a mechanic.
We rattled our way slowly to Langar, bouncing around in our suspension-less car. Among other things, the suspension isolates a car’s occupants from external vibrations and bumps. When such a thing is broken and you’re travelling over gravel roads, be grateful for that seat belt while being tossed around inside the car.
After arriving in Langar, we found a guy who says he can help to weld the suspension back together. We wanted to get on with the welding right away. But after much arm-waving and hand-gesturing, we understood that the guy wanted us to unload all our things into the living room of his simple home. His wife made us tea and served us sweets, cookies and bread. I went to use the restrooms, which was essentially a hole in the ground, buzzing with flies.
He wants us to sleep here for the night, but we want to get cracking with fixing the car right away. It finally dawned on us that we are waiting for the welder and his welding machine to show up. In broken English and Russian, we were told that this person is going to arrive at 3pm.
So we packed a few things, went for a 45 min hike and are now back in his house, waiting for something to happen. I’m not sure how far back this’ll set us back in terms of schedule, but it would be nice to have a working car again. Best case scenario – we can weld the suspension back together again. Worse case? Well, let’s just say that it would suck to have to exit the rally after coming so far.
I’m staring at the clock, trying to will it into turning 3 o’clock.
We didn’t start working on the car at 3pm as planned. The mechanics were already working on another car, and by the time they finished around 4pm, they wanted to postpone working on ours till tomorrow. We couldn’t really argue with them about this. There was no common language and we didn’t know how to persuade them to tend to our car any earlier.
They convinced us to drive the car to the main garage, and promised that they’d start working on it first thing tomorrow morning. So Moritz drove it to the garage with our host, while I waited in the house.
When he returned, we went for a walk. The village is tiny, comprising of houses nestled in a valley. It’s even a wonder that there’s a garage or a car mechanic in this town! The Lonely Planet says that if you’re planning to use public transportation to get in and out of Langar, prepare to wait at least 3-4 days. That’s how remote this place is.
With time on our hands, we decided to explore the town a bit more. Our guidebook told us there was a set of 6000 petroglyphs perched on a hill nearby.
We hiked past a mountain stream and scrambled up the slopes behind the Langar school to check out these ancient steep rock faces. While the carvings are interesting, the climb is well worth the effort thanks to the breathtaking views of the Wakhan Valley.
We bought some drinks at the town store, which was minimalistic and yet, sold everything from clothes and baby shoes, to candy and beer. The drink we bought looked simultaneously like cola and not at all like cola. As suspected, didn’t contain any fizz. Tasted just like sweet, flat, sugary water.
At about 6pm, the mechanics came by the house with a piece of the broken suspension in hand. Gist of the conversation that ensued was that they didn’t think they could fix our car. Moritz suggested two options and drew his desired solutions on to a piece of paper, as neither side could understand each other verbally. Both mechanics studied the drawings, but were reluctant & unconvinced.
They gestured, “It won’t work.”
We’re not sure if they’re saying that because it won’t be perfect or they just don’t have the ability to weld it the way it needs to be done to make it work.
They left, unconvinced but still promising to sleep on it and come up with an alternative. At the moment, things look pretty hopeless for us if they are unable to fix the car. Even if we were able to dispose of the car, just getting out of this town seems like a monumental challenge.
I have never felt this intimidated on the road. We’re miles from any big city.
We tried to call the Renault dealer in Germany for contacts of a dealer in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, but the guy on the other end of the line was not particularly helpful. It seems even more unlikely that we’ll be able to ship a spare part out here, a place as remote as it can be on our itinerary.
This means only one thing for us: the end of the rally.
This is the lowest my morale has been so far on the trip since we started. We’ll know tomorrow morning if the mechanics can come up with even a makeshift solution that can keep us rolling until we get to a big city. Otherwise, we’re just going to have to find a way out of this village without our Kangoo.
This post is part of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.