Breaking down in Nova Scotia
by Elizabeth Willoughby
It's August 2002 and HB and I have just spent the entire day exploring the Fortress of Louisbourg, a national historic site in Nova Scotia, Canada. A former sea port, it's now a living history town filled with costumed actors, period homes and exhibits portraying life there at every level of 1744 society.
As usual, while visiting from South America we have made no prearrangements for our road trip (except that we borrowed a car from a friend and I bought a Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) membership, just in case). Otherwise, we drive until we get hungry or tired or distracted by something that looks worthy of further investigation. Driving along the south shore of Cape Breton Island, the car slows down to a crawl. There's no real traffic out here, though, so HB pulls over to the side of the road and pops the hood. As he is tinkering around with the engine, I check my phone and see that, much like the past few days, there is no cell phone reception. Then I spy a car and watch it meander kilometres up the road towards us.
The car stops right beside us in the middle of the road and the driver, Mark, asks if he can help. HB says not likely. Mark says his dad, like us, drives a Volkswagon Jetta, and also has an old junker that he uses for parts. We get in Mark's car and go with him to his dad's house in nearby Forchou. His father isn't at home, but Mark lets us into the parts shed to dig around anyhow. HB can't find what he thinks we need — a bolt for the alternator. No worries, says Mark. His brother, who lives across the street, is a mechanic. We walk across the street to find the brother puttering around in his garage. He gives us two bolts — one or the other should work. Then Mark drives us back to our car. HB installs the bolt, Mark jump starts the car and we part ways.
"You know," says HB, who is German, "Something like that will never happen to us when we move to Germany." I wonder whether he's talking about the car break down or the friendly assistance. Probably both.
Though it is late in the day, the sun also sets later at this time of year. In another twenty minutes, as we sense dusk on the horizon, the car rolls to a stop again and we resume our positions: HB under the hood, me staring down the road. A van pulls up. I recognize the woman in the passenger seat from the washroom line up at Louisbourg. When she offers help, I hand her my CAA card and ask her to request a tow truck for us once she reaches her hotel. She says she will but they have a long way to drive yet. HB and I set out a traffic safety triangle behind the car at the roadside, with a candle for a light, and get in the car to wait. HB is skeptical that the woman will call CAA for us, that she would even know where to tell them we are, or that a tow truck will really come. I don't see why not! But at worst, we could be sleeping in the car tonight. It wouldn't be the first time.
In these pre digital camera, smartphone, tablet and nav. system days, we sit in the car with a darkening sky, quiet, waiting, wondering if/when a tow truck might arrive. A jeep pulls up. The driver, a retired guy named Keith as we later find out, has been into the whisky, as we notice by the glass he's holding on the arm rest and the distinct aroma emanating from it. He asks if we want a ride. We say no thanks, CAA is coming. He drives off. Not long after, he comes back from the other direction and asks us again. We say no thanks, really, we have to wait for CAA. Pitch black outside now, Keith returns a third time with chocolate bars and a better idea. We can wait in his jeep with him (and an interior light) for the tow truck. We accept.
Whisky bloops and spills about as Keith uses his glass as a punctuation mark to his slurred verbiage. I look at HB and tell him he should take this guy home while I wait for the tow truck. HB is not sure what to do in this foreign country. I say someone has to drive him home and I'm not getting in a car with a drunken stranger. HB reluctantly agrees with his role as driver, since he is bigger than me and male. They drive off into the night, neither one of us knows to where.
A tow truck arrives about 45 minutes later. I am impressed, but then I tell the driver we can't leave yet because I'm waiting for HB to come back from who knows where and who knows when. These are the longest minutes and I do my best to keep the conversation going.
Eventually headlights appear in the distance and a car drives up. It is not Keith and not Keith's jeep, but it stops alongside the tow truck and the driver unrolls his window. Peering over from the passenger seat is HB. The driver is Douglas, Keith's son. Douglas has invited HB and I to stay overnight with them and instructs the tow truck driver to take our car to his mechanic in Sydney.
Back at their residence, we find out that Keith and Douglas don't live here, but are opening up this cottage and getting it ready for its Swiss owner's annual hunting visit to the island. It's cosy and we're grateful to get to sleep in a bed. In the morning, we are served a scrumptious bacon and egg breakfast along with entertaining stories from Keith and Douglas until the garage in Sydney calls us with a prognosis on the car. They will have it fixed by mid-afternoon. Douglas will drive us to Sydney, the opposite direction we were headed yesterday, to pick it up.
Other people have appeared in the back yard. We don't know if they are workers hired by the Swiss cottage owner or neighbours, but then we notice the enormous plastic tub filled with cooked King Crab. Douglas tells us to dig in. He doesn't have to say it twice.
Eating fresh catch with the locals in someone's back yard, sitting about on upside-down buckets for chairs and tossing the shells into a communal tray, listening to stories that people want to share with strangers about the area, feasting on this delicious abundance of tasty white meat we could not possible work our way through, we are overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness from folks we've just met who will accept nothing in return. Such recollections are welcome reminders of the good side of humanity — the stuff that doesn't make the news.
"Experiential travel" won't be invented for another decade, but it has always existed off the beaten path.
There's nothing like a great adventure travel story — one that's fun, thrilling and full of the unknown. If that's what you want, check out my WorldGuide Tales from the Road pages. This blog is about the stories a travel writer can't sell. The misadventures. The plans gone awry, luck run amuck. Sometimes with my partner, HB, sometimes with friends, and sometimes I manage to mess things up without any help at all. These are the stories that make your friends laugh and call you a knucklehead. These are the stories you really remember.
Images and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2015
This article was originally published at WorldGuide.eu.
A good travel piece is fun, informative and factual,
not a place for hackneyed embellishments.
Do contact me to discuss bringing improbable journeys into the realm of possibility for your magazine or website readership.