It was close to an hour before the convoy came back for us. I don’t know how far they had gotten, but I remember feeling my spirits being lifted up as they appeared from around the trees ahead of us. The lead car had a mechanical winch on its front, with a metal cable and a big metal hook on the end. None of us was going to get out of the car, so we could only hear bits and pieces of the conversation. There was supposed to be a hook on the front of all of the cars, for just such an occasion, that they could safely hook up to, in order to drag the car out of the muddy river. But, maybe because of the dirty water no one could see it. At least the water was much shallower at the front end, so they could safely get right up to the front of our car. So they were feeling around under the bumper, trying to find that mythical hook. Someone had the idea to hook the winch to the crossbar that the wheels hang off of (if you can’t tell, I’m not a car guy — I have no idea what the actual parts are called). But it would have been problematic getting under the car to do so, plus there were some suspicions that it could render the car undrivable. Finally, after giving up finding a more appropriate place to connect the winch, they settled on wrapping it around the front bumper.
So the car with the winch was facing us, and they unwound enough cable to hook it up to the bumper. The winch started to slowly eat up the slack in the cable, until it pulled taught. Then it continued to pull. But instead of pulling us out of the mud, it tore our front bumper off. And apparently, there under the now loose front bumper, clear as day for everyone (not in the car) to see, was the hook. And then, once the winch was properly attached, it wasn’t too long until we were out of the mud, and out of the river.
The rest of that day went a tad better, but we still had a few incidents with other cars (not ours) getting a bit in the frequent rivers that we had to cross. But the water was never as deep, so we never needed to use the winches again. There was a bit of stopping and starting here and there, but we got through it alright.
Pretty soon the terrain changed. We were in an area that had some tiny farms. There were no more trees and no more rivers to cross. It was getting to be late afternoon, and I knew we would be getting to our camp site pretty soon. We were pretty exhausted, and I was looking forward to getting some sleep. We could see the ocean in the distance. I remember daydreaming as I watched the car ahead of us bouncing up and down on this rocky dirt road. The next thing I knew, that car simply flipped over on to its side. We all stopped and got out to to check on the driver and passengers — everyone was wearing seatbelts, and no one was injured. I saw that the road had simply collapsed under the weight of the car. It looked like the flooding had eaten a big gap out from under the roadbed, such that the when the road collapsed, the car rolled into a ditch.
I asked the driver of the car, a fellow undergrad, ‘what the hell happened?’. He told me, simply that he was bouncing up and down in the car as they drove, and then the car bounced up…. and didn’t come down again. That’s how he experienced it (btw, this guy was cursed or blessed — on a different field trip for a different class, he also walked off a cliff, slipped about 60 feet down a steep hill, and survived — I don’t believe in luck or fate or any of that. But I swear, it was the same guy).
Now remember I said that none of us was supposed to be driving? Well, here’s where that came back to bite us. There was a small farmhouse nearby that had a phone wire connected to it. So, of course, we all thought ‘great, we can call for help’. The only problem was that the professors didn’t want to get in trouble. They thought about calling and lying about who was driving, but decided finally, that we’d try to dig the car out from the ditch ourselves. Geologists always had shovels (not enough for everyone). But we were resourceful, we could do it. It didn’t require the entire class to do so, so a plan was devised where about 10 of us would work on digging out the car the next day, while the rest of us would go and do our field trip stuff, see some of the sights that we had travelled so far to see. I can’t recall how it was decided who would be in which group, but I ended up on the non-manual labor side.
As we’re all standing around, discussing our plan of action, the neighboring farmer came by to see what was going on. I had studied some Spanish in High School, but it was rusty, and I hadn’t used it in a while. He was a short, skinny fellow, darkly tanned, looked like he had been working hard on his farm, when our caravan had run into trouble. I remember him bragging to us how he owned the tiny farm himself, he wasn’t married. He was very proud of his accomplishments. I guess, he didn’t have a chance to meet many people, and he just wanted to be personable and asked if we needed help. Meeting that farmer was one of the highlights of the entire trip so far. He was incredibly charming. We politely turned down his offers to help. Here we were, over privileged young college students, and this poor farmer comes over to offer us help. It’s something that I will never forget.
Anyway, we decided to make camp on this flat area overlooking the ocean, probably less than a mile from where the car had gotten stuck. We were exhausted, and starving and it was only our first day. I unpacked my gear and inspected it — my sleeping bag was quite damp from the river, as was the warm clothing that I had packed for the evening. All of my food, which I had carefully packed into baggies, was also damp from the river. Baggies, I learned on this trip, just aren’t good enough. I’m starving now, and I realized, I didn’t have any food to eat. There was no way that I would risk getting sick by eating food that had been drenched in the floodwaters. For the very first time in my life, I learned what it was like to beg.