19 August, 2012

In Which I Survive a Brush With Death

CRUNCH!...SSSKKRKRKREEEee...YAHHHHH!
Drat. There's just no successful onomatopoeic word for the noise of a van running into the side of a mountain. (Any suggestions are welcome.) Suffice to say, in the game of "rock, paper, scissors, van" the van loses to rock, I don't care how tough you may think "van" is.
and ROCK destroys VAN.


You know that joke: "When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like Grandpa, and not screaming in terror like everyone in his car." Yep. I lived that. Only "Grandpa" was a young native driver, and he didn't die.

Let me back up.

Shortly after my tenth birthday, my family moved from a small town in Iowa to the small island nation of Sri Lanka. Being cold-blooded Iowans, ill-prepared for life in the tropics, our home would be up in the mountains where it was cooler.
The other missionary who had arrived first with his family were already settled into Colombo, the capital. They were from Texas and could take the heat. Our partners in Sri Lanka,  we'd been corresponding for about 6-8 months before leaving the U.S. (Yes, actual letters. It's how we did things in the dark ages pre-internet!) They had two daughters about the same age as my sister and I, and we'd become friends as pen-pals.

So the day after we landed, my parents and three of my siblings headed off up the mountain to our new home in one van (and a native driver) with a bunch of luggage.
~~~The vans were not American-style vans. I wonder if Americans are aware how big and fluffy our vehicles are? Only two rows of seating (driver bench-seat and one behind) and then open cargo space. (Fortunate, because of the amount of luggage.)

"Diana" and I were permitted an extra day with our new buddies, and headed up the following morning under the careful chaperonage of their father, my dad's partner.
And so the next day we were off. New "Dad", Diana, me, and the local driver. Plus all the remaining luggage.

We interrupt this post for a quick GEOGRAPHY LESSON:

Colombo, Sri Lanka's capitol, is in the lowland, at the coast. Nuwara Eliya, the hill-town we were moving to, was inland, about 6,000 feet up, via winding, pot-holey, narrow roads. It was about a 4-5 hour drive. Sri Lanka is about 10* North of the equator. The lowlands are Hot and Humid.

As we rose in elevation, the temperature mellowed out a bit until we were above clouds, winding around the tea estates in the foggy dusk (sun sets earlier close to the equator) and it was cool enough we pulled on our jackets, closed the windows, and turned on the heat.

Windy road.
...Toasty van.
...Filmy, misty air surrounding us.

Drowsy girls in the backseat.

...CRUNCH! "YAAAAaaa!" We all awoke screaming as the left-side (passenger side) of the van crumpled up against the side of the mountain.

You read that correctly: "All awoke". The driver had dozed off, as the warmth from the van's engine, housed underneath his seat, drifted up to surround him like a blanket.

I don't know if you've seen pictures of the hills of Sri Lanka...

...and this doesn't really do it justice, pretty as it is.

...had the driver drifted the other direction we would have sailed out over the side and had a steep tumble down through the beautiful, lush, green, tea bushes. ...not tall enough to break a fall. Thankfully, our guardian angels did not allow that to happen.

When we finally arrived at our new home, Diana and I had to climb over the front bench seat and we all exited by the driver's door, because the left was crunched beyond the capacity to open the doors on that side. My parents were beside themselves. Remember, this was *ahem* years ago, and there was no such monster as a cell phone, so they were not prepared to see the mess that was the van.

*****
At the mature age of TEN, I thought I was a big kid. I was embarking on an adventurous life, and I thought I knew it all. I didn't understand my parents' stress, because I was fine! I have nephews about that age now, and they are SO YOUNG! On this end of the age spectrum, I can understand a parent's disturbance at their children's jeopardy a little better.

Of course, nowadays when I remember that trip I just think of the fact that, if I had died young in a crash down the side of a mountain, I would have missed out on the best part of my life - meeting and falling in love with Brett, the Transformed Non-Conformist! (Of course he's the one who invited me into Dude Write - who else?) It sounds sappy, and it is. I'm not usually that way, but Brett has brought out a whole different side of me that would have never come to light otherwise.

The end of the story? The driver lost his job, clearly, and I continued to avoid noticing if I was in an obvious "you could die" scenario, although I don't think I ever was quite that close again.

53 comments:

  1. That is scary! I have a fear of heights and just the thought of tumbling down a mountain leaves me in a panic! Your poor parents. Glad it all turned out as it did. You were lucky to experience such a vastly different country as a young person. Loved the tribute to your sweetie too. :)

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    1. The mountains are pretty steep, in fact. Nowadays I can't imagine my father's fury at that poor driver.

      And the tribute to my sweetie is simply the truth. :)

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  2. We are glad that you survived! Sri Lanka looks beautiful, but I would imagine tht isn't the way you wanted to tour the neighborhood.

    WG

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    1. haha...yeah, it was quite an introduction to the hill-country! Things got better after that.

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  3. Ugh, and I'm going to be driving 500 miles tomorrow, starting at 5am.

    Coffee with a Red Bull chaser? You betcha, after a story like this...

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    1. Oh, I love my road-trips now! And I'll freely stop for breaks, or a nap even, if it gets to it. I'm sure this guy didn't want to say anything because it was his job to drive, that's all.

      Enjoy your drive - and stay awake!

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  4. Thanks for sharing this story! Wow - scary and so glad all were okay. Loved the shout out to your sweetie, too. How cool how things work out in life.

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    1. Well, of course I had to link to him because he invited me, and I didn't want to do the obvious thing of linking up at the beginning of the post and introducing myself.

      And it's quite true, anyway.

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  5. That is SCARY!! Reminds me of the time somebody hit our band van and pushed us up against the rail of a very high bridge in Canada. I was in the front passenger side. While we waited for the cops to come, we pushed it away from the rail along with a lot of people from the other cars in the traffic jam. Glad you had a happy ending too!!

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    1. Wow. At least this wasn't a bridge, so we had mountain on one side.

      (your comment was in my spam folder and I just found it.)

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  6. I loved the shout out to your sweetie as well. I'm sure he is quite in love with you too. He is also grateful that you survived your mountain excursion.

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    1. ...although I've never once called you "Sweetie" I don't think... We are unbelievably well-connected.

      (I was hoping you'd say something about my survival. You know me so well.)

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    2. Oh... the wonderful mushiness of it all lol... xox to both of you!

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    3. bah hum bug....two all three of you....lol

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    5. Train, you know you love me.

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  7. What a heck of a way to begin your move to Sri Lanka! While it's beautiful, I'd rather walk down...glad you made it safely.

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    1. We certainly did our fair share of walking. I have to say it's nicer to tour the tea estates with a guide!

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  8. That's a scary little tale to say the least!
    I haven't done much traveling but am always ammused at the transportation in less developed countries. We've been on more than one tour in the back of a small van, weaving in and out of traffic, on a ride worthy of an fair ground ride.

    Glad you made it here, as well as lived to tell the tale!:)

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    1. The roads there were so narrow in places that if you came upon another vehicle one of you had to back up to a spot wide enough to poss.

      It was a great place to live though, and I'd love to go back.

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  9. That was fascinating and of course terrifying. It is one of those clear-cut cases of 'what if'...like you said, if the driver had swerved the side of the mountain way. Oh, your poor parents!

    Thank God you survived! And you capped it off in such a lovely way, talking about your love.

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    1. My poor parents, indeed! I couldn't understand the uproar when we arrived at the house, and it was kind of thrilling that there was so much damage we had to climb out the driver's door. I remember laughing at that.

      Everyone is liking the way I brought Brett into this. ...it's actually kind of sickening how much I enjoy talking about him...

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  10. Everything in this story is just so familiar to me ... and that picture of the tea plantation made my heart ache. I've never been to Sri Lanka but the ones in India are just the same.

    Also, loved the way you brought out the child's mind - unable to comprehend what the big deal was when you're parents were stressing over the crash!

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    1. Oh I remember so clearly being baffled! It was scary, but thrilling, to me. There's an old Elizabeth Taylor movie called Elephant Walk that takes place in the tea estates of Sri Lanka.

      And yeah, the roads and the trip in general was pretty similar going up the mountains of Sri Lanka or India!

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  11. I cried, I hyperventilated, I laughed, I hyperventilated some more. Glad you're alive.

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    1. Hey, I think that was my reaction when it happened!
      Thanks.

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  12. That is really scary. I mean, I read about these kinds of stories all the time but to actually know someone who has had this happen to them? Unreal.

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    1. It was crazy, but then I got used to crazy stuff happening to me. Never did fall off a mountain, though!

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  13. I recall a drive across the Island of St. Lucia and your recollection sounds like the two could be very similar. I thought I was going to die my first day on the island due to the small roads, hairpen turns, crazy drivers and all the goats, chickens and cows tethered to the earth (but not so that they were kept out of the road). Glad you guys survived the trip with only a scary memory.

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    1. Oh yes! The hairpin turns! Although I don't recall crossing paths with animals on this particular drive. I'm sure the drives are very similar. An island is an island, right?

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  14. Oh my lord! My heart just jumped out of my mouth reading this. It's funny that as kids, the major stuff doesn't touch us at all. That's until we're adults and then it's kinda "oh crap!"

    And that last bit about you and Brett, had me grinning like a goon. :D

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    1. Ha! Brett often has me grinning like a goon, too.

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  15. Wow, Iowa to Sri Lanka? That's like moving from Alderaan to Kashyykk. By the way great Vader avatar, and forget Klingon, Mandoa is where it's at.

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    1. Aha! Another Star Wars nerd!
      ...actually, as a kid, culture changes are pretty easy. It was harder on my mom, used to American comforts.

      off to check your blog...

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  16. Haha I was just telling someone 5 minutes ago that to me all vans equal disaster. I don't know why but almost everyone I know who has a van has had a near death traumatic experience.

    So glad you are okay. This is the very reason I took 5 hour energy plus redbull plus pop while driving across country. Then I turned orange from taurine, but that is really beside the point. So easy to fall asleep at the wheel.

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    1. I don't recall any van-related disasters in this country, unless you count the time my brother was taunting bison out the window...

      Yeah, I've been known to stop and nap on a long drive. Better that than die!

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  17. I'm an Indiana boy so driving around corn fields would put me to sleep. Get me driving on a narrow road along a mountainside and you won't catch me snoozing...probably won't even blink!

    Glad no one was injured or worse! Well almost everyone...because vans are people too!

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    1. Yes, the van left its mark on the mountain, just not as much as the mountain left on the van!

      I've actually caught myself jerking awake while driving home through the hills down here. ...since then I stop for a nap if it's that late.

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  18. I'm very happy that you didn't die in a fiery crash also! It is awesome to hear your words about Brett.

    Also, it is a travesty that I have not been your follower until today. Sorry about that!

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    1. I must not talk about Brett enough, because everyone is loving that!

      Thanks for following!

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  19. Awe, mushie-ness. Even this boy loves the sappiness of it all

    It is a scary sound that of a car hitting something solid. The metal cage feels like it protects you, but it is a false sense of security.

    It was damn lucky you didn't see the bottom of the valley, it doesn't take much.

    Welcome to the dude ranch ;)

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    1. I get the impression from all the guys liking my positive remarks about Brett, that women should be more forthcoming in this kind of praise! (If you haven't, you should check out Carrie's post at Dude Write.)

      I'm enjoying the Dude ranch - thanks.

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  20. Note to self: Never let anyone else drive me...anywhere...ever again.

    Glad you survived!

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    1. I'd agree, but about a month ago I jolted awake on a late night drive home from Brett's. My "note to self" was "If I'm not on the road early, stay at Brett's!"

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  21. What a wonderful story! I am so glad you survived to tell us about it!

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    1. If my blog wasn't anonymous, I'd have gotten input from my sister, who might remember other aspects, but I think the gist is there!

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  22. Wow. That is quite a harrowing story. This is why someone always needs to stay awake with the driver. Not that you knew that at 10. Yikes! So glad someone was watching over you that day.

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    1. My guardian angel was busy, for sure! It was just the first of many interesting events that happened while living over there, but probably the most physically dangerous.

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  23. This is exactly why I have problems sleeping in cars... And I've never even been in a mountain crash.

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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    1. If I'm the only other person with the driver, yeah, I don't sleep. If there's someone else along too I can sleep.

      Thanks!

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    2. You're smart... Always have a look out. Because if Person #3 starts screaming, the Titanic is sinking.

      Or... Something.

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  24. Yikes.

    Well, we're all bulletproof when we're young, or so we think.

    And on another note, *sigh*, you and Brett are the best love story ever.

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    1. Thank you! I have a good "Red and Brett" post in my head, if I can get it right. Did you see I added a page so people can find the story? You've been here the whole time, of course, so it's not new to you, but enough people are joining late in the game, that I thought it would be helpful.

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I enjoy a good debate. Feel free to shake things up. Tell me I'm wrong. Ask me why I have such a weird opinion. ...or, just laugh and tell how this relates to you and your life.