We got up around 6 to pack up and get the hell out of there. I pulled out the drone for a few minutes to see how close I could fly it to Afghanistan, but with some power lines and trees I was a little worried about it losing signal and trying to return and hit something. Instead I crashed it into a tree myself, snapping a couple rotors. Other than that it was ok, it’s pretty awesome how sturdy the thing is.
We figured we’d be driving for 8 or so hours so we thought it would be a good day to knock out one of our challenges. A few of our friends had each donated $100 and got to pick a playlist for us to listen to for 2.5-3 hours. Robby’s list would be first up, except Robby’s list was just one song on repeat. The song is called “Easy Street” and is less than 2 minutes long. It’s obnoxious as hell, especially the lyrics. So that would be our life for 2.5 hours and then move on to the other 2. We were hoping to make it to Khorog to resupply and then head east as far as we could with daylight.
That stupid song lasted for a little over an hour. Ryan was first up to drive, and almost immediately after I switched out with him the car just stopped working. The roads were still not great but manageable, hell I think we were even going over 30 mph! Anyway we didn’t hit anything, the car just cut out. So there we were, broken car across the river from Afghanistan on one of the most remote highways in the world. Because the road is so treacherous and terrible the amount of cars that pass by is almost zero, and the only ones that do drive by are Toyota Landcruisers or other big 4×4 SUVs. Ya know, vehicles that were actually meant for that terrain. We popped the hood to check things out, and to our surprise there was oil EVERYWHERE. We knew that we had an existing leak, but nothing like this. After running through some basic tests we determined it was fuel related. Now an interesting thing about European cars is that they have a gravity/inertia switch, aka a fuel cutoff switch. If the car jumps up or down too violently it triggers a system that makes the car thing it’s flipped over and then cuts off the fuel. Cool, but they can be triggered without flipping the car. We searched under the dashboard for the thing, hoping our problem would be that simple. Huge shout out to Fiat for making it so easy to find, considering the owners manual showed it on the left side of the car and it was on the right side. We found it, hit the button, and nothing. Fuck. At this point Mitch has determined it’s probably the fuel pump. If that thing was broken we’d be royally screwed.
We pulled up google maps and saw that there was a village about 2 km up the road, or at least something on the map that had a name. I hopped in the van and had Hendrick take me that way in search of a mechanic and someone to tow us. In the mean time the other guys kept trying to figure out the problem. About 2 km up, the cliff face disappeared and sure enough there was a little village to the left. There was an older guy walking along the road so I hopped out to try to talk to him. Of course he spoke zero English, there’s no reason for him to considering not many native English speakers are crazy enough to be traversing this road in a vehicle that had the potential to break down. I pointed back down the road and said “Two kilometers. Machina broken.” Of course when you say machina you have to act like you have a steering wheel in your hand, and since broken probably won’t translate I made an X with my arms. I tried my best to pantomime needing to be towed there, and also said we needed a “car doctor.” He seemed to understand what I was throwing down, so he motioned for me to follow him. We had a lovely little walk for a minute before he started yelling at some kid up the hill. The kid ran down to greet us and to my surprise he spoke some English, and pretty well I might say. He walked me up the road a little bit further to a driveway where a guy was working on his car. Car doctor?!
We told the kid to translate that our car was broken and we needed a tow up here. He asked why we weren’t just towing it with the van we rode up here in. Good question, but their engine was a little smaller than ours with less torque so we didn’t want to risk straining their car and breaking that one too. He hopped in his Skoda and followed us down the road. When he saw the size of our car he didn’t love the idea of towing us, but again we had to point out he had a 1.6L car and the other was a 1.2L. Not a lot but it does make a difference.
Once we got back to his driveway Mitch walked him through everything that he had done, pouring gasoline straight into the intake manifold. The car would fire up and run that way, but as soon as the fuel burned up the car would die again. Hence, there was a problem with the fuel getting to the injectors. He also assumed it was the fuel pump, so he hopped back in his car and went to the next village to get a new one. Having never taken a fuel pump apart before we assumed this was ridiculous, but he’s the car doctor. We emptied the car of everything and over the next hour he and a few other guys from the village proceeded to drop our gas tank and pull the fuel pump out of the car. After they had the pump out and in pieces they found that the filter was extremely dirty. Mitch pulled just the motor out of the pump and we hot-wired that to the battery. Turns out the pump itself was probably fine, but the village guys discovered something far more nefarious. The gas station we had last filled up at sold us a tank full of diesel fuel. Not only that, but 25 of our 45 liters on the roof were also diesel. You know all that oil everywhere? A decent amount of that was probably from the fuel, as diesel is a very oily fuel. Before we put everything back together we had to drain all of the diesel from the tank, which was well over 3/4 full. What a waste… The car doctor got the fuel pump cleaned out and back together, dropped it back in and voila, the engine started right up!
You can’t imagine the relief or how happy we were. We gave the car doctor a $50 as well as a pack of cigarettes as a thank you. Those people were so incredibly friendly and helpful, and I guarantee they expected nothing in return. It was a really incredible experience, and it just goes to show how kind a lot of the world is to strangers.
We had told Dave and Hendrick to carry on to Khorog without us. They were gonna post up at a hotel for the night and wait for us in the event we were able to get back on the road. This whole ordeal had set us back about 2 hours, so we hit the road hoping that we’d be able to make Khorog before it got dark. We were 180 or so km away, but of course you never know what that’s going to mean time wise. Surprisingly the roads were considerably better for most of the way into Khorog. You have to be really careful when you hit pavement though, as potholes can come out of nowhere after you’ve been lulled into the comfort of not being jostled around non-stop. We made it into Khorog around 3 or so and saw the Brits big red van right in front of a hotel as we pulled into town. It ended up being around $50 for the night, but the manager was ok with 3 of us sleeping in a 2 person room without paying extra, and it was right on the river. Most importantly after a day like that, they had a restaurant downstairs that sold beer and a great patio overlooking the river.