TechnomadicsVagabonding Europe

Nettle bits We’re in Belgium, but I jalapeño’d my laptop in the process of getting here! It’s going to cost €1,300 to fix the damn thing.

We both feel quite calm — the worst has happened, and now it’s just a matter of logistics. We’ve noticed this phenomenon before — we’ll dread an outcome, but when it comes to pass, we find ourselves calm and emotionally detached from the matter. It just becomes a matter of Following Steps.

So, I pull up the local Apple store’s web site and look up prices for a replacement. It’s a bit over €2000. I search for a similar-vintage machine to my existing one on eBay UK, and find them for about £800. We go through our options — buying new, or replacing with a second-hand machine, and discuss pros and cons. In the end, we settle on a plan — time to buy a new one.

So, we go back to the Apple store, explain our decision, and I almost have a new laptop in my hands, but it turns out I don’t have what I need to claim the student discount, worth a few hundred euros (one of the perks of being a delinquent PhD student!). On top of that, they won’t accept my credit card, which doesn’t seem to work with their machine.

We need to stay in the area for the time it takes to visit the ATM every day, and withdraw the maximum daily amount, until I have the hard cash to pay for the laptop. So, defeated for now, we make our way back to the aire on the canal at Eeklo. I order a new student card from my university and arrange to have a scan of it emailed to me, and ride each day into town to withdraw cash.

It’s a pleasant enough few days — I spend the day reading and watching Stargate episodes on my iPhone, streaming from Katherine’s laptop. We have a few distinctly sticky 40-something degree days, Nettle baking in the sun. We test our air conditioner for the first time, but it can’t battle the heat. Standing directly underneath it offers a slight reprieve, though.

We meet a friendly Englishman, Julian, who’s living on an English longboat, tied up nearby. He’s a retired engineer, and is spending some years roaming around Europe’s canals. He invites us around for a much-appreciated cold beer sitting in the shade by the canal, and we talk about travelling, on wheels and water. A boat sounds like an interesting way to see the world, although I think we’ll stick with the freedom and flexibility our wheels give us!

We’re filling up our water tank and emptying the grey water one evening, around the corner where the tap is, and I’m manoeuvring over the drain, when suddenly I can’t seem to put Nettle in gear. The gear stick’s wobbling around freely. Oh crap. What now!

I shut off the engine, and peer under the bonnet. I can see the problem — the bolt that holds the gear stick onto the gearbox has sheared off.

Okay. Fine. Following Steps.

Some helpful and curious bystanders drop in and sympathise. With their help, we push Nettle back into a more out-of-the-way spot. It’s Sunday evening — no one’s going to be able to help us today — so we stay where we are for the night, pondering the astronomical costs of getting towed, should we need to be. (At about 11pm, a drunken woman knocks at the door to tell us we shouldn’t be there, and wanders off muttering when we try to explain that we’re broken down.)

The next morning, I ask the couple that run the aire and jachthaven, Hugo and Janet, for advice. Hugo comes to take a look, and our luck strikes again. He’s a retired mechanic, and tells us he can fix it no problem! Dumbstruck, grateful and very, very relieved, we thank him profusely, and he tows us back to our spot at the aire. (It turns out one of the kind bystanders from yesterday is also a mechanic — and is staying in the motorhome beside us!)

With me playing apprentice, Hugo takes various parts out to access the bolt, a not insignificant operation, as it turns out, and he heads off to find a replacement. New bolt in hand, he reattaches the gear stick, and we reassemble Nettle. Several hours’ work, all told, and Nettle’s fixed! We can’t believe the generosity of Hugo, who, when prompted, told us he’d accept 20 euros for his time (we gave him 30, and felt very cheap) — this is the second time that we’ve been rescued from automative mishaps by kind bystanders, and we’re feeling very fortunate.

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