GoBigEmma https://gobigemma.com Panamerican Adventures in a Vintage VW Bus Thu, 03 May 2018 17:16:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 107779168 The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 4: Rest https://gobigemma.com/2018/05/03/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-4-rest/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/05/03/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-4-rest/#comments Thu, 03 May 2018 16:30:59 +0000 http://gobigemma.com/?p=3724 After getting caught in a flash flood, we decided to put this leg of our Panamerican adventures on hold. Shipping Big Emma back home forced us not only to deal with cleaning up the situation, but also with the larger implications of the events that had taken over: we were going home.

The post The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 4: Rest appeared first on GoBigEmma.

After getting caught in a flash flood, we decided to put our Panamerican adventures on hold. Shipping Big Emma back to the US forced us not only to deal with cleaning up the situation, but also with the larger implications of the events that had taken over: after a year and a half, all three of us were going home.

This post is part four of a four-piece series. Check out the others here: Part 1: Blindsided, Part 2: Recovery, and Part 3: Here I Am.

It was Friday, and my brain was tired.

I looked at my messy paper full of scribbled notes and asked again: So, to get on the ship that leaves on Sunday, we have to put our car into the container at the harbor on Friday, correct? A week from today?

I listened while our broker listed off other alternatives that I already knew were moot. We couldn’t ship any later, not if we didn’t want to overstay Big Emma’s Belizean temporary import permit, which ran out on the coming Friday. I pretended to listen before saying, Okay, I think we’ll do that and take the boat that leaves on Sunday. The car legally leaves the country as soon as the container is sealed, correct? The Skype window continued to pulse in optimistic baby blue. Our broker affirmed my question.

Putting Big Emma in a container on the exact day she had to exit the country? Wow, we were cutting this close indeed.

But what other choice did we have? We had heard that while it might be easy in Belize to extend personal visas, car import permits could be a whole different story. Should we gamble trying to get it extended to postpone our shipping date? That was only the first in the long line of Ifs and other question words that soaked up my brain’s thinking juices. What if we tried to get an extension and failed, or they wanted to inspect the car? I could just imagine the conversation: So, you are trying to extend your permit, but your car doesn’t run anymore and looks like total shit. Can you explain this? Yeah, that would go over well.

We wouldn’t make any earlier shipping date either, not if we wanted to actually get all of our stuff clean and dry first. We were in the middle of a two-week balancing act: get the car in good enough shape to get to the harbor by herself, with all of our stuff, ready to head for the States for a proper makeover while not overstaying any visas. A balancing act on a very saggy line and with a broken foot. But if everything went according to plan, it could work. If…

Organizational limbo

As we went through the process to get Big Emma into a container, Ifs were everywhere. Our broker – nice enough dude, he seemed, and an obligatory part of the shipping process – had a tendency to inform us of the steps of the procedure with a timing that kept us on our toes.

This document was supposed to be sent yesterday? Oh yeah, there is one more paper to sign? Wait, you can’t tell us what time we should be at the docks?

Shipping container, Miami, Florida.

Over and over, unforeseen variables would appear with a level of unprofessionalism we were not expecting of people who dealt with international business affairs. And this was not just a problem on the Belizean side – the process felt the same for the office we were in contact with over in Miami, where we also were required to hire a broker. Our path didn’t just make us jump through hoops – we were navigating a bureaucratic obstacle course.

I stared up at the ceiling fan in our hotel room, watching as it turned circles. Whoosh. Whoosh. Renting the room with just the fan was cheaper than with the air-conditioner that now hung abandoned on the wall. I needed more information from our broker in Florida before I could continue filling out the paperwork he had sent us. But it was Sunday, and there was no one in his office. The mechanic’s shop that we had spent so much time in, cleaning Big Emma and our belongings and repairing what we could, was closed today too. Whoosh. That meant no further progress until tomorrow. Whoosh.

We had been so busy – every second had been filled with cleaning mud, testing connections, removing seats, sorting objects, and doing laundry that our brains had long turned to mush. We had to get it all done, and get it done fast – both to keep our stuff from rotting away and to make our shipping date in one week’s time. We were exhausted, but we couldn’t stop. Now, though, we were caught in the limbo of a Sunday afternoon.

I had a long list of stuff to do and I couldn’t do any of it right now. I couldn’t do much else either though – we had our computers, but I was unmotivated and tired of staring at the screen. We didn’t have any books anymore. Frustration, worry, and boredom do not make for a comforting cocktail.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt

I looked at Sven, sitting on the other end of our bed with his laptop, and spoke out loud again. I mean, we could have fixed her here, and yes that would probably be cheaper, but…My words drifted off and were swept up by the ceiling fan. Whoosh.

But it was right to repair her at home. Some instinctual part of me knew this. And my head had checked my instinct’s math: every time I asked myself the question, the answer was the same. And yet we kept on asking it.

Ever since I felt the water rising inside Big Emma, I knew – on some level – what we would do. The moment we opened the hatch – our first encounter with Big Emma after the flood when she was still laying on her side on the edge of the Sibun river – I knew it again. We wouldn’t just continue our trip after this, pretending nothing had happened. All of our beautiful wood interior was shot. Who knew what was wrong or damaged with our engine and electrical system? And then there were our other possessions, our life-on-the-road supplies. While this was of the least concern to me, we still had to replace significant portions of it. Even if we could save Big Emma, there would be mountains of work before we could continue our travels.

Luckily, we had been able to save her. But that made that workload-mountain an even bigger reality.

A question of priorities

It was easy enough to believe that anyone who saw our Bus in those first 24 hours thought she would be toast. I don’t remember who asked the question: Will you sell your car now, in Belize? Or get rid of it? While I could understand their logic, anyone who knew us well – and understood our relationship to Big Emma – would never ask it. I repeated the phrase multiple times in the next few days: We will be shipping her back to the US. If we have to bury her, we will bury her at home.

While I was relieved that we wouldn’t be burying her, that didn’t actually change much about our current situation. We were looking at months of work. I knew us, knew our Bus-repair-mentality, and I knew that we would never just whip up new cabinets in a jiffy in order to set out again as soon as possible. Big Emma deserved more, and we would give it to her. We would be replacing parts, and we would need all sorts of tools and materials.

Did we really want to do that here in Belize, paying every night in the meantime for a hotel? Carlos – our savior, a fountain of generosity – would probably let us fix it at his shop, and he had even offered that we could stay there, too. But did we want to live off of his generosity for that long? Or, even if we got to Mexico – a country that is significantly cheaper, has better access to VW parts, and has much more flexible visa regulations – were we ready to take on a project like this here, unsupported in Central America? Could we even freelance and continue supporting ourselves, if we were already time-crunching to get Big Emma back into shape as quickly as possible?

Sven and I both knew the answer. No. We knew us and we knew how we worked. If we shipped her back home, we could work on her in peace. We could offer her the attention, time, and quality of repairs that she deserved.

Of the two factors that had motivated us to begin this trip in the first place – our love for Big Emma, and our passion for travel, culture, and languages – it had always been clear which one of those two was our first priority. And that one would not work without the steadfastness of the other.

Lessons in looking on the bright side

Of course we could fix her here, Sven said, but we both know it is the smart choice to go home. And anyways, I think it will do us good. Like, personally. He was right, of course. Flash floods shake you up a bit, and we had been longing for more contact to friends and family from home even before Caro and Konsti had arrived. Repairing Big Emma in Illinois meant spending that time around loved ones. And, of course, it meant that we would have Andrew’s help fixing her up. He loved the Bus as much as we did.

But it would be cheaper here, I said, watching the fan whoosh past my field of vision. Not if we have to order all sorts of parts, Sven replied. We don’t want to get Chinese knockoffs, we need the real VW stuff. Shipping them from other places alone will probably be more expensive. I sighed, and conceded again. You’re right, Sven.

Caro and Konsti had left yesterday, and that pang of absent friends had already begun. They were continuing their trip into Guatemala. After all, the plan had been to travel with them in that direction before dropping them off at the airport in Guatemala City. Not only did they need to catch their flight, I could understand if they were tired of shoveling mud on our behalf.

Caro, before and after shoveling some mud.

And anyways, we were almost done with the tasks that they could help us with. Using Carlos’ power washer, we had finally removed the majority of the gunk from the car itself, and our surviving possessions had all been washed. Now, I mostly just had to sort them into boxes and figure out how to ship it all home. A process that was frustrating, annoying, boring, all at the same time.

Compound that with waves of guilt, sadness, and regret, and it was no wonder I wasn’t sleeping. I had had to borrow some of Konsti’s sleeping pills; my nights, despite my exhaustion, had been bloated with those Ifs, and offered no peace right now. Rest just wasn’t enough to be restful. I was glad our persistence was enough to make up for it, for now, but the sleeping pills helped, too.

Almost, but not quite

On Wednesday morning, we walked over to Carlos’ shop. Today, we would drive Big Emma to Belize City and prepare to put her in a container on Friday. As glad as I was that Sven and Carlos had gotten her running, I didn’t trust her recovering self quite yet. I hoped she would make it the two hours we needed her to go today. We went to say our goodbyes to Carlos, a man we couldn’t thank or pay enough for the support he had unabashedly shown us in the last two weeks. We literally could not have done it without him.

If you get stuck, the car breaks, you call me, okay? He said. Even in the final moments, his kindness didn’t let up. We promised him that we would, and turned to leave.

We got into Big Emma, and started the ignition. As we drove out of Carlos’ driveway on less-than-steady wheels, it was freeing. As we loaded the rest of our belongings into our Bus in the hotel courtyard, things felt almost as they should be.

But they weren’t. Big Emma would be repaired, yes, but she’d never be the same as before.

The inside of the Bus looks oddly empty after being filled with boxes.

By closing time

We arrived in Belize City without incident, and quartered ourselves into a guesthouse with gated parking. We had spent two anxious days sitting on the bed, waiting for our broker to get in touch and tell us what time we needed to be at the harbor on Friday. Now the day was here and it was 12 PM. We still had not been contacted with instructions.

What should we do? Do we just sit here and wait? Sven asked me, for the 100th time today.

I don’t know, I told him for the 100th time. I glanced at my phone. No missed calls. If we fuck this up, Big Emma will overstay her visa. That would just suck.

We could just drive over to the harbor and wait there? Maybe put some pressure on the agent to get things together if he knows we are waiting for him?

Yeah. Let’s go. It’s better than waiting here.

So we waited at the harbor, having procured an over-the-phone promise that we would be meeting our broker there. At 4 PM, he finally showed up. I rushed to cancel Big Emma’s visa while Sven drove her into the container, the whole process exploding in a flurry of stuff that had to be done immediately. For the second time since this story began, I realized I had forgotten to say goodbye to Big Emma. Although I was more confident this time that she wouldn’t be lost to a watery grave, I continued to think of her safety.

Big Emma enters the shipping container.

I returned to our meeting spot and checked my email on my phone. A new message from our contact at the shipping company had arrived 15 minutes ago. Please be advised, it read, your payment has to be made by closing today or your vehicle will not be shipped. Our opening hours are Monday – Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM.

I looked at the clock: 4:38 PM. Goddamn it everybody! I guess we have to get a move on. We rushed across town to pay the shipping company – in cash, another detail they had informed us of only that morning – before rushing onward to pay our broker.

By nightfall, we had returned to our hotel, sin Bus. It was odd, and felt wrong. Everything was different. Although we were days from flying home ourselves, one of the most important elements in our lives over the last year and a half was just….absent. She left a hole that could only be replaced by our own perseverance.


We spent the next four days as normal, average tourists. We took a boat to Caye Caulker. The island is a popular tourist destination located along Belize’s famous barrier reef. We figured we might as well make the best of the situation – with Big Emma, we wouldn’t have even considered going to an island. But we were practicing looking on the bright side these days.

Besides playing telephone with our broker and continuing to sort things out on the Miami side, we didn’t have a lot to do. We listened to podcasts, played checkers, drank a beer on the beach. We made pancakes for breakfast and avoided spending money. But we couldn’t shake everything else.

For a year and a half, the three of us have barely been apart; but for the time being, it was time to go our separate ways.

We took the boat back in time for me to catch a ride to the airport. Big Emma was scheduled to arrive in Miami tomorrow. I would fly to Florida today and spend the night a family friends’ house. Sven would travel to Cancún and fly to Belgium from there – it was the cheapest flight to Europe we could find.

Our car dropped Sven off at the bus station before bringing me to the airport. I suddenly realized: In the last year and a half, this is the first time Sven, Big Emma, and I have been in three different locations. There was something eerie about that thought. Along with it came so many more thoughts that I had been too tired to process.

I was on the last leg of the race. Finally. My brain didn’t want to make any more important decisions.


I was grateful to our friends and their support, and to my dad, who arrived in Florida the next morning. He had driven all the way from Illinois, overnight, to assist me. After another few days of harrying bureaucracy, Big Emma was finally on a tow truck on her way back to Illinois.  

A few days later, we had all made it back to the Midwest (except, of course, Sven, who was on his way to Germany). The tow truck dropped her off in the dirveway, and my dad and I pushed Big Emma into her spot in the garage.

I looked at the scratches on her driver’s side, pondered her broken fog lights and ruined cabinets. I contemplated the changes in our lives that had taken place in the last three weeks, considered my newfound sense of purposelessness and sudden lack of direction. I patted her on the passenger door. I told you, Big Emma, I said. If any Bus can do this, you can. I told you we’d get you home.

Big Emma’s broken lights didn’t hide that glint. I never doubted it, she said. I’m gonna rest now.

Big Emma, Urbana, Illinois.

Want to catch up on the rest of the story? Check out Part One: Blindsided, Part Two: Recovery, and Part Three: Here I Am.

The post The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 4: Rest appeared first on GoBigEmma.

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The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 3: Here I Am https://gobigemma.com/2018/04/26/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-3-here-i-am/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/04/26/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-3-here-i-am/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 15:00:38 +0000 http://gobigemma.com/?p=3720 We had rescued Big Emma from her watery grave in the Sibun River, but now the real work began. Could we save our possessions and our beloved Bus, or had the water destroyed everything? Had we rescued a corpse?

The post The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 3: Here I Am appeared first on GoBigEmma.

We had rescued Big Emma from her watery grave in the Sibun River, but now the real work began. Could we save our possessions and our beloved Bus, or had we merely recovered a corpse?

This post is part three of a four-piece series. Check out the other parts here: Part 1: Blindsided, Part 2: Recovery, and Part 4: Rest.

Sploosh! A fountain of dirty river water came splashing out of the spark plug hole as I turned the engine with a heavy steel wrench. With the help of the lever, the motor moved easily enough, but it stuck every time a piston had to push up gunky water inside a cylinder tube, bare metal against metal, with no oil to smooth its motion.
I cranked the engine backwards until it got stuck again. Then forwards again with full force, pulling on the lever as hard as I could to gain momentum. Sploosh, the piston moved and pushed more water out of the hole. For at least half an hour I had been doing this, kneeling in the mud behind the engine hatch, pulling and pushing on the wrench to squeeze the water out of Big Emma’s iron heart. Every few turns, the wrench slipped off the alternator nut and my hand slammed into the engine case, leaving bruises on my knuckles.
Big Emma was sitting in a muddy mechanic’s yard. The tropical rain was falling hard, drumming on her fiberglass roof and growing the puddles in the yard into a system of miniature lakes and rivers. Car wrecks in varying states of decay lined the concrete wall to the left. On the right, the large mechanic shop was housed under a metal roof, towering at least seven meters high on massive steel beams. Under it, more vehicles were propped up on stands. An engine was missing here, a wheel had been removed there. Men were working on the cars, a few others were sitting around a table in the center of the shop, drinking coffee.
Since the night Carlos had towed Big Emma here, this yard had been our workplace. Every day, we would walk here and work on the Bus. Each day we would get drenched in the rain, then bathed again in sunshine. Each day, we would save some of our belongings, while others would turn out to be beyond help.

The inside of Big Emma before we began to clean her

True friendship smells like gasoline

One day turned into the next, and then another and another still. Nightly sleep breaks interrupted our work, but they provided neither relaxation nor distraction. Each morning I woke up, my head filled with fading dreams of bolts and wrenches. Each morning, we drank instant coffee out of a wobbly plastic cup in our hotel lobby, sweetening it with sugar we shared with a colony of little black ants that were carrying it away from the box, grain by grain.
The walk to Carlos’ shop: down the bike path, past the roundabout and the Asian supermarket, and into the yard. In the evening, we would come back to the hotel, wash the dirt off our skin, eat fried chicken from a nearby restaurant, and fall into bed exhausted. The next morning, the same routine would start over.
Caro and Konsti were still with us, sharing our misfortune and our hotel room. I am sure they had imagined their vacation differently. Adventurous maybe, but in a less literal way. More tropical paradise instead of the stinking mud they got. Instead of diving the second-largest coral reef in the world, Caro would spend hours bent over the washtub, scrubbing stains out of our shirts and bedsheets.
Konsti would lay in the dirt under the car with me, getting sprayed with gasoline while I disconnected a fuel line. Friendship doesn’t show itself in good times and laughter. True friendship has the stench of gasoline and rain soaking you to the bone. It’s choosing hardship over holidays, hard labor over sunbathing on the beach.
Mike and Geneva, our vanlife friends who had been a pillar of stability on the day of the flood, had moved on to Guatemala. Their Belize visas were running out and there was nothing more they could have done to help us. We gave them a goodbye hug and promised to see each other again somewhere, someday. This was the way of travelers. On the road, you make friends, live through adventures together, and then part ways, only to start the cycle again.

Into the wheelbarrow

Every day from morning to nightfall we worked to revive Big Emma. We scraped layer after layer of brown mud from her. The doors, her walls, the dashboard. We cupped handfuls of stinking dirt out of the engine compartment. We threw belonging after belonging out the sliding door. Clothes and bedsheets were tossed into a giant pile headed for the wash barrel. Things we thought worth keeping flew into another heap, stuff beyond saving was pitched into a wheelbarrow, ready to be carried off to the garbage pit behind the shop.
Every once a while, one of the mechanics would go through our designated garbage and would say Don’t throw this away, we can fix that!
Go ahead and take it, we would say.

Out into the mud, out into the wheelbarrow, out with it!

Our flashlights, our walkie-talkies, even our drone we gave away. The chemicals in the battery packs had been boiled in their shells by a short circuit. The electronics were fried. With lots of work, maybe it was fixable. For us, it would be easier to one day buy a drone again if we really wanted one. A Belizean mechanic would have to work much longer to be able to afford one. If he could fix it, good for him.
Our books were garbage, too. The water had swollen them up and the pages had turned into one solid mass. Our bookcase was filled with a homogeneous block of dissolved fibers and running ink, words and phrases from Game of Thrones bleeding into On the Road, Jon Snow hitchhiking across the American post-war Midwest. I had to cut the block out of the bookcase with a knife to get it out. The only place for our forlorn library to go was straight into the wheelbarrow.

Open heart surgery

And then there was the engine. Big Emma’s metal innards had taken a hard beating. Water had filled up the engine itself, as well as the fuel tank and lines. Draining the oil had gotten the better part of the water out, but there was still much to be done. We needed to turn the engine over, so the valves would open and allow the water in the cylinders to flow out. All fuel lines needed to be flushed out and cleaned of mud. The battery had been connected while the water rose, so we feared for all of the electrical components: starter, fuel pump, the computer box, our newly rebuilt alternator.
We took everything out we could, piece by piece. Carlos disassembled the starter on his workbench and blew compressed air over it. Drops of water and pieces of dirt came flying out of the copper windings. A few more days, and it would have started rusting. After every piece was clean, he reassembled the starter. Now, let’s see if it works, he said, lumping an auto battery onto the workbench. A starter cable to the negative pole of starter and battery, the other to the positive one.
Upon touching the cable to the starter, sparks came flying. And with it, a whizzing sound. It worked! The electric motor in the starter was spinning like nothing ever happened. We threw our hands in the air, yelling, Carlos smiled and hooted like a little kid who just put the last brick onto his Lego spaceship. On to the fuel pump. The same procedure, and the same result. Success! Alternator – the same thing!
Wow, I thought. Back in the day, Bosch and Volkswagen built some sturdy car parts. If 40 years of use and a river couldn’t drain the life out of them, what could? Even the battery, which I had thought was undoubtedly beyond saving, still held a charge. We had always described Big Emma as strong and stubborn in the Big Emma Diaries, but in the end those had been merely stories. An imaginary character we projected onto an object.
Or was it? She might not have a personality, but fierceness was nonetheless one of her signature traits. That was clearer to me than ever.
The engine computer. We could only clean it and hope for the best, there was no way to test it. We would only know if it worked when the car would or wouldn’t run. Until then, we had to wait. In the meantime, we had to expose every piece of Big Emma to as much air and heat as possible, so the water could evaporate before it would begin to oxidize the metal. Piece by piece, we installed the cleaned parts back into the car. I felt like a surgeon connecting the cables and hoses and pipes. I was performing an emergency operation, and my patient’s life depended on it. Her future. And not only hers, mine as well. What would we do if something was broken we couldn’t replace? Carlos was handy with fixing cars, but he was not a magician. If the computer was toast, what would we do? We sure wouldn’t be driving out of here in that case.

Carlos, our savior, pondering Big Emma’s engine with us one night

Tests of ingenuity

On day three or thirty or however many days had passed by then, we had cleaned and installed every last part back into the engine compartment. Carlos looked at me. Llegó el momento de la verdad, he said. Here it is, the moment of truth. I walked to the front on weary feet. The driver’s seat had been taken out to be cleaned with a power washer. I sat down on the bare metal and put the key into the ignition. It turned hard — dirt must have gotten into the lock and switch as well.
One click and the dashboard lights went on. That was promising. I yanked the key to the right and the starter came to life. The engine turned over behind me. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. It sounded almost like a steam engine back there, the starter whizzing and the engine pumping. Whoot toot-tut-too. Whoot toot-tut-too. Over and over again, every time a little bit faster. Come on! I thought. Ignite already! Big Emma pumped and whooted, but no spark came and there was no ignition. What was wrong? We had cleaned everything, put everything back. We had tested all the components alone, why wouldn’t they work when linked together now?
Maybe we’re not getting spark, I suggested when I walked to the rear of the car, where Carlos had already buried his head in the engine compartment again. Konsti stood beside him, looking as clueless as I felt.
No, no, we have spark, he said. It’s not the fucking spark! But no gas. Smell it! Do you smell gas? He looked at me.
No, I answered.
Because there’s no gas! he said. No fucking gas!
Carlos swore a lot, no matter if he was speaking English or Spanish. No matter if he was happy or upset, swearwords were an integral part of his vocabulary. He was a slender man in his 50s, with a thin, bony face and a scruffy mustache. A cigarette was constantly dangling from the corner of his mouth. My uncle is a strange man, his nephew Thomas would say. He could be bubbly and excited about something in one second, and grumpy and solemn in the next. One moment he would tell us how much Emma reminded him of his daughter, his eyes shining; a minute later he would run nervously up and down his shop and bark one-word commands at his employees.
His nephew was the opposite. A tall, handsome Mexican, Thomas had a soft voice and strong arms. He was a photographer and only helping out in his uncle’s shop whenever he wasn’t on assignment somewhere in Belize or Mexico, shooting everything from weddings to major magazine stories.

The exhaustion is plain on Thomas’ face after several days of helping Big Emma.

Now Carlos commanded Thomas to turn the key and attempt to start the engine again.
You go under the car and listen for the fuel pump, he told Konsti. When Carlos had an idea, everybody in reach had to help him see if it worked. Thomas turned the key and the engine started turning. Only Konsti’s legs were sticking out from under the Bus as he laid to listen for the whizzing of the fuel pump. It’s working! he yelled back to Carlos.
It continued like this. Carlos would have a theory and Thomas, Konsti, me, and sometimes Emma or other employees in the shop had to test it. We took out the fuel injectors and watched them spray gasoline into the engine compartment while Carlos’ cigarette dangled from his mouth, glowing softly. Nah, I won’t ignite. I’ve done that a million times, he said.
We tested resistors, wires, sensors. And finally a relay. It was making its characteristic clicking sound, so we never suspected it. It turned out that although the contacts were moving, they were never touching. Without contact, the fuel pump would run for a short while, but it would stop again before the engine could start.
Carlos took a small piece of wire and superglued it between the contacts so they would close. No problem, he said. At home you replace, but this will work for a while. I was so used to the constant availability of replacement parts, I had never even considered a relay repairable. But in Belize, nothing was thrown away without at least attempting to repair it, no matter if it was a relay or a drone.

Konsti washing our clothes and hanging them all over the mechanic’s shop.

I was nervous when I went back to the driver’s seat to give the glued relay a try. What if it’s not any of those parts? What if it’s something deep down in the engine? I couldn’t say what, but something down where we couldn’t reach it, something that the river had rusted. Who knew? What if all our efforts were for nothing?

Here I Am

I got into the car where the driver’s seat used to be and turned the key in the ignition. Dash lights on. Step one. Here we go. The starter whizzed and the engine turned and whooted. Would there be gas this time? Pop, there it was, an ignition. Yes! Come on! Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop. With every blow the engine gained momentum and then, finally, there she was, exploding into action, spitting black smoke as she coughed the remaining water out of her lungs. It sounded painful and desperate, but it was the sound of a running engine! I floored the gas pedal and she screamed, an angry scream for life, cursing the odds and crushing all doubts. The fire burned away the last grains of dirt, a cleansing of the burdens of the past.
Here I am! Big Emma roared. No river, no flood can ever bring me down, not me, not this Bus that has seen so much! Here I am, and don’t you ever forget it!
Everybody in the shop dropped whatever they were working on and came over to watch and congratulate. Laughter and cheering filled the air together with dense smoke out of Big Emma’s exhaust. Carlos lit another cigarette, smiling. Thank you, I told him. We would never have managed it without you, I added in thought.
After escaping the flood, out on the highway in the rain at night, I had been happy to be alive. But it was only now that I felt like we had truly made it. We had not only saved ourselves but our companion as well. A limp, dead body when we pulled her out of the river, we had performed CPR and she had come back, coughing and puffing black smoke. But she was there, and alive.

Elbow-deep in Big Emma’s engine

We hadn’t even realized it, but we had been desperate in these past days. Our dream had taken a serious hit and it had come tumbling down, shattered into what we feared were irreparable pieces. But now, thanks to the amazing help from Carlos, his nephew Thomas, Caro, Konsti, Mike and Geneva, Emma’s dad, and Carlos’ employees, we had ignited hope.
We had cleaned and sweated and scrubbed and cried out in anger. We had cursed the river and the universe and ourselves, but now the roar of Big Emma’s engine made all this tension fall away. While before all our work had felt like licking our wounds in defeat, now it felt purposeful. We’re not just cleaning up the garbage after the party, we’re setting the stage for something new.
But we were still in Central America with a Bus we couldn’t live in. Our Belizean visas (and Big Emma’s as well) were running out and we had no car that we could drive farther than a few miles. This wouldn’t be easy. But at least the gang was together again.

This post is part three of a four-piece series. Check out the other parts here: Part 1: Blindsided, Part 2: Recovery, and Part 4: Rest.

The post The Consequences of a Flash Flood, Part 3: Here I Am appeared first on GoBigEmma.

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The Consequences of a Flash Flood Part 2: Recovery https://gobigemma.com/2018/04/20/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-2-recovery/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/04/20/the-consequences-of-a-flash-flood-part-2-recovery/#comments Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:00:15 +0000 http://gobigemma.com/?p=3680 We had left Big Emma behind, alone in the Sibun River in the middle of the night. Come daylight, it was time to try to rescue our travel companion from the flood. But what state would she be in when we found her?

The post The Consequences of a Flash Flood Part 2: Recovery appeared first on GoBigEmma.

We had deserted Big Emma in the Sibun River in the middle of the night. Come daylight, it was time to face our situation and do everything we could to rescue our travel companion. But what state would she be in when we found her?

This post is part two of a four-piece series. Check out the other parts here: Part 1: Blindsided, Part 3: Here I Am, and Part 4: Rest.

We were trudging through mud. Again. Every time I put weight on a foot, it went thluuump as my shoes vanished in brown gunk. Now we were in a huge mechanic’s yard in Belmopan, Belize’s tiny capital. Big Emma was sitting in the center of it. To her left, car wrecks in varying states of decay lined a concrete wall. To the right, the large mechanic shop was housed under a metal roof, towering at least seven meters high on massive steel beams. Under it, more vehicles were propped up on stands, an engine missing here, a wheel removed there.

This mechanic shop was Big Emma’s home for now. The shop’s owner, Carlos, was our savior. He and his nephew Thomas had made it their mission to help us get through this mess. Carlos had invited us to stay however long we needed and use all tools we required from his shop.

Dirty, but safe

The Bus was in a terrible state. A few scratches of on the outside, water and smelly mud everywhere on the inside, and a broken window. But at least she was here, safe with us. When we had to leave Big Emma behind in the rapids of that dreaded river, we had feared it might be the last time we would see her. What if the pull of the water was too strong and pulled her away, what if she got dragged downstream? How would we ever even find her, let alone save her?

But there was nothing we could do for her when it happened, nothing except save ourselves and leave our trusty companion behind to fend for herself. We had hitchhiked to Belmopan. At a closed Taiwanese hotel, we dropped our backpacks on a bench outside the barred lobby and collected our still stunned thoughts.

What in the world had just happened? Our trip had come to a grinding halt – no, more – it had found a watery grave. Our vehicle had drowned in the mucky river and we had walked out of both of them with water up to our waists. Back then, no energy was wasted on the danger of the situation. Our bodies had drowned any fearful thought in heaps of adrenaline.

But now, with the first light of the new day sending its rays over the horizon and our hearts starting to calm down, it dawned on us how narrowly we had just escaped death.

The water had been slow, almost stagnant where we had walked, but just a tad farther in, the rapids would have been too strong to withstand. What if we had woken up only a few minutes later, or if we had been sleeping with the sliding door closed? The water had risen almost half a meter in the few minutes we were searching for our stuff. What if we hadn’t noticed the water until it was too late to escape? None of us knew quite what to think of these possibilities, standing there in the gentle, pink dawn light.


The cockpit after rescuing Big Emma

Early-morning phonecalls

We had arrived at the hotel at around 4:30 am. How early could we call anybody? It doesn’t matter, Emma said. If there’s any situation where we can ring people out of bed, now is the time. She was right. We called Andrew, her dad, first. Of anybody in the world, he was Big Emma’s third partner-in-crime. It took a while until he picked up.

Emma told him about what had happened, how we had had to abandon Big Emma and left her to drown in the Sibun. There was a pause when she finished speaking.

Then her dad said: The most important thing is that you guys are okay. Everything else is expendable. You are not. How right he was. We have always felt like Big Emma was a part of our team, like she was a person just as much as we were. But at the end of the day, she was a machine, and a replaceable one. We had taken care of the non-replaceable members of the team. Now – and not earlier – was the time to think about the fate of our beloved Bus.

We’ll get Big Emma home and fix her. No matter what it takes, we’ll get her out, Emma’s dad continued.

Somehow that was important for us to hear. Of course, we were determined to rescue her and repair her, somehow. But here was Emma’s dad, telling us this like it was a fact that was decided, nothing was up for discussion. The question wasn’t if we could save the Bus, only how. I felt my mind focusing again, calling all those stray thoughts of doubt to order. Here was a task to focus on, a concrete goal to work towards on this Tuesday morning.

More than just moral support

Next, we called our friends Mike and Geneva, fellow travelers that we had camped with many times and that happened to be in the area.

With no hesitation, they decided to break camp and come at once. Our friends’ determination to help emphasized our new feeling of purposefulness. We made a plan. Caro and Konsti agreed to hitchhike back to the river to guard the Bus against early-morning looters – that was, assuming it was still there. We called Geneva back and asked them to follow our friends back to the river, and lend them support while Emma and I figured out what else we had to do.

Mike and Geneva had been camped in a guesthouse that belonged to a woman named Monika, a German lady in the little town of San Ignacio. Upon hearing about our situation, Monika postponed plans for her birthday party that day and drove into town to pick us up. With her help, we went to acquire a phone card, a rental car, cash, and a bottle of Tequila.

Our open hatch – which we used to enter Big Emma to get our most essential belongings after being reunited.

By the time all our errands were done and Emma and I managed to make it back to the river, Caro and Konsti, as well as Mike and Geneva, had arrived at the Sibun. They gave us a long hug when we pulled up at their impromptu camp just below the highway. Mike and Geneva’s truck camper was parked a good way up the riverbank from waters that were still swollen.

Did you get the tequila? Geneva asked us.

Yes, I answered her, showing her the bottle of Jose Cuervo with the golden liquor inside.

Good, she said and set four cups on the small table in front of the camper. Drink.


The tequila warmed our stomachs and with it came a hint of much-needed courage. Mike handed us his binoculars and sent us for a walk along the highway, to a bridge that spanned the Sibun just upstream of our camp. You have to walk pretty far across to see it, more than halfway, he told us.

The river was still high, very high. On the bridge columns, a wet line marked where the water had been at its highest point: less than a meter below the top of the pillar, almost touching the bridge itself. The water level had fallen since, but the Sibun was still roaring. Large branches and even tree trunks occasionally floated in the mucky brown water, making their way down towards the Caribbean Sea.

Here we stood, on top of the highway bridge, peeking through binoculars down the river into the underbrush where our camp had been last night. At first, I couldn’t see anything but brown water and vegetation. But then a spark of red caught my eye, shimmering through the brush. And then I saw her. I gasped. Big Emma, our beloved Bus, had moved no more than a few meters from where we had left her. But the water must have risen above her roof, for she was tipped over. Like a dead animal, she was lying on her side, revealing to us her wheels and undercarriage.

It was the most dreadful sight of the whole disaster. The bitterness of it, the fear of what could have been, and Big Emma’s pain, all combined in one mental image: the Bus on its side, barely visible through the binoculars, us standing safely on the bridge while our companion lay like a corpse in the waters that had killed her.

But no, it hadn’t killed her. I know that now and I knew it then. Andrew’s words were ringing in my ears: We’ll bring her home. No matter how, we’ll find a way.

Mike helping to free Big Emma from her tarps


Upon our return to the others, we took another gulp of tequila before attempting to walk the path we had driven with Big Emma the day before. Where the water had receded, it had left the ground soft and muddy. We followed the path and waded, once again, into the edges of the river. Soon, the water reached over our knees, and we decided to turn around, not wanting to get our last set of dry clothes wet as well.

A grove of reeds had stood three meters tall on the side of the path yesterday afternoon. Now the stalks were bent and snapped, torn up by the force of the river. They were our proof that there had been no other option for us than to leave when we did. Had we lingered longer, to get more things from the Bus, or to try and get her out, the force that had wreaked havoc to the reeds could have drowned us completely.

In that sense, today had been our lucky day.

The water was still too high for us to reach Big Emma, but it was receding noticeably. Every half hour or so I went down the path to check if we could make it yet. Every time I came back, disappointed. No, not yet. Geneva did her best to calm us. She had become something of an ersatz-mom for us, equipping us with support in the moments that we needed it most. She and Mike had provided us with dry clothes, toothbrushes, even bottles of shampoo and deodorant. But most important of all, they were there. Their presence somehow allowed me to relax, if only ever so slightly. There was something soothing about the presence of friends of my parents’ age.

We were nervous. We paced back and forth, restlessly. There was so much we needed to do, and so little we could do now. The sun had reached its zenith and passed it. There were still a few hours of sunlight left, but the shadows were already growing longer. Nothing to do but wait – the water was still just too high. Another shot of Tequila. More waiting. More going back down to the river to see if we could get across now. Again.

And as the long hours of midday wore on, we could. We waded along the path to Big Emma. The water had set her down gently on the rocky bank, just a few meters from where we had sat by the fire and talked about rockets the evening before. The water had receded far enough that only the wheels and the bumper were still touched by small, rippling waves that the river sent their way.

Our awning had been ripped off its fastenings where it had been attached to the Bus. Its metal poles were bent like the riverside reeds, and the tarp we had used for additional protection from the rain had been yanked into a tree behind Big Emma.

Apart from lying on her side, the car itself looked almost untouched. The red and yellow paint was a bright as ever, shining like a beacon against the mucky brown of the river. I had feared for the windshield, but it was intact without a scratch on it. Even the roof didn’t seem broken. We had left the pop-top up when we left, and now that everything was sideways, the mechanism was twisted, leaning at an odd angle. But the old fiberglass wasn’t cracked, the fabric wasn’t torn. I felt a spark of hope rising in me. Could it be that this wasn’t all that bad?


The view through the rear hatch when we re-discovered Big Emma

Then I popped open the rear hatch and that hopeful spark was drowned in mud as quickly as it had been ignited. The inside was a mess. The propane tank and our two wooden storage boxes had toppled over; a million small items were scattered everywhere. It seemed like a giant had taken Big Emma and shaken her, turning our belongings into a homogeneous mix of pieces big and small. Every last corner had been caked in a thick layer of unappetizing mud frosting. All the bright colors on the inside had faded and been replaced with browns and grays. Some heavy item must have fallen against the corner of the countertop, creating a rift between it and the cabinet below.

I averted my eyes in disgust. I knew immediately: our lovely wood interior was done.

 Time for a plan

Again and again since leaving the Bus the night before, we had been through the cycle of being pulled off our feet by terrible news, followed by tiny steps forward, and trying with wary feet to find solid ground. Looking into the car had been another blow, one that had felt like a punch in the face.

It’s at least as bad as I feared, maybe worse, my mind was telling me. Uncertainty had taken up racketball inside my head. The car is a wreck, beyond saving. 

A different voice was raising from somewhere deep within, certain, with a commanding tone to it: No! This is Big Emma, she’s never beyond saving. She’s tough as a bull, a metal bull with armor, that is. 

See those people who came here just for you, to help you? You’re not alone in this, the voice continued.

Remember Andrew’s words: we’ll bring her home. It’s settled, all you need to figure out is the “how”. 

We needed a plan. A way to get the car back onto her wheels and out of this nasty river.

The water is only up to our knees, a tractor should be able to do it, Mike suggested. Yes! We had seen farms on both sides of the road the day before, surely someone would have a tractor and could help us. While Mike and Geneva took up sentry duty over Big Emma, the four of us took our rental car and drove up and down the highway, pulling into muddy driveways lined with fruit trees, to ask for a tractor. We knocked on a door. A young man heard us out and happily agreed to help us with his uncle’s tractor.

Where are you stuck? he asked us in Spanish.

The Sibun, Emma told him.

Oh! What the hell are you doing there at this time of the year? It’s dangerous there, the water rises quick!

He wasn’t the first local to warn us today, and he wouldn’t be the last. The Sibun was known to flood around here, everybody seemed to have heard the tales of its flash floods. Everybody but us.

Big Emma’s undercarriage (don’t worry, we got her permission before posting this photo).

Helping hands

The farmer arrived with his tractor at the river shortly before sunset. He drove down the muddy path to where Big Emma lay on her side. The huge tractor wheels plowed through the water like it was nothing but a puddle. Mike had brought a tow strap, which we attached to Big Emma’s underside and to the tractor. The plan was that the tractor would pull and the Bus would tilt upright before dropping to its wheels, or so we hoped.

Wait!, Konsti said as the farmer was about to put the tractor into first. How do we make sure the Bus doesn’t just fall over the other way?

He was right. The ground sloped slightly downwards towards the river, the direction in which the tractor had to pull Big Emma. What if the momentum of setting her upright would simply send her tipping the other way?

Pull her halfway up, Mike said to the farmer. Once we can reach the driver’s side, we’ll attach a rope to it. Four of us should be enough to pull and keep the Bus from flipping over again.

There was no discussion, no doubt, we just heard the command and executed. When the Bus was halfway lifted out of the mud, tilting awkwardly on its two driver’s side wheels, Emma and I crawled under the raised side and tied a rope to the car. What if the tractor lost traction and the Bus had dropped back down? Not a thought of it. We threw the free end of the rope to the rest of the group.

While the Bus finally began to lean onto all four of her wheels, we collectively pulled as hard as we could, forced into a game of tug-of-war that we couldn’t afford to lose. Water splashed away as the passenger side wheels dipped into the shallow water and found solid ground. We held steadfast. The driver’s side rocked up briefly upon impact, but its wheels never left the ground. Big Emma was – finally, after such a long day – on her four sturdy wheels again! Still in a river, but back on her wheels, like a car should be.

We jumped and shouted with joy. Step one – the most daunting of all the steps – was behind us. We could do this.


Big Emma, just towed out of the river.

A situation we could work with, finally

We attached a tow strap to Big Emma’s rear. I hopped into the driver’s seat and the tractor started pulling her out of the river and up the muddy path. Through water reaching up to her door. Through mud and over boulders that made clonking sounds when the bumper caught on them. Through debris and reeds and muck. All the while, Big Emma rolled backwards, with me sitting in a pile of shattered glass on the driver’s seat, steering her wheels to make sure we would make the curves. Up and up we went, until all water was below us, and then further still up the sodden road. Going backwards, I could see the river retreating through our windshield, and hear the tractor roaring behind me.

The tractor pulled Big Emma to a plateau just below the highway, next to Mike and Geneva’s truck camper. She was out of the water, and safe. Finally, this was a situation we could work with. But there was no time to rest yet, for here we could not stay. Darkness had fallen around us, the short tropical dusk had given way to the night and I hadn’t even noticed as we had made our way to the plateau.

While we were focused on getting the Bus out of the river, Geneva – reliably on top of things – had been busy making calls. Through a long chain of people-who-knew-someone-whose-cousin-knew-somebody-else, she had found Carlos, a Mexican businessman who owned a mechanics shop in Belmopan. He and his nephew Thomas had arrived in a gigantic pickup truck to tow us into town.

Take this, Carlos said in English with his thick Spanish accent and handed me another tow strap. I tied it to the towing hooks on the front of Big Emma.

Do you have lights?

I told him no.


Yes, but no boosters, just good old muscle power.

Carlos nodded. Okay. Just make sure the rope is always tight.

And then he got into his truck, Thomas standing on the truck bed watching the rope, and off we went. Away from the Sibun, away from this terrible place that had marked a turning point in our journey in such a violent way.

Carlos was a skilled driver. He accelerated on the downhills to adjust for the speed I was gaining, and he slowed down gradually every time we had to brake for a speed bump. The rope slackened slightly only two or three times on the 30-minute drive, and never did I feel like I wouldn’t be able to stop our Bus in time. Part of me was terrified, but even that part already recognized that we were in good hands.

Carlos towed us into his mechanic shop, where the Bus would stay overnight. From here, we could start to work on our giant list of problems.


The driver’s side door as Big Emma sits in Carlos’ mechanic yard.

Not tonight

In the dark, the yard looked deserted. My mind felt numb, my body raw from a long day of hard labor. I felt like it had been days since I last slept. My intuition was silenced, too tired to make an assessment of anything anymore. For now, this place had to do. Carlos had to do. It wasn’t the Sibun, we had made it out of the river, what more could we ask for? And so far he seemed like a good guy.

Almost automatically, I dug our toolbag from the muddy car. I screwed out the spark plugs and the oil plug to allow the engine to dry from the inside. What are you doing? Carlos asked me while I was watching water drip out of the engine where oil should have been. Not tonight. You can work tomorrow, tonight you need to sleep. 

How right he was. We hadn’t eaten much during the day, as focused as we had been on our rescue mission. Even if we had tried, our appetites wouldn’t have cared. All our clothes were wet and dirty. We were still wet and dirty. And there was little more that we could do without daylight anyway.

We left Big Emma behind, once more. But this time she was sitting safely in a yard, and we were going to a hotel room instead of back out into the rainy night.

At the hotel, we stripped out of our clothes again took turns showering. No shower had ever felt this good. I watched the water turn brown as it washed the dirt out of my hair. And with the dirt went all the pressure that had built up during the day. All the tension and strength and adrenaline, the painful memories of last 24 hours, it all got flushed out with the last crusted Sibun river mud.

When I lay down to sleep in the hotel bed that night, I was empty. Today’s recovery was over; tomorrow, the repairs would start. But for tonight, there was nothing left in me, no thought, no energy, no nothing. It was dark and silent and all I could do was sleep.

This post is part two of a four-piece series. Check out the other parts here: Part 1: Blindsided, Part 3: Here I Am, and Part 4: Rest.

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#164 Home https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/22/164-home/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/22/164-home/#comments Mon, 22 Jan 2018 15:00:56 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3625 Join Big Emma in Illinois for her final diary (for now!).

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I made it back to my very own garage in Illinois. It was actually very nice to turn my engine off and just be in the garage. If I have to just be somewhere, this is my favorite garage to be in. 

I told Emma that I thought that, and asked her what that feeling was called. She said it’s called Home.


I am going to end my diary here for now and just rest for a while. I like writing it, but I want to write about my adventures and not about the garage. But don’t worry, I’ll let you know before we start going again to Argentina. And I’m glad you liked reading my diary. 

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#163 I Made it to the USA https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/19/163-made-usa/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/19/163-made-usa/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 15:00:30 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3620 Big Emma is happy to be back with Regular Emma.

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I am finally done teleporting! And I was so happy to be out of the container and back with Emma that I just had to give her a really big hug.

You know, Emma, I said to her, I’m just happy to see you again. That’s the most important, that it makes me not even worry about not going to Argentina now and everything else.

You’re right, Big Emma, she said. That’s the most important thing. 

And I was so happy and then I remembered to say Hello Andrew! Thank you for picking me up from the teleporter, too!


Photo by Andrew Fell

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#162 Little Big Emma is on an Island https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/17/162-little-big-emma-island/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/17/162-little-big-emma-island/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 15:00:59 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3616 Big Emma sort of wishes she could be with Little Big Emma, but also sort of not.

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Emma and Sven had to wait for me to teleport, so they went to an island in Belize while they waited and then they would take an aeroplane to pick me up from the teleporter in the USA. I asked What is an island? And Emma said, An island is a piece of land that is surrounded by the ocean. And then I told her, That sounds horrible, Emma! Why would you want to go there? You need to be really careful.

We will, Big Emma. Remember, humans don’t rust like cars do. We will be fine on the island. I am just sad you can’t come with us. We will take Little Big Emma for you instead. But I didn’t tell Emma that I think it is stupid that Little Big Emma gets to go even if it is an island and I don’t want to go anyways because then Little Big Emma gets to take pictures like this one instead of me. 

But it’s also kind of okay that now I am just teleporting and not doing anything. I’m still kind of tired. 

I feel stupid because I can’t drive right and Sven and Emma can’t live in me and camp with me now. What kind of Bus am I if I can’t camp with them? That’s all I did in the last few years and we went all the way to Alaska and to Canada and all over Mexico and we met Buddy and Rita and the 4Runner. Now all I can do is sit in the garage. What if that makes me dead like the dinosaurs?

I hope that I am not dead like the dinosaurs. I still want to go to Argentina and have all the adventures on the way. 

I hope I am done teleporting soon.

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#161 This is How You Teleport https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/15/161-learning-teleport/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/15/161-learning-teleport/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:00:00 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3611 Big Emma learns to teleport.

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Look, now I’m teleporting! This is me getting into the container before I started teleporting

But now I’m all alone except with Eduardo, and it’s very dark here in the teleporter. It reminds me of being in the river. I don’t think I like teleporting that much.

And it feels like being on a boat, and I don’t like being on boats because they go over the ocean and then I could fall off and rust or it could get angry like the river and then I would rust too. I’m glad I’m just in the teleporter and not on a boat. 

I have a long time to think and talk to myself and to Eduardo. And even if I don’t like the container and the river and that my engine doesn’t run well and that I can’t go to Argentina until my interior is better and that I have to go to Illinois first which is even farther away from Argentina than Belize then I can still be happy about being in Illinois soon and seeing Emma’s family and my own garage and getting a new interior and learning how to teleport. It’s okay if it takes us longer to get to Argentina, it just makes the adventure longer. 

I wonder how long teleporting takes. 

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#160 I am Going to Teleport! https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/12/160-going-teleport-back-illinois/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/12/160-going-teleport-back-illinois/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 15:00:37 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3600 Sven, my engine is running, but I don’t know if I can make it all the way back to Illinois on my own. It doesn’t feel like it did before I got stuck in the river. What if I have to be towed back to Illinois?  We don’t want to tow you, said Sven. That [...]

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Sven, my engine is running, but I don’t know if I can make it all the way back to Illinois on my own. It doesn’t feel like it did before I got stuck in the river. What if I have to be towed back to Illinois? 

We don’t want to tow you, said Sven. That would also be really expensive. So I said, What does expensive mean? Is it like embarrassing? But Sven said it wasn’t and it wasn’t important.

We will need to put you in a container and ship you to the States, said Sven. I told Sven I don’t know what that means. Can I go in an aeroplane instead? But Sven said I couldn’t fly in an aeroplane because they don’t let cars on aeroplanes. 

Well where is the container, and how does it get me to Illinois? I asked. Sven said, That’s how humans get fast from one place to another without a car. It’s called teleporting. We are almost done cleaning you, so tomorrow we will drive you to the teleporter. 

Okay, as long as I don’t have to go on a boat, I said. I don’t want to get stuck in the ocean, too.


Photo by Caro Gesch

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#159 We Talked About Argentina and Decided to Go to Illinois Instead https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/10/159-talked-argentina-decided-go-illinois-instead/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/10/159-talked-argentina-decided-go-illinois-instead/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 15:00:38 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3598 Big Emma decides that it is time to return to Illinois, for now.

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Sven said we should sit with Emma and talk about going to Argentina and I said, I think that idea is really good Sven. 

We need to change your interior, said Sven. You got so wet, Big Emma, we can’t just keep it like this. We need to make it new. And I told Sven, Yes, I think none of it works well like this. I don’t think we will be happy to adventure to Argentina until we change it.

Yeah, said Emma. We can’t keep traveling, even if your engine is running, if we can’t live in you, Big Emma. But I think the real question is, should we make your interior new here in Belize? Or drive back to Mexico? Changing it will take us weeks or months, and we have to save up to get a lot of the other things that got too wet to save.

I thought about all of this for a while. Then I had a thought that I realized was good, but at the same time it made me sad. So I said, I think it’s sad but it would be better to fix me in Illinois. If I can’t go adventuring for now, I think I would rather wait in my own garage. And Andrew is there, and I wish he could help fix me too. And I like adventuring but I think it would be okay to take a break and be in my own garage for a while. But I’m sad because then we won’t be on the way to Argentina anymore. 

Then Emma and Sven were really quiet for a long time so I think they were sad that I said that we should go back to Illinois, but then Sven said, I think you’re right, Big Emma. Getting you out of the river was difficult for all of us, and I think being at home for a while would be good. And then Emma said, Yeah and we will be better at building you there, too. I don’t want to go back to the USA, but we can take care of you better there.

Then it’s settled, said Sven. We will go back to Illinois after we’ve finished cleaning you up, Big Emma.


Photo by @toyache

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#158 Sven Got my Engine Running! https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/08/158-sven-got-engine-running/ https://gobigemma.com/2018/01/08/158-sven-got-engine-running/#respond Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:00:43 +0000 http://gobigemma.de/?p=3594 Big Emma is excited that Sven got her engine running again after the flood.

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I’m just so excited because SVEN GOT MY ENGINE RUNNING! Ha! Take that, you stupid river! You can’t destroy my engine!

I got so excited about it I said I wanted to drive all around but Sven said that wasn’t so good for me yet and that they still had to clean like all of me anyways so we would stay here for now. 

And he is right. My engine was running but it didn’t feel good like usually. Everything still hurts a little bit. 

But that’s okay, as long as my engine is running! 

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