Days 65-73, October 12-20th
Got your coffee? Reading glasses? Good. Settle in for the story of how our van earned its name!
On Thursday, October 12th, we cheerfully started the day driving from Taraunga toward Hamilton to see our friend Emma from our last house sitting gig. Our mothers had sent us love and care packages we were eager to retrieve. The first leg of the drive was a steep climb over the Kaimai mountain range. While still ascending, we started hearing a noise from the engine and pulled over to look. No smoke or smells, but after calling a couple places we agreed to take it to a mechanic in Matamata just 20mins away. Jonathan started the van, put it into gear, and tried to merge on to the highway when there was a horrible grinding screech and a burning odor. We never even made it out of first gear before we began rolling backward (safely) into a gravel driveway just off the highway. The peace of God was with us because we just laughed and called the insurance company to send us a tow truck.
There was some confusion about our exact location and we waited 3 hours before the tow truck driver arrived. We had no idea where we were except a Google maps position and he had no idea how to tell us where he was without using landmarks that neither we nor Google recognized. Eventually, Bill found us, he hooked us up to the tow chain and asked Jonathan to steer it on as the wench did its job. Up onto the bed as Jonathan now floated three meters off the ground!
Then came the nerve-rattling mountain descent. Why? Because the truck cab only had two seat, one for Bill and one for Amelia. Jonathan sat cross legged in the space behind the seats like a farm dog, knowing if Bill crashed or even braked hard, he’d go headfirst through the windshield, despite Amelia’s protective arm. He was quite relieved when we arrived at Automotive Solutions. The owner Greg Smith drove us just down the street to inspect the backpackers hostel and book a private room and then helped load up whatever Amelia deemed a necessity for a few days out of the van. He promised to inspect the van before the end of the day to at least determine the problem.
We walked down the street to the shop the following morning and we were informed it was not the clutch issue we suspected but the gearbox. Amelia learned a lot about clutches and gearboxes in the following conversations with Greg. Where there should have been 1.3L of gearbox oil (which is different from engine oil, apparently) was instead only 200mL of burnt, thrashed, cruddy oil. Since there were no signs of leaking or seepage on the gearbox, whoever worked on the van’s gearbox prior was negligent and did not replace the gearbox oil to an appropriate level. Amelia asked how that wasn’t caught during either pre-purchase inspection or the service done in August when we got the engine oil changed. Greg admitted that as a mechanic if he didn’t see any leaking he would probably assume an appropriate level and that every mechanic before us probably did the same. Okay, we agree that’s probably a reasonable assumption for mechanics to make. But what now?
Driving for as long and often as we have been plus whatever the van was put through prior to our ownership on that little amount of oil had completely and utterly destroyed the box. Greg could patch it up for $4,500 or purchase a replacement for $3,500. However, the replacement part was in Christchurch and would not arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday next week. We’d just have to sit tight in Matamata for a few days until it arrived.
But here comes the awesome part of the story. Since the hostel was full for an event in town, Greg handed over the keys to the mechanic shop so we could sleep in our van! And he left his personal shop car so we could drive around town to run errands! Wow! In America that’s a lawsuit or robbery waiting to happen. We’re trusting people but even we thought this was a stretch and Greg was incredible nonchalant about it. A mechanic’s shop is probably our most unique camping spot yet!
When we dropped off the van with Greg, there was a South African man, Victor, who overheard the issues with our van and casually invited us over for a cup of coffee with instructions to just stop by whenever. We dithered back and forth for a while trying to decide if his offer was sincere. Turns out it was and we had a wonderful time playing with their dogs and enjoying the conversation. We learned an important Kiwi-ism: “come over for tea” actually means “come over for dinner/lunch” but “come over for a cup of tea (or ‘cuppa’)” means a hot beverage. This was an important distinction over the next couple of days!
When our automotive plight was announced on Facebook, Amelia’s sister put us in contact with a friend who just happened to be visiting family in Matamata! We don’t believe in coincidence, only God’s providence. Naomi invited us over to her parent’s, Nigel & Kathy, house for a cup of tea (remember the difference?) and let us use their freezer to refreeze our ice. We were invited to attend the Baptist church with them on Sunday, and we were so happy to accept.
During our time in New Zealand, our church attendance may have plummeted, but our faith and reliance on God had increased through daily bible reading and prayer over breakfast. However, God designs us to need and have the community of His people and we enjoy the communal worship with other believers. Having nothing nicer to wear, Jonathan picked the most wrinkle-free nerdy T-shirt which sparked a conversation with Sandra. She and her husband Mike invited us over for tea that evening. The story of our van and resulting semi-homelessness moved Sandra to offer her AirBnB unit to us for free. We spent one night at Sandra & Mike’s home in their guest room and then three nights in their 2 bedroom/1 bathroom unit.
We spent three very lazy days hanging out in the unit. Amelia wasn’t feeling well and Jonathan worked hard to integrate the Interactive Travel Map to our website, so we were quite glad for the rest. Hey, vacationing is hard work!
On Friday, we drove an hour to Hamilton to pick up the gearbox and delivered it back to Greg. He fixed us up in a few hours, we said goodbye to Sandra and Mike (after poaching one more shower off them), and we were set to go on our way!
For independent Americans who padded their budget for such an emergency, we were more than capable of paying for a hotel. However, to refuse the generosity of the Matamata people God had obviously sent to help us would be denying the Holy Spirit his chance to work in their heart and ours. Amelia said the whole week that the Holy Spirit kept telling her “Be humble. Just say thank you.” Back in Houston, we were most often denied the chance to practice the gift of hospitality and the resulting blessing, not from lack of opportunity, but because our hospitality was refused by those too proud to accept. We may not have been “adventuring” but we believe this week has probably been the most memorable and impactful experiences so far.
In honor of the generous Matamata people and God’s unending providence, we dub the van “The Matamata Pinata.” We may not know when it’s gonna bust open, but we know something good will come from it!