Silence…seconds felt like hours. Eloïse finally broke the tension, “you should have called two years ago” she said. I played my hand and lost, fair and square. Her answer felt like dropping a 20kg backpack after a long hike. She moved on, and so should I.
No reason to stay is a good reason to go. I started packing to go home, Montreal. The plan was to buy a van and convert it to a home on wheels. I had to forget Eloïse. Explore the Americas in a van seemed like the best option.
Gran Canaria was beautiful and leaving it difficult. I had friends and family in Montreal and it’s always a blessing to reunite with loved ones. I made arrangements to visit a van soon after landing. I knew nothing about cars, this would be my first. I needed a good mechanic. Someone to counsel and help me through the process.
I met Ibra through a friend. Ibra is a Senegalese entrepreneur and a mechanic by training, Mister Solution I call him. He buys damaged cars for cheap in Canada, repairs them, and exports them to Senegal for profit. The first time I met him, he was talking Wolof on the phone, a fat joint between his lips. Ibra paid me no mind. He didn’t seem to care about my project. I needed reassurance and found anxiety instead.
He hung up after twenty minutes and started speaking to me. As we got there, he told me all the things I should be watching for. Ibra spoke in a soft and confident tone, the tone of knowledge and experience. I immediately felt better. When I saw the van, I was carried away by excitement; it’s getting real! The salesman was too talkative for someone selling a good product. Ibra and I walked inside the 7-meter cargo van, then went for a test drive. I insisted he drove.
Ibra managed the beast without rear-view mirror, on the highway, and through narrow alleys. He listened to every noise like a sound engineer tuning his system. I kept quiet. On the way back to the salesman, Ibra mentioned the van’s issues. There were many: weak rear brakes, defective turbo, crooked wheel etc. He slid under the van and spotted an oil leak. Things started to add up: the rust, the leak, the brakes, the pushy salesman…
To reach Patagonia, I needed a solid vehicle. First, I had to repair the van, make it mechanically sound, then build a freaking house inside it. Realizing my incompetence, I started having second thoughts. I was far, far away from my goal. Doubt and anxiety were creeping in.
The next morning we had another visit. Ibra picked me up, barely awake, a huge joint hanging from his hips. His ability to function high impressed me. We parked at the dealers’, and he sleepwalked around the van, his joint still in hand. Nonchalant yet accurate and meticulous, he scanned everything he laid his eyes on.
Mastery works in similar ways. No matter the skill or field, an expert makes his work look easy. As if they put no efforts into it. Like a monkey swinging through the branches, his every move flowing with grace and ease.
Meanwhile, I tried to befriend the dealer, a grumpy old man. Building report facilitates negotiation. With much enthusiasm, I told him about my upcoming adventure. He was not impressed. He said that I am young and he is old, that he cannot do that sort of things. An awkward silence ensued…epic fail! I tried a different angle and asked him about his own travels. Everyone had traveled at some point in their life.
Bit by bit, the old man told me about his travels. His eyes lightened when he spoke about his hippie days. In the 70s, he road tripped with his friends, in a VW kombi, from Canada to Panama; when they were young, wild, and broke. He was remembering the good times, smiling to his memories. He suggested we took the van for a test drive.
Ibra jumped behind the wheel. On a long straight road, he pushed on the gas. We were at 130 km/h on a long straight road. Uphill, he pushed on the gas and the van roared louder. Suddenly, I had a vision. I was driving on a lonely desert road stretched over the horizon. My right hand on the wheel, the left feeling the wind. I was cruising through immensity, singing Like a Rolling Stone.
I started to like it, not the van in itself but the bigger picture. To explore the unknown, to live this crazy adventure, to build something from scratch, to jump in headfirst. Excitement took over doubts. I was hooked. There was no going back.
We left the dealer happy with our visit. On the way back, Ibra stopped at an auto parts shop. I watched him talk to the guy behind the counter. He ordered a dozen parts I couldn’t even spell, amazing! It was the first time I walked into an auto parts shop, at 29 years old. I was entering a whole new world, an exciting world. Every step was a learning experience. I felt like a child learning to walk for the first time. It felt good, so far away from my boring corporate job.
Ibra dropped me home. I was about share my crazy new project with my parents, an eccentric adventure for their conservative lifestyle. I swallowed the knot in my throat and opened the door.