Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Most Dangerous Road

It was a sunny morning on the 24th of May, Livingstone was descending a smooth hill and playing Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" on the radio. The landscapes past the guard-rail revealed ranges of foggy mountains that evoked the image of Juan Valdez's idyllic coffee plantations; my heart was swelling, ready to meet Mr. Salgado (collector of classic vehicles in Bogotá) and do some more maintenance on the car to confront the dreadful Andes.

Straight out of nowhere, I found a two-axle truck on the opposite lane bordering a closed curve, taking a good chunk of my own lane. For that matter, I did what any sensible person would have: get out of the truck's way and step on the shoulder. Unfortunately, it is a general rule that many Colombian mountain roads have concrete water channels that drain rainwater out of the pavement. Before I could get over my grumpiness about the careless truck driver, my two right wheels entered one of these ditches and the steering wheel became rock hard.

Before I had any time to even reason what was going on, the car swerved violently to the left onto the incoming traffic. Much to my dismay, a white Kenworth eighteen-wheeler was approaching the car, and dodged the Mercedes just in time to avoid a front collision. Still, the car bent the aluminium bumper of the truck, and cracked its fiberglass mud-guard.

Many times people will say that in car accidents, the victims see their life flash before their eyes. In my case, I did not see any flashes other than a rotund "(I AM) NOT (DYING) TODAY". Despite seeing the monstrous truck face-to-face and had zero control of the car's damaged suspension, I had no panic. My body tensed, I got ready for what I had to face, whatever it would be.

The vehicle darted into the left shoulder, and kept its trajectory over a ditch and a tree stump, which made the car flip. Somewhere in this chaos, as I was seeing the world turn around my windshield, a pillow positioned itself neatly in front of the steering wheel shorty before the final crash. On this strong impact, my face buried into the soft foam, and there was silence.

Well, not quite. With everything that had happened, the vehicle was still running.

I pulled my head out of the pillow to see my surroundings. I wiggled my toes, contracted my thighs, looked at my chest, felt my face. Everything was okay, except for some numbness down my back.

"Ooooh, shut up now", I whispered (yes, I actually said this), as I turned off the ignition switch. The engine kept running for twenty more seconds before it starved on fuel... or seized. I found myself neatly seated in front of a broken windshield, and looked outside the window. Forest. And upwards, a still ceiling of water. The impact had altered my equilibrium so much, only then I noticed I was upside down, suspended above a rainwater reservoir. I heard screams in the distance.

"An accident!", someone said. I cranked down the window and yelled back "I am alive!". The voice asked if I had any passengers. "Just me", I replied. The back pain was beginning to intensify, but as soon as I started cranking the window open, a man came and broke it in a million pieces. He took both my wrists and pulled me out into the mud, and together we walked towards a crowd of twenty or so people. A bottle of Gatorade landed right in my hand as I barely mustered any words to answer all the questions I was bombarded with...

"Are you okay?"
"Where does it hurt?"
"Are you the only one in the car?"
"Do you have any family to notify?"

As I lied there, on the ground, I positioned myself in a more comfortable position (similar to a woman giving birth) and I pulled out my passport. A nurse came to take my blood pressure and listen to my chest. Everything seemed fine, but I still needed an ambulance. My back was beginning to swell, and it hurt very strongly. I asked a roadside worker to take some pictures of the scene...

Seldom one can live to tell tell one hit an eighteen-wheeler AND a concrete wall on the same crash!
While we are at it, notice that both flex discs were new Lemfoërder units.
Absolutely unrecognizable face of Livinstone. The front and the rear left panel took the absolute worst.
After I got outside the driver's window, I lied on what remained of my storage compartment.

The ambulance had to drive 75km to get to the crash site. They picked me up promptly, and drove back for hour and a half of speed bumps and potholes that only intensified the pain. Still, I asked the guy sitting next to me to take a picture "to let my friends in Facebook know that I was okay".

In pain, but still shockingly handsome.
Right in the hospital I waited on the stretcher for close to forty minutes of twisting back pain. "God, someone please give me a painkiller, an analgesic, something!". I was wheeled down next to a bed, where I was relieved to lie on a soft surface. A nurse came to ask a few general questions, but soon she started mixing her own moral views in the interrogation. In short, she was wondering why I was not married, why –shortly after graduating from university- I was traveling instead of working, and why in the world I had chosen to do it by car rather than plane. "The thing is, I just wouldn't want it any other way", I replied with the little bravado I could muster.

A policeman came to talk to me. He took my documents and made copies, then he showed up with an alcohol breathalyzer to test if the accident was a result of alcohol. Many of the tourists my age come to Colombia to party and drink like crazy, so I could not blame him for mistaking me for the average irresponsible gringo. I gave a report of the events and continued to get some X-Rays.

By some miracle, my skeleton came out unscathed from all that crumpled metal. I have two scratches shallower than anything a cat could have done, and a bruise on my arm. How I could have survived all of that, is a mystery. I got out of the hospital in 5 hours with a warm meal in my belly.

Out of the hospital, the truck driver was waiting. He shook my hand with a beaming smile, he was genuinely glad that his maneuver had saved my life. We drove to the police station, where we saw both vehicles and filed a report. I was beyond impressed by the sheer destruction in mine... it was unuseable even as a parts car. Everything down to my glasses, sitting in the glove-box at the time of the crash, had been shattered.

I got to the hostel in Medellín at 11pm, where my backpacker friends were waiting to hear the news. I was received with energetic hand shakes and tender hugs, many drank to my health. And I was just there, confused, staring into the television, still wondering what had happened. I always disliked the overly sexist hip hop music programs that were aired every night, but that night I was beyond glad to be alive and feel this dislike again, to feel anything at all, to touch the wood burls on my chair, taste a cold glass of orange juice, or look up at the moon, high up in the night.

What will be next? We will have to wait for events to unfold. Two days later, my body keeps recovering without any signs of hidden damage. I contacted Mercedes-Benz to see if they would be interested in the story, and would help me continue the expedition. If not, I will take a break and return to Spain to start my business. Let's see how things go!

Doing great a few days later... the car, unfortunately, is a total loss.


  1. So glad you are fine out of this mess. Miguel, I hope that the MB gods will allow you to keep going with your travel, otherwise life will keep it's course.
    Be well and keep writing. Well wishes from NJ.

  2. So glad you are alive. We hope all goes well with Mercedes. We'll ask around in our neck of the woods and see if we find anything about sponsorships. Good luck!!

  3. Welcome to my world of pain Miguel ;

    I hope you're just bruised , please do take it easy until you know the full extent of your spine's condition .

    Too bad about Livingston but , I see plnety of good parts there , so will the local Junkyardies .


  4. Wow.
    SO glad that you are okay through it all!!

    Im almost certain that our bus in the same circumstance would have met its end (and ours) well before making it to the wall. Glad luck was with you on that day.

    Not sure it's any help, certainly in terms of location...but we happen to have been staring at a 1970s-ish merc for sale across the street. Not sure you want a do over from portland, but its an option (and we'd love a chance to meet you since we kept missing each other en route)!

    heal well!

  5. I am a follower of Expedition Portal. I recently read about your MB 330TD crash. The pictures look as though no one could ever survive such as crash...Glad to hear that you are alive and well. In the mid 1980's, my mom hit a truck head-on with a MB 300TD like yours, only this MB was imported from Germany. A few scratches and stitches were needed to my mom and little brother. The car was wrecked 100%, but they are alive today and would probably be dead, if in another car. Say, you seem to be a classic car type, but if you are interested, I have for sale a 2003 F350 Super Duty 7.3 liter V-8 Diesel, located in Junin de los Andes, Argentina. My contact info Gracias y Saludos, Mark

  6. Miguel,

    I am an Expo ¨In Progress¨traveller, (Wherethehellismurph, 3 Wheels, 7 Continents, 7 Years) and am shocked and saddened at your and Livingstons incredible but fortunate accident. I feel a similiar fate could happen to me as i travel on my Motorcycle sidecar, but I doubt I would have faired as well as you.
    Unreal as I keep (morbidly maybe) looking at the pictures over and over again, marveling that you got out of the destruction that was Livingston.
    Unfortunatly, no magic words of wisdom for you, I hate them anyway, but regards from another RTW solo voyager currently in Finland.


  7. an incredible story, hopefully a sponsor will step up and help.