I've had a number of memorable breakdowns over the years, but there's one that really stands out, even though it happened a very long time ago: in January, 1975. I was spending some time in Europe, visiting a friend in Paris. It was winter, and it was cold. Determined to seek a warmer climate, I asked my friend's advice, and he gave me a great tip. Back in those days, it was common for travelers seeking rides, and for vehicle owners seeking riders, to congregate in front of the local American Express office (which also served as a defacto post office for many travelers). There were always a few people, mostly young, backpacker types, standing about holding hand lettered signs: "Ride needed to Amsterdam", or "Riders needed to Spain". I saw a sign that said exactly that on my first try. Spain was south! It had to be warmer! So I approached the young guy holding the sign. His name was Scott, he was from Colorado, he'd purchased a used VW microbus in Amsterdam, and he was looking for three or four people to share the cost of gas on a jaunt down to the Costa del Sol. (Gas was $5 a gallon even in those days, so finding riders to share the gas was an attractive option). I signed up, quick as a blink, and what followed was quite an adventure.

There were five of us at first: Scott and myself, an American couple, and a mysterious young guy from Bolivia. We drove south from Paris, spent Christmas in Andorra, the tiny country in the Pyrenees, then drove on to Barcelona and south along the coast. The other three riders struck off on their own after the first few days, but Scott and I stuck together and spent a month touring Spain in the VW bus, which was rigged as a camper. Saw the Alhambra, old Seville, Cordoba, and so much more. The amazing Moorish architecture in southern Spain gave us the idea to head to Morocco, so we loaded the bus on a ferry, and crossed the straits of Gibraltar from Europe to North Africa.

Morocco was amazing, like stepping back in time. We spent a month driving all over the place, the Atlas Mountains, the ancient city of Fez, Berber villages on the edge of the Sahara. In the southernmost part of the country, we came across this sign:

Translated: Timbuktoo, 52 Days (by camel caravan across the desert). Scott was intrigued, and he got the wild idea that he should trade in the bus for a camel, and join a caravan! So off we went north to Marrakesh, where they had a big camel market. The trusty little bus had apparently understood what was going on, and didn't like it a bit. About two hours south of Marrakesh, in the middle of nowhere, on an empty Moroccan highway surrounded by sand dunes, that plucky VW committed suicide, rather than suffer being traded for a camel. There was a horrible racket and the bus clanked to a halt, black smoke pouring from the engine, and hot oil dripping on the road. That engine was toast. Burned toast, at that. It had been an hour since we'd seen another vehicle.

So, there we stood, off to one side, scratching our heads, wondering if we, too, were going to die out there. As if by miracle, from out of nowhere, a flatbed truck appeared, carrying a dozen men on the back. The truck pulled up beside us and stopped. Scott explained the situation, in halting French. The twelve guys jumped down off the truck, surrounded the VW bus, and PHYSICALLY LIFTED that vehicle onto the the back of the flat bed! I still don't believe it myself, and I was there!

The story grows long, so I'll speed it up: They gave us a ride to Marrakesh, and deposited the bus at a local garage. A few days later, Scott and I parted ways, me, back north to Paris, while he dealt with his dead vehicle. I heard from him later: they never did fix it, so he sold it for scrap. That wasn't enough to buy a camel, so he flew south into Africa instead.