Now I know several people were betting on when our van would die, and those who picked France almost got lucky. After Andorra, we had two more high passes until the terrain finally flattened out somewhat. After the last pass, we were coasting into a village when the van started making a disturbingly loud thunk thunk. I pulled it over and looked at the engine to see if if anything obvious had gone wrong. I’m not a totally shit mechanic, though having your own garage and mechanical team when I was working at the mines encouraged laziness and a cavalier attitude to driving in what I considered a personal rally park. I know how engines work and what each part does, but things that go wrong under the engine case I hold my hands up, and it sounded like it was coming from inside there. I adjusted one of the air intake seals that had slipped down and gingerly tried it again. The sound briefly went away, possibly because of cooling down, but returned under load after a few kilometers. We decided to coast downhill to the bigger village of Limoux and look for a mechanic. It was about half past eight on a friday night but we saw one open and still working who agreed to take a look. He reckoned it was the piston valve that wasnt closing properly on our forth cylinder, and said (at least I thought he did, he spoke only French) he could try to adjust it in the morning. The oil was low which was probably the cause. Id been checking every couple of days and it had stayed steady for a two weeks between the high and low marks, but something must have happened in the last day or two to make it lose quite a bit, grumbling up hairpin bends can’t have helped. He was a talkative bloke, Francoise, who rambled for hours in french with barely a comma, despite the fact that we have only the basic grasp of the language, telling us about his divorce, his two girls in university and something about cancer. It doesnt pay to offend your mechanic so we listened politely to almost midnight and then slept in the van on his lot.
The next day we waited to after lunch when he got underneath and fiddled while cranked it off an on for him. He said the valve wasnt closing and it would need the whole engine out. He could start next week. 80 euros lighter for just two hours work Karina and I drove out to the camping ground promising to come back monday. As we pulled into the entrance doubts began to creep in. The noise had gone away and the van actually didn’t seem to have lost any power. The prospect of hanging out for an indeterminite number of days in the village while he tinkered away with the meter running didn’t exactly thrill us, so we decided rather adultly:”fuck it”, and to drive to Carcasonne, about 30km away to the north. If the sound returned so would we. As fate would have it, the van seemed to cruise to Carcossone in good order, though at one point I thought I heard a phantom noise that turned out to be cicadas in the fields nearby. Carcassone is a beautiful fortress on the hill from the outside. Inside it’s like medieval world at Disney. I had a beer to calm the nerves and quench the thirst as the day developed into a scorcher. We typed the coastal town of Agde into our GPS, and I followed the pink line through the baking vinyards of the Roussilon. It looked like our Capybara would live to fight another day