Friday, 10 August 2012
Day 131 - Trevor's Revenge. (Kazakhstan)
Except for a couple of minor setbacks (the car being broken into being the main one, leaving our frying pan at our apartment in Almaty being one of the many more insignificant ones) we have been greatly enjoying Kazakhstan. Trevor however doesn’t seem to be having a good time at all.
We got him a new window and Denner fixed him up really well, but a couple of days ago we were exploring Astana and we found ourselves in the empty car park of a velodrome when Trevor decided to get his revenge on us for not parking him securely. Ben was driving and it was quite embarrassing when he wasn’t able to start the car. It then became worrying when none of us could start the car. Blaming it on the angle Ben had parked at, it seemed that the steering wheel lock was jammed and no amount of jiggling or pushing or turning could get it un-jammed. Denner got the trim off the steering wheel and had a look through the manual, but couldn’t find anything along the lines of how to fix jammed steering locks. The design is such that the mechanism cannot just be gotten into (thus negating the point of it in the first place), so Ben came up with the ingenious plan of giving the casing around the mechanism a good thumping. It seemed a bit stupid, but after an hour or so of fiddling and fumbling we were actually getting quite desperate. So as designated thumper, Tunkles got right in there with the sturdiest object in the car – ironically the tool kit was at our accommodation because we’re not leaving anything in the car since the recent theft incident, so the heaviest metal object we could find was our steering wheel lock. After a few minutes of slamming and beating, a Kazakh man who had been watching from a distance for some time came over and started talking to us in Russian. As always we apologised and told him “Niet Ruski”, and quite frustrated at his timing we tried to ignore him and encourage Tunkles in his bashing. This guy was pretty adamant that he would help though, so pushing Tunkles out of his way he jiggled the keys in the ignition, gave the wheel a bit of a yank (exactly what we’d been doing in the very first place) and with a smug grin on his face started the car. He got lucky timing – Tunkles’ work was what actually fixed it, but it didn’t really matter - the point was we got the car started.
Off to Asia Park shopping centre as previously planned. We turned into the car park, still scoffing at that smug little man that came over at exactly the right time and started the ignition first go. Ben parked the car right in front of the entrance, and as he switched the engine off, realised the steering had locked again. We couldn’t believe it – he had parked at exactly the same angle and done it again! We were pretty sure we knew what to do this time though, so Denner took the trim off the steering wheel again and Tunkles got in there with the metal steering wheel lock. It didn’t seem to be working quite as easily this time though, and after a little while we started taking it in turns to give it a go. One method that we were sure would work was Ben doing the hard work, and Tunkles meandering upto the car and in his best Russian accent insisting that he knew how to do it better than us. It didn’t work quite as well as it did with the real deal though. Then we decided to go and do the shopping and when we came back out we would pretend nothing had happened and we’d be able to trick Trevor into starting just like normal. This didn’t go according to plan either. Tunkles did a series of un-PC impersonations, but none of those characters could start our car either. As always, a variety of spectators will want to give their two cents. One guy wanted to disconnect the battery. That didn’t solve anything. We got a guy with a broken arm to turn the key, thinking he might have the same super powers as the first guy. That didn’t work either. A policeman and an army officer came up and demanded passports, bugged us with a whole lot of questions and just generally hassled us. And the whole time we took it in turns to try different combinations of bashing the lock with the lock and turning the wheel.
Eventually we realised that much to our disappointment we would have to get some help. We couldn’t take the car anywhere, so we needed some sort of call out service, and having tried so hard ourselves for over two hours, it was now after 9pm. Of course at this point we didn’t have any spectators who we could ask for help, so Tunkles went inside the shopping centre to ask the English speaking lady on the information desk for help. She was happy to make a phone call for us, but didn’t have a phone number, or know anything about available call out mechanic services.
The guy in Almaty who helped us find the new window for Trevor had insisted we call him if we need any help, so deciding to take him up on the offer Tunkles got on the phone. We were expecting him to give us a phone number for some sort of RACV/AA (roadside assistance) type service who would probably charge us a million dollars to come and take a look, then tow us somewhere for another million dollars, and then probably leave us to figure it out ourselves anyway. Instead though he called us back after ten minutes to tell us that he’d been on the phone to an auto locksmith in Astana who he had explained our problem to. This guy was going to ring us in a few minutes to get our location and licence plate etc and would come out to us, start the car so we could go home, and fix it the following day. The phone call we received a wee while later was from the guy’s nephew who spoke a little English, and we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament when we found out it was going to cost $200. Because of the whole language barrier issue it was very difficult to understand him entirely, and questions weren’t really possible, but we gathered this was the cost of the call out and getting the car started there and then. We assumed we would then have to pay for it to be fixed the next day as well. We considered cancelling him and trying a couple of other resources we could think of, but it was now 10pm or so and this guy was already on his way, so we decided just to go with it, get home, and re-assess in the morning whether to go with this guy depending on how it went, or try and do something else.
In the meantime the policeman and army officer had reappeared, obviously completely bored by their guarding the shopping centre car park posting. They didn’t speak a word of English, but by using the dusty back window as a drawing board, we established that they were school buddies, now 26 years old. They wanted to know how much our car was worth, they asked about our trip, and made various comments about kangaroos and Olympics.
A beat up maroon Audi rocked up half an hour later, and out of it appeared the uncle of the guy on the phone; all big belly, bald head, rosy cheeks and smiles. With him was the locksmith; tall, dark and all business. He got straight to work while we chatted in sounds and hand signals (the dusty window was full) with the smiley fat guy, the policeman and the army officer, and ten minutes later the key barrel was out and the car was starting with a screwdriver. The smiley fat guy and the all business locksmith would follow us home, take the key barrel away with them overnight, and return it the following day, as good as new. We ascertained that the $200 was in fact for the entire job, which considering the 10pm callout, coming to our accommodation twice, basically overnight service and general efficiency and professionalism, was a price we were more than happy to pay.
So the good news is that we now have a refurbished key barrel, two new keys which work splendidly (our old ones are getting pretty worn and unlocking certain doors was becoming increasingly more difficult), and the problem was nothing to do with Ben’s parking.