The roads of Mongolia have claimed another victim. Just a few minutes ago, Mette's red Doblò had a collision similar to our own—some unseen obstacle smashed into the underside of her van. The exhaust system survived, but it seems the motor didn't. Seconds after the impact, her Fiat came chugging to a halt. Now the engine will turn over, but it won't start.
None of us have a clue what has gone wrong, so I suggest we start with the basics: see if the spark plugs are firing. Charlie and I pull a plug connector from the engine – if all is well, we should see some arcing electricity when Mette turns the key. A right pair of idiots we are; we're both holding the plug when she does. A sharp jolt of electricity sends us jumping backwards, shaking our hands, laughing at our stupidity.
Well then! It's clearly not a problem with the spark. My next suggestion is to pull the air filter off so we can pour fuel directly into the air intake. I'm not sure if this will work on a fuel injected car, but I've done it on a carbureted motorcycle, so we give it a go. Rather than unstrapping our jerry cans and trying to find a funnel, I spray in a little WD-40. Mette turns the key and the Fiat comes to life! But only for a second.
The engine runs fine; we're pretty sure now the problem is with the fuel delivery. Mette quickly agrees; she's already had to replace one fuel pump on the trip. Thankfully, it is easily accessible from within the van. It doesn't take long to access the metal hatch, and soon Charlie is removing its screws and the plastic cover that lies below.
A few minutes later, we're all gazing into the fuel tank of the Fiat. Charlie extracts the pump housing and we discover that it has completely exploded. There are parts everywhere. This would seem to fit with the description of the problem: They hit a big bump, the assembly probably shook apart, and then the engine lost power.
Rolling up his sleeves, Charlie fishes around the tank for any missing bits, gas dribbling from his hands as he unearths a pair of metal rods. With everything in hand, we set about trying to re-assemble the puzzle.
The fixing of the Fiat draws quite a crowd. As Tyler and Charlie work, with Mette looking on, a Mongolian man appears out of nowhere. He has arrived, somehow unnoticed, on a motorcycle with a cute, bundled up boy on the back. They observe in silence as the westerners try to fix their car.
I smile and introduce myself, and soon Richie, Mu, and I are hanging out with the pair. The man watches Tim and Freddie playing frisbee as if they are engaged in an alien sport. I smile and ask him with a lot of pointing and miming if he wants to play. He shyly but adamantly shakes his head no.
Instead, Richie fishes out a small paper kite he has brought with him, and gives it to the child. The kid doesn't seem to know what to do with it, but he accepts it seriously, and holds the handle dutifully. Despite the lack of enthusiasm or movement, the kite hangs in the air, the string remaining taught without any coaxing or effort from the boy.
After awhile, the father and son take their leave, communicating to me that after we're through, we should come over for tea! They point towards the ger they call home, and then head out on their motorcycle.
Charlie and Tyler are still troubleshooting. It's about the time when Richie and Freddie offer me a spoonful of their snack: a bit of yellow mustard and a glob of honey on a spoon – that I realize we need to have some real food soon, or we're all going to get irritable and hungry. So, I take out my cooking stuff, plop down on the ground, and begin to make dinner.
I've never cooked for seven people. I doubt our pot will be big enough, but at least everyone will get a little bit. As I chop onions and potatoes, I laugh watching Tim and Mu playing a game. The taxi window is open, and they're a set number of paces away from it. The object is to see who can toss the frisbee through the small opening. Once, they miss their target and the frisbee almost lands in the LRC's open window!
Next, I boil the potatoes in chicken broth, along with some dry grains. Some rosemary, garlic and basil get stirred in, and then I let it cook. The grain puffs up, filling the pot to the very top. I stir in the onions, and they cook, just barely, in the heat of the risotto-like concoction.
Charlie and I have pieces the fuel pump assembly together as best we can. We're not quite sure we've done it right, but everything appears to be slotting into the correct notches and grooves. With a little hesitation, we put it back in the tank to give it a go. We're not sure if we should be concerned about the gas vapors and exposed electrics, so we give the Fiat it a wide birth, wishing Metta well as she turns the key.
No dice. The car still won't start. Maybe they've blown out another fuel pump? We're still not sure how safe it is to be messing around with gas and electrical connections, so I pull the pump out entirely out of the housing, and attach it to a car battery.
The pump immediately comes to life, whirring with a high pitched wine. Charlie and I are now baffled. Neither of us knows enough about cars to determine what the problem is. Is it a pressurized system? Do we need to get an air-tight seal around the pump? Where does the fuel line go under the car? Is it broken? Where does it come into the engine bay?
Not really knowing what else to do, we assemble and install the pump again. The end result is more of the same: the engine cranks, we can hear the pump working, but the Fiat won't start.
Inside the engine bay we trace the fuel line to some wonky adapter we can't figure out how to remove. Charlie and I aren't comfortable forcing it off; so we have no idea if fuel is actually making it to the engine. After fumbling around for several more hours, we finally give up. Neither of us knows enough to make a diagnosis.
Just as the Fiat-fixers have given up hope, I serve up a warm, hearty dinner. Everyone is grateful and I find it immensely gratifying to have been of use in this situation. When everyone is done eating we get the Fiat hooked up to the Taxi for towing.
Off we go, towards the lake, towards tea in a Mongolian ger!