I've got a couple riddles for you. How many passengers can you fit in a Toyota Landcruiser? And how many in the back of a Toyota Dyna flatbed truck?
While you think about your answers, allow me to reminisce a bit. Back in 1986, my family took a summer trip to Colorado, and one of the most memorable days was spent four-wheeling through the Rocky Mountains along the dirt roads in a rented Jeep. All the bumps, the loose gravel, and the precarious cliffs have long been forgotten, at least by me, and I think we all remember the day as a grand adventure.
Here at Lumi, every trip in the school truck is an adventure.
One of the first lessons I learned about trips with the truck is to allow plenty of time. Invariably they will take longer than you expect.
Yesterday, a celebration was planned in Mewaute, the home village for four teachers on Lumi High School's staff. School was cancelled for Thursday and Friday to my irritation as it disrupted two tests of mine. A large portion of the students, staff, and their families went.
I don't know what Toyota recommends for passenger limits on their vehicles, but it's safe to say we exceeded them on both the Landcruiser and the Dyna. The flatbed of the Dyna was not built for riding comfort in the first place. You bounce up and down on the wood floor and clutch the metal sides of the box. After my first extended ride in the Dyna, I had knots in my back for several days. I stood yesterday. It's like water skiing. You grasp the roll bar tightly and try to let your knees absorb the jolts.
Behind me, the floor was covered with people: mothers with infants, toddlers, and students. I counted 55 passengers in the back alone, with another five in the cab. But my count was probably off. It was hard to keep my spot in the swarm of bodies as my head bounced and my eyes rattled.
The road would delight a mountain biker or a mountain goat. It had more potholes, mud banks, and ravines than most field roads in Minnesota. Plus, it was steep and narrow.
The vintage model Landcruiser led with three people in front and 25 in back. A pleasant diversion for us in the truck was to watch the Landcruiser sway back and forth as it clambered along. Several times my neighbor yelled, "capsidim nau!" But, even though it tilted and leaned, it never capsized. At one point, the passengers had to unload to avoid tipping and at another it stalled in a mud puddle. The Dyna got hung up twice as well, but each time the driver freed us by rocking back and forth, by revving the engine heavily, and by burning a little life out of the engine.
Mewaute is higher in the mountain range that separates Lumi from Aitape. The scenery was beautiful, but the celebration had been cancelled, due to an incident in the village.
At 5 p.m., we headed back, but we had three trips for the truck and not much daylight. I chose to walk and wait for a second trip. It was a pleasant time to descend the mountain ridge. With a slight breeze to cool us and the sun's heat fading, I enjoyed a better view than the momentary glimpses on the way up. I love the rugged landscape here. I'm fascinated with the clouds that form around the mountains.
As the pale colors of the setting sun illuminated one corner of the sky and the curved slopes of the hills turned to slate grey, twin columns of teachers and students walked briskly along in silence as the stars emerged. The truck met us in the darkness at 7:30 p.m.
So back to those riddles. You could probably cram more than 25 passengers into the back of a Landcruiser, but it'd be really risky. The key is to make it a convertible by removing the roof and having the passengers stand in the back.
On the way to Mewaute, I thought 55 was the maximum for a Dyna. But when the truck picked me up last night, I counted 60 full-sized people in the back, no kids. And then we picked up a dozen more students along the way! Clinging to the back of the cab was a dangerous mosh pit. We tried to stand, we clung to our neighbors, and we rejoiced at returning to the school and the end of another adventure.
(Michael Jacobson was a reporter for the Paynesville Press before joining the Peace Corps.)
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