There are some people and things which have passionate followings that border on cults. Objects of cults, in alphabetical order of course, could include The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Blackberries, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Elvis, Hula Hoops and Twitter.
The cult I have had most experience with, and am a life member of, is the Westies. No, not the cute dog, the West Highland terrier, but the VW Type 2 camper.
The pop-top Westies are not motor homes. They are just versatile, compact, all-purpose vehicles that moonlight as campers on weekends and during summer holidays. However, our 1973 Westfalia enjoyed a nine-month sabbatical in Europe and North Africa, when there were just the two of us.
What liberty that vehicle provided! For nine months we slept in the same bed every night, but in a different place almost every day. We parked on hilltops, deserted beaches, beside mountain streams, next to airport runways, first in line for the next morning’s ferry, deep in shady forests, within sight of Roman ruins or in the middle of a desert, miles from the nearest roadway.
We once attempted to ford a river in Tunisia. Some French-speaking construction workers were nearby, constructing a replacement bridge for one that had been washed out by a flood. They had told us we ‘may’ cross; I thought they meant we ‘could’.
We couldn’t. One foot of murky water swamped the floor. It took a several-mile tow by an obliging dump truck before the engine was finally coerced to start.
For the next week the engine was difficult to start and ran rough. Finally, it just gave up in Italy. It had to be piggy-backed to the nearest VW dealer. As the rear end was hoisted into the air, a cascade of muddy water poured out of the engine compartment.
The alarmed mechanic and service manager looked at us as if we had an explanation. I mimicked their inquiring gaze, as if it was they who should have an answer. The only response I could muster was “No comprende!”
After several hours of maintenance, we were sent on our way. As if it were a secret ceremony, our copy of the bill was ripped up, wordlessly but reluctantly proclaiming, “No charge, it’s under warranty.”
Another misadventure: because our supply of propane, fresh food and water was depleted, we had to interrupt our idyllic week on a deserted beach on Spain’s Costa del Sol. We set off for a drive to la Linea, the village that shelters in the afternoon shadow of Gibraltar.
The 1600 cc engine of the van is adequate, but not sufficient for drag racing Corvettes or Ferraris. However, on this run I noticed the acceleration was turtle-ish and the ambient noise level was as if we were trying to outrace a P-51 Mustang on takeoff. We couldn’t get it up to highway speed. An impatient line of honking vehicles followed us.
I pulled onto the narrow shoulder to let them by and to try to locate the problem. There was no problem with the engine; I had driven off with the ‘pop-top’ still popped! It was acting like the drag chute of an F-104 Starfighter.
During the next dozen years back home, it served as our main vehicle. Gradually we accumulated three children, a dog and a cat, but the Westy still met our transportation needs.