Being a good big brother, I agreed to be my family’s driver for a “Jeep Tour” my sister saw advertised in our resort. There are no Jeeps in Cuba. Instead, there are things called the Zotye Hunter 1.3i – a Chinese SUV that resembles a Geo Tracker and is constructed from washing-machine parts.
It’s got a 1.3L engine with about 9 horsepower, a five-speed stick and rear-wheel drive. Inside, the Hunter (we determined it was a 2010) was styled and trimmed like a ‘91 Ford Tempo. Pieces of interior trim that hadn’t fallen off were mostly beige, or spray-painted (poorly) with silver.
The radio was busted. The door handles were both missing. The paneling was gouged as if it had served duty as a scratching board for angry raccoons. The list goes on.
So a few hours into the “Jeep Tour”, I’m at the bottom of this huge mountain amidst a rolling pack of crappy Chinese machinery and sweaty tourists. Even my brother, a Tacoma owner and avid off-roader, quietly muttered an expletive when he saw this hill.
I’m bad with heights. Especially from the driver’s seat. And the Hunter had felt like it was falling apart faster than Joan Rivers’ facelift all day long. Translation? There was no confidence.
But I couldn’t let the fam down. No, I, Justin Pritchard, had this.
Give the other vehicles plenty of room, keep it in first gear, and hammer it. Air conditioning off, of course.
But two thirds of the way up this mountainside, the Hunter started losing power, hard.
“FLOOR IT!! FLOOR IT!!!” everyone yelled. My brother was shaking my seat to drill the point home. All I could see was the sky. I was about to have an aneurism and possibly wet myself.
If we stopped before cresting the hill, this machine would never get moving again. I’d have to reverse down the mountain and the brakes would fail and we’d all roll down the hill and wind up a mangled mess of Chinese scrap metal and tourist guts.
Right before the Hunter finally pukes to a halt, the clutch slips aggressively, pouring putrid smoke into the cabin as the revs climbed and the vehicle slowed. I clutched in, hit the brakes and stopped. My world was now a poorly-built Chinese death-box full of screaming siblings and clutch smoke and anger.
|Photo: Justin Pritchard/Auto123.com|
Tour guide guy didn’t look impressed. He’d run from the bottom of the mountain to yell at me about my driving skills while I held the brakes and hoped the Zotye would stay glued to the hillside.
I try to get it moving again. The clutch slips. The handbrake won’t hold it in place. We wind up farther back down the hill. Then tour guide guy commands me out of the Hunter so he can give it a try.
I set the thing in first gear and ease cautiously off of the brakes—given the frightening incline it’s parked on. Then I get out and tour guide guy gets in, sort of at the same time.
Then, it happens.
With nobody manning the brakes, gravity gets the best of the Hunter, and it begins chugging backwards down the hill. You could hear the pistons moving, since it was still in gear. I dive for the brake pedal from just outside the vehicle, picturing my family strapped into the driverless vehicle and rolling down the hill.
Tour guide guy dives for the brake pedal, too – knocking me over in the confusion. My left leg slips on the dirt and winds up under the Hunter—3 feet at best from the front driver’s side tire that’s coming straight for my shin.
Thankfully, my brother saw the whole thing panning out and jumped hands-first onto the brake pedal. So I kept my leg. And eventually the tour guide got the stupid machine moving again by clutch-stabbing the hell out of it.
So I walked the rest of the way up the hill. With my legs, that I’d (narrowly) kept. Good thing we don’t have Zotye Hunters here in Canada. Cause I never want to see one again.