(written 10/24 @ 11PM) I have seen a mototaxi flipped on its side, I've seen (and been) crazy people hanging off them at all angles, I've seen high and low speed turns resulting in a three wheeled vehicle becoming a two wheeled vehicle… and it's all been awesome.
WARNING: This is a long update. ;) Today was action packed!
Today started at Hotel Kiya in the Plaza Constitucion. I decided last night to move out to this hostel Peru Andino because it looked cool and over five days would save me a few bucks. So I packed all my gear, had breakfast (2.50 soles), showered and all that, then grabbed a taxi to the hostel to drop my stuff off around 11AM. The taxi driver didn't know where Pasaje San Antonio in San Carlos was, but that's all good - "lo buscamos!" (we'll search for it). We drove around for 30min asking people if they knew it, got horrible directions a bunch of times, but finally found someone who pointed us in the right direction. After nearly half an hour the taxi driver asks for six soles ($2.50 or so), insane. I gave him ten and he was amazed.
So I arrive at Peru Andino around 11:30AM and grab my room expecting to be speaking some English for the first time in many days since I communicated via e-mail with them via English. Woops, they don't actually speak it. And while their rooms are nice and cheap (30 soles/night, about $12USD), it turns out they don't have internet at all! Ugh.
Dropped off my gear and grabbed a taxi for the 12-2PM mototaxi test drive. And the insanity ensues…
The mototaxi is bigger than I expected, with a long wheel base. Just off the bat, it's different than I'm used to – neutral is at the top, then all the other gears starting at 1 going to 5 are clicked down (more like a race bike, which I've never ridden – street bikes are usually 1 down, neutral between 1 and 2, then 2-5+ up). This resulted in many accidental upshifts for me while trying to downshift and vice versa. Ugh.
Second, between all the junk on the back and the teeny motor, it is REALLY HARD to start moving at first. I was joking around with some of the guys because it really was quite clear that anyone with motorcycle experience had problems, while those without did okay. The thing is, with a real motorcycle you barely slip the clutch at all when taking off from a start, you just let it out pretty quick and let everything catch. With the mototaxi you have to slip the clutch for a good 10-15+ feet at high revs before that 125cc engine has enough torque to keep it spinning without stalling.
Third, the steering. This is insane. The left rear wheel is the only drive wheel, so right off the bat it wants to pull right all the time. Any time you turn hard left, this wheel comes up and you lose power and everything goes wrong. Worse, because the mototaxi doesn't lean (well, it does, but not like a bike) you have to steer this thing like a broken car, and it always feels like it's going to fall over. There's truly no way to describe this feeling. I could not believe it at first.
A lot of us spent this period of time just zooming around and getting the feel for it, with probably 50% of everyone's seat time spent trying to start it or get it to move forward in first gear, heh. It was really cool to meet a bunch of the people (about 20 the first time), from all over the world, and have this amazing unique thing in common with them.
Around 2PM we closed out until the 4-6PM driving period, so I decided to walk the 1.5miles or so back to my hostel and see the city. It's really nice, all things considered – if somehow you could get rid of all the dirt and dust it would be a pretty cool place. Grabbed some empanadas on the way (still not better the Julia's – the crust was better this time though, just the filling didn't add up) for lunch and made it back to the hostel okay.
Oh, I should explain – I tagged a waypoint on my GPS datalogger at the hotel and at the school where we were driving, so I knew how far and which direction to go (though not the route). It's a cool compromise between being "lost" (not knowing which street to take) and being lost (not having any points of reference). This served me well today. Random: The park by my place is called "Tupac Amaru Park" and nearby there is graffiti of a giant Tupac head. Weird.
Anyway, after chillin' for a bit I walked back for more fun. The evening session was awesome – everyone had a LOT more confidence, and really the entire thing felt completely different (at least those of us that drove in the morning). No problems with stalling, less jitters, more fun with turning, and before you know it everyone was making high speed sweeping turns and doing crazy stuff.
At this point, I started really getting in on the action with both my video and my normal camera. People zooming without a few feet of my while I took pics/vids and all that good stuff – it was a ton of fun. I tried to get some vid of myself driving but it was just too rough for my little gorillapod to handle, it kept coming lose and the camera would bounce around (need to find a solution there).
Then I ended up going for a ride with Rachel (I think, I'm horrible with names), and it all went downhill quite fast. I spent the better part of an hour hanging off the back of a mototaxi leaning every which way (almost tipped it a few times) taking crazy video. I got a chance to review some of the footage tonight and I think I'm going to have a great ~5min highlight reel from all that. Intense fun.
Right before 6PM, in the midst of all this carnage and fun, the skies opened up – pouring INSANE rain. We all had to huddle up in this shelter for what felt like hours until it calmed down enough for us to run for the nearest major street and get taxis. I shared a cab back to Plaza Constitucion with Rachel & Dave (I think, again, names) then bought an umbrella from a street lady for 10 soles and hung out at Los Balcones for a bit. After that it was a quick walk to the Plaza Huamanacaro (I'm sure I'm remembering that wrong) for the first big meetup.
This was pretty sweet – had to have been 50 or so of us there, lots of people I hadn't met during the day, and it was really cool all in all. The organizers explained some of the drama (apparently some high up at Honda decided at the last minute he didn't want the Honda name associated with the Adventurist stuff because we were crazy), talked about alternate options (early dropoffs in Bolivia/etc. for people that are running slow and need to get to Asuncion to fly out), the schedule, and answered lots of questions from the audience.
I found out there are three other people, out of apparently 60+ teams, who are as crazy as I am and are also going solo. Even crazier – two of them are women. That is cool as hell, I have to admit. The four of us are (theoretically, if I can get up) meeting at 9AM tomorrow to discuss the possibility of working together, though I haven't decided yet how I feel about all that!
Okay, end of the night, I walked home (another 2 miles or so), grabbed dinner at a polleria again (this time, 8 soles for a quarter chicken, papas, and an Inka Kola). Got back to my hostel and was chilling when I heard a bunch of people come in – after a bit I popped my head out and it turned out to be four guys who are also doing this mototaxi goodness, so I spent awhile talking with them about it and filling them in before they took off to find some dinner and I went to finish this up and hit the sack.
I'm a little bit peeved that they don't have internet here, and that it's close to two miles from all the action. I think tomorrow I may check downtown and see if Hotel Kiya still has rooms – I have to admit, 28 soles/night ($8) seems like a very small price to pay to have internet and my own shower/bathroom and not have to walk miles to get to all the good stuff (I could taxi it but that's lame).
Tomorrow: Should be a little more chill. Up early to talk with those crazy solo people, then over to the massive street market, then at 2PM we have an organized local sporting event, then later around 6PM a huge party for everyone. Somewhere in there I need to buy a helmet and maybe some extra t-shirts and all that jazz. On second thought, maybe it won't be so chill…