Aug 16 2010

When the Junket begins to finish

This summer I’ve been in charge of an Adventurists event, a several thousand kilometre mototaxi race across the Andes, from Cuzco in Peru to Asuncion in Paraguay. Here’s the latest report:

Two weeks ago an explosion of colour emerged from Cuzco, very very slowly. 31 mototaxis coughed and spluttered eastwards towards the Bolivian border, riders a’ smiling, flags a’ waving, engines a’ running-out-of-petrol. Nerves evaporated as dust flew up nostrils and roads climbed skywards. One team, their mototaxi clothed in Elvis decals, ignored instructions and headed south to meet their fate at a Chilean border post. The rest, the sensible ones, were rewarded with two days in no mans land between Peru and Bolivia. Many trees were felled to cope with the demands of paper-hungry officials, and then our topsy-taxi drivers were off again, dispersing across the altiplano.
 
At the other end I waited, preparing Asuncion for an influx of strange road craft. Reports filtered in of dynamite, strikes, rollovers and nights spent in barns and hotels made from salt. The Argentinian border swallowed some more mototaxis, and then some more. Just one team bounced off said border, not letting roads of sand and brittle wheels halt their progress. This team had left Cuzco swathed in potato sacks, natural clobber for the Irish. They would not be stopped, not even by the fashion police.
 
The 14th came, the day of reckoning. Banners were hoisted, balloons blown. To be honest, mototaxis were not expected. Our first teams arrived on foot, glumly relaying tales of border-hate. They drank. We waited. We discussed the likilhood of anyone making it alive. And then the sound of an engine.
 
Two dirty men climbed from their mototaxi, grins wide enough to allow the passage of a potato. It hadn’t been a race, until now, for before us stood the winners! Team Spuds, presented with beers, began to speak of their adventures. We couldn’t understand them, so we simply began to drink.
junket1
 
More teams arrived, but again they were dragging their feet. Mototaxis detained in Bolvia by angry men with dynamite. Exploding engines in Santa Cruz. Soft excuses like that. The party began, Team Spuds revelling in their unique standing, spreading jealousy throughout the ranks. The night drew on and it seemed that only one teams would make it on Finish Line Day. And then there were cheers.
 
I peered over the balcony and there they were, another four mototaxis, filthy to the core. One of them was affixed to the back of another, possibly a world mototaxi-towing record begun over 750km back. Our brave Spuds had been joined by another six successful junketeers, one still holding his cricket bat. The party upped a notch in celebration of an impossible feat made possible. Large Argentinian men collapsed on glass tables, a small man from the bar produced remarkable dexterity with a shaker full of tequila, which he then dispensed into several junketeer’s gaping mouths. Ladies undressed and nearly caused several car crashes. Cigars were bought and enjoyed.
 
And this, my friends, was just Day One of the finish. At least ten more bikes remain on the road, we expect them at some point this week. If they’re lucky.
junket2

Aug 4 2010

The Junket Begins!

This summer I’ve been organising one of the most random motorised events in history, a 5000km journey between Cuzco in Peru and Asuncion in Paraguay, by mototaxi, which just happens to be a most inadequate form of long-distance transport. Here’s a report of the event launch and a couple of videos which will require some side-stitching:

For more information and for updates throughout the journey, visit www.mototaxijunket.theadventurists.com

The first teams wisely arrived with a week to spare, turning up in tweed and bearing stories of being held at gunpoint in the mountains on the bus from Lima. Gin flowed all week, and I daresay every Adventurist went to bed after sun was up at least once.

Thursday and Friday were mototaxi training days, and by God they were needed. Petrol, bolts and number plates were all over the place, serenaded by the spluttering roar of faltering engines. Soon enough a Cuzco football field was awash with racing mototaxis, and I’d be lying if I said the goalposts weren’t rammed a couple of times.

The highlight of training was a timetrial course. All non-drivers perched on a hill as the clock ticked on, whooping and laughing at mototaxis being controlled with a variety of skill. The Crewkerne Argonaughts were the first to lose control, crashing into a wall with the passenger - John, decked out in cricket whites - leaping from the sofa in an attempt to avoid injury.

One of our two Estonians, Kristiina, tried twice to run cameraman Dave over before taking out a goalpost, throwing a fine two-wheeler, then circling the field once more only to roll the mototaxi over. The American in the back, Ryan, somehow remained unharmed!

Launch Parties

Friday night’s party was a corker. A banquet in central Cuzco was made better by a local band and dancers, two of whom were fairly adept at playing tunes with scissors and doing backflips and front rolls. Mototaxi Junket balloons adorned the after-party venue, as did piles of gin and large red daiquiries the size of a fat woman’s breast. I won’t name the culprits, but there might be a Mototaxi Junket baby courtesy of some bodyshot shannanigans and the resultant afters. There wasn’t much sleep that night.

24 hours on, the mototaxi paddock in San Jeronimo was littered with vehicles in costume. Ten baby alpacas were sacrificed in order to cover two vehicles belong to the Great Ball of Fur crew, and by the looks of it the other teams has slaughtered a couple of cows and a panda. Our Argentinian team, one of whom (Diego) wore a Hand Of God shellsuit (controversial among the English), weren’t taking any diplomatic chances and flags of all South American nations could be seen flying from their multiple masts.

Launch party in San Jeronimo square was livened up by a decent crowd of locals and a band called La Excellente, who are famous. In San Jeronimo.

Cusquena beer has supplied a fine stage and the local council had mustered food stalls and security. The highlight of the night was without doubt the fireworks, a rickety tower of unimaginable intricacy, burned and flared for half an hour - covering most of our crew in Junket-threatening embers. All burns were forgotten when two motorcycle shaped fireworks were led out to play, the last one collapsing ceremoniously on the small Peruvian man who held it aloft on a stick made of wood.

Official Launch from San Jeronimo

And then the launch. Spiderman, Superman, Superwoman, Batman, gents in Tweed, Penelope Pitstop with her pink furry mototaxi, two Irish lads dressed in potato sacks, the Crewkerne Argonaughts in orange boiler suits (not once taken off during the week - apart from during the afters of a bodyshot incident), two French Elvis impersonators with murals of the burger-eating crooner on the side of their taxi. My personal favourite touch were framed pictures of the Queen tied frmly to the outer side of Furball’s vehicles. Someone had hung a line of vegetables across the back of their taxi.

The locals were bemused, the mayor turned up in his finest football kit to greet us. A witch doctor blessed the journey and the ground and the mountains and every one of our superheroes, before the launch proceeded out of town led by local police.

Only three mototaxis failed to work on the start line. Out on the road, junketeers hopped from speeding mototaxi to speeding mototaxi, stray dogs defied common sense and played chicken with our three-wheeled craft, the majestic creased hills of Cuzco rose up behind a thirty-strong fleet and only three people’s bags fell off on the way from the city.

It was a day to remember for everyone involved, especially a young Peruvian lad who stood amongst the mototaxi starting grid, one foot on his skateboard which quite wonderfully boasted only three wheels. Onwards to Asuncion.

www.theadventurists.com


Jul 23 2010

The Birth of a Mototaxi Junket

I sit on a sofa so comfortable that twice in the last hour I’ve had to wipe dribble off my chin. The sofa belongs to Cuzco’s branch of Bembos, the Peruvian equivalent of Burger King, although at first glance I can confirm that they actually put meat in their burgers. Lively South American music blasts from colourful speakers spread about the place, and from what I can gather the man currently singing is a big fan of riding his car, his horse, and his woman. The woman sat next to me thinks it’s a karaoke bar and is absolutely murdering the song about riding, so much so that she has dribble on her chin and hasn’t noticed for a while. Fabulous.

 

oscarmototaxi

Oscar parks his mototaxi!

I’ve been in Peru for 17 days as a representative for the League of International Adventurists. My task, as I chose to accept it, was to project manage this Summer’s Mototaxi Junket, a trans-Andean-Amazonian venture undertaken by several handfuls of certifiably mad folk who have an equal enjoyment of drinking gin and driving bad vehicles. A mototaxi is basically the front half of a motorbike attached to a small sofa. Some say the two have bonded through welding, but I prefer not to encourage such positive engineering, so let’s imagine a bit of gaffer tape and some happy thoughts.

 

On the first of August, about thirty mototaxis will leave Cuzco bound for Asuncion in Paraguay, trundling along a route totally improvised by the teams involved. The Adventurists refer to this as the ‘un-route’ so I can’t give an approximation of distance, except to say the last teams to successfully drive from Peru to Paraguay totted up not far off 6000km each. You might think that this is basic endurance motoring, but a mototaxi isn’t designed to do much apart from ferry brave passengers several hundred metres from urban spot to urban spot. Hills are not recommended. Neither are dirt tracks, extreme temperatures, surfaces labelled ‘unsmooth’, tight bends, windy locations or border crossings. Pretty much everything our Junketeers are about to do, then.

 

helmet

 

So what’s involved in preparing an event like this? Put aside the administrative duties performed by Adventurists HQ back home in the UK, the on-the-ground stuff involves appeasing the various embassies of countries that might temporarily host our three-wheeled friends. I’ve been working alongside Alfonso and Oscar, the two blokes in charge of the Adventurists’ South American branch, so they’ve done the Spanish talking bits, quite handy for someone who only understands Spanish for ‘I like riding my car, my horse and my woman.’ The mototaxis have been dusted off and had some oil put in them and we’ve nurtured a fine relationship with the eastern Cuzco district of San Jeronimo, from where the Junket will launch. Two days of mototaxi driving and mechanical training will ensue at the end of next week, and if our teams survive that they will be subjected to two days of fiesta, just to make sure they’ve forgotten everything they learned in training. We’ll also have a football tournament against some local players – officially, due to Cuzco’s altitude, there’s a 1.3% chance of an Adventurists team scoring – for which we’ll probably provide supplementary oxygen. And then there’s the personal touch; we want our Adventurists to feel wanted, welcome, happy even, so we’ve been preparing several little presents and useless branded things to make them smile.

 

Needless to say, the whole thing has been an experience already, and there’s still nine days to go until we launch. After that, providing a well-timed local strike (which threatens to block roads and burn tyres and stuff) doesn’t delay us for too long, I’m going to hop on a plane and fly to Asuncion to do everything in reverse. Which is, organise a finish line, some parties and sports matches, find storage for our strides and make sure everything is ship-shape for the return Junket in January. (Should you want to sign up for this, take a look at the Adventurists’ website.)

 

To end, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a video I made of the first time I experienced a mototaxi.

 

Please note that this blog contains purely personal thoughts, and should not be read as The Adventurists’ official stance on anything. Thanks!


Jul 7 2010

A Junket Summer

I’ll admit straight off, this is a pre-written blog, so no doubt there will be some strange past/present tense confusion. If all has gone to plan I’m now in Lima, Peru, shrugging off some minor jetlag by running around the city (possibly in a suit!) talking to people and arranging what is almost certainly the world’s longest mototaxi journey.

A mototaxi, for those of you who aren’t au fait with Peruvian public transport, is basically a motorcycle with a sofa on the back. Think motor rickshaw, but without the cabin. In early August over 40 mototaxis containing 2 or 3 humans each, will leave Cusco in the hills of Peru and chug toards Ascuncion, Paraguay.

For once I’m not here to undertake an adventure, but instead to oversee it.  The Mototaxi Junket is the latest brainchild of the UK-based Adventurists, who do a very good job at making the world a less boring place. They’re the same mob responsible for the Mongol Rally (drive a less-than-reliable vehicle from London to Ulanbataar) and the Rickshaw Rally (pootle the length of India in a three wheeled taxi), so it’s very exciting to be right in the thick of their newest incarnation.

So, I have five weeks in Peru, mainly based in Cusco, and then a few more in Asuncion welcoming our brave Mototaxiers into Paraguay. Here’s to a Latin American summer! I’ll keep you posted!