Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mototaxi Junk It!

An early start got us as far as Chamaya, a fork in the road with one spur heading east and the other heading north to Jaen. We were now a full day and a half behind the rest and a traffic jam stretched a good kilometer or two out of town. Everything was at a standstill. Rock slide? Accident? No one seemed to know. We snuck along the queue looking for Sam and Al and found them a few yards from the source. Apparently educational workers were striking and blocking the road in a show of solidarity. People had come from all over the region to participate. The sun rose, street vendors walked up and down hawking soy milk, pineapple, ice cream, pretty much anything to take advantage of the opportunity.

Walking through the crowd at the crossroads I got a whiff  of a '70's style pointless protest with lots of chants, flags and camaraderie. Time ticked along and finally the protesters picked their flag up off the road and we were free to move ahead. Grabbing the wheel I muscled the mototaxi through a maw of cars, trucks, and motorbikes. A bump here and there, a few shouts throen in our direction, but we never looked back.

Off we set again to the east. Throttling up our little engine reached 7,500 rpm and a blistering 30 mph. The wind in our hair and the smell of the open road and then a sudden clanking and banging and Zaya shouting "Stop! Mike, the chain came off!" I coasted to the side of the road for a look and indeed not only was the chain off the rear gear, but the main drive hub was loose and flopping around. This was more trouble than we had spares or tools for. We had to head back towards Jaen and a mechanic. Al and Sam turned around, but we told them to continue on since this was going to take a while. Bidding our goodbyes, Zaya and I started looking for a ride to town. It was hot, dusty, and ominously quiet.

There's a scene in Lawrence of Arabia when Omar Sharif comes out of the desert on a camel. The camera hangs on his distant mirage for minutes, building mystery and tension. That's kind of how it felt watching a lone mototaxi putter in our direction. It felt like an hour's wait before Juan and Pedro pulled up. We explained the situation, Pedro reviewed the damage and we eventually loaded the front wheel of our over-laden mototaxi onto the back of his. A long uphill struggle into the relative madness of Jaen traffic and we were dropped at a friend's garage. The culprit was more crap design. The lug nuts for the drive gear were secured with rubber bonded to aluminum. The solid brass replacements were both stronger and, with the help of a new rear chain, slightly more efficient. The garage also gave us an electrical overhaul including a new ignition switch. We had lights again!

We left the first garage in search of food and soon as we did our old carburetor problem flared up and it began pissing petrol again. "Basura!" Pedro declared. "Si!" I agreed, "Mas basura!" Which made them laugh. So we took off for our second mechanic. Our tow drivers had all the makings of a couple of wide boys, but their inherent niceness meant they were really spreading some very modest gringo dinero around to a couple of their buddys.

Our fuel system specialist, along with half a dozen mates, was getting gently drunk on Cristal, the local beer, when we pulled in. One of his guests was a teacher from the border near Ecuador who spoke a few words of English. He had traveled down for the protest and, like all the other guys there, had the slightly glassy-eyed look of an afternoon beer session. He explained to me how friends drink in Peru. There's one bottle of beer and one large shot glass. Each guy in turn takes the bottle, fills the glass and then takes a drink, leaving a small amount to swill the glass out before handing it to his mate. The bottle moved in a clockwise direction and this carries on as long as the conversation flows or the beer runs out. I liked this tradition. Swapping spit has its own symbolism, but the pace of drinking was very slow, the discussion and sharing stories seemed at the center of the activity, along with maintaining a steady buzz. Our mechanic had meanwhile covered himself in gas and drunk a liter or two blowing out the carburettor. Duly inspected and adjusted, and with the help of his young son, he reinstalled it, tested the engine and declared victory. With many photos and handshakes we were finally ready to hit the road. Juan and Pedro led us out of town and we headed back down the long hill towards Bagua Grande.

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