Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Bolivian Motorcycle Diaries

Rrrrrrrrr…bang. Rrrrrrrrr…bang. “Use the throttle. More gas.” Rrrrrrrrr…bang. “No! Slowly. Use the clutch.” What the heck is a clutch?

Above is a snapshot of my most recent adventure. My friend, Jesse, and I spent a few days in Samaipata, the relaxed hill resort town near Santa Cruz, Bolivia. After visiting the town’s main tourist attraction, the pre-Colombian ruins of El Fuerte (the fortress), we decided to visit its natural attractions by way of motorbike. We rented a bike from our hostel owner. The fact that she couldn’t even turn the vehicle on should have been warning enough. Luckily, my friend used to own a Vespa and was able to figure out how to start the motorbike. Off we went on our great motorcycle adventure!

Two blocks later, the bike died. Just like that, died. We pushed it uphill 3 blocks to the nearest mechanic, but he was unable to fix it. We had to push it back over a series of hills to our hostel. We arrived drenched in sweat and demanded our money back.

Cash in hand, we headed to another motorcycle rental place. This time my friend test-drove the bike while I waited outside the store. He later told me that he used those 5 minutes to learn how to ride a geared bike, as his Vespa was automatic. Oh great.

After driving through the beautiful hills surrounding Samaipata, we reached waterfalls in the town of Cueva. We swam in the refreshingly cool water before heading back. This time it was my turn to drive. The3 problem was that not only had I never driven a geared bike (sneaking out of the house and driving around the block a couple of times with my cousins in India doesn’t really count), but I had never driven a manual vehicle in my life. After driving around the grassy parking lot for a bit, I got the hang of it, more or less. I still had trouble with certain things though, like changing gears and braking.

At one point I steered into the path of oncoming traffic, while conveniently forgetting how to brake. Oops. I veered to the right and off the road in the nick of time! After that I drove us safely back home with no more problems. My friend swears he’ll never get onto the back of a motorcycle with me driving again. Hey, it was my first time!

I wonder if Ché had this problem when he set out on his motorcycle diaries…

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