The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. See more excerpts here.
Cindy, “the Slut.”
Cindy did not receive this title from me. Nor from my teammates. In fact, she had done nothing to warrant it. So it should be no surprise that, in this story, Cindy is the victim.
That is a difficult admission. You see, it was into our charge that Cindy was placed. It was we who were supposed to protect her. She had not volunteered to travel to the northwest coast of Peru, to a village of a few hundred people, where we were first acquainted. She had had no expectation that we would drive her a few hundred miles to the Sacred Valley in southeast Peru, which was our destination. And she certainly hadn’t volunteered to be crammed into the back of a mototaxi. But that was exactly what she got. So the fate of Cindy rests squarely on the shoulders of me and my teammates.
I don’t want to belittle her anguish, but Cindy was not in poor company. All of us had signed up for unbearable driving conditions, unpredictable mechanical failures, and cultural barriers at every step of the way. We were all looking for our own brand of misery. How else does one explain an international gathering with the purpose of elective suffering?
Apart from her forced participation, what had really set Cindy apart from the rest of us were her Barbie Doll proportions–which is to say her inhuman proportions. That’s right: Cindy was a doll, imprisoned by plastic wrap on top a quinceañera piñata. And even though she was inanimate, she had earned the title of Pink Fairy.
It was the Pink Fairy Award which we received.
It was the added responsibility for Cindy.
It was, our additional challenge.
The cells of your body routinely kill themselves. Stay calm—this is a good thing.
Old cells collect deficiencies, malfunction, and become diseased. To preserve the organism as a whole, they elect to die. Meanwhile, healthy cells divide in order to replace those lost. Given the varied stresses across cell types, different tissues are replaced at different rates. The lining of your small intestine will replace itself after just a few days; your stomach lining, after a week; your skin takes ten to thirty days; and the red blood cells circulating through your body will be replaced after four months–that’s 100 million new red blood cells every minute!
How do we know these rates? During WW2, some very smart scientists developed the atomic bomb–you may have heard of it. After two detonations dropped the curtain on the Pacific theater, research was amped up, dragging the world into the Cold War and igniting an endless series of test detonations. Then came some clever scientists who put these bombs to good, honest, morally undisputed use. And the clever part: not required were more detonations.
Nuclear explosions create different atomic isotopes, the variants of an element’s structure. And some of the isotopes formed are not generally found on our planet. So these clever scientists figured out a way to determine the age of our tissues using the carbon-14 leftover from the days of nuclear weapons testing. Brilliant!
Back to my point though: cells die. Not only do they die, but they’re supposed to die. That most of us are ignorant of this process doesn’t alter the outcome. In fact, I might argue that because it doesn’t alter the outcome, most people would choose ignorance. That’s not difficult to understand–that millions of these little pieces of me are dying every minute is not something I want to think about.
Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t phased when Duncan, standing before the craziest group of people I’ve ever been apart of, made a case for ignorance.
At least when dealing with Peruvian Police.
“There’s a phrase I want you all to memorize. I think you’ll be surprised at how often it can get you out of trouble.” When you’ve decided to race one of the worst pieces of machinery on the planet a few hundred miles across Peru, trouble is exactly what you’ve signed up for. “For all of you who don’t speak Spanish—and for those who do—here it is: ‘No fumar español’–” Duncan chuckled, the two or three Spanish speakers in our group joining him. “–which means, ‘I don’t smoke Spanish.'”
The group burst with laughter.
“Saying ‘I don’t speak Spanish’ is one thing. It is quite another to demonstrate it. What police officer wants to have a mime argument over a petty traffic infraction? Yes, it makes you look like a stupid Westerner, but you’d be surprised how many people have gotten out of a tight spot with that phrase. So please, commit it to memory.”
After giving more advice and the guidelines of the race, all of which centered on the theme of “Don’t be an asshole,” Duncan concluded the meeting.
I left, my mind already racing. Would we get lost? Stranded? Robbed? Would we spend a fortune to keep our engine running–all 150CCs? Would the desert allow us to cross, or would we be desiccated? Would the mountains continue to stand tall, a divide between us and our goal? Would the jungle sprout our success, or would it leave us devoured by a humid and hasty decay?
My mind darted, but my body strolled. We made our way back to our hostel, not far from the hotel that had hosted our meeting. Nothing was far in Colan, a quiet beach town near the city of Piura. Sand buried the streets. Each step sunk into the road, cushioned and muted. There was no rush here; the sand wouldn’t permit it. And the offshore breeze filled the footprints and tire tread left behind, erasing any signs of progress.
At the hostel, a few teams had gathered on the oceanside deck. The table was covered with maps and beer bottles, the air filled with speculation on routes. The Scots paid extra attention. (They hadn’t even brought a map.) That’s because this wasn’t a race in the traditional sense. The reason for speculating was because there was no course and, in fact, there was only one rule: get your mototaxi from start to finish. How we went about this was irrelevant. The whole purpose of using mototaxis was to make their second-rate quality, low dependability, and unpredictability contribute to the adventure.
The sun arced to the horizon, beer bottles emptied, and the tide came in, the extended surf polishing the stilts on which our hostel stood.