Ayacucho Coasting

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. There’s more to see about it here.

“The Aussies!”

We pulled to the curb behind them. Scott and I jumped off while Andrew milked the throttle, sustaining the engine’s life support. We agreed to follow them in search of a place to stay.

On the first uphill they pulled away, far enough that it became the job of Scott and I to keep tabs on them. It felt like we were tailing them, staying back far enough that we could still see them, but not getting so close that we would be obvious. Our lack of lights made it that much more authentic.

Of course, any proper tail would have a decent vehicle. On one cobbled street, the engine died. Scott and I jumped out and started to push, hoping the cobbles wouldn’t sprain an ankle. Once up to speed, Andrew popped the clutch. The taxi’s momentum turned the engine over, and the spark caught again. We piled in and continued down the street, our mark lost in the night.

“Just keep going straight. They’d notice we weren’t behind them.”

We coasted through intersection after intersection after intersection, eyes peeled, uncommitted to any direction. Maybe this was hopeless. Maybe we should have been searching for a place to park the mototaxi for the night instead of Barry and Gerald. For all we knew, they were still moving.

“There!”

Scott pointed to our right. Down the street perpendicular to ours stood Barry, next to their parked mototaxi. Andrew wrenched us around the corner and pulled behind them, the engine dying as we came to a standstill.

“I thought we lost you guys.”

“You did.”

Gerald appeared from a door way. “No good.” He rested hands on hips. “Not enough room for all of us. But they said something about a traveler’s hotel just down the road there.” He pointed down the hill.

“We’ll just keep following.”

“Sounds good.”

Gerald and Barry loaded up and started down the hill. Andrew tried the electric starter…nothing. The kick starter…nothing.

“Andrew!” Scott pointed at the ground. “Kill the fuel!”

The carb again. Fuel squeezed past Andrew’s makeshift seal, and sprayed from the seam. It spilled onto the road, washing dirt and oil from the ancient cobbles before being funneled down the hill by the mortar channels holding the surface together.

“Well…” Andrew leaned back. “…now what?”

We stared down the hill, to where the Aussies had vanished from sight.

“Screw it. Let’s coast.”

“Huh?”

“They said this place was just down the road. What if it’s literally down this street? We can coast it.”

After a quick discussion to hash out the details, Scott and I abandoned the sofa to stand on the rear cargo rack so we could dismount in a hurry and push the taxi if necessary. It was also nice knowing I could bail at any second. Ready, Andrew slipped the transmission into neutral, eased off the brakes, and let gravity takes us.

Before the end of the block, we had picked up enough speed for the lane’s cobbled rhythm to be dampened by our suspension. The warm night air dropped a few degrees as it accelerated past us, tousling our hair. The rush of air, the squeaked compressions of old suspension springs, and the clatter of chain links spinning their sprockets was the only sound in the dormancy of our engine.

“Wooooooo!” To my right, Scott was leaning back, arms straight, chin pointed to the sky. My face relaxed into a cheek-bulging smile and I yelled with him. Our taxi achieved a speed impressive for being accelerated by gravity alone. Then again, the yelling drove our steed faster, past its limits.

The city’s culture was instilled into the air, like incense. It energized us. We leaned off the taxi, ignoring the potential traffic at each intersection. Our bent knees took every bump the taxi could not, our calves absorbing and recoiling with the energy. We glided near the ground, with no lights, like a predator in the dark. No flight could have been better.

Our bird of prey cried out, the brakes squealing. Scott and I stood straight again. On the sidewalk, Barry and Gerald both pointed to a large garage door. We lost momentum in the corner and on the incline of the garage entrance. Scott and I hopped down and helped the mototaxi to where the Aussies had left their own.

“We lose you fellas again?”

“Fuel problems.”

Roadside Service

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. There’s more to see about it here.

Andrew sat on his knees, legs folded underneath him. Next to him sat a tray I had retrieved from the grassy patch of water filled containers. It had held all the loose bits during disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. It was nearing empty…for the second time.

“Scott, can you hold this?” Andrew didn’t look up. He was focused, determined to get the mototaxi running.

“You bet!” Scott’s perpetual positivity was my source of hope now.

Andrew had been right–the carb was filthy. Near as bad as the first time the halves had been cracked apart. Andrew performed the cleaning. He had been attentive during the process, his moves deliberate, his process thought out. Someone had paid attention to our mechanics.

Andrew had also been correct about the water. With the gas tank free from the frame, we had dumped the lid’s moat and opened it for inspection. The seal looked great. And with no water flowing through the lines, we assumed our fuel was water free.

“Feed that cable right through this hole, Scott.”

“Here it comes.”

Seeing our carb, we had assumed it had been the problem. But after the first reassembly, the mototaxi didn’t start. It took twenty minutes of kicking to fire it up. The engine had gasped and took a drink of fuel, slowly winding up. But this initial climb of the RPMs surpassed our set idol. The RPMs kept climbing, faster and faster. In the four seconds the engine had run, the RPMs rose to a dangerously high pitch.

“Ok.” Andrew leaned back on his heals, taking one last look before moving on. “Nathan, we’re ready for the gas tank.”

Our hearts had jumped at the sounds of combustive life, but were left frozen by that new sound. Fortunately, it had been Andrew on the bike when it had started. He had used the kill switch before the engine could blow up. None of us knew what the sound meant, so we started over and tore everything apart a second time.

I waddled the gas tank over to the frame. “Here it comes.” I slipped the front end into the frame.

Now, we were almost back together for the second time.

“Scott, can you guide the fuel line through the frame as Nathan sets the tank down?”

“You betcha.”

“Here we go,” I warned, lowering the back-end of the tank. I lined up the tank’s single bolt flange with the bolt hole in the frame. The tank nestled with a thunk, gasoline sloshing inside. “Down,” I said while I spun the bolt finger tight.

Scott kneeled on the left side of the engine. “Got the fuel line connected.”

Andrew was still on the right side, doing one last visual inspection. He nodded, rolling back on to his feet. “Go ahead and turn the gas on.”

Scott turned the valve and I secured the seat. Andrew gave us a tight-lipped look as he folded out the kick starter. It took several attempts, but the engine did fire up, and much quicker this time.

The engine purred back to life, raising itself to a steady idle, forcing the moisture out of the cylinder. But the upward trend didn’t stop. Just as it had the first time, the engine revved up higher and higher. Andrew hit the kill switch.

We exchanged glances.

“Well, now what?”

Andrew shrugged. “I don’t know what’s causing that,” his head nodding to the motor. “I think it’s safe to say a third attempt would be a waste of time.”

Scott and I nodded. Less than two hours earlier, we had been filled with hope. We had had a problem. We had formed a plan. It had been empowering to act independently. Now that independence was squashed beneath our lack of troubleshooting experience.

“I can drive it,” Scott said.

Andrew and I gave a simultaneous, “Huh?”

“It sounds like it’s at full throttle, right? I can drive it. Use the clutch like crazy.” Scott looked back and forth between Andrew and I. He saw the skeptical look we exchanged. “What?”

“I don’t know, Scott,” I said. “Seems…dangerous. Plausible, sure, but what if something goes wrong?”

Andrew nodded. “I agree. Besides, it could be bad for the engine. We don’t want to fry our motor.”

Scott conceded. “So if driving isn’t an option, are we talking about a tow?”

“How far did away did you say the next town was?”

“About 15 miles.”

We turned to the road. There had not been a ton of traffic, but several cars had passed since we had stopped.

“Scott…feel like flagging someone down?”

“I can try.” He paused, eyes on the ground. “Actually,” he looked up at Andrew and I, “it would probably be better if you guys tried.”

Andrew grimaced while I suppressed a chuckle. “Uh…Scott, we don’t speak Spanish.”

He nodded. “Exactly. It’s harder to turn down someone who’s hopeless. People will probably just say ‘no’ to me, because they can say ‘no.'”

“Good point.”

“Let’s all go,” Scott said. “And try to look miserable.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard.”

Blowout

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. There’s more to see about it here.

 

A blast rang out behind us.

My eyes shot to Andrew. He had already turned to me. Our eyes met for a split second, confusion between us. Then we grabbed the back of the sofa and wrenched our bodies around.

Several car lengths back was a semi truck and trailer. Gray smoke poured from the trailer’s left side, from the wheels on the inside of the road. A blowout. In the smoke, a dark mass pulsed, in rhythm with the truck’s speed. The shredding tire was rolling off its rim and with each rotation of the wheel, the distended rubber flapped more wildly. Within the first ten turns of the wheel, the rubber came off, the driver not even having had a chance to slow down.

Andrew and I had been so focused behind us that we gave no thought to oncoming traffic. There hadn’t been any. But at the pinnacle of rubbery discharge, that precise instant the rim threw the tire, a motorcycle–traveling in the opposite direction–appeared.

The tattered tire was in motion, vicious and cyclonic. Its trajectory looked to intersect that of the motorcyclist. Did he have any idea what was about to happen? Smoke rolled out from under the trailer, distracting, obstructing. He wouldn’t know to look for a chunk of rubber flying for him. How could he know he would need to dodge one?

The paths intersected. The projectile was true to its target. The man was struck by the rubber.

At that exact moment, the motorcycle and its operator vanished into the trailer’s cloud of smoke.

“Holy shit!”

The rubber reappeared, spinning along the far side of the road, its momentum altered.

“What’s going on, guys?” Scott called back.

We ignored him. We didn’t have an answer. We were still waiting to see the outcome.

A break in the smoke. The motorcycle was still up, the operator’s feet still poised on the pegs while his hands had a death grip on the bars—he was caught in the dreaded wobble. The bike gyrated between his legs, too far left, too far right, too far left, too far right, like a spinning top about to topple.

A Shockingly Good Shower

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. See more about it here.

 

Caliente: Spanish for “hot.” Though advertised as a hot shower, a more appropriate claim would have been agua no mucha fría, or “not so cold water.” Still, it was one of the best showers of my life.

That water–there was a reason it was only not-so-cold. Like most Peruvian hotels untouched by a mass of gringo tourists from the west, this one was not plumbed with hot water. But the showers had been retrofitted with a head that had an integrated heating element.

I had anticipated an immediate shower, so after I christened the toilet I had not been that thorough in my cleanup. My cheeks were rubbed raw, so I stepped into the shower extra filthy. I reached for the valve of salvation, the one that would cleanse me of my digestive system’s sins, but my hand was stilled. Not by the appearance of a messenger or some other holy apparition; not by divine intervention or some other remote will; but by a gray tube that ran out of the ceiling and into a small breaker box next to the shower’s plumbing. The box had been painted to the wall—not glued or screwed, but painted. And the small gauge wires with the loose wrap of electrical tape that emerged from the box–they disappeared into the shower head. Electricity and water mix right? Isn’t is just that sometimes people get the recipe wrong?

I turned the tap. If the flow was too slow, the circuit broke. So for five minutes, I alternated between adjusting the flow density and resetting the breaker. I bounced, rocked, and gyrated under the water’s thermal awkwardness, and twitched, pulsed, and ticked with the electric current that flowed through my fingers. But the water was too fast to be heated before it rained down. It did take the edge off though, and for those next five minutes I did work with my bar of soap.

The drain looked awful. Water spiraled and concentrated the filth: the dust of the road, my residual fecal debris, my general negativity and loathing, all down the drain. Salvation. I dried, then collapsed into bed.

Clutch Cables and Coasting

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. See more about it here.

 

We pressed lower into the water shed, and things turned green. The color was provided by the grasses and shrubs; it wasn’t lush jungle, but it was a welcome change. Even more welcome were the mototaxis parked on the side of the road.

The flag of Scotland hung form the rear taxi. We parked behind it. The second taxi belonged to a British team. Our kilted friend strutted over to us and leaned against our mototaxi.

“How you boys doing?”

“Hanging in there,” Scott answered. “No major problems yet.”

“Yeah, their clutch cable gave out. It’s been quite the ordeal getting it back to working.” The taxi in question fired up. The other Junketeers backed away, tools in hands, covered in the grime of the road. The taxi took off down the road–a test drive.

Andrew asked, “Have you guys seen anyone else?”

“Apart from you blokes, just the Aussies. They came by not too long ago. Said they were headed for Bagua Grande tonight. That’s where we’re aiming too.”

“And us,” Scott said.

The mototaxi came back at us, the driver giving a thumbs up. The mototaxi pulled back into its spot and my stomach groaned.

“Well we’ve been going at it together. Really helped when that cable went. You boys wanna join…till we make Bagua Grande anyway?”

We gave a half understood glance to each other. Caravanning with Josh and Aaron had been great for their company, but worrying about two mototaxis wasn’t ideal. We weren’t about to take partial responsibility for three.

Scott stepped up. “We’ll join for a while. But if we get separated, let’s not worry about it.”

The Scotsman glanced over his shoulder. The other guys pushed their packed tools into their cargo racks.

“Let’s get going then!”

Scott started the engine and pulled onto the road, at the lead of our caravan. We gained some distance before the others pulled back onto the road, but we had them in sight. The road paralleled the river, tracing its northern bank. Across a bridge, the road climbed from the river and floodplain in search of the more interesting curves and subtle gyrations of the valley wall.

Within a mile of this change, the two other taxis caught up. Another mile, and they passed us. A third, and we had lost sight of them. Funny…and ironic. We had not committed to the caravan so we wouldn’t be weighed down. But now it was they who capitalized on that noncommittal clause. What was not funny was how easy it was for them to pass us. Both mototaxis had zipped by, no problem.

Of course, not all the taxis would have the same top speed. But back at Colan, during our grand depart, we had kept pace with everyone, including the Scots. Now they could blow by us. What had changed?

The dull red of the gear indicator’s electronic readout flicked through the gears faster than our single piston. The numbers jumped up on the descents, mimicking our speed. On the climbs, they dropped. Using a lower gear was fine, but wasn’t Scott using a gear lower than me on our climb over the pass? Or was I crazy? After ten more miles, it was undeniable: our engine’s RPMs were dropping. We were losing power.

I leaned toward Andrew. He leaned back.

“I think something’s wrong,” I shouted through the wind.

He pursed his lips, then nodded. We both sat back, unsure of what we could do.

The miles continued to roll under us, but at a decelerating rate. One hill betrayed our mototaxi’s secret though. There was a pause in the engine’s song as Scott dropped into second. Andrew and I looked at each other again. Third gear should have been sufficient. He leaned and shouted to Scott.

“Find a place to pull over.”