Dakar Tour day 2: Misadventure

Jan 4, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Activities, Motorcycle adventures

Its a good way to start the day.  Riding with your mates from a mountain top hotel, with nary a single car in sight.  Watching the lines drawn ahead, following the curves, mountains and valleys laid out in front of you.  It started well, and then…

After several hundred high speed kilometers we took a futile 5km gravel trail to see the race, only to find that we were too early.  So, back we go to the tar where my twitchy 650 couldn’t comfortably hold the speed of the 1200s.  Somehow Raffael and I ended up lost.  We did have a cool experience going through a small town where everyone had turned out in anticipation of the race coming through, but turned around when we realized that the others must have taken the road to Salta.  Over gas station lunch we decided to go straight to the hotel at Purmamarca.

By delightful fluke as we rode back the same way we had been earlier, we found ourselves on the Dakar course.  It was as if we were part of the race.  People cheered from roadside.  Kids literally jumped up and down, shouting and waving their shirts at us as if we were heroic combatants.  Mile after mile of adulation.  It was so amazing that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, sound the horn, and wave at 120km/hr.

Just when I thought the experience couldn’t be more incredible, it did.  As we drove into Juy Juy it was as if the whole country was out to see us.  Crowds packed way more tightly than I’d witnessed at the Olympic Games.  At one point we came through crowds like the Tour de France, 10 deep on each side, crowding onto the road, and on an overpass so packed it was in danger of collapsing.  It was a mind blowing experience.  I wanted to stop and take out my video camera, but knew that to do so would result in being mobbed by well wishers.  One quad rider, who casually passed earlier doing stretches at 140km/hr, stopped ahead and within seconds was surrounded by over 50 people, all clapping him on the back and clamoring for photos, and hordes of others running his way.

Argentina is truly a wonderful host for the Dakar.  The people, all of them, love it.  We have been greeted at gas stations constantly, had hundreds of photo requests, signed autographs, and had semi-naked women blowing kisses from the roadside.  We aren’t sure whether to revel in the glory or feel ashamed that we are hoaxes, mere mobile spectators on the same path.

As we neared the race staging area there was easily the most concentrated mass of excited population I’d ever seen in one place, with a traffic jam from hell trying to come in from the other direction.  Beside me a Dutch Harley rider, who we nicknamed Thorass Longrider (who I discovered is quite a celebrity having done 7 Dakar follow tours), maneuvered his low bike and mini gas storage tank in tow through the throng, with great cheers erupting as he was spotted.  I’m sure those scenes will remain with me forever.

But all good things must come to an end, especially on this trip.  As I came down into a major highway intersection my back wheel locked up, the engine screamed, I lost all wheel traction, but somehow managed to roll my way through the multi directional traffic madness to the relative safety of a dirt and grass traffic island.  My bike, which I think was the dud of the fleet and which had felt strange from the start, had broken the master link on the chain.  It was still attached on one side, but had jumped off the cog.  An engine without a way to drive momentum is just a large paper weight.  To throw salt into the wound our own luggage van rolled past us 10 minutes later and despite our frantic waving simply kept going, waving back as the Pope would do to some lepers seeking a cure.  After much deliberation, many calls and no avail, Raffael made the call – it was too dangerous to stay in the middle of a highway.  There was only one option, I was, excuse the phrase, riding bitch.

While I worried about the destiny of my abandoned dodgy bike, but on the bright side the next 45 minutes allowed me a different perspective.  The scenery changed dramatically.  Green fields, then amber mountains shining gold in the afternoon light, cotton ball clouds hovered above the tops of the initial Andes mountains.  Up and down, winding roads, Raffael expertly leaning the bike over further than I’d ever done on my own.  At one point we crossed a bridge, and glanced down to the brownish ponds below, with several nymphs cavorting in the virtual raw.

The cliffs changed colors, from purple to dark grey shale to orange.  Up a short valley, cliffs on both sides, steep gravel hills near vertical with huge cactus that somehow stayed upright, as if they “walked” down with the avalanche.  With relief we roll into the magnificence of the Hotel Adobe, Permamarca.

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