Traveling through India while saving the rain-forest, driving a rickshaw and dodging selfies
India, 07 September 2017We decide to hit the road early in the morning so that we can take an easy pace during the day.
Wake up at 5. Pack and stack the bags. Drive 200mt. Get stuck with a failing engine in the middle of a busy crossroad.
We work on it for 40 minutes.
Engine out, CDI checked, spark tested. Everything works, yet the engine fails.
Indians join in to help. Work another 15 minutes.
Engine out again, clean it carefully, CDI checked again, spark tested again.
The whole community joins in, masala tea offered, selfies requested, motorbike rides given, a mechanic is getting picked up from wherever he is whatever he is doing and is delivered on the side of the road where we are standing speechlessly staring at our rickshaw.
Engine out, CDI tested, spark tested... and then, a light sparks in the head of our newly met friend.
"Something is blocking the air from getting into the engine" he's laughing.
Walks around the rickshaw, leans behind the back seat and pulls out a piece of paper. Three inches wide, five inches tall. That little piece of rubbish consumed our early morning wake.
Re-ensemble the engine, secure the CDi, plug back in the spark.
After 4 hours of clueless headaches, the engine starts.
A million selfies more before we hit the road.
No money asked. "You are our guest" thay said. Just selfies. Lots of them.
Welcome to The Adventurists "Rickshaw Run" 2017 – August edition.
I must've been high or absolutely out of my mind when I booked it.
My two friends who came along must've been totally unaware of what was expecting us for 14 days of our precious August summer break.
Canned tightly into a piece-of-crap tuk-tuk for an average of 8 hours a day, feeling tired, smutty, probably sick, cold, hot, wet and certainly dirty and disoriented. And we paid to do it. Naive.
A "tuk-tuk", or "rickshaw", is one of those loud and uncomfortable tin cans that local populations of South East Asia like to drive around with and call them taxis.
They originally come from Italy. Piaggio "Ape" must've made a fortune in the Indian market only.
Ours is worse than the regular ones though: it's old, unstable, rubbish and powered by a 50cc engine, with a top speed of 55km per hour. Eventually 65, when rolling downhill.
However, we appreciate our piece of junk and decided to make it look like an interstellar device from an inexistent space agency named DAJE!
Each time we stop somewhere, our spaceship-disguised vehicle that we named APOLLO XVII rises curiosity and laughter.
And of course a million selfies.
A few months ago I called my friend Gros (Cristiano Longhi).
"I thought you may be interested in this stupid and unconsidered rally in India".
Gros: "Let's do it!".
The conversation between him and Federico (Federico Romanello) must've been about the same.
I haven't met Federico until the day we took our flight to Delhi.
With us, 88 more teams are taking part to this: 256 self-denying rats ready to consume their bodies and health on the raging-roads of an unknown territory.
Here the Jungle law prevailsIndia is not an easy country. Driving in India is hell. Doing it on a rickshaw is frankly a shallow idea.
In a realm of total anarchy, where cows and bulls are queens and kings of the road, our little engine-motored trash-hole is at the bottom ring in the chain of life.
India is supposedly following the English driving regulations, but forget about left, right and wrong ways. Forget about indicator lights and common sense. Here the Jungle law prevails.
The bigger, faster, louder vehicle has the right of way, no matter what. All you have to do is horn at all times and pray for your life.
The ride is crazy itself. But it can reach a certain extent of stupidity without even trying too hard.
We could decide to hit the highway 66 and get from Cochin to Jasailmer in about a week and miss all the excitement.
Of course we are here for a lot more adventure than just a quick ride-through.
Some others are slow, the road unwinds at a slow pace as we are blown away by unreal landscapes, waterfalls, jungles, beaches, desert dunes, and temples of India.
We all agree that every single day feels like a reversed circus in which we are the main attraction, surrounded by an overly welcoming population, with cows and donkeys blocking the road, while camels are stealing our bananas and monkeys hiss at us as more locals rush in our direction for a thousand more selfies.
If you play too much with sand, you'll end up getting some stuck within your balls.
If there is one thing we must avoid is driving late in the dark. Bus drivers don't give a shit over here, they drive over whatever is on their way without even showing the minimum effort on lifting the foot from the accelerator. We want to avoid to cross paths at night with those suicide killers on amphetamine with a driving license.
Vehicles driving the opposite direction easily overwhelm our headlamps. The windshield blinds our eyes shining bright with each ray of light hitting the unwashable layers of dirt stratified over time underneath in.
Night rides are unwise on Indian roads.
Bubble-heading is probably the best way to communicate
We "bubble-head" to communicate with the locals who all seem pretty friendly and nice, even if their grin can be puzzling at first impact.
Bubble-heading is probably the best way to communicate as a foreigner. It means "yes". It means "no". It means "hello".
Sometimes we get dragged out of Apollo and pushed around the whole town: spinning, posing, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, joking, shaking hands, drinking chai-latte, talking with kids (who most of the times are the only beholders of a proper form of English), giving them a little show with the uke, and then we are usually saluted with a handful of presents.
Day after day we drive across piles of dirt, toxic air, polluted rivers, herds of animals, dead animals, poverty, richness and all kinds of contrasts.
We see colorful little towns, majestic palaces, amazing cities and heart-breaking slums.
We started in Cochin and in less than 13 days we ride through Tirur, Mahe, Kundapur, the lovely Gokarna, Goa, Kolhapur, Satara, Mumbai, Anklesvar, Lunawada, Udaipur, Jodhpur to end up in Jaisalmer. And not in a straight line.
We make diversions toward waterfalls, hikes, beaches, huge statues, just for the love of getting lost following local rumors about places in this amazing land.
The final day, only 50kms short to Jaisalmer, right where the land was abandoned by palm trees, to leave space to rocks, sand and very little more, Apollo was hit by the heaviest storm throughout the whole trip.
We were stuck again, under the never-ending showers, in the dark, cold as fuck, with a failing engine, witnessing our already slim chance to get to destination by the end of the day fade away.
Hope was lost until a local mechanic with magical hands made did absolutely nothing, but was just lucky enough to make the engine start again. He asked us 300 rupees. A deserved robbery that we are glad to pay.
300 more for the guys who towed us to his garage. A precious head-light to whoever stole it.
We risk our lives a bit more driving on wet grounds, in the dark, with no visibility and interrupted roads.
All the things we wanted to avoid, we encountered at once.
We break through a fence and end off-road, into a ditch, almost dead, after missing the "work in progress" inexistent sings. We are all okay, and Apollo is not giving up on us.
We survive bus drivers (believe me they are crazy) and finally, tired, nervous, and hungry we reach the wonderful, yet smelly, dirty, scattered with cow-shit and sprinkled with cow-piss, Jaisalmer.
Our life-threatening route is finished, but not our will to get back with glorious scars and bruises on our skin. We still have energies to try to set the rickshaw on fire.
We step on the finish line at noon the day after, our space-shuttle is greeted on the podium by David Bowie's Space Oddity.
Raving party at night and skinny-dipping into a filthy dirty pool to celebrate our feat.
Beers, beers and more beers to numb our feelings.
Would I suggest the Rickshaw Run? No. It's insane.
But if you'll do it, you will fucking love every mile of it.
Just like we did.
"You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of worth and knowledge" – Dante AlighieriAnd to do idiotic things like the Rickshaw Run, we may add.
Oh, yes... we are saving the rainforest with this expedition.
You can learn more here and eventually make a donation: https://www.coolearth.org/campaigns/14984/daje/
All pics by: Michele La Corte (me), Federico Romanello and Cristiano Longhi if not stated otherwise.
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