I learned how to ride a motorcycle in Iquitos, Peru. As I walked the motorcycle through the door of the rental shop, I kept trying to remember the 5 minute—“how to drive this motorcycle”— lesson, I had just received. I was struggling to successfully recall the information because the instructions were given entirely in Spanish. Spanish is not my first language (or my second for that matter). I took three years of Spanish classes in high school, so I understood about twenty percent of what he was saying. When I could interpret what he was saying, I would nod my head and say, “Si.” Unfortunately, I did the same even when I could not.
I successfully maneuvered the bike through the narrow front door and out onto the sidewalk. Nearing its end, I threw my left leg over the motorcycle and gazed into the blur of glinting metal vehicles whizzing inches from my front tire.
If you are a Westerner and have never experienced traffic in a third-world city, like Iquitos, driving there is a brave new world. Why? Because, while there are roads, there aren’t any real rules for them. It’s vehicular Darwinism at its finest — survival of the fittest and the fastest. As a foreign motorist, I knew I would need to quickly adapt or face extinction. (Did I mention, that the rental shop didn’t supply any helmets.)
Waves of motorcycles, scooters and three-wheeled rickshaws muscled their way down thin twisting streets. The hum of a thousand rubber tires racing across old asphalt coalescing with the whir of a million spinning aluminum spokes, electrified the air. Horns snarled, engines crackled and popped. Charcoal colored smoke swirled above the constant watercourse of glittering motorized steel. It was menacing for sure, but there was something magical about it.
I placed the heal of my sneaker on the kick-start and jumped down upon it. The engine turned over and growled. I gave the throttle two quick twists with my right hand. Two deafening snarls discharged, chasing a wraith of dusty fumes from the tail pipe.
Then I swallowed hard and took a deep breath, I pulled back the t
hrottle, tapped the gear pedal with my foot and screeched out into the street, leaving the sidewalk onlookers in a off-white cloud of smokey exhaust. I was absorbed into the spiraling horde of flesh and steel. My tires gripped the hot asphalt. My rims hissed. The callused elbows of other motorists, rubbed against mine. I blasted my horn, joining the croon above the rumble of engines and soot, as we swelled around corners and spilled
over hills. I took a sharp right turn, fully accelerated and sped off down a newly paved road leading into the Amazon.
Life is a like learning how to drive a motorcycle in Iquitos. It’s dangerous. It doesn’t come with clear instructions, or a helmet, and requires that you to do things you’ve never done before.
What do you need to do that you’ve never done before, so you can go to the places you’ve never been before?
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