August 12th, 2010 - Monclova to San Luis Potosi, Mexico
We set the alarm clock to get out of Monclova early in the morning but my body wasn’t cooperating. Cynthia finally managed to drag me out of bed around 10 am, and when I called the guys, it turned out that a shock absorber on the SRzero electric car has broken off and so the team wasn’t leaving until around 2:00 p.m. from Mario’s Inn just outside of Saltillo. We packed up and set off down the road to find the team. Thankfully the weather was milder today but still hot, and the dry deserts of México were giving way to more tropical landscape. 200km later, we found the electric car and RGE guys waiting for us at the hotel. The RGE team is comprised of Claudio Von Planta (documentary filmmaker), Jonathan Richards (cameraman/editor) and the five engineering students from imperial college of London: Toby Schulz, Andy Hadland, Alex Schey, Clemens Lorf, and Nick Sauer. Two guys usually sit in the SRzero, Cynthia and Claudio would take turns riding with me, and the rest would follow in an E-350 Ford Van for support and to haul the rest of the gear and tools. You can see more about the RGE project at www.racinggreenendurance.com
We rode over 3200km from Northern Montana to middle of México to catch up with them and we succeeded at last. Introductions were made all around amidst video cameras filming our arrival, and then we loaded some of our gear into the van to make room for Claudio on back of the bike so he can start filming.
I could call myself an experienced motorcyclists after thousands of miles of riding in virtually any weather and road condition, but I was still quite apprehensive of the task ahead of me: riding an 800 pound motorcycle with 300+lbs of human cargo on it down the not-too motorcycle friendly roads of Latin America. Riding two-up is challenging at best but manageable as long as your pillion is not moving too much and follows the rhythm of the ride.
Riding with Claudio would automatically cancel out all the cardinal rules of riding as he planned to film the SRzero from the bike with a handheld video camera (5lb professional camera) mounted on a tripod. He would be hanging down from the side and back with no prior warning and my job was to ride close to the subject and maintain a steady speed while he filmed. No easy task by any means.
Without further ado, Claudio and I got set up on the bike and the whole convoy headed out for the 467 kilometer long journey to San Luis Potosi in the heart of México.
As I anticipated, riding two up and filming was hard work. I soon realized that I have to counterbalance every move and be ready for anything. It was scary at first seeing Claudio hanging down from the side on the curves but I learned not to look down and keep my eyes on the road. A couple of hours of practicing different methods finally put my mind at ease and the weird configuration soon became a natural rhythm.
The routine practice is that we pass the car and Claudio turns back as I slow down and let the car overtake us. Then I ride as close as possible and let him take the close-up shots on either side. Finally, we set off and leave the car behind to find a high section of the road or a bridge to take some tri-pod shots. Once we get all these shots, we look for interesting landscapes, people, dead animals…
Getting to know Claudio von Planta himself was worth the trip alone. At age 48 Claudio is arguably the most talented and respected adventure (for lack of better words) videographer and documentary filmmaker of our time. Educated in Zurich on Political Science, he has spent over 20 years pursuing his passion, investigative journalism and filming. From the mountains of Afghanistan to tropical rainforests of New Guinea, he has a story with footage to back it up.
He has spent most of his professional life in conflicts zones around the world, bringing hard-to-beat footage to major TV stations including the first ever televised interview with Osama Bin Laden, and producing many award-winning documentaries on global issues such as Rape Trade and Aids. He speaks German, French and English fluently, and other languages such as Brazilian Portuguese. The ever-popular TV series of Long Way Round and Long Way Down are excellent works, but to judge Claudio’s talent and determination based on these two series alone is an underestimation.
It took us all day to cover the miles and before we knew it, I had the firsthand experience of driving in México after dark. The highways are generally good, but what’s on the highways is the main concern. There are thousands of stray dogs everywhere with nothing better to do than to chase motorcycles. The locals tie up their livestock to the side of the road to graze on the green grass, and it’s not unusual for the cows and donkeys to be crossing the road unattended. Due to these circumstances, driving at night is not advisable, but we had no choice and had to make our destination at San Luis Potosi.
After getting lost a few times in the SLP city center, we finally reunited with the rest of the crew at the hotel. There was a bit of a problem getting the electric car into the parking garage as it didn’t have enough clearance for the grade of the entryway ramp. Despite multiple attempts at makeshift adjustments the car was not able to go down the steep ramp of the garage. Finally they found another parking garage to park in where they could charge the car overnight and we settled in for the night. Next: Journey to Mexico City, the second largest city in the world (at night of course)!