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Brazil’s Bananalama Enduro | Features

It’s a daily ritual. Early each morning, howler monkeys blast out the first notes of a wildlife concert in the rainforest.

Today, they are drowned out by the sound of a horde of valve-bouncing bikes. The primates have never seen so many motorcycles. Me neither.

In Brazil’s Bananalama enduro, more than three thousand heroes will battle for glory on a hodgepodge of beaten-up bikes. There are some Yamaha WR-Fs and KTM EXCs, many Honda CRF230s (which are manufactured locally) and hundreds of Honda CG125 Titans, with just two valves and a throbbing 11 horses available. It’s a fast and furious combination barely slowed by two weak drum brakes.

There’s no way most of these machines are going to stretch your arms, but there’s always a way to get hurt. Especially wearing gumboots or sneakers. I even saw flip-flops (Brazilian thongs). Missing spare cash and the instinct for self-preservation, most of the competitors ride without gloves and just the protection of a disguise.

One uses an inflatable doll as an airbag, another one crosses the banana plantation at full throttle, with two baby dolls strapped on his back.

Are they shooting a remake of The Great Escape? I mean, there’s this crazy guy wearing a striped prison uniform trying to escape on a trailbike and he’s filming the action with a compact digital camera taped on the chin of his helmet. He’s clever but, with one foot hampered by a ball and chain, he loses his rear brake in a delicate and slippery curve before falling in the mud. Wearing the unlucky number 13, he was asking for it!

Fancy dress seems to be a big part of the show; although some want to be serious competitors. Those who don’t want to go the whole hog settle for decorating their helmets. There is a plucked chicken stuck to one helmet for its last trip before the saucepan, a bowler hat here, antennas over there or huge horns that crack jokes: “Did your wife stay at home? If I were you, I would call her!” We laugh so hard, I pee my pants.

The Bananalama (literally, Banana in the Mud) takes place in a fruit region of southern Brazil. It’s hard to categorize this folksy event. It’s neither a race nor a walk, but rather a huge dirtbike party organized as an enduro. There is a finishing order, but nobody gives a coconut.

Once this wacky race has been run, the organisers likes to think that everyone has won. The night before, waiting for the latecomers, the crowd get to know each other, setting up a barbecue to grill a cebu (local cow). It is a night as hot as the glowing embers. A concert makes it hotter, after a freestyle show featuring Jorge Negretti, a national star touring the country with a ramp simply mounted on a truck.

At dawn, the event reveals its magnitude from the lookout point of the local seminary in Corupá, as participants come to pay the entry fee of 50 real ($18). There are so many riders, it’s crazy. The technical control area is managed by two guys dressed as women. Obviously, safety is a joke here.

Some have brought their retro gear like an MDS “Dave Thorpe replica” helmet or Victory boots from last century. Expert or novice, there will be entertainment for everyone. Before the course opens, the flag marshal constantly looks back, as if he is threatened by a huge swarm: big hornets (40 quads/ATV), wasps (nearly 3000 bikes), Chinese larvae (30 pitbikes) and some bees (the local Honda Biz scooter).

Common in this tropical region, violent showers quickly destroy the tracks. The show gains in intensity as riders cross water holes blind, at full gas, and negotiate tricky climbs in the wet plantation. A KTM jumps a huge step and lands in the crystal clear water of a stream. A Honda Biz that is following tries the same thing but it bounces like a spring.

The pilot has time to eject before copping the little scooter on his helmet, just in front of me. I can’t believe it. “Man, are you okay?” Breno dusts himself off and restarts the 110cc engine. He refuses to be defeated. With good skills and the help of a rock, the height difference is just managed. This guy is crazy.

The trail continues up a rocky climb to a breathtaking view of the hills of Corupá. The feeling of freedom is immense. Breno pulls out some branches of arnica that grows in the area. He kneads them between his fingers and makes a paste that he applies under his pants. In his fall, our man hurt his buttocks.

On the fence of an isolated farm, a big tarantula observes us. Then the motorcycles rush into the darkness of a labyrinth of vegetation. After two hours the riders are spread all over the place. The whole race looks like a mess. Several motorcycles cross a suspension bridge and make it shake. Unbalanced, the last rider is thrown into the river, 10 metres below.

Marquinho’s motorcycle is swallowed by the water. It looks bad for the poor Honda 250 Tornado (a kind of Brazilian XR) but, only slightly bruised, he finds the strength to flip his bike onto its handlebar. With the sparkplug out, grey water pukes out everywhere. Finally, it’s brought to life again, albeit backfiring badly.

Further downstream, the river is shallower. A local, wet up to his chest, pushes a boat that carries motorcycles by the dozen. Engines off, the yarns are going well on the frail craft. A friendship is created among riders from all over the country. Better than social media. As the last competitors straggle in, a tractor arrives with broken bikes and riders in the trailer. Looking at their faces, it looks like they’ll be back. In 2020, there could be 4000 guys ready to ruin themselves for two bananas as a trophy. It seems that off-road riders’ passion flowers in mud.