Day Ten- August 10, 2008: Panjim, Goa to Tarkali, Maharashtra
If there is one day that everyone present for the CEAT Mumbai Xpress 2008 will remember most, it is very likely to be Day 10. After almost all 18 teams got their chance fighting with the hotel over ruined or stolen laundry, or change not received, burglarized autorickshaws and the late flag off due to late sleeping officials, it was a frustrating way to begin a long day that promised more brutal monsoon rains. With all the good humor and determination of elite troops, teams set out knowing that there would be a beautiful and incredible road ahead.
About at the boarder between Goa and Maharashtra teams began being turned away due to a washed out bridge. At the bottom of the hill a road was barricaded and a large lot with shops was filled with villagers curious to see floods reported to be the worst seen in 20 years. Of course when 18 rainbow colored autorickshaws driven by internationals showed up, it became a wild and potentially dangerous gathering. Children and drunks began trying to enter rickshaws and provoke participants. Vehicles were lined up and the crowd kept at bay before a restaurant was identified as a safe stop point where everyone could wait before hearing what the alternate route, or embarrassed trek back to Goa, would be. In a tight convoy the autos left the village and waited at the stop point before being re-routed.
The new route looked to be a million times more glorious than the intended one; curved hilly jungle roads with ever more beautiful scenery. Even the monsoon seemed to begin cooperating a bit. The first accident hit Team 13, The Engine, resulting in the loss of their front windshield, a particularly uncomfortable problem during a monsoon with 100 kilometers left to go. Mechanics drove the autorickshaw into Tarkali through everything.
The big disaster came about 30 minutes later in a curvy downhill section of the road where the jungle becomes field. Team 17, Luft der Freiheit, lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a ditch. For reasons unclear, the autorickshaw then burst into flames from the front. Hannes, the driver of the auto experienced several injuries, including trauma to his ear and hand that later required over 30 stitches. Despite this, he was able to pull his stunned partner, Niraj, out of the flaming auto before other teams could show up.
The vision of a flaming autorickshaw, bloodied and shocked friends is enough to unnerve anyone. The teams that were first on the scene, however kept calm and collected, despite also being out of cell reception and being in an unknown area where none of the signs had been in English for several kilometers. Team 18 Northland Control’s Grin N Bear IT, found an ambulance in the next town, team 6, Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies and 7, Compact Pussycats provided first aid, team 8, The Bald Spots, the GPS coordinates and team 5, The Jokes of Haphazzard, drove back and kept everyone moving. Organizer Nona Varnado was with Team 18, and took both injured participants to the nearest hospital, where lead mechanic supervisor and translator Kausar Baig was also on hand to provide assistance and transport to Mumbai if necessary.
Though Team 17 would be okay, other teams were still far from Tarkali with a major monsoon already flooding out the only roads available. Autorickshaws crossed roads just before, during and after rivers swelled into gushing floods. Only 4 teams made it to the hotel in time for the flag down, but all arrived safely before the next day’s flag off.