Traveling clown Luciano Caferri walks into a bicycle shop in Quito, Ecuador.
He speaks with Nelson, the shop’s bike mechanic. He explains clearly his desire to convert his small clown bicycle into a type of wheeled mount for his belongings. A week earlier, his traveling bicycle was stolen.
The mechanic told him he’d see what he could do in the next two days to build his machine. When Caferri returned to inquire about the contraption, the mechanic responded, “No – you’re crazy. Just take my bike. You need it more than I do.”
Since then, he has pedaled his way through much of Latin America, arriving a couple of months ago in Costa Rica, where he has been plying his clown trade by means of workshops and performances.
I meet Caferri on a rainy afternoon at Sala Calle 15, a theater in downtown San José. He wanders in a bit wet – he doesn’t like umbrellas, he tells me.His tuft of thick, brown, curly hair scoffs at an attempt to be pulled back into a ponytail, the springy curls struggling outward in a battle to find free-form expression atop his head. Small creases show on his forehead, and his dark green eyes are like cameras. A small tuft of hair protrudes below his lower lip. Loose clothes hang easily from his thin frame. He’s comfortable – someone you want to talk with over a cup of coffee.
He tells me about a Frenchman who traveled 85,000 kilometers by bicycle, crossing 70 countries in seven years. In six years, Caferri, 32, has crossed 12, estimating his mileage at some 20,000 km.
“They all beat me long ago,” he says, referring to the Frenchman and other world-traveling cyclists. “I’m going to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for laziest bastard.”
Nonetheless, in six years Caferri has pedaled his way up and down the Andes several times, to Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, the Amazon basin, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and now Costa Rica, weaving his way from Quito by canoe through the tiny tributary rivers of the Amazon.
Painted red, along with other resounding splotches of color, Caferri’s bicycle reveals a mess of cables and attachments where saddle bags and possessions are attached during travel. Mounted on the front is a small, empty birdcage. “This is not a cage,” a sign inside reads, “it is a bird set free.”
“My bike is my school,” he says, explaining that traveling by bike means immediacy, confronting the road and reality and learning in moments what otherwise takes a year.
“When the bike is all loaded up and ready for the road, I fill with emotions. I’ve embraced it, even cried a little.”
Caferri began studying the clown art form at workshops in his native Argentina, where he began developing site gags, juggling and other skills associated with the trade, as well as his unequivocal clown persona, Circleta. He describes how, working in a factory in Buenos Aires at 18 years old and seeing his father’s workaday existence, the trip arose as a response to his need to live a different kind of life.
The same freedom he finds in his road bicycle, he says, he encounters in the theatrical art of clowning.
“When I find work that allows me to feel more free, I’ll do it,” he says. “But the poetry of the clown also forces you to have your goals super clear. If you don’t know why you’re doing this, you can fall into prostituting yourself, making the art into a business.”
He hasn’t always been a one-man traveling act, he says, explaining that the two loves of his life were also cyclist performers.
“I have deep respect for the woman who pedals, beyond that for any man,” he says. “They’re warriors – one in a thousand.”
In northern Ecuador, he traveled side by side with a dancer and teacher of deaf children.
They worked with associations for the deaf, giving mime and dance workshops. Together they organized a tour of deaf youth performers around Ecuador.
When probed for more details about the relationship, Caferri focuses in on the moment of departure: “To leave behind someone you’ve traveled with, lived with, pedaled with, is hard,” he admits.
But not even love can interfere with the purity of his dreams, goals and free way of life.
“I’m kind of a prick like that – I mean stubborn,” he says, insinuating with a boyish smile the lost loves and wounded hearts his forward momentum has caused along the way.
“I always have the alternative to stay,” he says, though he has no plans to do so yet.
“When my legs won’t pedal anymore, I’ll get a motorcycle or a car.”
So what’s in this traveling clown’s future? Caferri looks ahead to Central America, Mexico, the United States – “if they’ll let me in” – and beyond.
“Instead of fitting a trip into my life, I fit my life into a trip,” he says.
Caferri plans to stay in Costa Rica through November, before taking once again to the open road north. His next performance is scheduled for Nov. 10 at 8 p.m., at the JoséFigueresFerrerPopularCultureCenter in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Dent, 300 meters north and 300 meters east of Santa Teresita Church.