February 2013
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Month February 2013

An update, on market day

I’ve got to get out of here! I need to ride!

The bike parts are trying to get out of L.A. but they ran into shipping problems yesterday. Oh boy.

I really, really need to get going. I’m desperate to get back into the exotic unknown with Lucinda. I’m missing the feeling of sitting down with a beer at the end of the day, looking out over whatever environment i’m in and thinking back over the road, the sights and the riding. Oddly, above all the feel and sound of Lucinda rushing through the trees, cresting hills, across terrible pavement, or in exposed slow dirt situations or across water. It’s all really good. Thinking back over the last 5 months there have been countless of these experiences and, with any luck there’ll be countless more. Doing this has been a surprise: I had no idea, despite the crash, that it was going to be this satisfying. Even on the scariest riding day (probably the snow dump outside Rugby, or the 100 miles of brutal crosswind alongside Lake Michigan) or the most miserable (Louisiana after a long day of simply incredible rain, roads flooded for hours) it’s all been satisfying. I hate to use the word, but it’s been a big adventure, made up of 100 little ones.

Ahead is, by initial reckoning, about 3 to 4000 miles of new problems through to Panama City, where we’ll fly to Colombia. Two things top the list. First, security. A big topic so best to fill you in as we go. I’ll be riding country roads for the most part, so it’s a special concern. Second is rainy season, which starts in May theoretically. The problem so far has been that I tend to do more riding in an area than the time budget allows. Texas was paradise and took two weeks out of California for example because Arizona was so incredible. And so on. That will have to stop. I’ll have to keep moving from A to B in a more purposeful way. So I’ll build a few weeks of fluff into the plan.

I’ve learned about as much Spanish as I need to scrape by on the road. Am I happy with it? Not really, but putting it to survival use will sharpen it up pretty quickly.

There’s an immediate obstacle when I get back on the bike. Crash anxiety. A completely normal thing to feel after a big tumble. Taz was talking about it the other day and I know what he means…  Well, it’s temporary and I’ve been there a couple of times before, so whatever.

The maps are out again and hopefully it won’t be too long now.

So. There are three market days in Antigua: Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. It’s a very big deal here and the extent of it is always a shock. You can easily spend two hours walking it and not finish. It passes through various environments, each having it’s own purpose.

It all starts here. At dawn all the chicken buses start arriving from the surrounding country side. You’d think that since there’s no money here, nada, the buses would be wrecks (they’re sent down here after they’ve been thrashed doing school routes up in the US.) Not so. In fact the chicken buses are rolling art. The owners paint them, cover them in appliqués, chrome them and add as much after market stuff as the can afford, year by year and generally they’re worshipped by all. Then they name them girls names, blazing them across the back in big metallic stickers. Corny names like Esmerelda, Jenny Mae, Beatrice. This is an amazing coincidence, Lucinda thinks.

Here’s an example of a very cool chicken bus
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So you’re probably thinking this thing must have cost a fortune – how does that fit in to a system where everyone is dirt poor? I went and asked Ricardo the Hotel owner about that. He said, firstly these are the driver’s whole life. He’s proud and he’s competitive. Secondly, the adornment doesn’t cost as much as you’d think. Thirdly, bus drivers make good money. I said, hey no-one makes good money, even the local Doctors ride around on beater scooters, what’s up with bus drivers. He says they’re a closed shop and the routes are very valuable and you have to defend it with big bribes or by killing people. This wasn’t a surprise. There are almost as many shotguns being toted around down here as there are bikes. You buy your odds-and-ends at Tiendas through bars. Shops with valuable contents are defended by kids with shotguns – there seems to be a proliferation of private security firms that hang a shingle and send kids out each morning with a pocketful of shells. This militia kid is typical. He’s got a cheaper looking shotgun. Some are as chromed-out up as the buses
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Imagine what the bad guys look like. This is going to be on my mind a bit in El Salvador and Honduras. Honduras is supposed to be particularly bad right now. Even northern Guatemala is supposed to be a bit sketchy. In fact the west shore of Lake Atitlan, where Townsend and I were the other day, is seeing a lot of roadside robberies and artificial roadblocks (don’t stop, turn around fast and get the hell out of there.)

Anyway, off I went this morning to the market. Past one of my favourite ruins
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Into town. There’re a few areas where textiles, leather stuff and cheap paintings are sold to tourists. All the colour!
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To where all the buses are parked after unloading the produce (from the bus roofs) and the Mayan farmers. there are three long lines of them. About fifty buses in total
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And a bit more activity up against the back of the stalls. Wonderful
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Through the lines of people selling runners, light textiles, belts and things they can carry a lot of
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And past countless stalls selling discontinued American garbage. It was garbage originally. Here it’s a staple
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And as depressing as the clothing and tech stalls are, the produce market, run by the Mayans, is spectacular
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The Mayans are beautiful, cheerful and hard working. Unemployment in Guatemala is 4% and the Mayans are the backbone of the agricultural economy. Merle tells me the Mayans can produce more crop per acre than the Latinos will ever be able to. You end up stopping to admire the tomatoes like you’ve never seen a tomato before
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They’re always festive on market day
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Outside this Mayan oasis reality bites. There’s a long line of Latino boys where you get your shoes shined. Actually this is often a cover. This is where, if you’re so inclined, you buy your weed. The stashes are in those black boxes. A few of the guys behind are overseers and have guns shoved in their belts in case you don’t show good buy form.
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A drive in the country

We thought we’d take a drive to Lake Atitlan on a smaller road. We rented a car in Antigua. It’s the first time I’ve driven a car on this tour and the driving part’s not much fun. I can’t wait to get going on my bike again.

An interesting day, as always. The drive starts on the Pan American, taking us through the large town of Chimaltenango
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Then it starts to look a bit like, er,  Kelowna
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Then we take the chosen alternate route to the Lake about 50 miles away. As the town thins out it becomes more typical
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A nice view across town
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Immediately the surroundings become agricultural. Townsend farmed in South Africa for six years and gives me short lessons in irrigation and labor and a general colouring in of the things that we see
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She was impressed with what she saw and said that she’d love to farm here
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Then through a pueblo called Patzun. When they finish buildings here they don’t clip the rebar off
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Washing
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Then into the hills. The road was old but mostly paved and cut into the soft rock
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Towards the bottom was a narrow gorge. Very pretty driving
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At one point the road’s washed out
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Townsend watches locals clear rock out of the main channel. I’m  a bit mystified as to why they’re doing this
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But there’s a nice river/stream crossing. My first thought is to walk it first, bike style, but heck, it’s a rental car
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Later, up on the hillside again men are excavating a white sandy material out of tunnels. Not sure what it is but I’ll ask around
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They’re taking some risks judging from the occasional slides across the road
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Some of the holes went back twenty feet or more and had chambers along the way
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A nice road shot
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We followed this cool truck for a little while. The guy lying on top looked injured or something until his friend sat on him and we realized he was probably just big time hung over. I was  impressed that a truck this big was on this road that was difficult and sometimes dangerous in a silly car. Townsend thought the road was crazy
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Further along more farming. Very beautiful
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Then as we approached the lake the hills started clouding over
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So the view of the volcanoes around the lake wasn’t the best
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Then the descent into the town of Panajachel
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Where it was market day
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Pacaya

Townsend decided to take a break from the rain in Vancouver and come visit for a few days.

My ribs are healing up nicely and so we went for a guided hike up Volcano Pacaya. Unlike Xicantecatl about 6 weeks ago, Pacaya at 8400 feet is only medium big. It’s been erupting continuously since 1965 with a big one in 1998 which sent ash up 15,000 feet. We weren’t allowed to climb to the edge of the cauldera as 7 years ago a tourist fell in, probably with a kindof fssst sound.

On the way we drove through the town of Amatitlan
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People working on the left side
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And on the right
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Up the mountainside past small villages
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To a meeting spot where the guides waited and kids sold walking sticks. We set off with two horses in tow; the handlers hoping we’d tire and jump on.
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We passed through harvested fields into a layer of clouds
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And into a windswept forest
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At one point we rounded a corner to a grove of these yellow shrubs that from twenty feet look exactly like Mahonia aquifolium I’m sure you agree
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Then the trail got seriously steep and we climbed for another hour or so. Well not ‘we’ because at one point Townsend said Stop! and jumped on a horse. Across the valley another Volcano appeared above the clouds. It’s name escapes me.
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The last push through the last of the trees was a hard slog, through loose volcanic rubble and sand
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It plateaued for a while. The views through the racing clouds were beautiful
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And
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Across lava fields
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And unbelievably there were these dogs running around. This 49th-and-Arbutus looking thing is a Maltese Poodle
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And this one
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And this one
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There were hot vents where ferns grew
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This one was pumping out steam
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Pacaya was still in the clouds. We took the customary photo and descended back to Antigua through the forest
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Bikes

On the weekends sport bikes from Guatemala City roll into town.

It’s hard not to love the clean look of these bikes. All manufacturer’s labels and badges removed, no stickers, no more than a single colour and hey, no plates.

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Dispatch from Fred

Fred is a passionate rider. I suppose everyone down here is but his photo album has a depth and breadth I think we’re all a bit envious of. Not surprisingly he’s successful elsewhere in life.

Currently the group he’s with is moving south fast.

He’s German. I’m looking forward to riding with him in Europe about 16 months from now. Motorcycle tour in Mexcico

Here he is club racing at Hockenheim on his 1000RR
Fred 2011 - S 1000 RR

He’s crashed a few times in the last two weeks.

Hy Jeremy,

Of cource all the best for body and bike.
I call it touch down.
 
The 1. I had in Honduras, there was a big whole in the road filled up with earth, an it was raining,
not realy raining it was wet.
I colsed the throttle an my back wheel like to past me.
and I am on the ground.
 
Two mexican guys will help me to pick all the stuff.
nothing happens.
 
the 2. touch down
I was on the road with david and ed.
we are riding through a villige with a lot of trucks.
in the middle there was no space so we take the ride side, ed and david behind me
when I was infront of the front wheel of the truck there was one of this small
local motor cycles and ther was not enough space between the truck and this small bike
so the truck touch me an my left panjier and pushed me on this small bike.
Now the look of my panjier and one of my adv lights.
 
the 3. touch down
at the toll roads !
bike have to pay nothing, thats nice.
 
the have on right side like a small sidewalk.
 
and one of this had 3 concret walls,
Ok, 2 of the a pasted easyly and the 3. I touch with my left panier.
so it throughs me to the right side.
 
whats the result, my panjeíers to huge.
 
At this morning we start in Quito, Ecuador.
 
Tomorrow evening we are cosed to th border of peru.

She’s back

Lucinda’s been up in Guatemala City for a week. After less than perfect communications with the shop there, Jeff and I got nervous and pulled her. She arrived back in Antigua yesterday.

There’s a fellow here, Taz Bok, who’s just set up shop. He used to be the guide with the leading Guatemalan motorcycle tour company. He lives and breathes bikes and has done the repair work for the recent travellers who’ve come through.

The new and final plan is to do further investigations at Taz’s today. We’ll take more photographs, send them to Jeff and put together a final parts list.

We pulled the panniers off to be sent out for repair. We’ll immediately straighten the pannier racks and carefully start the process of straightening the rear sub frame. While this is going on Jeff will get the parts shipped to LA and when all’s complete up there he’ll send the mechanic down here with everything we need.

It sounds extreme but there’s no other way. Getting Lucinda out of the country for repair could take weeks or months. We’re in the wrong country. Mexico would have been fine, ditto Panama, Columbia, and others. But there are a few where a major problem, like engine damage, is really bad news.

This probably won’t be the last time. There’s been a wave of crashes around here and further south with another group of riders I follow.

Lucinda in her new home, boxes off

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School

So far it’s been 2 1/2 weeks, 6 days a week, four hours a day plus homework and I think I’m getting some traction. A month more to go.

It’s a mile walk each way which feels more than that because of the cobblestones and traffic. So I leave at 7:30 for an 8:00 start.

My school is a beautiful place. About 30 students. The area in the left middle of the photo is where they serve snacks at break time

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It’s fairly intense. Each session is actually 4 hours 15 minutes since they don’t want you to think the 15 minute break is time off. Time for another coffee. Only Spanish is spoken, it’s one-on-one only, so the first week is hell.

Every week a supervisor comes by to check in. This is the opportunity to change instructors if the current one has broken your spirit and you feel like flipping a coin for one with less energy.

Merle, my instructor, who I’d never trade because she has a sense of humour (thank God I’m not in German immersion), which she’s needed with me, can be a serious driver. I’m smiling at this point. That never lasts long

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Merle:    Otre vez Jeremy! Otre vez!   (again Jeremy! again!)

Merle:    Rapido Jeremy! Rapido!  (quickly Jeremy! quickly! )

Merle:    Practica, practica, practica Jeremy!  (practice, practice, practice Jeremy!

Sometimes I throw a wrench into it and try to kill the pace. That happened this morning when we were discussing Coban, a municipality which includes some important parks. She uses new discussion areas to bump up the vocabulary. I was slumped over with exhaustion when I see an opening. Here’s how it went:

Merle:    ….y muchos parajos y manos    (…and many birds and monkees)

Me:    No Merle. No hay monos en Guatemala. Monos de Africa  (No Merle. There are no damn monkees in Guatemala. Monkees are from Africa.)

Merle:    Si, Jeremy. Hay muchos monos en Guatemala   (Yes, Jeremy. There are tons of monkees in Guatemala)

Me:    No Merle, you’re pulling my chain.    (in english)

Merle:    Poooling my chain? Que significa?   (pulling my chain? what does this mean?)

Victory!

Bike

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