The highlight of Holy Week in Antigua is the Procession. Preceding it are 5 Processions over 5 weeks.
Briefly the Procession is two groups of men carrying andas over a route between churches that winds through the streets of Antigua, over (and destroying) the beautiful flower and dyed sawdust carpets for a few miles.
Tens of thousands of people watch from the sides of the streets, it’s the event of the year, and it’s a good idea to pick a spot a couple of hours in advance. If you’re tall you’re in luck. I’ve a few not-so-tall friends so out of tact I’ve avoided mentioning the most glaring truth about Guatemaltecas other than their good nature when unarmed. The average height is 1.65 meters. This is about .17 meters short of less than, er, a fair deal. This explains why I have to take the pictures of the militia at a bit of a distance and crop the photo hard. If I crouched down for a shot of a guy with a shotgun that might not end well. But a bit of height’s a huge advantage in a crowd so I had a great view and Claudia’s (shortish) studying for an English exam the next day so no problem.
Basically the Procession’s an opportunity for Antiguans, who’ve sinned in the preceding year, to shoulder the load of an anda, as Jesus (if you like) did with the cross. They have to pay some money. For this, they’re totally absolved of their sins. Piece of cake.
It may not look like it but 86 men carry two andas, a few hundred yards apart, total 172 men. They switch men every block or so because there are more than 172 sinning men in Antigua. This is interesting to know because then you can do the math given Antigua has a population of 35,000 and let’s guess 40 change-overs. It’s a whopping percentage of sinners. But it’s all relative. Hopefully the sins here are, on average, no greater than forgetting to take out the garbage. But if this was home, West Van, it would be the entire male population out there the percentage might be a bit higher.
So I have my spot in the crowd – it’s a great spot because the street here is narrow.
Here are a few photo’s and some short videos.
Walking early downtown
It gets crazier as various groups and camps position themselves
Views are at a premium. This kid was almost the only gringo I saw all day. The tourists for some reason avoided all this. Maybe because it was fairly intense. Their loss.
So, rather than pics, a few short videos of what happens next. The sounds and movement are much more impressive.
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
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
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
Into town. There’re a few areas where textiles, leather stuff and cheap paintings are sold to tourists. All the colour!
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
And a bit more activity up against the back of the stalls. Wonderful
Through the lines of people selling runners, light textiles, belts and things they can carry a lot of
And past countless stalls selling discontinued American garbage. It was garbage originally. Here it’s a staple
And as depressing as the clothing and tech stalls are, the produce market, run by the Mayans, is spectacular
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
They’re always festive on market day
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.
Two weeks ago Lucinda was sitting in the courtyard being bombed by avocados and wondering when her flight to LA was. We knew whatever was wrong with her was serious enough to warrant a flight out of here.
I was spending hours trying to navigate the paperwork. Here’s a sample of what life looked like:
Before we can arrange the pickup we first need to have written permission from the NHSTA and EPA to move the bike into the USA. The EPA has informed it is possible to import the bike temporarily into the US for repair, BUT there is a fly in the ointment. NHTSA has not come back with any approval or instructions at this time. They do not offer any type of automatic exemption for repair on a non-US registered vehicle.
I will provide you with rates for this move, but I have to make it clear that we are still pending approval from NHTSA before we can ship it. For EPA, you will need to complete the attached and send it directly to EPA. EPA’s email is: Imports@epamail.epa.gov
The bike cannot be imported without this letter and should not ship until it is received back from EPA. EPA does not guarantee any type of turn-around time on issuing the letter, but we would advise that you need to express your urgent timeline to the EPA when you send the attached exemption letter to them. Please review the letter, add the missing info, and rework the narrative if anything is incorrect.
You will need to send the form directly to EPA, along with copies of your registration, passport, license and anything else EPA comes back with in their reply to you.
I have also attached POA for him to complete, along with an EPA form. There may be an additional form NHTSA will need, but we am waiting to hear back from them.
I was thinking I needed to rent a time machine, un-sell my company for a day and delegate this fucking mess. That seemed as plausible as any of the alternatives.
After discussions with Jeff in LA we decided to use a bike shop in Guatemala City as a workshop, put Lucinda in an induced coma there, have a look inside and fly both the parts and the talent this way, rather than that way. Expensive but no choice.
So I just got the pictures. Here are a few. This used to be a piston
This is supposed to be a bit straighter, like, straight
That funny looking white line is a crack in the sleeve
And last but not least
So Jeff and I’ll put together a plan. No matter we come up with it’s going to be epic.
A summary of how Antigua came to be might look like this:
After Cortes had landed in Central America and completely screwed the Aztecs in 1521, his most brutal lieutenant, Pedro de Alvarado, went south into Guatemala like a 3:00 a.m. nightmare.
Bastard of a bad breed, he arrived with 120 horseman, 300 foot soldiers and a similar quantity of recruits from the Cholula and Tiaxcala tribes and started slaughtering the population. To quote from Wiki, Alvarado’s inhumanity knew no bounds. He murdered the population ‘ by means such as hanging, burning and feeding them alive to dogs’.
I read the eye witness account of Cortes and Alvarado and the vileness of their existences in Bernal Diaz’s book The Conquest of New Spain when i was in my twenties.
Anyway, the people of Guatemala who survived, shocked to their depths of their souls, were easy pickings for the Catholic Church who treated them better.
The town of Antigua, then known as Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan, was founded in 1524 and almost instantly had 38 major churches and one cathedral. In the vicinity of 38 volcanoes… To borrow from William Blake, what fearful symmetry. Or from Dorothy Parker, what fresh hell is this?
So the population, clustered around this capital city, after some time to catch their breath, bought the farm a second time when the city was destroyed by two earthquakes in the 1770’s. So total was the destruction that the Spanish themselves were shocked into moving the capital out of harm’s way to what is now Guatemala City.
There are ruins everywhere. In fact the small Hotel which is my new home for a while is built in the typical Antiguan aftermath.
We’re a day and a half from the Guatemalan border and leave at 7:00 sharp from Oaxaca for Tehuatepac.
The group’s fairly split up, with Peter and Fred out in front. I’m a few minutes behind them, followed by Dan, Helge, Marty and Bill in the sidecar, and David. About an hour out of Oaxaca we’re into hills and nice twisties.
At about 9:30 we pull over for a photo. I push the shutter at the wrong moment because a truck ends up in the pic. Hum, wonder what that means
Five minutes later Peter and Fred are stopped at a pullout and I stop to chat for a few minutes. As usual I prefer to ride by myself so when it’s time to go I don’t join them and hang out for a bit.
Ten minutes later I’m going into a corner and the bike goes both loose and solid underneath me. I think I’m run over something and have lost the rear end but at the same time I feel like I’ve dropped an anchor, slowing suddenly. This feeling is completely new and I haven’t got any idea what’s going on. Lucinda veers a bit left then for a fraction of a second we’re straight, and i think ‘OK, no problem’ then another fraction of a second later Lucinda dives right and I’m high-sided off her.
Something’s blown in the right cylinder due to the overheating, we’ve been in a skid and I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull in the clutch, because I hadn’t figured it out in the partial second of time I had to prevent the crash.
As I’m flying I’m thinking, as I’ve been in this situation before, oh boy, this is really going to hurt.
So here’s the video. Riders will find this a bit nasty. I trimmed the video at the precise moment the high-side started because the flying and landing bit is too gross to watch.
Holy shit it’s a long flight. I land hard on my back. The impact is brutal. Way worse than any of my bone breaks. Worse even than when I broke part of my pelvis. I’ve been completely hammered and fighting for air. For a while it doesn’t come and I’m worried. A scary half minute later I can suck in enough that the panic subsides and I crawl to the side of the road. I know where I am is deadly should a car come around the corner. Up against the guard rail I look back at Lucinda. She looks fine, but down and in the middle of the road. I’m scared stiff that a car comes around now and hits her but I can’t move anymore and watch her helplessly. I’m done. I know this isn’t a standard ‘off ‘, it’s another big one.
A pick-up comes around and slows just in time. The driver jumps out and runs over to me. I guess because I’m against the rail and look normal enough when I point to the bike he runs back to it, get’s her on her feet (a rider, what luck) and wheels her over beside me.
While this is going on there are two huge thoughts messed together in my mind at the same time, fighting for control.
“Oh no. I’ve really hurt myself this time”
” Oh no. My tour is over”
The second thought loses the argument. Somehow I know it’s not over, that I can recover from nearly anything. I have before. I become intensely curious about what’s wrong with me, because it feels huge.
Then, as luck would have it, Dan comes around the corner. The trained medic in our group. He quickly parks and is at my side almost instantly. God what a relief I think. Off with my jacket and he goes to work. Asking questions while he checks me over, a bit at a time. It takes forever because there’a lot to check. There comes a point after maybe five minutes of this that the focus narrows. It’s my left side, front and back, from lower rib cage to top. Somehow I know that nothing inside is screwed. I have no idea how I know this. I say so. He believes me, or says he does.
To put this in perspective, in previous accidents, where things have been serious and bystanders worried, I’ve not made a fuss about it. I just shut down and wait. This time, for the first time, I was worried. What do they call it? Blunt force trauma? Now I know what that means, I think.
While this has been going on, the group that was behind is now in action. Helge’s getting Lucinda in a pick-up and co-ordinating everyone. Dan’s monitoring me. David’s on traffic control from the north, Marty from the south. The rest were ahead and of course enjoying the day, which I’ve screwed up for the present group. Damn.
There are a ton of details about the rest of the day. The short form is I go back to Oaxaca by ambulance, get XRayed, shot full of drugs, put in the Mexican chase car, driven and entertained by Mac, where I spend the next day and a half getting to Antigua. Where fortunately I had planned to spend six weeks learning Spanish and touring the countryside. So as it happens, it couldn’t have happened in a better place. The XRay checked out. I’ve just been beaten up hard and it’ll be a few weeks before I can ride again.
I’m mystified by what happened in the right cylinder. We tried to start it the following morning and it was all explosive smoke and oil being fired out. We’ll find out more when we take her apart. Poor Lucinda. She has a bent rear subframe and a shot engine. Getting her back in fighting shape is going to be the next adventure.
In the province of Oaxaca, Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian city ruin dating to 500 BC. 30,000 people lived here, high on a mountain top
I’ve got a ton of great photos, and the story of Monte Alban is a good one, but blogs are boring so I’ll go (almost) straight to the punch line.
The city is extensive. Buildings rise off the high plain like tombs. Words are tough to come up with for this. It’s impressive.
There’s one depression in the landscape. You see it coming
Then you’re on top of it. It’s not large. Small compared to everything else
This is a game court. The game they played was apparently like handball. And here’s the thing: The game is played only once every 52 years. On this day, everything in the city is ‘renewed’. The fires are all put out, food is destroyed, everything starts from scratch, once in a lifetime.
The arena only sits a few hundred people, so only the elite get to watch the final match.The tension after a 52 year wait must be toxic. You can imagine the fury the finalists must play with. And then, in an act of renewal that’s close to perfection, they kill the winner.
( Once again I have to apologize for the lack of photos and accompanying narrative. The group’s moving quickly)
After a rest day in SM Allende, we push to Oaxaca through agricultural land into the heart of Mexico. It’s repetitive long stretches with occasional climbs into the hills. A representative view
This is where they get the hotel lobby plants
It’s not often that the places I’ve stayed have been remarkable, but Rodavento in Valle de Bravo was spooky. Set in a gulley, with cabins on a steep hillside above it, the lush quietness, the carp as big as dogs that patrol the lake and the mist were unworldly . Put this on your list
Leaving Valle de Bravo, the group splits into two. Helge, Fred and I head for Xinantecatl. Stopping for a coffee, we meet up with two local riders from Mexico City. Arturo and Victor are busting with enthusiasm to ride with the legendary Helge Pedersen. I quietly tell myself they’re in for a bit of a disappointment because the thing about Helge is that you don’t notice he’s there. I’ve taken to calling him The Ghost. You kindof know where everyone is, ahead, behind, stopped, when you’re riding with the group. But not Helge. He appears from behind when you thought he was ahead and you pass him gassing up when you could have sworn he was behind. He took a picture of me from a building or a bridge ten days ago and up until that moment I thought I knew for a fact I was way ahead of everyone. Wrong. Like anyone at the cutting edge of the art, his style is immaculate and he has no technical mannerisms. Or conceits.
Talking about visual conceits, most of us have carefully cultivated theatrics that say ‘ hey, I’m really really really good ‘. Like the launch-with-a-trailing-foot thing that my good friend DR does. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I’ll bring my foot up when I damn well feel like it’. Or the launch-while-looking-calmly-over-the-shoulder-even-into-traffic. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I have an innate sense of my surroundings as I launch’. Or the glove or visor adjustment while launching. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I can fine tune various details while I launch’. It’s important to have one or more of these visuals mastered unless, actually, you’re really really good.
Mainly this is a sport bike thing, where appearance is everything. Doing one or more of them on a dual-sport bike says ‘In my extensive inventory of past and present skills, i used to be a very very fast sport bike rider. Godlike, actually’.
But dual-sport and sport bike behaviours differ when it comes to the message. The general message you need to get across on a sport bike is ‘ this machine is lethally powerful. It would kill you instantly but to me it’s nothing. Danger is my currency. I’m a Master of the Universe’. The dual-sport message is ‘ I have seen things in far-away places that you will never see and faced dangers you will never face. Cannibals and cliffs. You are city dwelling and soft. I’m immortal, hundreds of years old, and the son of Zoltan’.
Another critical difference is that the sport bike message is broadcast to other riders but the dual-sport message is directed at women.
The sport bike message is actually reasonably honest. The dual-sport message is often a big lie. You can’t fake it on a fast sport bike. You can, to an extent, on a dual-sport.
But if you’re really good you don’t do or broadcast anything. You just ride. If truth be told, very few of us are that good. Helge’s one of the few.
So our awestruck local riders, looking for something that Helge does to talk about over cervezas are not going to find it today. But they’re young and as keen as puppies so it’s going to be a fine day. I check out their bikes, 800 GS’s, and I’m impressed at their no-bullshit setup. No doubt they can ride.
Here’s Helge schooling the puppies. As they walked away they left little pee puddles
So off we go. The climb up the volcano is 17 miles long. Low down on the flanks
At about 7000′ Lucinda stops to check out the view
Me following Fred. The track is narrow and in places icy with dramatic drop-offs. No falling allowed here. Actually Arturo does crash, but fortunately in a safe place. See the post “cobblestones and ice’ for video taken at 10,000 feet
I guess the only thing I can say about this ride is it’s one of the best I’ve ever done, and maybe the best. Worth shipping your bike to Mexico City specifically to do. I wish I’d taken more photographs but the memory will be vivid for years. Riding it with Helge and Fred is icing on the cake.
The conditions are perfect. Cold, clear and the climb so fast and dramatic that we felt the air thinning as we approached the pass into the caldera at what Helge says was 14,500 feet, about 1000 feet below the ultimate peak.
The caldera was breathtaking. We rode down to the edge of the lake. The customary shot – from the left Victor, Fred, Arturo and Helge
Me cruising the shoreline before nearly burying Lucinda in one of the pools of quicksand