Tag towns

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

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.


We’ve settled in and had our first day of school.

Antigua’s in the shadow of a volcano. It’s huge and lies to the south. With any luck it’ll blow while I’m here. There are 36 in the area and nearly all have the potential to do something spectacular

A brief overview. The volcano

Mountains to the north

The town of 40,000 is mostly single storey and walled. All the streets are cobblestone

The main square

The junction of the two main streets

Guatemalans are beautiful

My first day of school. In fact the first five minutes. This is Merle. She’s hilarious. I was totally hooked when we were at Buenos noches Senorita within seconds. I could definitely remember that.

OK, enough culture. This is a bike blog.

This is where Lucinda lives, until she gets picked up for repair. A locked courtyard. I put the cover on her after a couple of days of her getting bombed by avocados from the tree above her

This is an Antiguan pothole. Technically they don’t seem to be a problem as I haven’t seen one more than a few inches deep.

There are more bikes in Antigua than cars. There are two types of bikes – very cheap and very expensive. Nothing in between because the people are either dirt poor or fabulously rich. Here is one of the endless line-ups of cheap bikes. The assortment is interesting and I’ll do a post on this subject after careful study

The rich kids have larger, newer bikes, but they’re rare. Based on what I’ve seen, maybe one in 100. In fact this is the only cafe I’ve seen where they hang out and I’ve walked most of the town core.

Then there’s this guy. I’ve seen him twice. In fact when I saw him, the whole town saw him twice, because everyone stops to watch him. White leathers, matching sport bike. He’s totally the man here, a bike town. It’s super important not to laugh because the whole town goes silent as he goes by blipping the throttle. He shifts every few seconds.

Another shot of the endless bikes

And here’s a very pretty gas station