Posted in May 2013

Carlos is Awesome

30 de Mayo

Country/Day: Guatemala/16

Bikes Fixed: 22

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5

Bikes/Day Average: 1.375


And cute to boot.

Prabhat, I hope you’ll forgive me if I write this after not writing one called “Prabhat is Awesome.” You are, indeed, awesome. But… you don’t weld. And (spoiler alert) at the end of the day, that’s really what this post is about.

I’ll just get to it then.

So say you’re Carlos. A customer comes in and they need to replace their bottom bracket. As it ends up, part of the reason is rust, and there’s so much rust that the shell of the bottom bracket is actually rusted in place. Now, the BB is one of the only parts on a bicycle that you can’t just hack or hammer off. You could argue it’s the heart of the bicycle (whereas if, say, you can’t get the brake levers off, you can replace the handlebars – crude, but possible).

So how do you get enough leverage on the thing to break through all the rust?

You weld a pole to it.


And then get your son to do the heavy lifting.

And then when you’re done, you can just cut off the excess solder you used to weld the pole on.



But wait! There’s more, you say? Say there’s some tool you need. This tool is pretty important to bicycle maintenance… in fact, it’s arguable one of the more important tools when it comes to repairing old bicycles. But you don’t have it. What do you do? You make it.

Step one: Get someone who knows what the tool looks like.


Who… me?

Step two: Have them draw it for you.


As crudely as possible of course.

(okay, I did a bit more than just sketch it out)

Step three: Do some welding.


I know, I know. I could have been more artistic about this.

Step four: Tool.


Yup… it’s a tool.

Yes. He made that. Here we are testing it out.


Did it work?

(it’s a tool for aligning a part of the bike called the derailleur hanger, where the tool is screwed in. You align it using the wheel of the bike)

Other things you can make when you’re someone like Carlos:


Yup. It worked.

A bicibombia – bicycle water pump. More on the bicimaquinas later. The point is… we should all be more like Carlos. Maybe we could start a fanclub. It could be called “I <3 Carlos.” There could be t-shirts.

Here’s a prelude to another post I need to get to: Carlos has tools. Working at BiciTec is, in many ways, the opposite of working at Fauji Cycles. It is still obviously volunteer work – there’s an endless pile of stuff to do, for instance – and it’s obviously necessary work, as the bicycles are used almost exclusively for commuting (and the bicimaquinas, obviously, are used only for what they are designed). But in order to build the bicicmaquinas, he needs… stuff (like a welder). He had slews of volunteers over the 19 years he worked with Maya Pedal, and many of them brought tools. Fortunately, when he separated from Maya Pedal, he was able to keep many of these tools.

Aside from making awesome bicimaquinas, they allow him to do some things that not even a normal bike shop (even one stateside) can do. For instance, he has a belt sander. I’ve already discovered a number of uses for this tool. For starters, I chipped my screwdriver in India and was able to sand away the rest of the chip to make it practically brand new again. But that was a one-time thing.

Here’s something you can use it for that wouldn’t even happen in the US. Depending on how you use them and materials involved, over time, brake pads can ingest large amounts of metal off the rims of a bicycle’s wheels. The US solution, of course, is to replace them. I wondered if, rather than replacing them, the metal could be sanded off. I asked and, as it ends up, it can.


A whole new world…

A new set of brake pads will run you $10 in the states. In Guatemala, “new pads” don’t exist… so this method is pretty much priceless. Either way, it’s just one of the many new things I’ve already learned here.


Like how to build one of these.

You heard me.

4 thoughts on “Carlos is Awesome

  1. Jenna says:

    I was just logging on to leave a message about how it is about time that you update your blog… but then this was here! Made my day 🙂

    I had no idea you could do that to brake pads. I’m totally gunna sand mine 😛

    What’s the half of a bicimaquina you’ve been working on?

    • Kyle says:

      Thought so :oP

      I know! Me too! Replacing them is so expensive, too…

      It’s a bike blender I started before the BNB shipment. Will finish… eventually.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Carlos is awesome – a bicycle water pump! And, it sounds like you are learning a lot, and teaching new things to Carlos too. How did the derailleur hanger work?

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26 de Mayo

Country/Day: Guatemala/12

Bikes Fixed: 19

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5

Bikes/Day: 1.58


But here’s a bicycle-related photo just for good measure.

So I realize I’m hinging on overdue for another blog post, and for that, I apologize. I’m fending off sickness, which I sort of expected right about now (new food, new climate, whatnot). Additionally, it’s been really rainy all the time. I didn’t bring any raingear (and won’t need any once the rain has passed), but in the mean time, the rain is kind of controlling my daily schedule.

Also, before I begin, I have some corrections to make. A previous volunteer has been reading my blog and noticed some misconceptions of mine. Namely, the gunshots I thought I was hearing are actually fireworks. Really loud fireworks… but fireworks. Apparently the people here love them and use them to celebrate just about anything. As I said, I didn’t think people were getting shot, nor did I feel unsafe because of it… but fireworks.

So I’ve wanted to (and had a request to) do a post on food for a while now. Food is generally one of the more interesting parts of any trip, as I think it’s something we all have preconceptions about. Aside from the whole “other cultures!” part of things, I think food can make or break your day, or your trip.

That being said, I’m happy to say that the food here is pretty good. There’s quite a variety of it depending on where you look, and you do have to be a little picky, but I haven’t had anything I’ve really disliked yet. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that… well, I’m still in America. I’ll probably write more about this in a later post, but in many ways (especially after having just spent three months in India), Guatemala is very similar to the US. That’s not to say they are the same by any means, just that there are numerous similarities… maybe more than I expected. Anyways, the point is, Guatemalan doesn’t live off of roti and dal, they live off of maiz, and so does the United States (most of us, anyways – even if we don’t realize it).

So first I’ll touch on what I have for lunch, and then I’ll talk about what I eat at home. The reason these are different is because during the week, I’m invited to have lunch with Carlos. BiciTec is run out of his house, so I can smell lunch as it’s being cooked, and the kitchen (where we eat – there are bicycles in the dining area) is about a five second walk from the shop area. So for lunch I have, well, whatever Carlos has. I think it’s safe to assume this is authentic Guatemalan food… since Carlos and his family have spent their whole lives here.


I mean, once you add the towel-wrapped tortilla basket, you’re pretty much good to go.

For starters, the staples are corn, beans, and tomatoes. There are usually other things thrown in – chicken, for instance, makes frequent appearances – but for any given meal you can bet you’ll get one or more of those three things.

Corn, I would say, makes the most frequent appearance; in addition, it is the most well disguised. It’s pretty hard to disguise tomatoes (they are either chopped or in salsa), but I’ve had corn tortillas as often as I’ve had… well, a lot of other things I don’t know the names of.


Chicken in corn broth.

Rice makes surprisingly few appearances. It could be it’s out of season (being it’s always available at your local Really Huge SuperMarket (TM) in the states, I’ve never had to bother knowing what the season is for rice), but I’ve only had it once so far, and that was for a side.


But beans are around all the time.

Also, cheese makes disappointingly few appearances. This makes sense, given the lack of refrigeration, but I was hoping I’d be able to binge at least a little bit during my time here – no luck (for those of you who don’t know, cheese is my favorite food). The cheese we do have is queso fresco. This is cheese that has the consistency of feta cheese (though smaller crumbles, perhaps), and tastes just a little alcoholic. I assume the alcohol (though I’m not sure if it’s actually alcohol) is a preservative, again because of the lack of refrigeration.

The only other thing I can think of to mention is eggs. We’ve had eggs twice now, both times with tomatoes. It seems like they take eggs from the ducks and, when there’s enough for a meal (keeping in mind Carlos has a family of 8), they cook ’em. The first time we had hard boiled eggs under salsa (surprisingly good); the second, scrambled eggs with tomatoes.

I’ve stayed for dinner twice – once we had Dominoes pizza (to celebrate unloading the trailer), the other we had bread. Lots of bread.

Which is the perfect segue into what I have to eat at home.

My two staples thus far are bread and eggs. I’m going to try to eat fewer eggs. I think they are good, but not something I want to have every day. Perhaps unfortunately then, they are easily acquired. Every store has cartons of them, and I they are cheap — about Q1.50 each ($0.18). Oh, and bread. Bread is also available almost everywhere, and it’s cheap, too. It comes in serving-size portions that are usually less than Q1/piece (about $0.12).


All the bread.

The thing is, there’s about ten or twenty different kinds of bread, and they all have different names. When you go into the panaderia, the panadera will ask you what kind you want, and if you don’t know… well, you find a nice panaderia where the panadera is patient enough to walk you through them. So far the only three I have memorized are coronas, conchas, and… uh… it’ll come to me (hey, I’m working on other words okay?).

So aside from bread and eggs, I’m trying (and so far not succeeding too well) at getting in my fruits and vegetables. See, the only place you can buy these is at market. Market happens every day, but the “big” market happens only on Tuesday and Sunday, and remember, there’s no refrigeration… and remember, I work on Tuesday… but I think I may start getting up early and going before I leave for work. Anyways, market (the “big” kind, anyways) is one of those places where the author says you can get “anything.” So far I’ve only bought fruits, vegetables, and pasta, but there are people selling many things, from clothes to toys to hardware, etc. Anyways, fruits and veggies are cheap, too (you know what – everything is cheap). Most sell for 1Q/kg ($0.12, or about $0.24/lb).

This is my kitchen:


Who needs more than two burners at a time, anyways?

By the end of the week (like yesterday, for instance) I’m usually out of food, so I make a point to visit a restaurant. Itzapa is rather small so I haven’t found that many, and unfortunately, it seems like most places are “burger and french fries” places. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a burger and some fries every now and then, but… it’s just not always what I want. Maybe I should teach them to cook Italian.

In short, it’s an experience… but I miss cheese.

4 thoughts on “Food!

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great post! Sounds delicious, although limited. I’d miss salads and vegetables. Can you get cheese from Dominos?

  2. Bob Iverson says:

    Hi Kyle. I read your posts but have not posted comments before. I was wondering about the use of potatoes? Huevos Rancheros is a favorite of mine; I usually see it with shredded potatoes (hashbrowns) with tortillas, eggs and salsa/hot sauce. As I read about it, it might be more common there to be served with tortillas instead of potatoes with beans as a side dish. I do like your posts. I hope things are going well. Let us know if there is anything that can be sent to you – like rain gear… Hopefully the rain stops. The same thing could be said about the weather here – I hope the rain stops soon… before the end of summer.

    • Kyle says:

      Hey Bob,

      Thanks for the reply! I have actually not seen any potatoes at Carlos’s house yet. It could be they are just used for breakfast or dinner, for which I am not a part. BUT, they are plentiful at the market, so they are obviously common somehow!

      For my part I have been having them as the base for a stir-fry with other vegetables. But huevos rancheros is a great idea!

      I was fortunately able to buy an umbrella at market for about $3. And of course, the rain stopped shortly thereafter. Admittedly, I’m not even sure if there’s a post office in town… hm…

      Thanks again. Best,

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La Vida a Mi Casa

21 de Mayo

Country/Day: Guatemala/7

Bikes Fixed: 10

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5

Bikes/Day: 1.42

Side note: I got photos to upload! Check the previous post to see what you missed. There are some good ones.


The necessary tools.

(would you believe me if I told you this photo was candid?)

So I mentioned last time there’s a lot I want to write about… that continues to be the case. It’s going to be hard to segregate the topics, but I think at the end of the day that will be make things more readable, and allow me to focus more on the details of each topic, rather than jumping around.


For today, let’s talk about home life.



Ahh… home again, home again.

So Carlos owns a second… house… *ahem* outside of town up on a hill. There’s hills everywhere so this isn’t really very special. In fact, the bus ride here was probably longer laterally than it was longitudinally. But anyways. I pause on the word “house” because I’m not sure if there’s another word for it. By all means, it certainly is a house. There’s a “kitchen,” a “living room,” two “bedrooms,” a shower stall, and a toilet stall. And a yard. And a front door.


But the catch is… it’s all outside.


That’s right. There are no doors or windows. The only “rooms” with walls on all sides are the bedrooms. For the purposes of privacy, it’s good I’m alone. If any other volunteers should happen to visit while I’m here, we’ll have to put one of these tarps to use as a door. I’m pretty experienced with the whole “outdoor living” thing though, having biked across the United States last fall, among other things, so none if is really a problem… in fact, I kinda like it.



Yea… I kinda really like the furniture.

Another cool thing is that a lot of the furniture is recycled. As you can see above, the living room “chairs” are actually chairs from a car (remarkably comfortable when you can stretch your legs out), and the table has legs made from bicycle wheels. There’s also a fire pit supported by a few forks (bicycle forks, that is). While not recycled, there’s a hammock, too.


The kitchen definitely deserves its own photo, but I think I’ll save that for a much deserved post about food. For now, I’ll just say it’s the bare necessities, and that there’s no refrigerator. And that it’s one with the living room… together the make the porch.


There’s also peach trees. I don’t think I get all the peaches to myself, but today there was a ripe one and Carlos said I could have it. Delicious. If you haven’t had any fruits or vegetables right off the vine/branch/whatever, put that on your to-do list.


Oh and, as I mentioned in my previous post, there’s a family of ducks, two turkeys, and a turkey chick.



They are all penned up except for the female turkey and her chick, so they don’t bother me… for the most part. Once or twice a day the smell (you know the smell) will waft over to the porch and hang out for a bit. It’s not ideal, but it’s not bad, and I get free eggs every morning, so I can’t complain too much.


There’s also some mice around, and I let a spider or two live on top of the fruit bowl for obvious reasons, but other than that it’s just me.


Not to say that means it’s quiet. The ducks sleep from sundown to sunup, but do quack periodically. They can also hiss somehow – that’s the best way to describe it, anyways. They just breath out quickly through their beak, and it does sound almost like they are hissing. They usually do it a few times in a row, and to a tired ear, this can sound like footsteps. For the first few nights I would wake up and worry someone had broken in. Nope – just ducks.


The male turkey also gobbles defensively. Whenever anything happens he thinks is potentially dangerous, he gobbles. It’s a pretty ferocious, loud gobble – meant to scare off predators, I’m sure. For the most part he reacts to other noises. The first few minutes of accordion practice, for instance, he’ll gobble a few times. There are a couple bird calls he doesn’t like. And the neighbors have a turkey too, so sometimes they’ll go back and fourth a few times in a battle for dominance… before realizing there’s a wall there.


The neighbors also have a rooster. I think I mentioned he goes off about 4 AM every day. Yup. So that happens.


Roundabout 6 or 6:30, just as the sun is coming up, all the roosters ever go off repeatedly, along with all the birds. Usually the birds drown out the roosters, and it’s pretty beautiful – something I certainly won’t mind waking up to for the next 90 days or so.


At night there’s the sounds I got used to in India. Dogs barking. Neighbors being neighbors (though this is amplified, because nothing is enclosed). A periodic concert in the middle of town. Con frequencia there’s also loudspeakers blaring about something or other. It’s a little muffled and they use a lot of words I don’t understand… so I won’t guess as to what it’s about just yet.


There’s also an inordinate number of gunshots. Loud gunshots. In India I got used to seeing people carry guns around. At most banks and some ATMs there were usually guards with shotguns; at the airport, guards with uzis, AKs, or pistols, at the least. But they were always uniformed or otherwise employed, and I never heard any gunshots. Here, many everyday citizens carry them, too. I imagine they are used for hunting… I hear at least three gunshots per night and there’s no way those are people getting shot (…).


To level things out, there’s one more thing here that wasn’t in India. There are crickets. It’s lovely.


There’s but three more things I want to mention before I head off to bed.


First: There’s no refrigerator. My impression is that these are pretty rare, because power is pretty rare, and because even if it wasn’t refrigerators are huge and pretty power hungry. The only places that have refrigerators use them for business – eg, ice cream shops, restaurants, etc. I have yet to see a private refrigerator. So (and I’ll talk more about this in my “food” post) everything goes fast, or lasts a while The bread, for instance, lasts a while. But like I said, more on that later.


Second, and perhaps more significantly: There’s no electricity. Carlos says this might change, but for now, I’m typing by candlelight (I don’t actually need the candle, but it helps me see the keyboard, and keeps the computer from blinding me by putting other semi-bright things around the screen). I cooked dinner… by candlelight. I usually let my dishes soak overnight and do them in the morning; it’s easier than doing them by candlelight.


The funny thing is – it’s actually not that big a deal. I’m getting used to this whole “one hour of internet every other day” thing (I was, admittedly, not a big user already (compared to the average American, anyways)). Really the only downside is that I have to bring my computer to work to charge it. But not having light just means you get up with the sun and go to bed with the moon. Who cares?


Electricity is, as far as I can tell, fairly common. That is, I can tell because when I look over the wall at night, I see a city. Also, when I look at the sky, I don’t see many stars (sad). That being said, it seems to be used pretty rarely. Aside from the internet cafes that use power for their computers, the foodstuffs that use it for refrigeration, and the bike shops that use it for the occasional power tool, I can’t say I recall many people using electricity. I even walked home after dark once and yea, many stores have electricity… but many just close. I’m not sure if it’s tradition or cost.. More research is needed.


With lack of electricity comes lack of water. Well, not exactly. The water “turns on” from 7 to 9 AM every day. I’m not sure if there’s someone uphill from me who turns a valve or if there’s electricity involved. Whatever the case, every day at 7 I open the faucet and fill up my sink. When the sink gets full, I close the faucet. That’s my water for the day. There’s two other “sinks,” though they are smaller: One for washing, and one for drying. Obviously when you wash (or do anything, really) you have to be careful not to contaminate your daily water. Even when you wash your hands after using the bathroom, you scoop out some water with a bowl, then dip your hands in. To flush the toilet, you fill a bucket from the sink, then dump it in the toilet. It’s quite tricky, actually – pour too slow or too fast, and it doesn’t flush.


To take a shower, you can take one any time from 7 to 9, but the water is pretty cold, and the “shower head” is just a terminated pipe. I usually had an actual shower in India, but I did learn the bucket method – fill a bucket with water and use your hand or a bowl to put it where it’s needed. So what I’ve been doing is heating half a bucket of water, mixing it with another half (resulting in a pretty good temperature for much less work), then using that.


No, I haven’t done laundry yet. *ahem*


Oh, and yes, drinking water has to be bought. It’s delivered, in fact, in five gallon jugs (the same size Culligan uses), for Q15 per jug (about $2). You can also boil water, but gas comes in five gallon jugs and has to be bought as well.


Anyways. There you have it. This is my home for the next three months. Time to turn off the computer, blow out the candle, and swing myself to sleep in the hammock.


Tata for now.


6 thoughts on “La Vida a Mi Casa

  1. Jenna says:

    Sounds like a lovely life to live for 90 days. I want to swing myself to sleep in that hammock 🙂

  2. Dad says:

    First a Wall of Bikes, now a house with no walls. What an eclectic mix! With the former I was concerned that, for 90 days, your view would not change. But no worries, a house without walls and a turkey and her chick as wondering neighbors is enticing.

    The recycled coffee table with recycled bike-wheel legs is terrific – furnishings just for you.

    Enjoy those fresh eggs!

  3. Marilyn says:

    This sounds like a fine home – in America, we live at such a fast pace and forget how simple life can be. Living in the open air would be glorious. Ripe peach right off the tree – yummm!

  4. Marilyn says:

    Can you ask Carlos about the gun shots?

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Bicycle Mayhem

19 de Mayo

Country/Day: Guatemala/5

Bikes Fixed: 4

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5

Bikes/Day: 0.8


If you peek over the wall the view here is great.

As happened with India there’s been an explosion of things to update on… of sorts. The problem here is that, well, I’ve no internet at home! Okay, it’s not so much a problem as an inconvenience, but to save money I have to type up the blog here, take it on a flash drive to the tienda del interneto, copy and paste it into the frame, etc. Internet is pretty cheap, but still.

On the bright side, I get to sit on a porch with a view while I type my blog.

So, I’m going to break the updates into two sections. The first one, today, will be about work. The latter, later this week, will be about life at home. Both are equally interesting and intriguing and it’s hard not to just blurt out everything all at once… but I feel like I don’t have time for that, nor do you necessarily have time to read it.

Oh also — in case you aren’t sure — every conversation I write about happened in Spanish (unless otherwise indicated). It was probably a little less elegant than I type it: I still feel completely lost (like today at the market, which will get its own post) but, you know, I’m alive, I can buy food, and I can work, so my language skills must not be terrible. I will write en espanol where I remember it (both for practice and for fun), but no doubt my recollection is imperfect, and I don’t want to practice things that are, well, wrong.

Work life:

As I mentioned in my last post I didn’t work at all on day one. I got to BiciTec about 4:30 so it’s probably a good thing. Anyways, Carlos asked if I could start the next day, to which I replied affirmatively, and on jueves, there I found myself (PS totally should have installed the Spanish language pack when I fixed my computer). Carlos had said he’d be around to pick me up about 8. I don’t have a watch and hadn’t set my clock yet so uh… I didn’t actually know when that was (in retrospect, I could have just turned on my computer and subtracted an hour – Guatemala is CST but they don’t acknowledge daylight savings, which is solely United Statsian (recallI can’t say “American”)).

Fortunately Carlos had also told me the “water would turn on” about 7. So I knew when the water turned on I could just set my clock to 7 AM and I’d be set. Sure enough, some time after waking up, the water turned on (more on this in the “home life” post). I couldn’t really believe it was 7 because I’d been up for a while… then I remembered the whole daylight savings thing and had a new appreciation for it. As things are without it, the sun rises about 5:30 or 6 and sets about 7:30. Get up early, go to bed early. It’s not bad, it’s just a little weird. It makes sense from the perspective of a third world country, as there’s a lot to do in the day, and (for me anyways) “that time before breakfast but you’re awake anyways” is a great time to get stuff done. Anyways, we’re encroaching on the home life post again.


Well this looks clean and organized and not full of bicycles to work on.

So roundabout 8 (said my clock – score 1 for logic and the timing of the water guy) Carlos’s son, Antonio, showed up and took me to work on his motorcycle. There was actually very little to do. For whatever reason we didn’t get many customers, and didn’t have any bikes (but wait! – until tomorrow). This was both good and bad. It was good because it gave me a chance to practice communicating, and it gave Carlos and I chance to talk about how things were run. I also helped him finish a bicimaquina – a combo corn grinder (on the right in the photo below) and vegetable pulper (on the left).



Then Carlos decided I was going to learn how to weld. Or more, he asked if I knew how, and I said no, but I wanted to learn. So he taught me how to weld, and I started on my first bicimaquina, a bicycle blender.


Unforunately about halfway through we ran out of parts. “Manana,” said Antonio, who was helping me while Carlos was off on an errand.


So it´s half of a bicycle blender.

Tomorrow, Carlos had said, we were getting a shipment from Bikes Not Bombs. Tomorrow we would have all the bikes we need.


I was fed lunch and invited for dinner, which I graciously accepted. More on food later, but basically, I wasn’t ready to brave the market yet. I was glad not only for the company and the good food but the fact that I could focus on doing good work and making myself at home instead of fretting over how to eat (and yes, more on that later).


Corn tortillas. So many corn tortillas.

Anyways, I walked home (about a 10-15 minute walk), practiced accordion, and crashed.


Armed with a clock, I can tell you what time the roosters start crowing.


There’s one that crows at 4:15. Then on the hour (roughly) until about 6:30. Yet another reason to not celebrate daylight savings… and to go to bed early. On the bright side, about 6 AM the birds start up, and all you hear are birds… there are so many birds. It’s really nice to wake up to, even if I’m used to the 10 AM wake up I did while home.


So the next day I got to work and we kind of lounged around again waiting for the shipment from BNB. Carlos would get really worried about it and then we’d get a call saying “una hora mas, una hora mas” – one more hour, one more hour. It was supposed to arrive about 8 AM and didn’t get here until 1. Carlos had been saying the day before and that entire morning “ahora no trabajamos, perro entonces, trabajamos mucho forte” (right now we aren’t working, but later, we are working very strong). And he was right.


Guess how many bicycles.

Once the container arrived, we finished our lunch and got to work. I was detained by the armed guard that came with the container, who had apparently followed it all the way from Texas. He had a work visa there and wanted to practice his English with me. We talked about the income disparity and how outsourcing works in Mexico (basically, despite the shipping company being based in the US, he’s “employed” in Mexico, so they don’t have to pay taxes… or something). During this conversation I could see a few bicycle wheels trickling in… so I thought maybe it wouldn’t take all day. I was wrong.


A wall of bicycles. That’s how many.

I didn’t count but I’d estimate there were about 300 bicycles in that container, among other things. There were some other goodies, including a lay-down scooter, a unicycle, a truing stand, a bike stand, and an air compressor. Most of the gaps were filled with seats, though, or paper bags or milk cartons filled with parts or tools.


I took a lot of “in progress” pictures, both of the trailer and of the shop. However, because the internet here isn’t too fast, I’ll just pick the most telling one and upload it for now. The rest will be uploaded… later… possibly (but hopefully not) when I get back. Here it is.


A NEW wall of bicycles.

Also, just because I can’t help myself, here’s a photo of Carlos Jr. descending a pile of wheels we made. He had to get a tool we inadvertently buried… oops?


Help… me…

So yea… good day. And no, there will be no more leisurely days.


After the day of unloading bikes, we ordered Dominoes (which seems to be everywhere; I had it a few times in India, too). I kept nodding off, so promptly thereafter, Carlos sent me home, and I crashed.


On Saturday I did four bikes. Not bad… but I’m going to try and do five tomorrow. As I tried to do with India until my computer crashed, I’ll photograph every bike I fix, then make a compilation at the end of the trip. Awesome. Also on Saturday… we magically had customers! As I said, on Thursday there had basically been nothing to do. On Friday we got some people curious what such a huge truck was doing in Itzapes… and on Saturday they all came by to find out! I guess Carlos had been telling people about the day the bikes would come… as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” We built a bicycle tower, and people are coming to buy them.


So, all for now. Please comment! I love hearing from my readers. And yes, I have many more posts to do… hopefully my computer will make it (there’s no electricity a mi casa just yet).


Let’s… go… fix… a bike…


7 thoughts on “Bicycle Mayhem

  1. Marilyn says:

    Are the BNB bikes new or used? Who buys them, for how much, and what to they use them for? Do you prefer the rooster and birds to the noise in India?

    • Kyle says:

      They are all used, and need a variety of work from brake adjusts to complete overhauls. Some are remarkably expensive (just discovered a bike today with a 2-piece Deore crank – sells for maybe $325 new).

      Everybody buys them, but mostly commuters. And yea, the roosters and birds are actually kinda nice. : o)

  2. Grandma says:

    You should get together with your cousin, Caleb – he had to learn welding for his first job here too and now is hoping to get more training this fall. Do you remember the welder on the farm?

    • Kyle says:

      …I do not. But I will definitely continue welding when I get back. It´s fun, not to mention useful. Actually, I kind of want to start my own bicimaquineria.

  3. Jenna says:

    Can’t wait to see the pictures! Awesome post, I can’t wait to hear about all the different sorts of “bicimaquina”s you get to build! And I want to hear about the food!

    Is a rooster preferable to pigeon sex? Will you ask someone what a rooster says there? Its different everywhere, no one else says cock-a-doodle-do… what did roosters say in India?

    • Kyle says:

      There will be a food post, don´t worry. : o)

      The rooster isn´t bad actually, because it´s just a one time thing. Also, he doesn´t start by crashing into my roof. And yes, I will ask what roosters say. : o)

  4. Jenna says:

    Yay! Pictures!

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Long Posts Ahead

18 de Mayo

Country/Day:     Guatemala/4

Bikes Fixed:                           4

Bicimaquinas Built:                       0.5

Bikes/Day:                           1


Ah, Guatemala…

Boy, do I have a story for you. But first: Hi mom! Yes, I’m alive. As promised there’s no internet except at internet cafes, and I wasn’t quite confident enough in my language skills on day one to find one and try and use it. Actually, to save on $$$, I think I’ll type a mi casa, then just copy and paste on the way home from work or something. Admittedly, the internet here is pretty cheap – Q6 para una hora (a little less than a dollar an hour).

IMG_8545Look Mom! A volcano!

I’d like to say I’m used to this whole “uproot your life for three months” thing, and you know… I think I am. So it only took me an hour to pack (and this time I did it with only a suitcase and a backpack! – accordion included). Bob (my mom’s boyfriend) took me to the airport at a nice and early 4 AM (thanks Bob), where the goodness of my day started. Yup – right there at the airport. Actually, it had started the night before, when I got a beer with my best friend at a great brewery in Uptown, but… that’s not what this blog is about.

Anyways, right at the curb of the American Airlines entrance there was a little counter that said “SkyCap Check In.” I have no idea what “SkyCap” means but there was hardly any line and my suitcase was heavy, so I opted to check-in there. It was one of those jolly old fellows who makes you question the bounds of positive energy – especially at 5 AM. He was incredibly kind and upon taking my bag, which must have weighed 60 pounds, he said, “Oh, well this comes in at a nice 48 or so.” I don’t know if he was trying to be expedient by not weighing the bag and charging me or if he was just trying to be nice – probably both – but whatever the case, I was a bit taken aback. I was fully expecting my bag to weight in at 50.5 (the extra fee applies to anything over 50) and for the attendant to look at me sideways and hold out their hand expectantly. Not today, corporate America! I’ll keep my $100.

Since I had never done SkyCap before I didn’t know if I should tip or not. I asked and got an answer that was somehow polite, humorous, and suggestive all in one. I only had a $100 and two $1s, sadly, so I gave him the $2 and apologized. He said he knew he was worth $100 and the knowledge was all he needed. D’aww. But seriously, next time I’m bringing more change, because he made my day.

The flight to Miami was pretty standard. I got off the plane, took a limo to my yacht, and took off for my cruise around the world. Hello from Lima!

No, just kidding.

On the flight to Miami I found out the folks sitting next to me were also headed to Guatemala. This was discovered at the end of the flight, sadly, but we were able to get to know each other a bit and practice our Spanish on each other before parting ways.

Waiting for the flight to Guatemala, I started getting a little nervous about my Spanish skills. About half the people in the lobby area were speaking Spanish, and I couldn’t really catch any of it. I had my dictionary out most of the time looking up any words I could catch, but it was all really fast. Anyways, nothing to do but get on the plane.

After India, customs and all that was nothing special. They wanted to see my accordion but… it’s an accordion… so that didn’t take long. During this period there was also a bit of a transition from English to Spanish. The currency exchange was before customs, for which I was ushered over in some of the fastest Spanish I’ve ever heard. Upon arriving at the window I calmly said “hablas anglais?” and was then greeted by some of the fastest English I’ve ever heard. There was a guard at the baggage claim whose was able to tell me the buses were a five minute walk away from the airport. Customs was in Spanish (though all I had to say was “es un acordeon” and “son las herramientas de bicicleta” (those are bicycle tools). Then I exited the airport… and my life since then has been in Spanish.

I tried to find the buses, but couldn’t. I probably could have, were I feeling a bit more adventures, but I hadn’t quite come into my Spanish skills yet, and I was tired. Okay, mostly I was tired. Anyways, I asked a courier where the buses were, and he said “Que buses? Pones un taxi, senior.” I kept looking for a bit and finally gave up – taxis are just as much language practice as busses. Anyways, it was only Q70 (a little less than $10) to el Trebol, a building that happens to have all the bus stops ever just outside its doors. Also, I got to go bonkers practicing my Spanish, because you know, paid driver. He said he was impressed given it was my first time (yes, we actually had a conversation. I’m pretty impressed with myself).

As if that wasn’t enough awesomeness in one day, then there’s the buses. They are commonly called “chicken buses” – not sure why – but they are recycled American school buses (a lot of the stuff here is recycled American ____ – the buses, the cars, the bicycles…). And they are AWESOME.



Chicken Buses: Chickens Not Included.

So every bus has an ayudante – “ayudar” is the verb “to help,” but I’d call them “shouters” if it were up to me. When the bus is moving, they stand in the open doorway and shout out where the bus is going over and over again. Mine sounded like this:


“Chimalchimalchimalchimal! Chimal senior? Chimalchimal!”

…and so on (side note: It appears most city names are abbreviated here – “Chimal” being short for “Chimaltenega,” “Guate” for “Guatemala City,” “Itzapa” for “San Andres Itzapas,” etc). Anyways, during the bus stop they get off the bus and run around and gather people up. I was gathered by a few overenthusiastic ayudantes who thought I wanted to go to Chimal or Antigua. To their credit, the only way to get to Itzapa is via one of these cities, but I knew there was a particular bus that went to Chimal, then through Itzapa on its way back to Guate, so that’s the one I waited for.

On the bus there’s music videos playing. ‘Nuff said.

At some point during the ride (once we get out of the city and the shouting stops) the ayudante comes around and collects fare. Despite that I was going to be on the bus longer than everyone else, I wasn’t technically going as far (recall Itzapas is on the way back to Guate from Chimal), so I only paid about Q6 – less than a dollar. Last time I checked inter-city transit in the US cost more than a dollar. *ahem* Anyways.

The speed limit is 90 km/h, but the buses don’t slow down around corners so uh… everybody puts their hand on the railing whenever a corner comes up.

Oh also, it’s apparently free to ride the bus short distances. People would frequently get on for a few blocks and then get off. I think you only have to pay for inter-city transit. This also means that hawkers are free to come on board during the trip. First a little kid came on and tried to sell some gum. There’s nothing weird about that… in India some guy was selling glow-lights on the train. But second this guy gets on and starts jabbering away at a mile an hour about something or other. I don’t catch too much of it except I gather it’s medical and then he lifts up his shirt… and there’s a tube sticking out of it.

Then he promptly walks down the bus asking everyone for cash.

This apparently isn’t irregular either; when we were loading/unloading in Chimal a one-legged fellow got on and asked for money… along with the people selling plantains, ice cream, clothing… really everything. It reminded me fondly of India.

When I didn’t get off at Chimal una seniora in from of me turned around and asked “Donde vas?” – “Where are you going?” I told her, and she replied “Tambien” – me too. I wasn’t feeling too much trepidation about my mass transit-navigating skills at that point but at least now I had a reference point. I hadn’t missed the stop, and I would know when about to get off.


Would you like anything ever?

In Chimal I didn’t get off at all, but the market was huge – we drove through four or five blocks of it. I will definitely be spending a weekend there. Anyways, my letter said to get off at the first stop in Itzapa, and go down the cobblestone road. Just like the seniora in front of me, I got off at the first stop in Itzapa, and went a ways down the cobblestone road… before deciding to double check. It immediately become apparent my Spanish was terrible, but with some patience on the part of my new friend, we got things sorted out. As it ends up, she knew about BiciTec, and proceeded to inform me I needed to go up the hill, but should probably hire a tuk-tuk. I thanked her and expected her to leave, but no… she told me to wait where I was, flagged down the next tuk, and told him where I was going.

Like I said… lots of good karma.

I paid the man Q5 (about $0.70) and went into BiciTec. There was… no one I recognized. I was able to communicate with the two people present, of which one appeared to be a mechanic and one appeared to be a customer. Both were really quite kind. The mechanic understood I was a volunteer and told me Carlos (the manager, whom I had contacted) was out running an errand but would be back soon. He then asked me where I was from (thank you, Spanish class, for teaching me not to say “America” but “los Estados Unidos” – Guatemala is in America too!) and how much the plane ticket was, and then gawked a bit. Judging by the prices here, I could probably buy a house or two with the price of the ticket.

Anyways. At this point I had made and reinforced many times the observation that, well, people are really, really nice here. It’s a bit hard to explain but I felt very welcome, despite being the tourist-with-a-suitcase-who-speaks-muy-mal. It’s more of a feeling than something I can qualify with words, but I will work on doing that, as I’m sure you’d all like to know what it is that makes it magical here. And yes, to my Spanish-speaking friends, I now “understand.” The point is, whatever trepidation I had at any point in the day was completely gone. It had disappeared by the time I reached Chimal, and by this point had been replaced by something else. More on that later.

A few minutes after that Carlos showed up on a motorcycle. Carlos is one of those people who is younger than he should be, but it’s okay, because he’s so kind-hearted you never want him to die. In the video for Maya Pedal he was balding on top, but somehow had magically gotten that hair back. He speaks and moves with the energy of twenty men and is ridiculously kind and patient. He’s one of those people (as I met a few of in India – hi, Prabhat) who kindles your faith in humanity. Cliche… but true.

Anyways, he offered me a seat and we got to talking. Mostly logistical stuff – sorry I’m late, sorry he was late, how long was I there for, what did I bring, when could I start, etc. etc. At some point I told him I was hungry (didn’t learn that one in Spanish class though, so insert awkward pause while I flip through my pocket dictionary (pocket dictionaries are the best idea ever, by the way (at least ones you CAN READ – I’m looking at you, India))), so we left for a bakery, where I got some pan (bread) for Q1 each ($0.12 or so). More on food later.

Then we headed to the guest… “house.” I mean, it’s a house to me, but I could understand that some of you reading this wouldn’t think it so. First of all, the entire thing is outdoors, so to speak. The kitchen and living are all on a porch. The bathroom and shower are enclosed, but have no door (…yet? This is a new purchase of Carlos’s after the recent departure from Maya Pedal). There are two rooms, which I assume at some point will become the men’s/women’s bedrooms, but for now one is full of stuff. Anyways, for the next two weeks or so I’ll be the only volunteer, so there’s no privacy issues.


I foresee many nights of accordion playing in that hammock.

Also, there’s ducks. About eight of them. And a couple of turkeys, which reminded me of getting to know Diane (“Is that a turkey!?” “SHHHHH!!!” – good times). So for breakfast every morning I go to the duck pen, get some duck eggs, and cook them. Yea… I get eggs about as fresh as they come. I don’t have a moral dilemma, or at least I haven’t thought about it enough to have had one (the dilemma would be that these are duck eggs, not chicken eggs – if you know me inside and out you know I have a thing for and a history with ducks). Duck eggs also taste and cook… not the same as chicken eggs. More on that later.

So anyways, after more logistics and getting to know each other a bit (as much as was possible with my limited Spanish, which was becoming less limited), Carlos handed me the key and departed.

This post is getting inordinately long so I’ll post more later. I’m sure there’s lots of questions, and I certainly have more details to fill in for this day (already I’m on day 3, yet only writing about day 1!), but let’s just say I’m having a great time.

I mean, honestly, I’m sitting on a used car seat on a front porch in the hills of Guatemala, and I get to sleep in a hammock listening to cicadas, and… well, the list goes on. I’ll finish it later.


(I wrote that because it’s a cliffhanger for me too. I’m actually worried I’ll forget stuff. Don’t worry… I won’t. Anyways. Hasta luego!).

IMG_8570I´m not sure what expression that is, either.

8 thoughts on “Long Posts Ahead

  1. Marilyn says:

    Oh, my gosh. This is incredible. First, I am glad to hear that you are alive. Doing my “mom” job. Thank you. I love you.

    So many questions which it sounds like you are going to answer when you can. Wow! Incredible place to stay. Will you be staying there the entire 90 days? What is that machine that you are sitting on, for starters?

    Can’t wait to hear more.

    • Kyle says:

      Hi Mom! No worries – someone has to do it.

      For now I´m planning on staying here the entire 90 days. Maya Pedal is apparently still open, so there is another option to explore. However, Carlos seems like a great guy, and if he couldn´t get along with MP, I´m wondering what the issue is. Additionaly, BiciTec is a new establishment… and we just got 300 bikes… so I´m guessing I´m more helpful here. Anyways, we’ll see.

      I comment on the machine in my next post. :o) Love you too!

  2. Aubrie says:

    I think some of my favorite data for Guatemala are as follows:

    3. Electric power consumption is about 567 kWh per capita.
    2. Less than 12% of Guatemalans are considered internet users. (Fewer computers/less internet use = less energy consumed…Possibly!)
    1. However, there are about 140 cell phone subscriptions per 100 people, which exceeds the rates for the region, countries of similar incomes, and many of higher incomes(including the US by a margin of nearly 50 subscriptions!)sitting as about the 25th country with the most cellular subscriptions. From a development standpoint, this is incredibly exciting.

    Also! The country has one of the highest populations of
    But, I will stop there before I write an essay about this all!

    • Kyle says:

      One of the highest populations of…?

      That makes sense. As far as I can tell, everybody here has a cell phone… but you have to go to a cafe to use the internet, and nobody knows what wireless internet is.

      • Aubrie says:

        Oh no! There was supposed to be a comment that finished that thought…anyhow:
        It has one of the highest indigenous populations, officially recognizes 23 indigenous languages, and the trials for human rights violations of Ex Presidente Rios Montt will be held bilingually so that witnesses and survivors (most of whom are indigenous) can testify. This last part is historically kind of depressing, but also really important in development and rather exciting as Guatemala is one of the first LA countries to take on trying its own former leaders for war crimes.

        As far as the cell phones go, I don’t know how concentrated that is in the cities…which is less exciting in terms of development, considering most of Guatemala is rural. And, generally speaking, cell phones, for their elimination of asymmetrical information issues, can be more beneficial for rural peoples.

        • Kyle says:

          Lol… thanks for finishing that. Actually, talk to me more about how cell phones are better (than… computers?) at eliminating asymmetrical information issues?

          • Aubrie says:

            Cell phones require less energy and are more practical for eliminating the types of transaction costs that rural people have (I say this like I *know*, but it is all study, so take everything I say with that particular grain of salt). One of the main transaction costs we talk about in this case is information asymmetry about market prices AND whether particular services (such as medical clinics) are open on a particular day. With phones, people can call ahead instead of trekking all the way into town, possibly with their goods or children, and even taking off work just to find out that the doctor isn’t in, or that they are selling their products way below market prices, or that market price is too low that day. Even more importantly, BANKING can be done via phone in a lot developing countries. I don’t know about in Guatemala, but it is very popular in Bangladesh, India, and many parts of Africa.

  3. Jenna says:

    Guatemala sounds amazing so far! I can’t wait to hear more… or just give up on studying all together to run away and meet you down there… 😛


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Part TWO!

May 14th, 2013

Country/Day:    Guatemala/0

Bikes Fixed:                     0

Bikes/Day Avg:                    0

I have very few things left on my to-do list today, which is good, because my flight is at a nice, breezy 6:25 AM. Anyways, after biking across the country and leaving for India I’ve got this whole “leave home for a while” thing down pat, so all is well.

There are a couple Spanish things I need to work on. Or, not work on so much as remind myself of. I took a year of Spanish in college. It wasn’t required, I just figured I’d be visiting Latin America at some point in my life, so maybe I should brush up on the year I failed out of in elementary school (the get us so young, don’t they?). I also speak conversational French, which helps, as it is very similar to Spanish. The sentence structures are the same, and many of the words are similar.

So I really just need to get my reflexive pronouns down. Oh and also,

Me: Cómo escribes el signo de interrogación al revés?

[How do you type the question mark upside-down?]

Friend: Está en su teclado.

[It is on your keyboard.]

Me: No está en mi teclado.

[It is not on my keyboard.] (For the record, neither are the accented vowels. I use a copy-and-paste cheat sheet.)

Friend: Está en mi teclado. Ustedes necesita un nuevo teclado.

[It’s on my keyboard. You need a new keyboard.]

Me: No hay un atajo de teclado?

[There is not a keyboard shortcut?]

Friend: Debes comprar un nuevo teclado.

[You should buy a new keyboard.]

Me: Lo encontré! ¿Alt+0191?

[Found it! ¿Alt+0191?]

Friend: Muy bueno.

[Very good.]

So… learning Spanish. I am totally just adding ¿ to my cheat sheet… the alt+# shortcuts are sketchy at best in a browser.

Aside from changing my language mentality, there have also been changes to… well, to the plan. See, I had bought a ticket to Guatemala under the idea I’d be volunteering for Maya Pedal. So about a month before heading back from India I sent Maya Pedal an e-mail confirming the dates, asking what tools I should bring, etc. No response.

A few weeks later I sent another e-mail, this time in English and in Spanish… no response. At this point I e-mailed my contact in Holland saying I might need a backup plan, but wasn’t sure yet. A bit confused and a bit worried, I used the direct e-mail of a previous volunteer at Maya Pedal I had on hand. This is the response I received:

Thanks for checking in. Maya Pedal is definitely shut down. Which is really for the best, since it had turned corrupt as I explained to you earlier. Carlos has started a new bicimaquina business called BiciTec. Right now it is still in Itzapa and is accepting volunteers. The website is under development: BiciTec is supported by Bikes Not Bombs and has just received a huge shipment of bikes this week. So it will be a busy time, perfect for you to arrive!
You can contact Carlos directly at [address]. I will write to him as well to make sure he knows about you. Volunteers who have visited recently have had excellent experiences and very positive feedback.

So that was bittersweet news. Maya Pedal had worked a long time to gain the status and momentum that it had, and the end result is obviously a little disappointing. That being said, I believe that BiciTec has the capability to become something more than what Maya Pedal was, as it is run solely by Carlos and ex-volunteers who are devoted to the idea of bicimaquinas. Ideally there’s no more corruption, at the cost of starting over.

In short, volunteers are more needed than ever. My (terribly written) e-mail to Carlos was well received and he’s excited to have me. I’m excited to be there! Often when volunteering at co-ops in the states I feel as if there are too many volunteers and not enough organization. I’ve always wanted to catch something right at the beginning, when more people are actually needed, capacity hasn’t been reached, and I can do a lot of work and have a tangible impact.

I’m really looking forward to this.

Next post will be from Guatemala! ¡Adios amigos!

One thought on “Part TWO!

  1. Jenna says:

    We are looking forward to updates now that you are there! Let us know you arrived savely when you can? LOVE!

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India Tech

A week already! Oh, man. I had meant to blog again after just a few days, but got caught up in, you know, being home. Going for bike rides, spending time with family and friends — the usual. Oh, and I had to change my bike from snow tires to road tires, so I haven’t been entirely exempt from bike repair.

But mostly I went for bike rides.

It will, again, be bittersweet to leave. BUT! — that’s not why I’m here. Not to talk about how good it is to be home. No! This is all about India. Well, sort of. It’s about having finished India! (I will post again about Guatemala before I leave).

So, here we go:

Days Spent: 89

Inoperable bikes that I fixed by myself or did at least 90% of the work for: 115

Bikes Per Day: 1.29

Total bikes I did something to (but that were mostly operable or that I didn’t do the majority of the work for): 338

Seminars Taught: 9

Mechanics Trained: 143

(Large-ish) Cities Visited in India: 10

I could say other things like “Unique Experiences Had,” but I’m not sure how to count those (“a lot?”), and I’m sure any posts at the end of the entire project will be appropriately… er… nostalgic. Plus, this is supposed to be a little more technical than the other post I made.

– – –

Okay, one last thing — the most important thing — before I go eat the egg souffle baking in the oven… and have some sausage… and… er, the list goes on, so I’ll just stop there. Thank yous!

I could not have gone to India without the support of some very generous people, so some thank yous are in order. These are the people who contributed the first $3300 — that is, the people that funded India!


Freesia C.

Luke S.

Marilyn C.

Sue C.

Bill B.

Martin J.

Jim W.

Andrew L.

Jenna C.

Greg E.

Paul W.

Alan T.

Arta C.

Kirstin H.

Graham R.

Rand W.

Laura W.

Bernie B.

Miriam C.

John N.

Abigail T.

Mike S.

Carl T.

Greta A.

Ian G.

Diane B.

Robert I.

Bill L.

Diana F.

Margie D.

Will M.

Ron B.

James B.

Courtney, AKA girl at the bike ship whose brake I fixed

Jim E.

Thank you!!!

I bet India thanks you too, but I can only speak for myself. I hope this blog has ratified your donation, and stay tuned — there’s lots more to come!

Stay tuned for info on my next adventure: Guatemala!

One thought on “India Tech

  1. Jenna says:

    Yaaaaaaay! Onto part 2!

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Goodbye, India!

May 5th, 2013

Country/Day:           India/88

Bikes Fixed:                  115

Bikes/Day Avg:                 1.30

Wow, has it really been 5 days since my last post? I have been busyyyyyy… anyways, assuming I have some free time while home, that means I also have some updates to write.

For now though, a very bittersweet post. It’s my last day in India!

If you read the headers you’re probably all like, “Wait, what? It’s only day 88! Why are you leaving today?”

Okay, actually, I’m leaving tomorrow, but my flight is at 3:20 AM, so… I’m not sure if that counts or not (in an effort to start combating jet lag early, I will be awake, via some strategic napping/staying up late I’ve been doing these past few days). Anyways, tomorrow would still only be day 89, so what’s up with that?

Basically, I could have stayed the extra day, but it would have cost an additional $200 in airfare. That’s what’s up with that.

So anyways… I’ve already decided how I want to format this post. Enough with the intro and on to business!

(side note: This is the non-technical wrap-up of India. A more technical wrap-up (project thoughts instead of personal thoughts) will follow early this week).

– – –

  • Things I’ll Miss

Bullet points! Whoa! *ahem.* I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Okay, not a lot, because I’m excited to be coming home, but there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be missing a few things. Most of them have to do with people, because I mean, that’s what life is about, right? Meeting and interacting with other people.

I can’t choose one person or interaction I’m going to miss the most, but I do have a few favorites. In no particular order…

– Anand (store manager) telling me “No problem” in a sweet and sultry Indian accent every time I notice something is wrong with a bike (I will probably pass this on to the future shops I work at. “Kyle, have you noticed…?” “It’s okay. No problem, no problem…”)

– Joking around with the kids at the shop, even though we don’t speak the same language

– Playing with the housekeeping’s kids. It’s a shame we only recently invented their new favorite game, “drag this chair around the yard while we hold on and get dragged behind.”

– Talking about, well, everything, with Nishith, Ambika, or Kailash, from food, to books, to culture, to… well, everything.

– Traveling India with Viju. Love you, bud.

– Getting invited to dinner everywhere and being well fed every time. The conversations are great too — there are a lot of really smart people here. Last Wednesday I was invited to dinner by an English teacher I’ve been volunteering for, and as the night went on more and more members of his family trickled in. By the end of the night we had covered education policy, the global economy, monopoly tactics, and much more. Also, I swear his son had a college degree, but he denies it.

– Kingfisher beer.

– Seeing the ingenious (or sometimes less ingenious) ways people carry things on bicycles. My favorite so far: A full size refrigerator on a standard bicycle (eg not a tricycle, no trailer, etc. Just lying sideways on the rear rack). Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera, and it’s not like with his inertia he could stop and wait…

– Seeing the ingenious and persistent ways the Indian people manage to solve some of their problems. This ranges the gamut from knowing how to fix their own bicycles (while less than 1% of Americans know how to do this, more than 50% of Indians know), to knowing the best way to escape murderous monkeys (get in the car and drive away — yes, I witnessed this), to ingenious ways to carry things (see above)… you really are a creative bunch.

– Practicing accordion in the yard while little kids dance around me.

I’m sure there are many other things I could put here that I won’t think of until I get on the plane, but, well… I’m not on the plane.

– – –

  • Things I’ll Miss Less

I don’t want to give anyone the impression I didn’t like India. But there are some things I could have lived without. For the record, I consider this more “travel advice” than “here, let me complain about my experience.” The things I’ll miss vastly outweigh the things I’ll miss less. But for the people who have never been to India before, you may want to prepare for…

– The honking.

– The pigeon couple going at it around 5 AM every morning on top of my A/C unit.

– Getting between 10 and 20 spam calls and texts on  my phone every day. Since I use it only for emergency purposes, this means I keep it on silent most of the time. If someone actually has to reach me, it means they can’t do it by phone. Sad.

– People telling me what stuff is over and over again.

“Kyle baya?”


*holds up a screwdriver* “Petchkas.”

“Yes, I know.”

(five minutes later)

“Kyle baya?”


“Petchkas, Kyle baya.”

“Yup. Got it.”

Every. Day.

– – –

  • Things I Didn’t Get to Do But Want to Come Back For

I don’t want to put “things I regret” because honestly, there’s not much I regret. I did what I came here to do, had some fun on the side, and made friends along the way. I can’t say I regret any of it.

That being said, there are some things I didn’t get to do that I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back for (keep in mind, Indian friends, that this might not be for years. I do have a pretty awesome job waiting for me…).

– Explore Delhi for a day (or two)

– Have dinner at Kailash’s house

– See the Taj Mahal

– Volunteer for Bums on The Saddle (“BOTS”), a bike shop in Bangalore with a very cool philosophy on bicycle culture

– (two-sided) Get an apartment in a village. However, even in the suburb where I stayed with a host, I had trouble getting enough sleep. Living in a village would bring me much closer to the people and I might have a much richer experience. I say “might” because if you don’t get enough sleep it’s hard to really experience anything fully. So, this one might need some experimentation, or might be good to do for a shorter period of time.

– Have a picnic at the farm my host runs. Milk a cow.

– – –

  • Things I Learned or Had Reaffirmed

This is one of those lists that could go off in any direction and could go on forever. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about fixing bicycles, other cultures, and the world in general. Where do I even begin? (note: if it seems obvious, it was probably reaffirmed, not learned, and vice versa)

– The bash it into place method, among other more “brutal” styles of bicycle maintenance. While no doubt unacceptable at a professional shop, for the next six months and for any future volunteering (which I will not doubt do) this should come in handy.

– I am not ready for children yet (whatever doubts I had, anyways, have been allayed).

– It is possible to be too persistent when offering someone something, yet impossible to be too persistent when answering such an offer. In this light, I learned to be more sure of myself and many of the things I want, and faster to walk away from people who just don’t shut up (I don’t feel about about saying this because every Indian, too, has had to walk away from that one cab driver…).

– How to talk loudly and slowly. I was already a good presenter, but presenting to American audiences and ESL Indian audiences are just different ball games. My presentation skills now run the gamut from fast and hard to slow and simple, and I’m experienced at everything in between.

– It’s not that hard to become surprisingly self-sustaining (this is as much something I noticed about India as a suggestion for America… *ahem*).

-It’s possible to be happy living off of less than $0.50/day.

– As a general rule, the more you want, the less happy you are. In addition, it’s hard to want something you don’t know exists (which I need to ponder, I think, because in some ways that runs contradictory to the “Travel makes us richer” maxim).

– People are often ignorant about what’s really going on in their society (like what the average income is).

– Education makes a difference (again, whatever doubts I had have been allayed. Seeing it in action — talking to English speakers who get paid more than non-English speakers, for instance — ratified this over and over).

– Just because someone says “Yes” or “Okay” doesn’t mean they understand (…).

– There are a surprising number of other people out there trying to make a positive difference, and (dare I say it?) succeeding. I had heard about many organizations and people, obviously, but meeting them in person, working with them, and seeing their conviction face-to-face is completely different than just hearing about them. It’s inspiring and ratifying to come face-to-face with positive action. Looking at it on a website or reading about it in a newspaper just can’t compare.

– On the other side, people do pointlessly harmful things. Here, I’m talking specifically about honking, but there might be some other examples.

– – –

  • People

Best for last, right? There are tons of people I met, interacted with, befriended, etc. I can’t possibly name them all, but I will say that even if you aren’t listed here, you still made the experience what it was. I’m glad I met each and every one of you, and I hope we can meet again someday. In the mean time, if you ever find yourself in the midwestern US, let me buy you a beer.

– Prabhat & Co: My host family was beyond wonderful. Not only was I provided a house, but I was provided a home — complete with dog and little children that I could play with but didn’t have to take care of. Okay, on a more serious note, I think I really lucked out by meeting Prabhat. He’s an all-around good guy that is serious about making a difference in the world. He’s got solid advice and was an exceptional guide during my time here, providing direction or a good ear whenever I needed it, but otherwise letting me off the leash.

I could go on, but let’s talk about his family. Ambika is a school teacher who is just as spirited as Prabhat… but talks on the phone less (you know it’s true P). She’s a great mom and housekeeper and is as intellectual as she is creative. Having always had “be a teacher” in the back of my mind, it’s inspiring for me to meet someone who can maintain their passion in the face of the sometimes harsh realities of teaching and child-rearing.

Then there’s Nishith. Ah, Nishith. You’re a pretty cool guy. Nishith plays guitar, reads books, does math, and (like every good pre-teen) still manages to piss off his mom every now and then. I’m excited to see what you’ll do with your life, and I’m glad I got to spend some time getting to know you. You’ve got a good sense of humor and a good head on your shoulders. Keep it up.

– The shop staff. This includes Anand (the manager), and the kids, who rotate out sometimes but at their latest were named Vinod, Rocky, and Krishna. A lively bunch that can fix most any bicycle (with me there to do shifters or wheel trues, of course) and joke around while doing it. While we didn’t get to know each other with words, it was interesting and exciting getting to know each other with actions. Rather than talking philosophy, we played catch, hid tools from each other, and raced bicycles in the back room when nobody was watching. I didn’t just fix bikes, I had fun doing it.

– Viju! Where would I be without you? Nowhere. You showed me the other side of cycling in India, and got me sponsored in the process! That’s pretty impressive. Aside from being a noble travel companion you’ve got a great sense of humor, you’ve found your passion, and you’re good at it. What more is there to say? I’m glad we met.

– Shiv and everyone else at Firefox. Hand-in-hand with Viju, you showed me there’s more passion about high-end cycling here than sometimes meets the eye, and proved it with action. Just what I needed.

– Manas, Arvind, Paul, and countless others who invited me to dinners, get-togethers, bike rides, or just took my info and kept in touch (for bonus points, Arvind sent me a PZT-2. Legendary!). I had a great time getting to know you, and in some cases your families, too. You spiced up the routine of bike-fixing with conversation, philosophy, food, and in some cases (Manas) more bike fixing. Keep in touch.

– – –

Wow, that post got really long really fast (he says… then he goes back and adds “Things I Learned”). Anyways, I could have made it longer, so be glad (or sad) I didn’t. Either way, time for stage 8 of the NJLP (No Jet Lag Program): Take a really long nap at an absurd hour in the middle of the day. And then I pack. And then I head home!

Thanks for everything, India.

(if you’re just catching up, then don’t fear, Guatemala is next!)

2 thoughts on “Goodbye, India!

  1. Jenna says:

    Sad it wasn’t longer! But I can’t wait to just hear about it in person tomorrow!!!

  2. Grandma says:

    What a tribute to the Indian people and a good summary of our visit there. Now am looking forward to the Guatemala trip! Wish I could see you in between.

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