18 de Mayo
Bikes Fixed: 4
Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5
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).
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!).