Thursday, February 5, 2009

a late night dash to the middle of nowhere

At 11:30 am yesterday, Palo (or Chris), comes huffing up to the interent cafe. "Carlos says we´re leaving right now for San Marcos" "Right now?" "Yes, right now." I close my session and we both scuttle up to the shop.

Sure enough, as we arrive the first big cement hunk of the bici-bomba is being loaded into a white truck. We jump in and get the rest settled.

Without enough room in the cab, three of us are puzzle pieced into the assortment of objects occupying the truck bed. Chris seems to have a better sense of what´s going on, here´s what i find out:

1. We´re going to San Marcos, neither of us know where that is, but its apparently 6 hours away.

2. We´re going there to set up the bici-bomba (bike water pump) and we´ll be staying over night, probally installing early in the morning.

3. After the installation Carlos, Palo and I will get on a bus and do the six hours back.

4. Palo doesn´t think they are going to want to stop for lunch. Supposedly we´re already late.

So we bump our way out of town, Palo and i are pretty stoked to be riding Guatemalan style, the view is beautiful and the fresh air feels great. Its also alot more social as everyone wants to wave to you, and well, we wanted to wave to everyone.

Despite the beautiful sunny day, the wind didn´t take to long to trick us into thinking it wasn´t quite so beauftiful after all. We got pretty cold pretty fast. Luckily i happened to have a pair of work gloves in my pocket and Palo lent me his sweet dreadlock soaked ski mask, which actually wasn´t smelly at all and was so so wonderfully warm.

Though after while even the gloves and mask weren´t doing it. We didn´t have much of a choice til fate intervened. At some point a couple hours into the trip traffic just stopped. To us gringos it wasn´t entirely apparent what was going on, but we soon found out it was construction. You know in the states when the neon-green reflector suited men stand in the middle of the road with their revolving Stop/Slow signs? We got caught in the Guatemalan equivalent. Instead of waiting for six and a half minutes, we waited for over a half hour. Great chance to pee. Great chance to watch Grey´s Anatomy.

Actually i´m not giving it enough credit. It was far more enjoyable than it would have been in the states, everyone expected a long wait and turned off their cars. People got out and socialized, and of course, there were vendors galore. I bought gum, which turned out to be an excellent investment for the trip.

Oh, but i digress, what i meant to say was that i pulled out a long sleeve shirt that i had stuffed in my sleeping bag, and Carlos lent me his sweater on top of that. "Now i´m golden" i thought. A few more hours convinced me otherwise. Our next pee break provided the opportunity to pull out the last stop- i wrapped myself in my sleeping bag. And it was glorious. I even fell asleep.

Pretty much when i woke up we were on our last leg of the trip, off the highway and onto a very windy, very dusty, jostling, heart-burn inducing road. At this point Palo and i were past hour number five. The other guy with us in the back had moved into the cab, and who knows where the other guy went? (Palo says he hopped on a motorcyle at one of our pee breaks...) He and i decided that pretty much any other form of transport would feel luxurious in comparison. Yes, even the tightly packed chicken bus would be a step up. We were ready for our home-made roller coaster ride to be over.

By dark we pulled into a small farm off of the country road. Having stopped several times before we weren´t convinced this was it, but a "baja" from Carlos said that it was. We start pulling stuff out and Carlos, known for his joking, says, "he wants us to set this up tonight." Haha Carlos, thats a real knee slapper right there.

He wasn´t joking. We carried the cement blocks down a small hill, through a bunch of brush and to an old fashioned stone well. The roof over top fit the locals, but I, and Palo especially, defintely didn´t fit. Before long we were ripping it off, not becuase Palo is the tallest person currently in Guatemala, but because the pump needed the overhead space.

The owner´s sons (and sons´friends?) pulled out two wooden stakes along side of the well and flattened the surrounding earth to make room for the bike piece of the pump. Once ready we slid the cement into place. Next we put the corresponding cement piece on top of the well. Carlos seemed skeptical about the angles, but we moved forward (usually the pump and bike are level with one another).

Meanwhile Carlos is untangling the rope and beads, and the owner is measuring the distance to the bottom of the well. He checks his length against Carlos´PVC that he brought, and there is more than enough. The PVC is cut and the rope fed through it.

Next the flywheel (the tire pieces cemented together) is attached to the pump section and the chains are installed between bike, flywheel and flywheel holder. The pump is assembled in pieces and slowly put into place. Everyone is working on something, so most things are simulataneous and a little hard to keep track of. Eventually all of the piping is installed and Carlos begins to feed the rope and beads through the system. When he gets to the end of the line he ties it off to itself, and we spend some time biking it and testing its taughtness. It needs to be cut and re-tied several times. (Any excuse to pull out my leatherman is a good one.)

The line of the rope was confusing to me at first, and honestly looked like it was going to catch on its itself in a few spots. But Carlos knows his stuff, it worked great. Toward the top excess water spitted onto curious onlookers, but it was nothing compared with the thick flow pouring out into a 55 gallon drum several feet away. I was designated official pedaler for the evening and i was surprised to find how little effort it took. The pace was somewhat awkward (because the beads do stick a little bit) but otherwise it greatly simplfied their former one-pail-at-a-time operation. And, beyond construction and transportation, with absolutely no fossil fuels. Just feet.

Not to long after our installation, or maybe it was in the middle of it, Carlos announces that we are going to catch a 2:00 am bus, no es broma he says (not a joke). With his constant barrage of jokes we´re not sure what to expect. I think this is part of his plan.

We finish up and Carlos says, okay ready to go? We are going to walk for three hours to the bus stop and then get on the 2:00 am bus. We start walking joined by one of the owner´s sons (or sons friends, its really not clear). The long night aside, the moment is beautiful. Without any light pollution we are greeted by a crystalline sky. Though we have flashlights, the moon is more than bright enough to light our way. Silent and cool the night is inviting and fresh like springtime in the states. On dirt road and foot path we make our way through the quiet hills.

Carlos insisted I take this picture even though i told him it wouldn´t turn out well. These are the only lights in the area, a mining operation on the other side of the valley.

45 minutes later we walk into dowtown San Marcos, a town about an eighth the size of Itzapa. This is where we are to catch the bus. I´m glad he was joking about the three hours of walking. I´m glad he also, as it turned out, was joking about the 2:00 am bus, though we did catch a bus right before day break. The guy who was with us, Hector i think, he had some sort of quasi-apartment, which was really more like a dorm room. No kitchen, no bath. Not really sure how that works. It was awesome of him to put us up and to be our guide. Though i´m conviced Carlos is secretly James Bond and could have gotten us back entirely on his own.

After many more hours of sleeping poorly through three separate bus rides, we finally did make it back to Itzapa. Carlos told us to take the day off. Which was kind of funny considering how few bikes we actually service on a daily basis. Really, he needed the day off and he deserves it. Carlos works really hard.

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