Monday, February 28, 2011

Antigua Guatemala

Eunice had sent out the replaced GPS, Jill's headset for the intercom and my replacement debit card by DHL to Antigua and it had been in their office for 8 days so we decided to go and explore Antigua, a world heritage site, and pick up the packet before they sent it back. I had been thinking that the way to explore Central and South America was by local transport as the bike is too big and heavy for the roads here so this was the perfect opportunity to see if this idea was feasible. For Q40 each we would be transported with 14 others + the driver the 4 hours to Antigua in a Toyota Hiace minibus. Although Antigua is only 58kms from San Pedro as the crow flies it is nearly 200kms as the Toyota minibus drives. Jill became whiter and whiter as the journey progressed, throwing up in the toilets when we stopped for a break 3 hours into the journey . As her feeling of nausea lasted the rest of the day I think it was something she ate rather then the winding roads. On arrival we found our hotel, La Casa Santa Lucia 1st or 3rd, which had beautiful views over the 'Iglesia y convento La Merced' and the Volcán de Agua which at 3766 meters dominated the horizon. We had planned to stay 4 night but due to the expense and 'Americaness' of the city we only stayed 3. So over the next couple of days we explored La Merced with it's beautiful stucco relief and fountain within the inner courtyard. All the building are built low and weighty to try and keep them standing during the earthquakes that have devastated Antigua over the centuries which gives them a very solid feel. The arch that was built as a nuns walkway with Volcan Agua behind. The Parque Major with the life giving waters coming from the ladies breasts. The 'Palacio de los Capitanes Generales' on the south side of the square whose interior was slowly being restored to it's former glory. The 'Palacio del Ayuntamiento' on the north side of the square giving great views of the parque and the Cathedral. The Cathedral ruins, destroyed by earthquake in 1773 still showing its magnificence and cutting a dash against the azul sky with a confusion of arches. The Nim Pot market that gave you a very good idea of what you should be paying for things. Coffee at the & coffee shop on 5a Avendia Norte, the only place we found that served decent coffee and with a touch. The other ruined Churches that stand as a monument to Antigua former glory and the 'Convento de Capuchinas' which didn't allow photos so I can't show you anything but was very interesting and had a very good exhibition of religious art with some very good explanations of the relationship between the Saints and the holy trinity. And finally the local market, as colourful and jam packed as ever
where we got a replacement coffee pot with strainer and a sticker of the Guatemalan flag. After 3 day we had had enough and spent 2 weeks budget so wandered down to the bus station to pick up a 'Chicken bus' back to San Pedro. The ride was eventful with 4 changes, someone sticking his hand in my back pocket trying to pull out my wallet (luckily I have a sensitive bum) Having a little Mayan girl asleep sitting on my knee for most of the way and the bus carrying 3 times as many people as there were seats, but everyone was sitting on someone or something. At times it felt like the nearside wheels had left the ground as the only person who could lean into the curve was the driver and he was swaying all over the place. A great ride but in the end cost the same as the tourist bus, took an hour longer but was far more fun. It was great to get back to San Pedro to find Nancy safe if still unwell where we will wait for the part to arrive at DHL, hopefully this week.

Santiago Atitlán and my kind of Saint.

The rest of Sunday was taken up with going to the BBQ at the local swimming pool where we ate far too much of their yummy food and after, with the help of Mike and Jason moved the sick Nancy into my room for safety. Jill has always said that I wanted to sleep with my motorbikes and that I finally got my wish. I must admit I do look a bit like a 'pig in shit'. Monday morning broke and at 0715 local time I was on the Skype phone to Motorworks in England and speaking to Yvonne, who has a G/S and has always been very helpful in the past. She proved her worth again and by the next day the parts were at our home address in Plymouth where my daughter-in-law to be Eunice, did a wonderful job and got DHL to pick them up and deliver them to Antigua Guatemala (I hope as they haven't arrived yet). Having got all that sorted as best we could we got in a boat and headed across the lake to Santiago Atitlán to see what it had to offer. Only the year before they had finished redoing there waterfront, creating a park area. That was before the lake rose over 2 meters and now the park was underwater along with building that once sold there wears to the passengers off the ferries. The market was as bustling as they all seem to be here with stalls selling much the same stuff as other markets. The Church was very interesting having 2 sets of 18 steps leading up to it. The interior was quite plain having been hit by many an earthquake with figures lining the walls covered in what looked like Great Aunt Ethyl’s best piny material. There were plaques at the back of the church giving the history and acknowledgement of the terrible abuses that went on during the civil war. We then move on and paying a tuc-tuc driver Q10 we went in search of Maximón the saint of gamblers and drunkards who has to be hidden away for most of the year in fear that his famed sexual desires may run amok, only being brought out on his feast day of the 28th October. We paid our respects but forgot to bring the usual offering of cigarettes and rum but instead paid Q10 for the privilege of taking pictures.
Arriving back in San Pedro we prepared for setting off for Antigua the next day by tourist bus.

More sickness in the family.

As Jill has described in more detail then I'm sure you wanted to know I was laid up for a couple of days and our departure date from San Pedro was put back to Saturday 19th February. The day duly arrived, Jill checked out of her accommodation and started to pack up while I prepared Nancy, checking oil and types etc. Before loading everything on I thought I would just get the engine warm , but as Nancy had been standing for a couple of weeks the battery after a few cranks was soon unable to turn the engine over as the clock takes the edge of the power. (must remember to disconnect in the future!) No problem I thought I'll push it down the street, which is a lot easier than trying to use the kick start. Sitting at the bottom of rather a long hill with still no life in Nancy things were not looking good, and that was just the thought for having to push it back up the hill! Arriving back at my residence I started to take Nancy apart and quickly found there was no spark.
By this time the word had spread around town that there was a broken down Gringo and soon everybody who thought they knew anything about bikes, and those who didn't know anything but had an uncle who lived 30 miles away who had a distant relative who was a mechanic, were there to offer advice, pull at anything that looked like it might come loose with excessive force and explain to me in Spanish, which I couldn’t clearly understand, that the problem was to do with a switch on the dashboard that I had disconnected 2 months previously. I was open to any suggestions as I have never really understood how electricity goes round corners, let alone makes a bike work. My training had been with Mr Lucas, the 'Prince of darkness' and if he couldn't get things to work what hope did I have! There was a bike mechanic in town called Walter so we pushed Nancy up another hill to his shop, where another crowd quickly gathered. Out came the electrical testing gear, a length of wire that various parts of the electrical system were grounded, with the result that sparks flew at the appropriate places. The problem was narrowed down to the 'bean can', a sensor that picks up the timing of the bike and gives out a pulse making the coils fire, or the control box, both of which were electronic parts that were not fixable but would have to be replaced. Walter's dad Walter then arrived, who though not a mechanic, had a reputation of being able to get anything to go having been brought up on Model 'T' Fords. Before I could blink he had stripped a wire and connected it directly to the battery. Luckily no damage but a stripped wire occurred and after showing him that there was voltage at that point anyway with the help of my voltmeter, he retired back to work on whatever he was doing before he stripped the wire. Jill had managed to find Mike, a friendly American we had met a few days earlier, who had an old BM and was a mechanic by trade. He confirmed that the problem was to do with the electronic parts, which was reassuring to know, albeit not fixable, and before anybody else started to fiddle with Nancy we pushed her back to my residence. I spent soon time at the Café Atitlan surfing the net looking for fixes
and although there was some advice on how to rebuild the 'bean can' they all came with serious mental health warnings. Just as we were going out that night Chino turned up saying he was an auto electrical engineer and could he help. Unable to say 'no' as I still lacked any certainty about my ability we arranged to meet the following morning at 0900. The first 5 minutes of meeting anybody are always the most telling and always the most disregarded. When an auto electrical engineers first tool that he pulls out of his bag is a hammer I should have listened to my intuition, but I still was overwhelmed by hope that the problem might be fixable. Chino soon became convinced that the problem was to do with the kill switch because as you switched it on and off there was a spark. Trying to explain to him in my very limited Spanish (Yes I hadn't become fluent in my 2 weeks of classes) that the kill switch grounded the coils sending a pulse to the spark plugs confirming that it was the 'bean can' and not the control box that had failed wasn't easy to get across. Even showing him the wiring diagram, that he kept turning upside down, I couldn't convince him and just before he was about to cut a wire to the kill switch I said 'that was enough'. Undeterred he said he would go off and get a 'timing light', returning in about 10 minutes with a friend who looked about 13 and was, on further Spanish explanation, the 'light of auto electrical problems' in San Pedro and not a 'timing light'. A common translation mistake I am told amongst beginners in the Spanish language like myself. To give him his credit within 10 minutes he confirmed that it was the 'bean can' that was at fault, but not before he found that if you turned the engine over with the starter and then flicked the kill switch on and off you got the most explosive back fire as the coils grounded. Turning around I saw that he was trying to take the 'bean can' apart on a sandy driveway. The can has many small springs and weights in it to do the advance as well as the sensor and I was able to stop him before thing went flying in all directions. That was enough and saying how grateful I was that Nancy was still in one piece figuratively, I paid them for their time and they rushed off leaving me to clear up. I then realised that not only had it cost me money but it had also cost me an Allen Key, which for somebody whose main tool is a hammer must have been a great prize. The lesson of this story: Trust my intuition and have faith in my own ability as a amateur mechanic.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jill's San Pedro la Laguna

I had arranged to live with a family recommended to me by Kathy (mentioned above), but when I arrived at the school, they told me that the student they had wanted to extend their stay over the weekend and would I mind living with Luis's parents not too far away. So I moved in with Tula and Fransisco who live on the edge of town, in large house set in a large parcel of land fronting the lake. Apparently the are the wealthy family of San Pedro. Both were teachers until they set up a restaurant after retirement. The student accommodation was a block of four en suite bungalows, set a short distance from the main house, and fronted by a verandah on which swung a huge hammock.

Very nice I thought. I settled in. That night we went out for food with Chris. The next 3 days I was treated to fabulous meals cooked by Tula, in lush green surroundings,

accompanied by parrots that croaked 'Hola!'

At night it was so dark you could not see any shadows at all. In the morning I would watch the sun rise over the lake,

and after breakfast of fresh fruit salad and coffee, I would stroll down the sandy road, lined with women sitting on doorsteps or small walls, selling anything from fruit to nuts, scarves (bufandas) and hair bands, and onto the main road and into the centre of town and the Spanish school.

It was a very pleasant 20 minute walk along a road which skirted the lake surrounded by mountains. At night David would walk me back and we would pick our way through the extensive garden in pitch black to my bungalow. I was the only student and it was a bit eerie at night. Although I had muted that I could stay with the family for the two weeks, in the end I decided to move closer to town where Leti and Luis live.

So on Sunday I moved in with Leti and Luis, and their children, Iles 16yrs, Tuli 10 yrs, and Little Luis 18 months and Elena who helps out. My room was lovely, clean comfortable and decorated with pink hearts.

Decoration of internal walls is very rare in Mexico and so far in Guatemala. They are usually just left the grey of the cement. I settled in and considered myself very lucky to be in such a nice home, given how many folk live here. Tuli is a bright chirpy little girl who offered to take me around the town. So we booked a date and she took me to the Parque

the Iglesia

the Mercado,

about town

and back home-the black door on the right is the door to the garden of the family I stayed with.

Alongside this was Spanish school. My maestro was Lorenzo.

He too was recommended by Kathy. She told me that he is very keen on grammar, so I thought I would dive in at the deep end and see if I would sink or swim. She also mentioned other teachers, all of whom have different styles, but I felt I needed to learn some grammatical structure before working with a teacher who has a more relaxed style.

And that is what I got. Lorenzo soon proved to be an excellent teacher, well informed, organised, thorough, interesting, speaks excellent English and has a good sense of humour (bien humor). Though I did pull his leg about having 'mal humor' at times, when he said I was being grammatically lazy!!

Anyway he provided a good balance between formal grammar and experience in conversation. His office offers spectacular views across el lago, and beats any office I have ever worked in!

Before classes I would pop in to see David in his dwelling as it was on the way to my school. Afterwards, we would pass each other on our way to our respective families for lunch, then each have a siesta, do some homework, or participate in one of the school activities. Then we would head for Cafe Atitlan

a little gem we discovered behind the Bhudda Bar (follow the coloured coffee beans on the ground). Where we met Berna,

a wonderful host, who offered us a free espresso at every visit and 15% off our purchases as an opening gesture. The coffee, as delicious, it is grown here, the food scrumptious , the setting relaxing, and ideal for doing homework under a palapa in the garden. We found ourselves telling everyone we met about our little find.

In the evenings, we would head back to our hosts for supper, then reconnoitre either to see one of the films on offer in cafés and bars, or we would just meet up briefly in-between doing homework. It has been a lovely experience, having some space in a home with my own room and bathroom, and popping to see David for a few minutes or hours. Rather like living in the nurses home of 30yrs ago when I was a young-un. The space was small but mine!!

On Sunday I bought a bus ticket to Chichicastenanga market.

David the shopping phobic stayed at 'home'. It was a two hour bus journey, first back up the steep, winding and pot-holed road into San Pedro. I am amazed how tuc-tucs, buses and trucks don't collide as they drive on the wrong side of the road around hairpin bends in order to avoid huge holes. But rather like the Italians, it is a matter of honour to take risks and survive. The tuc-tucs are little red three-wheeled dodgem cars which for 5 Quetzalis will take you anywhere is town. The pick-up trucks

(you climb up and sit or stand in the back, with the wind in your hair!) take you along main roads usually for 2 Quetzalis. There are about 12-13 Quetzalis to the pound! Having been in one on the way back from Santa Clara, surrounded by fruit, it was a hair-raising journey as we rocked and rolled over lumps and holes.

Anyway Chichi market was a riot of colour

tastes and smells 1845.

I explored the market with two girls I had met, both from France and called Carina and Julie. The place to eat when the market is in full swing is usually in the centre of it, where lively kitchens bustle with activity.

The church in Chichi is significant because it is where the first book of Mayan genesis was discovered buried in the alter.

Surrounding the church the 18 steps up to which represent one month of the Mayan calendar and were covered with flowers and people each sat on a particular step

We decided to leave San Pedro the day after finishing Spanish lessons. So all packed up I hailed a tuc-tuc to take me and my bags round to David's, only to find him still in bed suffering with diarrhoea and vomiting. It had started at about midnight and was still in full swing. He looked pale and interesting, and was clearly not able to ride the bike. So I arranged for him to stay an extra night with his family 'sin comida'-without food, and loaded him up with gatorade. As he pooed and slept

I looked for a place to stay. My family already had my room booked so I could not extend my stay with them. Eventually having checked out a few hotels, I decided upon a bit of luxury and booked into the Hotelito El Amancer

which fronts the lake. How nice to have another clean, comfortable room, good shower, and a beautiful view

all for 176 Quetzalis, about £15. This is expensive here where you can book a room for £2-3 a night. But often these rooms are very basic, as I have mentioned previously, services are variable. I woke to watch the sunrise and enjoy birdsong and quacking ducks.

David arrived early, looking a bit perkier than the day before but still not strong enough to ride the bike, so we decided to stay another day. I was hoping the extend my stay at the hotel but had to wait to see if a vacancy arose during the morning. In the meantime, we went for breakfast to the Cafe Atitlan, I wrote some postcards (I still send them even though we have the Blog and emails because I think they are nice to receive). Then David lazed, and recharged his batteries in the hammock outside my room,

whilst I updated the Blog. Later we went for a stroll observing daily life


Rosario sits in the back of the shop sewing in the dark, doing alterations and making clothes. Here you can see lots of hammocks and rails of clothes. We posted some postcards

This is the only post office. Mail does get delivered to homes here, but it means closing the post office so the person serving can do the delivery round. Then we headed down quiet lanes

to Santiago Dock

where the Lancha (boat) departs for Santiago across the lake andwhere folk were going about their daily business

and here unloading the 'chicken bus of fruit and veg and flowers

The lake rose 6 feet last year due to fierce rain and flooded this and other buildings 1951 We ended up at Cafe Atitlan for lunch

San Pedro is a lovely quaint, hippy town with lots of small places to eat and have coffee, to sit and look out over the lake and volcanoes, browse the local stalls and market, have a massage, or do yoga or meditation. Being here for 2 weeks at the school and living with a family, visiting shops and bars, buying 'banana bread' or nuts from a street seller, etc, it is easy to get to know local folk and other travellers. Soon we were settled into a very easygoing community where every turn we bumped into someone we knew or someone we would get to know. I have really enjoyed being here. It has nourished my heart and soul and I can see why many travellers arrive and never leave!