San Pedro La Laguna is a criss crossed town of backpackers, locals, and hippies all coinciding together on Lake Atitlan. It’s definitely a party town and we did our fair share. On the day of our departure, Lennart and I quickly popped into a bike shop that we’d heard about earlier in the day. There were not many options, except for one bike, which was on sale for (post haggling) about $90 which we deemed to be to steep – at the time anyway. In retrospect, it probably would have been our best option, but we wanted to continue shopping around. After a stunning ride up the winding roads overlooking the absolute most beautiful lake, Lake Atitlan, and through the wild roads of the Western Highlands of Guatemala, we arrived in Antigua later that day.
We began our bike shopping here, but we knew that it would be too expensive to buy in such a Gringo heavy town. We asked a local cop about any small towns around and he sent us to San Pedro Las Huertas – after a $0.18 Chicken Bus ride we arrived in the town adorned with a beautiful town square and very helpful (minded) people.
Our first shop we popped into was laughable – although being our first stop, I test rode a bike, but no way on earth was this bike going to make it out of the town, let alone across El Salvador.
We wandered up the street, stopped into some random people’s houses and asked locals on the street if they’d sell their bike or if they had any friends that wanted to sell theirs. (Guatemalan’s will do anything to earn a buck. – Never once were we looked at with disgust for asking such a question.) We stopped at this random man’s house when we saw a bike inside his front door (read: alleyway into his home with a bike inside).
I believe his name was Rodrigo – he showed us the bike, no luck, and he walked us to his friends place? (Charles) with a bike shop – I say that with a question, because we’re not really sure who he was taking us too. Rodrigo knocked on the door and said bike shop owner wasn’t home.
Another local stood nearby, with his fly, not just zipper, but also his pants button, completely undone. To add to his astonishing wardrobe, he lacked a shoelace on one foot, but he also wanted to help us out so we weren’t going to shy away from another local lending us a hand. So there we went, McFly, Rodrigo, Lennart and I – the fantastic four – we wandered down the worn down street another 1.5 blocks to the town square so Rodrigo and McFly could – get this – use the pay phone to call Charles to see where he was and when he’d return.
Charles was at the beach with his wife for the day, but we were informed that he had “at least 10-15 bikes” and that we should return at 7am the following morning. We happily flipped the equivalent of $0.12 to Rodrigo and McFly for the phone call, said our peace, thanked them and toll them we’d return the following day.
7am is way way too early for us. Plus, what’s wrong with later? The next day we returned around lunch time, knocked on the door and asked for Charles, he was happy to see us, and showed us his bikes. We didn’t purchase any – not even close. I won’t describe them in detail, but they looked like this:
What Charles, Rodrigo and McFly were thinking, and how on Earth they thought these bicycles, fully loaded with our gear, would get us across a country, I am not sure, but nevertheless, we thanked them for their help and moved on to Guatemala City. Upon arrival at our hostel after safely navigating the chaotic capital of Guatemala home to 3 million people, we were eventually directed via word of mouth to the tiny town of San Andres Iztapa, about 75 minutes via Chicken Bus outside of Guatemala City and 35 minutes from Antigua.
I gave the phone number a call, the girl on the other end and I attempted to speak Spanish until we both realized we were native English speakers. She happily gave me directions to shop – once we got off the Chicken Bus, go up the hill from the church towards the cemetery and you can’t miss it.
She was right and later that day we stumbled upon Maya Pedal – a shop with volunteers from Western Countries working with locals and old donated bikes from the states and Canada to repair and fix bicycles. This shop was perfect for our needs.
Remember that the average height for locals is some where around 5’6″ (this is scientific fact – a measurement based on the insight that I am at least a head taller than every single one of them). Any and all bicycles frames that Maya Pedal has been donated were still available for the 6’2″ Lennart and I to begin custom construction of our bikes out of a numerous variety of bicycle parts straight from the 1980s.
First, we each chose a frame, handle bars, seats and the volunteers began to construct our bicycles from scratch for us. They were unbelievably helpful, kind, and eager to show us what was best for our journey. In the meantime, we wandered town for awhile, each fulfilled our daily coconut quota, and tried the bikes for the first time.
My bike made it ~20 feet (on a downhill) and it was down for the count. The rear tire was rubbing on the frame and my bicycle wouldn’t budge another inch.
Over the next 1.5 days, my bike began to take form with minor tweaks and adjustments, two days later we returned. We did several test rides, and each time, either the gears wouldn’t work properly, the pedal(s) were loose, the brakes needed repairs, or the handle bars needed adjustments. Either way though, each time I gave it a test ride, a finished product began to take shape.
Two days later, we returned via our third day of Chicken Bus rides and our bikes were almost ready. A few more test rides around town, confirming everything was in shape, that the wheels were trued, the brakes (semi) worked, and the pedals were firmly attached and we purchased our bicycles.
They cost about $95 with a bike rack and everything else tweaked into place. We took photos with all of the volunteers and local workers and thanked them immensely for their hard work.
We left them with a few liters of cold beer for an extra form of appreciation of their work and Lennart and I were off for our first ride. It wasn’t long before we realized that our shirts would not be necessary in the mid day Guatemalan sun.
At this moment, the phrase “HOSO” – “Helmets On, Shirts Off” was formed.
After bracing my luggage rack above the bike’s rear tire (a $1.25 purchase of an oversized milk crate which was previously the coconut ladies seat – I told you ANYTHING is for sale in Guatemala for the right price), Santo and Diablo safely delivered Lennart and I all the way to Antigua, 18km later, without any problems or break downs for the first time in their short existences.
Our bike shopping was complete, however, we were definitely going to be roughing it for the next month. I couldn’t be more excited!