Thursday, June 11, 2009
Good, Bad, and the Ugly.
In general, driving through larger cities really stresses me out.
Today was the day to take the taxi back up to Guatemala City to pick up the bike. I was having a new rear tire put on and some general maintenance done. The city is the largest in Central America, and just the thought of riding the bike around there really jacks up my blood pressure. The week prior, I had hired a taxi driver that was a friend of my neighbor's to take me to the BMW dealership in the city, I followed on the bike, and I rode back with him to Antigua. On the initial trip, we left early on a Saturday to avoid some of the week-time traffic, but it was still a mess. Today was worse. Six lanes of chaos with motorcycles and ambulances splitting the already crowded lanes -while chicken buses coughed out black smoke nudging their way where ever they pleased. It's a "time suck" if you get lost in one of these cities - and a vulnerable feeling that I am not too keen on, like getting lost in the wicked forest without any breadcrumbs.
Just to goad me a bit more, yesterday a new law went into effect, where all motorcyclists must wear a vest with their license plate number displayed across the back, and a sticker with the same on the back of their helmets (a similar law has been in effected in Colombia for several years now - for the similar reasons). The reason is due the the high crime rate in the city, specifically the assassinations of local bus drivers. The diseased minds of the netherworld's finest began blackmailing the "wealthy" bus company owners of Guatemala City by simply killing a bus driver and then demanding money to stop killing more. Bus companies started putting armed guards on the buses, but the assassins adapted and started riding two-up on motorcycles -riding up to the side of the bus allowing the rear passenger of the bike to pull out his gun and blammo! With dark shields on their helmets and license plates removed, the bikers just disappear in the ever present chaos. This disturbing fact, and the presence of armed guards everywhere, does not exactly say "Welcome" to me.
(THAT SAID, Guatemala is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. It is an easy place to fly into (just be sure to immediately jump onto a shuttle to Antigua from the airport), and has so much to offer in such close proximity. You could hike to the top of an active volcano at breakfast and be at Lake Atitlan for a late lunch - one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced! This weekend, I will fly to Flores to see the ruins at Tikal, the "Manhattan" of the Mayan empire. There is sooo much to do and see here, and the people make it even enjoyable. Yes, there is more risk than going to Orlando.)
After picking up the bike, I was soon out of the city, and enjoying the 30-minute ride of twisty tree-lined roads, cooling off as I gained some elevation - ah, out of the netherworld. Blood pressure back to normal. As much as I hate to leave Anitgua, and I really do hate to leave, being on the bike again reminds me of how much I miss being on the road, and how much fun it is.
Upon arriving in Antigua, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was market day with ingenious food vendors lining the street along the square. Mmm, it was lunch time and time for me to "go Bourdain* in the streets!" "If you don't eat the street feed, then get back on the bus!", thats why you bring plenty of Cipro (antibiotic) with you when you come. I enjoyed a "tamale" roasted over hot coals - like a dense piece of cornbread with a delicious meat filling and a dish of sliced marinated flank steak (I think) with homemade tortillas and guacamole (avocado trees are ubiquitous here), and roasted corn on the cob with chili and fresh lime. I sat on a bench in the shade and watched Volcano Agua puff smoke (rather than chicken buses), and thought less about assassins, and more about a nap.
*My two favorite celebrity travelers are Anthony Bourdain (Travel Channel) and Michael Palin (BBC, and of Monty Python fame). I really appreciate how, and why, they travel.