Guatemala – Part 1

I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela) on Saturday, October 4th. After a short 60km ride, I found my school in no time. Glenda, the school director, was waiting for me at 3pm according to our plan. I started my Spanish learning experience as soon as I set foot in the school. Glenda did not speak English and we had a few things to discuss before heading to my host family. After discussing my goals in attending her school and filling out a few forms, Irma joined us. Irma is the mother of the family with which I ended up staying the better of three weeks. I was a bit chocked when I stood up to greet her as she was probably under 5 feet tall. She was smiling a lot and her traditional outfit made me feel like I would enjoy my stay with her. After making sure she had a secure spot to park my motorcycle at her house and confirming that I did not have any food allergies, we headed outside of the school.

Even though her house was only a few blocks away, slowly following her stride on those cobblestone streets proved to be a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Once inside their interior court, I was welcomed by Lacie, their barking dog. Unfortunately, that barking would barely stop for most of my stay there. That interior court seemed very secure and after resting Olga on her side stand, Irma showed me my room. The first things I saw were the three beds covered in colored sheets. I wondered if I would be sharing this room with her family. The second thing I noticed was the sagging ceiling over my head. The blue tarp installed over what would be my bed suggested that it was also leaking. The tarp was installed with nails and cardboard washers. Having nothing to drain the middle, I promised myself to investigate before being awaken by an overhead tsunami during a rainy night.

Fog up in the mountains

Fog up in the mountains

Kevin

Kevin

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Notice the heating element for the shower

Notice the heating element for the shower

Kitchen - Dining room

Kitchen – Dining room

Interior court

Interior court

I will probably remember my first dinner with my family for years to come. Many years have gone by since the last time I could not express myself well at a dinner table. I felt very strange about not being able to communicate ideas, but even more about not being able to have a personality. Smiling a lot while saying a few words that do not make sense together did not define well what I wanted to project on my new friends. The other thing that was out of the ordinary for me was the menu. Even though the black beans and scrambled eggs did great at filling me up, it was the first time I would have the combo other than for breakfast. I got the chance to meet with all the family members. Irma has 1 son and two daughters. Erick is the oldest at 24. Mayra is the first daughter at 21 and Vivie is the youngest child at 20. Vivie also has a three and half years old son named Kevin. Luckily, they were all very patient and understanding about my struggles in Spanish and kindly offered their help countless times while speaking very slowly for me. I went to bed very early that night.

After sleeping for over 11 hours, I had one day to spare before my first school day on Monday the 6th. I spent most of it writing my previous post and reviewing what I knew of the Spanish language. I shared all my meals on Sunday with the family and I already felt like speaking was getting easier for me. I once again went to bed early that night and slept in excess of 11h once more.

Around 7h15am, someone woke me up by progressively knocking on my room’s door. I stupidly answered in English before realizing that I was in Guatemala. After breakfast and hot tea, I walked to the school in less than 3 minutes. Arriving 10 minutes before 8am, many students were already present to be assigned with their private teacher. We were 5 new students that morning and I was the last one to get paired. Fortunately for me, the reason was that my teacher was actually one of the oldest teacher and was in charge of assigning students to other before himself. Fernando and I walked to his table and started discussing (slowly) about various subject. It didn’t take me long to understand that he was a great Spanish teacher. He had been teaching Spanish to foreigners for over 3 years and he didn’t need to look stuff up in his files to know what to do next. Although physically very different from each other, Fernando and I shared many values that we would discuss during the next three weeks.

One of the first things he did once we both introduced ourselves was to establish a teaching plan based on the content that I was most interested in. He noticed that I could express myself only in the infinitive verb tense and suggested that we see various tenses in present, past and future. I added that I wanted to learn more vocabulary useful when traveling and other important words. At the end of the day around 1pm, I asked his help to call the KTM shop in Guatemala in order to check if they had some parts in stock. After identifying each part, relating them with the oem number and handing him the phone number, he kindly agreed to help me. I was very happy to know that they had my rear sprocket as mine was just about to give up. Luckily, they were open on Saturdays for the morning and I already made a plan to visit the shop, which was in Guatemala City, the following weekend.

I believe that my door features some air leaks

I believe that my door featured some air leaks

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With Fernando at School

On Tuesday morning, Irma ran out of propane while frying empanadas and looked very concerned. I took my camping stove out to try to help her. I was happy to see the oil boiling again less than 3 minutes later. Irma was even happier to see that her production wouldn’t be spoiled. Both Mayra and her were impressed with the power of that such seemingly harmless device.

Fernando and I spent most of the week studying verbs and the present tense. Exercises we did together to practice these verbs proved to be a great way to introduce and learn useful vocabulary as well. The school offered an activity after class every day. I participated in the cooking class on Thursday and the personal presentation on Friday (during class time). The cooking class was entertaining as we all got to prepare a small portion of the soup and ate together afterwards. Students who were quitting the next day received a small diploma and were given the opportunity to say a few words.

On Friday morning was the personal presentations activity. Everyone had prepared a short presentation. They asked for a volunteer to go first and I was happy to start. My presentation was over my time in Alaska and was quite easy to do as I had a lot of visual support. I was glad that I practiced it the previous evening with my host family. Students and teachers seemed interested and I was very happy to receive good comments at the end. Most of all, I was a little impressed with what I learned in only 4 days and how it was helping me to express myself in various ways.

After school, I had lunch with my family and shortly after, I was ready to drive to Antigua. I needed to be in Guatemala City early the next day and booked a room in Antigua that night in order to reduce the distance in the morning. The drive was unique. I spent way more time leaning into curves than I did riding upright. If you like riding curvy roads, you are going to love the highway between Xela and Guatemala City. Although, with the Friday night traffic and crazy chicken buses, the ride needed quite a bit of attention. The bus drivers are just insane in Guatemala. From their engine sound, I believe they must chip the engine in order to go faster. I am not kidding when I say that they drive them like race cars. Fully loaded with people and tons of stuff on their roof, they take the curves at almost the same speed I do. The worst thing is that they do not care much about other cars and keep cutting corners by taking the inside line. I would only past them between two curves… I arrived in Antigua as the sun was setting. Its cobblestone streets and colorful buildings made it look very attractive. I checked in my hotel and parked the bike in an old theater before heading out for dinner. I found a sports bar that was filled with tourists and enjoyed my night there.

Rescuing the empenadas with my camping stove

Rescuing the empenadas with my camping stove

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Lake Atitlan from afar

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Interior parking in an old theater

The next morning I had breakfast early in a local bagel shop. I then rode to the KTM shop in Guatemala City. It was a huge complex where they also sold Polaris, Ducati and Maserati products. It was located in an expensive neighborhood that contrasted a lot with the rest of the city. They had the part I needed and I took the opportunity to purchase spare parts as well. The prices were the same I would pay anywhere in North America. I then had a sandwich at a local deli and headed back to Xela. On the main road in Guatemala City, I met with Arakiel. He spoke good English and really liked the bike. We talked for a bit, he signed the map and away we went. He even took a picture with his phone while riding on the 4 lane boulevard… There was not much traffic on the twisty highway and I was able to make better time than the previous day. I arrived in Xela around 3pm and started working on the bike.

I had been carrying 4 liters of Cepsa 5W-10 synthetic oil from Puebla in Mexico. I really liked their container as they featured a pop-out straw for dispensing. Even though it’s the first time I was using another product than Motorex, I was confident that it will do just fine. I also replaced my front and rear sprockets as well as the chain. I used the engine power to tighten the front sprocket and had to think a little to be able to unfasten and replace my rear sprocket. After a few hours, it was all ready to get back on the road. When coming back to my house that day, I noticed that one of my LED lights was hanging from its power cable. The aluminum bracket I bent back home had failed due to fatigue. I would need to find a way to fix it…

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Loaded bus

Loaded bus

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Worn front sprocket

Worn front sprocket

Worn rear sprocket

Worn rear sprocket

New chain and sprockets

New chain and sprockets

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4 responses to “Guatemala – Part 1

  1. Hi Frank. I don’t know if you remember me, Tom Osborne, from Fairbanks, AK’s College Coffeehouse… we met and spoke for quite a while… though only a tiny moment in all the time of this great journey of yours… Anyway, I want to let you know just how much I am enjoying the story of your journey and how great a joy it gives me to be able to share in the adventures of what you are doing. You continue to impress me, just as you did the day we met here in the Coffeehouse… God Bless and continued great blessings and safety along your journey. Tom Osborne

  2. Salut François-Xavier!! Merci de partager ton voyage avec nous et continues d’en profiter au maximum! Cynthia

  3. Méchant dépaysement ! Toujours le fun de suivre ton périple, profites en bien ! PLB

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