I’m at home, in the living room sitting small and square on the couch, tucked over onto one side, wondering why it is I am here….at home….
The journey, it seems is over.
My mother is here. She is cleaning and I watch her, though she pays me little attention and as such I feel like a fly on the wall, well the couch, watching, unnoticed, transported, not really here….surely not…But I am. Two and a half years, and the journey is over.
There´s a strange hum, like electric pylons excited by the rain, except oddly; silent. There, but not there. The room feels odd too; empty, grey and cold; desaturated in every way. A sick feeling fills my stomach. I can´t believe it, that I´m back and can´t remember even, why I am. I look my body over, my legs seem fine, my head and arms too….so why am I here?
Who knows, (Lord maybe and the sneaky twit isn’t telling me), for whatever reason I am home, at the beginning, where it all started, back at zero, everything the same, with me left still wanting…..but what to want now? (a bed, hot shower, Sunday lunch…)
“But I didn´t get to see South America or Central Asia!” (ahh, yeah all the bits I missed) I blurt loudly, angry now and I click my flingers as I point to her as if drawing out the exclamation for my remark. I stand up and make my way upstairs, stamping my way up the steps just like when I was a child, the same and nothing more.
|The Chicken buses
I hear a cuckoo, he lives in the tall yellow conifer tree outside my bedroom window, I can make out other birds too that sing happily, tapping out their strange Morse code to one another. There are dogs barking incessantly as the first of the smoke pouring morning buses makes it’s way to town; atop of which lie men, perched precariously atop mounds of loose luggage on the roof. There is a march band playing in the streets and somewhere the gas van roams reminding customers by playing its tune “Here we go round the mulberry bush” on a device that sounds like a child’s plastic record player to attract customers…and if you don’t hear it you can smell it. Far off a woman announces the news from a loud speaker strapped atop a cars roof, sounds like propaganda. A dog barks, the church bells peel and a string of firecrackers go off celebrating the birth of a new born baby (commiserations). The sound of a much smaller bell grows nearer; an ice cream trolley; the bell strapped to it’s vendor’s trousers by his boss like a time bomb to ensure he never stops moving (sell, sell, sell!!). I hear the sound of nylon flapping in the breeze and feel the warmth of the first beams of the rising sun, I feel and smell like a tomato in a greenhouse. I scratch the cocktail of ant, mosquito and spider bites over my hands, arms and legs uncontrollably and with subconscious pleasure. The fuzzy image brightens into focus and I realise with a huge relief that I am in fact, not at home and it was, of course just a dream. Paradoxically I also think; I’m still in Antigua.
|Camp,with volcan Fuego erupting
I’m still in Antigua, the small Colonial City, surrounded by wooded hills and active volcanoes, punctuated along its seven streets by the crumbling remains of the long-gone Spanish rein reminding one that this was once the capital, now defunct – moved to its present day location 45km away; Guatemala City, after another earthquake flattened the place just when they were cutting the cake to celebrate completing the rebuild.
I scratch at my bites some more and with increased vigour, though perhaps I didn’t stop and somewhere outside a dog sniffs at my tent and I wonder why I’m singing “Here we go round the mulberry bush.” Then my mind continues to swirls with thoughts of what could be causing the most recent problem or development in the great mystery that is; Rudolf, for he is having great problems.
|A puncture…at 4am
I’ve been in Guatemala for over one month, but have travelled for only one week, though it was a fantastic week, and after a lengthy stay in Mexico the change was welcome. The border was a street hardly visible through the chaotic bedlam of shops, stalls, tuk-tuks, gasoline vendors (Mexican fuel much cheaper) and people flowing whimsically from one country to the other with wares, but a simple and cheap enough crossing (about $8).
A town is circled on my map, I can’t remember when or why I circled it, but I head there anyway, along a great, smooth, gravel road, through the coffee fields of the north, beautiful people, in traditional colourful dress; flowered print, bandanners, gold teeth and a planetarium of gold spheres around their necks give the look of pirates! Each person balances vases of water atop there bobbing heads, or mounds of coffee or firewood in sacks strapped taught around their foreheads; men, women and children – with mini-sacks – alike, working together as a family.
|Local lasses fill my water bottle
I stop beside two women chatting and ask if I can take their picture, “Why?” they ask perplexed, but their Spanish is worse than mine it seems, Akateko being the local dialect and after a minute or two and the gathering of more people I leave with my tail between my legs, and sadly no photo! The people, the lives and the landscape, and the road are fantastic, peaceful and serene, from mist covered green forest to sunburnt brown valleys and azure rivers of icy fresh water to swim and wash in, a more wild side than I’d seen in Mexico and one I’d missed since Africa (though still someway off that, but still brought back old memories!…secret hidden tea shops behind bellowing door curtains for one!).
Unfortunately the weather turns nasty and when I reach the damp and fog drenched town I’d circled on my map I’m left still wondering what the heck I circled it for…the ride at least was good!
But now the dreary weather eggs me along and now, unable to photograph locals and unable to enjoy a good exploratory wander of the streets – being drenched and all – I flee to warmer climes, dropping steeply down from the mountain villages to the big smoke in the warmer valley which leaves me with feelings of mixed relief and anxiety that I’ve missed out on some of the delights there as I look back up to the mountains from camp.
|A lovely bubbly market lass
But it needn’t matter, I have the bustling bedlam that is the street market that encroaches in on the cobbled streets of Huehuetenango, to view and to roam, and to learn the nuances of the local Spanish slang. I spend a tiny fortune visiting many stalls, buying fruit and sampling food snacks in a bid to warm people’s icy opinion of the camera lens with my Spanish charm(!), to try and get a photo or two….and though I meet happy smiling people, all I come away with is a fat belly and a top-box laden with broccoli….and a lighter wallet!
A short stretch on Highway one confirms that it’s not really for me, too fast and a feeling of a certain distance between one and his surroundings and I make the first detour I can, along a dirt track to a dead end; road closed, but here I stop and meet with a family of basket weavers who, contrary to previous experience, allow free use of the camera, and they warm my heart if I don’t warm theirs!
|Camp over Huehuetenango, treated to a free concert and fireworks
I make my way to Xela, to visit and hike Volcan Santa Maria, which overlooks another and still active volcano. Xela seems to sprawl away on a busy road, a truckers route perhaps, lined with tire repairs and hotels by the hour and finding camp is tricky and sees me lose Rudolf in a cavernous concrete ditch in the pitch black of night, though when I do find camp I am treated to a free concert and firework display from the centre of town, the streets oozing with colour and character.
The volcano is only visible for a short window of time, meaning an early start. I fill myself with coffee at camp at 3:30am and can’t believe my luck when I get ANOTHER puncture on my way to the trailhead….at 4am in the city, hardly ideal. When I finally reach the trail I race up it at full steam, puffing and panting at 4000m, managing to shave a half hour from the recommended time and sit in the cool high altitude air waiting for an eruption….and the cloud to clear….luckily it clears just as it explodes, though only barely….
|Volcano watch…waiting for the cloud to clear
|Beautiful dress of the Tzutzunil,Atitlan
Lake Atitlan and Antigua are only a relatively short ride away and hardly worth missing. The weather turns sour once again, but down at the lake it is fairing better and I trundle down a farm track to the lake edge and meet a friendly fellow who allows me to camp lake side. I visit the towns next morning after having coffee with the friendly farmer, but find them to have been overwhelmed by tourists who seem to have had a negative effect on the local populous it seems to me – I chat for awhile with a local market man (his wife doing all the work) and he tells me my name means Akalash in his language, Tzutzunil, though I check my dictionary I never work out what it means…but it brings a smile to his face.
But after buying more fruit and veg and a chocolate rice pudding in the market (still no photo) I’m keen to leave them to their lives, and retreat up to the upper throes of the jungle where the sound of macaws and toucans reign (actually I don’t know what birds were there, sounded good though) and in the morning I start making my way to Antigua, on the way meeting Frank and Simone who I first met in Mexico city.
It started simple enough; no charging from the bike’s electrical system. I returned to Antigua – after an initial three days stop – to a free campsite I’d just left to carry out repairs. In carrying out the repair I stripped the spark plug thread (novice) and had to send the engine head to a machine shop,
|A stripped spark plug head meant a lengthy wait…
Then on rebuilding the engine with the newly repaired head, an exhaust valve was bent on start-up, one assumes hitting the piston head…how…it was discovered that the timing chain had jumped a full ninety degrees…but why?
|The bent exhaust valve
|Rudolf undergoes heart surgery
The bike is moved in to a dusty outbuilding at the campsite, I give the room a much needed clean and make some simple repairs to the lights whilst waiting for parts for Rudolf, parts I must wait for longer and longer, “return at 2pm, return at 4pm, return at 5pm, return in the morning….” and finally I vouch to never return to the Yamaha dealer in Antigua, the worst I’ve ever dealt with.
A lot of people; fellow motorcyclists, RV’ers, campers, policemen and even the police chief, as well as the ever helpful Julio, Andres and Ian, help in diagnosing the problem and the diagnosis is that essentially we are all a bit stumped, how does a timing sprocket jump ninety degrees, without jumping….
Late one evening, sat basking in the blue-white glow of a PC monitor in the police station office, perusing engine diagrams with very helpful Andres, who’s come especially to help,
“This is bad news,” says Andres.
“Umm,” I say, realising that my stay in Antigua might be longer still (ohh, great).
|The ever helpful Andres
Next to us, Officer Elisa – who kindly let us in to the office – picks another song from youtube to pass the night shift, a modern day cheesy version of George Harrison with a smooth and well-combed basin of nut-brown hair, on his head and above his mouth, adorns her monitor and the PC speakers and I ask if she thinks he’s handsome: “He’s not,” she tells me, “but this guy is!” and she quickly clicks a bookmarked favourite revealing an even more – if possible – cheesy fellow, who looks just the same but with added benefit of a sombrero to hide his well manicured barnett, does nothing for the fluffy ‘tash.
With a few ideas, Andres and I go to test our theories and I promise Elisa a coffee sometime and soon Andres and I confirm beyond all doubt that the problem is a broken sprocket on the crankshaft, meaning for a full engine rebuild, a new crankshaft. Several options come to mind;
1) Eat cake,
2) Drink tea,
4) Get on a plane to Colombia and buy Rudolf Jr.
5) Get a new engine,
6) Fix Rudolf.
After dabbling with options one and two, I wake up after completing option 3 and decide that option six is the only option for me, but only after a completing a new option, option 7: drink coffee. Phew….and To celebrate I have a number two and then drink some tea, probably with a “cubilete,” a yummy cake, three of which can be bought for the princely sum of 1Quetzal (8p), and probably in the company of the fabulous Ingulf, a German rider on his way home, or, after his departure back to Germany, fellow Brit; Ian (whom I met originally in Mexico).
With Ian’s help the engine is taken to pieces, one piece at a time, day by day, as we spend half a day here finding a tool, or half a day there making one, designing one, trying to get someone to make one, or breaking a part, shearing a bolt, scratching our heads, reading the manual and drinking more tea and eating mounds of cubiletes.
|Thank God for Ian
Finally, the crankcase is split, the crankshaft now visible and exposed and now the problem I realise wasn’t the crankshaft (good work speedy) at all and I must rebuild the engine, seemingly for no reason other than bad luck and a few dozen dumb idiots with silly ideas….me included. The moral – and one I struggle it seems to learn – is that it’s always, always, always, always the simplest answer….and usually your fault, in this case; the camchain had come off it’s sprocket and jammed behind the flywheel, meaning it would still turn the camshaft, but would slip occasionally (though to be fair, in my defense, I’d already contemplated this possibility).
|The waiting game continues
So, again I face the recurring problem; the need for parts…and back to the Yamaha dealer in Antigua who tell me that only two of the dozen parts are available…seems odd. As I hate these guys and have broken my promise to myself never to return to this store, I write to another store in Guatemala who are not only much more helpful (in that they are actually of help) but they also tell me that I can have the parts for free, provided I do an interview…a fair price I reckon….he’ll even ride out himself with the parts….but now I must wait just a little bit more….and go crazy…..in Antigua, but the road beckons, I can sense it…..