Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 10:15:00 -0800
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 961107.rpt

Saturday November 2

It was cloudy in the morning, and between the cold, my cold, and 5-6 young
boys watching me pack, asking questions about my gear, and me answering them
it seemingly took forever to get packed.  I rode the bike down the hill,
parking in front of Comedor Katy, where Todd & Lisa, and Dave & Whitney, and
I had agreed to meet for a late breakfast.  It was almost noon till we
finished up, and I got on the bike and headed out of odos Santos.

I rode to Chichicastenango, via Chiantla, Aguacatan, Sacapulas, and Santa
Cruz del Quiche.  I arrived about 5:30, riding for the last 20 miles in a
drizzle, and the last 10 blocks in Chichi in a downpour.  Somehow I ended up
in the plaza where people were setting up their stands for market the next
day, and I had to navigate around and under tarps, ropes, and poles for a
block until I came out on the other side.

That night was cold and rainy and my cold was well-entrenched in my chest, s
I treated myself to a deluxe dinner of cream of asparagus soup, salad, a bee
dish resembling filet mignon, but stffed with ham and cheese, potatoes,
papaya licquado (sort of like a milk shake) and banannas in honey, and tea
for desert.  The bill: 54Q (about US$9), expensive by my Guatemalan

Sunday November 3

Sunday is market day in Chichi. The locals come into town the night before
from all over the area, with their goods.  They set up their stands using
long wooden poles and tarps, in the central plaza and the surrounding
streets.  Then they cook their dinner and sleep in the stalls that night,
and are ready for business by 8-9am the next morning.

I attended church for the first time in I don't know how many years.  The
large Catholic church sits facing the plaza, and just off it's semicircular
 stone steps leading up to its front doors, are the stands of the market.

The Catholic church in Chichi tolerates a unique mix of Catholisism and the
worship of the ancient Mayan dieties.  Local religious orders play an
important part in the religious, social, and political life of the people.

The church's steps are covered with candles and incense being burned and
prayers chanted to the gods.  Elders of the religious orders chant prayers
while swinging cans of burning insense, that give off small clouds of smoke
and a pungent, sweet smell.

Inside the church itself, in the main aisle leading to the altar at the
front, were 3 large 4-foot square wooden platforms, 3 inches high.  Local
people and families would kneel by these platforms, and place from 4 to 27
candles on them, chanting prayers.  Sometimes they would sprinkle alchohol
or dried flowers as offerings to their gods.  This went on both before the
official Catholic mass began at 9am, and during the entire mass as the
priest spoke, and a small vocal and instrumental group performed.  It was
very interesting to watch.

Afterwards I wandered through the market stalls, looking at the merchandise.
I was hoping to do a bit of Christmas shopping.  I hate shopping when at
home, and it wasn't much better here, though the colorful merchandise and
clothing of the people made it somewhat more enjoyable.

A late morning breakfast carried over to noon, when the US-Guatemala soccer
game, being played in Washington DC, began. The restaurant where I was
eating had it televised, and the place was crowded with people watching the

I stayed to watch the US beat Guatemala 2-0.  Needless to say I enjoyed the
outcome more than the majority of the crowd, but it was all very

After the game I returned to my taks for the day, my Christmas shopping.

Bargaining over the price is an integral and necessary part of shopping in
all markets in Guatemala, not just in Chichi.  I found a small, locally
handicrafted wallet to use as replacement for the one that had been stolen.

I found a couple of beautifully woven shawls or small table cloths which I
bought, one for Noemi and one for Mom.  Since I was buying 2, I started out
offering about half of what the lady was asking, and we went back and forth
on price for about 15 minutes.  I settled on 2/3 of her original asking
price as my final position, and she tried to offer, other cheaper items as
alternatives at that price.  However I held firm, and twice walked out of
the stall, before she would call me back with a lower price.  Finally she
agreed to sell it to me at my price.  Which probably meant I could have gone
even lower.  These actually weren't Christmas gifts, so Noemi and Mom may
read about them here before they actually receive them.

I saw several stands selling the item I wanted to get my father for
Christmas.  (Since he'll probably read this before Christmas, I won't
mention what the item is.)  Buoyed by my previous transaction, I again
started out at less than half his original asking price, and again we
bargained back and forth over price, eventually converging towards a price
about 2/3 of the original asking price.  He would ask what my ultimate
price was, and I would stick to my final figure.  He finally came down to
within 5Q (less than US$1) of my price, but no further, and when I said no,
my price was as high as Iwould go and walked out of the stand, he let me go.
This was all happening late in the afternoon, when most stands, including
this one, were in the process of packing up for the day.  That's when you
can get the best prices, since they'd rather sell, than carry it back home.
When this guy, let me walk away, rather than selling it for 5Q less, I
figured it must be close to his break-even point.  After walking around
for about 10 minutes, I returned to the stall, and bought it for the extra

I considered my day a success.  Now I just had to ship this stuff home, but
I also had some gear which I wasn't using and wanted to ship home as well:
my 3-legged camp chair, my Spanish tapes and tape player, 15 rolls of film,
and a couple of books which I was finished with but didn't want to just
throw away.  I planned to ship the things from Antigua in the next day or

The rain had held off for most of the day, but by evening it started up

Monday November 4

I awoke to pouring rain.  The bustling market of yesterday, was now largly
deserted, with most of the stalls dismantled.  I checked out the cemetary
and another small church on the plaza, had brerakfast, and put off leaving
as long as possible, hoping the rain would stop.  It didn't, and I left
Chichi in heavy rain, headed back to Andre and Beatrice's house just
outside Antigua, where I planned to spend a couple of days getting new
tires, sending some packages back to the states, and trying to get some
email through.

It rained most of the way to Antigua, the heaviest rain I had ridden in
since New Mexico in the States. Just west of Chimaltenengo on the Pan
American Highway, the rain stopped.

I arrived at Andre's about 4pm.  I would have preferred to have called
ahead, but I had lost their phone number when my wallet was stolen.

Tuesday November 5

I spent most of the morning calling various bike shops in Guatemala City
looking for tires.  I muddled through several calls myself, but was rescued
several times by Andre and Beatrice when the call took a turn for the
complicated.  Several shops didn't have what I needed but referred me to
other shops.  Many shops sold cheap Taiwanese brands like IRC, Kenda, and
other brands I didn't know.  One shop had a Pirelli front, but no rear tire
other than some Taiwanese brand.  Another shop, FPK, had both a front and a
rear of the correct size made by Briston; they said it was Japanese and a
good tire, but neither Andre nor I had heard of this brand before.  Another
had a Michelin front but no rear.  They refered me to FPK, and said the
Bristons were good tires.

I considered buying the good Pirelli front and the Briston rear, but decided
I'd rather stay with a matched set, since they would more likely handle
better together, and wear at the same rate.  So I decided to go look at the
Bristons and buy them if the looked reasonable.  The price for both tires wa
627Q, about US$105.  Before leaving Andre's I removed the Jessie bags,
assuming I'd be able to get the tires mounted at the shop. (That's
foreshadowing for you non-literary types).  I got to the shop in Guatemala
City just after 12:30 and it was closed till 2pm for lunch.

One part of FPK sold consumer electronics, while a seperate part, several
doors down the street sold motorcycle and car parts and accessories.  I coul
see right away I wasn't going to get the tires mounted here and would have t
do it myself.  Serves me right for being lazy.  The way the store worked was
that you went to a counter and described what you wanted, the clerk checked
the computer for stock and gave you an invoice, you then went to a cashiers
window to pay, and then went to another counter with the invoice stamped
paid and picked up your merchandise.

At the first counter, I give the designation of the Briston tires discussed
over the phone, and the guy pulls out a Xerox of some catalog page which
showed small pictures of tires and their designations.  The tires were
labeled as Trail-Wings but there was no brand identification visible.  They
had a more agressive tread pattern than the Gripsters, but looked fine.  I
asked "Son Bristons?" and he replied "Si".

At the cashiers window I discovered they only accepted cash.  Andre had told
me they accepted credit cards.  I asked the clerk if there was a Banco
Industrial nearby (they have ATM machines on the PLUS system) and was told
there was one 4 blocks up the street. I found it, got some money, and
returned to FPK, and picked up my tires.

As I was strapping them to the back of my bike I looked more closely at the
tires and discovered they weren't the Bristons I had been promised!  They
were Bridgestones!  Aha, Bridgestone with a heavy Spanish accent becomes
Briston!  That was actually a pleasant surprise, since Bridgestones are a
reasonably good tire, frequently offered as original equipment on new
Japanese bikes.

I stopped off at the BMW dealer, which had 3 new R1100s parked to one side
of a showroom highlighting 3 new BMW cars.  Nothing else motorcycle related
in the showroom.  It was clear that bikes were not a big part of this
dealership.  I was hoping to get a few small parts, but didn't hold out much
hope of them being in stock: spokes for the front wheel, and the rubber
bumper for my centerstand which had been lost.  Sure enough they weren't in
stock, but to be fair, I think the same might be the case for these parts
in many US dealerships.  I've become spoiled by Cal BMW.

Back at Andre's I got the front tire installed, and the wheel back on the
bike before it became too dark to work and I called it quits for the night.

Wednesday November 6

In the morning I continued with the rear tire.  Between breaking the bead on
the old tire, and installing the new stiffer tire, it was a bit of an effort
but I finally got it done.  I did some other maintenance, such as tighten th
steering head bearings, adjust the clutch, and reseal the small holes in the
driveshaft boot with silicon.

Then I packaged up the things I was sending to Mom and Noemi, and rode in to
Antigua to mail them.  I knew it wasn't going to be chaep, especially since
the package for Mom was 20x15x100cm and weighed 6.5 pounds. I used a private
shipping company since I had heard varying reports of using Guatemalan mail.
The bill for both packages was US$100.  Ouch.  Good thing I'm not a big

That night just before dinner, the power went out, so we ate by candlelight.
Several times during the evening, the lights flickered on and off, but we
went to bed by candlelight.

Their maid, who comes one day a week from Guatemala City by bus, had missed
her bus for some reason, and so was having dinner and sleeping here.  This
was the first time she had stayed overnight, and Andre and Beatrice said
she was very nervous about it.  At first she did not want to eat with us at
the table, even though during the course of the day she was very friendly
and spoke freely with Andre, Beeatrice and myself.  She felt it was not her
place to eat with us.  Beatrice said domestic help in Guatemala are
frequently treated badly.

Thursday November 7

In the morning the power was still out, as was the water also. Each of the
previous 2 days, the water had been off for several hours at a time, which
was not uncommon according to Beatrice.   However the power being off for
this long was a first.  We agreed I was a jinx.

I had been hoping to send email last night, but the power failure foiled
that, and it continued this morning.  I decided to go into Antigua to see if
I could get it done there.  But first I spent a good part of the morning
reading and catching up on my journal.  By late morning the power finally
came back on.

When the power came back on I tried calling my ISP to get/send my email
but was not successful.  In Guatemala, to access Sprint, you dial 195 and
get a human operator who places your call for you.  Using Spriint It is
not possible to dial the number directly yourself or with a modem.  This
meant I had to put the software and modem in manual mode and manually trigge
it when I heard the modem squeel.  The phonecall itself went through, but
I was never able to establish a connection with the other end.  Actually
I think there is a bug in the software on my end when I put it in manual

Beatrice said I could dial directly and just pay them what the phone call
cost. She called the operator to find out what the charges would be.
They were 80Q (US$13.30) for the 1st 3 minutes and 20Q (US$3.30) for each
additional minute.  That was a bit steep for me, and I knew at Connexion
in Antigua, long distance phone calls were cheaper, so I decided to ride
into Antigua.

At Connexion their long distance rates, for computers, was 16Q (US$2.66) per
minute.  I was able to have my computer/modem directly dial the number of
my ISP in the States, and on the 2nd try, got a connection and began
sucking up email. It had again been over 4 weeks since my last email
dump, and it took 9 minutes to send/receive all my messages.  I received
37 messages.  The bill came to 151Q (US$25), which if you average over 4
weeks, is only US$4 per week, not too bad.

That evening when I got back to Andre's, some French friends of theirs
were visiting.  France and Marc Hasson had been living in Guatemala for
the past 2.5 years, but were leaving for Buenos Aires,, Argentina in
the morning, where his job with a pharmaceutical company was taking him.
They gave me their address in Buenos Aires and said to give them a call
when I got in town.

The water finally started working again about 10pm, so I took advantage
of the moment and took a shower.