Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Life at Maya Pedal

The life at Maya Pedal is permeated by the life in Guatemala 
 (A view from the front door of Maya Pedal)

Though the bike shop is filled with norteamericanos with all of their North American sensibilities, Guatemala creeps into our moods, our habits, and our best intentions.   Take recycling.  We love to recycle in North America.  But in Itzapa, there isn’t a regular municipal trash service, much less a recycling program.  So after weeks spent watching a pile of recycling grow in the kitchen, to which I contributed, I decided to ask my colleagues “Does someone pick this up?”  They all scratched their heads.  Nobody knew.   Well as it turns out, nobody picks it up.  And so, after weeks of seeing plastic bottles floating in the town stream, after almost a month spent with the knowledge that Itzapa doesn’t even have a town dump, we decided to throw the recycling away.  Old habits die hard…and good intentions, it seems, die even harder.   
 (Itzapa from the roof at Maya Pedal)

Our life here is simple; while the culture is as profound and beautiful as the traditional Mayan tapestry, the day to day way of being is far cry from the thrills of big city life.  Our space here at Maya Pedal is modest, reflecting the shared life: we have in common a kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms and one computer. 

(The bano downstairs)
(The kitchen)
(Our beds)
(The Dining Room)
The shop at MayaPedal is perhaps the most vivid reflection of the people who work here and the place where it is located: filled with recycled bike tools from the United States hung on boards that feature the tool’s name alongside a giant bike centerpiece describing parts in both Spanish and English, the shop´s organization belies the educational focus of the community bike people who volunteer here. 

(Metal working tools)
(Bike specific tools)
(Wrenches and spanners)
(The top view of the shop)
 (The shop)
(The showroom)

The Metal bits, pieces of bicimaqunias, and complete bike machines strewn across the shop illustrate the focus of our leader Carlos and his staff.   

But the sensibilities of North American volunteers in a relatively poor Guatemalan bicycle shop are often chafed.  Two young mechanics, Victor and Carlito (Carlito being the son of founder and director, Carlos), do their best to repair bicycles…but without any training, a fifteen year old mechanic is left to make a lot of mistakes.  And if these mistakes aren’t corrected by a thoughtful instructor or lead mechanic, they can continue un-noticed. 

In our bike shops back home, we want bikes to leave the shop in good working order.  But in Guatemala, most folks are content to make small repairs to their bike after they buy it.  To deal with this seeming “problem,” a volunteer serving here has created a bike checklist that she hopes two mechanics will complete before bikes are sold.  Will it work?  Is it necessary?  

With waves of volunteers serving for one month to six weeks, turnover is high while consistency is not.  Systems are designed by a well-intentioned volunteer only to be lost on the next generation (arriving a month later), who lack an understanding of why it was created in the first place and how it works. 

Again, MayaPedal is a reflection of the people who work here and the place where it is located: well intentioned, North American kids hope to create a well-organized community bike shop.   But the reality beckons a greater understanding: a poor Guatemalan village with a unique bike shop gainfully employing a couple of kids while providing bicycle machines for local farmers stands on legs of its own, with goals and local sensibilities of its own.  

Could it be better? Well sure!  Will volunteering in the shop for four weeks with intermediate Spanish make the change you hope to see? 

During my time here, I’ve tried to listen and observe, contributing where possible.  I had a go at the wheel room.  It went from this:

To this:
Will it stay this way? 

In spite of the seemingly dissonant cultures at work in the shop, the life at MayaPedal has it’s own beautiful rhythm.  We wake up, eat breakfast on our own, start work on our projects, cook up eggs and beans and rice to go with the tortillas purchased from down the street for lunch, get back to work for the afternoon, cook a shared meal, read books into the evening and maybe watch a 50 cent DVD movie purchased from down the way; go to bed, wake up, and repeat.  On the weekends, we take trips to very close but seemingly far away lands; lakes and oceans and rivers and streams.  Or water, as it were.  And it’s there that we recharge our batteries to prepare for a week spent sorting innertubes, repairing broke down USA throwaways, and listening to one of our young colleagues use the angle grinder to create perfectly fashioned bike machine parts.  And it´s in these places that our ability to function as a seamless whole, as a community bound by a love for the bike and an interest in this place, as a group that often literally moves as a whole body, begins to show itself.
(On a bus headed to the lake)
(Habitaciones Simples means really cramped and really hot rooms)
(Epic Volcanoes)


  1. Hi there Anthony, interesting, i never had heard of Maya pedal, that post was a good read. when are you coming to Guadalajara?

  2. Good read. I guess you just have to do what you do and hope the system hangs around after you leave. Maybe it will influence the next person and so on.

  3. Hey man, I'm in Guatemala, headed for Maya Pedal in a couple days, and just got the orientation info that pointed me to this blog. Great info! I'll be there for a couple of weeks, and it's good to know a little more of what to expect through your eyes.
    Chris Royer