Web Log

Locals on Bikes

December 27, 2004

Throughout Mesoamerica we have seen locals using bikes for transportation, work or just for fun. We have talked with commuters pedaling to work, kids racing around the central square, one man pedaling with his wife and two kids balanced on the bike, a man selling cotton candy from a bike, and one unfortunate soul using a bike to take a car tire into town to be repaired. Some bikes are brand new full suspension mountain bikes, while others lack brakes and have wooden frames. Here are a few shots of locals on bikes that we have compiled throughout our trip. Enjoy.

Question of the day: Who invented the bicycle and when?

Words of the day: bicycle = bicicleta, bici (more common), caer = to fall


December 19, 2004

This is a tribute to the fallen animals we have seen on our last two days of riding Mexico's Highway 200. Our beautiful views of the ocean have often been tainted by the smell of decaying flesh. As fungus, bacteria and insects break down the carcasses the eminating odor is horrendous, but at least we know the vultures will be satisfied. The list: one horse, two cows, three pigs, no goats, numerous dogs and cats, racoons, possums, armadillos, snakes, rats, lizards and frogs. There were also some unidentifiable blobs. We started a rating system that involes the freshness of the kill and the spreadability of the animal, but we will spare you the details. Fortunately, we have no pictures for you to view as it was too smelly to stop and take any. Enjoy the holidays and keep your animals out of the roads.

Question of the Day: Why do vultures have no feathers on their heads?

Words of the day: animal = animales, smelly = huele malo/a

We're In Mexico!

December 15, 2004

We made it over the Mexico border about two weeks ago and have seen a variety of scenery so far. From the colonial town of San Cristobal (one of the main cities during the Zapatista revolution), to the dry deserts of the Oaxaca valley, to the high mountains on the way to the coast where the cold wind blew us like sailboats, to the hot, dry, coastal towns. We are now once again heading North along the coast. Soon we will be on the tourist beaches of Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, biking up and down the rolling coastal hills. Last Sunday was the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico - we've decorated our bikes with sparkly red and silver garlands in order to show some cheer as we ride during this festive season.

What's In A Name?

December 14, 2004

Looking at a map of Central America (pic 2), we noticed an interesting phenomenon about place names. In Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua there are Spanish names for places such as San Carlos, Palma Sur, Liberia or Santa Isabel. As we progress into El Salvador and definitely in Guatemala the names start looking like: Zacotecaluca, Ahuachapan, Quezaltenango, and Huehuetenango. Now that we are back in Mexico the names are sounding Spanish again. So, why the name changes? In Guatemala, over 50% of the population are indigenous peoples, that is the largest percentage of any country in MezoAmerica (Central America and Mexico). Fewer of the place names were changed to Spanish names, instead remaining in their indigenous Mayan based language. Despite systematic discrimination, brutal abuse and a civil war that lasted many years, the indigenous population in Guatemala survives yet. To learn more look at our lesson plan on the Maya Today. Also you can click here for a Mayan tale on this topic.

Whats For Dinner?

December 13, 2004

Here are some photos of various food items...

Graffiti and Signs

December 05, 2004

I always notice the graffiti when we arrive in a place, especially in cities. It seems like a good way to understand what is really going on, what's on peoples minds, and how politically aware a place is. Much of the graffiti we have seen has to do with global politics, and yes, US influence in Latin America. Here are some samples, along with some other signs that entertained us. First guess what they say, then click here if you need the translations.

The Fall

December 04, 2004

About a week ago we were biking in the Guatemalan highlands. We spent a night at a friend's permaculture site and swam in a crator lake with the full moon rising and the clouds glowing sunset red over the volcanos. The cool mountain air was refreshing after all the hot coastal rides. The mountains were steep and on this particular day we were going to bike over the highest point in our trip at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet). We crested the top of one mountain ready to enjoy the downhill ride on the other side. The road was solid, if a bit patched up, but somehow I (Erin) swerved, lost control and went sliding down the hill on my helmet. I had enough sense to drag myself out of the road and into a ditch, pulling the bike along with me. I recall the rest of that day and most of the next in bits and pieces. Marin had just enough space to avoid running over me and keep control of her bike. A van pulled off to offer help and Edith (a friend who had joined us for the Guatemala section) who was riding in front, quickly figured out something was wrong and biked back up the hill to help.

I spent the rest of the day in a hotel room with Marin picking gravel from my wounds and Edith doing internet searches on concussions in the town nearby. It was decided that I would bus it until my head cleared while Marin and Edith biked. On the third day after my accident I insisted on riding to cross the border into Mexico. Marin agreed I could try, as I seemed to be doing better and it was fairly flat terrain. Unfortunately it was also a rough road with a strong crosswind. After about 30 km my head was throbbing, my shoulder aching and there was a weird shooting numbness in my legs, so I did not resist climbing into a pick-up for the rest of the ride to Comitan. From the back of the truck I saw two bikers going the other direction loaded down with panniers and no helmets! “Idiots” I wanted to yell, but knew it was no use.

I finally visited a hospital today where they took x-rays of my shoulders and head. There were protesters lining the streets shouting demands for more teachers, schools and a better hospital. That definitely helped my confidence level. Verdict is that nothing is broken, my concussion should heal and I can ride in five more days. So, we may be busing parts of Mexico to make it back in time for Marin to teach second semester, but hey we made it to Mexico.

Coffee Producers

November 25, 2004

Almost every country in Central America, and México, produces coffee - that caffeinated, dark beverage that addicts so many of us. According to Global Exchange, “The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world's coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world”. The highest grade coffee is exported to Europe, the US gets the second grade coffee, and local markets are left with the coffee that cannot be sold internationally. Coffee grows best in the highland areas where the air gets cooler than in the lowland tropical areas. That´s why the mountains of Guatemala and Mexico are especially good for growing coffee. Below you will find pictures of coffee taken in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama that show the process coffee goes through from the plant to the cup.

Please check out our lesson plan, entitled We Love Coffee, for more info. Additionally, world coffee prices have dropped drastically over the past few years, yet in the US we do not see a difference when we go to the corner store and purchase a cup. Why? For more information, check out http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/coffee/.

Salvadoran Reflections

November 24, 2004

Our carefree manner in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and even the small bit of Honduras came to an end at the border of El Salvador. The “Wild East” of El Salvador as it is called, suffered greatly during the 12 years of civil war which ended in the early 1990's. Our hostel owner in San Miguel greeted us with a pistol at his side and bullets in a belt around his waist. When he told us our bikes would be safe locked downstairs, I believed him. People were visibly more tense, but friendly once you got them talking. A drunk man threw his hat at Marin while we were riding and a man shot off rockets made with two m80s from a cart as a procession of nuns walked through the main square. Everything seemed surreal. An ice cream man in the main square gave Marin a warning to grab me and leave as I fended off an overly friendly man. This, at 3:30 in the afternoon in broad daylight. Of course, we were in our hostel well before dark and Marin and I were both glad that my cousin Michael joined us for this section of the journey.

Thankfully, things lightened up as we traveled west until we ended up at a beach hang out called El Zonte with some of the mellowest wave-loving people. The locals were incredible body boarders and a few tourist surfers hung out to catch some waves. After pedalling uphill for five hours straight, we met some progressive thinking individuals in San Salvador, the capital, and slowly our impressions began to change. We met with street kids (see the feature of the week), young DJs, a businessman and a fellow biker. We were generously welcomed into the house of a friend and got to see a different side of El Salvador. The US influence on El Salvador is huge, as one in every 5 El Salvadorans lives in the United States. Various estimates state that remittances from the US account for a large part of the country's economy, anywhere from $2 - $2.5 billion. In fact, the currency in El Salvador is now the US dollar. We saw signs on the borders encouraging parents to stay in El Salvador with their children, but with unemployment so high there is often little choice in order for the parents to support their kids. We witnessed one tearful goodbye at the bus station in San Salvador as a man boarded a bus headed for Los Angeles, California. His wife and daughter stayed behind waving flowers and shedding tears. We talked with a young businessman, Jose Lopez, about the future of El Salvador. You can listen by clicking here: [Ogg Vorbis Audio|MP3 Audio]


November 20, 2004

Check out the recipe for Pupusas, a delicious food from El Salvador.

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