Day 18, May 19, 2001.
Before I go on, just a quick note. I have written at least three times what I have posted, but have found it very difficult to find an Internet connention in Mexico. Even when I find one, often the machine and the line speed is so slow that I canīt forward the file via Hotmail. Sorry. I'll post what I can but some of the story will have to wait until I get back to Seattle.
Also, as I've read what's been posted so far, the mis-spellings and wrong words used are frequent. I'm always typing on a Spanish keyboard and under time pressure, so please excuse me for now.
One other thing. My writing often reflects a very low point in the journey, but I don't mean to infer that it hasn't been fun. Quite the opposite. It has been absolutely wonderful.
Guatemala...was wonderful. Although hot and dry in the south where I crossed from Honduras after a wonderful visit to the Mayan Ruins at Copan, the road twists and turns, spiraling every upward to Guatemala City at 6,000 feet. As I pass trucks and buses by the hundreds, all spewing their toxic diesel fumes, the forest changes from topical palms to highland pine and deciduous trees with the occassional palm mixed in. It is cool, the high altitude moderating the tropical location. Guatemala City itself is a mix of the typical old, filthy, worn Latin city, and new high-rise office buildings with fine restaurants, manicured parks and an extremely well-dressed population. I'm a bad fit in my dirty t-shirt and jeans.
I'm fortunate to have a friend, Chris Holmes, who lives in Guatemala City and both puts me up for the night and along with his plant engineer and his dad, wines and dines me at far nicer facilities than I ever frequent in the States. I am truly in Chis' debt. Life in the Third World is tough.
After a night at the lovely Hotel Casa Santo Domingo in colonial Antigua, I pull out under heavy clouds and almost certain rain. Sadly I forego beautiful Lake Atitlan and its three volcanoes (who wants to sight-see in the rain) and turn the Guzzi north to Mexico, hoping to make the border at Tapachula before dark.
I'm only thirty minutes out of Antigua when it starts to rain, amazingly, the first on this long journey. After a quick stop to don rain gear I notice my oil light is on, a very uncomforting situation with any motorized vehicle. I add less than a pint, but when I start back up it is still on. Again I stop to check the oil level. It is fine. The light is off when I get started but back on again within minutes. Now this story is not about oil pressure lights, so I'll skip the bulk of the details but I'm at least thirty miles from a town of any size, and I need to rectify this situation, which since it's obviously not low oil, could either be a short in the wiring or a bad oil pump. The thought of the latter makes my stomach churn. I proceed cautiously at low speed and low RPM and stop at the first gas station I see.
Through one of the employees who knows just a little more English than I do Spanish, the owner and mechanic, Julio Torres, understands the severity of the problem, but explains there is nobody near there qualified to work on the Guzzi. I'm not surprised. Understanding the possibilities but not knowing the probabilities, I decide to call my dealer in Seattle. I want to rule out the oil pump misfunction, a potential trip-ending problem at this point.
Through our interpreter, Julio offers two cell phones, but neither will accept my prepaid AT&T calling card. He promptly packs me in his small Volkwagon and carts me off to the nearest village, perhaps five miles away. We find the public pay phone, but it also refuses my calling card. Julio leads me on a thirty minute scavenger hunt, from store to store, to find a Guatemalan phone card. We are finally successful and the store owner places the call for me. I confirm that the oil pump going bad is extremely unlikely, and although the problem could be a loose oil filter, it is likely the wiring.
Julio and I, cramped in his tiny Volkswagon, head back to the station. We confirm that the sending unit got wet and the problem is resolved. I re-pack the bike to continue on, but not before offering to pay Julio for the hour and a half he just spent with me. He refuses money either for his time or for gas. I leave, humbled, with "muchas gracias" as my only contribution.
So this is for Julio, and for the many wonderful Central Americans and Mexicans that I've met along the way. Julio is the warehouse station manager in San Jose who made sure my bike got to a dealer when the voltage regulator blew. Julio is the bike mechanics in Tegucigulpa, Honduras who, without a word of English between us, fixed the flat tire and sent me on my way. Julio is the policeman is Mexico City, in the middle of horrible traffic and perhaps as lost as I've ever been, patiently explained, with a map, how to find the road to Guadalajara. You may never read this, Julio, but thanks a million.
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