Monday, August 25, 2014

Pedaleando por El Lago Amatitlan - Bike Ride to Amatitlan!

In Guatemala City there are sooooooo many wonderfully encouraging things happening that make me think, "yes, there is hope in Guatemala!" And by that I mean grassroots organizing, creative entrepreneurs, people trying to make Guatemala a better place despite the horrible crime-murder-unaccompanied minors-rap it gets in the media.

One of these wonderful things is the bicycle community here in the city called Biciudad. These bike loving folks organize group rides monthly that bring together all walks of life on bikes to go for a safe, fun, easy ride around a different part of the city each time. Sometimes they are day rides that end in a park with a little festival, sometimes they are night rides with traffic police escort, and there is even a Halloween ride in costume. Participants include speedsters in spandex, couples in matching outfits on matching bikes, hipsters, foreigners (as in us and our friends), and families with little ones on bikes with training wheels. It's great.

This weekend the event was Pedaleando por el lago, which has a little bit of a double meaning: both Pedaling to the Lake and Pedaling for the Lake. It is a big group ride that starts in Guatemala City and goes 25 km (mostly downhill) to Lake Amatitlan, picking up more riders in each community we pass through. Ending at the Lake with a little festival and a raffle for a dozen bikes. Raising awareness for bikes and for the horribly polluted state of Lake Amatitlan.

On Sunday morning Hubby and I got up early at 6am. After eggs, coffee, and protein shakes we rode our bikes, freshly tuned up and washed from the night before, about 15 minutes through the quiet Sunday morning streets of Zone 10 up to lovely G-22 in Zona 4 and met up with 50 like-minded Guatemalans and a few friends of ours. The plan? Ride our bikes 25km out to Lake Amatitlan. In true Guatemalan style we left about an hour later than advertised but the bike leaders were organized and kept us en route south through the city through Zone 12, Zone 21, and Villa Nueva. Hubby commented happily that "embassy security would shit a brick if they knew we were in Villa Nueva!" one of the most violent areas outside the city. But as we have found before on long bike tours, the world looks very different from the saddle than it does on TV or through a tinted armored car window with the doors locked. Today Villa Nueva had a lovely little street fair going on with a marimba band jamming out doing Santana covers. For the most part this was a family ride rather than a critical mass ride so we stopped at most stoplights. Some intersections we rode through if the traffic police had it stopped for us, and we took a couple very short breaks at gas stations where some riders frantically topped off flat tires or bought energy drinks.

Along the way we picked up more and more riders until our little group of 50 turned into a couple thousand. It was amazing! We were going at an easy, leisurely pace with several loudspeaker vans blasting electronic music following us. There were big bikes, little bikes, nice road bikes, cheap rusty mountain bikes, bikes with squeaky brakes and bikes with no brakes. The road from Villa Nueva to the lake was all downhill with gorgeous views and was closed to traffic, so it was truly a day in the park for cyclists.

Once at the bottom we got to see Lake Amatitlan up close and in person, and oh the horror, it was technicolor green with algae and pollution. The water didn't smell too bad thank goodness since there was a strong cool breeze blowing right off it but even after a hot sunny morning on a bike there was absolutely no temptation to jump in and rinse off.

The festival had a few booths encouraging environmental awareness, showing how a new water sewage treatment plant was planned and handing out pamphlets and plastic bottles and bags of water that would eventually blow right into the lake. Mayor Perez was handing out more plastic bottles of water with his face on them. Here's some water, save the lake. Um thanks, you're doing it wrong. Oh well, at least it was a really nice bike ride. And a ride I wouldn't really enjoy if we weren't in a big group that insulated us from the danger and noise and pollution of all the traffic.

After pupusas on styrofoam trays in the park for lunch, our hard core buddies mounted their bikes with the intention of riding back to the city. Hubster and I boarded one of 2 chartered chicken buses with bikes piled high on top for a bus ride back up the hill to the city. The bus driver somehow didn't get the message to drop us off in Zone 4 where we had started and was headed to Zone 6 for some unknown reason, so we yelled and protested until he let us off in Zone 1 at the Parque Central. The adventure was far from over! A small group of us rode back to Zone 4 a few miles away and Hubby and I continued on home for showers and icy drinks.

What an amazing day.

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