Saturday, April 6, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 3

*My husband was unfortunately lost in the Jungles of El Salvador and just barely got home.  

Day 3 - Saturday Feb 23, 2013 -- Touring like Che Gueverre

Remember how on Day 1, I said that I would NEVER drive in El Salvador?  Well, I lied.   I not only drove on all kinds of El Salvador roads today, I did so on a motorbike.  Which I’d never ridden before.  That had a broken starter, so I had to roll it down hill and pop the clutch after I stalled it – which I did a lot.  I’m pretty good going forward, it’s the transition between stopping and going that’s hard.  At the end of the trip I realized I did all this for over 7 hours without my driver’s license.  Or even my passport.  All I had was a couple of phone numbers in my pocket – no, on second thought, I didn’t even have that -- I left that paper in the car.  No way to identify me whatsoever.  And no way for me to even call anyone local.  [Oops…]

After a tasty breakfast (really good red beans, a string of chorizo balls, fresh rolls and tamales from the Saturday morning street vendors who roam the neighborhood, garnished with a big pile of cream (at first I thought it was mayo – no, a mound of fresh cream with the same consistency), then a brief morning walk around San Pedro, we met Norberto for the drive to the focal activity of this whole trip – the motorcycle tour.   After a few missed turns to find the moto tour place, we went down a dirt road lined with some dried up banana trees, and pulled up to a big open shed, full of motorcycles (half of them in some state of dis-assembly), with an outhouse, and a couple of other open buildings without doors.  We met Guillermo, the owner, a long time native who went to the Univ. of Texas in Austin many years ago to learn to speak English.   That was a real bonus for me.  So we suited up – in knee & shin protectors, riding pants, boots, shirts, gloves, helmet and goggles – all of which had seen better days.  My gloves had some holes, and my boots had a broken latch and one sole that was coming off.  But I felt lucky.  Bobby’s boots were held on with duct tape.

I told Guillermo I hadn’t ridden a motorbike before, just a scooter and a mountain bike – he set to work teaching a first-timer.  He put me on a somewhat lower to the ground hybrid dirt/road bike, and gave me simple instructions for the brakes, clutch, accelerator and gears (which I never succeeded in doing exactly correct the first time – it took a few tries).  Then he had each of us make a couple of rounds around a little bunny hill that he used to test your riding skills.   Norberto and Bobby proved they knew what they were doing, generally.   Me?  I stalled the bike twice (Guillermo’s assistant Miguel had to push start it), then went around the loop OK, but had trouble stopping the bike when I returned to the courtyard.  I muffed the clutch (thought it wasn’t in gear), spun out right there and laid the bike over on me with the accelerator cranked, engine revving and back tire spinning rapidly.  Doh.   Guillermo shut the bike off, lifted it off me, I shook of the dust and said I was OK.   I knew what I did wrong, and we both agreed that it was good that this happened so early.   Then I promised “I will not do this again.”  

And I didn’t.   And I went around the bunny trail another dozen or so times, with stepwise instructions.  Then I rode for the entire day, and never biffed it again.   I did stall the biked a lot, and mostly restarted it on my own by rolling downhill and dropping it into gear.  But today I rode:
·         On dirt roads, dirt trails, gravel roads, very steep cobblestone roads, small village streets, jungle tracks, windy mountain roads with switchbacks, up an old volcano caldera side, around the rim on a road, then back down again
·         Through construction zones, coffee plantations, around trucks, front end loaders, buses, pickups full of people, a horse, a herd of cows, children crossing the road, and chickens that mostly decided NOT to and scattered
·         Through a couple of creeks, some deep dirt piles, loose gravel and rocks, some sticks and brush and vines
·         On a bike trail with a steep cliff off to the right, with a fallen log or two blocking the trail
·         Past old ladies balancing laundry on their head, old men walking with canes and machetes, and children on bikes, carrying each another
·         With two dogs nipping at both feet, while I was trying to climb a dirt road with a lot of holes and loose rocks.  Really, they pick me?
·         Past a man with a machete who was cutting in half a hollow log that had a hive of bees in it (they were pouring out of the cut end, and the spot where he was chopping), while his son watched.  Really?  I take it these were not ‘killer bees’. 
·         I was like Che Gueverre… well, if he was not a bearded young radical single communist guy, or a revolutionary, but a pale gringo just learning to ride, with helmet and full safety gear, plus some duct tape.  OK, so maybe not anything like Che. 

Today had an ‘80’s soundtrack.  Saturday is a day for music.  The TV was on during breakfast, tuned to VH1 Classic.  Breakfast was accompanied by Queen, Madonna, and Kiss.  And this theme continued all day, with early Michael Jackson, Beegees, more Madonna, Alan Parson, Asia, Boston and various disco.  Norberto likes the music I listened to in high school.

Interesting things I saw today:
·         Produce sellers combing the neighborhood, like the ice cream man.  Without going to the market on Saturday morning, you can buy all your produce, tortillas, bread, tamales, etc. etc.  They just come to your door.
·         Guillermo and Miguel, busy cleaning a carbuerator in the back of the open air restaurant while we waited for our lunch.  Can you imagine doing that in Chili’s?  Or Outback? They also patched a tire while on the road today.
·         A man in pressed dress slacks, a new belt, and nice shoes, shirtless, walking down the road with a big unsheathed machete.  Going to some important function, I suppose.
·         An El Salvador style ‘strip mall,’ with a greasy black transmission repair shop right next to (sharing the same wall as) a bakery / tortilla stand.
·         I realized this morning that I had seen dozens of stray dogs, but had not yet heard one bark.  They are remarkably well behaved.  It’s like they understand they are the last step on a fragile food chain.  (Then I learned that this is only true of city dogs.  On dirt roads in the country, they chased me.  Several times.)

Used to be an odd sight, but now so common it’s just background:
·         Women cooking over open fires in makeshift stands by the roadside.  Often they have a fire in an old automobile wheel rim on a stand, with a griddle or pan on top of it.   Apparently the air holes and round shape of a wheel rim are ideal to reuse as a fire box.
·         People carrying a large cluster of bananas (not a bunch – a whole cluster, like 150 or 200 bananas – 3 feet of banana bunches
·         Cows being herded down the street by a boy of about 9 years old, with a reed or a stick
·         Chickens – tiny, scrawny, skittish chickens.   They don’t have any of the attitude I’ve seen from chickens in the USA.
·         Rusty corrugated sheet metal, as the universal construction material – roof, walls, siding, fence, etc…

Good food I ate today:
·         A frozen choco banana, as a snack while riding – very tasty.  So much better than a popsicle.  Not sure how much it cost – 3 of them plus two Pepsi’s came to $0.70.
·         A hamburger, 1/3 lb at least, and better than most I’ve had ($2.75, with fries).  I hadn’t planned to eat a hamberguisa, like a typical Americano.  It wasn’t my first choice, or second, but I gave up after my first two menu choices were unavailable.
·         A light green skinned watermelon, fresh cut, with seeds (not easy to find in the USA anymore).
·         Enchiladas – what we would call a tostada – crispy tortilla, with beans, boiled egg, avocado, tomato, cheese and sauce.  Yummy.
·         More papusas (we’ve eaten them every night).  Cheese and ayote (no translation – it’s a vegetable with apparently no English equivalent).  $1.25 for my two.  Pupusas just get better.
·         Hot chocolate – dark, sweet, and with a unique complex taste – like fresh ground cocoa, yet more subtle.  I gotta get some of this to bring home.  It was addictive. ($0.65)

There will be more of me when I come home.  This is a gastronomic tour, with some other activities between meals.

I’m sitting here, gently swinging in a bright colored hammock, with a gentle breeze, listening to really large firecrackers from somewhere around the block.  We first thought they were gunshots, but nobody in the house seemed to even notice them.  Just someone celebrating for some reason.

FYI, after a long hot, sweaty, dusty day, I’m not looking forward to taking a shower.   It may be 80 degrees, and I have a slight sunburn where the helmet didn’t cover my neck.  But this house has a one-pipe plumbing system – only one choice of temperature – lukewarm.  Time for me to stop putting this off, and steel myself for the cold splash.   (I’m not complaining, so you know.  The other place we might have stayed didn’t have plumbing.)

Mi vida es importante por quarto ninos y uno esposa.

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