Notes From The South | Cycling In Guatemala

Bernardo Jurema

There’s a running joke that goes something like: “how do you know if someone is a cyclist? Don’t worry, they will tell you”. Well, this is that moment of come-outtance: I cycle.

Cycling in a place like Guatemala City can be tricky. There is no cycling culture or infrastructure. I bought a used Specialized mountain bike. I opted for a used one for two reasons: one, because it’s more economical; two, for security purposes, as it calls less attention than a splashy, shiny new one.

When I asked my office manager where I could lock my bike I had no idea I was about to ignite a whole, complex process in order to figure that simple question out. I had to talk to the building management and, in a week’s time, they got back with the specific places where I could keep my bike. It seems I am the only person in whole office building who cycles to work. There is no procedure or appropriate space for bikes.

Relatively few people here bike on a regular basis. The elite cycles for pleasure or sports – recently there was the 52nd Guatemalan Cycling Tour (La Vuelta de Guatemala). On Sundays, one of the main boulevards is closed off so that pedestrians and cyclists can use it. There are also plans for a 200-kilometre long bike path, which has been slow in the make due to the city budget’s constraints. But apparently there is a significant suppressed demand: the first leg of the bike path, on the campus of the San Carlos University, boasts an average of 2,500 users a day. There is even a community that makes bike-powered small-scale devices at very affordable prices

Don’t get me wrong, cycling in Guatemala City is no walk in the park. The traffic is pretty hectic at rush hours, drivers can be total douches and use the taillights as ornamentation rather than to indicate direction. The old red buses spill so much black smoke whenever the driver shifts gears that I suspect I have found the origin of the hole on the ozone layer; they’re driving around this city. Pedestrians cross anywhere. In the winter months, baseball-sized raindrops rain down! There are potholes in the most unexpected places. But it is fun; it is sort of like being in a video game, where you have to dodge the obstacles and reach the end line. Except here the cyclist is the target that is worth points if hit, and there is no extra life.

Still, many people refrain from cycling due to fears regarding the city’s security situation. Guatemala, after all, ranks amongst the most violent countries in the world. On the other hand, it is a flat city and, known as the Land of the Eternal Spring, it boasts perfect conditions for cycling during most months of the year.

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