Saturday, January 24, 2009

follow my blog!

There have been some requests to clarify a few things:

Anyone can comment, you simply have to go to the bottom of a given post and click the word "comments" it should pop up a new window that you can write a comment in.

If you are on blogger (not sure if it works off of blogger) you can follow a blog and have it appear in your ´daily reading´ on your blogger account. This may also email posts, but i´m not sure about that.

You can subscribe using an RSS feed, which is latin to me, but apparently it will email you the posts as they happen, or at least a notice that a post has been put up.

Hope that clarifies things,
Keep coming back and spread the word!

And the festivities begin

Yesterday Carlos dissapeared after lunch, saying that he was going to go home and sleep until nine and then work all night. We thought he was kidding.

Sure enough, night time rolls around and in pops Carlos with his son and another assistant. The next few hours were the fastest i have ever seen Carlos work. I´ll try my best to describe what i saw.

The device he is working on, it turns out, doesn´t need to hold the weight of a human, and by its size probablly wont even have a human inside of it at any point. No, this will be the center piece of a wooden table/stage, which is what the dancer will actually stand on while dancing around the giant flower.

What you can see here is that there is a central post, which stays still, around which are five lengths of metal rebar passing through an old bike, um, a... shoot! i should know this word by now. Anyway, they are passing through the part that the bike chain wraps around on. The rebar is attached at the bottom to a tube length cut very small, maybe three inches, to fit around the stationary tube. All of the rebar are welded to a big ring that is welded to this moveable tube. The moveable tube then has a bolt on it which connects to a crank arm on a -again blanking on the name- big bike wheel full of cement with an axel and cogset attached. In hindsight, i should have taken more pictures.

Basically someone will sit and bike this weighty wheel, all of the power of which will force the rebar up and down, opening and closing the flower. The part at the top where the rebar passes through will act to guide the rebar up and allow it to fall open, creating the blooming effect. (It might make more sense to see it in action).

Needless to say, the whole thing took a lot of welding and, unfortunately, re-welding as Carlos worked through design flaws while building. (Dont worry, i had my eyes shut for this shot)

Here´s a part of the re-constructing as Carlos makes incisions to mark where to add additional welds to constrict the movement of the rebar at the base (they were getting stuck because they were too floppy).

Beth and I chop apart the rear end of a bike to serve for the pedalling part of this mechanical feat. Apparently my sawing skills are impressive as i got applause and request in spanish to show off my muscles.

Despite Carlos´request that we all come help, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. One by one we all made our way to the actual kitchen to journal and sit. Eventually sleep got the better of us and we all passed out. Though Beth, and i think Josh, stayed out there with Carlos until he was ready to go eat. I didn´t get to see how it happened, but the design changed yet again, this time it was the openings up top- they weren´t sized correctly for the proper range of motion.

You can see here the circle had to become a star. And the rebar was to rough to raise and lower smoothly, so it got covered in thin PVC piping.

Carlos, invited us all to come out for food and drink, but most declined, knowing it would lead to a much later night.

And a much later night it was.

At about 1:15 in the morning Carlos and his poor kid were back at it in the shop. I was awoken to the sound of welding and bright bursts of light zapping across my bedroom walls. I took what i thought was a stealthfully unseen shot, but i was wrong, Carlos´son saw me and smiled. It was as if his eyes said, Aha! i know your secret, but don´t worry i won´t tell anyone, because secrets are exciting!

I wasn´t sure if i should feel bad for him or not, at his age i probablly would have been really excited to stay up real late, especially if it meant getting to hang out with my dad.

It looks like the design may have changed yet again. Hopefully they got some sleep in there somewhere.

Friday, January 23, 2009

de-constructing the liquadora

Being totally clueless about bike maintenance is turning out to be advantageous. The first reason is that it there is no redundancy, its all new, its all exciting, its all learning. The second, more important, reason is that the highly skilled handy-persons are constantly working on bikes, leaving only me free to work on other projects, i.e. the bicimaquinas.

As i discovered during our brainstorming session with Rubin, the volunteer coordinator, Maya Pedal is not particularly well run. Carlos and Johanna are amazing and sweet, but apparently they have very little business sense. And, unfortunately, the bicimaquinas are not donated to indigenous farmers as i had thought. They are sold a little over material cost (which means they lose about 1000 of their local currency on labor). It was dissapointing to learn this, though it provided a good impetus for us volunteers to begin envisioning cost saving measures. Will is beginning to work on a model that would require less materials and work and hook up to an existing bike, instead building it all. Its a very exciting design, and there will be more about it as he progresses.

Beth suggested that the liquadora could be an add on to the rear of an existing bicycle, sitting on top of a rear rack. This got me thinking and tinkering.

I decided that the best way to understand the liquadora, by far the simplest of the bicimaquinas, was to take it apart and rebuild it.
So I did.

Here you can see that the blender turns, not by a gear, but by the friction of a rubber cog against the rubber of the tire.

An upclose view of the parts.

How it connects up through to the blender

A little closer

Here is the main part with the rubber off.

And here it is broken down even further.

I could recognize some of what i was looking at, but i lacked the language to describe what i was seeing, Beth helped me there:

The big silver part standing up is a hub, it comes from the inside of the front wheel, its the place where all of the spokes meet in the center.

The long bolt is a rear hub bolt (there may be a different name for it that im blanking on) But basically this bolt comes from the inside of the rear wheel, and beacuse it is long enough to accomadate the cogset, or casette, it can handle the rubber piece needed for the blender.

The rest of it goes as follows, the two gunky looking rings are bearings housed inside of bearing cages. The object to the upper right of the rings is a cone, its what screws onto the bolt to hold the bearings in place. To the left there is the one removed nut (the other nut and cone are still on the bolt). And the rubber comes from old tractor tire.
I love how they use materials here

This bolt is deceptive. At first i thought the square end was part of it, but anyone who knows about bikes would catch that this cannot be. No, Carlos ground down the end into a near-perfect square to fit into the blender. Man, he is good.

I then took some time to clean up the pieces, using gasoline, which i love the smell of. Ironic, i know. And then i carefully regreased the whole thing and put it back together. Tightening it was tricky because each additional part that you put on changes the previous parts you just tightened. And you dont want it to be too tight, otherwise the thing wont spin, or at least not very well. Getting it just right involves some patient fine-tuning.

This is roughly what the placement would be of the part on a rear rack. Of course there´d be some sort of plywood or something, plus it would have to be touching the wheel to work, but this gives an idea of placement.

After i was finished, i put the liquidora back together completely. The cleaning and greasing seemed to help it run a little more smoothly. I joked with Carlos that i made it better because i am awesome, he gave me a look, and i admitted it was just the regreasing.

I asked Carlos about the possibility of me making one to work on a rear rack. He said that he had designed one before and that he´d be happy to help me. He´s pretty busy, what with the expanding flower for tomorrow´s village festival, but when things calm down a little he´ll show me how. Lets hope it fits in my carry-on.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

There may be batteries everywhere, but that doesn´t mean that you should trust them

For the last several days I have been trying to figure out what´s wrong with my camera (shutting down totally at the precise moment of photo capture) And i think ive sleuthed the answer- RAYOVAC. If ever you travel through Latin America i would highly recommend avoiding these chinsy batteries, they are cheap for a reason. Unfortunately they are the standard, at least in Itzapa, and finding others proved to be quite difficult. Grumble grumble grumble.
Hopefully with the problem identified i can start taking shots again, i´ll try my best to infill the naked posts of yore with delicious bike-laden pixels.

This morning we had a meeting with the volunteer coordinator (i had no idea there was such a person). He was a very friendly, well-educated man, Ruben. He wanted to talk to us about the structure of the organization and get our suggestions. A lot of good things were said, the crew had lots of good ideas on how things can be improved. Beth suggested that there be a permanent resident of Maya Pedal (my cerebrial cogs begin to turn...) to organize and structure the work of the volunteers on a day to day basis. They would also be responsible for finding increased markets for Maya Pedal´s wares, and looking for grants and stuff like that. It would be a terrific experience for anyone, and Maya Pedal could really use that kind of organizer (if you´re interested, contact me

We also talked funding, about setting up a way to donate through the web, and some of the organizational issues that MP faces. The volunteers agreed that we would break into committees to try and figure out what we can do to help out. As Anna Lisa and I will be on the longest of this bunch, i think we´ll be the ones to carry this forward on the ground, though i´m sure plenty will happen from others abroad. (I´ve been thinking about publishing my adventures into a short narrative/ beginners bike manual, full of quirks and drawings and pictures, then selling it and donating all proceeds to help out Maya Pedal- if you have any thoughts or suggestions please drop me a line) Overall it was a good meeting, i hope it goes somewhere.

Bewtween the meeting, a long search for tea and batteries, and a late lunch, not much happened on my end by way of work. But the day certainly wasn´t any the less exciting for it.
(Lunch on the roof)

There is this really wonderful old lady, Angelina, who often wanders into the shop looking for company. She is really sweet. She also has a peculiar and amusing habit of taking things that belong to others, calling them hers and then demanding "presents" in exchange for said stolen item. Today she stole Josh´s camera case and 5 quetzales from the table (quetzal are the currency). Unfortunately for Angelina she doesnt seem to ever get regalos in exchange. But that doesn´t stop her from trying. I´m a big fan.

Angelina with her stitching

The next piece of excitement came when Josh suggested to Will that to clean his bike chain he:

1. pour gasoline on it

2. set it on fire

3. whip it on the ground

Like kids in a candy shop

Yesterday was the first full day of real hands-on excitement. It began in the morning with the liquidora (oh how i wish i had pictures).

The liquidora, or blender, was what brought me here in the first place. I was flipping through MPs website, growing increasingly excited and then i saw the bicycle-blender and practically cried. So you can imagine the pure joy i experienced sitting in the warm sunlit shop blending local naranjas, bananas and piƱa into smoothies for all to enjoy. As i was pedalling i could barely contain my happiness, a huge grin appeared on my face and i thought to myself "i will remember this moment for the rest of my life."

After serving smoothies to a very appreciate audience of busy technicians i joined in with Anna Lisa to learn about what she was doing. She was trying to adjust the derailluer, the part that shifts the chain between gears. The problem being that chain would skip one gear when downshifting. She showed me the areas where one could adjust the range of motion of the derailer, but after sometime none of it seemed to work.

Next i shadowed Josh, who seems to know a great deal about bikes. He is an excellent teacher, very patient and thorough. Plus he seems to really enjoy sharing the knowledge he has. He showed me how to remove the cranks from the axel (the arms that hold the pedals), clean them, switch the pedals -which are put on backwards for packing purposes- and put them back on. Next was oiling all of the places that need regular oiling: the pivot points, the cables and the chain. I took copius notes and drew myself plenty of diagrams, which definitely seem to help with retaining the knowledge (thanks for the idea and the notebook mom!).

As the day wound down i was going to move on next to truing the back wheel of Josh´s bike (basically, making sure that it is straight and balanced, i.e. true) But i got pulled off of that to jump into a welding lesson from Carlos. Everyone seems pretty excited about welding, so there was lots of spontaneous participation. Part of a bike had been chopped off, specifically where it houses the axel, to be attached to a square metal frame made of angle iron. This will eventually turn into a bicimaquina called a mollino (i think) which grinds grain, de-kernels corn and can do other things. The previous day i had ground off all of the paint around where the welds would be, mostly to avoid releasing very tocxic chemicals into the air. Carlos very patiently showed us how to operate the welder and stuck the axel onto the frame. Of course he made it look very easy.

With all of the collective excitement around welding, we decided that we would practice while constructing something useful. (And the way the shop works is that, as long as we arent in Carlos´way, we can pretty much do whatever we want.) So we found some old bike parts not being used and excitedly envisioned what our contraption might be. I suggested we take a walk through the spaces to see where it could fit and what it might serve. We went to the kitchen and Nina had a great idea- our gross rags for dishes get/stay gross in part because there´s nowhere to hang them, and voila, we had a plan.

So we took the bike tubes, a triangular piece that would house one of the wheels, and split it into two. We then ground down the paint to prepare for the weld, meanwhile long bolts were being welded end to end to form our bars. Though the welds were ugly, and somehow in the process one of the two end pieces got reversed, we built a very strong, totally over-engineered, rag rack. We could hardly contain our glee. Especially when we did the honors and put it into place. It was a very special moment at Maya Pedal.

Our masterpiece!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A team of enthusiasts

My first day so far has been great, despite a night full of full of dying roosters, being strangled noisly by their own exasperation. Far from a bucollic wake-up call, they sound emit is more like a hoarse scream, and at all hours of the night. I´m not a fan.

Gallos aside, the atmosphere here is terrific, my co-volunteers, mostly from the states and canada, are awesome and super-friendly. We make all of our meals together and swap duties as far as purchasing, cooking and cleaning. Everyon has fascinating stories and great projects that they have been or are involved with elsewhere.

I´m somewhat at a loss as far as bike mantainence goes, but it doesn´t seem to matter as i´m surrounded by intensely knowledgable bicycle enthusiasts. So far today i teamed up with Nina on an inner tube patch, which gave us some trouble but we (really she) got it figured out on the second try. I also started grinding down a bike part (i´ll have terms soon) to become part of a grain mill. This is really where my heart is, the bicimaquinas. I´ll love to learn how to take apart, fix and tinker with bikes, but making bicimaquinas is why i´m here. Unfortunately my camera is on the fritz so i dont have much by way of photos today. (P.S. if you can spare some positive vibes for my camera i would owe you a big hug and a high five, we could even hug while high fiving)

Carlos and Johanna, who run the shop, are the nicest people ever, seriously rivalling my driver Jose Luis. Maybe they could have a nice-off. This afternoon Johanna and Carlos sat us down, gave us cake and welcomed us as part of their family. Carlos is a real jokester, today he called me a kitchen dog, which probablly has some cultural context im totally missing- he thought it was hilarious. Carlos is the head technician and the genius behind the designs, Johanna is the business person and takes care of the logistics. Though i get the sense that distinctions like this aren´t as cut and dry as in the US- everyone does a little bit of everything and helps out with anything when needed. I really like both of them a lot, they´re fantastic.

It sounds like this weekend there is going to be some kind of crazy festival, for which we are to build a giant flower structure that holds several people. Furthermore, it needs to "bloom" these people up out of a tube and then be strong enough for them to dance on. For Hours. Pretty ambitious considering that we haven´t started on it and there doesn´t seem to be any rush to. *For those who´ve not travelled in Latin America, its a much, much, more laid-back place. Schedules are far looser here. Things happen when they happen. People work hard, but at their own pace.

So several of us will be here for a months together, some are leaving soon and one, Jason, left this morning. Its nice to know that there will be a core of us here together for a while. There is a great sense of camaraderie in the shop. Its nice to be part of a team of enthusiasts.

Beth and Jason, both have extensive experience running bike shops in the states

Will, from Australia, dont know too much of his story

A handy bike diagram from Anna Lisa´s book, i´m copying it by hand to help commit the parts to memory

Anna Lisa (left) and Heather (right) true a wheel.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So many bikes

After a some logistical mishaps, that included (literally) throwing money at swanky hotel receptionists, i finally made it out of Guatemala City with my awesome and amiable driver Jose Luis. Jose Luis was one of those guys that makes everything seem okay, if someone had to tell me that my left lung needed to be removed i would want it to be Jose Luis. He was incredibly patient with my poor spansih and slow/non comprehension. He also made lots of jokes that i didn´t understand but he laughed and so it was funny.

So after a 35 mile "detour" to pee, we finally got back on the right road and rolled into San Andreas Itzapa.

Maybe i was projecting my own estaticism (is that a word?), but the people seemed noticably happier past the "welcome to" sign. The previous town, Chimaltenango, was fascinating, but gross. Most of the people looked overworked and stoic. Cars dominated everything, though the donkey made a pretty courageous showing.
But not here with me in happy sunshine land, no, here everyone was smiling, children were playing and everyone looked in good health (except for the packs of starving ownerless dogs that sulk around everywhere) and there were much fewer cars. San Andreas is exactly the place i would want to be in a foreign country- everyone is incredibly helpful, friendly and polite. People just say hi, just because. How many places in the US does everyone say hi to strangers, especially foreigners? Hmmmm.

So maya pedal is, of course, amazing. And, holy crap, there are bikes everywhere.

A "liquidora" and, the other, i´m not sure, but i think it takes the kernels off corn

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Airports are such weird places

I'm officially in Guatemala, safe and sound, no banditos yet, just creepy taxi guys*
The flights weren't that interesting, but the Dallas International Airport- full of all kinds of strange stuff.

For example, this Ipod vending machine. Apparently buying a $400 Ipod is as casual a decision as buying a $2.00 bottle of water at the neighboring machines.

And there are tornadoes in the bathrooms. Often enough to warrant a warning sign.
(sorry its sideways) (tornado)

The obligatory decorative art installation.

And giant candy.

There were also machines that rented out laptops, and even stranger ones that rented out charging capabilities- you just pay to open the appropriate little door that already has the specific cord you need, plug your thing in, lock it, and come back in a few hours. I don't know about you, but when i take electronics i take the cord. Obviously people forget, but enough to have a vending machine selling electricity?

These things may seem normal to some, but my scientific analysis concludes they are not. Airports are very strange places, like shopping malls, but even more disconnected from real life.

And of my time here so far, an excerpt from an email to my family-
"..they directed me outside, where immediately i was aggresively greeted by this one guy who just wouldn't leave me alone, luckily he spoke english and i told him i was going to dos lunas, so he backed off. Kind of. So i wasn't seeing the dos lunas van, and i hesitated too long, giving mr vulture the opportunity he needed to make a comeback. "Dos lunas, i know dos lunas, he's a friend of mine, but listen he's all the way over there, i am right here, you come with me, i give you internet and breakfast." OKay, so i have to talk to this guy. "I already am with dos lunas, so i'll wait for the shuttle, if it doesn't come then i'll talk to you. Maybe." At which point i walk away, i go straight for a security guard and ask him about Dos lunas, he says he'll call them for me for a tip. Fine. Anything to get rid of the vulture. He calls, no dice. They're full, okay, who d you recommend? El hotel de aeropeurto. El hotel de aeropuerto? Yes. I see the guy and start walking for him. Mr vulture makes one last desparate attempt, i cut him off- i'm fine thank you- and keep walking. This new guy seems much better, nice, polite, and a whole lot less of a creep."
*Karmic side note- as i was typing the ´creepy taxi guys´part above, i get a pat on the shoulder and hear in a friendly cadence "oh, so you made it here huh?" I look up. Its creeper vulture taxi man.