Connor Fieldman Boals

Have camera, will travel

Landslides and bike messengers

September 9th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Guatemala, Journalism

I held off on updating, until my story and photos were published over at Velonews, so here goes the story of my weekend.

Last weekend, I jumped on a shuttle to Panajachel with several friends to cover the 18th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships. It’s a tiny little tourist town on the shores of Lake Atitlan, a lake which made Aldous Huxley utter these words:

“Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

Anyway, it was beautiful, but a week of straight rain from tropical storm Hermine had left the mountainsides heavy, with nowhere to go but down. We knew we were in for an interesting trip when we hit a massive traffic jam halfway along. Our driver, waited patiently in the rain while they cleared the road ahead.

When we arrived at Solola, the city at the top of the mountain before descending to Panjachel, an ominous bit of yellow caution tape was draped across the road. Our driver bid us “Adios” and we began our walk down.

The we encountered our first landslide (el derrumbe in español).

No big deal, we bypassed it.

Then, after descending through the mist, we found the road no longer existed. Half the group, probably the wiser, decided to turn back and stay clean. They were only there for the view. But I, needing a paycheck and a byline, pressed on through the mud.

After 100 yards of knee-deep mud, buried trees and boulders, the road reappeared. Then, it disappeared again. We crossed through several more landslides. Finally, ending with this baby that completely smothered an elbow in the road for nearly 200 yards.

I took the muddy ankles in stride, I am in this place for some adventure after all. Besides, these landslides killed people and displaced many others, so who am I to complain?

The messenger championships kicked off on the 3rd of September, so about half the participants had made it into town before the weather turned bad. The rest were stranded all over Central America, waiting for the sun and bulldozers to clean things up.

The championships are a week-long event that culminates with the main race this weekend which is a simulated messenger route. Competitors have various packages worth differing values that need to be delivered to different destinations. It’s up to them to pick an order and which packages to deliver to rack up the most points.

In the meantime, there is track racing, bike polo, trackstand competitions and plenty of partying that will go down.

One of the main attractions was “La Ocho,” a 3-dimensional figure eight race track where the track racing would have been held.

I said would have because nature had other ideas. When I arrived on Saturday, a few tears had been shed for “La Ocho,” as Rio San Francisco, swelling with rain and mud, had ripped away two of the banked turns on “La Ocho” as well as a corner of the bike polo court and washed them out into the depths of Lake Atitlan. I went out Saturday afternoon and got some photos of the damage.

But, the messengers prevailed. Early Sunday morning, they tore down the old “La Ocho.”

Then, they chalked a 2-dimensional, “suicide-style” figure eight on a large dirt soccer pitch and started racing. But not before they delivered a truck load of supplies they had donated to a nearby basketball stadium that was housing families that had been displaced by the storms.

The messenger championships have a storied history. They were first held in 1993 in Berlin. This year’s championships brought many of the older messengers out of the woodwork for a chance to ride in such a unique place as Guatemala.

I’m looking forward to going back out this weekend. It should provide for some interesting racing. Previous championships have always been held in major urban cities like New York, Toronto, Tokyo, etc.. Here, couriers will be racing on cobblestones, dodging stray dogs and reckoning with landslides. It should prove to be a memorable event.

Also, a shout out to Biker Bill for being the best media liaison a guy could ask for.

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