I spent four weeks volunteering at Maya Pedal, a bicycle workshop complete with on site volunteer accommodation. Based in the small town of San Andrés Itzapa, it is an NGO accepting bikes donated from the USA and Canada which are either reconditioned to sell or used as components to build a range of pedal powered machines (or bicimaquinas).
The bicimaquinas range from corn grinders to blenders to macadamia nut shellers and even washing machines. There are no limits on what potential customers can request – the attitude seems to be that if it rotates, we can do it!
San Andrés Itzapa itself is up in the hills 17km to the north-west of Antigua. It is not a tourist hotspot, nor is it particularly pretty, however the views from on top of the workshop are well worth taking in. It also has a lively market on Sundays and Tuesdays, with an abundance of fresh fruit an vegetables, meats, grains and even traditional clothing available. I went on several occasions and highly recommend it.
One of the workshop’s local clients, Maya, a shampoo businesses based in the town, commissioned a blender (or licuadora) that it has put to use in the liquefication of the aloe used in its products.
The workshop atmosphere is generally quite relaxed, with a good mixture of volunteers from around the world working with local people on their projects and consulting with others about challenges they face. Regular visitors include the resident stray dog Osita (little bear).
One of the projects I was privileged to be briefly involved in (setting up the derailleur and chain) was this washing machine. And yes, it does actually work!
My other work included final assembly of the coconut shell sanding machine, which included developing an ‘elegant’ balancing weight, and filling an old 16″ wheel with cement to transform it into the fly / drive wheel for a new corn grinder.
I was also involved in some light construction work on the new volunteer rooms – measuring all the window frames in the below photo and then sealing the glass panes in place. Also in the picture are the owner, his mother and youngest daughter.
On a final note, Maya Pedal is located a stone’s throw from the temple of Maximón. Also known as San Simón, this ‘deity’ is believed – among other things – to help people to attain their material desires and protect sex workers. In order to make an offering, you simply have to share a drink (either the local liquor, Quetzalteca, or rum) and – optionally – cigar with him. As he is a statue, the booze inevitably runs down his chin, but that is absolutely fine and is supposed to happen! I shamefully didn’t manage to organise myself into paying him a visit, but for those looking for further detail on this tradition there is an interesting Vice article here.