Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Tuk-Tuk Rally and Osama’s Revenge

I figure that you can do anything you want in Guatemala, as long as you have a little money. 

After about the third day in San Pedro, I had the bright idea of trying to convince a Tuk-Tuk driver to let me drive his Tuk-Tuk.  For those of you who haven’t been to South East Asia or Central America, a Tuk-Tuk is a miniature three wheeled taxi that is usually powered by a two stroke 250cc motorcycle engine.  Sometimes they even have 400cc versions!

My idea got put on hold after my little run-in with El Pescador; however, a few days ago, I decided to give it a go.  Just to ensure my success, I took my helmet, riding gloves, and go-pro as well as rehearsing, in Spanish, a fictitious story about being a professional driver from the states who was filming a documentary on motorcycling in Central American and wanted to include a portion on Tuk-Tuks. Justin came along to be my passenger/camera man.

I literally needed none of these things.  As soon as I walked up to a group of seven Tuk-Tuk drivers and told them what I wanted, they were all fighting to get me in their vehicles.  Finally, I settled on one young hombre who agreed to let me pilot his erstwhile steed for the lowly sum of 75 quetzales, which was probably an exorbitant sum, but oh well.

Tuk-Tuks have similar controls as a motorcycle: handlebars, twist throttle on the right, clutch lever on the left.  However, instead of a hand brake they have a foot brake and the shifter is actually in the handlebars on the same side as the clutch.  Shifting is accomplished by pulling in the clutch and then twisting the clutch hand grip up or down to shift in much the same manner that you twist the throttle up and down to control your speed.   The gear pattern is actually opposite of a moto: from neutral, 1st gear is up, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are all down.  They also have reverse and a parking brake.

Justin and I jumped in the Tuk-Tuk with the owner and sped off up the hill.  Actually, I sped off up the hill for about 10 feet before I stalled it, much to my derision, as all of the Guatemalan cabbys were now laughing at me.  The Tuk-Tuk that we had contracted was actually a piece of crap and could barely make it up the hill after I had managed to get the shifting and clutch usage down.

Regardless, we had a good time barreling around town seeing the astonished looks on other Tuk-Tuk driver’s faces when they realized that the rampaging three wheeler that had just overtook them was being piloted by a large Gringo in a motorcycle helmet.

After finishing our little rally, we were walking back to the Hotel when I stumbled across a tienda that was selling fireworks!
  Being a red-blooded American male with a penchant for all things explosive (I once blew up my friend’s computer printer with a block of C-4, true story), I immediately bought the largest looking bomb they were selling: Mortero No. 7, Bin Laden!

That wily terrorist leader was still alive and kicking apparently, and had launched his own brand of Guatemalan made mid-grade explosives.  I obtained some fruit and an empty water bottle from a friend (what good is an explosive if you aren’t destroying something with it?) and began looking for a likely place to detonate it.  After searching fruitlessly for a good location, I finally flagged down a Tuk-Tuk and had him take me outside of town.

The driver was about 16 and apparently appreciated blowing things up as much as I did.  We found a low stone wall near the road and planted Bin Laden on top.  I lit the fuse then dove behind the tuk-tuk and watched the show.  BOOM!  I swear the video I took didn’t do it justice; that thing was powerful! At least a quarter stick of dynamite.

After we finished laughing and cleaning the strawberry pulp off of our faces, I asked my new friend if I could drive his Tuk-Tuk.  He didn’t even hesistate to say yes!  His machine was in much better condition than my previous Tuk-Tuk.  After a few minutes, my driver, who was now sitting in the back seat, suggested that I drive outside of town up into the hills.  Why not?

Before long we were tearing ass up a winding road into the mountains. Actually, we were going kind of slow….these things aren’t that powerful.  Regardless, I managed to overtake a few other Tuk-Tuks and was rewarded again by the incredulous expressions on their driver’s faces as we passed.  We got to the top of the hill where we found the town trash pile.  Apparently they just burn all of their trash here.  As soon as we approached I started having Afghanistan flashbacks; the smell of burning trash is permanently etched into my brain.  It’s kind of hard to forget after you spend about 14 months waking up to the smell of burning plastic and fecal matter.


 Just after the dump we turned around and began the decent. I was laughing and joking with the kid; he was starting to get a little white in the face after he realized that I was planning on taking corners at 50 kph and maintaining stability by leaning my body outside of the vehicle.  You can’t counter steer in a three wheeler, but you can definitely counter balance!  I wish the kid had been a little more daring; he could have stood on the running boards and leaned way out in the turns.   It felt like the old Moto GP Sidecar races.  There’s a reason they outlawed three wheelers in the states….

Eventually, the kid started panicking and talking about how his “patron” was going to be angry with him, so I relented and let him drive me back to the hotel.  He was a cool kid though, and when we arrived back at the hotel, I took him down and had him sign the gas tank on my bike.

Afterwards I thanked him profusely and gave him some cash.  He only wanted 30 quetzals; I gave him a 100 quetzals and told him to go have a good time.
I’ve got a bunch of video footage from all of this mayhem.  Unfortunately, my computer is too slow to edit it.  As soon as I can find a decent machine, I’ll post it up!


  1. Tuk Tuk racing in Guatemala, what a rush!

  2. Hey Bryce,

    Awesome to read about your trip. Was on ADVrider and thought Oregon to South America might be you. We met at the HU meetup in Cambria.
    I'll continue to follow your journey. What a month you've had!

    -Dan (with the BMW G50 x-challenge and toyota tacoma)

  3. Bryce! holy shit, awesome, your blog. Pat, bunked above you at the HU meeting in Cambria, riding 01 f650gs. your name popped into my brain today, googled you and boom there youare, bald one going south. I will read more of your posts later. great, you are doing well, having adventures. back at you later,

    Pat Parks
    Roseville, CA