Triking down the side of a volcano at Lake Atitlán
published oct 12th, 2015
Walking down Santander, one of the busiest streets in Panajachel, you’ll find really nice restaurants, great cafés, plenty of street vendors selling a multitude of artisan wares, and if you’re lucky, a gringo riding a big-wheel tricycle right in front of his tattoo studio, Deep Ink. Benjamin has been building and riding tricycles around Lake Atitlán for the better part of four years. You won’t see him simply cruising the streets of Panajachel. Benjamin is looking for two things: altitude and speed.
Me. A trike. The view.
The name of this particular hobby is drift triking, or just simply triking. People all over the world are coming up with crazy designs and even crazier achievements in this up and coming sport. Some trikes are fitted with small engines, some with huge tires, and others still going for as few parts as possible. Very few companies are making trikes like these, and even fewer are in Guatemala.
I had to give it a try.
All of the tricycles are custom built. Many have resorted to repurposing bicycles for the frame. Wheelbarrow wheels (or something around the same size) on the back of the trikes keep them low to the ground. The back wheels are also shoved inside sections of PVC pipes to provide as little traction as possible. Virtually all navigating is done with the trike’s front wheel; this is a drifter’s sport. Trikes take corners sideways, drifting to check their speed and manage turns. Slowing down is discouraged, but if necessary racers can brake with their feet, Flintstones-style. Trikes have also been fitted with plenty of thoughtful additions for those much expected accidents. Sliding too far around a corner is going to happen and racers do end up in the gutter. Plenty of cushioning is added to minimize impact, and participants gear up with gloves, helmets and reflective jackets before taking to the streets.
Trikes are custom built from a variety of parts.
We decided on the road from Sololá to Panajachel for my first route. There is roughly a 600m difference in altitude between the two pueblos which offers a suitable beginner’s level course. Sololá is only accessible by chicken bus, and with no vehicle able to accommodate our steeds, we resorted to paying the Q3 for the one-way trip. Pulling our tricycles up to the chicken bus seemed to bring the kid out in all. The ayudantes (helpers on the chicken bus) already knew how to load and unload the vehicles, a testament to the years of Benjamin’s riding and consideration for all involved.
After a twenty-minute vertical trip, we got dropped off at the only gas station in Sololá. This is where all the prep work was done. Fitting PVC cylinders to tires, checking brakes and handlebars, and receiving some encouragement from the local community all came together to put me in the right state of mind.
Everything you need to get down a volcano. Fast.
My first trip down the 8km passage took approximately one hour. The veteran riders were already prepared for this and situated themselves much like a group of motorcyclists, with the rookies in the middle of the pack and vets leading and trailing. There were obstacles like rocks and random debris coming off the mountain that I have to be prepared to maneuver around. Motorized vehicles really had to be accounted for, too, since they’re one of the biggest reasons your good time can turn sour.
After the first run, I was overwhelmed with adrenaline. My hands were shaking, but I couldn’t wait for the second run. Luckily, the chicken buses run every 30-45 minutes. The three Quetzales are equivalent to thirty-nine cents US. That, along with the soles of my shoes were about the only expense I encountered in this little adventure. Although triking may not be for the faint of heart, overcoming the fear made for a memory not easily bested in the streets of Guatemala.