Iztapa, Bici-Tec, and BiciMaquinas

Sorry. I forgot I had a blog. I’ve been distracted by arriving in Guatemala, and falling into life here. I’m currently living in a small town called San Andres Itzapa, which crawls up the mountains of the central Guatemalan highlands. It’s the type of place where the beauty of the mountains, the blue sky, and the greenness of everything hits you everyday as you walk up and down the steep streets.

Bici-Tec Workshop
Bici-Tec Workshop

I’m working with Bici-Tec, a social enterprise run by Carlos Marroquin and his family. Bici-Tec has two arms. One side of the business is a regular bike shop where they sell and repair bikes. The second side is something very different than anything I’ve worked with before. Carlos is one of the world leaders in developing pedal powered technologies for the global south. He imagines and creates all sorts of pedal powered machines ranging from bike washing machines to macadamia nut de-shellers. He uses the bike shop side of the business to help sell the bike machines (called bicimaquinás) at affordable prices for rural Guatemalans.

Here is quick background of Bicitecnología from the volunteer orrientation manuel at Bici-Tec:

  • By utilizing the force of leg power, which is 5x greater than that of the upper body, efficiency is increased, while physical labour is significantly decreased.The average human legs have roughly the equivalent of 1/8 horsepower.
  • Being comprised primarily of recycled bicycle parts along with simple materials, like wood, cement, and screws, the technology is widely accessible, easy to maintain and environmentally friendly.
  • There is a great divide between industrial technology and that of rural areas of developing countries. Pedal-powered energy is providing alternatives to traditional manual labor without causing cultural disruption.
  • Bicimáquinas are self-sufficient forms of technology that do not require combustible fuel or electric energy to function.
  • Providing a low maintenance resource to improve production, requiring only creativity and a minimal investment increases the economic viability of rural farming communities.
  • Bicitecnología contributes to the overall health of the community by working together towards sustainable development.
BiciBomba- A Pedal Powered Water Pump
BiciBomba- A Pedal Powered Water Pump

There are many really awesome things about bicitecnología. It’s sustainable, focused on small businesses, and built by, and meant for the global south. Additionally, Carlos’ specifically aims to build these machines for Mayan women. His machines are targeted towards domestic chores and in providing women ways of starting small businesses run from their home. It’s especially cool that his machines are focused on women, because otherwise I think that I have yet to see any women riding bikes in Itzapa since I arrived here.

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Since arriving I´ve spent most of my time helping with some administrative things since Bici-Tec is a new business, but I´ve also been lucky enough to help with a group of high school students from Guatemala City who are building a pedal powered wheelchair. It´s still under construction, but here are some photos of the process.

Explaining how cones work.
Explaining how cones work.

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Lining up the chain line.
Lining up the chain line.

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By far the coolest part of being here so far is getting to know Carlos, and hear more about his vision for spreading pedal power and Global South solidarity. He has a really incredible vision, and an ability to dream big (and actually achieve it) that is inspiring to be around.

Carlos on a bicimolino
Carlos on a bicimolino
This picture perfectly describes me and Carlos´relationship. Me trying to explain something, him really focusing, and then telling me I´m wrong.
This picture perfectly describes me and Carlos´relationship. Me trying to explain something, him really focusing, and then telling me I´m wrong.

That´s my update for now. But I´ll be posting more soon. Only 3 weeks left of this crazy adventure, which I´m still trying to wrap my head around.

(Thank you Kyle for the photos!)

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