Today only a few of the CMWC participants are tooling through Panajachel. They are easily identified by their bike bags with slogans about how “skin grows back” and some because they are wearing their well earned t-shirts as they wheel through town. They are also distinguished because they actually fit on their bikes.
“Most of the kids, here, ride bikes that are either too big or too small for them.” said Navid Taslimi, a bike messenger from Toronto. He thought that the kids could be “contenders” if only their bikes were a better fit. And, Scott Free, the founder of the CMWC Art Project, also observed that the “Bike is part of Mayan Culture — because they can balance the whole family on one.”
Mr. Taslimi is the man who brought bike polo to Canada in the late 1990’s. In this sport there are no formal leagues. Polo is played with “pick up” teams – usually three to a side. The bikers protect their wheels with colorful, solid covers to keep the mallets from piercing their spokes and because they can, also, get a bit of English on the ball by purposefully ricocheting it off a wheel. Their mallets are handmade and funky – just a sawed-off piece of 3” pvc piping with half-inch holes drilled to keep the head as light as possible.
Mr. Taslimi told of a game where he had surely hit the ball and, then, it was nowhere in sight. The players looked for a long time before discovering it smashed into Mr. Taslimi’s mallet. He showed us a picture of this on his cell-phone and patiently explained that the image was NOT a graphic from some video game – but, the actual photo taken during that match. When Mr. Taslimi played in the CMWC games in Guatemala, the locals cheered him on as “Bin Laden” because the tall Iranian had been introduced by that name by one of his teammates. And, as we spoke, many who came up to shake his hand used this moniker.
Like many of the CMWC participants, he was active in Critical Mass when they took to the streets to remind Toronto that bikes belong on the road and, “We are not blocking traffic, we are traffic.”
Because he is from Canada and outspoken about CMWC “Bin Laden” was often mistaken for Nadir Olivet, the race organizer.
“Bike messengers are a world culture,” he enthused, “I can go anywhere in the world, find friends and start working within a week. There was once a ‘life swap’ from Toronto to Boston where the guy said: ‘Here’s the key to my apartment, here’s what to feed the dog, this is my girlfriend’s number and this is my client list. I haven’t told her, yet. Good luck.’”
Bike messengers are at once athletic and festive. Mr. Taslimi keeps in shape by riding daily. Sometimes his training run is “Gold Sprints” in a local bar. Clocking the maximum of 500 meters in 30 seconds on this bike (on rollers) is a rough-tough version of the coin operated bucking bull so popular in Texas.
Here, on the two main streets the chicken buses spew their nasty plumes, the tuk-tuks scour for tourists and things are as was, but the lively sense of fun and real contributions of these exceptionally good sports remains.