How to handle a big motorcycle accident in Guatemala

I spent a couple of days hanging out in Antigua, trying to avoid riding in the rain before I hit the border with El Salvador. But, the rain never stopped, and I got itchy feet to get moving, so I packed my gear and hopped on the bike early in the morning.

While riding through the city of Escuintla on my way to the border with El Salvador, a taxi driver had the bright idea to turn left in front of me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop before hitting him, as I had already tested my emergency braking earlier in the morning on the wet roads. Instead, I tried to make an emergency avoidance maneuver in front of him, as there was traffic coming up behind him including a huge chicken bus. There was no way I’d be able to make it past him unless he stopped his taxi, which he never did. I impacted the front of his car and was thrown off the front of the bike, did 2 somersaults in the air, hit the ground and slide about 10 feet into a drainage ditch full of water. When I was flying through the air and sliding on the ground, the only thoughts in my head were “This is me dying, this is me dying…”. I was blown away when I stopped sliding and realized that I could move my arms and my legs without too much pain, and was able to stand up without any problems.

I crawled out of the drainage ditch and went to assess the situation. My luggage had exploded and I had gear all over the road. Traffic had stopped, and I ran into the road to start collecting things. I also had my eyes open to the group of people who had started to gather to see what had happened, to make sure they didn’t start nicking things. After collecting everything from the road and pushing the bike out of the way of traffic, I went to talk with the other guy in the accident. He was a taxi driver and didn’t own the car, so we called the cars owner and he came by after 10 minutes. After that, I only talked with him and not the taxi driver. By that time, the Police had come as well. My Spanish has gotten a lot better (even if I never think it does) because I was able to talk to all of them about the accident. It basically came down to this: the taxi driver and owner had no money to pay me (so they say), and the police said that if we can’t come to an agreement on who owes who money right there that they would take the other driver and myself to jail and impound our vehicles until we figure it out. I was on the phone with a friend who was talking to a Guatemalan lawyer, and he confirmed that this was the case in Guatemala. So after learning that, I made the decision to call everything “even” and not have the guy pay me anything, even though the accident was his fault. We were able to convince the police to let us go without paying them any bribes, so everything worked out fine on that front. I realized that the most money I would get out of the other guy would be at maximum $500US, and there was no way that a day or multiple days in a Guatemalan jail would be worth it. Plus, I had the fact that I was a gringo going against me, especially if the driver and I went to a court to have things settled.

The taxi and Oscar post accident... you can see the crazy amount of damage to the front of his taxi.

You can see the point of impact with his vehicle and the drainage ditch I slid into after being thrown from the bike

The taxi was not usable after the accident. You can see my bike surrounded by kids checking out the damage in the background.

After dealing with the police and the other driver, I had to find a truck to take me and the bike somehwere. While making phone calls and talking with all of the local people standing around, a local guy drove by in his truck and offered to give me a ride to wherever I needed to go for free. I couldn’t believe the offer and was skeptical at first, but he had some of his workers come pick me up and take me to his house where I hung out with his wife and daughter, having lunch with them and after a few hours, loading up the truck and leaving. He took me to Panajachel, which is where I was living before I left. I wasn’t sure where I should go (either back to Antigua, or to Guatemala City), but I knew that I had good friends in Pana and could see a doctor about any injuries that I had.

After arriving back in Panajachel, I went to the local clinic and got checked out by a doctor. He said I was incredibly lucky to be young, strong, and in the shape I’m in as most other people would have broken bones or done worse in the kind of accident I was in. I only had some strained muscles and tendons in my shoulder and knee, so he prescribed some anti-inflammatory, pain pills, and some sleeping pills as I was having trouble sleeping.

It took me about a week to decide what to do with my trip: see if I can fix the bike and keep traveling, sell the bike for parts and start traveling on buses or hitchhiking, or call the trip finished and head back to the US to start a normal life. Through a friend of a friend, I found a great mechanic in Guatemala City who could actually straighten my bent frame, so I decided to head back to the Capital, drop the bike off with him and fly back to the states to buy parts and see my family for a couple of months.

My time at home was great. I spent a lot of time with my sister in Chicago and then my brother and the rest of my family in Michigan. After almost a year of being away, it was good to see everyone and recover both physically and mentally back at home. I found all of the parts I needed to fix up Oscar, and paid about $300 total for everything. It would have been about $1500US to buy all of the parts in Guatemala! So the trip home was definitely worth it in a monetary sense, and also allowed me to get my head back on straight and get motivated to do some proper traveling again. My brother was a big inspiration to me before returning to Guatemala, encouraging me to make the most of my trip and the incredible opportunities I’ve been blessed with while traveling. I came back to Guatemala inspired and excited to keep traveling again.

To get Oscar back into running shape, I needed to purchase an entire new front end, including the suspension, tire, headlight and bracket, handlebars, steering column, and radiator. The frame was slightly bent, but only the front portion where the steering column is housed. My mechanic, Fritz Klimowitz, is known to be the best mechanic throughout Central America. He’s a former motocross champion and well known mechanic in Guatemala City. I went to him based on the recommendation of a friend, so was hesitant to leave my bike with him at first. But after getting to Fritz’ shop and seeing proper motocross race bikes and adventure bikes (KLRs, huge BMW adventure bikes, Africa Twins, etc.) in his shop getting serviced and repaired, I was confident that he and his mechanics could handle the work.

Need a mechanic in Guatemala? Swing by FKR in Guatemala City - 10a. Calle 4-38, Zona 9

Oscar's front suspension, sheared in half by the accident

Fritz showing me how bent the steering column was, and what it is supposed to look like.

Bent, smashed, and twisted radiator. I'm glad the same thing didn't happen to me.

New (used) parts waiting to be installed! Getting these through US and Guatemalan customs was a breeze and I had no problems at the airport.

Oscar spent about a week with at Fritz’ shop getting fixed, and I spent my time with an incredible family that lives in the capital. I befriended them when I was staying in Antigua, and they opened their doors for me and allowed me to stay with them in Guatemala City free of charge, drove me around the city to handle the problems with my bike, and basically were a home away from home while I was taking care of everything. They even dropped me off and picked me up from the airport, and tried to help me with my expired documentation for my motorcycle.

The family and I spent time in Antigua and around the Capital, and I went to church with them a few times over the month I stayed with them.

My Guatemalan family in Antigua

My brother Arturo translating my Spanglish to proper Spanish with Fritz. Arturo was a huge help with Fritz and with SAT.

After being back in the states, the documentation for my motorcycle had expired and I had no luck getting an extension from SAT, who is the Guatemalan equivalent of the DMV in the states. Instead, I forged my documentation for my motorcycle and changed the expiration dates so that I could use the documentation when I get pulled over by the police. I could run into problems if they decide to call in my information to their headquarters and actually look up the information, but that has yet to happen in the 50+ times that I’ve been stopped by the police so far throughout Mexico and Guatemala. The only problem this presents is the fact that I won’t be able to cross the borders with Nicaragua or El Salvador, stopping my progress South. This was at first a tough decision for me, but after thinking about it, I’m excited to be going back to Mexico and have some big plans for my life when I get back there.

The first day of getting my bike back, I kept singing my own little diddy around my family… “Estoy feliz, estoy feliz… estoy super felizzzzz!” I gave them all rides on the back of Oscar through their neighborhood and helped run errands around the city.

The first ride on a fixed-up Oscar. New front end including a black fender to complete the Frankenstein look on the bike.

I ended up spending an extra week in Guatemala City getting some kinks worked out on Oscar. The new wheel I purchased wasn’t true and was causing some problems at speed with the steering and braking, but Fritz came through and fixed the problems and I was finally ready to hit the road and head back to Panajachel.

About Sper

LA born. Michigan raised. Current Chicagoan. Technology nerd. Motorcycleπ enthusiast. I quit my job, sold all of my stuff, and am riding my dream through the US, Canada, Latin and South America.
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