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Episode 30: Bicimáquinas (Bicycle Machines)

By Duolingo on Thu 06 June 2019

Carlos Marroquín has always been an inventor. But he wasn’t putting that talent to much use in his native Guatemala until he saw a rare sight on the road that stopped him in his tracks: bicycles. That turning point led Carlos to transform the lives of many farmers and towns through his bicycle-inspired inventions, or as he calls them, bicimáquinas.

Click here for more pictures of Carlos Marroquín’s work!

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Transcript

Martina: When Carlos Marroquín was 20 years old, he was working as a truck driver. He drove routes that took him all over his home country, Guatemala. One day in 1988, he was driving through a small town when he saw something unexpected.

Carlos: Había un grupo de extranjeros altos y rubios. Eso fue lo primero que llamó mi atención. Después me di cuenta de algo más: todos tenían bicicletas.

Martina: He had barely seen one bike before, and here was a whole group of them. He stared for hours watching how the foreigners fixed them.

Carlos: Me dijeron que venían de Canadá y que eran parte del proyecto “Pedal Canadá”. Estaban en Guatemala para demostrar y desarrollar el uso de la bicicleta como medio de transporte.

Martina: Carlos was captivated. Bicycles weren’t that common in Guatemala at the time. The Canadians asked him if he wanted to hang out and learn about how the bikes worked. What they didn’t know was that Carlos was already an expert mechanic.

Carlos: Les dije que sí, que me interesaba mucho. De niño, yo siempre quería saber cómo funcionaban las cosas. También me gustaba inventar mis propias máquinas.

Martina: He didn’t say this to the Canadians, but by that time Carlos loved inventing new machines. His inventor brain was already going a mile a minute.

Carlos: Cuando vi ese artefacto con ruedas y pedales mi imaginación comenzó a volar. Las bicicletas me ofrecían muchísimas oportunidades.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com. Today’s story comes from Guatemala and it’s called “Bicimáquinas” or Bicycle Machines. It’s narrated by Carlos Marroquín and written by Mariano Pagnucco.

Martina: Carlos Marroquín grew up in a rural and largely indigenous area in Guatemala.

Carlos: Mi sangre es la mezcla de un padre mestizo y una madre indígena del pueblo maya cakchiquel.

Martina: His hometown is San Andrés Itzapa, about 60 kilometres from the capital city, and it’s surrounded by mountains and forests. Growing up, Carlos was always a little different from the other kids in town.

Carlos: Siempre fui un niño curioso. Me gustaba abrir y desensamblar las máquinas de la casa para ver cómo funcionaban, y eso le molestaba mucho a mi mamá.

Martina: He was always taking things apart and he’d use whatever was available to him. For example, he used corn husks and stems to build model airplanes. Or he’d make an antenna out of wires to get the TV to work. Usually he found stuff in the garbage and gave it new life.

Carlos: Mi vida de niño fue difícil, iba a la escuela unas horas por la mañana y ayudaba a mi papá en el campo por las tardes.

Martina: Carlos’s dad cultivated corn and coffee, which his mother would sell at the market.

Carlos: A veces, mi mamá pasaba varios días lejos de casa, tratando de conseguir dinero para nuestra familia.

Martina: At the time, in Guatemala, about 60% of the population lived in rural areas and worked on farms.

Carlos: Cuando yo no ayudaba a mi padre en el campo, inventaba cosas con los materiales que tenía a mano.

Martina: Carlos’s town was beautiful, but it was also rife with violence. He grew up in the 1970s and 80s, years when military forces friendly to the US were fighting local armed civilian groups all over the country.

Carlos: La violencia era parte del día a día de nuestro país, era algo normal. Era difícil saber quiénes eran los buenos y quiénes los malos porque vivíamos en peligro permanente.

Martina: One time the violence found him in his own home.

Carlos: Tenía 13 años cuando fabriqué una radio con partes de una televisión vieja y usé un paraguas como antena.

Martina: On this homemade radio Carlos heard voices saying things like halcón negro or diablo Rojo.

Carlos: No era mi intención, pero entendí que podía escuchar las comunicaciones militares.

Martina: When the military found out about Carlos’s radio and that he could listen in on their broadcasts, they descended on his house in a fury.

Carlos: Por suerte, nadie estaba en casa, pero destruyeron mi radio.

Martina: This experience made Carlos realize his inventions were valuable.

Carlos: Después de eso, mi interés por las máquinas creció más y más. Aprendí sobre mecánica, circuitos y motores.

Martina: By the time he was 14 Carlos had left school and was learning how to drive trucks. He was becoming a mechanic and he knew his way around circuits and cables.

Carlos: Por varios años, conduje camiones por toda Guatemala. Andar por el país en camión me ayudó a ver cómo los trabajadores del campo se apoyaban entre ellos.

Martina: Carlos met people from all over and learned that his countrymen found solidarity despite the violence. On his routes, he found caring, kind-hearted people always willing to help him out.

Carlos: Un día, el camión se quedó atrapado en un camino de tierra. Los agricultores del lugar no me conocían, pero juntos me ayudaron a sacarlo. ¡Fue un trabajo duro!

Martina: In 1988, on one of those trips driving around the country, Carlos met the Canadians who were in Guatemala to promote bicycles. All of those chains, gears, wheels, bolts, cables, brakes, and handlebars awakened the inventor that had been dormant in Carlos since he was a kid.

Carlos: Cuando vi las bicicletas, me di cuenta de algo: la energía generada por los pedales podía usarse para muchísimas cosas.

Martina: Carlos thought about all of the machines he could create. He thought about how much they could help people who, like his parents, lived in rural areas and worked on farms.

Carlos: Pensé que esta energía sería muy útil en el campo, donde no hay electricidad y las obligaciones diarias necesitan de mucho trabajo físico.

Martina: That same day, he asked the Canadians to help him build a new type of pedal-powered machine. This one would help people in areas without plumbing or reliable electricity.

Carlos: Yo quería crear una máquina para sacar agua de la tierra. Usamos la estructura de una bicicleta blanca y una cadena larga.

Martina: He left the frame, seat, and pedals intact but he hooked up an extra chain to one of the wheels. That chain was connected to a bucket - una cubeta - that could be lowered down into a well.

Carlos: Pensé que al pedalear, las cadenas iban a girar y las cubetas iban a subir llenas de agua.

Martina: Instead, he ended up building a bizarre machine with chains and buckets extending forward in loops from the frame...that did not bring any water back up from the well.

Carlos: Sin embargo, no abandoné mi proyecto. Sabía que era un proceso de prueba y error.

Martina: The Canadians went home after a few months but they kept in touch. Meanwhile, Carlos kept tinkering on his invention in his free time after work.

Carlos: Yo hacía pruebas, unía piezas, mejoraba las estructuras con metal, madera o cualquier otro material disponible. Mi pasión era inventar cosas y yo le ponía muchísimas ganas.

Martina: It took him three years, but he finally made a useful machine. It was half-bike, half-water mill. He called it a bicimáquina, combining the words “bicycle” and “machine”.

Carlos: Sacar agua es uno de los muchos trabajos del campo. Cuando yo pasaba por las comunidades de agricultores con el camión, podía ver cuáles eran sus problemas, y comencé a tener nuevas ideas de bicimáquinas. Por ejemplo, máquinas para trabajar el maíz, lavar la ropa o cultivar la tierra.

Martina: Carlos started dreaming up new inventions and making them realities. All bicimáquinas share the same basic principles: they’re bikes adapted to create new machines with distinct uses. The movement of the pedals make them work, so no electricity is needed; only human power.

Carlos: Yo solo fui a la escuela primaria, así que esta capacidad tuvo que ser un regalo de Dios. No hacía dibujos de mis inventos. Cada bicimáquina nacía en mi cabeza y luego, yo le daba vida en el patio de mi casa.

Martina: We’ll get right back to the story in just a moment, but first we want to tell you about a great way to support this podcast and continue practicing your Spanish. If you haven’t already tried duolingo, you can download it today and learn over 30 languages completely free. For even more convenience, like offline lessons and an add-free learning experience, upgrade to Duolingo Plus. You can start your 7 day free trial of Duolingo Plus by going to duolingo.com/getplus. Your subscription supports free content that you already know and love, like this podcast. Thanks and now let’s get back to the story.

Martina: Carlos started to realize that he was making machines that were affordable, efficient, and sustainable. One of his next machines made separating corn from the cob a simple and much quicker task.

Carlos: Así, un niño lograba terminar en unas pocas horas un trabajo que su familia hacía en una semana.

Martina: All of the bicimáquinas are completely recycled. Sometimes Carlos takes apart old, broken down machines that used to use gasoline or electricity and he modifies them with pedals, chains, and gears.

Carlos: Nosotros queríamos transformar máquinas que antes eran malas para el medio ambiente, en artefactos útiles y limpios.

Martina: These aren’t just machines - these are vehicles of change for families and whole communities. Tasks that used to take days can be easily dealt with while riding a bicimáquina for a couple of hours. They replace the power of electricity in places that can’t afford it.

Carlos: Mis amigos canadienses se dieron cuenta del progreso de mis bicimáquinas, y empezaron a hablar de mi proyecto. Y, después de eso, comencé a recibir donaciones desde Canadá.

Martina: Carlos’s Canadian friends started donating bikes to his cause. Containers full of bicycles arrived by ship to the coast of Guatemala. Carlos had to pay for import taxes and trucks to get them from the ship to his town in the mountains.

Carlos: Vendíamos gran parte de las bicicletas que recibíamos para pagar los impuestos y el transporte.

Martina: The remaining bikes were taken apart and put back together again as new iterations of human-powered machines.

Carlos: El proyecto empezó a crecer y yo le dedicaba mucho tiempo, pero, para poder vivir, seguía trabajando con el camión, transportando cargas.

Martina: While Carlos’s bicimáquinas project grew and the Canadians spread the word about his inventions, a new political era started in Guatemala.

Carlos: En 1996, se firmaron los tratados de paz en mi país para intentar eliminar los conflictos armados.

Martina: After the peace accords were signed the fighting stopped, life started to return to normal, and Guatemala’s democracy stabilized. The country opened up to foreign collaboration and investment. Carlos’s international network expanded even more.

Carlos: Dos organizaciones de los Estados Unidos me contactaron para desarrollar las bicimáquinas: “Bikes Not Bombs” de Boston y “Working Bikes” de Chicago.

Martina: Those two NGO’s supported Carlos and his community in launching a non-profit called “Maya Pedal”.

Carlos: Era 1998, habían pasado diez años después de la primera bicimáquina. Mi objetivo era hacer crecer la producción para ofrecerles las bicimáquinas a los agricultores de Guatemala.

Martina: The NGOs sent more and more bikes and thanks to the donations, Carlos’s bicimáquinas took over many places of the country. He was making a new bicimáquina daily! And because of Maya Pedal’s fame, in 2003, something happened to Carlos that he had never imagined.

Carlos: Mis amigos canadienses le hablaron a un ingeniero del Instituto Tecnológico de Massachusetts sobre mis bicimáquinas y él vino a conocerme. Después de eso, me invitó al MIT para conocer a sus colegas.

Martina: The prestigious MIT, in Boston, wanted Carlos, a curious and passionate inventor from Guatemala without any university education, to come talk about his ideas with highly qualified engineers.

Carlos: Era mi primera vez fuera del país y no creía que cerebros tan importantes me estaban escuchando a mí, un agricultor que solo había ido a la escuela primaria.

Martina: Carlos remembers arriving to a hotel suite that had been rented for him and thinking it was way too luxurious. He couldn’t bear the thought of breaking something and having to pay for it. So, Carlos opted to sleep on the couch.

Carlos: En MIT me ofrecieron estudiar Ingeniería Mecánica. También, me invitaron a dar conferencias en Estados Unidos, Canadá, Brasil, Escocia y otros países.

Martina: Carlos began travelling the world to give talks about the bicimáquinas project. People from different countries learned how to create all sorts of useful machines out of bicycles, because Carlos made his ideas open source. That means people can use them freely.

Carlos: Hablé sobre mis inventos en diferentes países. Gracias a eso, ahora hay bicimáquinas en México, India, Senegal, Tanzania y muchos otros países.

Martina: In 2013, Carlos launched his own company with his family, it’s called Bici-Tec. He also decided to start a school so he could share his skills and talents.

Carlos: Hoy en día, dos veces al año, recibimos a estudiantes de diferentes países que quieren aprender sobre las bicimáquinas.

Martina: The students learn to solder, assemble bikes, and create new machines.

Carlos: También viven y comparten con los agricultores para entender sus necesidades.

Martina: For every foreign student that enrolls at the school, a local student from the rural community receives the same education. At the end of their studies, a new bicimáquina is put into use in these same communities. These days, Carlos has 30 different designs for his bicimáquinas.

Carlos: Algunas bicimáquinas hacen jugos, otras cortan madera y otras mezclan materiales de construcción.

Martina: Carlos is still working to create new and different inventions. His next dream is to build a bicimáquina that powers recycling.

Carlos: Quiero hacer una bicimáquina para procesar plástico y poder crear materiales de construcción a bajo costo. No tengo dibujos del modelo porque todo está en mi cabeza.

Martina: Today, Guatemala is still a largely rural country. Roughly half the population lives outside the city and a third work in agriculture. Thanks to Carlos there are almost 5,000 bicimáquinas all over Guatemala making farming and household tasks much easier.

Carlos: Las bicimáquinas me ayudaron a ver el mundo y a dar conferencias en Google y Facebook. Incluso, le hablé de mis inventos a Barack Obama. Pero, mi satisfacción más grande es la escuela donde veo los futuros inventores de Guatemala.

Martina: This story was narrated by Carlos Marroquín. He’s an inventor based in Guatemala. You can check out his inventions on Bici-Tec’s Facebook page. Carlos’s story was written by Mariano Pagnucco, a journalist based in Buenos Aires. We’d love to know what you thought of this episode! Send us an email with your feedback at podcast@duolingo.com. And if you liked the story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app so you never miss an episode.

With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com.

I’m the podcast’s executive producer, Martina Castro – gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from NWSP, theshaggyfreak, and kwahmah_02 under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Author: Mariano Pagnucco
Narrator: Carlos Marroquín
Script Editor: Sarah Barrett
Sound Designer: Ana Lucía Murillo
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro