In the fall of 1996 I was racing the Tour of Guatemala. We had climbed into the cloud forests of the central mountains and sprinted through the narrow streets — a mixture of fractured asphalt, dirt and cobblestones — of Cobán, finishing on a cinder track inside the sports stadium. It was a finish unlike any I had seen before. Soldiers lined the roads on the way into town. There was still a civil war going on at the time.
There was a routine after every finish: Go to the hotel. Unpack. Shower up. Head down to dinner. The riders — there were teams from Guatemala, Central and South America,and Europe — were crowded into the same small hotel. We sat down to dinner that night in the hotel dining room but the food was never coming. Soon the chatter of several dozen hungry cyclists turned to grumbling.
A few riders started pounding on the tables with their forks and knives; within minutes the entire dining hall took up the beat. The plates and glasses rattled. People started chanting in Spanish, “Cena! Cena!.” The Columbians were the first to start talking about a strike. A few of them went to race organizers and told them the riders wouldn’t start the next day’s stage until they were fed a proper dinner.
The hotel manager showed up. They hadn’t been told prepare dinner. They would put something together. In short order, plates of food started to arrive. It was the typical Central American breakfast: scrambled eggs, refried black beans, fried plantains and tortillas. We ate it. But nobody was happy.
The strike was on for real now. All the coaches and team directors were trying to keep order. The riders stormed out into town in search of food. We ended up at Pollo Campero, the Guatemalan version of Kentucky Fried Chicken, where we ate until the food was all gone. The race organizers agreed to pay the tab at Pollo Campero and the race was back on.
The next morning, we headed down to the dining room, expecting yet again the Central American breakfast. The waitress was already busy serving coffee and steaming hot bowls of…chicken soup. I’d never had chicken soup for breakfast. I hope to never have it again.