What do Spring and Bicycles have in common?
International Ride your Bike to work Day! It's suppose to encourage people to forsake their cars for one day. You're encouraged instead, to ride a bike to work, and to anywhere else you would have used your gas-guzzling, carbon producing vehicle to go to on that day. It's a big deal to get people to give up their convenient car for the day and go low tech. That's why a special day had to be invented to promote this. I think it's been going on for about 10 years now. Each city and country has had their own bike day on different dates. New Hampshire with it's Eastern seacoast chose Friday May 20th as did San Diego, CA which also encouraged bike riding for that entire month of May. Dublin gave June 22nd a bike nod, Winnipeg, Canada had their day June 24th. In life there is always an exception to any rule and the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis are pushing their bike day into the chilly month of October (not spring).
Here in Uruguay, September 22nd will be this country's bike day. It's called Día Internacional Sin Autos (Day without cars). Riding a bicycle, It's good for the environment, your health and all that, etc... stuff.
However, in actuality, everyday here in Uruguay is, ride your bike day!
I haven't ridden a bicycle for over 4 decades, not since, I was a kid. Even then, I never rode much. Because we were poor, I never owned one of my own. I only learned how to ride one by borrowing my friend's bike. Besides, I'm a klutz! So, when my new friends here in Uruguay kept asking me, why? I was walking everywhere and why? I didn't have a bicycle, my trepidation kicked in. Oh, no! I'm suppose to be fitting in here and I am literally standing out, by standing! I'm not sitting and riding a bike, while I travel down the road.
I knew I had to take the plunge, so my first step was to obtain a bicycle. Fortunately, an expat couple living here wanted to buy new bikes and sold their old ones to me and Wally. My second step was to try and ride it! When I first sat down on it, to try and ride, I panicked! It seemed so tall. I just pictured myself falling! I kind of put it and the idea of riding a bike out of my mind. I thought to myself, well, Wally has a car, we don't really need need a bike.
Now that Wally has been temporarily back in the States, I've been more dependent on my friend's schedules than Wally's. I go to my congregation's meetings, several times a week, the same as always but I've been walking to them now instead of driving there with Wally. In the early evening I walk some 2 kilometers to the hall. Returning, I either get a ride back home or I walk back home with a small group of friends. We go back home together because of the darkness and late hour. These friends live in the same neighborhood (barrio) as I do (just a few blocks away). The problem has been that, they go to this same meeting riding on their bikes but often had to push their bikes all the way home to keep pace with me while accompanying me walking back home. I never asked them to do this! I told them just to ride on ahead but they insisted no, that we would all go together. If I walked, then so would they! Well, you can imagine how guilty I started to feel at this dilemma! So, I started to revisit the idea of trying to ride a bike, my own bike this time, to my meetings.
By the way, ordinarily nobody rides with a helmet here unless you're a professional racer in training or riding long distance or on a bike tour. Not a good habit, but it is often said that Uruguay reminds you of being back in the 1950's. Kids still ride in the back of pickup trucks along with dogs. People here, don't run around suing other people or the city when they fall into a pot hole. You're suppose to watch where you walk! You get the drift. I just thought you would notice in the photos no one wearing a bike helmut.
Since I was now determined to ride to the meeting for the sake of my friends my first ride was in full meeting dress, skirt not slacks, no helmet, bundled up wearing a coat and a sweater (winter wear). I rode at near night, with no bike light (like most everyone else does here). I rode for 2 kilometers, each way that night. Talk about jumping right in and taking the plunge! I rode there on a back road, sweating and praying all the way to my meeting that my legs would have the strength to get me there (I'm out of shape) and that I wouldn't fall! Boy, was I exhausted! My friends quietly smiled when we all rode back home together. They couldn't help themselves and so took my picture! (by phone camera). I'm glad they did that for me! They showed me a quicker way back home that was partially paved and had some street lights! All I can say is that I finally did it!
I read a recent Uruguay forum where someone (not in Uruguay) asked are there any cyclists here? I almost fell on the floor, yes the whole country is a nation of cyclists out of necessity. Cars are expensive here so if you're not using the city bus, the majority of people here use bikes in their everyday lives. The next step up is motorcycles, then cars.
This same person asked, what the roads were like and if there were bike trails and lanes? Despite everyone riding a bike here, this country doesn't feel the need to cater to bike use.Why bother and spend money encouraging usage when everyone already does! So I'm including a picture of some of my neighborhood roads to show what I'm riding on.
These are good, beach community roads! See in the second picture, how smooth the road is? Yet, watch out for that permanent piece of granite sticking up out of it! In the 4th picture you can see the typical multi-pot hole formation and the 5th picture is of an intersection, where one road meets another. Notice the big dip, then the adjoining road!
In reality, I couldn't have picked a more perfect time of year to get out and finally start riding a bicycle. The weather has warmed up. Spring has arrived with it's fabulous fragrance, that is filling the air with the blush of wildflowers (silvestre flores). I think that the scent is from Freesia's, I see that this is not the time to be mowing your lawn but rather to let this natural perfume waft by you. Oddly, the scent reminds me of Lipstick! The good kind, like my mother and proper ladies used to wear, not the dollar thrift store variety. Yes, Lipstick must have added the scent of freesia to it's base.
In case, any of you ever visit Uruguay, you can always rent a bike. If you want to rent a bike in MVD at a good price (I am told) then the company to go to is:
Bicileteria Sur (In Central) Lanza 110 at Duranzo and Yaquron. Fridays 9am to 1pm then it reopens at 3pm to 7pm. The phone number, (I believe) is (02) 901 0792
Posada al Sur is another bicycle rental shop near the old town (Ciudad Vieja). It's near the Mercado del Puerto on Perez Castellanos, Between 25 de May and Washington. The phone number is (02) 916 5287
They are a couple who is trying to develop a trail guide, mapping bike routes and points of interest.
I wouldn't ride in Montevideo because the taxis drivers are wild drivers. Cars often drive in more than one lane at a time. A helmet would be a must there. However, if you would like a bike tour in either Montevideo or in Punta del Este then click on the link for a bicycle tour company, named bikinguruguay (This is an English page link). The other link is in Spanish but is the same company.
If you want to join a planned group event for "International Bike Day" here in Uruguay on September 22nd. then you can contact urubike which is planning to ride around city hall (La Intendencia) and have a number of other activities to do. Click or contact that group below.
In Uruguay, if you are really into biking you might want to contact urubike (that's WWW.URUBIKE.ORG)
For now, touring on a bike is not something I'm looking to do. I think I'll just stick to riding to my meetings and to my friend's houses at least until my legs (and butt) toughen up. Still, I can finally say, I am riding, The Bicycle!