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Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bicycle!

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.

My first thought was that, I had never panicked before at a bike being tall, so why now? I realized, that I should lower the seat! That did it! It wasn't so scary now! Next, that old Armour hot dog jingle, started to play in my head, Yeah, my brain works in mysterious ways! But if you remember that commercial, the words were "What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?" and the answer was, "Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks, tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox love hot dogs, Armour hot dogs, the dogs kids love to bite!" (How's that for a blast from the past?)  I wasn't thinking about hot dogs however, but rather at the fact that every kid and person from age 3 to 93 on up rode bikes here in Uruguay! Fat people, skinny people, etc... and so should I!!!

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!


Anonymous said...

You're a brave lady and it goes to show you what stuff you are made of. When one is on one's own then one discovers what one can really do and it boosts your self esteem.
I'm happy for you
PS. and keep up the good work with your blog, I do enjoy it

Meredith from Laguna said...

Hola, I am thinking of retiring to Uruguay. I tried La Paz, Mexico but as a single woman I became a little overwhelmed by the corruption, the heat (by the end of the summer) and the way they mistreat animals. I think I could have handled it if I had a partner, but I couldn't learn the language fast enough to establish relationships and i wasn't in an expat community. I didn't want to be in one. I was trying to immerse. Well, I immersed all right and nearly drowned. I left after 8 months.

Now I've been reading about all different countries and Uruguay is on my list. I'm attending a conference in October on Living Overseas and they're going to cover 20 countries. After the conference, I will visit my top 2-3 and try to make some decisions. My only hesitation about Uruguay is how long it takes to get back to the states. Where are you from? Do you come back very often? You've probably said these things in your blog, but it's very early in the morning here and I haven't read everything that you've written...sorry! But it seems as if you're enjoying your new life?

Contra Veta said...

Excellent story Denise. I think I speak for many when I say how refreshing it is that you share your struggles and triumphs with us.
You Go Girl!

Wally said...

Meredith- if you make a post with your email address, I won't publish it, but will have Denise contact you directly.

Denise said...

Dear Meredith,
It sounds like you might be attending an "International living" conference with that company. If so then "Lee" is the Uruguay "Expert" with that firm. Be aware that most such companies are real Estate sellers and that you can not live here for only $660 a month like most promise.

Wally and I were born and raised in California so I know Laguna Beach (I'm from Hollywood, CA) However, we moved here directly from Washington State.

The far away distance from the USA is a big negative factor in being down here. That's why Mexico or Panama are usually chosen over here. We can't afford to go back and forth on our puny Social Security check. That's why when Wally's mother recently died he went back for several months knowing it might be his last trip back for a great while! That's just our situation. We're the poor expats of the lot.

As a woman (even on my own) I feel very safe here so that is a big plus! Except for the heat I think Panama would be on a MUST SEE LIST. Besides Uruguay, (of course). Argentina is only a ferry boat trip away from us, so it could easily be seen on the same trip.

Uruguay is the LEST corrupt of the LATIN AMERICAN countries so that's a plus. The weather is mild. Summer is not oppressive but the winter can be hard to deal with only because most houses and businesses are poorly insulated.

Bullfighting here was banned decades ago but in every country people could be more responsible with their animals and take better care of them. Even in the USA wasn't that football player fined for dog

I hope this helps with weighing your pro's and cons!

Sandi (Sd:) said...

That was really neat and the inforation so informative. I want to come. HaHa, I wish. It looks like such a lovely place to be. I'm so happy it's working out for you guys.
LvYa, Sandi Sd;)

Seamus said...

Taaaaa Daaaaaaaaa!!!(Sound of trumpet blowing fanfare)

At first I was a bit confused when I finished this post and couldn't find the 'Newer Post' link at the bottom, but today this is the last post to date.

I finally finished reading this entire blog. The only blog I've ever found that was worth reading in its entirety. A whopping 284 Posts up to this point. That's more than 3 posts every 2 weeks. That may not sound like much to some, but for anyone who has tried to keep up something like this it can be a herculean task.

I've tried to start a couple of blogs myself but I never got more than about 10 posts when I either ran out of things to say, or had to admit that what I had to say at that time just wasn't worth saying. Thus you really DO have my admiration.

Congratulations, Denise and Wally on a truly spectacular oeuvre. (I just love using big words, esp French words)

Naturally, as an official member of the World Wide Tightwad Club, I'm expecting you to keep me entertained for years to come. (Cheap Thrills R Us)

Seamus said...

Oh, and by the way.....I spent USD$62 on Yerba Mate today.

I ordered a traditional bombilla, a gourd, a bag of tea. I also ordered a plastic drink cup which is both gourd/cup and thermos for the water. From the description is sounds like additional warm water is drawn into the cup as you drink the tea. That I really ordered because it sounded clever and I want to see how it works.

Then I also ordered 3 small bags of teas with various citrus peel. I thought I couldn't give it a fair shot without being able to make mate sweetened and with milk. Wally advised me that plain yerba mate could be bitter so I wanted to give the other ways of preparing the drink a fair shot.

Then I ordered 1 more bag of tea. I ordered a different type to let me try another flavor, but mainly I ordered it because the second bag of tea put me over USD$50 which let me use their coupon for 10% off if you buy more than $50.

I know this is a lot for something I may not like and may just pitch, but the shipping for something like this comes to USD$12 so there's no reason not to give it a good shot all at once. If I had just bought the tea I would have paid $10 shipping for a $5 bag of tea.

One last thing....before I spent all this money, I went to my local Mexican tienda and asked if they had Yerba Mate. As near as I can tell, Mate means gourd and the lady looked at me as if I'd lost mine.

Kressious said...

I had to comment and introduce myself after reading this post.

I'm moving down to Uruguay with 2 friends in January. We're coming from Atlanta and wanted a great experience and change in life.

We're looking at staying in Montevideo, hopefully in Pocitos or Punta Carretas. I would love to meet up once we make it down and say hi.

I know you're a short drive away from Montevideo, but hopefully it's not too bad. We're going to find a way to buy bikes right when we get down there so we can explore and see the Country!

Thanks for posting. I'll keep reading and hopefully can meet you both and your awesome animals someday.

We're big into cooking as well and heard spices are hard to come by in Uruguay. Do you have any recommendations as to what to bring with us for a short 6-month stay at first?

Matt Kress

My email is:

PS: You don't need to post this, I just didn't see a way to contact you besides adding a comment.