Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mongoose and the Blue Angel of Death

When it is blogging time I put down in words the very emotion that drives me at the moment.  I own the moment, but I want to share it with you.  To get you in my 'moment' requires a certain level of 'willing suspension of disbelief'.  First, know that I will take you where your senses are asked to remember.  Did you know that your nose has the best memory? Your nose (olfactory sense) is very primal and essential in mating mother and child at suckling time.  The reality is that if that first smell of your mother could be kept pristinely preserved for your reference today, you would likely have some pretty early visual, tactile, and auditory remembrances associated with it.  So now, sharpen your senses, let go of your daily woes, and ride with me on your imaginary mountain bike because we all need some exercise!

Yesterday was my maiden voyage on my Mongoose, hereafter to be christened Mongo.   My good friend Juan at PaBikes, just down the street from Palermo arranged to have Mongo set up for me at 3:00 just as he promised.  I had an important appointment at 4:30 downtown and wanted to make sure that I had enough time to break in Mongo en route.  After a brief safety briefing with Juan (it should have been a bit longer, but I’m the whacko who was antsy to get rolling) it was my turn for questions.  “Juan, is it ok to take Avendida Doce de Abril to my destination?”  Notice I didn’t ask “Is it safe?”  I wanted it to be ok.   I could tell by his fixed gaze that he was sizing me up for a coffin.  “Well, its ok, my friend, but you must be very careful.”  I keep forgetting that in the Latin culture when asked a question, the answer is never ‘NO’.  The polite thing to say when the answer is at best dubious is ‘of course’, or ‘maƱana’.  Latinos are way more courteous and polite than we gringos.  It’s a culture thing.  Ok, I’ve been here long enough to know as a polite listener that you add up the speakers’ facial expression, their encouraging positive words, and take their intent entirely from their face.  Juan's intent was very clear.  “You silly gringo, you are out of your mind!”  But I AM a silly gringo, so I listened to his words and ignored his obvious intent.

So I’m down the calle (street) on Mongo checking out the gears for the first time.  I’m in my own little world of mechanics and the thrill of new equipment, oblivious that the grim reaper was muffling his laughter.  My endorphins making me drunk beyond the legal limit, I’m careening down a quiet street to get my bike legs and I leap a curb and go headlong down a busy street that immediately goes into a tunnel.  Whoops.  This is pure lunacy.  There’s no turning around and traffic is going 45 (that’s mph) down a single lane with high curbs on both sides and with a total width that gives just enough room for Rachel’s Miata.  I am so screwed.  Ok, the traffic is going 45, there’s no way to turn around or stop, so the only thing I can do is pedal my ass off and hope I can get through the tunnel before a fumy metro bus devours Mongo with me on him.  Of course I’m brand new on this bike and as I feverishly go through the gears to make this mountain bike a world class touring bike I throw a chain.  Sh-t.

God is forgiving.  Jesse Ventura said you can’t legislate for stupidity.  I’m glad God was watching me this day.  Rachel prays for me every day to clear the way because I don’t always look and think before I lunge forward.  (See horseback ride in Vilcabamba).  Between Rachel’s prayers, God’s forgiveness, and my stupid luck (that Jesse never made a law for), I survived my first test and solid learning.  Tunnels are not for bikes silly gringo.

My second test:  traffic circles.  Otherwise known as circles of death, the traffic circles in Cuenca are uniquely designed to reward the brave and severely punish the courteous or faint of heart.   For the bicycle rider, well, remember the grim reaper thing?  His laughter is no longer muffled.  So I’m going down the side of the street so close to the curb that my tires are rubbing and I hear the Blue Angel of Death (BAD) behind me (metro bus) belching (whatever they belch) chortling, and spitting out the last bike rider, hungry for fresh two wheeled meat and we’re nearing the Circle of Death (COD)..  For the life of me I’m in a tizzy because I know the toilet water swirls clockwise below the equator so I’m thinking the same must be true in the circles of death.  I therefore prepare myself for a right hand swirl.  Wrong! Irch.  Brake time.  I don’t mean break time, I mean BRAKE TIME.   Ok, I’ve got the gears down pretty good now, but the brakes……I think I you already know that a good mountain bike has disc brakes.  That means when you throw on the brakes you….stop.  If your right hand is stronger than your left and you lay it on good you can do forward summer salts with your bicycle.  Well, not to worry.  I’m a silly gringo, but not stupid.  I put equal squeeze on both wheels and I stopped and jumped on to the dubious safety of the sidewalk.  Now I’m socially screwed.  The metro bus driver that was hungry for fresh Mongoose got his laugh in, the other drivers already in the circle of death are paying attention to their own possible demise, and the pedestrians on the sidewalk that I so rudely claimed a sharing piece of are incredulous that I didn’t stay the course in the COD.    Now I know how the matador feels when he leaps over the fence.

Ok, lesson #2 in bicycle riding in Cuenca:  stay the hell out of the traffic circles.

Still alive and wiser to a magnitude of ten, I wait for my moment to join the fray once again and see my opening.  You thought I was going to jump back on the street didn’t you!  I am a silly gringo, yes, stupid, no.  Awash with relief and the satisfaction of a gained sense of normalcy I become once again the cool suave bike rider now that I am the predator, not the prey.  With my chubby knobby mountain bike tires I am king of the cobblestone.   I am the Lion King riding a Mongoose.  If the irony hits you, that’s good.  Of course even the Lion King must be kind and courteous to his subjects, so I’m dodging fruit vendors, school girls (where are the school boys anyway?) and find that power poles are put in the most unlikely places on the sidewalk.  Ok, the pedestrian route is not without challenges either. 

I am safe and unscathed.  My bicycle is like new.  I was taught the skill of street survival on two wheels and I’m here to tell you about it.  Life is good.  I love Cuenca.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wheels Beneath My Feet!

I am a walking maniac.  I love to walk and since I've come to Cuenca I walk about 6 miles a day on average.  I take the long way to downtown along the Tomebamba.  It keeps me fit and my encounters are wonderful.  Here's the problem.  I'm wearing out my shoes fast. I also love bicycling and find that it gets me to places much faster and with less effort than via Sketchers.  If I want to get the same exercise as I did walking, I will simply go farther and faster on my bike!  My shoes will thank me!  Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.  Rachel plans to bring her bike from the states so we will both be very mobile.  A couple weeks ago  I made friends with Juan Vintimilla, owner of PaBikes, a great little bike shop right down the street on Ordonez Lazo.  Today I walked in, talked with Juan, and test drove a Mongoose mountain bike.  It is awesome.  I had a cross over bike before, but this one is the real deal.  It's the two wheel version of a Land Rover with plenty of horsepower (me).   It has disk brakes that could stop a Mack truck and shifters that are as tight and sure as Rachel's Miata.  The front forks are made to take some pretty severe bumps and are adjustable for riding street or in the sierras.  This Mongoose will outlast me and I'm planning on at least another 30-40 years.

I had the double pleasure while visiting with Juan to meet an associate of his, Mauricio Carrion.  Mauricio has been living in New York City and promoting cycling there but has come back to his roots in Ecuador.  He is going to be organizing bike rides around Ecuador.  How cool is that!  Mauricio is an ergonomic specialist so he works with Juan and Juan's customers to make sure they are fitted with the right type and size bike and to make accomodations for people with special needs.  For example, I have a bad lower back, so he is recommending a more upright posture and hence a longer post on the handlebars.  I don't think I got quite this much attention on the last bike I bought in the states.

Well here's the really good news.  I told Juan and Mauricio (above)  that there aren't any secure bike racks in the underground garage at our condo,  Palermo.  I told them that if they would help me lobby the manager to have one installed, it might help them sell more bikes to those of us at Palermo.  It just so happens that Mauricio's cousin is the building's owner's manager!  Tomorrow Mauricio and Juan will come down here and we will get this arranged.  I am very excited, because that was my biggest concern for having the bikes in the Palermo underground garage which to me is where they should be stored.  I believe this is what you call customer service.  If you're in Cuenca and need a bicycle, see my friend Juan.

Chordeleg, Ecuador

Yesterday I had this urgent need to move about.  Each day that I wait to reunite with Rachel is in most ways an empty feeling, a frustrating trial of patience.  It charges my spirit with the task of healthy daily maintenance.   She is in the US and I am in Ecuador.  Practical realities dictate that we must follow a determined course of action that will enable us to be together on a permanent basis.  She has much to do in the US to prepare for her new life with me here.  I have much to do on this end to prepare a comfortable home for us. Today's technology allows us to see and talk to each other every day on Skype.  That has been a life saver.  It is wonderful, but you are not in each others presence.  It is her presence I crave and yearn for.  How do you fill that void?

Rachel and I have discussed wedding bands.  We are at an age and state of mind and spirit that permits and prefers practical and simple solutions in life.  Wedding bands are a symbol of a committed and loving relationship.  They tell the world that you are a couple and that no one else is invited into your intimate world.  In Ecuador there are very practical considerations about wedding bands.  The number one rule is that you don't flaunt wealth in this country without the risk of calling attention to yourself as a vulnerable target for theft.  We don't need to worry about being wealthy anyway, so we fit right in.  A set of simple bands without precious stones is a no brainer.

So, you ask yourself, what does this have to do with your lonely moment where you have this urgent need to move about?  Chordeleg.  This little village kept coming up in conversations with locals and expats alike.  It is known as the jewelry village for all of Azuay, and some people come from much greater distances because of the extensive offerings of simple but good value silver and gold adornments.  Jewelry in local parlance is joyas.  What a great name is that!  Of course a jewelry store is a joyeria.  It occured to me that I should fill my time this day with real purpose!  I must see the joyerias of Chordeleg and see if Rachel's and my bands might be waiting there for us.

I walked a half block to the bus stop, jumped on #8 and with 25 cents and 15 minutes I was on the other side of Cuenca at the bus terminal.  From there I fumbled around looking for a ticket and kept asking the ticket agents which bus line went to Chordeleg.  They all kept pointing a different direction.  Silly Gringo.  I didn't need a ticket.  I just needed to pay my ten centavos (10 cents) to go through the turnstyle and get on the bus to Gualaceo and Chordeleg.  Oh yes, there was another 75 centavos once on board.  That 75 cents took me on the scenic 40 minute ride along the Tomebamba and into the beautiful valley of Gualaceo.  The bus was comfortable and clean.  I had been to Gualaceo with my friend Xavier a week or two ago.  Gualaceo will definately be a return trip when Rachel gets here.  It is the city of shoes for women.  Chordeleg is the city for rings on your fingers.  Cotacachi is the city of leather, San Antonio de Ibarra the village of wood furniture, Otavalo the city of colorful woven fabrics, well you get the idea.   I love the idea that a community of artisans can help each other grow and perfect their trade.  I also love it that when you have a specific need you can go where the best of the best artisans reside and find many styles, qualities and prices to suit your budget and taste.  I'm still looking for that community of electronics wizards, Senior Samsung and Senior Sony.  I'm told I won't find it here.  Bring your 60 LED in your shipping container.  That inconvenience I can live with.

So here's some pictures from Chordeleg.  There were all types of rings there but my size 12 chubby gringo fingers didn't find what they were looking for there.  I think fate wanted Rachel and I to do our ring shopping together.  I know all my women readers would say, Dah!