Thursday, April 7, 2011
This old bike has been my trusty steed and daily transportation for the better part of the last two decades. Got it second-hand from a bike-mechanic friend. It's the best bike I ever owned, but also the only one that was never stolen. I am sure that's because it's so ugly and usually also could use a bit of cleaning. That, and a good lock.
When I rented a house in Merida, before we bought our own, there was a bike available for guests and I took it out once or twice a day, exploring neighborhoods, checking out the street vibes after dark, pushing beyond the places my feet could take me. Getting lost on a bike isn't so bad because it doesn't take long to get un-lost.
With no plans to get a car, I wanted a bike in Merida to get around. The ones I saw in stores seemed big and heavy. My old bike is light, responsive and so familiar after all these years that it feels like an extension of myself. When the mechanics told me it might be getting too old to find replacement parts, I figured it had earned a good retirement home.
So I had it dissembled and packed in a shipping box for the trip to Merida. Cost $30 for the box and packing, around $50 more, I think, to get it on the plane. Once in Merida, I humped it down to the local BiciMaya store and they charged me 80 pesos (about $6.60) to put it back together.
Cycling in Merida is something that seems best approached with some caution. The streets are narrow and uneven, traffic is packed in, and drivers can be somewhat aggressive. I've been told the licensing process for drivers is not what you'd call rigorous. The tabloid papers frequently feature gory accident pictures.
Still, you've got to appreciate a city that closes its main north/south artery to traffic every Sunday and turns it into a dedicated bike route. When I got my wheels put back together and started riding, I began to notice the other cyclists. No one else wears a helmet; all seem to be workers or elderly men.
After I got the bike back to the house I decided to head to the nearby mall for household supplies. Arriving there, the parking lot seemed to have nowhere to lock up. Then I saw a cluster of bikes near the main doors. Getting closer, I realized they were unlocked, with a man keeping watch over them. A bike valet. This bike was retiring in style.
At many parking lots around Merida you see similar parking helpers and minders, a sort of unofficial and often unwanted service. They who wave a red rag and direct drivers into their parking spots, then expect a propino for keeping watch while you shop or whatever. I had no idea a similar informal economy existed around bike-minding, but I was happy to leave it with my valet and accept a little wooden token with a number so I could claim it back.
When I returned, laden with pillows and a curtain rod, it was a bit of a comic scene trying to jam everything onto the bike rack. I discovered the rack was missing a spring and suddenly stuff was all over the pavement. Maybe it wasn't put back together quite right after the flight. But we made it back through the zig-zag neighborhood streets, me no doubt looking like a gringa nut, all laden with pillows and other bulky items, weaving around on the old bike.
The next day I forswore the beast-of-burden routine, but took a city map and made an excursion to an obscure (to me) location in a semi-distant neighborhood on a furniture scouting mission. Felt a sense of accomplishment actually finding it, and making it back. On the way I discovered a sign advertising a public cenote not far from our house, something to check out another time, and something I would not have seen taking the main road.
It's going to take a bit of fine-tuning to get the bike and the routes sorted out. But even now, back in Victoria, it's comforting to think of my familiar friend leaning against the wall, ready for adventure.