Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Jungle in the City

Well, well. It's been a while since my last post.


Since I last wrote anything, I added a year onto my age and... other things... can't think of any of them right now... just as well. I'm not here to play catch-up.

So it's been just over a year since I bought myself a bicycle, and about two years since Lucas got his, and I'm pleased to say that we are finally starting to take nice rides together. In fact, we went for a nice long one yesterday, about 10 kilometers all told. In fact, that's what this post is about.

Please observe the map below:

This, in case you couldn't tell, was taken from Google Maps, but I hope they won't mind that I borrowed their image seeing as how they also host this blog and my email and half the other things I do online. I'm not just a freeloader, I pay them for listing ads for me too, so there.

Anyhow, this is a map of the biggest park in the city- the Parque Metropolitano de Pituaçu, and the big lake in the middle was made by damming up one end if I'm not mistaken. I hate to say this but I'd never been there before a few months ago, when I delivered some paint to a project located deep within the park. It blew my mind, as it was as if I'd driven hours out of the city when in fact the city was only a couple kilometers away. I thought I actually wrote about it on this blog, but I couldn't find the post. Currently the city's only big soccer stadium is located at the top of the image, although they are busy building another one for the World Cup.

When I got home after my first visit to the park I ran to my computer, as I am wont to do, and brought up the map that you observed above. And I observed something very interesting on this map- a squiggly line that traces the border of the big old lake, labeled 'ciclovia.' That, boys and girls, means 'bike path.' I decided that day that I would ride this bike path, and Lucas would ride by my side.

Salvador has a number of bike paths of varying length and quality- Lucas learned to ride on one of them, and we've been visiting a number of them over the past couple months. It's been fun. Unfortunately we have to drive to get to any of them, but insane traffic being what it is here in the city, that's a reality I just have to deal with. The fact that I don't have a bike rack makes the whole process somewhat involved, but I hope to remedy that someday as well.

We finally got out on the Pituaçu bike path this week- in fact, we went twice. We went out for a shortish ride on Saturday, and I discovered that the path is 15 kilometers long, or just over 9 miles for those of you who don't speak metric. It was awesome. As soon as you get away from the 'park' area, you are suddenly in the jungle with the reservoir to one side. The trail itself got pretty rough at times, but we both have knobby tires on our bikes so we could handle it. It was, in fact, the most challenging terrain that Lucas has yet experienced. He did great, although he did fall a couple times and skin his knees, and a few tears were shed. We didn't see much wildlife, but that's to be expected. That first ride we went in 2 1/2 kilometers, and back out for a total of five K.

What we didn't have time for that first day were the swan boats. You can rent a boat in increments of 15 minutes and ride around the 'park' area of the park, and of course Lucas wanted to do so, but we got there too late and they were just closing up shop. I promised we would go back, and since Lucas is on vacation this week, I wanted to take advantage and get back for a longer and better ride. So we returned on Wednesday, in spite of some dubious weather that had blown in. The rain was intermittent and not the pounding, torrential, tropical rain I have gotten used to, which is why I decided to go for it.

On this second trip, we got there earlier, and I promised we would ride on the boats first so we wouldn't miss them. Unfortunately, they were all beached, maybe because of the rain, so it didn't happen. Once again, I promised we'd go back another time to ride them. Boats out of the way, we started on the bike ride. I figured since we started on the right side of the reservoir the first time, this time we'd start on the left side. We were only just getting started when we met a man coming out, and he asked us what where we were going. I told him we planned to ride the bike path, and he warned us that 'some kids' were robbing people on the path, and he didn't think it was a good idea.

At this point I started to get annoyed. For years I've had to listen to this kind of advice, and I'm sick of it. It really bothers me that I live in a place where I can't even go for a bike ride in a city park, or a walk in the woods, without fear of being mugged. I decided to take my camera and my expensive sunglasses and hide them in the bushes and take a chance. I was determined to get in my bike ride. Unfortunately, or not, the guy succeeded in freaking Lucas out completely and he didn't want to continue. I expressed my aforementioned frustrations in a loud and colorful manner. I told Lucas, who had been asking previously why I always talk about the U.S., that we wouldn't have to worry about riding our bikes there, and blah de blah. You get the idea. I reclaimed my hidden valuables and we rode back out- even so, we did a couple kilometers in and back.

As we were riding out I stopped to talk to one of the workers at the park, and asked him if in fact there were muggings going on. He said yes, there were, and it was safer on the weekends when there is more traffic and more of a police presence. We saw the police presence on our first trip, a motorcycle cop riding through with siren blaring. It seems to me that if you really want to deter muggers, you would send out bike cops, who don't announce their approach from a half-mile off. Then again, maybe the cops would just as soon not confront armed youth in the jungle.

On the plus side, the park worker told us that riding in from the other side was much safer, and that we should be fine if we went in about 5K or so. So that's what we did. Once again, I opted to stash my camera and glasses, and we rode in to the 3K marker. At about 2.5K I heard a lot of banging and wondered what was going on. Suddenly, rearing out of the trees, we came upon a huge construction site just off the path. Three multi-story condos were going up in what appeared to be very rapid fashion. It was completely bizarre after the silence of the woods, and I felt a little bit like something out of one of those films where Babylon encroaches on the primordial forest. We had a look and then we turned back, in spite of the fact that Lucas was doing great and wanted to keep going. We got rained on, but we had rain coats. We saw some micos (little monkeys) in the trees. When we got back to my camera, I took this picture:

All told Lucas rode about 10 kilometers and this time he didn't fall down once. He only complained once that his feet hurt. I think, given enough time for a couple breaks along the way, on our next trip he could probably make it all the way around. We'll do it on the weekend and I won't bring my fancy sunglasses next time.