Thursday, December 16, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay, Mile 1,233, December 16, 2010

Greetings from Montevideo.  Although I did not actually go anywhere today, it was an interesting, and very expensive, day.  Yesterday night, coming off a long ride, I walked around a bit, and found a restuarant selling grilled meat (of course, this is Uruguay), but they also had some pastas, including lasagna.  I ordered a sausage (Sausages here are very, very good.) and a lasagna.  The sausage was very good, as anticipated, and the lasagna, which came next, was also very good, especially after I picked out the layer of ham that was inexplicably in the middle of it.  If my Somali kids from Carver four years ago could have seen that, they would have thought I was getting ready to convert.  Fat chance of that; I just do not like ham, especially in places where it has no business being, like lasagna.  Ham removed, the lasagna was excellent, and when the bill came, it was in both Pesos and Dollars, with a slight benefit to paying in dollars, so I did.

Uruguayan restuarants, and this happened again tonight, and has been happening since I entered the country, run a nice little scam where the food is reasonably priced, but they only sell little 9.5 oz bottles of Coke, and charge a fortune (three bucks a bottle last night) for them.  I try to protect myself from this as much as possible by drinking a Coke before going to eat, and then asking for a cup full of ice to go with it; the ice melts and gives me more Coke.  However, I drink a lot of fluid, and am usually good for at least two and maybe three Cokes at a meal, so I get it good from this little caper.  It would be cheaper, by far, to just drink beer, but I do not like beer with meals.

A friend of mine, yesterday, had provided me with the address of two bike stores, the Trek Store, and the Zenith Store.  My plan was to wake up this morning early (meaning about 8), and ride over to Pocitos, about 6 miles away, and get it serviced.  My day, as it turned out, started a lot earlier than 8.  At about 4AM, I was awakened by a loud TV blaring in the room above mine.  I put up with this for a few minutes, and then walked out to the reception area, and politely suggested that it would be a good idea to respectfully ask the gentleman or gentlemen in the above room if they would not mind turning the TV down just a teeny eeny bit.  The night clerk responded with a blast about "these blankety-blank foreigners, who don´t sleep like civilized people.", and then stomped off upstairs to give them the good news.  It turns out the hotel has a contract with some freight shipping line, and hosts ship crews (All of whom are Philipine or Taiwan Chinese) when the ships are in port.  I decided that I would not bother him with the fact that I was a foreigner too.  Since I was awake anyway, I went outside, and, at 4:30 AM found a bar on the corner that was open and full of dubious looking characters, and induced them to sell me a bottle of Coke, which I took back to my now quiet room and read a book until about 6AM, when I finally went back to sleep.

At 9:00, I woke back up, and grabbed the bike and a map, and set out for the Trek Store.  Seven miles later, I got there, just as they were opening up.  They told me they would be happy to service my bike, and it would be ready Friday of next week.  I pointed out that Friday of next week, I will be 5,000 miles away from here.  They said that was the earliest they could do.  I then took the bike to the Zenith Store, and they were much less busy.  For 810 Pesos (about $42 US), they cleaned the bike, checked everything out, and replaced the chain, which was loose.  The only thing they could not do was replace my bald rear tire, because they did not have any such tires in my size.  The tire is bald because of 1,233 miles of riding around with 45 pounds or so of stuff, plus my not insubstantial weight, hanging off the back axle.  I will replace it once I get back to San Diego. 

There are two interesting things to note about my bicycle.  First, I have not had a single flat tire this trip.  In my saddlebags are the same dozen inner tubes I brought with me; I have not used a one of them.  That is nearly miraculous.  In 2007, I had to actually get a taxi the last ten miles or so into Montevideo because, unbeknownst to me, I had a microscopic piece of glass in my tire, and popped half a dozen tubes in the space of 20 miles.  Now, nothing, in over 1,200 miles.  Secondly, my bike, a new Trek 7500, has a front shock absorber, something I have never had on a bike before.  I won´t say this has made the ride more comfortable, but it has certainly made it far less uncomfortable.

On the subject of the bike, I have been in deep meditation, and have decided that, if given a choice between Uruguayan headwinds or Santa Catarina mountains, I would pick the mountains.  When riding in the mountains, one knows that, more or less, for every monster uphill climb there will be a downhill glide.  Rolling downhill allows me to stand up, take a load off my rear end, and coast for a while.  This, in a sense, balances out the monster climbs.  With these headwinds, on the other hand, it is just peddle, peddle, peddle, and peddle some more.  If I stop peddling, the bicycle will stop in a matter of a few dozen feet.  That means I am never out of the seat (Peddling standing up causes the bike to sway, which causes the saddlebags to rub against the rear tire.), and never take the weight off my posterior.

Since I had to leave the bike there, I was stuck with the dilemma of how to get back.  As I had been riding down the Rambla towards Pocitos, I was struck by the number of girls out jogging, so I decided, quite coincidentally, that maybe now would be a good time for a long walk.  I ended up walking the seven or so miles back in a couple of hours (I had nothing better to do anyway.), and made it back to 18 de Julio a bit after noon.  All that walking made me hungry, so I got a (very good) choripan and a Coke for 68 Pesos, and then set out looking for an ATM machine that did not have a long line of people waiting to get into it.  I found one, eventually, and pulled out another 5,000 Pesos.  From there, I wandered down to a car rental place, and reserved a car for this weekend.

Business concluded, and with all those thousands of Pesos burning a hole in my pocket, I started looking in bookstores for the other volumes of the "Orientales" history of Uruguay series.  To my delight, and to my wallet´s despair, I found them, plus other interesting books, and ended up dropping darn near a hundred bucks in the book store.  These are not inconsiderable volumes, they run about 900 pages each, and I now have about 15 pounds of books; I am glad I did not buy all of them in Punta del Este.

I then went and took a siesta (making up for my interrupted sleep early this morning), and about 7PM went out and caught a bus for Pocitos, where I picked up my bike.  Since it does not even begin to get dark until about 9, I went for a ride down around the port area, and out west past the refinery and on to the cut off for Route 5.  Montevideo, like Punta del Este, sticks out a bit from the land.  At the very tip of the city is the port and container terminal.  As you go east of this, the areas get nicer and nicer, until you are in Pocitos, which is an extremely upscale neighborhood.  Going west, things deteriorate quickly; the refinery stinks (the government owns it, so what good would complaining be?), and the surrounding neighborhoods, while not slums, are not exactly high class either.

Coming back to my hotel, I dumped the bike, and went out and got a huge, juicy steak and another sausage.  Uruguayan beef is probably the best in the world, and since I am here, I might as well partake as much as possible.

More will follow...

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