Tuesday, March 6, 2007

El Calleco, Venezuela

Friends: It is the dry season here, but what with the weather misbehaving everywhere, I´ve had a couple days of not so unwelcome rain. It kept me in my tent until ten a.m. yesterday, allowing my legs a welcome extra recovery time. One of the axioms of the Tour de France is that it is won in bed. Resting well, spending as much time off one´s legs, laying in bed and, if possible, in slumber-land, is as important as eating and racing well.

During my rest day in Santa Elena my legs heaved an emphatic sigh of relief when in mid-afternoon I retreated to bed to read after spending the day walking about and sitting in assorted cafes reading. Putting the legs up makes a considerable difference. The rains so far have been light enough, varying between mist and drizzle, and warm enough, that I haven't needed to bother with my rain gear. The precipitation has been refreshingly cool, as if it were a precisely concocted spray designed by a team of engineers. I am wary though of cooling off too much when I stop if I'm wet. But I've had enough internal heat to dry my clothes as I've sat eating.

I feared severe, sweltering humidity when yesterday´s rain ended early in the afternoon, but enough clouds lingered to keep the temperature below 90 and not so unpleasant. The cycling was further enhanced by not having to concern myself with how far it was to the next tienda along the road offering food and drink. Even if it was 30 or more miles, at least I knew, and I could remember with great fondness whatever particular refreshment it offered--cool and
sweet coconuts for 75 cents, a rich, thick soup, semi-frozen large bottles of water, bollitas (Venezuela's version of tamales molded into a tube, like a sausage), fried bananas... I hadn't fully anticipated returning to these places. I had a fond memory of each of them, and those memories will be even fonder having had a chance to experience them again.

Even knowing how far it was to my next supply point, I was carrying a gallon-and-a-half of water, an additional twelve pounds, plus an extra pound or so of rain water wrapped in my still soaking tent. Some of my gear was also a little damp, as my campsite had a bit of a dip in it allowing water to gather under the tent. Though I haven't been too pressed to find a place to camp each night, Venezuela rates only about a C plus for its quality of camping. Several times I've had to pass my bike through a barbed wire fence to reach a gully or patch of bushes to disappear into. The barbed wire has been so lax and rusty, I have had to be wary of not snapping it as I've stretched it. Only once have I been able to stop before dark, as the majority of my sites have needed the extra cover of darkness to be perfectly secure. When the camping hasn't been in pasture land, its been in junglish terrain, which hasn't allowed penetrating too far from the road.

One night I thought I had no worries whatsoever of anyone stumbling upon my campsite off in the brush, even though I was about 100 feet from the road. But about an hour after dark I heard the sudden explosion of a flat tire and then the limping halt of some vehicle coming to a stop right where I was camped. It was a bus. I heard the voices of women and children. I was shielded enough not to see them, but if anyone wanted to take a leak they might have stumbled upon me. As soon as the bus came to a halt I could hear the clang of tools. The driver was obviously experienced at such matters and had the flat tire repaired in about the time it would have taken me on my bike and before anyone shone a light upon me.

I have been lucky to have had only one flat so far myself, another one of those dastardly inner flats thanks to my rim tape slipping a little and allowing the indentation of the spoke hole to rub a hole in the tube. That happened a couple times in Japan, as well as in France. I am going to have to take further measures to prevent it from happening again. It is my one complaint about this new Trek I have been riding the past two years. My previous rims did not have the recessed spoke holes and did not cause such problems.

With it the dry season, there has been a lot of brush fires along the road, burning back the weeds and clearing the land. That has stymied my camping possibilities from time to time. Even if the fires have burned out, recently charred land isn't suitable for camping. I have had to push on a few times when a prospective spot had been burned in the past few months and had the heavy scent of char. One thing I haven't had to worry about on the road are railroad tracks, as there are none here, other than one track alongside the country's huge dam. Caracas is the only city to have a subway. One of the biggest complaints of a couple of Germans I met in Santa Elena was how hard it was to find postcards. But no one can complain about the cost of the Internet. Rarely has it been more than a dollar an hour and it has been fairly fast and with keyboards that have had no great mysteries, as those in Japan and France.

I´m just ten miles from the town where the auto mechanic revived my filter with his ingenuous solution of wrapping thread around the worn washer. It has been working more than adequately ever since. And miracle of miracles, the missing spare washer turned up a couple days ago in a bag of nuts. How it managed to fall into it, as it had been sealed most of the time, is beyond me.

Later, George

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