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Something that I don’t talk about as much as you’d think I might is bicycling in Santiago. I get almost every place I need to go by bike, especially if it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or how sweaty I arrive (thanks to friends who let me shower at their houses and stuff like that, and who also don’t look askance at my shebeest-capri clad posterior when we go out to eat).

So, cycling in Santiago. Is it for you?

answer: probably not. Or maybe.

I like to bike around because I don’t have to get on the crowded micro (bus) or metro with 4,000 of my closest neighbors who might like to put their had in my pocket, or groom their mate (seriously, the number of women I see picking things off their boyfriend’s faces is incredible), or search for hidden treasure down the throat of this selfsame mate, or pound on the roof and doors in the case of the famous barra (fans) of the two main soccer teams in Chile, La U and Colo-Colo. Which, as an aside (because there’s always an aside), I was recently asked by some gutterpunks which team I was supporting for that evening’s match, like this, “oye, amiga, amiga.” (hey, friend, friend (strange, because I don’t have a lot of gutterpunks for friends, not that I couldn’t, I just don’t). “Colo-Colo o La U? Colo-Colo o La U” (they were seemingly afflicted by the disease that the goose in Charlotte’s Web has, only they only said things doubled, not tripled). To which I responded “me importa un carajo” (I don’t give a damn, but more like I couldn’t care less). I thought about repeating it, but decided to just go inside instead.

In general, you shouldn’t mess with the gutterpunks, the ne’er-do-wells, the fleites (hoodlums) or the patos malos (lit: bad ducks, but in this case, let’s call them malfeasors, because I went to law school and can say things like that), but since I come and go most places by bike, I feel freer to blabla when I feel like it, and in this case, the kids were already about 20 feet away when I lobbed that cultural impossibility, that I don’t care about soccer, towards their sneakered feet. Biking gives me a sense of freedom and control that is hard to attain on public transportation. It means I’m never that far from you, can get anywhere fairly easily, and make nearly everyone I know think I’m nuts (let’s violate grammatical rules here and say nutser, rather than more nuts. They think I’m nutser than they thought I was before, and not just because of the parenthetical clauses and tangents, and yes, I talk like this too, and it takes a very special kind of person to enjoy my company, and I heart you all dearly.)

So, back to the bike. The main problem with biking in Santiago, other than the unexpected rainstorms and really bad pollution part of the year, and the blazing, brain-searing sun the rest of the time is the complete and utter disrespect that cars show to bicyclists in this city.

I am not always the most careful cyclist, though I do signal my every move, do not listen to music in the city (any more), do wear a helmet and use lights at night (most of the time). I do however, chew gum (orbit, the pink one is my favorite, please send care packages like Abby’s grandmother does) and I do weave in and out of traffic, and I also yell at pedestrians who walk in between cars and almost get me killed.

But mostly I just tool around in my own little world, arrive sweaty and hair-mashed to lunch and most other places I go, and generally have a good time. Which has nothing to do with the picture I’m about to post here, but this is a perfect example of the level of respect cars have for bikes and bicyclists in Chile.

Behold, the bike lane.

good neighbor/ buen vecino

Because who cares if I have to swing out into oncoming traffic or in front of other cars to get to where I’m going when you have a perfectly delicious place to park your care while you’re off buying bread? How convenient of the city to have constructed a parking lane, just for your personal use! How utterly considerate!

So that’s why I participate in the loopy critical mass ride most first Tuesdays of the month, to fan interest in bicycling, and to some extent, demand rights for cyclists. The cicletada (critical mass ride)is talked about here, but I have to warn you that if you don’t speak Spanish you’ll understand little, and if you don’t speak Chilean, any links you follow will probably also leave you scratching your helmeted head. There’s a piece there too on the inadequacy of the bike lanes, both in how extensive they are (or aren’t), and in terms of where they go and how wide they are. The pic I’ve posted is of a very wide bike lane, but I know of several that seem to be barely wider than my hybrid handlebars. This is an entry for another time.

I was actually headed somewhere else with this post when I started, but sometimes life is like that, desvios and atajos (detours and shortcuts). It’s good to take them. But please don’t obstruct traffic.