Friday, 31 January 2014

My Uruguay....The wind.

That fiend friend. That providor of succor and angst. Do I want you to cool or push, to blast midges or clear mists, to costruct cloudscapes or build storm cells? You, who have too many prods for controlling my moods.

Gone today are the winds out of a polar southern ocean, with their promise of cool nights and spring tides, of blessed relief and Pampero. Come are the predicted winds from a northern interior. The tang of river and jungle, the humid rot of recycled vegetable.

Yesterday we rode the seashore on compacted sand. Slaloming through distractions and hazards. The parade of derrières and fortification of traps. The fashion is for thong, the tradition for moats. You help your children to dig a hole then encourage them to use a toddler sized bucket to fill it with sea water. The distance and porosity make for a near perfect perpetual activity, leaving you free to start the holiday novel. Today, same place, same time, no sand. There's little tidal range, but a gale pushing an ocean's quart into a river's pint, that makes for a very different shoreline. Today's ride will have to take a different route and collect some different, telling wall art.

Wind. It's an ever present component of Uruguayan weather. Rare are the days without it's effect or presence; taking it's instructions from either a hypercontinental north or a maritime oceanic south. Even in the utter silence of deep night, the wind memory in an ocean swell, thunders on the shore. Wind; a story and an image.

We've ridden north up the Uruguayan Atlantic coast as far as the Devil's Point, close to the Brazilian border, ridden into a hot humid wind that is tolerable on a daytime bike, that leaves nighttimes to a slick of sweat, for any fickle wind refuses to enter the tent. Yet camping is still an Uruguayan activity, and the locals have some tricks to teach us.

Entering the campground in front of us is an aged Fiat500, whose bubble car effect has been inflated with the roof adornments of four deck chairs, two mattresses and a sail's worth of tarpaulin. Then to help tether it onto the asphalt, there's an overcapacity of occupants. It's holiday season so the grounds are busy, yet everybody congregates on the west side or coagulates in a clannish clump under the shade thrown by the tall pine trees in the middle. Which leave a vacant east side and our first lesson. The sun rises in the east, ergo, mornings and you're going to be evicted quickly. Latino campers are not early birds. Fact is, we can turn this trait to our advantage, the early bird maybe doesn't catch the worm but it does get a quiet night.

Lesson number two comes a little later. To encourage some through draft we pitched in a more exposed site and then omitted to storm guy. Big mistake. We weren't alone in our omission.

The omens have all been there. A weather system with several days of hot northerly winds that gets broken by a cold front coming from an active low moving out of the polar south. Classic Pampero conditions. Today didn't disappoint. Only we simply couldn't see it's apparition or progress for the trees. The squall line rages in from leeward, the first indicator, the rush of noise through the tree tops, then the small calibre assault of pine needles and a bombard of cones. The temperature drops five degrees in moments. Tents are imploding, sunshades are wrapped around trunks, kit tumbleweeds across the ground. Then the rain arrives. Sheets of rain. Ten minutes later the violence has passed and we're left to a wet afternoon. Only the promised "blessed relief" from the humidity is yet to arrive. We will catch and watch a further five Pamperos over the next three days before the temperature drops a remarkable twenty degrees centigrade and that unpurchasable commodity: a full night's sleep descends.

What does fascinate me, is the equanimity with which the Uruguayan camping family tackle the aftermath. There's no panic, no frustration, no tantrums. And yet all their bedding is exposed to the elements, polybags have long flown north, their inflated beds are threatening to follow, and now all their illicit kit is on display. Along with being fingerprinted at check-in, we were armed with the commandant's commandments. Amongst which was; thou shalt not use fridges or fans. Yet, as I wander over to the ablutions, each encampment has these very goods exposed by the storm. I'm jealous, we could have used a punkah waller last night.

I wouldn't ordinarily use that vacuous axiom if I hadn't first spotted it on the back of a local car: "Keep Calm and Carry on", to which could be appended: "it's happened before, it'll happen again".

Our next storm watch had more of a voyeuristic element. Perched ringside like the Victorian grandees at a Crimean battle. A grandstand view. The Pamperos are lined up along the horizon, prow to stern, an armada advancing. Now, with the aid of a scale afforded by the thirty-storied condominiums of Punta del Este, we get an idea of how massive, how quickly these storm cells can move. I'm standing in silence, the sea in front, a dead leaden swell, yet two bus stances away, the beach guard's flag poles are bow bent, and the sea has burst into a boisterous upheaval.

Wind. For once, I can see you but you can't feel me.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

My Uruguay....Bifis....

Fact: eighty per cent are grass fed and they vaccinate for Foot and Mouth disease.

New Zealand might have that oft-quoted animal to population statistic, but on a carcase weight ratio, the Uruguayan cow wins easily. Three million caves born, two point eight million killed. Fact is, there's an awful lot of offal in Uruguay.

"Anybody for tripe and onions in white sauce?"

These cows can't blow their own trumpets, restricted as they are to a burp of methane. Yet their migrationary history is worth telling. Like rabbits in Australia, possums in New Zealand, those 'introduced improvements' are mere euphemisms for aristocratic sports hunting. A herd of one hundred cows, and presumably some bulls were landed on the banks of the Rio Uruguay, by the then governor of Paraguay in 1611. They went feral, went wild, went forth and multiplied. Which leads to the speculation: who or what was the loser in this equation?

A century later, the small indigenous human population had been eradicated and the cow was being hunted by the gaucho for her skin. The valueless carcase left to rot. The Anglo-Argentine author; W H Hudson, writing about his youth in the 1860s, tells the tale of his elopement to Uruguay, and his necessary quest for employment. He is robbed of his pony and tackle and has to cross the open Pampa on foot. On encountering a bull, he feigns death, is hoofed and prodded, knowing that to show any semblance of being a living horseless human, would result in a fatal goring. Bos taurus would have perceived the man-horse as a single entity, in much the way as the indigenous locals understood the anhialitic conquistadores. Brutal beasts, that even today, haven't long been introduced to historical domesticity.

With all this Wikihistory and collation of statistic, you might have assumed that we would be slaloming flop, fording slurry. Yet the truth is, these herds when you do eventually spot them, are mustered sun-sheltering in the deep shade of gum trees. Or the more incongruous sight of Herefords grazing through palm trees. These pastures are not the bucolics of English imagination, nor the monoculture of intensive rye grasses of popular reality, force fed on prills of Nitram34. At first glance and with a euro-agro prejudiced eye they appear as rank rough scrub. Look closer and there's the slow die back of winter fodder grasses, the new summer herbage breaking through. Wet corners still grow threshes, teasels and thistles, still harbouring a diversity of herb, fauna and mosquitoes. This is a naturally evolved permanent pasture that is still peppered and speckled with wild flowers. This is natural grassland. Only one that's under threat of the plough and the soya bean.

When we do come on a grazing herd closer to the road, they're skittish, easily spooked, flinging their tails to the wind and taking to their heels. Quickly finding cover and camouflage. It's easier to spot their caracatures adorning roadside hoardings, pop bottles and as corralled statues in art galleries and on highway roundabouts. Easier to find their slaughtered produce with a final statistic. Over three quarters of all Uruguayan beef doesn't come in styrofoam tray, but out of a real butcher's shop.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

And More... Further Notes from The Navigator

Following the last exercise, the brain has started recalling other moments:

Standing in line in São Paulo airport to get our boarding passes for the flight to Buenos Aires. There were 5 folk in front of us. The process took one and a half hours. Just as well the layover was 8 hours. São Paulo is not a recommended transit hub.

No surprise, then, when the bags did not arrive in BA at the same time as us. But hey, that meant someone else had to carry them while we hopped on the bus into town with just hand baggage :-)

Walking miles across Asuncion to the Apple store to get a connector to transfer photos from the memory card to the iPad. We had one, but it had disappeared - reckoned we'd left it in BA. It did turn up sometime later, in a safe place in my barbag. You really wouldn't think that we could lose stuff among the tailored kit we carry. Anyone need an SD to iPad connector?

Discovering that the iPad always knows where it is - even without a mobile or wifi connection. Scary. Makes for lazy map reading.

Seeing toucans flying overhead in southeast Bolivia

Riding past Potosi airport on our way to Sucre. At 3936m, not quite as high as La Paz which is at 4061m. Did you know that the airport code for La Paz is LPB?

Watching the marching bands in Potosi, and not quite believing my eyes as the girl bands marched past, with white gloves, brass and drums, on the steep cobbled streets in stiletto-heeled boots.

Discovering the unexpectedly peaceful order of Sucre bus terminal.

Meeting no fewer than 8 other long-distance cyclists staying at the Hotel Avenida in Uyuni at the same time as us. All in pairs, from France, UK, Japan, Germany.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour when we discovered the state of the roads on the west side of the Salar de Uyuni - and taking a different route to Chile.

Spotting a rhea with 19 babies in tow.

Gaping at the huge sand dune that resides between the town of Iquique and the cliffs at the edge of the coastal range behind the town.

Remembering the relief at the clinic when the credit card took the hit of 2,000,000 Chilean pesos without any argument...

Buying beach clothes. A new experience!

Overcoming terrors from childhood, and actually swimming in the sea. And I love it! Not up to playing in the waves yet, but working on it.

Riding my bike on the beach. So wicked!

Stepping out from the British Hospital in Montevideo (where I'd failed to get anyone to remove the stitches in my elbow) and slipping on the wet and uneven pavement. 'Measuring my Length' as they say, into a deep puddle, instinctively protecting my mending elbow and proceeding to break a rib.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

All this... Notes from The Navigator

Our journey in South America has been a bit different this time. Not that every journey hasn't been different; just that this one has included rather more 'off-bike' adventures than previously. Over the last wee while, I have been aware that my day to day recollections have been very much of the latter part of the journey, and the earlier part seemed to have retreated, almost like memories from earlier years. So, while pedalling a few days ago, I set my brain to recall what we'd been up to since October. It has been a fascinating exercise. I know The Chronicler has written a good number of stories, but I needed to review from my perspective too, lest some of the fun/challenging/exceptional experiences faded away. So, here we go - back to the start of October....

Arriving at Edinburgh airport 8 hours before our 6am flight, to hang out, perchance to sleep. Along with a whole raft of other (younger) travellers with the same idea. Hang out - yes. Sleep - no. Fire alarm testing, and the police officer who came round at around 3am to check documents, telling us that he would be getting an hotel ahead of his early morning holiday flight. The cost of an early morning flight may be low, but by the time you have added the price of an airport hotel and/or taxi/shuttle, you could have upgraded to Business Class.

Arriving in BA to realise that your fellow passengers have been generous with their germs. Perhaps fortunate that we couldn't get tickets for the train until a week after we arrived.

Building a new front wheel for Chris - which is still running true at the end of the trip.

Taking the long distance Tucuman train; arriving in the station to join a long line of travellers heading on to Platform 8 at Retiro Station. Platform 8 is not visible from any of the public areas of the station - you have to go though the gate, up Platform 7 for some distance before checking the bikes in with the guards then turning through a small archway to find the long train, carriages labelled with perpendicular boards: Primero, Pullman, Turista. So unlikely and unexpected, you would swear you had arrived at Platform 8 and 3/4. The price? £2, for 18 hours journey time.

Joining Alison on the Operation Smile mission in Asuncion, Parguay. Seeing the well-oiled machine that is this volunteer mission. Having the honour of watching a skilled surgeon change a little girl's life forever in just 45 minutes.

Staying in some curious accommodations in lowland Bolivia - including a room that was also the store room for the attached bar.

Experimenting wih our new bivi bags to sleep in the open.

Climbing back to Potosi, without any of the altitude problems we experienced the last time.

Sleeping in the open on the Salar de Uyuni, with uninterrupted views of the sunset, sunrise and full moon.

Sleeping in a windowless cell because all the hotels were full of road workers, for the vast sum of £2.50 for the night.

Cycling past several kilometres of waiting trucks at the Bolivia-Chile border, in the shadow of snow-topped volcanoes and lakes of flamingoes.

Riding for 6 weeks at altitudes of around 4000m

Having to spend 2 nights in the delightful wee town of Putre, Chile, just over the border, because there were no 'cambio' facilities at the border and the one ATM in town did not want to know any of our cards - and the landlady really didn't want our dollars.

Riding the spectacular road down to the coast, through the desert and into the valley oasis.

Enjoying the fitness that comes from having cycled for so long at high altitude.

The wonderful folk who looked after me after the accident - the corporal from the army truck who picket me up, the campsite owner who called a taxi for us, the taxi driver who was keen to use his English, the medical staff and both the casualty hospital and the clinic, as well as in the Sanatorio in Maldonado and the trauma clinic in Buenos Aires. And especially Chris.

The amazing view from my 5th floor hospital room.

How hard it was to sit on the bus to Santiago, going through the fantastic desert scenery that was to have been our next adventure.

Then, the bus ride up and over the Andes, counting the hairpin bends, marvelling at the tunnel at the top - and planning 'next time'.

The relief of arriving back at the flat in Buenos Aires after the three-night journey from Iquique with two packed bikes and one able bod.

The joy of arriving at the peaceful lakeside house in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to join Richard and Alison.

The week spent in Montevideo, walking miles all over the city.

Finally collecting the abandoned bikes from Buenos Aires and returning to tranquil Uruguay to re-start our bicycle adventures.


Over the Sea to or Up in the Skye

Familiarity breeds contempt.

The Navigator has elicited the answer that she had hoped, angled for. That her elbow, it's associated tendons and muscles would need exercise. The recommendation is to "git on yer bike", or at least it's Sanish equivalent. As to whether the patient's and the consultant's concept of cycling are same is open to debate.

So with this ringing, if fraudulently acquired endorsement, we head back over the river to collect our neglected bikes. Four weeks 'sin bici', the only substitute a back-pedal beach bike whose sole aim is to leave me floundering in the middle of the next junction. It's the longest either of us have gone in a decade, without a dose of cyclo-endorphins to cancel the encroaching road fears. With time the physical body repairs, with time the psychological damage encroaches. The spectres magnify, multiply and mutate, the devil-traffic grows horns and all the accumulated scenarios arrive in the middle of the night.

We have a choice of public transports for a shift between the two capitals. Three ferry lines, two airports or one bus route. We've frequented two of them, with increasing frequency. To the extent that 'familiar travel has morphed towards 'contemptible commute'. It's a condition that needs to be avoided, for it can only lead to the death of adventure cycling.

This time we opt for the overnight bus, only because the alternatives are fully booked. With small hand luggage and no bike, there's little angst. You don't even have to surrender your passport to the conductor, who would then process you through the frontier, only returning it after the bus was several kilometres down the road. A most disconcerting experience, an 'interesting' quirk, from a previous occasion. This time everybody has to transit the frontier on foot, this season's quirk being that we don't seem to collect an exit stamp. There was a time when this might have distressed us, now the Navigator is happy not to lose frankable space in a passport that is running out of page but not date.

There's something particular to a frontier in the middle of the night. The silhouetted cutouts of parked-up, gumtree-loaded timber trucks, the familiar smell of the empty cattle transports. The night shift sleepy officials more interested in the TV broadcasted basketball; the soft clouds of dark time bugs suiciding in the stark glare of floodlights and heavy humid night. The zombie'd passengers roused from that broken bus-sleep, our individuality surrendered to the system, shuffling through bureaucracy. Or the frustrated conductor trying to find that one inevitable missing customer; which was why the bus companies liked the old system, no opportunity for one of the corralled herd to go missing.

The return trip is by our favoured public transport method. A ferry. Only the idiosyncracies of boat travel seem to be under attack, being subsumed by the ethos of aeroplane. There's that recurring idea that flying with a member of the Catholic clergy, particularly a nun, will ensure a safe arrival. So to be on the newest, and what they claim to be the world's fastest ferry, named for the latest pontiff, who of course is Argentine, should make for an uneventful sailing. And yet all the visual indicators suggest flying rather than cruising. From the serried ranks of economy class seats with their fold down tables to the soporific view of a placid sea carried by a plasma screen TV, that will soon convert to a continuous loop of duty-free adverts. Cocooned or enprisoned? Airconditioned, hermetically sealed and force-fed a graveyard of bronchial pathogens. For there are no windows, no external stimulus, even the catamaran's vibrations suggest air travel. Then for the final confirmation: Nobody pays any attention to the safety announcements.

Yet this is South American travel, there has to be an interesting quirk. Some small spark to lift ius out of the mundane and away from the commute.

The primary reason for enjoying ship travel, is the fact that we can remain in control of our bikes. We get to load them. They stay on their inflated tyres, complete with their luggage and, ergo, are easily shifted. A novel concept for many carriers. We've ridden the loading ramp, parked up, strapped down, when we're presented with, what might be mistaken for sick bags. A prophetic anticipation of a stormy crossing? The heavy, ominous blue-black clouds were only helping to emphasise the idea. Only the puke pokes transpire to be a pair of white Tyvec bootees. Everybody is wearing them. A Maoist levelling for the proletariat? No it's a nice new boat that is decked from prow to stern in duck egg blue carpet. Who 'specs' carpeting on a boat? But then any references to seafaring have long since been removed.

Lost are the pleasures of a ferry crossing. To prop yourself against the rail and gaze absently at the soporific, repetitive roll of waves that flow along the hull. To feel the gradual change in motion as a boat moves from river to ocean. To let the old shore recede and the new shore creep over the horizon. To have that slow introduction to a new place. To not be in a hurry. To travel non-airline.

Arriving back in Montevideo, all has not been emasculated. The car deck is open to the rear, and we, as the first to disembark get a grandstand view of the docking. And that longed for introduction. Only today it's a monochrome of Soviet grey. From the naval corvettes to the skeletal cranes, from the laid up fishing fleet to the threatening sky. The ominous concrete edifice of the customs house only complements the feeling. Which is a shame as this port and this capital city is one of the simplest to navigate out of on a bike. Turn right at the lights, a few moments and you're on a cycle lane cum Costanera all the way out to beyond the suburbs. Perfect re-introductions, rehabilitations for two anxious cyclists who've been deprived of endorphins and subjected to the subconscious ghosts of devil-traffic.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hunt the Haggis.

This is an intimation that tomorrow is the start of the close season for Haggis Hunting.

Closed normally until the final day of November. Although I keep hearing recurring rumours that the 'First Minister' intends legislating to extend the 'hunt' by opening next year's season on the 14th September. A one-off measure to help either distract or complement any other extenuating business that might be pertinent on that date. It would appear to be a piece of legislation that is already creating some interest overseas. Without fail, we have been questioned about it by several interested parties. The Anglo-Argentines. A Walloon cyclist from Belgium. A Catalonian traveler from Spain and a Bavarian trucking couple from Germany. Even a Portland family from Oregon ask. Maybe there's a cessationist movement in the Pacific north west? The enquiry comes at the close of a conversation, always taking the same agenda; no definite article; "What's Scotland going to do?" It's rather heartening to realise that such a minor, curious beastie can raise so much international interest.

The major question, if the season were to be extended, is: Will the Scottish government introduce border controls on the export of frozen carcasses, and tariffs to prevent the importation of cheap foreign, ie, English imitations? If so, will these be traded in Anglo-Sterling or Scotii-Groats? The latter being, initially, of greater value, simply for it's short lived curiosity value and that no other currency would entertain it's toxic taint. The more minor questions of the Haggis' status within any European marketing organisation and it's views on foreign policy will be concluded at another time.

Thoughts on a date. Ruminations on a meat pudding that has it's own national day, all because an eighteenth century poet penned a grace, an appreciation in it's praise. Were it to happen today, it would take the form of a survey and the cynics in our midst would be questioning who the sponsors were; in all probability the 'Offal Meat Traders Association'.'

Another culinary delight, another artisanal speciality, another concoction that masks decaying, rancid, uneatable produce. Painch, Tripe or Thairm. The scrapings from the bottom of a 19th century salt barrel or the drawer at the back of a 21st century fridge. Spaghetti-bog, Irish stew, Stone soup. Every nation has it's equivalent. Yet only the Scots would describe their national dish as having a 'fair, full and jolly face', as well as: 'buttocks like a distant hillock'.

So in the interests of national pride and the fact that I'm an ex-pat abroad, I'll attempt to be more Caledonian that the Scot-at-Home. Only we're not in Canada, Australia or 'an ex-pink bit'. There's little demand for 'the great chieftain of the pudding race' on a Latino butcher's slab. We'll just have to settle for the local equivalent. And there in lies my problem.

Uruguayans eat beef. Fifty- three kilograms for each man, woman and child. The Beefs are on the hoof year round. So there's little call for a salt barrel. No scrapings. No cereal enhanced, slaughterhouse rendered, intestinal stuffed, sausage-like substance. So what happens to the leftovers? Well, there's always those dogs.

Hunting a Haggis Beyond the Pale


Thursday, 23 January 2014


Pictures should be self explanatory, the story self evident from the depiction. Ordinarily I wouldn't use this one. However a few facts might help to show what an amazing weather feature is coming towards us. Those are not cloud shrouded mountains ranged across the horizon. This is Uruguay, a country of hills but no Andean watersheds, despite the plethora of 'cerros' on a map. This is a storm front, twenty thousand feet of turbulent weather. A blue black wall of roiling trouble. Our road is trekking straight into it's gob, or more accurately Hades is racing down the road towards us. By the time we start to rise over the next inevitable rolling hill, it's reared up until it becomes our world, we're being swallowed into it's maw. The temperature drops five degrees in twenty seconds and I've been blown off the road. Despite the anticipation, the attack is sudden, it's still a surprise. The gales visiting all the airts of a compass, often all at once. We won't trust in the gum trees, their shedding branches in confirmation of their reputation as widow makers. The safest place would be a bus shelter, we've passed several today, but even Amazon can't deliver that quickly.

The howling in the fence wire, the raging in the trees, the ear-rending wind clamour fills our reduced, confused space that fills up with swirling spray from the next lumber truck. Then it all stops. The excitement passes and we're left regurgigated in the silence of a dull wet day and a humidity that could be spread with a spatula. Five minutes later along comes a bus shelter.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Question: Ingliston. Answer: Leaving.

What do you think this place is best for?

So requests the "biggest project in travel", when what we had asked for was a recommendation, a place to stay in Montevideo, Uruguay, and not to offer our opinion of a minor Scottish suburb.

Ingliston, Edinburgh. Scotland. Home to Britain's premier agricultural show, a Sunday market; once remembered for it's roadside inflatable gorilla and an international airport, notable for 'the terminal that doesn't terminate there'. The last brought emphatically into focus as we take public transport into the Uruguayan capital. Every bus would appear to detour into the international airport, all for the cost of a few pesos. What a pity that Scotland's 'capital tram debacle' resulted in the rails expiring a couple of miles short of what could have been a 'gateway' to inspire national pride.

We follow up on the recommendation, make a booking and then suffer days of further accommodation suggestions. All in places that we hadn't asked about and all for dates that we are supposedly booked for. I must have a doppelgänger. Such are the repercussions of internet planning. Forward thinking can be, often is, counterproductive. Yet again we've succumbed to the notion that as it's high season holiday Christmas time, everywhere will be booked up. A scenario not particular to The Americas. It's probably a biblical memory or wishful thinking on the part of all worldwide accommodation providers. Thinking back over all our trips, I would be hard put to count on one hand the number of 'no rooms at the inn' that we've encountered. You're more likely to encounter a silent door due to siesta, or find a tourist officer's recommended campground closed as a result of redevelopment ten years previously.

Now that we've been plugged into the traveller aether, connected to a world where everybody's a critic, the navigator has the exciting prospect of collecting her first badge. "you're two reviews away from your 'Reviewer Badge''. Do a few more and you'll be up graded to 'specialist: hotels'. She's back in the Brownies, and Brown Owl reckons she should now try to complete her 'Stunt Cyclist' badge.

Returning to that original enquiry; what snippet of information had we inadvertently surrendered, that sponsored such an unlikely request? Montevideo, Ingliston and Paranoia, an unusual triumvirate.

So maybe the answer to that request is similar to the parochial question; "What's the best thing to come out of Edinburgh?", to which the provincial 'weegie' will reply: "The train to Glasgow"

" Akela, can I get my Joker's badge now?"


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Lament For the Fallen.

We’ve been together for a long time, passed through a few places, been tide-lined by sweat and bleached by sun, retrieved from ditches and accused by police. From the depths of Death Valley to the heights of the Andes, from the verdant French wine country to the self righteous rectitude of a Dutch cycle lane. But now due to an ageing decrepitude, retirement is imminent. The navigator has decreed, suggesting that I should introduce the idea to both It and I. I procrastinate, It goes ‘awol’. Like the rusting car that is due for replacement, that rewards by irreparably terminating on the drive to the trade-in showroom, so It has sensed the redundancy notice, and disappeared. A displacement, that with slow time and long bag searches has become a terminal vanishment.

To placate both our feelings, I had intended a noble retirement, a dignified deliverance. Like the glassy eyes of a shot, trophy stag, taxidermied onto a shield, and thence mounted in a baronial hall, so, I had planned a similar conceit. A stuffed tennis cap on an heraldic platter, hung upon an empty bragging wall. There to be surrounded by engraved bosses detailing two decades of shady exemplary service, campaigns across four continents, a clutch of bald tyres and a lifetime of memories.

It’s only with investigation and interview; that the navigator corrects my calendrical myopia: I lose years. It soon becomes apparent; It's first outing coincided with our first cycle trip into France. A tour on a Chinese built mountain bike, using the dedicated European Bike Express, at a time when a campground cost twenty francs and summers were warm-dry. Several more fortnightly trips were to follow, before the purgatory of cycle trans-shipment by ’plane became our favoured method of buying traveler's angst. The years crept around, cycles accumulated, upgrades proliferated, bald tyres were scattered to the globe. Still, It was a nomadic regular, even if now it has been consigned to the dark recesses of a pannier. For the helmet fascists are gaining an ascendancy. Spain, along with others, have enacted a mandatory usage, but with classic Latino logic, allows three exceptions. You don’t need to wear your cabesa; ‘when in town, climbing a hill or on a hot day’. Unfortunately for It, we’re in the middle of winter, out in the open of the Mercian plains, so it’s ’waggy finger’ time from the gringo-bashing Guarda Civil. They claim that it’s for our own protection. They are, of course blinkered, sightless to the peloton of lightless, tabardless, helmetless locals cycling past on their way to work.

Yet it’s not all retrograde. That cap has witnessed a dramatic change in a nation’s and our own personal cycle usage. The proliferation of signed routes, the phenomenon that it is a centre based ‘biking trail’, even to the spawning of acronyms like ‘mamil’. Whilst we have now entered into our second decade, with the freedom from bondage of car ownership, that in large measure has facilitated our extensive cycle touring.

Yet and yet, like much of modern life, It comes with it’s own, personal moral dilemma. A carbon footprint of multiple Atlantean crossings, that I try to greenwash by setting up an audit; balancing flight miles against cycled distance. Sobering equations, as both entries require multiple zeros. 'It' the Cap has been both participant and spectator to it all.

Now it is lost, but I trust only from me. I hope that It has been found and is entering into it's new third age. Meanwhile, my lost tennis cap will just have to accept, either a blog obituary, or this ethereal epitaph:

'It' .The Cotton Tennis Cap'

Lost on Active Duty'



My Uruguay. Port and Town.

Just as New York is not the USA, and Edinburgh is not Scotland, in spite of the Jock Tammies on the Royal Mile, so Montevideo is not Uruguay. Yet elements in all are emblematic for their respective nations. The working historical museum of grumblng trucks, that have been such a feature of previous visits, are now morphing into eco-friendlier Asiatic lorries. The old buildings, crumbling derelicts, that have survived the 'age of de-struction and re-cementation', are emerging reinvented from their tin shrouds. Renovated to an earlier era's glory. A single neo-classical building, a referee, has split two neo-brutalist towers, a mauled chock prising apart two pugilistic protagonists. Bon motifs like these are scattered liberally throughout the town. Simpler versions throughout the Pampa.

Wander the streets of Ciudadvieja, and glance downhill, to seaward and your horizon is a canyon of containers. The name Maersk and Mol, Evergreen and Hapag Loyd emblazon the walls. I look down Calle Mitre and the green prow of MV Marmartin breaks the skyline. Discharging 'stuff', which is, I'm told, an industry technical term. Walk a block to Carlos Gomes and a box in the livery of Hamburg Sud swings from a crane out from the midships. Carry on wandering until Ituzaingo, and the superstructure and bridge gleam in the low evening light. All one ship. I move back from the frontage to gain height and perspective. Over three city blocks long, these are the leviathans that you never get close to view, nor to set on any scale.

The next day, I'm wandering further, and glance to seaward again. Where before there had been a sliver of open bay, now there was a six story block of flats. Rows of modern windows wedged between the street's old facades. Another Calle, another same view. Construction may be fast, but berthing is quicker. MV Golden Princess, with her cargo of blue-rinsed, white cardigan'd grannies has cruised into port. En route from LA to Rio. En route from dockside to leather emporium, the one that just happens to be the sole retail experience open on this New Year's Day. The gaucho boots are beautiful, so too is the drop tag.

Unusually, this port and this city sit in very close proximity, their boundaries diffused. No torc of industrially blackened brick bonds, or rusting tar embedded rail tracks to isolate or demarcate. A weld mesh fence and a row of expectant Paraguayan articulated lorries are all that separate the two.

The commercial story of city and country is written in this small space. The hides and wool traded through these yards created the wealth that built these city houses. Today it's the carcass that's paying for the restoration.

It's one of my favorite days of the year to wander a city. The world is sleeping off the excesses of the old year. No buses. No taxis. No trucks. No sonic smog. An apocalyptical utopia. The city emasculated, one vital male role removed, like the deprivation of one vital sense. Now add in a sharp morning light, a barrio of diverse architectural delights and you have the ingredients for a very different street-wander. The pavements are still sticky, the smell of yesterday's brew. So the best place to appreciate these buildings is from the middle of the road. Wandering aimlessly, being distracted easily, we gravitate down to the docks.

Viewing through that mesh wire, there's the anonymity of modern sea cargo. Gantry cranes, like hunting herons, lunge and extract a packet from the stack. Reach stackers, like predatory cats, pick up the load, as if it were a mouse kill. Straddle carriers, like giant mantis, haul away their prey, sixty-seven cubic metres of metal box. Robots in a humanless world.

Port and Oldtown might not be Uruguay. But one begat the other. For the ghosts of Hereford cattle still walk these streets.