Bicycles are magical machines
By Carmen Poon
I firmly believe that bicycles are magical machines. They break down barriers and build meaningful connections between people. Let me tell you three bike stories that illustrate the magic that can be created by two wheels, pedals and a human motor.
Story Number One
When we moved to Puerto Vallarta, we brought our bicycles with us. Yep, we drove from Canada, then through the United States and Mexico with three bicycles on the back of our truck. Our last stop before arriving in Puerto Vallarta was Tepic in the state of Nayarit. (By the way, the historic district of Tepic is absolutely gorgeous. If you get a chance, definitely go. You will not be disappointed.) Okay let's get back to the story. We had arrived in Tepic quite late in the afternoon and our first concern was lodging. Using our trusty cell phone and an online booking site, we reserved a room at a nearby hotel. We punched the address into our handy dandy GPS. The hotel was conveniently located just a few minutes drive from the mall where we had stopped, or so we thought.
Have you ever used GPS in Mexico? It is not the same experience as using GPS in Canada or the US. Sometimes it works like gang busters and other times it feels like the darn thing is showing you the map of a completely different city! In this case we ended up driving in circles around the same area, presumably near the hotel, for over an hour. Our frustration mounted every time we passed the same landmark that we had seen 15 minutes previously. We tried variations on the name and address of the hotel, but nothing was working. You are probably wondering why we didn't just phone the hotel. Writing this nearly two years later, I am wondering the same thing. There was presumably a good reason why we didn't, but at this moment, I will be darned if I can remember why we didn't call them.
Finally, I said, "Clarence, let's just ask for directions. From what we know, we are close to the hotel. Maybe someone knows where it is. Forget the high tech gadget. Let's go for the human factor." I had to suggest this about THREE times, before he relented and stopped in the parking lot of a convenience store. As I entered a young man pulled up on a bicycle, checked out our rides, and then also entered the store. He went to one side of the store while I went to the cash register. I asked the clerk if she was familiar with the hotel, but she said no. The young cyclist perked up and interjected, "I know where that is. It's close. I'll take you there. Just follow me." He then told me that he noticed our bikes and liked them. I thanked him for the compliment and the help. Making cycling small-talk, we left the store together.
I was wearing a big, fat "I told you so" grin on my face as I walked back to the truck. I informed Clarence that a fellow cyclist who approved of our bikes was going to help us out. Clarence gave our bicycle guide a thumbs up. For approximately 15 minutes we followed the cyclist through a maze of darkening streets. The guy was riding in traffic and really hoofing it! After a final right hand turn, the sign for our hotel mercifully appeared. Our knight in shining lycra bike shorts smiled as we pulled up beside him, thanking him up, down and sideways.
Considering that he went quite a bit out of his way and personally guided us to our destination, we tried to give him some cash for his trouble. He politely declined saying, "Por eso estamos aquí." ("That is why we are here.") I didn't know what else to do, so I simply told him, "Well, in that case. From one cyclist to another, thank you very much!" With a wave of his hand and a wish of good luck, he pedaled off into the night; we gratefully headed into the lobby to register.
Story Number Two
When we opened our company, we bought fat bikes from a local shop in Puerto Vallarta. My fat bike attracts attention wherever I go in the city. People stop in their tracks and smile in wonder as I pass by them. A few weeks ago I was pedalling around one of our city tour routes. I cycled past a boy walking with his father and siblings. He was so excited about seeing the bike that he began to run after me. I looked back and saw a kid about the same age as my son with an open faced smile running as fast as his legs could go. I called back to him, "Run! Come on! Go! Go! Go! You can do it!" He kept running!
He was so cute that I couldn't just take off. After all that effort, I figured that the kid should be allowed to touch and look at the bike that he worked so hard to see up close, so I stopped. When he and his family caught up to me, I told him that I was impressed with his running and that he could look at the bike if he wanted. Suddenly, the bold boy who had been eagerly racing with me became very shy. He gave me a timid smile while his father took up the conversation. Like many Vallartenses (Puerto Vallarta residents) he was surprised to learn that I had bought the bike at a local shop here in the city. Then the conversation moved on to the large balloony tires. (Don't you love that word balloony?) My new acquaintance agreed that the tires would give a smooth ride over the uneven and varied Puerto Vallarta streets. He lifted the bike by the top tube appraising the weight of it and nodded in approval. A couple of minutes later, I went back to my workout. It was a short meeting, but it left a smile on my face for the whole day.
Story Number Three
You might think that these experiences are peculiar to me, but they aren't. Many years ago, a university classmate of mine toured throughout Colombia on his bicycle during a break from classes. He was an adventurous type who packed up his bike and decided to ride in what he described as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. He did it alone. Back then, my reaction was probably very similar to yours. Colombia? ALONE? With nothing to protect you from God knows what? He told me that he had no problems and talked very warmly about his trip. As well, he didn't come home alone. He met and married a Colombian woman. At the time, I was not only stunned at my classmate's moxie, but also amazed at his good luck.
Now that I own a bicycle touring company, however, these overwhelmingly positive experiences make perfect sense to me. There is something special about a bicycle that facilitates these encounters. When I am on my bike, people feel that they can approach me because there is no physical barrier between us like there would be if I were in a vehicle. In a day and age when people are attached to devices and scared to death of strangers, my bike helps me make human connections. This may sound pretty cornball, but I think that is a beautiful thing.
Recently, I discovered a song by Carlos Vives and Shakira called La bicicleta (The Bicycle). The video shows them having a wonderful, fun-filled romp travelling to different towns in Colombia on their bicycles. Although the video is set in Colombia it reminds me of the fun I have while riding my bike here in Puerto Vallarta. The link below will lead you to the video. I hope that you enjoy it.