Cycle or Die?
I’m wondering if this cycling caper is all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyment, to keep fit … right? So why then does it hurt so much?
Some years ago, when we were really into this fitness lark, a group of us were riding down near Hastings Point, or Casuarina, to be more precise, and this intrepid though inexperienced warrior was leading the way.
We came to a little bridge with rails on both sides, and I, being the mother-hen that I am, decided to look back to check on my chickens – just as I encountered the bridge.
Well, I’m not that steady on my bike even looking forward, but looking back proved disastrous.
I got too close to the edge, the handlebar hooked into one of the uprights and next thing I knew I’d been catapulted into the top bar – ribs-first.
To say it was painful is an understatement.
I could hardly breathe.
But it looked funny.
And when I picked myself off the rails I could see people trying to compose their expressions to hide their smiles, cupped hands over mouths to muffle their laughter.
I mean, how can you ride into a BRIDGE? It’s not as if you can’t SEE it.
A bit like that lady in the RACQ ad whose husband drove his boat into a charter boat. She quite rightly asks: How can you NOT see a charter boat? And then wanders around, arms extended and with a shirt over her face, muttering, ‘Charter boat? What charter boat?’
Except in my case it’s: ‘Bridge? What bridge?’
Anyhow, I continued the ride nursing bruised calves, a bruised arm and what felt like cracked ribs. For weeks afterwards I found it hard to cough or even laugh, but I received scant sympathy from anyone I told the story to. Their reaction was just that: How can you NOT see a bridge?
I thought I’d put all that behind me until some months ago when we were cycling into a headwind down at Kirra and my husband, very heroically, offered to take the lead.
Now, as any cyclist knows, to take advantage of the slipstream you have to keep close, so I was doing just that. But then, as happens to me, I began to lose concentration, and found myself looking at the birds, the trees, the houses, the ocean … and oops! I was right on his rear wheel.
Afraid I would take him down with me, I braked sharply, got up a fierce wobble – and crashed to the concrete, face- and knee-first.
The young couple following on behind us showed due concern, but rode off giggling – at some private joke, I presume.
For weeks after that episode, I hobbled around, while my wrenched back, grazed knee and palms healed.
And after that episode, I really thought I’d learned my lesson.
This time we were riding at Currumbin and again I got too close to the bike in front of me. Luckily this time it was a sand and grass track, so the fall was softer, but I’m still hobbling, and all I can say is: Thank goodness I was wearing my jeans with the hole in the knee from the last time I fell, otherwise I would have two pairs of holy jeans.
And cycling’s for the birds!
With the tiny Italian port of Porto Santo Stefano so much in the news these days after the tragic grounding there of the cruise ship, the Costa Concordia , I couldn’t help recalling happier memories of our time spent there in September 2010.
We’d left the Amalfi Coast after what can only be described as the most magical experience touring that beautiful coastline and headed past Rome to what appeared to be a good spot to stop overnight.
I knew nothing about the place, but from what I could see on the map, Orbetello, the town closest to Porto Santo Stefano, appeared to be on a spit of land between two huge lakes, and as we’re both water lovers we thought this looked like a picturesque place to absorb the natural beauty.
We arrived late afternoon and set about finding a hotel in the town because we figured at this stage of the day we were unlikely to find a bed in the port itself.
Besides, it might be a grotty place.
Round and round the main streets we drove, stopping at some hotels to ask for rooms, with no luck until we came to one overlooking the southern lake.
‘What’s that smell?’ I asked, wrinkling my nose as we left our vehicle, but that was quickly forgotten as we entered the tastefully furnished hotel and asked the charming young woman behind the desk if she had a room and how much it would be.
She did have a room and when we’d picked ourselves off the floor at the exorbitant price, especially when compared to the inexpensive Amalfi Coast, we decided there was nothing for it. We’d better take the room and write it off to experience.
Once settled in, we set off to explore, and soon discovered the reason for the smell.
The lakes, which it turns out is actually a massive lagoon, are used as dumping grounds for sewage.
Up close, we could see the scum coating the rocks lining the shore and the smell once unidentifiable now became familiar.
What a letdown!
Committed now and undeterred, we made our way past sports fields and parks, shops and houses, and were universally amazed at how dilapidated everything was.
And yet the people were happy, oblivious to the smell and the signs of decay around them. They sat in the parks or watched their children, and they stopped on street corners or outside cafes to laugh and talk with neighbours.
This was the famed dolce vita in practice.
We came back from our walk feeling happy and inspired and did some research into the town.
Given its excellent strategic position on the strip of land between two lagoons, Orbetello has always been much sought as the first line of defence against invasion from the sea. It’s an ancient Etruscan settlement, and in 280 BC control passed to the Romans, who at that time had a colony called Cosa, an important Roman archaeological site near what is now Ansedonia. In the Middle Ages it became a possession of the Aldobrandeschi family, and in the 14th century, it was taken over by the city of Orvieto. After many tumultuous squabbles between the Orsini of Pitigliano and Orvieto, it was captured by the Sienese Republic, and in the mid-16th century became the capital of the Spanish puppet State of Presides, before falling under the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and later the newly unified Kingdom of Italy.
The polygonal wall which dominates the city was probably built by the Etruscans, although these would have been added to and changed by later occupiers. Derived as it is from Latin words, the name Orbetello reflects the town’s Roman past, and there is some discussion as to what it actually means, the favourites being circular city, city of herbs or city of Rome.
Having done our research and eaten our dinner, we turned in, but what a terrible night we had! The air-conditioner was so loud it felt like we had a truck in the room with us, and it was set so cold that I had to get up and don tracksuit longs and a jersey. I couldn’t find any extra blankets so ended up putting a pillow over my feet to keep them warm. We only found the switch for the air-conditioner at 6.30 am. Yuck! And we paid so much for the place.
We had breakfast – a fantastic buffet – but there only seemed to be four people staying in the hotel, and it seemed such a waste. We plucked up the courage to ask for caffe col latte (coffee with milk) hoping my husband would not have to drink the two tablespoonfuls of pure caffeine usually dished up as coffee. As he said, there was no point in adding sugar because it would just make the whole thing into a sticky syrup. But coffee with milk proved to be a whole pot full of the strong espresso with an equal quantity of hot milk provided. Very generous and the gesture was really appreciated, but it was still undrinkable, even when mixed half and half.
We English-speakers are an insipid bunch.
The Italians shuddered when I asked for tea (te), but they also couldn’t understand why we like such weak coffee – and with milk added.
After checking out, we stopped off at the supermarket to buy some supplies, then found an autoteller and withdrew money. Then it was back to the car where the supermarket owner was prowling the car park, ready to turf out anyone who wasn’t one of his shoppers.
We headed out along the bridge towards Porto Santo Stefano and it proved to be such a great move. We wished we’d stayed there instead of in our expensive hotel. There were so many nice places and I’m sure they would have been cheaper.
The sea was that azure blue, the sun was shining and the port was filled with day-trippers and residents enjoying the autumn weather. We watched the ferry leave for one of the nearby islands, and we could also see the islands of Elba and Montecristo in the distance. All about were luxurious sailing and motor yachts, and around every corner in every bay there were yachts moored and people enjoying the weather.
With all our lovely memories of Porto Santo Stefano, our hearts can only go out to the families of those whose loved ones have perished there.
We left Porto San Stefano via another land bridge filled with holiday camps, heading towards Sienna, wishing that we’d travelled just that bit further on the first day and found the wonderful little port instead.
It all started with a good idea.
Some time before Christmas, we took a bike ride down to our local supermarket to buy – of all things – a mini handheld compressor. Not having a carrier of any kind, we were obliged to carry our purchase home in a cloth bag strapped to my husband’s back. Not satisfactory and rather painful on the shoulders, he said.
My husband didn’t quite agree.
‘What’d’you buy those for?’ he grumbled as he eyed them suspiciously. ‘We’re not going to ride to the store again, are we?’
I explained that they would be ideal. They’d fit in perfectly with our newfound quest for fitness and we could kill two (old?) birds with one stone. We’d buy our groceries and get fit at the same time.
When the bike-ride day came, rain clouds were threatening, and my husband found all kinds of things to do, his favourites, like whipper-snipping the edges and mowing the lawn. Eventually he could delay no longer, although he kept throwing hopeful glances towards the sky, as if beseeching divine intervention or perhaps a few drops of rain?
We set off, me leading the way, and all went fine until we reached the store. Then the heavens opened in a white deluge that obliterated everything within view. We stood in the store, disconsolately contemplating our ride home back home through the wet, wet streets, while pretending to select goods to eat.
These required careful consideration as we didn’t want to take an unbalanced load and we also weren’t sure how we’d travel if the load was too heavy.
Eventually, taking advantage of a gap in the rain, we paid for our purchases and began to load them onto our bikes. This was easier said than done, because, as I’ve said, it needed careful consideration.
At last we were ready and set off into the now spitting rain.
Within a hundred metres my husband’s pannier collapsed, propelling the bags into the spokes of his back wheel and him almost onto the road.
The rain pelted down.
After some adjustment, we took off again, more cautiously this time, until a hundred metres down the road it did the same thing again.
The rain pelted down.
I think you get the picture.
Did you know that sunglasses need windscreen wipers and that they could do with demisters on the inside too? I hadn’t until that day.
Eventually my husband’s pannier was no more and we had to load most of the stuff we’d bought onto mine, which meant we had to go even more slowly, inching our way back home, careful not to negotiate any bumps in the road in case my pannier landed up in the spokes too. I’m not sure if this was a clever ploy on my husband’s part but in his defence I will say he stuck by me all the way and when the pannier did finally collapse, he rode his bike some way and then walked back to help me push mine.
People passed us hooting and cheering – or was it jeering? – but they were laughing, anyway, and that made us feel more cheerful. And eventually, two hours after we’d left the supermarket that is only a fifteen-minute bike ride away, we arrived home, soaked to the skin, slipping in our shoes, with misted-up glasses and oil-grimed shins.
And how exactly does this translate to permanent weight loss, I hear you asking? Well, it goes like this: if you had to ride your bike to the supermarket to fetch groceries, you would a) go very seldom, if at all, and b) buy very little once you were there. This can only lead to weight loss, can’t it?
I’d love to know what you think.
Kolmanskop is filled with ghosts. We’d stopped off there on our way out of Luderitz in Namibia, en route to our next stop, Walvis Bay. We knew it had been abandoned in the early twentieth century, once diamond mining in the town no longer proved profitable, or perhaps it was just that not so many people were needed, or the fight against the encroaching sands finally proved too much.
It had been occupied by the Germans who ruled German South West Africa at the time, and there was evidence all over of their language and culture. We couldn’t get over how sophisticated their lives had been. There were houses and shops and even a community centre, though I’m sure that’s not what they called it, complete with bowling alley. Some of the bowling balls were still there and it was as if a game had been interrupted mid-stream.
The house walls were decorated with colourful paintings and some were already half-filled with sand, the paint peeling from walls, doors and window frames. We walked from one to the next, looking in through windows which had long since given up their fight to keep out the wind and the sand, and examining rooms in which no one would ever live or sleep again. Bands of light filtered down through ceilings devoid of roofing tiles onto the sand dunes gradually suffocating the rooms below.
Although the town was voluntarily abandoned and there had been no calamity or foul play involved, it still felt as though the town was filled with ghosts. We could almost see and feel the men and women in the old-fashioned garb, the ladies in long dresses with ruffles and sleeves and the men in the top hats and suits.
We couldn’t hear them though, and that’s possibly what led to the eerie almost phantom-like quality of the place. There was only the sound of the wind blowing sand against old walls occasionally and the creak of timbers as we walked through disintegrating buildings.
A few years ago I came home from shopping and went through to our en suite to do what we all do then the telephone rang and I went through to answer it. Nothing exceptional in this, you say, so why are you boring me with it?
Well, I spoke for a long time and somewhere during my conversation I heard an almighty BANG from the en suite. Frowning, I went through to the other room but could see nothing amiss – no intruder, no ghost, nothing untoward.
I hung up and followed him through. Sure enough, there was a long, exceptionally thin, green-black snake lying in the cubicle. The sound I had heard was a heavy shampoo bottle falling from the shelf to the floor, which had injured the snake, and made it not only extremely angry but also caused considerable injury as well. That was evident from the blood in the cubicle and the unnatural kink halfway down the snake’s spine.
We figured out the intruder must have climbed up the bougainvillea outside our window, entered through a broken screen, found himself in the bathroom and then when I came in he tried to escape into the shower, slithering up onto the shelf and knocking down the shampoo bottle, thus causing his injury.
But what to do?
There was no way either of us was going to risk removing the snake from the shower – and we couldn’t go to sleep with the creature still there. So we called various wildlife bodies, who in turn gave us the names of a few snake catchers, and then we waited – and waited.
With the sun sinking lower and lower and darkness creeping in, we made yet another call to the snake catcher. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I won’t be able to make it until much later.’
We looked at each other. How were we to relax knowing there was a snake in the bathroom? What if it got out of the cubicle and into the rest of the house?
We researched what type of snake it could be. A green tree snake, which meant: harmless.
‘I’m going to lasso it,’ said my husband.
My mouth dropped open. ‘You’re not serious?’
‘Yes, I am.’ And so he fetched a long hollow swimming pool pole, threaded a even longer cord through it, formed a noose at the end and tried to lasso the offender. If you’ve ever tried to lasso a snake before, let me tell you, it’s not easy and also not fun. Not for the snake and not for you. The snake didn’t like it and tried every which way to escape, but eventually Ron had the noose on its ‘neck’, lifted it, still struggling, and carried it outside, with me bravely opening doors for him along the way.
‘Where are you going to release it?’ I asked him as he reached the verandah.
‘Down there.’ He pointed with his head to the bottom of our big garden.
And so I followed him, a tiny procession of wriggling snake, long pole, wary husband and nervous me, until we reached the area of bushland that adjoins our property. There, with great care, Ron loosened the noose and set the snake free and we watched as it slid into the undergrowth.
I must confess I said a silent prayer to St Francis to take care of it, for up close it was obvious its injury was significant and although we had set it free I had no confidence it would survive.
What’s the point to this story, you ask?
Well, there is a sequel, if you can bear with me.
Yesterday evening, as we sat out on our deck admiring the birds and the trees, I noticed a long thin shape at our pool. He was lying quite still with his head slightly raised. We moved closer for a better look. That green-black colour looked familiar, as did the yellow underside and the large dark eye, but it was the distinct kink in the back, long since healed, that clinched it.
Our snake was back.
And as long as he stays outside, we’re happy to have him.
What has two pink legs, blue diaphanous wings, green stars on a golden back, a black and white head and warbles when it sings? I’m not sure either but I could have sworn I saw and heard one at the Gold Coast Sevens over the weekend, along with Snow White and the seven dwarfs, Darth Vader, Roman soldiers, beach boys, Mexicans, Santa Claus… You name it, they were all there – and having such fun. The rugby, exciting as it was, was only a part of it. Every time there was a break, it was party-time, with people dancing and singing along to the music.
Even with such a carnival atmosphere amongst the crowd, there was still serious rugby being played, and with only seven minutes to score the tries come thick and fast. What a fantastic opportunity this is for young men from around the world. The current sevens tournament will last for six months, starting as it did on the Gold Coast in Australia, and ending in May in England. Next weekend these same young men will play in Dubai and then it’s on to South Africa, but they will also play in places like the USA and Japan. It’s like a mini-Rugby World Cup played every week until May. And the great part is that small nations like the island of Niue with a population of only 1400 can field a team alongside giants like the USA with its population of 300 million.
The Gold Coast has been lucky enough to secure this tournament for the next four years, so if you haven’t seen one of these tournaments before, do yourself a favour and go next year. I certainly will. Can’t wait!