Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Travelling without moving

Last night a cyclist was killed in the Outpost streets. Today, shopkeepers in a remote, but touristic, part of the Outpost took to the streets to protest against construction of a new cycle track. "Why do we need a track for half a dozen bikes?", one of them protested. The thing goes further. Most bikes are junk as well as invisible from dusk to dawn: no lights, no reflectors, no other reflecting surfaces on them, nothing. Cyclists have to cope with them, aggressive drivers and their own carefree attitude -- for instance, during the last three years I have been here, I have seen only one cyclist wearing a helmet, who I immediately recognised: a Swiss colleague. Jod also thrice attempted to cycle wearing a helmet.

You can't walk, either. In the summer it is because of the stifling heat. In the winter because of the mud: yes, there are not many pavements in the capital. Of them, some are too narrow or too occupied with cowboyishly parked cars: Outposters must park right in front of the main entrance of their destination or temporary stop.

What is the effect of the lack of walking, cycling and the like on our mental lives here? Massive, I would think. We are encased in one-passenger chassis, we never mingle, either as walkers or inside public transport. Actually, only on Saturdays do we walk, shopping. This is why locals are virtually unable to experience an urban space, for them spots in the city are atomistically defined destinations without an itinerary from them and to them, it is a bit like flying from home to school, work, restaurant, cafe, hairdresser's, cabaret -- and back. Unsurprisingly, most Outposters are amazed by my knowledge of their city, naively adding that 'us foreigners walk a lot', in the tone reserved to distance themselves from us foreigners' poverty, lax sexual mores and generally antisocial behaviours. But can there be introspection, or even reflection, without walking? I have been a walker for n years and a driver for 1. My own reply is 'no'.


Blogger Dolan said...

Sounds about as isolating as Los Angeles. That is a major why I no longer live there (and would never move back). In fact, LA has evolved into a city of walking destinations that one drives to, i.e. a cluster of shops and restaurants with miles of subdivisions in between. I suppose one could argue that such is the case for rural areas, with those clusters being known as small towns, but at least in between such towns one finds things generally more interesting than subdivisions, like forests, parks, or if nothing else, cropfields.

I'm hoping in the near future to rid myself of my 1 1/4 hour (each way) commute, and work close enough to home to be able to commute by bicycle. Not sure how much of introspection that is over driving, but at least some exercise is to be gained :)

10/12/04 03:33  

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