Thursday, July 27, 2006


Trip dist: 83 kms. Trip time: 5 hrs, 3 min. Tot dist: 4,588 kms.

Man. I'm ditching the radwegs. Every time I get on one I end up either: a)pushwalking the bike and its 30 kgs of panniers over sloped gravel, b)scratching my head at an unmarked 6 or 7-way intersection in the middle of a wheat-field somewhere, c)bumping along on stone-paved road whose vibration loosens every single screw on the bike and would even loosen the ones in my brain if I only had one still left to loosen, or d)between 2-10 kms away from where I need to be at any given point in time judging from my road map. So I guess I'll take the angry shouting when I ride the Bundestrasse instead. That's what a good set of headphones and some relaxing Chopin in the classical music station is for.

I have another "funny" road story for today. I arrived in Erfurt (pretty city, was passing at that moment precisely through a street where the houses reminded me a lot of the ones one finds in downtown Guadalajara, the big, beautiful antique houses with a garden surrounding them, along Av. Vallarta--most of them are now made into restaurants or offices, but picture this, this street in Erfurt was full of them, so you can imagine how pretty it was).

Anyway, it was a rather hot day, so at one point I stopped in front of a pretty house, on the sidewalk where there was some shade, propped the bike by its kickstand, and proceeded to retrieve some water from my bright yellow thermos bag. I was just in the middle of drinking when from across the street I see a tall, approximately 70-year old gentleman purposefully approaching me.

"Oops," I thought. "I'm about to get scolded again. I wonder what I did this time. Surely stopping in front of houses to drink from one's water bottle is not also forbidden?" and I started putting my bottle away in preparation for leaving, as it seemed would shortly be required of me.

"Hot day today, isn't it?", said the gentleman, as he approached.

Ah. Maybe I won't get scolded. I relaxed a bit, opened up the bottle again. "Yeah," said I.

"Do you come from very far?"

"Eisenach," said I. (One never tells people one comes from Lisbon, or goes to Istanbul. People....tend to treat you with suspicion when you say that, because they don't believe you. So they become overcautious because they can't figure out why you would make up such a kind of story, you see....)

"No," said he. "But originally? You're not German?".

"Ah!", I laughed, good naturedly. "Nah, I'm from Mexico."

"Really?", said he. Then he switched to Spanish. "Mexico is pretty, right?".

"Ha ha, yes it is. Your Spanish is quite good. How is it that you speak it so?" said I.

Turns out, the gentleman had lived for some time in Tenerife. We then had a rather pleasant 20 minute or so chat (half Spanish half German), where we talked about all sorts of things, where he had travelled, that he had lived both in the FDR and the GDR, and did he think things were different between the two, and are they still, and why is there more unemployment in the former GDR even now as compared to the former FDR, etc, and what is Mexico like? Is there a lot of unemployment there?

I said, well, yes and no, the official unemployment rate is low, but that's because even though something like 20% of the people are not formally employed (in a company, for instance, or in a service job, etc), since the government gives no unemployment benefits one has to figure out a way to make some money, so they become "self-employed" in small temporary businesses: secondhand repair shops, trade/sell/barter, cleaning staff, etc. And when the polls come along, people fill in the "self-employed" box and although they are formally unemployed, the figure doesn't count towards the official unemployment rate, you see.

"Yeah, that's good, you see. Here in Germany since the government gives out unemployment benefits it is sometimes more worthwhile to just not work. Because people think 'If by working I get only 100 Euros more, why bother?', you know?".

"Yeah." Said I.

"And in Mexico, is it true that it is very poor?"

"Well, yes. The statistics say that something like 80% of the population in Mexico is poor." (I kept things simple here. No use going into what this "poor" actually means, but if you're curious, it basically means that 80% of the people in Mexico are below the international poverty line, though different sites quote different numbers, and of course as with all statistics it really really makes a difference how you count things and how you conduct your surveys. In fact, the official international number is 40% or so--look at the stats on the web, the CIA factbook, for instance--, but the official national number, the number the Mexicans are told about on their news and textbooks, is around 80%. Don't ask me why these numbers are different).

"I see...".

And so on and so forth. The conversation continued. Where was I headed today? Weimar. Ah, I see. And do you stay in hotels, or do you camp, or what? I stay in Youth Hostels, they're fairly cheap, you see, I smiled.

"I used to bike around too, you know." he said.

"When I was younguer, staying in the Youth Hostels cost only 5 Marks!!".

"Aha." said I.

"Can you believe it?"

"Cheap." said I. I figured that was the correct response, but in reality, I have no idea of how much a Mark compares to a Euro, much less how much 5 Marks was way back when this gentleman was young, especially since I had no good feel for how long ago that was anyway. But the answer seemed to please him, at any rate.

We exchanged a few more brief pleasantries, until I told him I must be on my way, to which he most kindly gave me some directions, and we parted.

I was in the outskirts of Erfurt about 25 minutes later when I saw a squeaky clean dark blue rather large car (Mercedes? didn't pay close attention) signal towards me and take a side street I had just crossed and stop and honk at me. I turned to see the gentleman I had just been having a conversation with earlier. I figured from the honking that he was going to correct me on the directions, perhaps I had taken a wrong turn, so when he beckoned towards the car, I resignedly braced myself for some more of this German "help".

To my surprise, he rolled down the window, and proferred me a 50 Euro note.

I jumped two steps back and shook my head as I hastily returned to my bike.

"Wait, no..." said he.

"Sorry," said I.

"Take it", said he.

"Sorry, no." said I.

"It is a gift. I just want to make you a gift."

"You're most kind, but no", said I, as I climbed onto the bike.

"No, wait, you don't understand. I don't want anything. It is just a gift!" said he, visibly chagrined at the fact I might have gotten the wrong idea.

I chuckled as I shook my head.

"But why?" said he.

But why, indeed. As if..."future favors" know?...and if not that, then as if a conversation with me could be purchased with pecuniaries, and if not that, as if this Mexican were so poor that a 50 Euro charity would make a difference. Ha ha, thought I, chuckling, as I pedalled off to Weimar, just exacly as poor and affluent as I had been in the morning:

These Germans sure are strange, aren't they?

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