streets

Escaping from the Automobile

It looks innocent enough.

Mr. Benz’s monster. It looks innocent enough.

For millions of years, homo sapiens, and their ancestors survived with four appendages – two arms and two legs. In 1885, Karl Benz invented the first automobile with an internal combustion engine. I’m sure he never expected it to become man’s fifth appendage attached at the rear-end.

While the automobile is a rarity in some parts of the world, until recently used mostly by privileged classes, in the United States it has become the equivalent of a fifth appendage, quickly being joined by a third ear called a cell phone. These are appliances anyone living in the U.S. these days can’t live without.

So, when going abroad for extended periods of time, Americans often find a unique opportunity to escape the clutches of their automobiles and take public transportation or use their feet as a mode of transportation. Since I already enjoyed walking, I have embraced the opportunity being car-less affords me.

Two years ago, when I wintered in Belize, I spent three month experiencing the joy of being car-less while my fifth appendage sat vestigial up-north. Lo and behold, I rediscovered walking – Walking in 90 degree temperatures; Walking in 90 percent humidity; Walking in the rain; Walking with the sweat gushing from every pore; Walking at night as a myriad of constellations and stars danced above; And yes, walking by the aquamarine bay at dawn as the brilliant golden sun rose over the horizon and thousands of birds sang their morning song.

When I decided to spend a winter at Lake Chapala, in Mexico, it was to be car-less again. Plenty of people bring their cars down here. But for 6 months, I knew I could tolerate a bit more exercise. Besides it’s relatively expensive to maintain a car here. If I needed to go beyond the confines of Ajijic and San Antonio, buses and taxis are cheap.

Most of us without cars spend a lot of time on-foot. Most car-less people down here claim to do 3-6 miles a day. And it’s not an easy 3-6 miles. You might as well be on a mountain trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire climbing over the remnants of the last glacier. The streets in Ajijic are built with what looks like granite stones. They are not the neat cubic cobblestones we have in the states. They are stones of various shapes that make walking in sandals quite tricky. Forget about high heels!

Sidewalks are not much better. There are curb-cuts for garages. There are steps on the hills which are easy to trip over or fall off. At your own risk, enjoy the gorgeous views of mountains to the north, the lake to the south, the colorfully painted walls and murals, and flowers bursting out everywhere.

Then there are concrete sidewalks, cobblestone sidewalks, sidewalks with tree stumps sticking up, and sidewalks with sleeping dogs sprawled across them. You literally risk life and limb if you let your eyes wander.

When I lived in Ajijic, on some days, I did the half-mile sojourn from my apartment to the town plaza 4-6 times a day – round trip. Most of the time I actually had something I wanted to do. But, other times either I forgot something – as us older folk are known to do – or I was the victim of the serendipity of Mexican store hours, and the establishment I wanted to visit on my first trip wasn’t open.

Other than the fact that I don’t have a choice, I really enjoy my walks. Now, for me, this has posed a rather pedestrian quandary regarding what one calls “a person who likes to walk” other than a happy walker. It seems that those of us who like to walk have been unfairly maligned.

You see, a person who likes things British is called an Anglophile. A person who likes things French is called a Francophile. A person who likes motion pictures is called a cinephile. The prefix “pedo” has its root in Latin as “relating to the foot.” It is used harmlessly as a prefix in pedometer, pedestrian and pedicure. But when you use it as a prefix, in any form before “phile” – pedi, pedo, pedia – it doesn’t work.

I recently read that Mexico deported a registered sex offender from the states as an undesirable person. Just because I like to walk, I wouldn’t want the Mexican authorities to think I’m an undesirable person. So what are us happy walkers to do?

Photo Attribution: “Patent-Motorwagen Nr.1 Benz 2” by DaimlerChrysler AG – Mediaseite der DaimlerChrysler AGfirst upload to de.wp: 15:48, 18. Dez. 2005 by de:User:Cete. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Patent-Motorwagen_Nr.1_Benz_2.jpg#/media/File:Patent-Motorwagen_Nr.1_Benz_2.jpg