Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grocery shopping by bike, and exploring parks

Overall, biking around Cape Town has been going very well. We've been going to the beach less often than we did with a car, because the 1 hour train ride involves more planning than hopping in the car on a sunny day (and because it was starting to get cooler, although now it's crazy hot again). But we've been getting to know our neighborhood much better, and there is so much to explore.

My confidence took a temporary hit recently, with a fall on gravel at one of the underpasses around Rondebosch common. My hand was grazed badly enough that getting home was really difficult with the kids. The thing is, there have been times when- for no other reason than grumpiness and a vague sense of danger- I hiss under my breath at the kids "don't put your arm so far out, you'll be hit by a car!" and other horrible things, but when there was this real crisis, we pulled together. The kids got back in the bike (Eli had some minor cuts, but they didn't fall hard or fast), Noah buckled them in and helped settle Eli, and we sang songs the whole way home, I with a pair of the kid's trousers wrapped around my hand as it bled. I couldn't have been more proud of the boys; overall the bike is one place where they are happy and loving towards each other, except when they're fighting over who gets to drink the water.

Eug and I can switch between the two bikes easily now, which greatly extends our distance on days where we ride together, as we can change bikes when the Bullitt-rider gets tired. It makes trips into the city and to Plumstead very fast and easy. We are managing hills we never thought possible when we started riding.

Last week, I carried a 12.5kg bag of flour, 72 eggs, 4 kg of meat, 2kg of butter from our Food buyers club (thank you Nicola!), and the two boys home on the Bullitt. All told, I was hauling about 50kg- it was a short ride but felt empowering (not to mention it was just necessary- which is not to make too much of a big thing of it, as [maybe] there is more to life than figuring out how many kilograms one can pedal around the city).

So I feel like we are all getting used to getting everywhere by bike.

Grocery shopping was one area where we weren't sure exactly what to do before we sold the car: we'd not been eating as much fruit as we did when we frequented a Farmer's market in Tokai, which on the one hand was fine because we were still eating more fruit than when we lived in Boston, but on the other hand it was a problem because Eli has weeks where he just doesn't eat the meals we're eating, and we're more inclined to worry when he's not getting fruit. Farmer's markets are abundant around Cape Town, but finding one that happens at a time that works with our schedule and is close enough to bike to was tough. While we can get to supermarkets (and occasionally do), the fruits tend to be expensive, anonymous, and involve a lot of packaging. Then we found Hope Street market.

The entrance to Hope Street Market, where we can park right outside with our bikes.
So here's our breakdown of how we're doing food without supermarkets or a car, for posterity and for anyone weird enough to avoid supermarkets in our area:

The Farmer's Market at the nearby Old Biscuit Mill on Saturday tends to be a bit too exclusive (expensive) and touristy so we were happy to discover the Farmer's Market on Hope Street in the CBD. It's a 30 minute ride on Main Road into the center of the city on a Saturday morning, and then we're able to get our fruit for the week, have a croissant, and visit a park, book shop, or museum downtown together before heading home.  The market also has olive oil, pecan nuts, and oats. Our vegetables come from Harvest of Hope, our eggs/flour/meat/butter come from a local Food buying Club. There is a small health/hippie foods store in our suburb of Observatory, called Komati, where we get beans, nuts and peanut butter. We get rice and any Asian ingredients we can't make from scratch from the Korean store on Main Road. The only thing where a question remains is milk and cheese, where we have to choose between a super cheap factory shop and a super expensive local cheese shop. We're on the fence on that one, but being on the fence means for the moment we're going with the super expensive local cheese shop, because the cheap shop would involve more actual planning. Let's just say we're eating a lot less cheese and have discovered the glory (and cheapness) of dried beans. The take home is that grocery shopping has become a different part of our lives than before, but it generally doesn't take longer (everything except fruits and vegetables are closer to once/month than once/week), it is just different- a good different, for the most part. And we forage when we can.

One of us takes the kids to a park almost every day as we cling to summer, and by now we must have over 20 parks that we visit- there are massive variations in the kinds of parks out there- from idyllic to full of drugs and people passed out- as in any city in the world, I suppose.  At one park, small children will run freely without adult supervision in sight, at another just a couple of blocks away, there will be only nannies with bored kids. It is interesting bear witness to the ways that 500m represents such a stark difference in child rearing and everyday life, and for the most part we're always the outliers. On the bike, we are able to bear witness to a lot: Eug says he will write about parks in Cape Town sometime.

I've started to appreciate that the parks here are challenging and dangerous for our kids. They get a lot of their energy and adrenaline out, even if it occasionally leaves me terrified. 
Our kids don't always wear shoes at parks, so we have to suss the park out before deciding on shoes. It's a lot easier to climb without shoes.
hipsters and the roller

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sold the car, Biking on Main Road.

We sold the car a couple of weeks ago, and we're entering into a rhythm with grocery shopping, life and parenting without the car. If you haven't checked it out yet, Eug wrote a post about biking on Composting Faith!
We make a lot of ice-cream

We've been trying new routes and having adventures as a family on Saturday morning, and then working in the afternoon. The last couple of adventures have involved the road I was most afraid of not so long ago: Main road. It has heavy traffic a lot of the time, but I've discovered this heavy traffic also slows down cars a lot, making it relatively safer.

Obs-Green Point Park
Last Saturday we tried riding to the city, and through the city, to Green Point Park largely using Main Road. On a Saturday morning, traffic is mixed. On the one hand, there are much fewer commuters, though lots of people do work on Saturday. On the other hand, there are a lot of people doing their grocery shopping, or heading to the city for other reasons. All to say, there was plenty of traffic, but fewer buses, and I've found buses are the worst as far as ignoring/not seeing cyclists.

The main issue on the weekend is minibus taxis. Minibus taxis stop extremely often (multiple times in a single block, sometimes), which means you're constantly having to veer right to go around them, only to be passed and cut off by the same minibus moments later. The good news was that we actually ended up ahead of the minibus taxis, and cycling in the center of the city was relatively easy.

There is a corridor in the center of the city that involves a bike lane, though at times this lane is on the pavement and so, understandably, is full of pedestrians and unsafe to ride on. There are parts of the ride that show an encouraging amount of planning for bikes, mixed with parts that don't seem to work for the mix of cyclists, pedestrians and cars using the street.

Obs-Newlands Forest
Yesterday, we rode in the other direction, to Newlands Forest. This involved a lot of uphill on the way there, as the forest is on the side of the mountain. Riding south on Main road is much easier than riding into the city- minibus taxis are stopping much less frequently.

The common theme: Eli on his own mission.

The river was almost dry, but the kids still got to throw rocks into the water and look for tadpoles.
The reverse direction, we came close to flying. We went up on the bike path of the M3 in the direction of the city, which leads to Upper Campus of UCT. We rode through Upper Campus, until we flew down the steep hill back down to Main Road. Looking back, we probably wouldn't do that on a week day because we really did speed down, and I'm not sure either bike could have stopped in an emergency.

Re-learning how to ride and getting fit
Eug is becoming a bike nerd, and I'm trying to catch some of his insights and not just enjoy his newfound knowledge. One of the main things I learned is that my seat is too low, because I'm not comfortable starting by pedaling. So I'm raising my seat a tiny bit at a time. Eug has been learning how to maintain the bikes (I want to learn but haven't yet...), and we are finally comfortable switching between the Tern and Bullitt (initially, we would get unbalanced because the bikes rode quite differently.) We've learned how to shift gears, which took some learning for me. I've found this steep learning curve a bit surprising, because I thought I learned how to ride a bike as a child, only to find there's a lot more to learn than just staying upright.

One somewhat surprising byproduct of selling the car and getting fit on the bike is my sense of usefulness, a feeling a little bit like being pregnant or breastfeeding, where you feel the innate usefulness of one's body. Like wow! My body is actually made to help me travel places!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another week: Obs to the Waterfront, Obs-Plumstead (again), and the public swimming pool

This weekend saw a lot of mileage for the Bullitt. We didn't take photos because the routes were a little more intense/weren't sure of safety, but I thought I'd write a quick post anyway.

Getting from Obs - Plumstead on a Sunday was infinitely easier than last time (we rode on a Saturday). Very doable and even enjoyable. The strong winds made life a bit more difficult, but we're all more confident, just knowing the route and being more confident on the quiet roads. The kids are still happy on the long ride. I'd now tend towards staying on main roads rather than trying to leave and enter traffic. We also discovered  that our last trip was the day of a major horse race, which explains a lot of the Saturday traffic and large tour buses.

We traveled for the first time to the V&A Waterfront, through the Cape Town CBD. There are plans afoot to create a bike lane on Albert Road, but for now getting to the city involves cycling in major traffic. The bike lane can't come soon enough. Thankfully, there isn't too much bus traffic (mainly car and minibus taxi). Once we got to Church Road in Woodstock, we were faced with a right turn in difficult traffic, in order to get onto the wonderful bike path that runs from Milnerton into the city.

When on that beautiful path that runs alongside the myciti bus route, I'm a lot more conscious that a) the city has been thinking of how to make biking more accessible for much longer than I've been biking. b) Biking offers a completely different view of the city.

While on this trip, we encountered a lot of homeless people living under bridges near to the city, and along the railway line, and I'm finally starting to feel something in me shift a bit. As you know if you read this blog, I'm theoretically trying to follow Jesus and be post-colonial, anti-racist and liberal and trying to see social ills in historical context and blah blah blah. But those abstract beliefs don't fit well together when I'm actually encountering beggars and homeless people. When faced with people who need/want something from me, I get guilty, angry, defensive and unsure of myself. This is where feeling "I can't help" unless I consider the the societal-level stuff collides with "here's a person who maybe could use someone noticing them", and these two ideas don't go together well. I don't want to be like this, but I honestly haven't been able to figure my way out of it. Praying about it hasn't helped. But riding along and seeing where people live, something is gradually shifting. When we bike, there's something to talk about with all kinds of people, and no hunk of metal to whisk us away. For the most part, people actually don't ask us for stuff as much, which paradoxically makes me feel less uncomfortable engaging and seeing where things lead.

Also on the Waterfront trip, I encountered my first negative comment: from a middle-aged white man driving a ridiculously expensive car who wagged a finger and said "what you're doing with those kids is very dangerous, you know?" I felt very small and very angry, and didn't say anything.

Observatory swimming pool
Observatory swimming pool has been an uncomfortable distance: too far to walk, to short to justify driving. So riding is perfect. Entrance is just R5 (US$0.50), and the kids love it.  I wish they opened earlier than 10am, but otherwise I'm so encouraged that, even as some beaches will be less accessible without the car, other options are opening up.

We're putting our best effort into selling the car this week, and hope to write more (with an exciting, rare, guest writing appearance from Eug) next week on Composting Faith.