Two new excellent additions to life in Leon – a bicycle and a P.O. Box!

My new bike in the room at the Residencia.  A little cluttered, but worth it!

My new bike in the room at the Residencia. A little cluttered, but worth it!

Yesterday I went down to the San Juan market to look for a bicycle. Shopping around for prices and quality here is tricky and exhausting. Getting around is exhausting, especially in the middle of the day. So I had pretty much decided that I would talk to everyone at the market selling bicycles and then buy one that afternoon, not worrying that somewhere else in the city there would be a better deal. The San Juan market is where the old train station used to be. The building is still standing, but the train stopped running 19 years ago. The market is divided into sections – clothes, shoes, fruit, meat, hardware shops, and bicycles. First I wandered into the shoes and clothes section, looking for the original train station. I found it next to Ronaldo’s shoe booth and his wife’s clothes booth. I started talking to him, and after a while we figured out we could help eachother out. I promised to get him the names of the best varieties of tomatoes to plant in his patio, and he gave me advice on buying bicycles. He told me what a decent price for a used bike was, and to make sure that the bike had papers, otherwise it could be stolen, and I wouldn’t be able to prove I bought it.

Ulysses assembling my bicycle

Ulysses assembling my bicycle

When I found the section where everyone was selling bicycles the first four sellers quoted me prices for used bicycles that were double what Ronaldo advised. The selection wasn’t great, and most of them were in pretty poor shape, and even though the prices included a thorough tune-up, I was a little skeptical. The last person’s booth I went was Ulysses’. All his used bicycles were too big for me, but he showed me the new ones he had and quoted me a price that was less than what everyone else had offered for used ones. Ulysses has a great sense of humor and he joked around a lot while describing the bikes, and ultimately convinced me to buy the beautiful new dark red bike that fit me perfectly. It wasn’t assembled yet, so I had forty five minutes to wander around the market while he finished assembling it. And so I ended up with not only a new bike, but lots of new food for dinner too – maduros hornados, cuajada, tamale pisca, and an old rum bottle filled with local honey.

This morning I sat for half an hour in the post office waiting while they processed my application (a hand written note on a scrap of notebook paper) for a P.O. box. (My address is now in the sidebar of this blog, under the brief description of my project here). The post office here, like many of the old buildings, has huge wooden doors that are nine feet tall and open out onto the street. Inside it was cool and dark, and the two ladies working in the front typed loudly on their typewriters, filling out all the necessary forms and making receipts for people paying for packages. Most houses here open up into patios in the center of the block, and the back room of the post office has tall crooked shelves of wooden P.O. boxes, sagging under the weight of many years, and behind them a courtyard of palms and banana plants. There was no ceiling; I sat and looked up at the hand hewn beams and slats with the underside of corrugated tin peeking through. The sound of the typewriters was as unfamiliar to me as the architecture and these inside gardens, and all became elements in a peacefully nostalgic and dreamy scene.