I love love love being a passenger in a car outside of the “Western world.” It is completely exhilarating. The first time I did it, I was in India. What a shock. At first I thought that holiday was going to be the end of my beautiful, short life. Luckily I was in such big culture shock on the bus from the airport to the hotel that I didn’t realise the driving or road rules. I probably would’ve had a heart attack. I mean I was in such shock I couldn’t even talk. It started when a group of natives surrounded our suitcases and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We fought our way to a bus which I wouldn’t have considered functional. My boyfriend at the time said, “Look! It’s an old school bus from America. Maybe you rode in it when you were young!” I looked at him in terror and said nothing. Even though I had jeans on, there was no way I wanted to put my bum on that seat. I sat on the edge of the seat with my back straight, shoulders tensed and feeling totally numb. My boyfriend kept asking if I was alright, but I could barely register his voice. It was like I was in a bad dream and couldn’t move or speak. Looking out the window I saw true poverty for the first time. Families in huts and tents with huge holes in them so they offered little protection. Cows wandering everywhere and eating from piles of rubbish that were placed randomly along the street. Other piles of rubbish burning on the sides of the street. If I could call it a street. There was no pavement, it was all dirt road. With the huge traffic of cars, buses, bikes, animals, pedestrians, it was so dusty it was like I was viewing the world with dirt covered glasses. The smell! Oh the smell! The smell of plastic burning, human feces, animals and diesel. This was my first time outside of the first world. I wanted to close my eyes and plug my nose and think of nice things, but I couldn’t. I was also in awe of this world. How people can live so differently and still be laughing and having fun. The naked children were running around laughing, even though they had no toys. How incredible!! I vowed never to return to a place like this after experiencing it once. How wrong I was! This trip planted a seed in my heart which was to grow with time and age.
Back to the driving. We took a taxi to the jungle and I’m not sure what scared me more. The thought of being attacked by a tiger (it wasn’t that kind of jungle!), or being on the road with no rules. My boyfriend had been to numerous places like this and assured me it was safe. “They drive like this all the time. They are used to it!” I wasn’t so sure. We were going up a huge hill in the middle of a narrow road. I thought for sure it was the end. I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and told him I loved him. We were chugging slowly up the hill, in the middle of the road with cars going in opposite directions on either side of us. A two lane highway made into four of five lanes by the drivers. I thought if I was going to die, I should at least be happy.
As the 10 days went on, I slowly started realising something. There weren’t formal road rules and I’m sure there were no driving schools, but there was a totally organised chaos. The rules seemed to be always look in front. As long as you did that, everyone behind would swerve when you did and the person you are about to turn into will slow down so you don’t hit them. There was some organisation!! I looked around and didn’t see any accidents or dents in cars. It couldn’t be all that bad.
I found my last visit in the States so boring from the point of the road. I mean, come on, obeying stop signs, having and staying in proper lanes, forbidding motorcycles to go on any free space on the road, people wearing seat belts, etc. After 14 months in Latin America, I wasn’t used to this. How soul destroying!
Today we went to the supermarket. As we have a boat and not a car, we always take taxis. I have learned to love it! I feel exhilarated when we come within half a centimetre of hitting another car. I am sometimes scared for the motorcycles who swerve out of the way just in time when we unexpectedly change our route. Again, the rule is “look ahead.” The taxi drivers seem to make a game of how they can swerve in and out of the free spaces the road has to offer. My heart skips a beat. It’s like I’m watching a scary movie and I’m scared, but enjoying it! The climate of the taxi’s is great too. The freezer like air conditioning is a welcome break from the burning intensity of the sun on the street and boat. And the noises of the street! Constant honking of horns, not in an angry way, just as a way of saying “hey, I’m here!!” The street vendors shouting out what they have to offer. I can barely understand the drivers as they are from the coast and have a thick accent, but they tell jokes and make fun of other people. There is no road rage! After all, why be angry? It’s not going to get you anywhere faster and could get you arrested.
As we pulled up to the marina, the rollercoaster ride ended. The taxi driver pulled me out of the moment of excitement with a heartwarming laugh and smile. “Gracias senorita!” Yes, I am home and I feel so exhilarated!