Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How To Drive on a Desert Island

Hopefully, my "how to" tips on self timed photography have been of some help to my friends. I don't profess to be an expert on everything; however, I have attained another skill during the past month. I have garnered many driving hints and tricks which will probably work on other Caribbean Islands...unless of course they drive on the left side of the road. That would add an additional dimension to one's stress level.

On my past trip to Curacao, I rented a car...twice. Each time was for one week. This brings me to my first suggestion. If you can do a bit of research, and deal with a local independent car rental establishment, you might not have to promise your first born in order to acquire a vehicle. The local places have autos which are a bit older, up to three years old, in good condition and considerably less expensive than the rental chains.

Driving Tip #1 The Need For Speed

Drive fast. Don't look in your rear view mirror. You don't have time to be distracted by the guy riding your bumper. Honk your horn frequently for no apparent reason. Don't worry about where you're going because you won't get lost for more than a day. It's an island. You'll always end up in the same place. You will be aware that you are driving too slowly by the constant sound of horns and whizzing of cars on either side of you whether there's a road or not. Do not attempt to pull over. There's usually no place to do this anyhow and shoulders are unheard of. I've become certain that the first skill taught at a Caribbean island driving school is without a doubt the all important horn honking.

Driving Tip #2  Wildlife

Again, not to worry. There will be roosters, goats, potcakes, iguanas and wild boar on the road. If you hit one, they are dispensable. The only problem is that they aren't dispensed with. You will view the same deceased wildlife for which you were responsible (in varying degrees of decomposition) every time you pass said location. On the bright side, the island will eventually gain another speed bump. Speaking of speed bumps, there are many. Someone who ran out of swampland to sell seems to have found an alternate entrepreneurial opportunity...selling speed bumps to desert islands.

Driving Tip #3  Traffic Lights

These are sparse...and by sparse I mean they exist, but you're lucky if you still see it once you get to the stop line. Traffic lights are not found on every corner as in north America. There isn't one on the other side of the intersection so make sure you stop when you see the one light on the median. If you drive up too far, you will be unable to locate any other traffic lights to help you decide when it's time to burn rubber. If you make the mistake I did, one time only, don't panic. Stay put. You can't back up because of reason in tip #1 (bumper riders). Wait patiently, wipe perspiration off your brow and accelerate rapidly when the traffic behind you leans on their horns.

Driving Tip #4  Street Signs

Ha,ha...forget it. You'll be lucky if you get any kind of indication of a road you're on. I found one...count 'em, one street sign and that's only because I was not driving, but I was a walker on that day....aka in Dutch laufer (get it? See photo). The good news is that there are area signs. For example, an area in the city of Toronto would be Scarborough, East York and so on. In Curacao, there are areas of Willemstad...Punda, Otrabanda, Scharloo etc. and the signs are listed as such. These will give you an approximate clue in which direction you're travelling. Should you venture very far from the city, you might even see a sign with its name. You will frequently see signs that say Bushalte. Do not confuse this with a street name. It's a bus stop.

Driving Tip #5  Escape from Circular Driving

If you are looking for a place, once you find it, it's hard to escape. In other words, you will keep finding it over and over again. This happened to me. I found Seaquarium after a day of searching. Curiously, I couldn't escape the area once I was there. All signage then pointed to the Seaquarium. Now I see the problem as I look at my photo. Here's what I finally did. I found a tour bus and followed it. Any bus might do for that matter. Buses, if you can keep up to them, can get you out of most areas.
Driving Tip #6   Traffic Circles/Roundabouts

These are tricky. You yield, kind of, then cut off anyone who may be coming around the roundabout too slowly or on more than two car wheels. Zoom into the mix quickly, honk your horn and pretend you're  a local. Traffic circles are of particular benefit when you miss your turn, as you often will at the speeds you are forced to drive. Some of the circles have an added feature of a yield sign in the middle of them. If you make the mistake of yielding when someone else actually has a mid roundabout yield, horns will honk.

Driving Tip #7   Parking

Anything goes. Nose to nose, left wheels against the curve, abandonment of vehicle. Be selective however. There are some obvious places where you might not want to park (see first photo). Once parked in some areas, it's almost impossible to move. Since I did not use one of the local car rental establishments, but rather had a brand new vehicle, I made the decision to park in the Renaissance Hotel parking garage when possible. It is multi level, free, central to Willemstad and a bit more secure. Many things were within walking distance and there is a security guard near the entrance for ornamental purposes. He automatically lifts the barrier for anyone who drives up with their window open ready to ask for admittance to the garage.

Driving Tip #8   Acquiring Gas

All gas stations have a prepayment requirement. Usually, there's either a little booth where you pay and they give you a pump number or you go up to a pump and go to the building to pay, telling them your pump number. There is no competitive pricing. While I was in Curacao, all gas was $1.25 a litre and I drove to my heart's content for a week on one tank. (Actually, I was mostly lost and driving in circles. They make their money from tourists I suppose). Sometimes, someone will pump your gas. I'm not too clear on where this person originates. It's quite random. They just seem to magically appear from behind a cactus or something after you've pulled up. Also, there are two types of gas...diesel and super. Use super lest you regret it and end up purchasing your rental car. Super has a yellow handle on the pump. Use the yellow handle if pumping yourself. Warning too - Should you neglect to put in sufficient gas in your rental car before dropping it off, you will be charged double their estimate of the amount missing.

Driving Tip #9    All Roads Lead To...

This is more of a specific tip for Curacao. Not to worry. You can't avoid this bridge no matter how hard you try. Any time you get lost, you will travel over this bridge...many times. It can be helpful in fact since it always takes you back to the same place. There are no lane marker lines. If someone honks, you've wandered over the imaginary lines. There might be three lanes on the bridge. That's as yet undetermined by me. It all depends on how much space the cars/buses/trucks that are travelling beside each other take. Also, if the bridge makes you nervous, don't be. It only collapsed once early on during its creation. The cruise ships fit, trust me. My only warning is, don't be distracted by the spectacular view, the submarines and the like. Keep to the left when going onto the bridge. Should you accidentally forget this and drive on the right, exit at the ramp. Don't try to get back on (as do highway drivers in Ontario). It's a steep drop between the ramp and the bridge lanes with only a few pebbles, a tree branch, and a goat or two to keep you from being suspended in, just keep left or exit if you make a mistake.

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