Preparing to drive for the first time was more than a bit stressful. As I tested out all the controls to make sure I knew where they were, we had the following conversation:
D: Right, that’s the blinker, not the shifter.
(Car eased out of parking space in first, into the wrong lane.)
J: You’re on the right side.
D: So I am…..was that the wrong right or the right left?
J: Better practice using the blinkers.
(Wipers go on. Somehow we make it out of the parking lot. Approaching turn.)
J: Put on your blinker.
(Wipers go on again. Then wrong blinker.)
D: This is a left, that means its a short turn and I’m going to stay on this side of the street.
J: Good, you’re on the right side.
D: What (swerve) I’m on the left.
J: Left, that’s what I meant.
(Some time, and a few ostrich, pass.)
D: Shit, now its raining.
J: At least you know where the wipers are.
(Blinker goes on.)
And so it went, somehow we’ve survived a month of driving already and to be honest it has been a pleasure. Our car is little, so little in fact that it isn’t even sold in the US. With all four cylinders contributing to a massive 1.1L engine it struggles a bit on the big hills. Most of which are on one-lane highways. People here use the shoulders to allow others to pass. Although this is something we’ve seen everywhere we’ve been since Mexico, this is the first time I’ve actually driven in it and it is rather nice. If I scoot over for someone I can expect them to flash their hazards once they’ve passed me, saying ‘thank you’ and I am to respond with a flash of my high beams to say ‘you’re welcome.’ Oncoming cars will also scoot into the shoulder to allow more space in that imaginary center lane.
After 9 months through Latin America we only rented a vehicle once, and that was our final week with others doing the driving. It may seem surprising then that we’ve had our own set of wheels here in South Africa, driving on the left side of the road and all, for 6 weeks through 4 countries. The decision was a financial one, along the main route the car for two was cheaper than bus, which has allowed us to explore far more of the country while allowing us to camp and cook ourselves everywhere we’ve gone.
The thing I like the least about having the car is that, like the backpacks, our entire life is inside of it. The difference is that the backpacks are never left out of our sight in public whereas we frequently leave the car in public parking lots. Theft and vandalism here is such a problem that most parking lots have attendants in each lane to guard the cars…a service that you “optionally” pay for when you return to your car. We’ve seen this in other countries (Brazil, Argentina, etc) but needing to payoff the guard is something that still seems alien to us.
We’ve made it this far without a problem, driving through South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, and finally Namibia. Sometimes we find ourselves on the right (wrong) side of the road, and the wipers continue to make non-raining appearances, but otherwise we’re doing OK. The most amazing thing though, is when we’re approaching an intersection and Jill says “make a left at the light” and we both know that means to make a right.