Thursday, September 18, 2008

Driving, Roatan Style

We were very thankful to learn that we probably won't need to get Honduran driver's licenses since we will only be living here half the year. We feel pretty confident of this information which came from our insurance agent who is also the governor of the island.
Our insurance covers anyone who drives our car, any damage to our vehicle and any damage done to another vehicle, person or property, regardless of who was at fault. In the event of an accident, the law requires that all vehicles be left where they are until the police arrive and assess the situation. You are expected to stay put as well, however, if there are injuries, either to yourself or another person, you may leave and go get medical care, then come back. And your rates will never increase just because of an accident.

Getting a driver's license here is interesting in many ways. First, you don't actually have to be able to drive. That's right. The driving test is just a written exam (so you must be able to read); there is no on-the-road driving test. You must also prove that you can see, and don't think that you can bring in the results of your recent eye exam! No, you must go to one of the official eye doctors for drivers and get a paper of certification to bring back (and pay, of course). Next you must have an AIDS test (don't know if you must pass or not), and you must have your blood pressure tested. Then you get your picture taken, preferably with a buddy as the camera apparently takes two pictures, kind of like passport photos, hand over your money and you're safe to drive. You don't even have to have car insurance. That seems to be optional.

We have just observed two new stop signs on the island this past weekend. There are no traffic lights and precious few stop signs. There are very few signs of any kind and no street name signs, no yield signs, no warning signs. They could probably use a few curve or hill warnings, but then again, no one would pay any attention. The roads do not have any markings and drivers pass anywhere they want whether it is safe or not. Doesn't matter if you can't see. There are some mileage signs and some directional signs pointing toward West End or West Bay, etc.

We have encountered crazy things on the road, and it can be very dangerous at night (no lights). The other day we came upon a herd of cows sauntering down the road in Flowers Bay. We have seen the chicken cross the road many times. At certain times of the year, you'll see lots of big white crabs running down the road. People walking, riding bicycles on the road, in the dark. Most people here do not own cars and so rely on taxis, buses (really passenger vans), bicycles, catching a ride on the back of a friend's bicycle, horses, or their own two feet. One of my favorite sights is the ice cream man who rides a bicycle fitted with a cooler full of ice cream behind his seat. He really has to work at it to get up and down these hills. It is also very common to see a truck full of people standing in the back of it. Sometimes we'll see dump trucks packed full of workers on the way to a construction site. The other day, we were behind a big flatbed truck loaded with rebar so long that it extended over the cab and hung off the back. Two men were standing behind the cab, one holding a push broom ready to push power lines up out of the way as they passed (see above photo).

If there is an accident, you may see a branch from a tree thrown out into the road as a warning. Along the unpaved roads, it is common to use ropes for speed bumps. If you drive into Jonesville or Oak Ridge, be prepared for an amazing series of speed bumps. We counted more than 20 in Jonesville, and it is not a big town. It is also extremely common to find a taxi stopped in the middle of the road, waiting for a fare, or maybe just talking to someone, or backing up on the road to go back and get a fare.

So, if you feel adventurous, come on down and go for a drive!

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