I’ve posted about the traffic here in the city before, but it continues to strike me as something to share since it’s so different from the traffic on the other side of the ocean. I often feel like it would be fun to drive with a Go Pro camera to let you really see what it’s like, but let me see if my words can do it a bit of justice. Remember I’m on a motorcycle, which makes a huge difference! Here’s a bit of what I was thinking as I was driving to church last Sunday . . .
Time to leave the house. It hasn’t rained during the night, so there won’t be bigger puddles on the dirt road part of my trip than there were yesterday. That also means that we should have the same potholes and washboarding going on as we did yesterday. Let’s see, after the last rain the path became – drive on the right side of the road here, then swerve over to the left side of the road to avoid major potholes, and back to the right side. Avoid those pedestrians, too!
The major road that I have to cross has a lot less traffic than normal since it’s a Sunday morning. Nice! I don’t even need to stop before I cross the street.
In the US they talk about smart stop lights that know when you’re there and so turn green for you. But they don’t work for motorcycles. And here, probably ¾ of the traffic is motorcycles. But we still have smart stop lights. I call them purple people. During peak times, at certain intersections, you have people dressed in purple who direct traffic. They see when you’re there and turn the “light” (the little stop signs in their hands) for you. Purple people are so helpful!
But the place where I usually meet purple people on this route doesn’t have purple people on Sunday mornings. But the traffic is light enough on Sundays that it’s not a problem. I merge into traffic.
Now which road to take? The shorter route or the route that’s usually faster? (NOTE: There are no speed limits here in town, at least none that I know of. There is one place where you’ll get stopped if you go above 50km/hr (about 30mph), but other than that you can go the speed you want. I rarely go over 50km/hr in town.) As I approach the intersection I think I’ll probably take the faster route like usual, but I end up a bit towards the right in the mob stopped at the light. (With motorcycles, even though the road only has 2 lanes going our way, it means that it’s wide enough for about 8 motorcycles across, or one car and 4 motorcycles, when you’re stopped at a light.) As I start going through the intersection I decide it’s slightly easier to go the shorter way, so I turn on my turn signal and join those people. (No, a turn signal is not necessary here. If you’re turning left, though, it’s best to look over your left shoulder. Then people know that you’re turning left. It’s a better signal than the turn signal on your motorcycle, that’s for sure! You can also put out your left hand if you’re turning left. That’s helpful after you’ve looked over your shoulder.)
Hey, traffic is going a bit faster than normal on this road today. Nice! I have to pass a few slow 3-wheeled vehicles (like a cross between a motorcycle and a little pick-up) and a slow taxi. Cars, like taxis, are usually most easily passed when you’re going over a speed bump, since you can usually take them faster than the cars can, especially if you don’t have anyone on the back of your motorcycle. This is especially true of trucks and buses, who are super slow over speed bumps.
Yikes! There’s someone pulling out into traffic with 2 4x4s over his shoulder, probably 6-8 feet long. As he pulls out slightly in front of me, I swerve to make sure to avoid him. As he gets going he’s having trouble getting his balance. He should have brought someone along on the back of the motorcycle to carry the wood instead of trying to do it himself. Oh well, he’ll be fine as soon as he gets going. I just have to make sure to stay out of the way of him and his long pieces of wood! (But I could mention that today I saw someone doing the same thing, but his pieces of something else were probably 16 feet long. I had to watch out for him as we were going around a roundabout together. If not, his pieces would have hit me.)
Ok, I’ve passed him. He won’t catch up. Other motorcycles pull out in front of me, but that’s just the way you drive here. Some I have to swerve around, some are fine. (Yes, swerving is a normal thing here.)
Ah, there is an old lady on a motorcycle wanting to cross my road, coming from the left. But she’s obviously not very comfortable with her motorcycle, since she has her feet down and is going super slowly. Though it seems like she may hit me, the best thing for me to do is to keep an eye on her and keep going the same speed. She is calculating her road-crossing based on the speeds that she sees everyone going, so if I slow down it will actually throw her off. I go by and she finishes crossing the street.
I get to a big roundabout. What? They’ve painted lines in the roundabout since the last time I came through here. That’s weird. And seems like a waste of money, since who follows those lanes anyway? I guess cars might, but for those of us on motorcycles, you just kind of go closer to the middle if you’re still going around, and get closer to the edge when you’re about to leave the roundabout. You may ask who has the right of way in the roundabout – those in it or those coming up to it. The answer that I’ve noticed so far, whenever purple people are not controlling it, is that whoever thinks they have right of way does. So if the people in the roundabout keep going and you’d hit them if you go, then you should stop. But if they seem to be slowing down to let you in, then go. And if you can just merge into the traffic without hitting anyone, go ahead!
I continue on my way, but make a wrong turn. Oops, I was supposed to turn at the next gas station, not this one. Oh well, I’ll jog over a block at the next intersection.
Ah, the electricity is out at that intersection so the streetlights don’t work. And there are no purple people. Not a problem. When that happens, the people on the main road often have right of way. But when the people on the smaller road accumulate a bit, they can start inching forward and then the people on the main road will have to stop and let them go. A main rule of the road here: Don’t get in an accident. Two corollaries are the following: Don’t do stupid stuff; and Try to avoid those who do do stupid stuff. If you watch out for them when they do stupid stuff, you’ll also get more grace the days that you end up doing stupid stuff.
Going this way, I avoid the left turn at the other stop light. When I first got my motorcycle, I didn’t turn left at a stop light for at least 6 months, if not a whole year. But now I’m good at it – just turn in front of the incoming traffic before they make it to you and you’re golden!
Why is that guy who just passed me all of a sudden braking hard almost right in front of me? Oh yeah, it’s the mini speed bumps. One here, then three up ahead. How could I forget about these annoying things? Whether you take them fast or slow they’re super jerky and annoying. Small and pointy, they make your head bobble. I really should come a different way sometime to avoid them.
And just like that, I make it to church. I must have left early, since I’m still a few minutes early. I pull off in front of the church, greet the guys in charge of the parking, take off my helmet, and leave them with my motorcycle and helmet. They’ll park it nicely and watch over all the motorcycles during the service, then I’ll come and pick it up afterwards and start my journey home.
Just another day on the streets here . . .