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On the Road Again : Bahamian Style

On the Road Bahanian Style

by Faith Foyil

It's probably no coincidence that a nearby gas station is situated next to a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. You visit the bank and secure a loan. Then you fill up your tank.

Americans freak when the price of gas hovers around $2.00 a gallon. That bargain rate would prompt pump stampedes here in the Bahamas where, as I write, gasoline sells for $3.54 a gallon.

In the Bahamas and other islands like Bermuda, we drive on the left side of the road. This transportation novelty was originated during the time of the former British government. The Brits probably still get a big kick out of how thoroughly this practice confuses American tourists. Such jokesters, those British!

Bahamas Gas Prices
British gas was, in reality, a magical elixir called petrol. They poured itl out in cute little measurements they called litre

I first became acquainted with high gas prices and driving on the wrong, er, left side of the road, when we lived in Great Britain in the early '90s. The Brits, reinforcing their "stiff upper lip" stereotype, didn't complain about their exorbitant fuel prices. They, nonetheless, obviously felt obliged to disguise these high rates from unsuspecting tourists by convincing us that British gasoline was, in reality, a magical elixir called petrol. They poured this petrol out in cute little measurements they called litres, which certainly fooled this American Woman for a long time.

Navigating a car down a country road in Britain could often mean a narrow escape. The bramble bush scratches down both sides of my right-hand drive Talbot Horizon was proof of how often I was incorrectly led to believe I could easily maneuver a 5'6" vehicle down a six-foot-wide lane with a steering wheel that was, for some reason, positioned on the passenger side of the front seat.

I would sweat bullets while driving down lots of those bushy lanes. While navigating, I was also simultaneously trying to keep in mind that my car hood was a bonnet, my trunk a boot, and the upcoming highway a carriageway. Automatic transmission was such a rarity that unless you could operate a manual transmission, or gearbox, you'd have to thumb a ride on a coach, which, I learned, was a bus, not a designer pocketbook.

Bahamian Lightless Intersections
When you reach a four-stop, lightless intersection you will be playing Car Tag, a game with no set rules.

At least the electricity never went out, which it does here in the Bahamas on a regular basis. It can be a challenge to maneuver during an island-wide black out. You reach a four-stop, lightless intersection and play Car Tag, a game with no set rules. You honk horns, gesticulate hands, and nod heads emphatically to each other making "You go, No, YOU go, No, I want YOU to go first" motions at other equally indecisive drivers.

Bahamians drive on the left but they chiefly import their cars from the U.S., which means the steering wheels are also on the left. Passing is undertaken to the right. Stop and picture this all for a moment before continuing, please.

Drivers here must develop contortionist-like skills in order to overtake slow vehicles. Many Bahamians, friendly and trusting souls, choose not to worry about oncoming traffic at all. They fly out of line and pass two, three, or more vehicles, assuming that the equally friendly and trusting drivers they're passing will simply let them squeeze back in when, seconds into the overtake, they are faced with a line of oncoming traffic they didn't check to see was headed their way.

I've driven in several countries and conclude that Bahamians are indeed among the most considerate drivers in the world. Many Bahamians think nothing of suddenly stopping in the middle of a busy road to chat with a friend they've spotted walking on the shoulder - even if there are six cars in back of them quite eager to continue their journey.

Even "jitney" bus drivers go out of their way to accommodate their passengers, picking them up and dropping them off where and when they please, regardless if it's at an authorized bus stop designation. The driver in the car behind slams on his or her brakes because of this unexpected sojourn but recognizes that the bus driver must be a really nice guy.

Bahamian Driving Habbits
Blinkers, or indicators as they're known in Britain, don't seem to be obligatory to Bahamians.

Blinkers, or indicators as they're known in Britain, don't seem to be obligatory. A Bahamian driving in front of you may simply slow down and turn rather than waste energy indicating left or right in advance. You may also be fooled into thinking drivers are simply decelerating in order to adjust radio volume, or maybe to answer cell phones, since you don't see any indicative brake lights which perhaps haven't operated for a few months. Slam on your own brakes and - oops -- Junior spills a milkshake all over your back seat. You should have been paying more attention!

There are ten basic rules you should learn before driving in the Bahamas:

1. Murphy's Bahamian Auto Law states that if you're driving a new vehicle three mph over the speed limit, you will be stopped and ticketed, regardless of the guy in the '89 Chevy pickup that just passed you spewing out toxic levels of pollutants.

2. Try not to stumble onto an accident scene, festival, roadwork site, or parade. Bahamians will slow down to a crawl in order to mentally record every detail with which to later regale friends and family. Since there are often accidents, festivals, roadwork sites, and parades, you might simply consider leaving a novel in your glove compartment or packing a cooler of soft drinks and snacks in the car for emergency use. Or simply staying home.

3. Don't worry about being stuck on a little side street trying to pull out onto a busy main artery. The Bahamian on the main road will cordially stop to let you in, regardless of the fact he has the right of way. He'll not only let YOU in but also the five cars behind you as well, even if there are seven vehicles behind him wondering why there's a hold up.

4. A gas mask in the glove compartment may come in handy when you're stuck in traffic behind a slow-moving Payloader whose exhaust system was checked as recently as 1962.

5. Honk your horn and wave at honeymooning, helmet-less moped riders. Make sure you get a glimpse of their smiling, sunburned faces before they crash into the rocks up ahead and are whisked away by ambulance.

6. The Bahamian Road and Traffic Department people, like the British, are incredible practical jokers. They often place vague signs on the road that read "Slow Men at Work," to make you wonder whether they mean "Slow down, men are working here," or the more disparaging "Wow, these guys are really slow." Always be on guard. You may also stumble on what's clearly a roadwork site with no ambiguous "Slow Men at Work" sign at all. Try not to commit unintentional manslaughter by running over the phone company worker when he pops out of a manhole in the middle of the road to eat his lunch.

7. Save yourself aggravation by avoiding accidents with vehicles that look like they were recently imported from a south Florida Demolition Derby. The odds are good the driver won't have bothered with the time-consuming process of obtaining a license or insurance. Or perhaps even brakes.

8. Many roads post signs with different speed limits for cars (45 mph) and trucks (30 mph). But there is only ONE driving lane. If you decide to try to pass a bulldozer who's crawling at 18 mph, there's a good chance you'll be smashed by the oncoming angered driver on the other side of the road who's attempting to pass a bulldozer in front of him.

9. Don't tailgate too long behind the local family pulling out of Nassau International Airport following their Miami shopping trip. The five duffel bags and three boxes precariously dangling out of their trunk may dislodge, leaving you with miscellaneous clothing, a color TV, virgin truck tires, new pairs of "tennis" (sneakers), cases of formula, bulk-sized soap powder cartons, diapers and new bed linen crashing down onto your front hood.

10. Don't worry if your muffler's corroded. Your seven-second annual car inspection may cost over $100 and require a morning of paperwork after a long, hot wait in line, but your only requirements will be a horn that honks, lights that turn on and off, and an emergency brake handle that coordinates with your interior car decor.