Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Driving in South Africa

Driving in South Africa (not that I have done all that much driving) reminds me of driving in London. You face may of the same challenges; you have to learn to drive on the "wrong side" of the car (the right side) and the "wrong side" of the road (the left side). You are also faced with the challenge of driving on roads that are badly in need of maintenance.

Many of the roads we drove had shoulders that were either badly eroded or nonexistent. In places, even the road itself could be seen to have been eroded; the edges crumbled and large potholes forming. These weren't little side-roads either, these were major routes that had 100 KPH speed limits.
Many of the street vendors set-up stands by the side of the road to sell their various wares. This is such a prevalent practice that you often see signs like the one below posted to keep the shoulders of the road clear. Often-as-not, these signs are used by the vendors to post their signs advertising their wares or to anchor their tarps to.
Everywhere there are street vendors. I don't mean jus the people standing on the side streets, setting-up their carts and tables selling stuff, I mean people standing in the street selling practically anything you can think of; plastic coat hangars, large novelty tennis balls, cell phone car adapters, costume jewelry, cold drinks, anything!

There are probably laws against driving on the shoulders (where they exist) but the behavior of the drivers who use the road make that doubtful. "Drive wherever you can!" seems to be the only law in play. And the signs that are posted along the roadside tell you ting you need to know such as the sign we passed (in the Magalieserg Mountains while driving back from Sun City) which warned: !Warning! Hijack Area Ahead 1 km.

Anyone who has ever heard the story about my being mugged will know that this is exactly the kind of sign that would have been helpful that night in Kansas City. I wonder, however, how effective this sign can be. How do they know where the carjackers are working? Are they licensed and allowed to hijack cars in only one area?

I'm sure the carjackers will not pay any more attention to those signs and stay in the hijack area than the street vendors do to the signs you see everywhere telling them not to set-out there wares at the roadside. This sign was posted in the middle of a row of about twenty vendors selling fruit, biltong, plastic hangars, African art, crafts, sunglasses and lots of other things.

There area really, other than that, only a few things you need to know to successfully drive in South Africa. For one, you should, apparently, not pay any attention to the other drivers; especially if you are in the middle of a soccer crowd. We weren't told why… we were just told that this was a good thing to keep in mind. Another thing to keep in mind is that they call those automated traffic signals "robots." They are even marked on maps that way. Don't go looking for Gort. You won't see him. (I was a little let down by this. I was all prepared to say "Klatu barata nictu."

Ah well, I guess, as the Rolling Stones said: you can't always get what you want.

I hope that wherever you are today, you're having a great day!

Don Bergquist - 07 March 2007 - Randberg, Gauteng, South Africa

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