The second thing I noticed about Colombia was the driving. While distracted by all the beautiful women (the first thing I noticed), I regularly stepped out in front of cars. This wasn’t, as it often is, due to Colombians driving on the other side of the road to Australians. I’d had over two months in Latin America to get used to that. It wasn’t because I expected cars to stop at pedestrian crossings. Two years living in Bhutan disabused me of the notion that white stripes on the road have any meaning at all.
In Colombia, the real confusion is caused by cars turning right with their left blinker flashing. At least in Bhutan, where blinkers aren’t used the way they were designed, they were used consistently to indicate whether it was safe for those behind to overtake on the winding mountain roads. In Colombia, they seem to merely be something that drivers bump while turning the wheel, and it’s not uncommon to see a car driving for miles with one blinker or the other going continuously. I should also say that I’ve been caught out by cars turning left with their left blinker flashing. It’s oh, so confusing.
Colombian driving, in general, leaves a lot to be desired. ‘My Spanish teacher’ tells me that drivers here get their licenses from the back of cereal boxes, and swears she didn’t pick the phrasing up from her time in Australia. The roads are scary enough in the cities and towns where people give way to everything they can see through their front windscreen, but out on the single-lane highways fear takes on a new level.
On my various bus trips, I’ve almost become used to my drivers overtaking trucks on blind corners, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to them deciding to overtake six vehicles when they can see oncoming traffic only two hundred metres ahead. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time clutching each other and muttering ‘loco’ under our breath.
I know I’m not the only one with horror stories of driving in developing countries. I’d love to hear yours.
I’ve said that I think I can learn a lot from studying the way the Colombians turned this city around. One action they’re taking to correct driving habits of future generations is to get school students to help in traffic management. The photo above shows children of various ages dressed in the traffic police uniform ensuring safety at a crossing. I hope I’m here long enough to see the improvements.