Friday, September 21, 2007

The Driving Experience

Now that I am at home on the island, I can reflect back on my travels while in the states and those that, ultimately, brought me back to the island.

The one thing I really like about the island is that there are no roads here! Yes, it does make life a little more difficult, but then the advantages are worth it at times. Little pollution, no honking horns, no police/ambulance/fire truck sirens, no roads to ruin the beautiful view, no garbage piled up beside the highway consisting of discarded tires, empty containers, broken down vehicles, etc. Having to get about by boat does have its drawbacks, the worst being (as far as I am concerned) is the lack of protection from the elements.

Of course transporting items by boat does have its comical side. We recently attended a birthday party for the daughter of a good friend of ours and since my husband is part of a band here, we offered their services for the entertainment. Of course that means somehow we must get the instruments from Point A to Point B. I've seen a lot of things carted around in boats, but this was the first time I had ever witnessed and was a part of transporting drums, a bass, guitar, a piano keyboard, and various other equipment to accomplish the job of entertaining the folks.

While in the states it was back to the hustle, bustle of traffic jams and long waits at the stop light. I made two trips from Tampa to Orlando down I-4, a road that is constantly under construction. I generally try to chose a time when I can leave Tampa and beat the traffic leaving the city and arrive in Orlando before the afternoon rush traffic begins. This has always been a real juggling of time on my part and, this time, for the most part, I missed most of the traffic delays. Usually, however, one always runs into a lot of traffic around the Disney World area as the photo to the left shows. This particular trip, the traffic was lighter, but just as boring as always. Miles and miles of black asphalt, peppered with advertising signs and lots and lots of cars.

Now, traveling on the roads of the mainland of Honduras are far more interesting as traffic is almost non-existent, the scenery is unspoiled (for the most part) and you have a more leisurely and interesting ride. If one did not see a horse-drawn cart driving down the same highway as cars and trucks, why, it would not be Honduras.

On one hand, traveling in Honduras (on the highway) is more relaxed and safer..... that is, if you are not being transported by a cab driver hell bent on getting you from here to there in the fastest time possible! There is a lot to see on a drive from San Pedro to LaCeiba, but you have to factor in the "hold your breath as we pass on a curve with oncoming traffic meeting us head on" which can be a little distracting to say the least. There are far fewer cars on the roads in Honduras but at least in the states we have traffic laws which are, in general, obeyed. We are taught in the states that in order to obtain a license to drive a machine that has the ability to destroy and/or kill, one must take a written exam and a behind-the-wheel test to pass in order to get your license. Also the cars must past an inspection and everyone must have insurance.

If you disobey the law most of the time you will be pulled over and issued a very expensive ticket along with a small sermon. Yes, sometimes, we get away with speeding or going through a yellow to red light and doing things that we are not suppose to do. But, for the most part, traveling on the roads in the states is far more organized and safe.

Another good thing about traveling in the states is that all the roads are posted with signs telling you what highway you are on or what street you are presently traveling down. Maps can direct you with little difficulty to your destination and when in doubt you can pull into a gas station or convenience store and ask directions. You will, generally, receive directions telling you to go down a certain named street or highway, turning onto another named street or highway and any other pertinent information that will get you to your destination.

Per capita, I don't know if there are the same number of accidents on Honduran streets as the U.S. but I do know that it is far easier to get around in the U.S. than in Honduras. When I go to my veterinarian in San Pedro it is a real hassle trying to direct the taxi driver to their office. None of the streets in the neighborhood have names and one street does not intersect with another. Many times it is like being in a maze and trying to find your way out once you get in!

I spent most of my time in the U.S. this last trip driving daily from one place to another. Temperatures were abnormally high (in the 100's) and my son's truck's air conditioner was not working. While moving it was OK. But, when one came to a stop at a rather long traffic light, the wait was more than a person could bear, especially if you had someone next to you that felt the whole world should be listening to their rap music!

As I mentioned, I took two trips to Orlando from Tampa. I rented a car (just could not think of making the 90 mile trip with no A/C) and was offered a Chrylser product, a Dodge Caliber. This was a nice little car with good pickup on the highway. Comfortable inside and with room to haul items in the rear end when one folded down the back seat. All in all, a good experience. Plus the gas mileage was great. Only 1/4th tank of gas to go over 100 miles thus using less than 5 gallons of gas.

However, when one has not driven a car in over a year, getting behind the wheel of a new vehicle that you are unfamiliar with has its moments. I had to readjust to the fact that the gear shift was not to the right of the steering wheel but on the floor. Too many times, when engaging the car from park to drive, I turned the windshield wipers one! When I went to turn off the car, the key would not come out of the ignition. I tried and tried and was about ready to conclude that I would have to remain with the car for the rest of my natural life because I could not leave a key in an unlocked vehicle when, after much jiggling, I found that when one turned the key as if turning the engine off, pushed in and turned just a little more, an amazing thing happened ..... the key could be easily pulled out of the ignition!

Next, it was a real surprise that when I turned the ignition off, the radio kept playing. Nothing I could do would turn the darn thing off. Finally, in frustration, I opened the door to exit the vehicle thinking the radio would just have to continue to play and to my surprise the radio went off. Guess it is a new function to keep one entertained until the very last moment. Of course there is always the question of where the gas tank cover is - on the driver's side or the passenger's side of the car! And I won't go into the confusion as to the headlight thing! But I was able to overcome all these obstacles thrown at me and the drive was pleasant in the end.

So, even though jumping into a car is a lot easier than getting into a boat for a ride, I prefer my mode of transportation on the island. I may have to untie a lot of ropes, bail the boat out before I go, gauge my leap into the boat so that I will not miss and either end up on my back in the bottom of the boat or in the sea. I must also brave the constant spray of sea mist on my face, arms, legs and torso and when we get to our destination, I must again gauge my leap out of the boat onto a dock and hope that I land safely.

There are no real traffic jams on the sea and one can almost drive where one wants, at any speed (depending upon the size of the engine) and do U-turns wherever one wants. However, the fact that the "road" is not marked and we must be aware of reefs, floating objects, people in the water and the dreaded "running out of gas while a distance from land", there is more of a freedom in boats.

Do not let this fool you into thinking I like travel by boat. I hate boats! But since I have not mastered the "walking on water" thing, I am forced to continue my travels (at least while on Guanaja) in this manner.


  1. Hey...nice shot of Mike the roadie/bandmember in the boat. The open bottle of Port Royal is a nice touch. I do *not* miss driving boats. Here in Florida, there are a million of 'em. Every once in a while I'll look at a boat and go, "Maybe I could..." But then I smack myself in the head and ask myself what's gotten into me?

    After I came back to the States, until I bought a new car I'd been renting cars when I needed them. And yes, they can be confusing. Most automakers now put a little arrow somewhere in the instrument cluster, usually (but not always) near the gas gauge, telling you which side the gas filler is on. Trouble is, I can't see it without my reading glasses (dang!) and don't normally wear them when I drive. I rented one of those Calibers too a couple of weeks ago. The gearshift lever just seemed to me to be in the wrong place. Not on the console, but almost half-way up the dash. Strange.

    Rented one Nissan-something recently that didn't even need the key to be in the ignition. As long as it was in my pocket I could just push a big button on the dash and the car would start. It was odd pushing that same "Start" button to shut the engine off, but then that's how we do it with our computers so I guess it, err, makes...umm, sense. On some planet, at least.

    Finally, glad you guys didn't get to experience Mitch2. Like you say, once in a century is enough!

  2. Hey, Bob, only a man would notice the half-filled/half-empty bottle of Port Royal! I missed it completely.