This post originally appeared on Women Who Live on Rocks on January 15, 2015.
“Just treat it like you’re playing a video game,” he tells me. “Except don’t crash – you don’t get to start over like in a video game.”
Helpful hints from my loving boyfriend.
Of course, what he doesn’t realize is that I’ve probably only played about 1% of the video games he has in his lifetime, so perhaps relating them to my current situation isn’t a helpful analogy after all.
“Watch out for potholes, they’re deep enough to fall into around here. And keep an eye out for snakes, tarantulas, and crabs. The dogs probably won’t chase you, but don’t freak out when they bark. Oh! And keep an eye out for cars without lights, especially no back or brake lights. Those are the worst.”
While these tips are more specific, his advice doesn’t exactly comfort me. See, I’m about to take a crash course (hopefully not literally) in driving a scooter for the first time. We just bought it to help us get around our rock with more ease, but the fact that I’ve never actually driven one combined with the prospect of having to learn on these obstacle-laden roads has me a bit on edge, if I’m being honest. And I’m not usually one to shy away from a challenge! But the typical challenges I take on involve jumping off bridges or out of planes while being taken care of by a professional who – at least theoretically – strapped me in correctly. This whole “driving a scooter like it’s a video game” thing is an entirely different level of crazy for me.
Like most Caribbean islands, the roads in Roatan are, well… interesting (to say the least). They are narrow, and wind up and around hills, through the jungle, and along the edge of the ocean. The drive can be beautiful, with stunning views as you head east along the central ridge, offering peeks of lush jungle canopies and gorgeous ocean vistas off both sides of the island. Beautiful, that is, if you’re sitting in the back seat of a large and well-protected car. The drive can also be harrowing as large trucks and wild cabs overtake one another on curves in the face of oncoming traffic, all while motorcyclists zip between them all as if they were invincible.
Here’s the thing: there is no actual road test to get a driver’s license in Roatan. If the printer is working, you can get one printed after a medical exam and payment at the bank. Sometimes there’s a written test, but not all the time. There is also no inspection of vehicles here, so pretty much if it has anything resembling wheels, it qualifies as road-worthy. I’ve seen construction trucks without brake lights stop suddenly in front of tailgating taxis; I’ve seen motorcycles with no brakes cruise between oncoming cars on a downhill simply because they cannot stop; I’ve seen pickup trucks that I’m fairly certain were built in the 1960s and quite possibly have a few original parts permanently rusted into them while the rest of the “vehicle” is a haphazard combination of mystery materials.
So, yes, I suppose the driving here is a bit like a video game. It’s a bit of Mario Kart meets Grand Theft Auto: sometimes you laugh at the banana peels and go-karts on the road, while other times you scream at the guy passing you on a curve who’s playing chicken with the opposing van, both of whom clearly just don’t give a shit.
Today, I’m venturing out into this mayhem on our “new to us, but likely had at least 7 previous owners based on the level of rust and dilapidation” scooter. We’ll call her Rusty, for short. Keeping the warnings from my boyfriend in mind (dogs, snakes, and spiders – oh my!) while also noting the impossible-to-avoid pot-holed topography before me, off I go.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a Masshole by birth (Massachusetts drivers are endearingly referred to as Massholes…). What exactly does that mean? It means I believe in driving with a purpose, so God help you if you’re on a casual Sunday drive. It means I will beep at you for pretty much any minor infraction. It means I will weave through lanes to get to my destination, even if it only amounts to an insignificant 20 seconds earlier arrival. It’s in my blood, and it’s not my fault. But I’m not sure my need for speed will be beneficial this time around.
“Work with me here, Rusty,” I plead aloud as we roll toward my first turn. “Eeeeeeek!” I just can’t stop the screams from escaping my mouth and try my hardest not to close my eyes. Even still, I somehow manage to steer the scooter without A) hitting the bus barreling toward me, or B) tipping over because scooters don’t lean, they turn.
Mission accomplished! I have successfully driven about 100 yards without dying or killing anyone/anything. I think that’s enough for today.
Today’s trial by fire lesson? I learned that the secret to not tipping over is to speed up mid-turn. See? Masshole training at its best! Thanks, Mom!
Maybe tomorrow I’ll worry about driving farther through our neighborhood. The unpaved, potholed, dirt roads and high quantities of jungle creatures are sure to present a new challenge. Or… maybe I’ll just stick to walking and hitching my way around like I did in my life before Rusty. Maybe it’s not that inconvenient after all…