Behind the wheel in Barbados

Getting around in any new country is a learning experience from the get-go. Amongst different traffic laws, there’s common courtesy expectations and a bundle of local unspoken rules that you can only figure out on your own. Let’s talk about Barbados. If you’d prefer avoiding the drivers sets, there’s many options to choose from. You can check those out at Totally Barbados on the Getting around article. However if you want two hands on the wheel and an elevated heart rate, please keep reading!

  First off, they drive on the left side of the road. For some this is normal, for the rest of us it’s a bizarre feeling that guides you directly into oncoming traffic wondering why the truck facing at you won’t get in his own lane! I tell you for the first five years visiting here, I would naturally walk to the right side of a friends car thinking to be the passenger until I’d see the steering wheel and awkwardly circle the vehicle again. Now, I’m driving here and have more than once (with keys in hand) opened the passenger side door expecting to hop in the drivers seat. For what it’s worth I either giggle to myself and walk around or actually reach in as if “I totally meant to open this door”. 

Once behind the wheel, I was slightly impressed with my natural ability to stay on the correct side of the road. What I was not expecting was the reversed locations of the signals. For the first week, every time I went to turn left or right, I’d switch the windshield wipers on. This of course meaning the first tropical rain that hit my view was quickly taken care of by clicking my indicators (blinkers).

Honking in Barbados is a sound of courtesy. Well, I suppose that depends on the amount of consecutive horns and the length it’s held. If a horn is blaring at you followed by some curse words, I wouldn’t necessarily blow them a kiss back. A quick tap is generally giving a fellow driver the “go ahead”. For example, if they’re waiting to turn into heavy traffic and you slow down to let them in, you can either flash your lights or give a quick honk. How do they thank you? You guessed it, a quick double honk back at ya. This is all along the side of the vans that have their own specific horn acknowledging pedestrians when offering a lift. My favorite is one that reminds me of the taco trucks on US construction sites. For those of you that don’t know, it resembles the tune “la cucarocha”. So now you can imagine a two-lane stretch of road around here sounds like a song of vehicle tunes. 

For all the North Americans who grew up with bruised shoulders from playing Slug-bug, let me introduce you to the Bajan game… Cheezy wheels. Rather than a quick strike to your neighbor for every Volkswagen Beetle, instead you hit for a yellow car. Nothing special, just a yellow vehicle that’s not public transportation. Try being the clueless one in that game the first round! Thank you Kevin and Dani.

There are more potholes in this country than sidewalks, center divides, crosswalks and curbs combined. When you’re following a vehicle that looks to be driven by a drunk 14 year old (it very well could be) you also have to take into consideration the amount of small craters that must be dodged while taking to the beat up roads. I am indeed guilty for the last minute swerve in order to protect my tires from the near cliff drop of the average pothole. 

Pedestrians have the right away. In other words the chances of hitting a human is just as likely as popping a tire on a pothole.

If you’re behind a van or bus, expect to stop every 8-20 seconds. Not only will these public transporters slow down for every bus stop, they’ll also take a park mid-street if there’s a friend in a different bus coming at them. I have actually heard conversation for the weekend plans as two drivers just randomly paused mid route causing a traffic back up.

What else causes a stand still traffic scenario? A fallen tree branch, school kids, Ninja Man, wild chickens, stray dogs, construction, broken down car, a taxi driver who thinks temporarily parking on a highway is acceptable and the occasional overflow of a Rum Shop.

Things you can find for sale on the side of the road: Raw fish, fresh vegetables, coconut water straight from the nut, burnt corn, dunks, peanuts, achee’s, newspapers, eggs, homemade juice and the popular pre-made lunches out the back of a locals car including but limited to mac pie, chicken, rice, fish, plantains and sweet potato pie.

So to give you an idea of my first exciting day behind the wheel please visualize a peanut shell covered lap with windshield wipers blaring through the sun as I attempted to signal barely dodging a pothole before coming to a screeching halt so the pedestrian could cross without looking both ways. I laughed the whole way like a highschool kid in their first car.

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