I want to get a car, so need to get my driver’s license. I passed first time in the UK, so this should be a doddle right?
To be honest, I’m petrified of driving in Colombia, but I bite the bullet, climbed into the driving seat and have been driving poco a poco (little by little). It started by driving the last part of the journey to / from the farm (Cajica to Tabio), then one night, my friend took me out in Bogota and made me do all sorts of complicated manoeuvres on the mountainous roads. I am still scared, and pretty much feel all the good driving etiquette I’ve been taught by my fab instructor fly out the window onto the potholed streets (sorry Ray).
So, here’s a few ‘do’s and don’ts’ I’ve learnt when driving. Fasten your seat belts as I take you on a hair-raising ride (although seat belts are not mandatory in Colombia).
Do avoid the potholes (at whatever cost). This means you preferably swerve into the next lane, but at the very least, you drive very, very slowly / carefully so not to damage your suspension. Yes, the streets are filled with crater-like holes….the sort where in the UK would be swiftly filled in overnight and forgotten about the next day. Not here. Here, they live and grow and breed until there’s a family of potholes living together in pothole heaven, each with their own permanent residence. It’s almost like the road has been bent and snapped by the earth’s movements, and is there as a friendly reminder that the mountains are part of the country. This also applies to walking too. It’s potentially life-threatening to walk in the streets without looking where you’re going. The pavement can literally fall away from underneath you as there are ‘surprise’ holes, gaps, steps and walls making sure you’re looking where you’re going.
Do overtake and / or undertake on blind bends, in congested traffic and when other cars are approaching. After all, you don’t have the patience to drive behind the lorry / bus / horse and cart in front until it’s safe to overtake.
Don’t pay attention to traffic signs, as they are just pretty pictures that melt into the background. This includes the aforementioned no overtaking sign and most of all the speed limits. In fact, do drive as fast as you want, and there are none of those speed cameras we loath in the UK. This is great fun until you need to actually use some signs to find out where to go. These don’t exist like they do in the UK either. In Bogota, it’s generally easier as the city lies on a grid system. For the countryside, the best you can do is ask locals if you don’t know where you’re going (…and no, A-Z’s don’t exist here).
Do expect to be sitting in traffic. A lot of traffic. Traffic is so bad here that Bogota has ‘pico y placa’. Pico y placa is where (depending on your license plate), you can’t drive in the city for two days a week between 6am and 8pm. Yes, that’s right. You can’t drive your car for two whole days a week ANYWHERE in the city. This is fine. It just means you buy another car with an alternating license plate.
The traffic jams remain.
Don’t stop at red traffic lights at night, it would be dull if you did. I mean, what’s the point? There’s no oncoming traffic at night.
Don’t stop for any gunmen who may be standing in the middle of the road at night. If you see anyone in the road, armed or not, do not stop and keep on driving (at speed).
Don’t pay attention to lanes. They are just for show and don’t mean slow, medium and fast traffic, but just a witty way to split the road up. It’s fine to drive in whichever lane you fancy, even oncoming traffic lanes as your one has suddenly disappeared. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mountain road with blind bends. Yes, temporary traffic lights are a distant memory.
Do forget the highway code and beep your horn as much as want. You wouldn’t be taken seriously if you didn’t. Remember, you have no patience when driving, and do not bother to let other people out or give into ‘right of way’. This also applies for pedestrians. Do not bother letting a pedestrian cross the road (even if the light is green for them) as they will only delay your journey.
Do not use indicators. They are those pretty flashing light thingies which kind of look like Christmas tree lights. They’re decorative and don’t actually aid you when driving as you can turn whenever you want at short notice.
So basically, forget the highway code, and drive like you’re in a video game; driving at speed and winning points by avoiding gunmen, potholes or stray dogs.
You’re probably wondering why the hell I’d want a car after all of this? Well, I’ve always been pretty good at car racing games and can’t wait to select my car, terrain and get going.
Again, sorry Ray.