Road Rules: Managua
I’m enjoying life here so far, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments of frustration. The first few days were definitely the worst as I sat home with no internet and no transportation while L was at the Embassy meeting people and starting his job. Fortunately, we purchased a vehicle from an outgoing family so we had wheels within a week.
Although getting a car so soon brought me freedom, nothing on this adventure has been quite as terrifying as driving. But it’s getting better. More after the jump…
First, let me preface this with an acknowledgement that Managua is not known as having the worst traffic in the world. I know the horror stories of Bangkok, Cairo, Caracas and Manila are far worse than what we are facing. In fact, it’s probably pretty tame even compared to other Central American countries. Traffic really isn’t bad here in terms of the number of cars on the road. What makes traffic bad is the chaos of the roads.
One of the main challenges are the roads themselves. There are potholes everywhere. It’s the rainy season, so I don’t think they even bother filling them until the rains stop in December. We’ve only been here a month and I swear they’re getting bigger! There is one pothole outside of our housing development that is turning into a small lake. The one in the photo above is actually a modest one as far as potholes in the neighborhood go.
Next we have the rotondas, or round-abouts. I usually like round-abouts in DC or other countries I’ve been to. But they work differently here. There are about 3 or 4 lanes that feed into a rotonda, and each lane will spit you out or keep you in the rotonda a bit differently. It’s illegal to change lanes in a rotonda, so you better have selected the correct lane before you head into the circle, or there’s no guarantee you’ll end up where you want to. Also, as in most places, traffic is supposed to yield to cars that are already in the circle. But apparently if you are an armored car carrying money from a bank, or any type of bus, or just someone in a hurry, that’s not a hard and fast rule.
Like any developing country, the vehicles on the road are in a variety of states of repair. You get the new BMW or massive SUV whizzing around the poor 1982 Pinto that may or may not make it up the hill. There aren’t as many motorcycles and bikes as in Asia, but still plenty of them weaving in and out of lanes. And even in this capital city, you often see horses pulling makeshift wooden carts, waiting for the left turn arrow or plodding down a lane during the morning rush.
But hands down the thing that is the most stressful for me are the people in the road. Selling newspapers, cashews, phone chargers, flags, you name it. Worse still are the kids begging for money, the men missing limbs being pushed around in a wheelchair, and the jugglers. Yes, it seems that the thing to do here is juggle, sometimes with fire. There is one pair of teenage boys that stand on each other’s shoulders and juggle! On our first weekend here, our whole car looked in horror as the little boy in his gray an red track suit dropped a tennis ball and crawled under one of the cars to retrieve it. What if we hadn’t seen him and the light changed? It makes me sick to think about it.
I know all these things are very common in developing countries, so this comes as a shock to none of you. And I’ve seen all this before having lived overseas. But I never was behind the wheel in any of these countries, having to quickly check the mirrors to see if it was ok to swerve into the next lane to avoid some ice cream vendor checking the wheels of his cart in the left lane immediately after a tight curve in the road.
I knew I had to start driving right away or I would become more and more intimidated. I’ve been dropping L off at the Embassy most mornings so I have the car the rest of they day to run errands and explore. I’ve only gotten horribly lost one time. But it turned out to be a great step forward. I dealt with my fear of getting lost in this city and survived, plus I got to know a new area of town. We ended up going back to that neighborhood for a nice Peruvian dinner. Overall, I feel much more confident on the road now and have started exploring new places around the city, knowing I’ll get turned around but can always ask people for directions when I get close.
Just as getting lost is inevitable, so is getting in an accident. Let’s face it, there is no way we’re going to survive this tour without some sort of traffic incident. Yes, I’ll do my best to avoid this, but I think this attitude will help me deal with the inevitable more calmly. The Embassy Regional Security folks said that they respond to traffic ‘incidents’ involving embassy personnel almost weekly. As to which week will be my week, you’ll have to continue reading this blog.
P.S. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, you won’t find out about an accident here. I’ll call.