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  •  The pictures of darkness in Egypt (36+ / 0-)

    remind me of a cultural difference between our country and theirs.

    In Egypt it is considered impolite to turn your headlights on at an oncoming car (at night).

    Drivers do a little dance turning on their headlights to get their bearings and then quickly turning them off. The cars do not slow down, but keep barreling onward toward each other.

    I will never forget traveling across the dessert at night and seeing a car in the distance coming closer and closer with both our cars turning their lights off.

    Unbelievable...but that is the reason one travels.

    •  They do something similar in Nepal (16+ / 0-)

      as well, but the reason is different.  There, drivers -- well, bus drivers at least -- think that they'll run their batteries down if they switch on their lights!  Experienced it the first time while returning to Kathmandu from Nagarkot.  Although it's no more than 60 kms away, doing the trip down into the valley with x-number of hairpins and oncoming traffic was, how shall I put it? exhilarating??  

      Here in the Gulf where I live, no one wants to turn them on until it's actually dark.  No one understands that it's at dusk and dawn when you need them the most!  Fortunately, every road, including intercity highways and freeways, has streetlights, so it's not much of a problem after it does get dark.

      •  Exhilarating!! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ray Radlein, 88kathy, capelza, trs

        Exactly the right word!

        It is a wonder they all aren't killed.

        In the city there are no lane markers on main roads  (about 8 lanes). You just effortlessly weave around each other. Luckily there are street lights. It looks  to an outsider like bumper cars.

        One "exhilarating" experience during the daytime is to try to get to the famous Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on foot. It is in downtown Cairo, seemingly convenient to everything. Unless you are staying at the Hilton next door the only way to get there is by crossing an 8 lane (I think) main road with no cross walk or light.

        When the traffic thins you make a break for it running and hiding behind someone else who is crossing.

        My grown daughter, a world traveler, said it was like putting your biggest attraction on an interstate island. She said it was the only place she knew of where it was worth it to take a taxi to cross the street.

        As I said before...unbelievable...but that is the reason one travels.

        •  Been in Cairo, too. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ray Radlein, capelza, Jane Lew

          Actually, in some ways Cairo traffic is better than it is here in the Gulf, mainly because it's so much slower -- like the bridge across the Nile to Zamalek Island.  It's always gridlocked, so even if someone bumps you, that's about it. Besides that, most cars are pretty old and few have the money for Mercedes, BMWs, or Toyota Land Cruisers.  That in itself helps a whole lot.

          But here in the Gulf, even in (relatively) quiet Muscat, it's quite another story.  The main freeway that runs parallel to the coast is a six-lane affair with a 120 km/hr (75mph) speed limit.  But speed limits be damned; given half a chance the locals will drive 200 km/h. But what makes it worse is that no one will give anyone an inch.  The courtliness that once prevailed on the roads in 1988 when I first moved here is long gone.  Merging onto the highway can be, what? fraught?  Once on, it's best to stick to the center lane and let the crazies pass -- on both sides.  Then there's the tailgating:  imagine driving 75 with another car only half a car-length behind you, so close that you can't even see his license plate in the mirror.  Or, then there's the problem of negotiating a roundabout when no one uses signals.  About 5 years ago, they somehow became "unfashionable."  Not even the police signal, actually.

          Last weekend I did experience something new, however.  My wife and I were returning from a long weekend in Sur, which is about a hundred miles down the coast in the direction of Yemen.  We used a superb new coast road, but part of what connects it to the city is still under construction, so there are some detours.  In order to make them "nicer," they tarmacked them, but they didn't smooth out the nastier bumps.  AND they made them two lane, though they're a lot narrower than a normal highway.  Well, some of these assholes were actually passing on the detours, which were fairly curvy, to boot!  It would have been far better if they had been left gravel; Omanis are so concerned about getting "dings" from rocks, that they would have behaved themselves in that case...  

          •  You are right about Cairo. (0+ / 0-)

            The pace is not too fast. All the taxis are of a certain era...old and held together with bailing wire.

            We were told that a long time ago they decided they had too many taxis. Their solution was not to approve any new ones, so everyone just keeps the old ones going.

            All the taxis look like they have a been  decorated with a hammered finish...

            The good thing is that there is no difficulty getting a taxi. They are cheap too.  The bad thing is that you never know where you will end up. You give them the address of the place you want to go written in Arabic. What they don't tell you is that a lot of the taxi drivers can't read. They take a stab at it and you can end up miles away from your intended destination...

            My son lived in Greece. The government there  makes buying a car very expensive unless it is a most of the taxis you see are really just private cars that will never stop for you.

            Have you ever traveled from Switzerland to Italy and back? Why is it the same folks on one side of the boarder are demure conservative drivers and on the other side absolute maniacs?

            BTW it sounds like your drivers in the gulf have spent some time in Germany and have learned to drive on the autobahn. You pass a car going 90 miles an hour, only to look in your rear view mirror to see a car on your tail going 120 mph. It wasn't there a second ago and it will be gone just as quickly...unless it takes you out.

            •  Oh yes, I've done that, too. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Jane Lew

              Actually, Germany is fine to drive in as long as you avoid the Autobahnen!  Trouble is, it's so densely populated that if you don't hop on a convenient Autobahn, you never get anywhere. :-(

              As for driving between Switzerland and Italy, it's just a question of temperament.  The Swiss, even the Ticini (the Swiss who live in the Italian section of the country) are pretty calm.  The one saving grace in Italy is that most Italians are pretty skilled; aggressive and, from a North American point of view, maniacal, certainly, but they do know what they're doing behind the wheel, which you can't say about Arabs, especially Gulf Arabs.

              I think the Greeks are quite right about making cars so expensive.  Imagine what the place would be like if everyone could afford them?? Greece really isn't built for cars.  All those narrow isthmuses... yoicks! the congestion that would result doesn't bear thinking about.

              The same goes in Singapore, where there is a 200% tax on automobiles (at least there was as of five years ago when I was last there).  Of course, to compensate, Singapore has developed what might be the best public transport system in the world.  And they've made taxis plentiful, too.  They now have GPS systems in every taxi, so their speed can be monitored, too!  For the visitor, it's wonderful.  And you never have to worry about running into an illiterate driver, either.  Besides, most speak English, anyway.

              •  I agree about driving in Germany (0+ / 0-)

                Driving everywhere else besides the autobahn is entirely normal. If you are on vacation not getting anywhere in particular is perfectly OK.

                I also agree that Italian drivers are in a totally different class than some others. From your description, I don't think I will be driving in the Mideast. Heck, I won't even drive in Egypt. Turkey though is OK.

                The thing about Greece is that people buy taxis and then use them as personal cars. It is a way around the system. The law is something to get around.

                The public transportation system in Greece is not too great either. No one seems to have paid attention to little things like schedules that actually connect.  

                I could spend the rest of my days island hopping. With the ferry service you just have to know that you should be back on the mainland several days before you are scheduled to go home. Every time I have gone to Greece there has been a part of the trip when the ferries were kept in port for days because of weather.

                BTW Greek Easter is wonderful! I have gone to Karpathos twice just for Easter...and the week before and a few days after.

                I highly recommend it...even if you aren't Orthodox...I'm Quaker.

                •  Oddly enough, (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Jane Lew

                  I'm -- at least officially -- Orthodox, my wife being 100% Ukrainian.  I had to convert to be married in the Orthodox Church.

                  As for driving in the Gulf, maybe I'm kind of used to it, but there are some things to be said for it.  The roads, for the most part, are superb; main highways are illuminated -- even on long, long stretches between towns -- and most are quite well marked, so long distance driving is not all that bad.  There are hazards, of course, like the odd camel ambling across the road (not usually a problem on divided, limited-access freeways, actually), or unmarked speed bumps in the middle of nowhere, which used to be quite common in the Emirates.  And sometimes trucks, especially ones driven by Indians, Sikhs, or Pakistanis...  They tend to overload their vehicles -- ever see a 2-ton truck loaded with 10+ vertical feet of cargo??  You don't want to have to pass one in a side wind, let me tell ya!

                  As for city driving, that's a whole 'nuther ball game...  To do it safely -- well, that's relative -- you have to be aware all of the following:

                  1. The locals own the road; you are an impediment to their forward progress.
                  1. Turn signals are a useless accessory.
                  1. Only I have the right-of-way, regardless of what the cops may say.
                  1. Passing on the right or on the shoulder is a given.
                  1. Passing on access ramps to freeways is permissible if there's space enough.
                  1. You must drive close enough to the vehicle in front so you can read the brand name on the box of Kleenex in the rear window.
                  1. If there's a free lane, go for it whether it will disappear in 10 seconds or not. (Note: In my experience, Arabs abhor a (lane) vacuum.)
                  1. When parking, always back into the space; driving straight in doesn't allow me to demonstrate my reversing prowess.
                  1. If there is no parking space, create one:  park on curbs; park on traffic islands; double-park behind other cars; and if necessary, triple-park.  After all, I am more important than anyone else.

                  BTW, Saudi Arabia is MUCH worse...

                  •  Rive, Wow! (0+ / 0-)

                    I think you need to do a diary about driving in various parts of the world. You have lightened my day. Very enjoyable!

                    How do you happen to be in the Gulf?

                    I've met several Russian/Ukrainian Orthodox in Greece...very nice folks. One was making a pilgrimage to Patmos after his father's death. Patmos is where John the Divine wrote the book of Revelations... crazy book, nice place.

                    If you are ever tempted to go to Greece for Easter, go to the village of Olymbos on Karpathos. It is hard to get to and the schedules are all wrong. Get advice before you go on the best way to get there.

                    It is a "real" place that has been in National Geographic, I think, three times. People still wear local dress. On Easter the unmarried women wear their dowries of gold. The Good Friday decoration of the Bier of Christ with flowers is not to be missed. A couple of days after Easter there is a ceremony at the grave yard with food being passed out to all. That night there is a huge party with local music. Everyone dances all night. We missed the party the first time we went due to bad information.

                    BTW my daughter-in-law is a Kuban Cossak from Uzbekistan and Siberia. (not one from Kos)

    •  If only there was courtesy like that here. (11+ / 0-)

      Instead, we have giant Sport Utility Cars with headlights on a level with the heads of people in normal cars.  So, regardless of whether or not brights are on, there is a succession of light spears blinding drivers.

      I rigged up a piece of cardboard on my visor to block the headlights, so I could actually see to drive.  And I only drive at night if I have to.

      I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

      by tle on Sun Mar 29, 2009 at 06:01:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Driving without headlights was in the words of (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ray Radlein, limulus, capelza

        rivegauche..."exhilarating." In Egypt it felt like more like playing chicken with home field rules than a courtesy.

        I must be used to the way we do things, because  I don't have a problem with our lights except the especially bright bluish ones.

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