November 04, 2003

Deep Thoughts: Month One

Neither deep nor monthly, just a collection of observations that didn't fit anywhere else.

On Diet:
The staples of the Central American diet are rice, corn, beans and sugar. They consume enough sugar here to ensure everyone is toothless or diabetic by age 40. You can almost smell the insulin in the air. Hot chocolate for breakfast, pastries with every meal, candy vendors every few feet, and dear god; the soft drinks. They drink more per capita here than anywhere else on earth. Advertising for Coke and Pepsi alone dwarf all other advertising. True, you can't drink the water here, but all that pop must be just as bad - if only in the long run.

On driving:
I'm sure traffic laws exist here, but they're regarded more as suggestions than edict. At least, then, I have to give credit to civic planners who choose not to bother with signs, signals, road painting and the like if they're just going to be ignored. Where you park, your level of sobriety, and even direction of travel on one-way streets is a matter of personal preference.

Potholes, animals, debris, street vendors, trucks, busses, and gridlock make this one of the most interesting driving environments imaginable.

On Using the Horn:
By far the most important piece of equipment on any vehicle here is the horn. Doors, windshields and even brakes are optional, and trivial items such as turn and brake signals are done away with altogether, but don't be caught dead here without your horn.

The horn is used differently here. In Canada, honking the horn at someone usually means "Hey! Move" or "Look out!". A short beep of the horn might just mean "Hi". Here, it gets a bit more complicated. By far the most common use of the horn has nothing at all to do with safety, but as a greeting: "Hi!", "Hi fellow cabdriver/truck driver/bus driver/delivery driver/person-in-a-red-car!", "Hi pretty lady!", "Hi Miguel! How's your toenail infection coming along?". More practical uses from a driving perspective include "I figure I can squeeze myself in as the fifth car across on this road made for two", "Ok, it didn't work. Excuse me while I cut you off", "I have no intention of stopping at the intersection coming up. If you're around the corner, this is your warning", "I'm behind you and speeding pedestrian, you've been warned", and of course the familiar "Move!".

Regional dialects of horn-ese include the classic "beep", the trill tweater in all manner of tone, and various pitches of siren. One cab driver I questioned showed me his custom-installed horn capable of producing all the above and more at the flick of a button, though purists scoff at the notion of synthesized noise and instead do an admirable job of producing all the requisite inflections using the standard horn.

On Street Signs:
They don't exist. Anywhere. You can easily cross town with out seeing a single one. At first, I thought this was just one more of those things there isn't money for here, but I think it runs deeper than that. People here don't seem to need or want them. Addresses are given relative to well-known landmarks, eg: "2.5 kilometers west of the post office", or "3 blocks north of the bus station". These, at least, are far more helpful than " between 29th and 31st streets on avenue 2. Uh huh. That was the address of a hotel I stayed in, and even the cab driver couldn't find it. We drove around asking thugs on corners what street they were standing on. Nobody knew.

Then there's cities like Managua, Nicaragua. There, not only are the streets not marked, they simply don't have names.

On busses:
The most common way to travel long distances here is by bus. They run the gamut from first class to roller coaster, but having riden in most of them by now, I've learned classification is pretty subjective. First class, for example, can mean anything from quiet, air-conditioned buses with television and toilets, to transportation where the other passengers are confined so they can't peck at you.

Posted by dhuska at November 4, 2003 09:42 AM