Honey, we’re being followed.

So last Friday I left home for a weekend with the Mister, who is finishing up an internship out of state. I had chosen my route from several possible alternatives because it would take me through a string of small southern towns, hopefully keeping me alert after a long day and offering many places to stop and eat.

About two hours into a four-hour drive, I found myself behind a white minivan with oddly flashing lights inside. At first, I thought I was looking through their windshield and seeing something up ahead, but as the silhouettes literally danced across the window I realized – I was watching a movie!

I started thinking hard. A movie screen in the back of a minivan – probably for kids, probably by Disney. I’ve seen every classic Disney movie ever made, so surely I can figure this out.

At that moment, a large character of some sort appeared and seemed to be tossing a smaller item into the air. A vaguely orange character with a mop of dark hair laughed. And I shouted out loud to my empty car.

It’s Baloo! This is the Jungle Book! They’re singing the Bear Necessities!

And so, of course, was I. At the top of my lungs. And the people in the minivan had no idea I was enjoying their trip so much. I had several chances to pass, but decided to stay behind and watch the show.

I actually followed the van all the way to Selmer, where they pulled into a McDonalds with an indoor play place – presumably to appease the Jungle Book-watchers – just as Baloo and Mowgli were escaping the monkeys.

I was sad to see them go.

For half a second I considered pulling in after them and ordering a milkshake and some fries, possibly telling them they had brightened my long trip, but I figured that would be very creepy and kept driving.

I got through three states in the dark without a GPS and with only vague directions without any problems at all, but of course got all the way to the town I wanted and got lost. I had to call the hotel to figure out where I was and give me directions. Of course. That’s only a natural thing to happen to me.

But at least I had all the bear necessities. 🙂

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Not the Right Side, the Wrong Side!

So the Mister and I have been driving our own vehicle here on the island for about two weeks and have only had one near-death experience, which is pretty good for learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. (And I would like to clarify that I was not driving at the time of the aforementioned incident.)

To the Mister’s credit, however, I wasn’t helping matters by yelling “RIGHT SIDE! RIGHT SIDE!” when I meant “correct side” – aka the left, not the right. But we survived so that’s what counts.

There are a few important things to know about driving in St. Kitts. First of all, obviously, everything stays to the left. Secondly, there are very few other rules.

There are no traffic lights on the island and very few stop signs. All intersections are roundabouts, which we sometimes in America call traffic circles. (To all of you in Spring Hill – imagine the circle outside Target and Olive Garden. . .  but you go around backwards.) Vehicles already inside a roundabout have the right-of-way over those trying to enter the roundabout, but otherwise it’s a hang-on-to-your-seat-cushions free for all. There are technically two lanes inside roundabouts – an outer lane for those exiting immediately and an inner lane for those going farther around – but no one actually uses them. Once you’re in the roundabout, you’re in.

There are also very few street names. Getting directions is a little like this: “Take the bypass around to the sugarcane man and turn right. Go past the fire station and turn right when you get to the bay by Port Zante. Go down to that funny little roundabout, take the first exit (which is the first road in a left hand circle, which is essentially just straight) and then take the second right close to the post office. Take the second exit in the Circus (a big fancy roundabout in town) and go straight to the government offices building and turn left. It’s on your right a ways down.” (Those are essentially directions to Karibhana’s, the only department-store-type establishment in the area.)

In America, we honk our car horns to show frustration or as a warning to other drivers. Here, it’s like having a conversation between cars. People honk when passing pedestrians or other drivers, you honk when you see your friends going the other way, taxis and buses honk to potential passengers on the side of the road, you honk when going around sharp curves, you honk when someone lets you into traffic (which isn’t often. . . . basically you just honk all the time. Cars are very vocal here. Which is troublesome because our car horn currently doesn’t work.

A few other things to note: You are not required to slow down to pass another vehicle. All roads are two lanes, but there aren’t really any center lines so if someone in front is slower and the oncoming lane is clear, you just circle around them (after you honk, of course). Also, cars, taxis, buses and people routinely just STOP in the middle of the road without warning. They stop to have conversations with other pedestrians or drivers, sometimes taking up both lanes of traffic. They stop to run into stores; they stop for herds of goats crossing the road (I myself have been stopped by two different herds since we’ve had the car); they stop to pick up or drop off passengers. Thus, the rules about going around people. If you didn’t pass, you’d never get anywhere.

[NOTE: While you can honk at anything else on the island, you cannot honk at the goats. It only scares them and scatters them further across the road and around your car, rather than actually hurrying them across.]

What else, what else. . . oh, left hand turns are automatic but right-hand turns have to look for oncoming traffic, which of course is backwards from the States. There are a few three-way intersections here are there, but they are very confusing because you can’t just continue on to the right, you have to pass the first entrance and then turn right across oncoming traffic, which is also backwards from the States. The gear shift is on the left-hand side of the steering wheel (which is on the right) and the blinker is on the right-hand side, which at least for us is backward and always causes us to turn on our windshield wipers when we’re intending to turn. (No one but American students really use their blinkers around here anyway.)

There is a special type of “car math” used on the island as well. This is not so true in private vehicles, where the driver of course can make his/her own decisions, but in public buses, taxis or when a private person is serving as public transportation (such as picking up attendees for church), there is a special formula used to figure out how many persons a vehicle can ACTUALLY hold. This is very deceiving, since you’d think the number of seats in the car would indicate this, but that is not true. To the best of my ability, I think I have figured out that, in a smaller car, you take the number of actual seats in the car and add two to find the true maximum capacity for the vehicle. In a taxi or bus (which are just 15-passenger vans), you add 1.5 people for each row in the van and that gives you maximum capacity. So it’s not uncommon for a 15-passenger bus to actually have 19-21 people in it. Good thing nothing on the island is very far away.

It is illegal to use a cell phone while driving, in any shape form or fashion. Speeding is also illegal, but it’s one of the many laws that aren’t enforced. (But you can’t drive very fast anyway because the pot holes will rip your car to pieces. And because people just STOP in the middle of the road!) However, the car insurance law is enforced and they will put you in prison if you’re caught driving without it – something I think the U.S. should definitely adopt.

One last thing – there is a reason cars here are called “island mobiles.” They are not the same types of cars we would normally drive in the U.S. Here, it’s considered perfectly normal for a car to not have working air conditioning or functioning power windows, power locks, radios, windshield wipers or blinkers. Island mobiles also have the odd habits for all the doors to not work properly. It’s normal to have at least one door on your car that either doesn’t open from the inside or doesn’t open from the outside. On our car, for example, the passenger’s (front left) door won’t open from the inside unless you pull the open handle and the lock switch up at the same time, and the back passenger’s door won’t open unless you smack your full weight into it. The driver’s door won’t stay locked from the outside unless you push down the lock switch, close the door while holding the handle out, and then release the handle. Oh – and almost every vehicle on the island, if it was owned by a Kittian at any point in its lifespan – has some sort of name or saying painted on it. It’s just something they do here; I have no idea why. Ours says “Pure Rumours” in a strange font across the back windshield. One car that parks on campus a lot says “No Me Fault” on the front windshield and all the buses have crazy names painted on the sides. It’s just another one of those strange island habits that I guess you get used to here.

What are some driving rules in your country? If you drive on the left side of the road, what are some tips you could give those of us used to the right side?

Where in the World is Hwy 54?

My Tennessee map says Martin and Trenton are connected by two key highways: south 45 and south 54.

The problem, though, as the mister and I discovered early Friday morning, is that west Tennessee confuses the poop out of Google maps.

The directions we printed said to turn right onto highway 54/Main Street about 20 minutes south of Martin. Well, there is a Main Street intersection in Greenfield (about 20 minutes south of Martin). This intersection also has a sign indicating that highway 54 north branches to the left.

So, logically, to follow 54 south we turned right at this intersection. We drove around a school and through some dead-end residential areas for ten minutes before deciding this was definitely not a highway and was not going to take us to Trenton.

So we take option number two: continue south of Greenfield on highway 45. We got to Bradford and found a sign that said 54, with no directions or other instructions to help the wayward traveler. We turn right, hoping this is the right highway. Again, ten minutes of wandering and no luck.

By this point, 8 a.m. (our appointment time in Trenton) is getting closer and we’re no closer to figuring out how to get there. I’ve called several local friends for directions and none of them answer. I’ve asked the mister to call the animal clinic we’re meeting with to ask for directions, but of course he can figure it out himself.

We eventually found a sign pointing to Trenton (on a different highway) and at least end up in the right city. Another 20 minutes of wandering through and around Trenton puts us on yet another highway. . . a highway that leads straight back to Martin.

. . . that we could have taken in the first place.

Of course.

I’ve always considered the mister a practical person, but his true “man-side” came out when I asked him repeatedly to call for directions and he continued to insist that he could figure it out. All the while saying how lost we were and asking why I didn’t bring my GPS.

And of course, when he finally does call, we spot the building just as the receptionist answers. Somehow proving his point that we did not need directions. Even though we found the building completely by accident. And we were ten minutes late.

But thankfully, the veterinarians we were meeting were even later than us, so our panic turned out to be for nothing. But still, why is it such a big deal to ask for directions????

(I must add as a final note that the mister’s first question upon our arrival was, “There’s going to be a blog about this, isn’t there?”)