Thursday, November 7, 2013

"I think you can do that here..."

The other day we were riding with some friends in their Subaru with medium-tint windows enjoying the tranquility of a weekend in the city without the crazy traffic like we see Monday through Friday and especially the CRAZY rush hour traffic that makes everyone late on Fridays from 3-8. We rolled through a red light at 20 mph since there was obviously no oncoming traffic.

Since the Hubster and I are still "new" here and learning the ways of the road we casually asked our friend, "huh, did you just go through that red light?"

Our friend replied confidently, "I think you can do that here..."

Yeah, she's right. You can pretty much do that here, along with breaking any other traffic laws it took you 16 years, 2 drivers license tests, and a few tickets to learn back in the states. People don't roll through stop signs here, they drive right on through them, especially in the early morning hours when there isn't a lot of traffic out. I can hear cars drive down the street honking their horns rhythmically as they go through each intersection. It's my 5am wakeup call drifting through the open bedroom window along with the cool pre-dawn air.

There's a big problem with motorcyclists riding down the center lane when traffic is stopped, knocking on people's windows to demand cell phones, money, watches and anything else they can see. Theft is already illegal but that wasn't stopping anyone; they needed another law here obviously. So they increased the jail time for stealing cell phones. But that didn't stop anyone. Now it's illegal for motorcycles to split lanes. But of course they continue to ride down the line jacking cars, why would they start obeying laws now? This results in everyone just tinting their car windows super dark so the bad guys can't see in. And the good guys carry guns and won't hesitate to shoot a bad guy in the face when he knocks on the wrong window.

Oh Guatemala and your lawlessness and your laws to combat lawlessness that just leads to more laws to break...

But the flip side of this wild west mentality is actually quite thrilling and in some ways refreshing. You're on your own here so you'd better take care. Pedestrians have no right of way in Guatemala. Crossing the street becomes a strategic little game, I feel like a FedEx driver who only makes right turns. I plan my route with as little street crossing as I can manage and then only near the busy intersections or the tumalos (speed bumps) where cars slow down enough to dart between them. If you don't watch where you're walking and step into one of the millions of open potholes in the street, well, good luck blaming anyone but yourself. Gash yourself on some exposed rebar? You idiot, that's been there for the last 10 years and didn't seem to be a problem until you ran into it. If you break your ankle stepping off some crazy uneven step in a restaurant, you won't find anyone stepping up to pay your medical bills or even offering to cover your drink tab. No one will even think to put a sign up or fix the step. Down here there isn't a lot of suing going on. Not that it wouldn't be nice to have some sort of public safety awareness, but at least it keeps the hospitals cheap since they don't have to pay sky-high insurance premiums or lawyer fees like they do back in the states.

It's radical self preservation down here, and I have to say I kind of like it.

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