As one of my Facebook followers recently pointed out, travel is one of the few things you can spend your money on which makes you richer. However, the unwary traveller can easily come to grief and a nasty accident will leave a very unpleasant taste in even the most well-travelled mouth.Things we take for granted at home can present us with un-prepared for challenges when in another country and even the most pedestrian (pun intended) undertaking can be fraught with danger if you don’t keep your wits about you.
Crossing the road is one of the most glaring examples of this. The art of getting from one side of the road to the other varies depending upon what country you are in and what works in one place can be the exact opposite of what will keep you alive and upright in another. This was brought home to us just last week when we took the plunge into Ho Chi Minh City traffic and had to swiftly unlearn previous “best practice” techniques. Here’s my rundown on what has kept me alive in various countries so far.
Rome – the very heavy road traffic here can be daunting for the uninitiated. While there are plenty of pedestrian crossings, the drivers seem to ignore them and the timid tourist could die of exposure well before the cars voluntarily give way. What you need to gain the respect of drivers here is a steely glint in your eye and determination in your step. Step out onto the crossing confidently, hold your hand up in the “halt” sign to the oncoming traffic and keep walking – they will stop.
Hong Kong – once again, this is a place with plenty of pedestrian crossings and the drivers obey the red lights. As a pedestrian, once the green man glows you can walk across the road in (relative) safety, but be warned – you must be well clear of the road the instant that light changes. As soon as they get the green, Hong Kong drivers put the pedal to the metal in no uncertain way, I kid you not. I once saw a slow pedestrian fly through the air and land in a very painful position on a Hong Kong road and the only immediate concern the driver of the car that hit him had was how much damage had been done to his Mercedes Benz. True story.
Marrakech – the traffic here is just plain scary. The city roads are congested with cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, scooters, heavily laden donkeys and horses and carts. There are crossing lights at some intersections, but I really wouldn’t count on much co-operation from the traffic. The speed variations of such a diverse range of vehicles makes any road crossing tricky, to say the least. This is definitely a place where a sharp eye and a very speedy step is needed. A prayer may or may not help, too.
Ho Chi Minh City – the streets of this vibrant city stream with an incredible number of scooters and small motor cycles, many of which have the driver’s entire family on board and possibly his/her tools of trade as well. Add to this a growing number of cars and trucks and you have a pedestrian experience that frequently invokes the urge to scuttle feverishly across the swirling vehicles – a seriously wrong move. This instinctive action is one sure way to end as up a jammy spot on the road. The protocol here may be counter-intuitive, but it works. Step out onto the road slowly, then steadily and calmly thread your way through the traffic, allowing the vehicles to pass around you – do not run. However, if you are really unsure just find a local who is crossing and glue yourself to their side – that worked for us countless times.
No matter where you are trying to cross the road, staying alert is always the safest option and the surest way to ensure you continue your travels in one piece.
What about you, dear reader, have you had any particularly hair-raising road crossing experiences?