On Foreign Transportation

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I’ve been paying close attention to transportation lately. Sure, transportation has always been a particular fascination of mine while traveling, but recently it’s become an obsession.

My upcoming participation in the Mongol Rally has heightened my transportation sixth sense to new levels; culminating in sleeplessness and worry. As I’ve traveled through Italy, Jordan, and Lebanon these past few months I can’t help but look at every little car and have the following thoughts run through my mind:

  • Could 4 people and all of their gear fit in that?
  • I wonder if it’s easy to get parts for that car?
  • Is there enough clearance on that car to drive through Mongolian terrain?
  • I wonder how much that little car costs?
  • Can we put a roof rack on that?
  • I wonder what kind of gas mileage it gets?
  • How long would those tires last on dirt roads?

Previously I never even noticed these cars; never gave them a second thought. But now having the challenge of finding a car that we can drive in the Mongol Rally across two continents has heightened my car awareness.

Not only do I wonder about the vehicle, but I’m also obsessed with the actual driving of the vehicle in a foreign country. I’ve traveled through 40+ countries – but I’ve only driven in one of those countries – Vietnam. I lived there a year and it took 5 months before I would rent a bike and another 2 weeks before I would take it out of my living room and try to drive it.

Truth be told, the driving in other countries scares the crap out of me.  I can’t tell you how many times I have thought it might be the last day of my life while screeching around hairpin turns in a bus or vehicle that was older than me and roads so narrow we wouldn’t even consider it enough space to qualify as a shoulder in America! I’ve dealt with these scary situations by telling myself that the driver MUST know what he is doing…he’s a native of and he knows how they drive and maneuver on these roads…right? He knows the unwritten and confusing rules of the road way better than I ever could. So I put my blind faith and utter fear of dying in the hands of the driver, say a few prayers, and try to find my ‘happy place’.

Now we (a bunch of foreigners) will be doing the driving for 6 to 8 weeks through countries that none of us know or understand. Who knows what the rules of the road are in Uzbekistan? Do we yield for camels or not? Is there a manual I can download from a website or something?! I guess we’ll have to learn fast when we cross the border…really fast.

Here are some of the tips I’ve been picking up as I’ve been observing driving through the countries I’ve recently been traveling through:
• You must be aggressive – in Italy…there was no time for being passive. Itlanians are aggressive in romance and in driving!
• Lines mean absolutely nothing – in Jordan and Lebanon lines were a waste of paint. A two lane road effortlessly turned into a 4 lane road. (see an example of this in the video below from my drive to Zhale)

• Stoplights have no meaning – in Lebanon many of the stoplights weren’t even working, but the locals were so used to it that it didn’t’ matter. Imagine Atlanta without stoplights…seriously…what would happen? The word Clusterf#@ck comes to mind…but strangely it worked in Lebanon.
• Horns are used more often than a blinker – in all of these countries horns rule. In fact everywhere I’ve been in the world the horn is used…except for America. For some reason we have been taught that a horn is used as a last resort of being totally pissed. But a horn is used as a side mirror, a blinker, a brake light, and I bet in the right circumstances it could light your cigarette and change a tire too.

I’ve been taking driving notes as I travel this winter, but it’s not making me any more relaxed about the fact that we will be driving across 2 continents.  I’m switching roles from passenger to driver.  I try to imagine myself behind the wheel driving through these cities by myself.  I will no longer be able to put my faith in the hands of the ‘local driver’ because that driver this summer will be a bunch of North Americans.

Also – if you havne’t done so already – please consider donating towards our charity – we are working very hard at trying to raise enough money to purchase an ambulance to donate at the end of the rally.

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