Friday, April 29, 2011

Cape Verde drivers and their cars!

Every country on God's great earth has its own unique reputation when it comes to its drivers and their love affair with their cars!

Cape Verde is no exception. Now don't get me wrong. I find Cape Verde to be among one of the safer countries on the globe in which to operate an automobile. This is so for a few key reasons. First, new cars in Cape Verde are very expensive - maybe 50% more costly than in the US or Europe - and their owners keep them immaculate condition. They treat their cars like a second home (because they cost as much as a small house)! They don't want any dents and scratches on their shiny automobiles. Inevitably, cars do show their age over time. Yet Cape Verdeans will "bati chapa" the dents out of an old or damaged car and repaint it. Cars that are 20 years old look brand new again - and for 500 euro or less! And they'll try to sell it to you for double its actual value. LOL. And you'll probably think it's a good deal.

Second, drivers here are quite careful compared to the crazy drivers found in other countries. In a sense, they hardly have a choice. The roads, with few exceptions, are not meant for exceptionally fast driving. There are no multi-lane high-speed freeways as in first world countries. What's the rush anyway? These are small islands and distances are short ... how much time are you going to save but a couple seconds by speeding up.

And Cape Verde drivers do not exhibit the conflicted mentality of American drivers. In the USA, drivers regularly flip each other off, but will not sound the car horn. Honking the horn is considered uncouth. In Cape Verde, the mentality is exactly logical. The car horn is used at all times of the day and night. You know they're coming or they're just saying, "Hi! Octavio's in da house!" Because it is a sign of extreme disrespect, I've never seen a Cape Verdean "flip the bird" (show the middle finger) at anyone.

Except once. I was driving slowly along a narrow street when a 6 year old child suddenly entered the street in front of me. I easily stopped without putting her in any danger and waited for her to get back safely on the sidewalk. But as I pulled alongside her and cautioned her to be more careful, the little girl who had the face of an angel leaned into my open passenger window and said, "Doidu, bo kre pasa es carro na mi!" ("Madman, you want to run this car over me!) ... and promptly gave me the finger. I was laughing so hard, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road. Her mother heard the commotion and came over to ask what happened. So I shared the story with her as tears streamed down my face. I knew she was trying with all her might not to also burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter as she scolded her little daughter. But she thanked me for being so cautious and we are still friends to this day.

Drivers generally obey the Cape Verde traffic laws. But I have to say, that it's a type of passive-aggressive driving style you'll see here. Cape Verdeans respect the right of way. If a driver has the right of way ... you dare NOT get in his or her way because they are not gonna stop! So be careful crossing the streets. Cars have the right of way over pedestrians! It's a lot like some notorious parts of Europe, but the exact reverse of North American cities, where a driver is obligated to stop for pedestrians even if the pedestrian may be in the wrong. In Cape Verde, they will "pob na tchon" (put you in the ground) without hesitation. As a pedestrian, you'll need eyes in the back of your head. LOL. Still, if someone's got the right of way, you are required to respect that and yield, whether you are driving or on foot.

But ... there are a few exceptions to this general rule.

The taxi drivers and the Hiace drivers ... OMG. The drivers who drive taxis and minivans for hire are certifiably crazy! They hardly obey the traffic laws and they risk the life and limb of themselves and their passengers. Here's a word of advice. If you happen to be are riding along in a taxi or Hiace (pronounced "Yass") and you feel like the driver is getting dangerously close to the edge of safety, then scream this criole phrase at the top of your lungs: "Mose, bo ta matam!" Make sure you look like you just saw the gates of hell open up. This means, "Dude, you're going to kill me!" That should slow him down.

Talking about Hiaces. These hired mini vans are called "Hiace" because they are the Hiace model of the Toyota product line. They is a very popular brand here. And even if it's a Mitsubishi, you call it a "Hiace". Well, I don't know about you. I love Cape Verdean music, but I never knew that a modern car stereo system could reach such high levels on the decibel scale. These Hiaces are virtual discotheques on wheels. You can hear them coming from about two blocks away. Keep in mind that if an automobile suddenly pulls alongside you with blaring music, and a man jumps out and yells "Asomada!" in your face, it's not an attempted kidnapping. He only wants to know if you're going to the destination that the Hiace is headed for. So just smile and say, "Yes!", in which case, you will be abducted for a small fee. Be sure to sing along at the top of your voice and get into the spirit of things inside the Hiace.

Now, one more thing I have to discuss before ending this post ... drinking and driving. It's a problem in Cape Verde. It's not that the local drivers are drunkards. Not at all. For the most part, Cape Verdeans are quite sober during normal working hours. But they are party animals after dark. LOL. And they do not drink excessively by any stretch of the imagination. But it only takes a few drinks to become impaired. Many of the driving fatalities occur in the wee hours of the "madrugada" when people are returning home after a fiesta. So I would caution you to be a friend and don't let someone drive when you know they have had one drink too many ... especially if you're a passenger.

So go ahead and share your observation and stories about Cape Verde's drivers, taxis and Hiaces in the comments below. And be sure to respond to the survey question in the sidebar about the number of traffic lights in Cape Verde.

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