So we have been in Jozi since September and this day had to come. Growing up, a child of the south, driving was a must. Nothing is particularly close and parents look forward to the day when they no longer have to ferry children around to events or make a quick run to the store. Learning to drive usually comes at 16 for most southern teens, a rite-of-passage, if you will. For me, it was even earlier. Tractors for tilling soil, and minding tobacco farms and such. I tell you this so that you know the confidence that I have behind the wheel of a vehicle. (Leigh here, he has also been riding motorcycles since forever.)
I have alluded to the fact that in South Africa, they drive on the left side of the road and I freely admit that it gave me some trepidation. Therefore, I would have to test my metal on the open road driving on said left side and the last week of 2016 was just that test.
Charlene Harry, our dear friend, invited us to spend a couple of days in the town of her youth, Howick, South Africa. A mere 5-hour journey from our current dwelling in Marshalltown. The ever prepared Leigh, booked us a rental car for the journey and at my request secured an automatic seeing as this would be my first foray into right-sided driving on the left side of the road. We thought it would be prudent to not have to worry about shifting gears and such. We arrived on time for our scheduled pick up just a bit nervous but eager to travel outside of Johannesburg for the first time since our arrival four months ago (Wow! Has it been that long??) As we had been told by everyone here, South Africans work for 11 months out of the year and really go on holiday for the 12th. There were no automatic rental cars available! I know what you are thinking … We were thinking the same thing … But we made a reservation! Grrrrrr…. Moot point and after some searching for another vehicle in our price range (there were none), we decided to take the manual and be on our way.
First let me say that I am a really safe driver (cough, cough). I do tend to speed at times (Did he really say…at times??) but within 5 mph of the posted speed limit (no comment) unless I’m on my bike then all bets are off! Fate decided to test me to the max this day for some reason or another. The drive started out fine. It was an exercise in self-conversation and Leigh’s gentle reminding …LEFT SIDE…Left side. Turning left it was not such a big deal. It was the right turns that required maximum concentration. Before we go any further, I am happy to report that the vehicle was returned with all its original paint! Once we were well under way, it began to rain. Hummmmm. A bit further into the trip noticed a sign reading, “Severe penalties for any traffic infraction.” Further still, I realized we would be traversing a mountainous area ….Outstanding! The “white knuckle ” moment came rounding a bend on a four-lane portion of the N3 highway. it is a blind curve and yes, I was well within the posted speed limit. I guess here it is common for highways NOT to be separated by medians. This was news to me. As we were rounding the bend…in the rain…with a stick shift…the lanes narrowed and it appeared to me as if the driver of the on-coming semi had crossed the non-existing median and was in my lane! As it turns out he was simply in his lane that was about a foot from my door! Inside I was having a ” Chris Tucker” moment.
Outwardly, I had to exhale because Leigh was struggling for air! Sorry honey I didn’t intend to take all the oxygen as I gasped. (It’s okay, Boo Boo.) At any rate, once that moment passed, I settled in and managed to keep us in one piece the rest of the drive. (He did GREAT!)
This drive, once my nerves returned to a somewhat normal state, was amazing! The country side was filled with visual treasures. Wide open expanses, meandering rivers, lakes, soft peaked mountains, and wandering wildlife, all feasts for the eyes or eye in my case…I was not about to be caught unawares whilst driving on the left side! Other, more subtle difference began to emerge along the way. In the U.S. when you see a fueling station / rest stop, it is on one side of the highway or the other. Here there are two. One on each side. Same station, same stores just one on each side. And those stations are full service…I mean they check the oil, air, and fill the tank.
(Unfortunately, the options are limited on each side as well. I know…spolied American.)