Throughout both north and south, we were amazed at how friendly and polite other drivers were, letting other cars into the flow of traffic etc. Maybe it was just a fluke of nature, or synchronicity in action, or perhaps we were sending out a strong forcefield of “we’re really ecstatic to be here” vibes, which shielded us?
It was remarkable, how often people walking along the roads or in a passing car would greet us, with a friendly nod, a smile, a wave, or just a casual lift of the hand. We both loved that! It gave us such a real warm and fuzzy feeling.*
In fact, I noticed that pedestrians were generally treated courteously. Not just the elderly or pregnant ladies pushing a pram, but ‘normal’ people too. When someone was waiting to cross the road, drivers would usually slow down or even stop, and give them a chance to cross safely.
I was particularly impressed by this in Derry, where I had to leap out of the car in the rain to get a couple of snapshots of the famous murals – I was astounded when cars actually stopped to let me cross the road! Admittedly, this was usually on or near a pedestrian crossing, so perhaps this is one of the basic rules of driving.
But just in case you’re planning a trip to South Africa, you should know that we don’t habitually stop at pedestrian crossings. In fact, we may just accelerate and take aim…!
Which is why I really liked the traffic lights we saw in Dublin, Derry and I think Belfast too – when the little green man is on, signalling that you can walk safely across, none of the other signals is green. So you can be pretty confident that you won’t be knocked over. This is not how it works here, where you will have to dodge around the cars turning the corner because they have the green light in their favour at the same time. I always think that’s really stupid, and I wish our traffic signals would be re-designed so that the safety of pedestrians can be assured. Well… maybe ‘assured’ is asking a bit much. But ‘encouraged’ would be nice.
I feel the same way about the lack of turning signals at busy intersections: if it’s green for you to drive straight, it’ll be green for oncoming traffic too. So if you want to turn across the traffic, you will have to wait and wait and wait until there is a gap, causing a traffic jam behind you, and inevitably annoyed hooting and loud revving by those who feel you should have squeezed through that miniscule gap between the speeding cars. And the number of oncoming cars who go through the orange light even as it turns red and even though they can see the intersection is choked up with cars desperate to turn, always surprises me. Manners, people, manners!
We also really liked the fact that the light changes from red to orange to green, so that you can get your car into gear and ready to go. Why can’t we do that here? Mind you, knowing our chronically impatient drivers, they’d probably start driving off when it’s still orange, so they might even collide with all the people who still slip through on the orange light from the other side. Sigh… My head hurts just thinking about this…
Now on a more humorous note, you know those Irish postcards you get of a blockade of sheep in some narrow and winding country lane? Kind of like this?
“Naa”, I thought whenever I looked at them, “that’s just a posed photo for the tourists.”
Well, it turns out that it ain’t. We had a couple of these encounters, both with a flock of sheep and a herd of cows.
The most memorable one appropriately took place on the “Sheep’s Head Drive” on the way to Mizen Head in the deep south.
What made this one stand out in my memory was the fact that we had been winding our way up a single-lane farm track, giggling hysterically at the preposterous road signs we had just passed:
- “Do not pass!” – This in a spot where there was NO WAY two vehicles could squeeze past each other.
- “Slow – reduce speed” – On a sharp corner, going uphill, where you had no option but to slow down.
- “Speed limit = 25 km/h” – As if you could go much faster than walking speed here!
But suddenly we were face-to-backside with this flock, leisurely amble-grazing along the narrow verge. They started trotting up the hill… towards an oncoming jeep. Once the first sheep realised that they had been trapped, they stopped in their tracks, and went into reverse gear, causing a multi-sheep pile-up.
The driver of the jeep got out of the car, and started shooing the sheep back towards us. Hubby climbed out of the car, saying firmly, “There is no way I’m reversing down that hill!”
“Uh-oh,” I thought to myself, “are they going to have a fist-fight?”
The other man turned out to be a big strong farmer wearing boots. “Get back in the ca-ar,” he yelled, waving at a startled hubby, “these sheep don’t know yer!”
“Gosh,” I thought, “I didn’t know sheep were dangerous? Does he think they’ll attack us?”
Hubby quickly got back in the car and shut the door, just as the first sheep started trotting past the car. There was barely enough space for two sheep next to each other, so the impatient ones at the back started jumping over each other, legs like pogo sticks. I had NO idea sheep could jump that high!
It looked very funny.
But we weren’t insured against sheep hooves scratching our car, so we sat dead-quiet in the car, trying not to laugh or move, so as not to frighten the noisily bleating and leaping sheep. At last, the way was clear, so we drove up to the top of the hill, where we waved gratefully at the farmer who had come to our assistance.
And thank heavens, no scratches.
* When I went for my first drive back at home, I did the same – nodding, waving, smiling at other drivers… I lasted less than 20 mins. The startled looks and nervous double-takes yanked me right back into South African reality, where we automatically distrust strangers. Even if they smile at us. No, especially if they smile at us.