Tag Archives: Driving

The hitchhiker with a gun

Carretera Austral, Chile

With a wave of his hand a policeman in khakis at the side of the road indicates we should stop.

One minute we’re happily rolling along in our shiny Mitsubishi pick-up, relaxing into the pleasure of driving Chile’s Carretera Austral, which is beautiful, narrow and not always paved but at least it’s empty. With that wave of the hand our mood changes and we both nervously shift in our seats as though we’re guilty of transporting a huge stash of mari-ju-ana.

“Where have you come from?” The policeman asks in thick Chilean Spanish. We can just about manage to translate his words, but with a two second delay to unscramble them.

“Quelat,” we both answer sheepishly, wondering why we’ve been stopped.

“Where are you going?”

“Chile Chico.” Another duet of sheepishness.

“Hmm, on holiday?”

“Oh yes, we’re tourists.” None of that backpacking or savvy traveller nonsense. We want him to know we’re temporary guests just here to enjoy his lovely country.

He says something we can’t translate and points to a man standing to one side wearing mirror shades and a leather jacket.

“Lo siento, no entiendo… sorry, I don’t understand.” Maybe because of the nerves.

He repeats himself and the penny drops.

Mirror sunglasses man is an off duty policeman who needs a lift to the next town.

“Sure,” we’re not keen on the idea of sharing a car with a policeman on a road where we’ve not been sure whether we’ve been sticking to the speed limit or not. But it probably isn’t a good idea to refuse. We point to our luggage and supplies which fill the back seat of the pick-up. “But he’ll have to sit in the rear of the truck.”

The policeman shouts to his amigo who looks at the pick-up’s open-to-the-elements rear bed for a couple of seconds. He shakes his head. He fancies more comfortable transport.

We’ve dodged the bullet.

A lift-seeking policemen. That’s a first for us.

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Second Gear City

The car in front of me is crawling along at a snail’s pace; a particularly slow snail.

The driver is an elderly man wearing glasses who is more interested in what is happening out of the side windows of his car than what’s happening in front. Lots of cars here have small dents. It doesn’t take a genius to see why.
Concentration is not a strong point. I carried out a small experiment once, working out that it took, on average, five seconds before there was any movement when traffic lights changed from red to green.

They don’t do things quickly.

In this town it is difficult to get out of second gear.

That’s not because of traffic congestion or anything. The road in front of the car in front can be empty and the snail’s pace stays the same. These old guys are just not in a hurry to get anywhere.

You especially know you’re not going anywhere quickly when the car in front of you is an old Merc or a Berlingo. The drivers of these are the slowest of the slow. If they’ve got a chunky cigar clamped between their teeth then even second gear seems a speedy fantasy.

It drives me crazy when I need to be somewhere fast. But in truth it’s quite endearing; I’d rather live in a place where people drive too slow than too fast.

That won’t stop me shouting ‘why don’t you stick to riding a donkey’ next time I’m behind a tootling cigar chomper in a Merc though.