April 23, 2010
Have you ever ridden with my husband? Have you ever driven in Asuncion? Put the two together and it spells A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E! In all seriousness, he's an excellent driver, able to handle the insanity of South America road rules (what I really mean is the lack of rules...) For example, the two most important rules here are as follows:
1. The lines painted on the road mean nothing. This applies to lines that define where the road ends and the grass (or motorcycle/emergency lane) begins, and also to lines in the middle of the road that normally divide the traffic going in opposite directions. If you would like to drive on the opposite side of the road, do so, especially in the city. If you think you are driving on a four-lane road, it's actually going to be used more like a six-lane or eight-lane road. If the line at the red light is too long and you don't want to stop so far back, just pull up beside the other lanes, on the opposite side of the road. The oncoming traffic may blow the horn, but they'll slide over to let you by. If you are in the rural areas where all roads are two-lane, and it doesn't seem you have room to pass, do it anyway. If you don't want to run the oncoming traffic into the emergency lane (or the car you are passing), you can choose to pass on the right side of the road, putting yourself in the emergency lane. **What I'm calling the emergency lane is the area basically designated for pedestrians, but most often used by motorcycles who've been forced off the real lane so that bigger vehicles can pass. See #2.
2. The largest vehicle is the one with the right-of-way. As mentioned above, when passing a motorcycle (much smaller here, so unable to keep up with road speeds), most cars hold their lane and force the moto to slip over into the emergency lane. Unfortunately, that extra lane has small speed bumps every few yards, so it's not a comfortable place to have to ride long-term. For this reason, we bend the rule and pass a moto like you'd do in the U.S. We actually slide to the left and give the guy space to stay on the road. Passing a car is done a little differently here. I always think of my mom telling me she almost ran a tractor off the road when passing, and how her dad told her to look for the headlights in the rear mirror before pulling back over in front of the vehicle you just passed. This is NOT the way to pass in Paraguay. You can pass without ever leaving your lane, or just begin the pass, get slightly in front of the other car, and then slide back over, forcing them to slow down quickly to let you in. This "larger vehicle" rule also applies to oncoming traffic. For example, you want to pass a slower car but there's not enough room to do so before hitting an oncoming vehicle. If the oncoming traffic is a vehicle smaller than your own, do it anyway, and the smaller oncoming car takes the emergency lane. This is most often practiced by 18-wheelers and buses, but regular cars and trucks do it as well.
Now that you have that background, let me tell you what happened to us the other night. Traveling at night is not usually something we like to do because many people drive without lights, but since it's getting dark so much earlier now, it couldn't be avoided. When leaving Asuncion (two hours from home), we passed a young person from Carapegua standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus. It was rainy, he had packages, and the bus is not a fun ride, so of course, we picked him up.
About an hour into the ride, we came up behind a motorcycle driving slowly on the far right, so Ken began to pass on the left, swinging wide so the motorcycle driver knew he wasn't expected to take the emergency lane. Just as we got in the oncoming lane, the driver looked to his left, saw some people standing on the side of the road (but apparently DIDN'T see us), and turned very slowly across both lanes, to the left, smack in front of us. Ken swerved back to the right and laid on the brakes, but hitting this guy broadside seemed unavoidable. Of course, the wet roads meant we were sliding all over the place. Well, the Lord turned us sideways and slid us right past the rear tire of the motorcycle. Thankfully the road WAS wet, because the angle we had to turn at, at road speed, would normally have flipped us, to be sure. From there, it was what seemed like 10 minutes of fishtailing and swerving all over (and off) the road, trying to get the truck slowed down and heading the right direction.
I did what I always do in moments of panic and began to say, "Jesus," about the time Ken said, "Oh, Lord, help us." I heard Caroline doing the same from the back seat, and our Paraguayan rider also saying, "Jesus," although his version came out as "hey-SUS, hey-SUS." There's comfort in hearing the Name, no matter the language. I imagine that the oncoming traffic slowed down for us, but it seemed they were getting way too close and we were still all over the road. We finally righted before they got to us, slowed down to breathe a bit, and went along our way, keenly aware that God had been very strongly protecting us that night, as usual. I have to tell you that after thanking God, Ken's response was, "See, all those teen years of me fishtailing in the road on purpose did turn out to be a good thing!" We joked with our friend that he'd probably decline our offer and just take the bus the next time. Sometimes we go through the day never knowing what evil could have befallen us, but this night I knew. Thank you for the prayers you offer up for our family. I can tell you with certainty that they work!