A Crash Course in Island Scootering

“Just treat it like you’re playing a video game,” he tells me. “Except don’t crash – you don’t get to start over like in a video game.”

Helpful hints from my loving boyfriend.

Of course, what he doesn’t realize is that I’ve probably only played about 1% of the video games he has in his lifetime, so perhaps relating them to my current situation isn’t a helpful analogy after all.

“Watch out for potholes, they’re deep enough to fall into around here. And keep an eye out for snakes, tarantulas, and crabs. The dogs probably won’t chase you, but don’t freak out when they bark. Oh! And keep an eye out for cars without lights, especially no back or brake lights. Those are the worst.”

*click for image credit

While these tips are more specific, his advice doesn’t exactly comfort me. See, I’m about to take a crash course (hopefully not literally) in driving a scooter for the first time. We just bought it to help us get around our rock with more ease, but the fact that I’ve never actually driven one combined with the prospect of having to learn on these obstacle-laden roads has me a bit on edge, if I’m being honest. And I’m not usually one to shy away from a challenge! But the typical challenges I take on involve jumping off bridges or out of planes while being taken care of by a professional who – at least theoretically – strapped me in correctly. This whole “driving a scooter like it’s a video game” thing is an entirely different level of crazy for me.

Like most Caribbean islands, the roads in Roatan are, well… interesting (to say the least). They are narrow, and wind up and around hills, through the jungle, and along the edge of the ocean. The drive can be beautiful, with stunning views as you head east along the central ridge, offering peeks of lush jungle canopies and gorgeous ocean vistas off both sides of the island. Beautiful, that is, if you’re sitting in the back seat of a large and well-protected car. The drive can also be harrowing as large trucks and wild cabs overtake one another on curves in the face of oncoming traffic, all while motorcyclists zip between them all as if they were invincible.

Here’s the thing: there is no actual road test to get a driver’s license in Roatan. If the printer is working, you can get one printed after a medical exam and payment at the bank. Sometimes there’s a written test, but not all the time. There is also no inspection of vehicles here, so pretty much if it has anything resembling wheels, it qualifies as road-worthy. I’ve seen construction trucks without brake lights stop suddenly in front of tailgating taxis; I’ve seen motorcycles with no brakes cruise between oncoming cars on a downhill simply because they cannot stop; I’ve seen pickup trucks that I’m fairly certain were built in the 1960s and quite possibly have a few original parts permanently rusted into them while the rest of the “vehicle” is a haphazard combination of mystery materials.

So, yes, I suppose the driving here is a bit like a video game. It’s a bit of Mario Kart meets Grand Theft Auto: sometimes you laugh at the banana peels and go-karts on the road, while other times you scream at the guy passing you on a curve who’s playing chicken with the opposing van, both of whom clearly just don’t give a shit.

Today, I’m venturing out into this mayhem on our “new to us, but likely had at least 7 previous owners based on the level of rust and dilapidation” scooter. We’ll call her Rusty, for short. Keeping the warnings from my boyfriend in mind (dogs, snakes, and spiders – oh my!) while also noting the impossible-to-avoid pot-holed topography before me, off I go.

*click for image credit

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a Masshole by birth (Massachusetts drivers are endearingly referred to as Massholes…). What exactly does that mean? It means I believe in driving with a purpose, so God help you if you’re on a casual Sunday drive. It means I will beep at you for pretty much any minor infraction. It means I will weave through lanes to get to my destination, even if it only amounts to an insignificant 20 seconds earlier arrival. It’s in my blood, and it’s not my fault. But I’m not sure my need for speed will be beneficial this time around.

“Work with me here, Rusty,” I plead aloud as we roll toward my first turn.

“Eeeeeeek!” I just can’t stop the screams from escaping my mouth and try my hardest not to close my eyes. Even still, I somehow manage to steer the scooter without A) hitting the bus barreling toward me, or B) tipping over because scooters don’t lean, they turn.

Mission accomplished! I have successfully driven about 100 yards without dying or killing anyone/anything. I think that’s enough for today.

Today’s trial by fire lesson? I learned that the secret to not tipping over is to speed up mid-turn. See? Masshole training at its best! Thanks, Mom!

Maybe tomorrow I’ll worry about driving farther through our neighborhood. The unpaved, potholed, dirt roads and high quantities of jungle creatures are sure to present a new challenge. Or… maybe I’ll just stick to walking and hitching my way around like I did in my life before Rusty. Maybe it’s not that inconvenient after all…

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Amanda Walkins

About Amanda Walkins

Girl travels solo. Girl meets boy. Within a week, girl moves in with boy, adopts island dog, and decides to never go home. Her life is a cliché. But actually, Amanda is just like so many others who got sucked into the vortex of their respective rocks. Amanda’s current rock is Roatan, a little island off the east coast of Honduras. From brutal Boston winters to the frenetic pace of Washington, DC, Amanda just kept heading farther south in search of warmer climes and laid-back vibes. Now she spends her days balancing writing and socializing with the eclectic residents of Roatan. That beats the hell out of balancing in high heels on a moving metro train.

Amanda writes about her rock for tourists, current and potential expats, and, of course, for her own sanity at www.amandawalkins.com.

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14 thoughts on “A Crash Course in Island Scootering

  1. So true Amanda, the roads here are some of the worst I’ve ever driven on. Despite the fact that I used to ride a motorcycle in the states many moons ago I don’t think I would ever be brave (or insane) enough to cruise the roads of our rock. Way too many crazies for me!

    • I’ve heard driving in Cairo is one of the craziest things you could ever do, Beth! Maybe I can make this an international challenge: scooter around every country and rank them from craziest to easiest. Haha we’ll see!

    • I’ve only seen one goat so far in Roatan, but my neighborhood has a resident population of cows and occasionally the horses from down the road find their way onto our beach as well. Makes for an interesting drive just to get to the main road! Oh, and of course the giant pet pig that lives nearby as well 🙂

  2. LOL! This Masshole, her Masshole husband and kids are about to embark upon a move to the USVI and hubby has been wondering about getting a scooter! So if you can do it on your rock, I think my hubby can handle one there! Great read Amanda!

  3. I think potholes breed. There are Mommy and Daddy ones, which you would like to avoid, and baby ones, which you can just drive right over. But woe betide you if you ignore the grandfather ones. One way or another, they’ll get you.

  4. Pingback: Cross-Post: A Crash Course in Island Scootering | AWalk on the Run

  5. Pingback: Cross-Post: A Crash Course in Island Scootering Amanda Walkins

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