Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drive atop the Great Wall of China at 40 km/h? I can’t say I ever did, though these days, I find myself driving the equivalent on my rock every single day. As I blindly reverse up the steep street my car is parked on, I wonder if it will ever feel normal. I keep thinking someday that my heart won’t leap into my throat as I round hairpin turns, praying to God there are no oncoming vehicles, especially since I have three little kids in the backseat trusting me not to kill them.
I live on the beautiful, but microscopic island of Saba, Dutch Caribbean. As many others have done before me, I am captain of the household while my husband pursues his MD at the Saba University School of Medicine. I think most significant others do not have three children in tow, but we felt like sticking together would be best for our family, so here we are. Plus, I did not want to miss out on the adventures.
This rock that I now inhabit is extremely vertical. No picture could have prepared me for the stunning precipices, charming cottages, and the lush vegetation reaching up beyond the clouds. The vibrant pops of flowers romancing the breeze… Saba is quite possibly the most beautiful place on the planet! For thousands of years, there was not a road connecting the little villages, just a system of trails. “A road would be impossible,” they said, until one man begged to differ.
Begun in 1938 and completed in 1963, just in time for the airport, we now have “The Road” which is entirely concrete, winding drunkenly around the island like swirls of frozen yogurt. I had read that driving here was challenging, but I thought I would be fine, since I had lived in Italy as a child and traveled extensively through tiny, fortressed, cobblestone villages. A lot of the Saban landscape actually reminds me of the famed Amalfi Coast. No sweat. If my dad could do it in a van with four kids in the backseat, I can surely do it in a mini station wagon with a mere three.
I can now tell you, officially, that driving here is indeed challenging, particularly for introverts like me who are very comfortable to move about the scene unnoticed, especially on the road. Being loud and making my presence known are not behaviors I generally practice. I like to follow the rules and blend in with average traffic patterns.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible here.
Blending in? Not in a place where honking the horn may save your life, even if honking makes you feel stupid and maybe even rude, and you just want to apologize to the truck you nearly locked fenders with. I like to drive the speed limit, especially because my vehicle is long, and I don’t want my children to hit their precious noggins on the roof when our uphill climb suddenly becomes a downhill slalom. My hands get clammy when I inevitably pick up a tailgater… I would pull over, but then I would be careening into the ocean. I am not trying to be annoying, but oh my goodness, now I am an inconvenience to someone, which I hate. Somehow, they pull around me, and I avoid eye contact like the plague.
This is terrible, remind me again why I wanted to go out today?!
Also, my steering wheel is now on the right side of the car, instead of the standard left side I have years of experience with in North America. So now, I am driving impossibly narrow roads, flanked by cliffs and rock walls (sometimes people and houses), feeling like I am 15 again learning the ropes, getting lost, and trying to turn around without losing traction or sanity. And sometimes, large rocks have even been known to fall off the cliffs onto unsuspecting drivers, thereby killing them…
So, who’s up for a joyride?
The icing on the cake is the unpredictability of driving with a toddler and two infants. Simultaneous meltdowns are frequent and also very exposed as you meander the five seconds it takes to pass through one of the villages at 20 km/h and weakly smile at the locals like your 2-year old isn’t screaming, pulling her hair out (and maybe even yours).
Waving at everyone is normal here, and I awkwardly wave back like the butt of a cruel joke. I have even begun to “toot” my horn at people I recognize, as is custom here, except I do it with a big, doofy grin on my face because the only way to make something less awkward is to make it MORE awkward, am I right?
Ahhh, introvert problems…
At least my steering wheel has the Superman insignia stitched on it, offering some consolation to my cape catching on fire. And I thought the Road to Hana was bad…
How’s the driving on your rock? Any other island introverts out there who can relate?