by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
Now, one would think that crossing the street would be the same all over the world. Well we learned that is far from the truth.
After Costa Rica we flew to Europe. The first country we stopped at was Holland. Our hotel was on the commuter train route that would take us into Amsterdam. We rode the train to town with our little dog, Sherman, in my lap and began walking. We needed to cross a small street that was one way. Ted had already crossed and as I looked down toward the traffic I saw an opening for me and Sherman, who was a little behind me, when I stepped off of the curb. Suddenly, I felt a horrific pain in my leg as I was thrown back to the sidewalk. At first, I couldn’t understand what had happened. Ted raced back to help me and another tourist explained that a bicyclist was driving the wrong way on the street and hit me just as I stepped off of the sidewalk. He stayed around just long enough to see that I was a tourist and then disappeared quickly. We hired a taxi and returned to our hotel, flying out early the next day for Madrid. I healed a few weeks later and tried to watch every direction from them on.In Madrid we rented the RV that we used for the next year as we traveled around Europe. High on our list of places to visit was Rome. There we were in the center of the old town and needed to cross one of the street round-abouts. All I could see were cars whizzing by as we stood on the edge of the sidewalk. There never seemed to be any opening in the traffic for us to scoot across and we were still waiting when a man in a long black clerical robe walked up and looked like he was going to cross. Quickly I asked him if we could cross the street with him. I think he was surprised that anyone would ask that but he smiled and said “Sure, no will hit you. They don’t want to damage their cars.” He stepped off into the path of cars with us following closely. As we crossed, I wasn’t so sure we would make it, but we did.
We headed east, wanting to visit Greece. In Athens, the RV park was right off a very busy six-lane highway. As always in Europe, the RV parks are near bus lines, and the park office administrator pointed to where the bus stop was. Of course, it was across the street. There were no traffic lights as far as I could see. As I approached, traffic seemed to be distanced enough for me to scoot across. I stepped out and hurried across, noting that none of the oncoming trucks, busses, cars or motorcycles slowed down a bit as they saw me running. I thought that was the worst it could get.
We made it through Europe and then traveled to Southeast Asia. On one of our 90-day compulsory exits from Thailand, we decided to go to Vietnam. In Hanoi, I came out of the hotel to find myself facing a wall of vehicles. True, a lot of them were motor scooters but we still didn’t want to be struck. I said to Ted as we stood there, “I vote for hiring a taxi to drive us across the street.”
“Nonsense.” Said Ted. “Just walk slowly and deliberately and we’ll do fine.” I wasn’t sure but watched as a few Vietnamese walked in front of the traffic. They walked slowly but steadily, and the traffic flowed like water meeting a brick, parting and flowing on either side. I figured I would trust and stepped off with Ted. If I didn’t make it, I, at least, would have died doing something I enjoyed. Slowly and firmly, I walked across the road and the traffic parted to let me pass.
I enjoyed watching the different people ride their scooters, some with the whole family in back of the driver—wife, two children—and dad had one child on his lap. I figure scooters are a form of birth control. You can only have the number of children as you and your wife can hold on the family scooter.
Finally we made it back to this side of the world again, the Americas. In Buenos Aires they have lovely streets and traffic lights. There is one street in the city, the Avenida 9 de Julio, that has eighteen lanes, seven in each direction and four frontage lanes, two on each side. Pedestrians can’t make it in one light change. I could get across seven lanes and stood on the raised median while the light worked its way around again. But with the lights, traffic seemed totally civilized and we never felt threatened.
In Lima, Peru I could hardly believe what I saw at traffic lights. I watched as big trucks, busses and cars would be stopped by the red lights. There, they would gun their motors and the big vehicles would bounce up and down. If a pedestrian was crossing, they honked their horns. It reminded me of an old cartoon, maybe a roadrunner one. Old ladies would try to run across as the gunning motors screeched. I ran with them. It was a frightening crossing, no one wants to take their time getting across. As the light turned green, it looked like a race track when the gun went off. I was glad when we left Lima, back to more civilized cities.