Monday, April 2, 2012

Don’t Hesitate - Accelerate!

An aerial shot of the empty land of Abu Dhabi, and the road (or  bridge) that was a beginning to Abu Dhabi's future. <br /><br />Eds note: Karen Sheikh Zayed Road ? <br />Maqta bridge<br />Courtesy Al Ittihad
The Maqtaa Bridge was part of Abu Dhabi's first road.
The development beyond must be Al Bateen Airport.

You won’t be on the road in the UAE for more than one day before you realize that you are driving in a brave new world.

You can’t be a chicken.
Al Maqtaa Bridge
Today it's even more developed than in this recent image. Our compound is at the upper edge,
in the middle. The empty land just below it is undergoing development now.
But first, you need to remember how young this country is. Forty years. The first roads were built in the 1960’s.

This news article tells the story:
Terry Maqta Bridge
Now there are two bridges where once
there was just one.

The first half is about the first road in Dubai, which was built in the historic section along Dubai Creek where we like to visit the souq and ride the abras. The second half is Abu Dhabi; the first road there included the Maqtaa Bridge, where I nearly got stranded on my stand-up paddleboard. If you read it, then you will know that they didn’t have traffic lights until 1980.

The good news is that, unlike in the U.S., the driving population here is young. I have yet to see a senior citizen behind the wheel of an automobile! Compare this to Walnut Creek, California, home of the Rossmoor retirement community. Or anywhere in Florida.

For more perspective, I recommend you view the first couple of minutes of this six-minute film clip from the 1960’s showing the UAE’s father, Sheikh Zayed, driving in the desert. It’s part of an hour-long film called Farewell to Arabia, which I am finding is a fascinating window into the region’s mysterious past.

Scenes of Sheikh Zayed driving in the desert of Abu Dhabi in the 1960’s.

This is still what it’s like for us to drive over the dunes to Abdul’s camp, except that we are in SUVs, not Dodge whales. Not much else has changed out there in the desert.

So, the road system is new, and has grown exponentially in recent decades. Construction is ongoing everywhere. Signage is confusing.

Signs tell you which way to go to get to a place . . .

. . . and to turn around after you've missed it.

Now consider the driving population. Most Emirati drivers are relatively young, and they can have any car they want. They might be the first or second generation of drivers in their family. Most favor SUV’s, which will hold their large, multigenerational families.

It's not uncommon to see one of these
pass you on the higway.
Yet there are plenty of super-charged six-figure-sticker-priced race cars. In the U.S. if you see an expensive sports car, it’s usually being driven by an Old Guy. Here, no way, never.

If you could see the driver, but you can’t because the windows are tinted, you would see a young guy, every time. Once in a blue moon you might see an expat driving a “starter” Porsche, Mercedes, or BMW two-seater convertible, but not often.

Expats drive small or mid-sized sedans, provided by their employers or purchased from other expats who are leaving.

Filling in the gaps are workers driving small imports which are in poor condition. Most of the trucks and buses are made in China and falling apart, or are old and in poor condition.
Here are the new rules that I’ve learned.
Highway driving:
  • When you look in your rear view mirror, be prepared to see only hood of a large SUV.
  • Remain calm.
  • Check your rear view mirror a split second before changing lanes and then go for it. If you hesitate, the car bearing down on you at high speed will cut you off.
This is what you will see in your rear view mirror.

  • Don’t expect slower cars to stay in their lanes. Expect them to straddle yours and theirs. Weaving buses are also common.
  • Cars hitting their brakes and slowing for apparently no reason are approaching the traffic monitor cameras. Note the camera locations.
  • Watch for speed bumps. Believe it or not, some highways have them. Go figure.
  • Watch for stopping cars and pedestrians, especially around noon, mid-afternoon, and dusk. It’s prayer time. Men are crossing the road to get to the mosque on the other side, or praying alongside the road.
  • Watch out for workers standing in groups along the highway, and buses slowing to pick them up.
  • The closer you get to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the faster the speeders are. Expect to get whizzed past by several very expensive sports cars, fast enough to shake your little car.
City Driving
  • Check your rear view mirror constantly. Someone is always coming up behind you. Just get out of his way.
  • Keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Someone ahead of you is changing lanes across your lane with no reason or warning.
  • Nobody can touch you if you are in the middle lane of the roundabout.
  • Watch for blinking green lights, which means the signal is changing. Red light running is a big ticket item. Two or three green blinks, one yellow.
  • Defend your territory. Do not hesitate to honk your horn for any reason.
  • Watch for stopped and parked cars anywhere, including traffic lanes, especially near mosques, parks, and KFC’s.
KFC Mosque
This popular KFC doesn't have a parking lot, so customers park
in the two outside lanes, leaving the middle for through traffic.

  • Taxis are not to be trusted; assume they either don’t see you or are out to get you.
  • Don’t bother looking for signs to help you find your destination. They will only confuse you.
  • Don’t expect every street to have a name. And there are no street addresses.
Around Town 006
Green light. Turn only lane. Changed mind.
Happens more often than not.

General Rules
  • Don’t hesitate. Accelerate! It’s the name of the game.
  • Know where you are going and how to get there, yet expect to get lost.
  • Use a GPS but don’t listen to it. If its software is a month or two old it’s outdated.
  • Never stop to ask someone for directions. They either won’t understand your question, or you won’t understand their answer.
  • Call a friend, someone who is at a computer. Have them look on Google maps and talk you into your destination.
  • Don’t expect to be able to get there the same way this time as you did last time.
  • Use landmarks.
  • ALWAYS carry a map.
  • Observe the speed limit.
  • Don’t get frustrated.
  • Don’t get in an accident. You could end up in jail.
  • Don't give anyone the finger. It could get you thrown in jail and deported
  • Have fun with it. Enjoy the adventure.
  • Be careful out there. It's dangerous.
"We'll park next to the Bentley."

Mark compares our Honda City to the Bentley next door.
We might buy a more sporty car to drive on road trips while we’re here.
You never know.

Thanks for reading. Drive safely.

1 comment:

Julia Brewer said...

Thanks for sharing, Anne. I can only imagine the "cultural experience" that driving is there! I always enjoy reading your blog when I get a minute. Keep up the good work!