Sunday 27 August 2006

Overtaken by terror

I've just got back from a few days in Bodrum. Bodrum lies on the South West corner of Turkey where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean (see map below). I decided to take the car which gave me a crash (excuse the pun) course in driving Turkish style. Driving in Turkey requires a relaxed attitude and a whole lot of courage. Take your Highway code and burn it, things here are different.

The first rule of driving here is to ignore your rear-view mirror (unless you're reversing at speed). All that matters is what lies ahead, looking behind will only scare you. A glance to the rear and, 9 times out of 10, you'll see the whites of the eyes of the driver behind as he dances side to side attempting to overtake.

Overtaking in Turkey is equivalent to sliding 3 bullets in a six-shooter and sucking on the barrel. The roads here rarely open up enough to give you a clear run and so you simply have to take chances or you'll be stuck behind a watermelon-laden tractor for the length of your journey. Here follows the generally approved method of overtaking:

1. On approaching your victim, do not slow down until absolutely necessary. Speed right up to the bumper. This has the benefit of giving everyone involved a small but powerful adrenaline rush which will disperse any feelings of potentially dangerous tiredness.

2. Pull up close to the car/tractor/police car/coach/scooter/bicycle/pedestrian that needs to be overtaken. I mean close. I mean closer than you'd comfortably park.

3. Now begin to sway from side to side. Begin to look a gap in the oncoming traffic. If possible, look for an approaching blind corner.

4. Having found your blind corner, make your move. If you're lucky, you haven't yet applied your brakes so you can simply sail on through.

5. Once you're out and careering down the wrong side of the road, be brave. You can make this. Keep your foot flat down.

6. Now, the object you're overtaking may well decide to overtake a vehicle in front of them. They cannot be blamed for this manoeuvre as, chances are, they've not looked in their rear-view mirror (see above). If this happens, keep going but move a little further to the left.

7. Sound your horn. Whether things are going well or not, sound your horn. This lets everyone know where you are and what you're doing.

8. Oncoming traffic may appear further than it actually is. What may appear to be a scooter may, in fact, be a coach with one headlight. Don't panic ...yet. Keep going. They will flash their headlights or they may turn their full beams on (although it has to be asked, why is it necessary to blind someone who is already in a rather dangerous situation?). Depending on the distance of the oncoming vehicle, they can decide what action to take (as there's not a whole lot you can do besides dropping down into second gear, flooring it and hoping the engine doesn't ignite). They won't slow down but they may decide to stop accelerating. They may ease into the hard shoulder / shrubbery / cotton field. However if you are on a mountain road with no room for a '3 car trick', you may want to put your seat belt on and attempt to abort.

9. Having successfully passed the vehicle, slowly move back into your own lane. Rushing back will give the impression to other road users that you were unnerved during your manoeuvre. Do not show fear.

10. Most importantly, throughout this whole process, remember these simple rules. a) Use the horn often. b) Don't attach seat belts unless absolutely necessary. c) Try not to drop your cigarette / beer / phone / child.I've drawn a flow chart that you can attach to your dashboard should you ever decide to rent a car here.

In the words of a sticker I saw on the back of a school bus yesterday, 'Allah Korusun' ('May God protect you').