Saturday, March 26, 2011

Driving in the Mountains

While we are on the subject of driving, I know there are some places I will never drive to here on the islands (well, I should never say never--I once told myself I would never drive a school bus).

I do not like heights--I do not like being on top of a mountain, or being up high and looking down. I get this panicky, sick feeling inside. I think I am doing somewhat better now than when we first came to live here--but it is one of those things that you never know when it will strike, so I try to avoid those situations.

Last week Doug offered to give a man in our church a ride home, and being the thoughtful man that he is, Doug volunteered to take me home first knowing that I don't like going up in the mountains. Since it was night time I figured I would be OK with the heights since I wouldn't be able to see the cliffs as well-- so we all went together. Remi lives on a farm way up in the mountains, about as high up as you can go on this side of the island. Once you get off the main road and past the center of town, the roads are very, very steep and one lane.

Traffic laws are designed with this in mind (being fresh out of driving school the laws are still fresh in my brain), and if two vehicles meet on a one lane road, the person driving up the mountain has the right of way, meaning the person going down has to back up.

Lo and behold, we are way up in the mountains when we see the headlights of an oncoming car--and rather than stopping and waiting at the top of the mountain like they should have so we could continue to the top--they proceeded down the mountain, meeting us head on--and there was no space for any of us to pull over or turn around. Both of our cars were at a standstill, just facing one another and waiting for the other to move. I kept thinking to myself, what is this person doing--don't they realize how difficult it is going to be for us to back up, in the dark--on a curvy, steep mountain road and try and get our momentum back to go proceed?

The driver sat there for several moments and it was obvious that if any of us was going to advance in our journey we would have to surrender and back down the mountain. It was night, and I had visions of us backing ourselves off the road and down a huge drop off. When we got to a place wide enough for two cars, she passed by, rolling her window down and thanking us for allowing her to pass. I was not exactly thrilled with her gesture of kindness, politely telling her the rule of the road (I don't have my husband's gift for diplomacy and peace keeping) and she proceeded to tell me how she was German, etc. so I guess that was a good excuse--perhaps ignorance to the Spanish laws.

When we tried to move forward again, the nightmare began. Our van would not move forward! Doug kept trying to get some traction, but our tires were spinning and you could smell the rubber and the transmission burning. Leanna started to scream with fear as we were moving backward. So now what are we going to do?

I pleaded with my husband to quit trying as I too, was afraid, and thought our motor was going to burn up. It was obvious we weren't going to move forward, so my husband started to move sideways. Eventually we decided we would have to try and turn around and go back down the mountain. I feel badly that our friend had to walk the rest of the way home, but relieved just to be getting off that mountain road!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting a Spanish Driver's License

Hip hip, hooray! Yesterday I finally passed my practical driving exam, making me an official Spanish, and European driver's license holder. They do not honor driver's licenses from the states once you are a resident of Spain. Many claim that the road to get a Spanish license is a money making racket and they fail you on purpose to get more money. So what's the big deal, you ask?

It has been a nine month process, or I could say ordeal--because truly this has been hanging over my head like an unpleasant toothache. I feel like I just gave birth--going through the pains of labor and experiencing the joy that follows.

Getting a driver's license is Spain is not a piece of cake. I got my US license when I was sixteen--had to take driver's ed in high school, take a 10 minute drive around the block and drive the car through some cones--scored nearly perfect. Then in my thirties I earned my commercial driver's license so I could drive a school bus--not easy--but nothing compares with the nerve wracking experience I have had here in Spain.

One blogger put it this way:

"There are few things in life as difficult or as intimidating as getting a
Spanish driver's license. It is akin to solving Fermat's Last Theorem while
sitting on death row in Texas. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who has
been through it."

It is quite intensive, mandating that you attend a driving school, pass a very comprehensive written exam which involves all aspects of road rules, safety, car mechanics, first aid, drug and alcohol laws, and even operating a motorcycle. I took it all in Spanish--I could have done it in English but the English manual was poorly translated and not comprehensive enough--I learned that the hard way after taking my first written test in English--I had perfect scores on all the sample computer tests, but on the actual test day there were questions that were not covered in the English manual, so I failed the written test the first time.

When you pass the written test, you sign up for very expensive driving classes on the road with an instructor--and some are much better and patient than others--I learned the hard way. My first teacher never answered my questions--seeminly irritated that I even ask one. He didn't properly prepare my for the "tricks" and complicated intersections that I would encounter on the road test.

After three tries I passed. It requires nearly perfect driving on a road system much different than what we are used to in the states. Roads are often one way, with the signs painted on the road, and often you can't easily find the markings or they have been erased.

Not only did I have to learn to drive a manual, but here in the islands the roads are all up and down hill, which poses a greater challenge. Driver's licenses don't come cheap either--average cost will be at least $1000--1500 by the time you pay the school for instruction and the necessary traffic taxes.

After my test, my driving teacher tried to trick me, making me think I didn't pass. The examiner got out of the car, didn't say a word, nor crack a smile. I was sure I had blown it. Then my teacher started to tell me the things I did wrong, but then chimed in, "you passed!" I was in a state of shock and relief that lasted the whole day because I had prepared myself for the worst possible scenario in case I didn't pass. I gave my teacher a big hug and cried tears of joy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Could Volcanic Eruption In the Canary Islands Cause Next Tsunami?

Mt. Teide in the background

In light of the recent tragedies in Japan, I have been thinking about the risks of living on an island and how vunerable we are to being swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds us. I did a google search and found that in 2004 there were several small earthquakes on our island of Tenerife, and that Mt. Teide, the volcano that towers over our island (which is the third largest in the world, and highest point in Spain), erupts approximately every 100 years, and we are overdue since the last one was in 1909.

There is another scientific prediction that if there is a volcanic eruption on the island of La Palma (our neighboring island) it would cause a huge landslide-- a large chunk of volcanic land mass could very easily fall off the island, causing a huge tsunami or tidal wave that would hit the east coast causing mass devastation. Am I worried? No, I don't lose any sleep over it, as I know that God is in control and that my life is in His hands.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Missionary Wife Almost Gets Arrested

I must be totally naive--I'll admit, I am not a sophisticated world traveller, so when I get in certain situations I probably appear as a clueless tourist--not as someone who has lived in the country for nearly four years.

The other day we decided to take a day off--the rest of the country was celebrating Carnival season, and schools were closed. Much to our daughters' delight we took a picnic to the south side of the island, exploring a new town we have never visited.

Doug stayed back at the boat dock and explored the town while the girls and I ventured onto a beach where there weren't many people. I saw some nice beach lounge chairs-- and felt lucky to have found some that were unoccupied. I layed my towel down to take in some sun while Leanna and Rebekah played in the water. We were having a great time.

After about 20 minutes a young girl approached me and said I owed 3 euros (nearly $5.00 US) for using the beach chair. What? That's crazy!! Who ever heard of paying to sit in a chair? I thought she was one of the many panhandlers that pester tourists for money--so I refused to pay. I was not about to be taken advantage of by someone out to make a buck from unsuspecting tourists! I had never paid to sit in a lounge chair before--surely she was trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Afterall, if there was a fee for sitting on the chairs shouldn't they make it clear--and post it somewhere so people know? There were no signs telling of any chair rental fees.

She kept insisting, making me more upset as I was not about to be exploited--afterall, whoever heard of such nonsense--paying money to sit on a chair! In reality, I didn't have three euros in cash, nor did I have any intention on paying. Finally said she would call the police if I didn't pay. Again I looked around for a sign that said there was a fee for the chairs, but there weren't any. I was pretty upset about how this young girl was giving me a hassle, and stood my ground.

We promptly packed up our stuff and left--I was a little ruffled so I stopped in a tourist information office to complain about the young woman that was meandering the beach-- I truly believed she was a fraud. Come to find out, she did work for the city, and yes, there was a fee for the chairs. I defended myself by asking her why they didn't put a sign up telling people about the fee, and she responded that "everyone knows" that the chairs on beaches here in the Canary Islands are not free but rented for a fee. I suggested that it might be a good idea for them to post some signs, and also have the girl wear some type of "identity" badge so people like me would know that they are legitimate city workers.

They found one ignorant American that didn't "know" the rules--and I shudder to think what kind of scene I could have caused if she would have called the police for my refusal to pay! I thought the chairs were placed there for the enjoyment of the people and to promote a beautiful atmosphere to attract tourism. I am thankful that Rebekah and Leanna didn't sit in the chairs--they told me they prefered the sand. I am far too thrifty to pay for the luxury of sitting on a lounge chair--and looking back, now I realize why they were all empty. No one else wants to pay for them either!! I learned my lesson, and from now on I will be much more careful where I sit.