Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Driving in Corfu: a cautionary tale

We've just picked up a vehicle for my big brother from Kostas and Antonis at the appropriately-named Sunrise Car Hire.
They're nice people, give us good rates and Kostas always comes out with something he has grown in his garden. Yesterday, it was fresh figs.

As with anywhere, you have to drive carefully. But when we moved here in October last year, we thought the Corfiot drivers had turned over a new leaf.

No tailgating, no overtaking on blind bends and everyone driving much slower than in the summer.

Ah, we thought, they're economising, because driving slower uses less petrol.

And then came the summer.

'The drivers are still crazy, y'know,' said our friend, Canadian George, a Corfiot who spent more than twenty years in Vancouver. 'You have to stay close to the side of the road. It can be dangerous. You don't know what's coming round the corner.'

It could be a dog, a tortoise, a hedgehog, a hare or a horse on a long tether. We have seen all these things. But, more likely than not, it will be another car straddling the centre line.

This week, on the day we picked up my brother and his family from the airport, we had just pulled up at traffic lights. A car beside us was stopped and in front was a man in a suit on a moped who, like most scooter and motorbike riders here, was not wearing a crash helmet. The car's middle aged passenger, dressed in just shorts and a baseball cap, got out and started slapping the other man around the head. I didn't like to look too closely in case the assailant saw me and pulled out a baseball bat from the boot.

Incredibly, the moped rider (and we still don't know who was in the wrong or what happened - maybe they were long-lost friends), just shook his head, took the slaps, and smiled before pulling away when the lights turned green.

Taking my brother to our home from the airport later that day, we were tailgated and then overtaken by a driver who promptly gave us the bird. Nice.

A few days later, we saw the remains of a minor accident near a major road junction. At almost the same spot five years ago a lorry absentmindedly hit my vintage VW Beetle in the bottom while were waiting at traffic lights to get the ferry back home.
Luckily, the car saw the funny side.

'I so sorry, I pay for damage,' said the large, pony-tailed driver. 'I am in hurry. I have to get to the port, let me have your address. I am Nakis from Kontokali, everyone knows me.'

Everyone might know him but he never coughed up. If you're reading this and he's sitting next to you, please give him a nudge. In our experience, Corfiots are men and women of their word. Nakis, you disappointed us.

Then yesterday, in the Ropa Valley, we saw a car overturned in a ditch. A group of people were trying to get it back on four wheels. We learned later that the vehicle had suffered a tyre blow-out. Poor driver - but lucky to be alive.

Of course, accidents happen everywhere. Instead of shrines at the side of the road, in the UK we have bouquets to remind us how reckless driving can wipe out lives in an instant.

I'm reminded of an evening some years ago when we were approaching a bend on a drive from Sidari to Kassiopi. We were overtaken by two cars, the drivers playing chicken.

About ten minutes later, on the outskirts of Kassiopi, we met a stationary coach with one of the two cars flattened underneath it. The bus passengers were being helped off, dazed and shaken.

We pulled to a halt, the road was blocked, the police arrived and so too, did the lady doctor, who looked glamorous as she pulled on her rubber gloves.  And then a wail went up as the mother of the young Albanian driver arrived on the scene. He had been killed in an instant.

A year later and we paid our respects at the shrine installed at the spot. 
It still gives me chills now, just thinking about it. And whenever we drive along that stretch of road, the scenes play out in my head.

And when I see crazy drivers - most of them are young men - I just think, there's another one who's far too young to join the ranks of the death notices advertised on telegraph poles.

Most of all, I feel sorry for the innocent people they endanger, and their families.
It's never worth it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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