TBT - "The Trouble With Driving In Micronesia".

This is the fourth installment of the "Trouble With Driving " series.


The Island nation of Palau and Yap Island in the '90's.

Distracted driving is a problem in even this remote corner of the world. On the island of Yap, where the women still walk around in public and travel in cars bare breasted, it might not be anything unusual to the native population, but for us foreigners it can be rather distracting. Fortunately no one goes over 25mph!

The few miles of roadsides they have do not need guard rails as they embed their giant 'Stone Money' along the shoulder of the road. If you drive stoned you could end up hitting the stones. And since this is their 'money', it would be like driving into a money bank and not a road bank?! Sounds confusing? Go watch the 1954 movie "His Majesty O'Keefe" staring Burt Lancaster. I always wanted to visit Yap after seeing that exotic island movie!

On the Palauan Islands the missionaries had much more success at civilizing (corrupting) the natives. No public breasts. But the driving in Palau still has its hazards. First of all - most the vehicles come second hand from Japan - and the steering wheel is on the right side, like cars used in England. However, the driving is done American style, on the right side of the road. So the driver is not following the center line - he is following the outside edge of the road.

This would not pose much of a problem if it was not for one nasty habit the natives have - chewing the mildly narcotic betel nuts. This activity produces excessive amounts of bright red saliva that must be periodically spit out and since no one wants to stain their car door, the driver slows down and opens the door and bends down to spit out of the moving car. This momentary driving blind creates a hazard to objects that might be hit along the side of the road by the car's door - like signs and pedestrians.

Having the steering wheel on the right side of the car takes some getting use to. There was a few times I would want to go for a drive and automatically get into the left side of the car before realizing the steering wheel was on the opposite side. It was an embarrassing moment, and the only way to deal with it was to open the glove compartment in front of me so that any one watching me would think I entered the passenger side on purpose and not made a mistake as to where the steering wheel was located!

And I experienced one other unusual problem with having a car on Palau. Barbara and I were off the island for a couple months and took a cab from the airport to our apartment upon our return. Looking around the apartment parking lot for our white Toyota - we were unable to locate it and thought it had been stolen in our absence. But then I took a closer look at one of the cars that resembled our Toyota - except it was green and not white. Taking my finger to swipe the car surface I realized the 'green paint' was just a thick layer of algae growth over the car's white paint job. Another lesson about life on a steamy tropical island!