Driving in any foreign country can be an adventure and it can often feel like you have to drive by the seat of your pants in Sao Luis! Having passed the time limit of when I (Linsey) could use my foreign licence, we finally managed to get hold of my Brazilian driving licence and I now am fully aware of the highway code in this country. Low and behold, it´s not too dissimilar to the UK. The problem here is a lack of enforcement of those rules, which leads me to my own take on the alternative rules for driving in Sao Luis….
- Overtake whenever possible
- Do not take red lights literally, go on through whenever it´s roughly safe
- Honk at road users as soon as red lights change to green (the driver in front is likely on his phone anyway so it´s good to let him know the lights have changed)
- Beware of dimly lit roads at night: speed bumps, holes i.e. craters in the road, cyclists, pedestrians and perhaps the odd alligator, make for unfortunate hazards
- When on a motorbike, be sure to zip along in any lane you like in ridiculous high speeds. Ideally wear a helmet and covered shoes (no flip flops); it is the law afterall.
- Use indicators minimally (it´s more exciting to randomly pull over or turn a corner without warning to other road users)
- If you do not have a car and need to do the nursery or school run, a motorbike will suffice. 2 children can easily, if not safely, be taken on a motorbike with 2 adults. Ideally tell everyone to hold on if they are the right age to do so
- In the unfortunate event that you are stopped by the police for something, talk sweetly to them and they may well let you off for any infringement, or, in addition, they will usually accept a bribe
- If you´re looking for an adventure, follow road signs and look for street names. These often don´t exist or are incorrect, so you can find yourself on a mystery tour
- Amidst the general lack of pavements, pedestrians and prams share the road with bicycles, donkey carts and motorised vehicles, so be sure to use your horn to alert all of the above to get out of your way
In order for me to obtain my Brazilian driving licence I, fortunately, did not have to take the full practical test here, but I did need to go through the process of converting my UK licence. It was fairly straightforward, if a bit of a time waster.
- Translate UK licence with an official state recognised translator
- Head to the Department for Transport with that translation, along with copies of a whole host documents like my visa and proof of address
- Have fingerprints and photo taken
- Carry out medical exam and psychological tests (!) in a specific medical test centre
- Sit a theory test or do a theory update course at a driving school for a week (I opted for the latter as the thought of learning the Portuguese terminology for driving at 9 months pregnant was a little daunting!)
- Pay the fees for all this
So, off I went to driving school and doing the course was an experience in itself. Those trying to obtain their licence for the first time have to do attend 15 lessons and fingerprints are taken at the start and end of the lesson to ensure attendance. Ironically, folk sometimes pitch up at the start and at the end just to have their prints taken and don´t sit in on the lesson. I know I always rant about corruption, but just another wee example: when we looked into test centres, one told me that it was not necessary for me to actually go to the classes. I could just pay the fee and give them my fingerprints. Now that was a tempting offer as I was getting uncomfortable close to due date and had plenty other things to do but, as Christians, we had to decline. Rules are rules afterall. The centre I went to were very helpful, and even on the morning their system crashed, our prints coudn´t be collected and the lesson was cancelled, the staff allowed me to come to the class in the evening so that I could finish the required number of classes in the same week. Ah, the good and bad in Brazil. The systems are flawed to say the least, but the people make up for it!
Driving, on the whole, is actually fine here, but it certainly keeps you on your toes and you really need eyes on the back of your head.