Observing the standard of driving in Portugal as a passenger was stressful enough, but once behind the steering wheel the word stress took on a whole new meaning.
My first driving experience was almost my last as I gripped the steering wheel in sheer terror. Cars drove at me from all directions, and as I tried desperately to take evasive action I wondered why they were using me as target practice. Mental Note: “Did I have a bulls-eye painted on my car which I had previously failed to notice?”. If they were not driving directly at me they were sat just inches from my rear bumper. Were drivers here short-sighted or did they just want to hitch a lift in my rear passenger seat?I was not a nervous driver in the UK. However, now driving a left-hand drive car instead of right-hand, everything felt the wrong way round and back to front. Automatic actions, such as changing gear, now became a challenge as I crunched painfully through the gears while concentrating on the road both ahead and behind. My only consolation, the brake and accelerator pedals were fortunately still in the same place. One moment I was stamping on the brake to avoid hitting a pedestrian – who was so preoccupied chatting away on her mobile phone she failed to realise she was crossing the road – and the next I’m accelerating to avoid a head on collision.
Remind me, why does Europe drive on the other side of the road?
Here are my Top 5 Survival Tips for driving in Portugal – based on personal experience and observations:
#1 Never Assume: Number one has to be never ASSUME. Forget the driving etiquette learned in your home country, in Portugal it’s every pedestrian, cyclist, driver for themselves!
#2 Psychic Powers: You WILL need to develop psychic powers to survive. Why? If the driver in front is indicating they are about to turn left, they may well turn right at the last minute or even go into reverse because they have overshot the turning. Worse still, they may not indicate at all and just suddenly veer off. Be prepared for every eventuality
#3 Pedestrians should be approached with caution especially in tourist season. They walk four abreast with their backs to oncoming traffic and step without warning and without looking off the pavement. Don’t bother to beep your horn or curse at them in frustration; they are on holiday, and as such, are indestructible – unlike our nerves.
#4 Concentrate at all times. Drivers overtake on blind bends, the brow of the hill or just pull out to overtake, regardless of whether they have clear vision or not. Don’t be surprised when they overtake you then try and barge you off the road because they’ve either run out of space or are suddenly desperate to avoid a head on collision with oncoming traffic. Plus, if you flash your lights or gesture they become enraged. I am intrigued, do these drivers have X-Ray vision or a sixth-sense that nothing is coming? Why are they in such a hurry to meet their maker?
#5 Finally, Don’t be intimidated: For example, a crazy lorry driver attempted to overtake as we were approaching a blind bend. He pulled out and then travelled alongside me but didn’t have the power to overtake. I glanced across at him in sheer disbelief as he furiously blasted the horn and gestured, not too politely, for me to move out of the way! “What? Yeah, and where to?” I yelled at him!
Realizing I was not about to evaporate into thin air he pulled back and sat just inches from my rear bumper whilst furiously flashing his lights and hand still on horn. As you can imagine I was absolutely terrified by this madman. Frustrated he pulled out again narrowly missing an oncoming car. The journey continued in this manner for a further 20 minutes and I genuinely feared for my life. How dare he try to barge me off the road by using the sheer size of his vehicle to intimidate me! I then hatched a cunning plan…
Fortunately, I knew the road and that we were approaching further bends and a very steep hill. Gradually, I reduced my speed so the lorry driver lost his revs. By the time we reached the steep incline ahead he was just crawling along. At this point I hit the accelerator, waved goodbye out of the side window, flashed my lights and was gone.
Please share your driving experience in Portugal below.