Potholes, Potholes, Everywhere
Shortly after returning from Africa in 2008, Sheri and I visited my parents in N.C. One night we went out to dinner and on our way back my mom warned me to drive carefully as there was a pothole a couple of blocks ahead. “Please take care. Ahead there’s a pothole on the side of the road. I’ll point it out but go slow to make sure you don’t hit it.” My mom meant well. In a city that seldom sees potholes her advice was prudent. Hitting a pothole, particularly in a modern car with low profile tires and delicate alloy rims, could do a good bit of damage.
That said, I followed my mom’s advice and drove slowly around the obstacle and safely home. Silently, however, I couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of her advice. It’s not so much what she said that gave me a laugh. It’s just that traveling overland we’ve bounced, swerved, or crawled our way over, around, and through so many potholes that calling out one little hole in an otherwise perfect road was a pleasant, if slightly comical, contrast to some of the hellacious roads we’ve found in many developing countries. Places where the roads are so bad that we hardly take notice of potholes unless either:
- The road is more hole than pavement.
- The potholes are so big that care is needed to avoid going in and not coming out.
To illustrate the later, back in 2006, we were traveling on the road that connects Lagos to Benin City, Nigeria. The road was a major artery, which, on our Michelin map, was listed as an interstate. As we drove east, the road steadily deteriorated into a maze of potholes so huge that the whole place looked like it had been carpet-bombed. Ahead of us, a massive 26-wheel truck, which was attempting to negotiate one of the craters, lost its footing and rolled over – coming to rest at the bottom of the hole. A short time later, another massive truck entered the same pothole in an attempt to get past the first and it too fell over. Consequently we found ourselves behind two massive trucks lying on their sides at the bottom of a pothole so large that the entire highway was blocked for hours.
Traveling South America’s relatively good roads, it’s been a while since we’ve seen properly bad potholes. Our recent travel in Guyana, however, has been an exception. Despite being the dry season, the main north-south road between Lethem and Georgetown has long sections that meet both our criteria above. A couple of days ago, one of the potholes we hit managed to grab Maggie and wouldn’t let go. With our left front wheel suspended in the air, Maggie was pitched wildly to one side and we found ourselves staring through the windscreen at blue sky. Put simply, we were stuck. Stuck enough that Maggie’s front and rear diff locks failed to set us free. Rather, we winched ourselves loose with help from an unexpected source: the friendly crew of a logging truck, which had stopped to change a flat tire, was quick to offer a helping hand. A little ironic perhaps as we frequently find ourselves cursing these trucks for the role they play in global deforestation.
Here’s a quick video Sheri shot with her iPhone to document the experience. This is the type of pothole that makes me chuckle when I think back to that lonely dent in the tar my mom warned me to avoid on the way home from dinner back in 2008. It’s the type of pothole that makes us appreciate our well-maintained roads back home in the U.S. and the type of hole that adds a dash of uncertainty to driving in countries like Guyana.