Lewis Hamilton may be able to handle hairpin turns and heavy traffic in Formula One racing, but pit him against Don’t Drive Here’s gonzo host Andrew Younghusband in the rush-hour bedlam of Port-au-Prince and our money is on the Discovery Channel’s wheel man.
Fill up on pulse-racing peril and congestion pandemonium on the wildest streets on the planet as Season 2 gets in gear Aug. 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT
La Paz, Bolivia
If they filmed a sequel to the Nic Cage action thriller Drive Angry here, it would be called Drive Breathless. In this city, perched nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, prepare your lungs for some high-altitude driving. “It’s the most hilly city I’ve ever been in. Everything is just up and down — there’s no level surface,” says Younghusband.
Tip: Beware of Death Road, an hour-and-a-half outside the city and as ominous as it sounds. It’s a road chiselled into a cliff with no guardrail that slims down to only one lane quite often. “If you meet a vehicle going the opposite direction, one of you has to back up or else fall off the edge.”
Sao Paolo, Brazil
Brazil’s most populous city is teeming with an estimated 700,000 motoboys. These lane-splitting, throttle-jockey couriers drive 100 km/h on the white lines between car traffic going 50 km/h. The risky occupation results in about two fatalities a day.
Tips: “Listening is key,” explains Younghusband. “Before the motorcycles pass anyone, they honk. So, if someone is about to pass you, they’re going to beep their horn, and if you change lanes at that moment, you might kill a motorcyclist.” Also you may want to forgo blindspot checks. “Traffic can stop so suddenly that if you do a shoulder check, the car in front of you may use that instant to stop and you may rear-end them.”
Blindspot surprise: Catadores, massive man-pulled carts, are allowed on every road.
Those ancient cobblestone streets may add ambience on romantic strolls but they cause bone-rattling havoc for scooters and an uncomfortable ride for motorists. Their surface area is tough for your tires to grip, so cornering isn’t exactly amore.
Tips: “Recognize that nobody cares about the rules,” warns Younghusband.
“People are going to cut you off and pass you in ways you may perceive to be illegal but they’re not going to get in trouble for it. That’s just the cultural driving style.”
Also, don’t panic if a driver threatens you with a derogatory hand gesture. “If someone shakes their first at you, just shake your fist back.”
Ho Chi Minh City
This manner-minding Vietnamese city is motorbike mad, with more than 5 million two-wheelers. “I was in a massive roundabout that had well over 5,000 scooters and there was zero road rage,” says Younghusband. “I didn’t get yelled at or honked at or shouted at once in an entire week. They are the friendliest people, and the driving culture is amazing as a result.”
Tips: “Make absolutely no sudden movements. People can blindfold themselves and walk across the road with pedestrians, and do it so smoothly that traffic just goes around them. Just be smooth, be smooth, be smooth, and you’ll be fine in Ho Chi Minh City.”
Lesson learned: “Balance. I thought I was okay on two wheels, until I had to deliver 1,600 eggs and bagged tropical fish on a scooter.”
Port-au-Prince, Haiti is the subject of frequent travel warnings by the Canadian and U.S. governments, for good reason.
Aside from the high crime rate, rubble from the devastating 2010 earthquake is still all over the sidewalks, bringing pedestrians and commerce into the roadways.
Tips: “Stop driving,” warns Younghusband, only half joking. “Get a taxi to the airport and leave. There is absolute lawlessness, chaos, danger and mayhem.”
“Being a motorcycle taxi driver was terrifying. Being a small-bus driver was terrifying. Being a large-bus driver was terrifying. They have every law in the books but are any of them enforced? No, zero.
Everything goes, from no traffic lights or traffic cops to first-come, first-serve at intersections — it’s just chaos.”