The accident...
The accident…

Don’t Rent a Car You Don’t Know How to Drive…

On my four-day trip to Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean, I didn’t want to waste one second. Knowing that public transportation can be unreliable, I decided to rent a small car to get to the surf school where I’d booked a lesson. The problem was that the Renault has a manual transmission, and the extent of my stick-shift know-how was limited to a 15-minute parking lot lesson a few months prior.

“All will be fine as long as I don’t have to do a hill start,” I thought. Then I bought the insurance – just in case.

I certainly didn’t start off on the right foot: I couldn’t get out of the rental company’s parking lot. Ever so slightly I pushed the accelerator and slowly released the clutch. Thump, thump, THUD! I stalled. This continued until a local came to help me onto the main road. He offered to be my chauffeur for the day. I politely declined, but he wrote his phone number on my map of the island – just in case.

A couple of hours later, a tire blew without me realizing. I finally stopped when I heard a horrible sound resonating from the right side of the car. Luckily, a few mechanics from across the street to see what the problem was. “Bon courage,” one said, snickering – the tire looked like it had been shredded in an industrial food processor. They shook their heads in pity, and changed the tire.

Not long after that, I made a wrong turn into an extremely steep driveway. By now, my hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots. There was no one to help me out of this one – I had to do a hill start and merge back into traffic.

I inhaled deeply and held my breath, waiting for a break. I could hear the blood pulsating in my ears as I tensed every muscle in my body and focused every neuron in my brain. My right hand squeezed the handbrake as I gently prepped the gas, ready for take-off. There was a gap. Utter terror consumed me and I panicked. I slammed the accelerator and dropped the handbrake and clutch, hard. The tires squealed and the car shot out into the road.

Beach, Capesterre Belle Eau
Capesterre Belle Eau
Photo courtesy of arcadius

The only crash I heard was later that day as the waves rolled onto the beach at Plage de Bananier. But as I watched the yellow and orange hues of sunset reflect in the sea, my exuberance faded to dismay: I remembered the insurance didn’t cover tire damage.

This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.

5 thoughts on “That Time I Almost Died in Guadeloupe”

    1. Thanks! I do – they did a season in Canada last summer… I totally want to be on it one day!

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