by Mary Ann Simpkins,
Forget the rules of the road when you cross into Mexico. “At the driving school, I asked for a book about driving laws and they laughed,” recalls Alisha. The Russian-born scientist residing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, adds, “They told me, we’ve never seen any written regulations.” The evidence is visible throughout the country.
Mexicans are pleasant, easy-going people except behind the wheel of a car. Their personality changes. They ignore the road-marking lines and stop signs, speed through red lights and vie with each other to be the first in and out of the round-abouts.
Heading into a traffic circle in Cuernavaca, I could feel my knuckles tighten. My head turned into a swizzle stick as it swung from side to side checking on who was coming from where. A huge truck might slip from the inside lane to the third outer lane, blithely ignoring us runts in the middle lane.
Adding to the confusion, streets sometimes suddenly become one-way. Many roads lack name signs. Making it worse was trying to find a specific address: the concept of consecutive numbering appears unknown. To top it off, one side of the street could display both odd and even numbers.
A day trip with Alisha and Antonio introduced my husband and me to other road hazards. Winding through the mountains on narrow roads one early morning, we had a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside thanks to the lack of side railings. Nor was there any shoulder space between the road and the steep drop. In the winter, frost covers the pine trees and the roads.
On the roads crisscrossing the valley on the other side of the mountains, Antonio had to stop frequently to ask which route would take us to a village known for its crafts. Direction signs in Mexico are a rarity.
In Toluca, northwest of Mexico City, we park by the main square, not realizing it was a no-parking zone. A parking ticket wasn’t the problem, however. Rather, it was finding the policeman who’d removed the back license plate. This guarantees violators pay the fine or, at least, contribute to the cops’ income. We were lucky: the police were still in the vicinity. “We’ll take care of the ticket for you,” said one policeman, quoting a charge of $22. When Antonio claimed not to have that much cash, the cop settled for $20 and lent him a screwdriver to reinstall the license plate.
Antonio was more fortunate than one Canadian traveling to the leather market by motorcycle. After being stopped by a policeman and paying for the supposed infraction, he was stopped a second time. The higher ranking officers told him that bribing the first policeman was illegal but a small fee would absolve him. Doug Hurd returned to Cuernavaca without visiting the market. Forking over a total of $200 had left him broke.
By the time we started back to Cuernavaca, it was after six p.m. and dark. No lights illuminate the twisting two-lane roads except in the villages. In an area full of topes – speed-slowing bumps so high that muffler repair shops are usually set up nearby – Antonio began passing the car ahead. Coming directly towards us was a truck without lights. Fortunately, the driver on our right stopped on top of the tope, enabling Antonio to quickly slide back into the proper lane.
On our arrival at our friend’s residence in Cuernavaca, my husband staggered from the car, his head whirling from all the curves and topes. I drove us home, slowly.
Mary Ann Simpkins is a member of SATW, TMAC and NATJA.