I’ve covered general thoughts on Mexico in the past, so let me quickly mention some things I learned on this most recent trip.
- Veracruz is an attractive, economically healthy Mexican city that is not funded by tourists from the U.S.A. and Europe. If you’re interested in visiting an actual Mexican city where the local culture is strong and people will expect you to speak Spanish, I’d recommend it a great deal. It also seemed nicely free of anti-gringo sentiment.
- Mexicans are very comfortable calling me guero. I was a little put off at first, and then I remembered that most nations aren’t hung up about race in the same way we are in The States. Calling me light skinned guy wasn’t a judgment, it was just accurate.
- They could have called me alto though. I mean, seriously guys, I’m like a good eight inches taller than any of you.
- If you can get someone to make you chilaquiles con huevos divorcados, where you have salsa roja chilaquilles with one egg, and salsa verde with the other, do it. It’s super good.
And now my primary concern: Driving in Mexico.
First thing, out the game, is that I’d MUCH rather drive in Mexico than Ireland. The roads are better, the signs are better, and the maps are easier to follow. I realize this is about Mexico but let me quickly mention FUCK DRIVING IN IRELAND.
Now then. The driving was done to get to Oaxaca from Veracruz, then back again several days later. Tara drove down to Oaxaca, I drove back. On the way down we stuck to the toll roads, which are really well maintained, and not especially trafficked. On the way back, I screwed up and we took the free road. Use the toll roads. It’s worth it. The free road has topes, which, I believe, is spanish for Cocksucker Mountains. Topes are placed on the fucking HIGHWAY, every town you’re in. They’re basically just really horrible speed bumps, but they’re huge, and you basically have to drop down to first gear any time you see one. I hate them. The free road also had an insanely steep area where, no shit, on the steep curves they had signs and markers on the road directing you to suddenly switch into the oncoming lane, and they would do the same, in order to artificially widen the turns. It was the only part of driving in Mexico that was terrifying every time I did it.
Now passing, that was only terrifying the first few times.
To understand passing in Mexico, one must first appreciate the Mexican psyche, and its understanding of regulations. Signs are not rules, they’re suggestions. Something to be followed unless you have a decent reason to ignore it. So, too, are the lines in the road. So when you’re going around a blind corner and there are double solid yellow lines, it is not at all out of character for someone in the oncoming lane to decide THIS is the time to pass, and that the best way to do that is to drive straight at you. This is pretty stressful at first, but the roads are wide, and the shoulders are huge. Everyone just moves to the side, the passing car moves down the middle, and then traffic resumes as normal. The use of turn signals here is pretty elegant, because if you’re moving quickly, the car in front of you will often pull to the side, then turn on their left blinker, signaling that you should go around*.
My favorite part of it all is that there is clearly an effort to stymie this practice. There are signs constantly reminding people that it is prohibited to cross at the solid lines. That passing is prohibited here. DO NOT PASS. Drawings of one car passing another with the international NO sign over it. These are sprinkled throughout, and then posted AT LEAST twice each time the road goes to a solid yellow line. Perhaps most tragically of all is the sign reading “Respete las señales!” which translates to “Respect the signs!” This is of course fruitless because it is, itself, a sign.
*I would estimate that about 30% of all turn signal use in Mexico is for this purpose, with another 30% used for traditional announcements of an intention to turn. The other 40% is what I call Lifestyle Turn Signal use. A blinking right turn signal doesn’t imply any intention, it is simply Who That Driver Is.