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Driving in Mexico: A personal perspective

Dean & Yoly Hughson

Ever since I was 18 years old (29 years ago) I have been driving to Mexico on vacations and business.

My first trip,at age 18, got me hooked. How could you not like a country where the people are friendly, the food and drink are great, and the scenery is fantastic. I have driven in Mexico in my first Volkswagen beetle (I didnt stand out much in the crowd then) but later I switched to US made vehicles and then Japanese vehicles.

In 1991 I married a Mexican woman from Gt. Zamora, Veracruz. What happens to gringos who marry Mexican women is that you end up making more trips to visit family and the travel becomes a part of your lifestyle. My wife only has to say " I would like to make a trip to Veracruz"' and I begin loading the car.

In 1994 we had a friend from Mexico visiting us plus a foreign exchange student from Germany living with us. We decided to drive to Mexico and then my young children would fly in for a few days on the beach in Acapulco.

As usual, we drove to McAllen Texas where we do our last minute shopping and get the oil changed and begin to get in the frame of mind of an adventure in Mexico. We stopped and got our Sanborn's Mexican Insurance plus Mexico Mike's latest travel guides. We then took off for Monterrey N.L. The road was, as usual, fairly busy but we are used to it, having driven all over Mexico many times. I was asleep in the passenger side and my wife, Yoly, was driving. She is an excellent attentive driver so I was relaxing. All of a sudden I heard her start screaming and heard a crunch on the side of our Toyota 4Runner. A large truck was pushing us into a mountain side and apparently didn't even know he was doing it. My wife was honking and honking but to no avail.

Finally he stopped and so did traffic all over the place. He apologized, saying he didn't see us but looking at the look on his girlfriend's face I would guess he probably didn't see the road either--they were in love to the point that they had forgotten they were driving. No one was hurt other than our Toyota 4Runner. Friendly people were stopping and checking to see if we needed a doctor. We moved the vehicles off of the road to a restaurant and called our insurance adjuster in Saltillo, the closest town. We got on the phone with the truck driver's boss,who mentioned that the driver had no drivers license or insurance but they would pay the bills. The adjuster came and looked at our truck and said it would require some major work and he would take care of everything. We left the truck at my wife's cousin's house and flew on to our vacation.

When we got back 2 weeks later the truck was still there and no repairs had been done. The adjuster had lots of reasons why but no action plan. We called back and were glad to learn that Sanborn's Mexican insurance provides for repairs in the US also--apparently not all insurance policies do. Now we had a problem. Our truck still ran but if a highway patrolman saw the vehicle he might think we were leaving the scene of an accident. We waited until nearly dark and then off we drove, making the mad dash to the border. We crossed and the US Border Patrol looked at my vehicle and while not saying it, must have thought we had been in a drug shootout in Mexico. They searched our vehicle extremely well.

24 hours of driving and we were back in Missouri. 2 weeks later our truck had $8000 worth of repairs in our local body shop. Our $110 investment in Mexican insurance had indeed been a good one-otherwise I would probably be in jail in Mexico today, since even if it is not your fault if you don't have insurance you are jailed until the accident is investigated and settled.

What we learned from this is that you must carefully shop Mexican car insurance and be sure that repairs can be done not only in Mexico but the US in case you must leave prior to them finishing your repairs. Unlike the US, even the Mexican citizens appear fearful of the police themselves after an accident and will do anything to avoid contact with them.

Am I afraid to drive in Mexico after my accident?

No, it just comes with the statistics of life that you will have an occasional accident when you drive alot. I should say that we have never had any problems with the police in many years of driving, other than 1 policeman who routinely shakes down gringos for bribes in Tuxpan. We did have an exciting trip trying to cross the bridge at Tecomán once where the 2 states authorities were fighting and closed the bridge for 2 days.

The police there told me that since I was driving a 4 wheel drive I could probably cross the river underneath the bridge. I started driving through the river and some locals started waving their hands, telling me to go farther up the river. It turned out that the local authorities also had dug a hole in the river, to stop trucks from crossing the river after the authorities had closed up the bridge. Anyway, we made it across the river and despite the excitement of seeing young men running around with large rifles during the bridge event, there wasn't much going on.

We continued driving 2 hours and having seen no cars for that long (apparently the word was out that the bridge was closed) all of a sudden we saw a large truck blocking the highway in the wilds of Michocan state. Men with large guns got out of the truck and aimed them at my head and ordered me out of the truck in Spanish. My wife told them that I don't speak Spanish but they told her "We don't care." Luckily their boss came to see what the problem was, leaving his girlfriend and his cold beer in the truck, and asked us where we were going. My wife told him Veracruz and he had a big smile on his face saying that he loved Veracruz because he had been married there. So with our newly friendly friends, we were wished well and allowed to proceed on.

Driving in Mexico is an adventure and yet fairly safe if you keep your eyes open, respect authority, and make sure you have insurance and your vehicle is in good repair. I think that anyone who has reasonable good sense can do it and will enjoy it. We find it a better way to travel than flying (renting cars is so expensive in Mexico). Besides, you never will meet interesting people, like the chicken truck that hit us or the Mexican drug police who stopped us in Michoacán,if you aren't driving around. Stories like these make life interesting.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 1998 by Dean & Yoly Hughson © 1998
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