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elcomputo

May 17, 2003, 2:41 PM

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I have arrived

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Greetings, all.

I arrived last night in Jalapa after a five-day drive that I had expected would be no more than 3 days. (The bus trip from Austin, TX takes 17 hours.) But I have almost accommodated myself to the fact that everything in Mexico takes longer to accomplish than you expect.

Someone cautioned me that, what with all the information I had been dragging out of your folks, I owed Mexico Connect a lot of information in return. I plan on doing this once I have settled in a bit. I will say at this point that Rolly is correct about carrying soap, towels, and other necessities with you when you use Mexican motels. And whoever told me that Mexican banks are a pain in the a_se were making an understatement. I found out that no bank will accept American Express Travelers Cheques ("accepted the world over") except Bancomer, and then only after you give them your life history. At one branch, it took me 1.5 hours to cash some checks. I didn't cash enough and had to go through the process again. For some reason, I was sailing right through this one because they did not have to do a security check through Interpol, but then their computer system crashed and took 45 minutes to get back into action again.

I will regale you with my travel adventures later, but for now I only want to comment on the three most dreaded words in the language for people driving on Mexican highways, "Zonas de Topes." Why had no one warned me about these things? For potential gringos, topes does not translate as toupees. It does not even translate as "speed bumps." What they are are curbs placed across highways that make traffic come to a complete stop to cross them. Miss a sign for one (if there IS a warning sign, and there frequently isn't), and you can say goodbye to your front end alignment, your dentures, and those passengers not secured by seat belts. Actually, the only reason you don't total your car is because a lot of the pavement is already so bad you have to be crazy to go over 30 mph even when the speed limit is 80 km.

Admittedly, topes save the lives of pedestrians who would otherwise be taken out by wild Mexican drivers speeding through pueblos just under the speed of sound. You never see roadside shrines where there are topes, which probably accounts for their ubiquity. These towns cannot afford Alto signs much less traffic lights, and the locomobiles would probably ignore them anyway.

But the Mexicans have gone overboard. Sometimes there is a tope or a "vibrador" (not the rumble strips most Americans are familiar with but more like cattle crossing guards planted in concrete which function as mega-topes) planted just before a sharp curve, a railroad track, or about 50 yards from the last tope. Some are in isolated stretches for which there seems to be no rational explanation. Some seem to exist for the purpose of roadside vendors pitching candies or newspapers at those puntas.

I'm convinced these things were developed by a cabal of local chambers of commerce (get the cars t stop, and maybe people will park and buy something), front end alignment shops, and Pemex (gas mileage is worse when traffic is stop-and-go everywhere except autopistas.

Anybody have any other theories?

I will have more complaints later about driving in Mexico. But I also have to say that getting lost on the highway led me into a valley that was the most spectacular and beautiful one I have ever seen in my life, something that in itself made the trip worthwhile.

Martin



Georgia


May 17, 2003, 6:11 PM

Post #2 of 22 (2288 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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Hey, just think what that bus trip from Austin must be like!


jennifer rose

May 17, 2003, 6:53 PM

Post #3 of 22 (2283 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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And whoever told me that Mexican banks are a pain in the a_se were making an understatement. I found out that no bank will accept American Express Travelers Cheques ("accepted the world over") except Bancomer, and then only after you give them your life history. At one branch, it took me 1.5 hours to cash some checks. I didn't cash enough and had to go through the process again. For some reason, I was sailing right through this one because they did not have to do a security check through Interpol, but then their computer system crashed and took 45 minutes to get back into action again.


You're just getting wet, and everything's still new. And steps like banking do seem to take forever at first. Remember how long it took you to perform some task 30 years ago that you can now perform in a snap? Living in Mexico is just like that. Your first visit to INAMI will seem daunting, but after the third renewal, you'll breeze right through.

There will be certain waits and procedures that you'll just have to accept. Repeat the Serenity Prayer like a mantra, and bring a good book to while away the time. And one day, when you've alloted two hours for one of those tasks, you'll be shocked and pleasantly surprised to find everything done in 5 minutes.

What've you've written below applies to more than simply driving:


Quote
But I also have to say that getting lost on the highway led me into a valley that was the most spectacular and beautiful one I have ever seen in my life, something that in itself made the trip worthwhile.



pathall

May 17, 2003, 7:15 PM

Post #4 of 22 (2280 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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Hey! On our first drive to Mexico, we were always looking for a bank to change our travelers' cheques too. We waited in long line-ups, only to be told an hour later that the bank does not change travelers' cheques. After that we discovered the "cambios" where everybody that's in the know changes travelers' cheques. Look for a "cambio". Although a word of caution with them: cambios are known to close at odd times and reopen at other times unexpectedly.

After 5 years of driving to Mexico every year, we now load up on pesos that we buy at home and we always have enough to last through many more days than our trip.

My nephew came to visit us one year in Mexico and he decided to rent a car and drive himself from the airport. We struggled to explain topes to him and I don't think he ever really understood until he ran into a few. The variety of types of topes always astound me. How can you explain topes? The biggest speed bump you ever saw? That reminds me of the mother of all topes in San Miguel. It's a a fairly new addition to San Miguel's street situation. I heard that they resurfaced the road on Ancha de San Antonio and the two parts of the road did not meet at the same height, and so they just put up the biggest tope that I've ever seen to join the two uneven parts. You could be airborn going over it!

You know, all these crazy things are what makes Mexico so interesting and exciting. It's just too tame in Canada, compared to Mexico. In Canada everything is consistent, whereas in Mexico there is NO consistency But it will be beautiful in Mexico.
Pat


Jerry@Ajijic

May 19, 2003, 7:28 AM

Post #5 of 22 (2223 views)

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Re: [pathall] I have arrived

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Speaking of topos, I think that the auto repair and car sales people got together and paid for a new "crosswalk" in Chapala. Even the busses almost come to a complete halt before climbing these "mountains".


Carol Schmidt


May 19, 2003, 7:43 AM

Post #6 of 22 (2217 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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I've always wondered, which came first, the tope, or the food stand on the roadside next to it? And topes are great spots for volunteers getting donations for charities to hit you up.

I can see some highway official: let's see, my uncle needs a tope because he needs to start a new taco business, and his wife needs one to collect for the Red Cross because all the others are taken.

Carol Schmidt


elcomputo

May 19, 2003, 10:16 AM

Post #7 of 22 (2200 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] I have arrived

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I suspect, though, that those small pueblos that have the topes in abundance don't bother with highway commissioners. Just a large pipe and some concrete and, voila!, an instant tope. I saw one place where they put the tope on a curve. There was already a sign for the curve, so they just painted an arrow on the sign and the word "tope." In this case, I think the people were just tired of seeing drivers taking the curve too fast and sailing over the sheer cliff a couple of meters beyond.

That reminds me of another question I have. It concerns the buses. When I took the bus from Reynosa to Xalapa over a year ago, I got on at 9 p.m. and got off the next morning in Veracruz at about 10 a.m. I was surprised to see that one driver did the entire trip. Even when I was younger, I began to get driving fatigue after 8 hours.

Does anyone know of the statistics on bus accidents? Given the narrow highways, risky manuevers to pass slow traffic, and all the rest, I canīt believe there have not been many fatalities among bus passengers.

Martin


elcomputo

May 19, 2003, 10:27 AM

Post #8 of 22 (2196 views)

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Re: [pathall] I have arrived

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I tried cashing travelers cheques at cambios both on the Texas side of the border and in Reynosa. Neither would take them. Judging by the paperwork required by the banks (where the cabios also have to deposit their cash), I can understand why.


Rolly


May 19, 2003, 10:39 AM

Post #9 of 22 (2191 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] I have arrived

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Indeed there are some of the car killers (topes) that were not put there by the highway folks or the city fathers. In my town, I have seen people building their own. Trouble with these home-made ones is that they are often (always?) higher than the official ones and sometimes have steeper sides.

I inquired about how one could get one of these off-the-books topes removed. I was told that it would take a petition signed by a lots of the neighbors even though the tope was unofficial. Easy to install, but hard to remove. Homemade topes are not allowed in el Centro, thank goodness. I used to be able to drive from my house to downtown with only two bumps, now there are 5 in my path -- and three of these are in the same block. Puzzling.

Rolly Pirate


alex .

May 19, 2003, 11:11 AM

Post #10 of 22 (2182 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] topes n lowriders

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When folks ask "what kind of car should I bring to Mexico?" I advise that they should forget about the sportscar. Not because of any particular theft risk, but because of the topes. I then get scolded for that advise, as though its no big deal to have your passengers get out of the car while you gingerly traverse the tope at an angle, one wheel at a time, then the passengers pile back in and off you go. I've got my 4WD Pathfinder airborne on occasion, I can only imagine what happens to Peggy's silver Jag when trying to burn off airspeed ......8<)
Alex


PeggyS

May 20, 2003, 12:18 AM

Post #11 of 22 (2129 views)

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Re: [alex .] topes n lowriders

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The Jag is long, Alex, but she's not that low. She purrs right over the things, then sits and laughs watching a Corvette trying to scratch and bump its way across.
The American Express Travelers Cheques question has been on this forum so many times, while we warn people not to waste their money carrying them, it only brings on heartburn or maybe a heart attack. In France last year, we found that no bank would cash them, ditto in the other places we visited in Europe. We were told that there were so many counterfeit checks around that no one would cash them. We found that a cambio near our hotel would finally cash them, and so also got rid of our old French francs and Canadian bills. Exchanged them for euros that now cost $1.15 each in American dollars to buy.


Papirex


May 20, 2003, 11:09 AM

Post #12 of 22 (2085 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived/Topes & driving stuff

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Topes: Many of the topes are unauthorized, about six months ago, the mayor of Mexico City announced in a televised speech that he was going to have all the unautorized topes in the city removed. He estimated that 40% of the topes in the city were illegal. So far, we haven't noticed a single one having been removed.

Because there are so many unauthorized topes, that explains why if there even is a standard for building them, there are so many varieties of them. I have even seen one made of stones, cemented together. It also explains why so many of them are not painted with the warning stripes, and there are no signs advising you of topes ahead.

You will sometimes see topes, usually in residential neigborhoods, where the residents have broken the tope enough to drive through them. After you have driven in Mexico for a while, you will be able to recognize at a glance which topes you only need to slow down to 5 or 10 MPH to glide over them, and which ones you need to come to a screeching halt and get out the ramps to climb over them.

Mexican drivers: I believe that many, if not most Mexicans buy their drivers licenses. Many years ago, I mentioned to my wife that I didn't know how most of the drivers in Mexico ever passed their driving test to get a license.

She gave me one of those "Oh you poor baby" looks. I said, "They do require a driving test don't they?" She replied, " Well, you have already paid the man the money to get your license, why take a test?" That explained a lot to me.

Driving: "Defense driving" takes on a whole new meaning here. It can save your life. Drivers will do the stupidest, riskiest things at high speeds here, you must learn to expect the unexpected. If you think another driver wouldn't posibly try a suicidal manuever, be prepared. Eventually, one of them will do it.

You soon learn that turn signals are used for many things besides occaisionally being used to actually signal a turn. They are used on the highways to tell you it is OK to pass. The problem is that many drivers turn them on, and leave them on for hours. I doubt that those drivers are actually aware if there is oncoming traffic or not. I never pass anyone relying on their turn signals for confirmation that it is safe to pass. Occaisionally, there will be a driver with his hazard warning lights blinking. He is telling you that it is OK to pass him on either side.

Four years ago, one of our nieces in Cd. Victoria totaled her Dodge Cirrus. She said she was passing a truck when he made an unexpected left turn. Her car ran under the trailer. I never said anything to her, but I would bet the rent the trucker signaled for a left turn, and she thought he was telling her to pass him.

Nothing in this post is a complaint. They might be gripes, but they are not complaints. There is absolutely nothing we can do to change things here. Nor should we try to. It is a different culture here. The only thing we can do to preserve our sanity, is to adapt to the conditions of this country, where we are guests. If we can't adapt, we will never be happy here.

Rex
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


chicana69

May 20, 2003, 11:47 AM

Post #13 of 22 (2072 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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Hey,

Well just think and just realize how that trip would turn out to be...Sure sounds like a very great one..

sincerely,

chicana69


elcomputo

May 20, 2003, 12:13 PM

Post #14 of 22 (2068 views)

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Re: [RexC] I have arrived/Topes & driving stuff

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Yes, one good thing about Mexican drivers is that they keep you on the alert for anything (even topes, if you are behind another car -- the best warning system for them). It's defensive driving in the extreme. I pay no attention to the flashing left turn light except to assume, at first, the driver is going to turn left. If itīs on the open highway, however, I assume the driver just turned it on at some point and forgot about it.

Thereīs apparently another use: a driver signaling he wants to pass. This is generally combined with turning on the headlights and sometimes hitting the horn. For whose benefit this is, I have no idea. Iīve noticed that in Mexico DF there is always some driver who hits the horn as soon as the traffic light turns green.

As for me, if I am on a two-lane highway, I leave my headlights on at all times, even though I get oncoming traffic flashing me their lights. Mexican drivers, evidently, have not yet caught onto the benefits of being as visible as possible. In fact, Iīve noticed that Mexicans do not like to use their headlights until itīs pitch black. We used to see that a lot more in the U.S. 15 or 20 years ago. Maybe it will change here after more advisories by the highway safety people.

Actually, all of this would be somewhat amusing if lives were not at stake. I think the Mexicans have adopted one custom that should be intitiated in the US: the roadside shrines indicating where one or more traffic fatality has occurred. They're pretty sobering reminders that we are driving hazardous machines. They also help to explain the topes: you never see a shrine near a tope.

Martin


Gayla

May 20, 2003, 1:27 PM

Post #15 of 22 (2052 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] I have arrived

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HeeHee.................topes, first cousin to the vado of Baja. Vados do not protrude above ground, they're kind of like the mother of all dips. Cars have been known to get lost in them, or have the under side ripped out if taken at too high a speed. Best of all a vado can turn into a raging stream of high speed water during the rainy season.


alex .

May 20, 2003, 3:36 PM

Post #16 of 22 (2030 views)

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Re: [RexC] driver test

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My wife passed through FOUR stop signs during the driving exam in Tijuana and still passed. She claimed that she was unfamiliar with that particular colonia where the exam was administered, apparently an acceptable excuse.

There is rumor in the US that new Winnebagos will come with the left turn signal wired permanently ON, so the snowbirds don't have to fret about forgetting it.......
Alex


(This post was edited by alex . on May 20, 2003, 3:38 PM)


pathall

May 20, 2003, 4:54 PM

Post #17 of 22 (2014 views)

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Re: [RexC] I have arrived/Topes & driving stuff

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We actually saw a volkswagen bug pass a pickup that was passing a tractor/semi (three abreast) on a two-lane highway up a hill with no visibility over the hill. We held our breath and it turned out OK somehow with no opposing traffic. Luck!
Pat


elcomputo

May 20, 2003, 5:17 PM

Post #18 of 22 (2005 views)

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Winnebago

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I have a difficult time envisioning a septugenarian negotiating a two-lane Mexican highway in a Winnebago. I assume most snow birds stay within shouting distance of an autopista?


Jean

May 21, 2003, 8:03 AM

Post #19 of 22 (1969 views)

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Canadian Cars

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It took me awhile to figure this one out.

People kept flashing their lights at me on the highway. I looked around for anything that could possible be wrong. In Canada it usually means a cop ahead. Then it finally dawned on me. Canadian cars have daytime running lights and people were flashing at me to turn them off.
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wendy devlin

May 21, 2003, 1:29 PM

Post #20 of 22 (1941 views)

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Re: [elcomputo] Winnebago..-imagine it!

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Snowbirds, in all manner of rigs, can and do navigate los libres...and about every kind of road you can imagine.

Picture this:

an aging Winnebago...that most places elsewhere would be moldering in a field or auto-wreckers yard...crawling up or DOWN...a precipitous mountain road, with a sheer drop to one side...slowing down....a looooong line of traffic...especially semi-trailers...

And of course...the passing begins!

Not for the faint-hearted to be there... or even witness the same.

There's a wise crack that's been around a long time...that even if ALL the vehicles in Mexico were bumper to bumper on the road...someone would still try to pass!

As to someone's hair-raising road scenario above...I think we were there, too! Wendy


duffer

May 21, 2003, 5:09 PM

Post #21 of 22 (1910 views)

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Re: [wendy devlin] Winnebago..-imagine it!

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I enjoy.....your ....post. But what ........ is with.........all the ...........periods. It makes me feel like ......I......am stopping .......for breath!!!! Smile


wendy devlin

May 21, 2003, 5:59 PM

Post #22 of 22 (1902 views)

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Re: [duffer] Winnebago..-imagine it!

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Mexican traffic leaves me breathless even remembering those times going uphill Smile
 
 
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