Posted by charlie g. on April 11, 1999
On the road again – Oaxaca to Guad – The good, the bad and the ugly
After getting set up to stay in Oaxaca for a while I decided last week to make a quick trip to Guadalajara and Ajijic to pick up some stuff I left there in storage and haul it down to Oaxaca. I had to drive, as I needed my truck to haul the stuff. I had planned to travel alone but at the last minute a young Mexican lady who lives in Mexico D.F. but had been spending Semana Santa in Oaxaca decided to ride with me as far as D.F.
Using toll roads all the way the trip can be made in eleven hours if one does not stop for lunch. I left at 7AM and got in around 6PM each way. The route is Oaxaca to Puebla to Mexico DF to Toluca past Morelia and to Guad. The roads were in good condition all the way and I was able to cruise at 75mph most of the time. Plenty of gas stations and convenient rest stops at the 16 toll stations one must go through.
With the help of my Mexican passenger I found a fairly easy way through Mexico DF and spent no more than ½ hour crossing the City both going and coming back. I picked up a map at a local bookstore called “Autopistas y Carreteras de Mexico” which has a very useful inset of the main routes crossing Mexico DF and Guadalajara. The route is not complex if one knows what signs to watch for. Coming from Puebla one enters D.F. on Calzada Ignacia Zaragoza. Stay on Zaragoza following clear signs for Aeropuerto and Viaducto. Bear left onto Viaducto (a divided freeway type road) and stay on it across town until you see signs for Periferico Norte. Take the Perifercio Norte watching for signs saying Toluca. Exit on Av. Constituyentes following Toluca signs until you reach the autopista for Toluca. That’s all there is to it.
Coming back one enters on Constituyentes. Take Periferico Sur (exit is easy to miss) to Viaducto. Take Viaducto following signs for Aeropuerto unitl you see a big sign for Oaxaca and then signs for Puebla. Exit carefully on Zaragoza following Puebla signs and you will hit the autopista for Puebla.
The signs are tricky and one really has to watch for them carefully. Also, it helps to be oriented with the map so if you do miss a turn you can recover and get back on track. I missed the turn for Periferico Sur coming back but as I had a good feel for where Viaducto had to be was able to catch it within five minutes.
There were no problems going through the other towns, which were clearly signed.
The trip was expensive and hot. I paid 16 tolls each way, $607 pesos each way for a total of $1,214 pesos in tolls for the trip. Gas is still running around $1.70 US per gallon, I spent $1,400 pesos on gas. The trip is long. 620 miles portal to portal for me and the weather was hot. Over 90 degrees each day. I wouldn’t do it without a very good vehicle with air conditioning. It would be much cheaper and more comfortable to take the bus. Also, although I have read postings on this forum saying that air quality in Mexico D.F. has improved, as far as I’m concerned it still stinks. Ozone levels were close to 200 on the days I passed through and I could hardly breathe. My eyes watered from Toluca all the way past D.F. I personally would not live in the Estado de Mexico under any circumstances or even visit unless I absolutely had to.
For the first time during all my travels I was just outright robbed by an Estado de Mexico state cop entering Toluca on the way back to Oaxaca. This was a little guy on a shiny black and white motorcycle in a sharp all black uniform carrying a .45 pistol and a AR15 rifle slung on his back and wearing a 2 in. thick bullet proof vest. The bike had no plates but had “Estado De Mexico” written on it. He wore no badge but had shoulder insignia saying Estado de Mexico. There were no numbers in sight by which you could later report this guy.
This thief was parked in the shade just as one must stop for a light and make a slight left turn when leaving the autopista and entering the city of Toluca. He was positioned so he could clearly see the plates of any vehicles coming into town and easily identify foreigners and tourists. He pulled me over, made sure that I was alone, and without even asking for my I.D. or papers told me that because my license plate number ended in 5 I could not drive in Toluca or Mexico D.F. that day, a Friday. I am fully aware of the restrictions and know that it is on Monday that 5 and 6 are not supposed to drive in Mexico D.F. and have never heard of any such restriction in Toluca. I patiently explained this to him and then, taken aback a little that I spoke Spanish and knew the laws, he changed the story and told me that due to extreme conditions an alert had been declared and that I would have to follow him to a garage, leave the truck and pay a fine of $1,200 pesos. At this point I knew I was going to be robbed…it was just a question of how much he was going to get.
There was no way that I was going to leave the highway with this guy and no witnesses. I had a lot of money with me and my truck was full of valuable stuff. Time to negotiate myself out of a potentially very bad situation. We talked. I agreed that I could possibly be mistaken, told him I was willing to do anything reasonable so as to be on my way and asked what would it take to do this. He said $1,000 pesos cash, I said $100. He said how much do I have and I said only $700 for gas and tolls. We settled on $400 pesos. He made me follow him through Toluca, I guess to make sure I wouldn’t stop and try to report him. Every time we stopped at a stop light I had an almost uncontrollable urge to run right over the little S.O.B. and leave him bleeding on the street under his mangled bike.
The pity is that each time I see a Mexican cop from now on I will, in my mind, see a thief instead of someone who might help and protect me. Que triste!
I think next time I’ll take the bus.
Posted by Dianne C. on April 15, 1999
This past January, we got hit right before entering the autopista. Like you, we knew our license plates were legal for the day. However, my husband was supposedly fined for not wearing his seatbelt (not a law in Mexico, but who is going to argue). We ended up paying about U.S. $40.00, down from their $400.00 request. Like you, we argued. The cop who took the bribe, did have a badge, and it was when I started taking down the number, that he started coming down in price. He had a wallet full of U.S. 50’s. We felt it was not worth fighting over, and just wanted to get out of the city and on with our trip. But it is the third time we have paid in Mexico City and consider it a cuota. We know we are going to have to pay, it is just a matter of how much. But with so many police around, it is very intimidating.
Posted by KR on April 12, 1999
Really sad to hear of your recent trouble, pal, as your epic posts on Mexcon have been greatly anticipated. Bottom line, in DF and surrounds they simply mumble something like, “Bienvenidos a Mexico”, while we here in San Diego take a more personal view with an empathetic, “Bummer Dude”! Nothing worse than being flat-out robbed by an exploitative and greasy SOB, especially for the first time (i.e. – Such occasions of helpless violation makes one initially appreciate such mandatory entrepreneurs like Smith and Wesson!).
But quickly refocus on the upside, my friend. Having successfully moved your gear, you are now back in the beauty and comparative tranquility of Oaxaca. While I think that you should be grateful that you got off with an “easy” $40, just let it go and get on with the vast majority of reasons that motivated you to move there. As you surely now acknowledge “the possible” (or “the inevitable”), just put it behind you and try not to allow the event to color your ongoing experience – i.e. – Get a ‘magic marker’, write “Estado de Mexico” with a little motorcycle icon on a few tennis balls, get back on the court and hammer it out of your system, and just watch the power of your top spin serve accelerate!!
And hey, I now owe Geri AND YOU a good loooong glass of cabernet at zocalo Oaxaca…..
Valla con Dios,
PS – I don’t know if the bus is any ‘safer’ when push comes to shove, but it certainly is a hell of a lot cheaper = app 650NP round!
Posted by dumois on April 15, 1999
Thank you for a complete perspective. Although it’s never fun to hear the negative, it’s good to go prepared. I am better aware of how to function and what to expect, because of your report.
May I say that I entirely agree with your positive attitude. The name of the game is to be prepared:
1) Basic knowledge of the law is very important if you want to defend yourself in an effective way. A person on this forum reports an incident that took place in Mexico City in January, saying that the use of seat belts is not mandatory in Mexico. That is not correct. It is indeed mandatory by state law in Jalisco, Nuevo León, and Distrito Federal well before January. (And in other cities and states as well.)
2) Evil has two ends: the one who steps on others and the one who permit others to step on his or her person. Bribery exists because there are corrupt cops and because there are persons willing to pay the bribe. As part of the public, if we want corruption to stop, we must do two things: denounce it, and do not participate in it. So be prepared to resist, argue, and defend yourself.
So you don’t want to get yourself into trouble. Very well then: pay. But please do not complain. You are being part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I am not defending our corrupt cops. God, I can’t stand them! And I fight them with all that I have: not paying, taking the time to learn how to defend myself, putting up the best fight I can every time I face them, and denouncing abuse when I see it.
Saludos from Guadalajara,
Posted by KR on April 16, 1999
With all due respect, I think that your perspective here is horribly simplistic, uncomfortably mis-targeted (to the point of near endorsement), and quite diversionary from the essential core issue. These stories are shamefully and frighteningly REAL, my friend. They sadly confirm the historic brand of crude bribery and abuse of power, which has insistently characterized “the Mexican culture” in the eyes of global travellers for generations. It’s an appalling practice of manipulative exploitation which is still apparently very much alive and well in Mexico, and which is very much a disgrace of the Mexican people as a whole.
But, it is surely easier for you as A) a Mexican national, B) as an educated ‘local’, and C) speaking Spanish as a ‘first language’, to confront these demeaning, exploitative, and at times DANGEROUS police practices with comparative impunity (much the way in which I will firmly stand my ground with a traffic cop in the US). But that is obviously not the case for the average foreign tourist who stumbles with both the language, as well as with the unique barbarity of the circumstance itself.
I would have thought that you, as a proud citizen, would have been less indignant about the fearful compliance of foreigners under these rude circumstances and far more understanding of the underlying uneasiness of most travellers in your country. Foreigners are rightfully afraid of the historic global reputation of the Mexican police and Federales, as their ‘compliance’ is based exclusively on a justifiable concern for both property AND person. The incidences of tourist non-compliance resulting in lengthy detainment, robbery, and even physical brutality in Mexico are well known to foreigners and nationals alike. Whether “the stories” are true is not the point. The point is that this ‘image’ of Mexico, and the resulting reluctance of world travellers, is both a fact, AND IS YOUR IMAGE to the greater world.
I had hoped that your post would have expressed a bit more genuine concern and human outrage (and yes, even personal shame) for these recurrent ‘national practices’. Their financial impact on waning tourism, on international investment, and on resultant national cash flow alone are well documented to the detriment of your own people. BUT, to peg the vulnerable (and often fearful) foreign tourist as being “part of the problem” is itself an outrage, Mr. Dumois. And I am shocked at your suggestion here.
In fact, I venture to suggest that it is precisely this overall perception and general attitude toward ‘tourists’ (if not the value of people in general) which ALONE lies at heart of this blatant problem, and, which spawns a subconscious and benign acceptance of these corrupt, dangerous, and truly uncivilized practices – Practices which deeply demean the inherent goodness of the Mexican people, and, which surely substantiates Mexico’s international status as an undeveloped (and often dangerously crude) “Third World Culture”.
So rest assured that if you are not personally ashamed of this unacceptably primitive behavior, then I surely am ashamed for you. For, it is only through the total eradication of such rampant practices that Mexico will respectfully stake its claim among the greater ‘League of Nations’.