Mexican driving continues to astonish me even after cruising the country for over fifty years. Like most newcomers, I used to be amazed by driving differences ranging from speed to taking stop signs with a wink. Most of those alternative driving methods have not just grown on me, but I’ve adopted them and even prefer most to our American highway rules and regulations. Why do we gringos stop at a T-junction with no cars in sight? Having solved the main driving differences has allowed me to fixate on more subtle differences new drivers don’t see. They’re too busy negotiating their first encounters with Mexican driving differences from sign placement to what blinker signals might mean. I’ve reached the conclusion vehicle size and space have no relationship for our southern neighbor.
Mexico is noted for narrow highways and the central part of most cities are ancient. Streets are often the size of large alleys. Despite this, transportation devices are the same sizes as in the states. Stand near a street crossing with three-and-four hundred-year-old buildings lining usually damp one-way lanes that allow parking on one side so traffic can squeeze past. In a second or two you will stand there mouth agape as buses and trucks turn into those streets and passageways at speed: the very streets you would swear a VW Beetle would have problems traversing. You’ll believe you have a better chance of returning toothpaste to the tube than entering those streets, even after seeing a giant bus smoothly negotiate the entry.
Another area where Laws Governing Size are suspended involves parallel parking. I often take the time to stand and admire Mexicans parallel park—especially the women—and wish I could do half as well. To fully understand and appreciate the Mexican mastery of this art, it’s important to realize they do so with ease on either side of the street.
Picture a one-way downtown street in Puebla. Three- and four-story colonial stone buildings line the narrow road making it canyon-like and feeling more crowded than it is. There’s parking on each side, leaving a small center lane for traffic flow. Cars and trucks jam the curbs bumper to bumper on each side. Suddenly someone exits his parking spot. The oncoming driver hits his flashers signaling following traffic to stop a second. He speeds past the empty space, stops, and in one swift motion, swerves backward into the space. Traffic flows again. The driver filling the void doesn’t have to inch forward and back turning his wheel so he can fit properly. He correctly parked with the swerve back and pull forward.
I once watched a Mexican lady parallel park on her first attempt in a spot I thought impossible to squeeze into even with twenty backward and forward turns. Needless to say, I never risk embarrassment by attempting to parallel park in Mexico unless I am certain the space would contain at least three cars.
If you visit Mexico, take the time to observe the elasticity concerning the laws of space for drivers. However, should you get behind the wheel for even a moment, keep solidly in mind the laws concerning size are not suspended for gringos. You can’t turn into those narrow streets with the same gusto as a native, nor can you park your compact car in the space the large sedan just exited.
William B. “Bill” Kaliher has traveled Mexico at every opportunity since 1964 by car, bus, train and motorcycle. He has written for the Mexican Ministry of Tourism. Although known for his Mexican travel articles he’s sold work to over 600 publications including The World & I, The Pragmatist and Down Memory Lane. as well as online magazines such as MexConnect.
His book, Mexico by Motorcycle: An Adventure Story and Guide, has garnered mainly five-star reviews, been covered in several magazines, and recommended by expats who have resided in Mexico for years. Perhaps, the top compliment was by a reviewer who wrote, “This reads like a novel.”