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Weird World of Mexico – Closing thoughts after 1 month

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Mexico is not like any other country I’ve ever been to.  We’re crossing into Guatemala and will spend the next couple of months in Central America.  We spent a month in Mexico, and will spend a lot more on our way home to Seattle, but I thought I’d write a bit about some of my overall impressions of this country so far.  This is our version of Bill Maher’s “New Rules” on Mexico:

Informacion Touristica: When traveling through Mexico, we’ve occasionally come across what appear to be Tourist Information Centers.  We were used to frequenting these in the US for good information on where to stay and what to do in the area.  Most of these facilities in Mexico resemble small jail cells.  They are concrete slab walls with jail bars in the front.  The one we stumbled across just outside of Acapulco contained one big man with a poncho and a semi-automatic weapon.  He was actually quite friendly.  It was quite obvious (by the tropical storm weather and flooding) that the beach was a dangerous place, but we thanked him with big smiles and quickly moved on.
Desperately In Need of a Pressure Washer: Most of Mexico is really rough around the edges.  A lot of it has some pretty rough climate: high heat, heavy rains, high humidity, etc.  It really does a number on a lot of the building structures.  Many of the buildings have a layer of grime coating them which can be kind of off-putting at times.  But I think really it is not something a good sturdy pressure washer couldn’t take care of.  Their architecture is different and interesting and very resourceful.  I think a lot of it would look much different if someone just sprayed it all down.
Garbage Piles: Mexicans sometimes resort to their own way of waste disposal.  You’ll often see piles of garbage on the side of the road.  At one point we saw a group of 3 pigs grazing in one of these piles.  Keep this image in mind the next time you order a “Taco al Pastor.”
Having your hair braided is not a good idea because the beads will eventually end up in William’s nose.  I got my hair braided in Acapulco and today it was finally time to take them out and give my hair a really good washing.  We were about ¾ the way through of removing all the beads and rubber bands when William said his nose hurt.  He had taken a bead and shoved it up his right nostril.  Matthias performed an emergency extraction in our hotel room with me holding the child down and shining a flashlight up his nose.
I think there are no actual traffic laws in Mexico.  The rules of the road appear to be just suggestions.  You’ll be driving along on a road where the speed limit is 90 kmh, suddenly there is a sign for 30 kmh and for the next 50 kilometers there was no other speed limit sign.  Don’t think for a second that any car (except us) slowed down to 30 kmh.  Signs leading you in the direction of a town will be present and then just drop off.  Lanes are just suggestions.  In Acapulco all the traffic was this chaotic body of white and blue VW Beetle taxis swerving from one side of the road to the other in order to avoid the potholes.  (Matthias was wrong – adults could drown in the potholes in Acapulco).  Also – watch out for livestock and mangy dogs on the road.
The coast is really really really humid in September.  All the guide books say it.  The weather channel reports it as well.  The coast is humid humid humid in the month of September.  It will cost you a lot of money on hotel rooms if you were planning to camp for free along the beach.
The heavy rains make this country beautiful.  We’ve driven through thousands of miles in Mexico and pretty much all of it has been rolling green hills.  The vegetation is so lush from all the rain it is so beautiful.  Driving along to coast with the green mountains and rolling hills is really spectacular.

Off the Beaten Path in the Yoda Van, Literally

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

We were on our way to Tapachula (the last town in Mexico before the Guatemalan border) and we were making pretty good time.  A passing car flashed his brights and motioned for us to slow down.  We had about a third of the way down when traffic came to a stand still.  We had already waited about 20 minutes when we found out the reason  – a group of students were holding a demonstration on the Mex 200 and had already been blocking the road for the last 2 hours.  This is a common occurrence these days in the state of Oaxaca.  There are lots of teacher strikes going, and evidently, students strikes as well.  There was no telling how much longer this would continue and seeing as how we still had 300 km ahead of us, Matthias started talking to others around us for alternative routes.  There were no alternative routes shown on the map, but a local walking through the line of cars tipped off the people in front of us on how to get around the demonstration. The guy jumped in the back of their car and we were told to follow behind them.  They pulled off the side of the road, we drove through a garbage pile and then crossed a soccer field.  That is when it started to get weird. 

The terrain is hard to describe, but it really didn’t resemble anything I would call a road.  It was really just a bunch of dirt overgrown with bushes and trees.  It would probably make good testing ground for Hummers, but a road it was not.  There were spots where the right tires were driving on ground that was easily 18” higher than the ground the left tires were resting on.  And it was steep at times – a good 3 feet incline from the rear tires to the front.  It was extremely uneven – huge dips and rocks and mud. 
This all happened so fast and I started to get really nervous.  We were off the main road, were at the mercy of this guide, and after seeing this path we had to traverse I didn’t think our car would make it.  To top it off it was about 95 degrees (and I could no longer roll down my window since the handle broke off just as we were pulling off the side of the road) and it was extremely humid.  Have we mentioned how humid it is on the coast these days?
The guide got out of the car in front of us and suddenly 3 other Mexicans with shovels and machetes in hand descended on the scene.  We kept following the car in front of us.  They seemed to make it ok and Matthias said “If they can make it ok, we can make it for sure.”  He had a point and there really was no turning around at this point anyway.  We continued on for a short while until we reached a point where our tires were just spinning.  The ground was so soggy from the daily downpours, and it was so uneven we just couldn’t get any traction.  The men with the shovels moved in and started to dig us a trench.  One guy with a machete started pounding the ground flat, and the other started chopping branches off trees and laid them down over the mud.  They had evened the ground out enough so that we were able to get over this patch.  I honestly thought that at some point along this road we would end up on a big patch of dirt with neither sets of tires touching the ground. 
Eventually we came to a closed gate.  The leader was standing in front of the gate asking us “So you want to go through?”  He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together (the international sign for money).  We gave him 50 pesos (about 5 dollars) which we felt was a bargain.  We would have been in a real bind if they hadn’t been there to help us. 
We paid our money and he pointed us on our way.  From the way he was waving it appeared to be obvious how to continue, but really the road was even more overgrown and nearly as steep and uneven as before.  But now we were alone and eventually our road ended.  We backed up and tried another path through the shrubbery.  We crossed a mud field and then we came to another closed gate.  The only good thing about this was that the terrain was starting to even out.  Matthias went up to the gate and was able to open it.  There were about 4 or 5 kids sitting there as we drove through the gate.  This put us on a road where we had 3 options – right, left or straight ahead.  We had completely lost our orientation, we couldn’t see the main road and had no idea how to continue.  A truck pulled up behind us and he didn’t know either.  The kids seemed to know, they all jumped in the back of his pick-up and we followed them. 
Things seemed to be going smoothly.  The road we were on was a rough, but a well-defined gravel road, not like the one we had just came from.  We followed this pick-up for a few minutes when the road became quite steep again.  We followed him down and we stopped at the bank of the river.  At first I couldn’t believe it, but we were supposed to drive across the river.  The man in front seemed a little skeptical of this plan as well, but the kids leaped out of the car and scoped out the shallowest points to cross at.  Once they had the route, the man hit the gas and gunned it across the river.  His pick-up struggled in some points, but he made it.  I really didn’t want to drive across the river but we had no choice.  What were we going to do?  Turn around?  Try and find our way by ourselves?  That just wasn’t an option.  So Matthias made his way to the edge of the river and hit the gas.  We struggled in some spots too, ran over a huge rock, but we made it.  I really wish I had been able to take some pictures along the way.  But honestly my hands were shaking so badly, I’m sure none of those pictures would have turned out.
The good news is that the road was still blocked by the time we made it back out onto the Mex 200.  I would have felt like a real dope if it had all been cleared by the time we made it back.  All in all it cost us 8 dollars, a bucket full of sweat and our window handle to get through this.  In Tapachula Matthias noticed that the right corner of our front bumper was missing, so I guess we have to count that, too.  We must have lost it along this piece of road. 
Looking back we asked ourselves why these guys were doing this, and we think they just wanted to earn a couple of bucks by re-routing the traffic.  We were lucky these guys were there to get us through.  And if we had gotten stuck in the water I would bet money that somehow the Mexicans in that town would have found a way to get us out.  Granted, I’m really glad that it never came to that, and I’m not sure I’d try one of these off-roading adventures again in the Yoda Van, but the good thing is that we made it. 
After we were back on our way we were wondering if there was any major damage to the Yoda Van.  I felt that if we didn’t have a break down within the next hour of driving we will probably be able to make it to the Panama Canal and back to Seattle.  We made it through that hour and the rest of the way to Tapachula by way of countless topes, 3 separate thunder storms, high winds, and a group of independent contractors offering their services to cross the Guatemalan border for a “nominal” fee (a good blog entry in itself).  We’ll see if we actually make it back to Seattle in this vehicle, but I do think this car has some good karma.

Sundays in Mexico

Monday, September 25th, 2006
Yesterday we left Puerto Escondido where we stayed for an entire week - the longest we’ve stayed in one place so far on this entire trip.  For me it was one of the highlights of Mexico so far.  We drove ... [Continue reading this entry]

Boots Screwed the Pooch

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

We found out today that all the posts on Bootsnall after August 16th were deleted.  They claim it is a server error and are no longer able to restore anything after that point.  What a likely story!  I used to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Paying Homage to our Inspiration

Thursday, September 21st, 2006
In April of last year we took a trip to Mexico.  After we came back from that vacation I checked out a few videos from the library on Mexico, trying to relive the vacation experience.  One of the videos was ... [Continue reading this entry]

A Bus Ride in Acapulco

Saturday, September 16th, 2006
When we checked into the hotel the only parking was valet parking.  So there on the front step of the hotel we had to put all our clothes, toothbrushes, and the few valuables we have into plastic bags so we ... [Continue reading this entry]

Back to Seattle Weather?

Friday, September 15th, 2006
It has been forever since I wrote my last blog entry and that’s good, because Allison is the one who can actually write proper English. Than again, right now I am feeling so miserable, that it is overdue to do ... [Continue reading this entry]

It’s Raining Avocados

Thursday, September 7th, 2006
We entered Mexico a week ago today.  The first 4 days were mostly really bad – so much so that I started to wonder what we were thinking we said we were just going to get in our car and ... [Continue reading this entry]

A 23 Dollar Hotel in Mexico

Monday, September 4th, 2006
This is what a 235 Peso (US $23.00) hotel will get you in Jiménez, Mexico: 

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99% Nerve

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006
The border crossing from El Paso, Texas into Juarez, Mexico went really smoothly.  We did get the red light (for those of you who have been to Mexico know what that is all about).  However, the woman who was searching ... [Continue reading this entry]