BootsnAll Travel Network


On the road in a taxi in Cuernavaca

By Allison

The “situation” in Mexico is much different than it was when we were travelling in 2006/2007. I’m sure you have all heard about the “war on drugs” and the ensuing violence in Mexico. We drove through borders towns 5 years ago, and back then they were not places you wanted to hang around. Today I’m not clambering to visit ANY of those border towns. The violence in border towns has risen to a new level, and if you listen to the news Mexico is NOT a place ANYONE should be visiting these days. So far I’ve felt very safe here and I feel my biggest obstacle is to ignore the alarmist, sensational press in the US, continue using common sense (as we always do) and just enjoy Mexico. People here have been nice, good, friendly and helpful. There is violence in this part of Mexico. There is one newspaper you can buy on the street that specializes in crime, crime scenes, and every day they have a body of the day. We picked up one of those papers one day and the pictures are horrific. If I were looking to sell, manufacture or transport drugs here in Mexico I believe that might be a reality. But me just working from home, bringing our kids to summer camp each day a taking in a few sights, well, I really don’t think we’ll run into this violence unless we are looking for it. If you choose to seek out that kind of journalism, then you will be uncomfortable, but if you just spend time making a few stops here and there in town I would be very surprised if you encountered any of the unsavory side of Mexico.

Because of the “situation” in Mexico, one piece of advice we have heard many times is to only take taxis from a “approved” or “official” taxi stations and this advice comes from a multitude of sources. I think the reason is to avoid express kidnappings and other sorts of hostage crimes you hear are so prevalent in Mexico. If you take a look at the US State Department advice on Mexico, or any country for that matter, you would probably never want to go anywhere. Where we are living there are none of these “approved” taxi stations. When Matthias was here we just hailed taxis on the street. The first Monday after Matthias left I called a taxi at 7:30 to take our kids to summer camp and requested a taxista we had used twice before. They assured me he would be there, but as you can imagine we were standing on the street, waiting for our taxi and no one was there. In the meantime 15 taxis had passed by offering up their index finger because they were “libre” – ready to pick someone up. But, no, we waited and waited and waited for our guy. Eventually, what are you supposed to do? I’ve hailed a taxi with Matthias at least a couple of dozen times, so we just did what we have always been doing and it has been fine. The first few times I was a bit nervous. George assured me I can always get someone good on the street to just drive us, but being a woman alone in Mexico with my 3 boys I reverted to being nervous. I guess I was worried because I was the only adult. When Matthias was here, if anything were to happen I wouldn’t be the only one who has to react and figure out what to do and keep my kids safe. But the truth of the matter is, NOTHING has ever happened. In all reality we have probably spent close to a full calendar year in Mexico (which is a significant portion of our children’s lives) in Mexico and have had no problems. And when I think realistically about it, I can’t think of a worse group of people to kidnap in Mexico than us. Mexican kids seem so much more tranquillo than our kids. In the end I’m sure they would pay ME money to take my kids back and leave them in peace! Matthias has been gone for a little over a week now and I’m at ease. I still use caution and common sense (as always) and am hailing taxis right and left.

Anyway, my intention was to write about the taxistas – taxi drivers. We’ve had every demographic of taxista I think there is. Young, old, nice, stern, quiet, chatty, boring, handicapped, incomprehensible (to us at least) and everything in between. One thing they all could do superbly was get us around town. Driving in Cuernavaca is a trip. It feels absolutely chaotic at first, but after 3+ weeks of riding around in traffic you start to feel a method to the madness. There are places where the traffic seems to bottleneck here, but one strategy all taxistas and other drivers seem to use is to just pull out into the mess. The speeds are slow due to the strategically places topes (speed bumps) and if you just pull out no one will plow into you. It is good to know where the topes are because you know the oncoming driving must slow down and you have more time to drive out into to flow. This is also very handy when trying to cross the road on foot. It can be quite frightening when you are new here and don’t realize the oncoming cars are actually going to have to slow down.

There is also a nice system of hand-waving that supports the flow of traffic. A quick lift of the finger signals to another driver “I’m letting you in.” A quick honk says “I’m here and you better not pull out.” All of this seems to be followed up with a cordial hand wave and everyone is on their way and traffic continues to flow. I’ve never been in a taxi that had more than a ¼ tank full of gas. Until now only one taxi driver has pulled over to a gas station to fill up en route. One-way street signs mean nothing and they will drive crazy amounts of slalom if they can get at least one tire off a tope. Throughout this entire circus you will see pedestrians, donkeys and street dogs froggering through it all. I’m glad we’ve been able to see the symphony through the chaos and in the end it is gringos like us who drive through the middle blindly that might mess up the flow.

The taxis here are also low-tech. The “available” taxis can be identified by the sign in their windshield “libre” which operates on a system of suction cup + binder clip. Libre = clip down, in service = clip up (hence the libre sign is not visible to those on the street waiting to hail taxis). William was quick to notice that rarely our taxista (or any other for that matter) actually flips the sign when they have someone on board. A taxi may be approaching with a “libre” sign, but there are clearly people in the car. William also has developed a keen eye and skill for hailing taxis. When you see a taxi coming, you hold your arm up and eventually one will stop. He’s often willing to hail a taxi before I’m ready. Forget Matthias, William could get me through the next 2 weeks here.

This is the 3rd week of summer camp. Our attempt at a car rental didn’t go so well (see previous blog entries) and I’m now happier that we have been taking taxis instead of driving ourselves. Some days I don’t talk to the taxista hardly at all, some days we chat the entire way. Each day is different and I never know what to expect. Since the kids are in summer camp and I’m home working, this has been an unexpected gem in this trip – my time with the taxistas.

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