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On the Ruta a la JK

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

So what is it like to drive south of the border? Mad times, crazy, man. Let´s just say this is sort of freestyle driving. Sure, you could follow all the traffic rules, but what fun is there in that? I think that would just show a lack of creativity. Actually, Mexico compared to some countries we have driven in is quite calm and safe. The drivers here usually show a lot of restraint, even when stuck behind the infamous Doble Remolque which is a ridiculously long tractor-trailer. Yes, we have them in the US, especially the western states, but in Mexico the double trailers and even the triple trailers go almost everywhere a scooter will try to go. Also, there are many mountainous two-laned roads around here that are a challenge for a new Porsche. There is a stretch of road called El Espinoza del Diablo (the Devil´s Spine!) that lives up to its name. The big rigs on these roads sometimes clip along at a donkey pace- no exaggeration. And that´s not a donkey in any hurry either. I tried going at a dog´s pace, but Giselle started to get a little green, so I slowed back down to hobbling goat.

Another very exciting aspect of driving here is the “tope.” Otherwise known as a speed bump, topes can catch you by surprise because they are the most common form of speed control on every road except the toll roads. The roads here are usually in excellent condition, often better than in the US (remember we live in DC), but the topes knock driveability down a few notches. A tope can be anything from a gentle lump of asphalt stretching across the road. These topes say, “Excuse me kind driver, perhaps you might consider reducing your velocity. Remember, there are children about. Thank you, and have a nice day.” There are other topes with bad attitudes. These topes are like the waiters who spit in your food if you ask them for more water. When you drive over these topes, even at the aforementioned donkey pace, the tope says, “Look here mo-fo, I am going to rip your transmission a new hole, and there is not a dang thing you are going to do about it. By the way, I hope you have a terrible day. Now get out of here and don´t come back…ever… or else.” Another interesting aspect of topology is that often, when you slow down for these lumps people on the side of the road come up to your car to sell things. Many things. We have seen all varieties of fruit, clothing, unrecognizable things, big things, small things- you get the idea. Never let it be said that the people of Mexico are not industrious. It seems like all market niches have been covered; at least on the side of the road.

Concentration is the name of the game. On Eisenhower´s interstate highways back home you can often take catnaps with little consequence. (Dear Insurance Company, please disregard last comment). Here, I blink with my right eye and then my left eye. I have hit a few topes at over 25 mph and it is not a happy feeling for passengers or vehicles. In addition to topes there are animals of every variety using the highway as a barnyard. No kidding, we have seen every one of Old MacDonald´s menagerie out there on the pavement. Note: cow big.

There is also a lack of sidewalks outside of cities. People who live in the villages along the roads have no choice of how to get around. Most of them are not hopping in their Camrys, so they have to walk along the roadside. There is usually not a lot of space for such activity. There is the center line, your lane, the line on the edge of your lane and then about three and a half inches for a person to walk. Going to school kid? Hit the highway. Going to market? Highway. Going to wherever. Highway.

The mix of huge trucks, roaming animals, hapless pedestrians, killer topes, and vomit-inducing curves keeps a driver on his or her toes. My favorite passenger clutches the sides of her seat, stares straight ahead, lets out the occasional scream and tries to avoid puking into her Sudoku puzzle. I think she has finished one in 5,000 miles.

Kill Bill

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

chichen itza

Here’s the pyramid known as El Castillo at Chichen Itza.

We brought a laptop with us to manage the huge volume of photos we anticipated. After only a short time on the road it has bitten the dust. We were in Tulum, which is along the Caribbean cost, when we bit the bullet and paid someone who actually knew something about computers. Eric is an expat Canadian originally from Ontario. He has a dive shop in Xcalak (be careful when you try to say that) which he is selling because now that he has kids he needs a place with a little more infrastructure, thus the metropolitan Tulum area is his territory. Anyway, after standing around the computer for a couple of hours with several ups (yeah, it works!) and more downs (if I ever see that Bill Gates guy on the street by himself) I came to the conclusion that painting in watercolors would be a better way to capture the visuals of our trip. Unfortunately, I am not much of an artist, so we will have to figure something else out.

Tulum beach

Even with the blue screen of death lurking on our laptop, Mexico is a fabulous place. We just spent a few days at the beach and relaxing in basically a very nice shack with hot running water and mosquito netting. That is Tulum when you add in a clear blue-green ocean and beautiful sunrises. Also, for some reason, they have terrific pizza there too. Lots of Italians. Go figure.

bath tree

Today we drove from Tulum back to our favorite jungle hangout, Panchan sur Palenque. The drive was exciting as driving down here can be, but fairly uneventful. The only real excitement was at the military checkpoint where they brought out a drug-sniffing dog to give our vehicle the once over. Maybe I was too emphatic when the guy asked me if we had any drugs. He let El Rover run all around inside our truck and he kept trying to convince the dog there were drugs in there. Dude, the dog said there was nothing there! The military guys have without exception been professional and reasonably friendly. I even made a deal with one of them that if we passed through Mexico I would sell him the truck. I am not sure what kind of price he expects.

Not one of them said, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” So much for old stereotypes.

The Explorer is holding its own. Thank goodness Bill Gates doesn’t make cars. It seems that Ford is a good choice so far. In Mexico they are quite popular. Also, we have seen a smattering of vehicles with U.S. plates.

Tomorrow we continue south to some more ruins at Bonampak and then to the border with Guatemala. We’ll see how that goes.

Going to ruins

Friday, November 25th, 2005
Experiencing minor technical difficulties. Please stand by for more pictures and stories. We are in Tulum, on the Caribbean coast. We'll be heading south and then inland to cross the border into Guatemala. Meanwhile, in recent days we've ... [Continue reading this entry]

Maya, what a big pyramid you have

Monday, November 21st, 2005
Went to Palenque today (Nov. 21). Wowee!

what a view

This is a city of Mayan ruins in the middle of the jungle. There were a lot of German tourists there, as ... [Continue reading this entry]

Viva Zapata

Sunday, November 20th, 2005
OK, moving right along. We made it to Oaxaca on the night of the 16th. The last few miles in the pitch black surroundings on hairpin turns sure were fun. Oaxaca has a big art scene. Lots of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Lagging with our posts

Saturday, November 19th, 2005
Today is Saturday, Nov. 19, but the last thing we wrote about happened on the 15th. That night we went to hot & steamy Veracruz, a port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Took a lovely evening ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pyramids and Voladores

Thursday, November 17th, 2005
On Tues., Nov. 15, we went to the ancient Totonac city of El Tajin and saw a bunch of cool pyramids like this one.

El Tajin

We also watched a performance by the voladores, men ... [Continue reading this entry]

In The Jungle

Thursday, November 17th, 2005
Pozas- In the Jungle at Xilitla There are some crazy things happening in the jungle around the hill town of Xilitla, which we visited Nov. 14. This guy named ... [Continue reading this entry]

South of the Border

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005
After leaving Mrs. Higgins, we headed to Austin, TX to visit a friend we have known since we were 12. We stayed with him and his family for a couple of days before hitting the road to Mexico. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mrs. Higgins

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005
Wed. Nov. 9 Richard, a classmate from our ballroom dance class, recommended that we stay with his mother in Louisiana. So we did. Mrs. Higgins kindly took us in, chatted with us and even made us breakfast. It ... [Continue reading this entry]