Friday, 2 February 2007, Costa Esmerelda, Veracruz
We are in Mexico and 'finally' seems to be the word we are using a lot! While we really enjoyed the amazing things we saw in both the USA and Canada, we were both ready for a culture change. We are also hoping to start spending a lot less money - it has been more expensive than we had expected in the last 10½ months.
Our entry point last Thursday was Matamoros which is the most easterly border crossing, right on the Gulf of Mexico, and we travelled down the coast from there to reach Costa Esmerelda (the Emerald Coast) on Saturday. It was three days of fairly heavy driving, but we had experiences of the change in culture almost immediately.
The driving style of the Mexicans was perhaps the most obvious. If a road has 2 lanes, you make it into 3 - the nonexistent centre lane becomes an overtaking lane, whether there is traffic coming, or a bend or crest ahead, or not! The vehicle being overtaken moves as far to the right as possible, without going off the tar and the oncoming vehicle moves likewise to their right (at least that's the hope). When all three vehicles are trucks it can become a little hair-raising! There are speed limits clearly posted along the way, but they seem to be only suggestions. The only way the authorities seem to be able to slow vehicles down in towns and villages is to install topes (speed bumps). These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and even being here for only a week we have experienced more than we could possibly count.
Normally the easiest to cross are often (but not always) little more than lines on the ground, but there are usually about 10 of them, one after another with a 2-3 metre distance between. Then there are the normal ones we are familiar with at home, but usually a bit more substantial. Sometimes these come in threes - set only about a metre apart! We even came across some that were over a metre wide and had the top part corrugated - the signpost said 'Vibradores', and even with my very limited Spanish, I got the point immediately! The worst are often the metal ones - a line across the road made up of hemispherical metal pieces with spaces between. There are also those which are quite large, and then have a huge pot-hole to deal with on the other side. Needless to say, they are all very effective in slowing vehicles down - especially the trucks - but I have seen some cars, often taxis, overtake while crossing a tope and hardly slowing at all. We always come almost to a stop and still the experience can be bone-jarring, and we have to be very careful opening our cupboards when we stop to camp!
There are signs warning of them - except when there aren't! Usually something like 'topes in 300m' and then another sign about 50m along saying 'topes in 150m' - they don't seem to be very fussy about measuring the distances they are quoting... Other than the 'vibradores', the next most interesting sign we saw was 'Reductores de velocidad' (velocity reducers)! You have to keep your eyes open because it is not a pleasant experience to cross them without warning. There are also signs warning of topes which aren't actually there and others like 'disminyua su velocidad - evite colocar topes', which tells you to reduce your speed to avoid the installation of topes - a real threat!
You have to keep your eyes on the road constantly anyway, because the road surface doesn't stay the same for very long. We have seen pot-holes big enough to lose our spare wheel in - and our truck has pretty large tyres on... Some of the road surfaces are really good, but then you will suddenly come across a rough bit that looks like it hasn't been repaired in years - often right in between two freshly tarred lengths of 'highway'.
To add to all this, the rain which had been falling for days in Texas had also been falling in the north-east of Mexico. So the roads were wet and slick with mud. We would pass through villages which had no tar except the main road, and the area from the road to houses and shops looked like a mud bath. The truck was almost totally covered in mud from one end to the other by the time we stopped in Costa Esmerelda. But that's enough about the roads - now that I've spent the first page of our Mexico journal describing them, it should be the last time I need to do that. Although, you never can tell!
Continuation on > Page 2 > !