Monday, May 22, 2006

Más México: Manejando (Driving)

I figured since I was going to be here for a while I´ll do an entry a week or so, and since there is so much to talk about I am going to focus on one or two things per entry.

Driving in Mexico - yikes! The first thing I noticed about Mexico is that most of the cars here are tiny - Volkswagon seems to be a very popular brand name here. There are a lot of very old VW Bugs around, half of them painted bright green and acting as Taxis. The rest of the population drives VW Pointers (something like the US Jetta), the occasional Chrysler? Spirit (yeah, I don´t know, but it´s not Dodge) or Ford Focus, and other small family cars. The taxis consist of a fleet of Nissans, which makes me wonder. They´re not all the same company, but nearly every taxi in the city is a Nissan Tsuru. The only large vehicles on the roads are the busses, which run all over the city and beyond, and move very quickly despite the narrow streets.

Also interesting is that most of the cars here are manual transmission - I think I´ve seen one automatic in the entire week I´ve been staring at the city´s traffic. I am both amused and pleased by this finding. I think I like it here. Unfortunately, driving standard doesn´t mean the people move any slower or farther apart - every time we come to a stop behind someone else on a hill, I swear we´re going to be hit when they roll back.

People here drive like maniacs. I know in the US we think we´re bad drivers, but these guys aren´t bad, they´re good - at being very very dangerous. Turn signals are usually ignored (ah, it´s just like home!). Lanes of traffic? If no one´s coming there are usually two lanes going the same way in a two-way street. Passing is done wherever possible no matter what the lines on the road look like, and people cut in front of each other at intersections in ways that would result in regular 20-car pile-ups where I´m from. They´re all very respectful of each other, to a degree - if someone is more aggressive than you, you just let them go first. It´s awful to be a pedestrian here. What´s worse, there are speed bumps of various kinds all over the city but a lot of people will speed up between them and then hit the brakes just before they go over one. The speed bumps would be a good idea in the US, I think. At least they keep top speed down to 45 or so between bumps.

Pedestrians here don´t have any rights either. There´s not much protection in the way of crosswalks at intersections and even if there are crosswalks, good luck getting someone to acknowledge them. Mostly you just wait for a gap in traffic and run for your life. Of course, walking isn´t a preferred method of travel anyway, because the cities here are pretty much coated in smog. Cuernavaca´s not that bad comparatively speaking - Mexico City looks like it´s under a London fog on a good day.

It´s been an adventure, riding with our nice, tiny little host mother and nearly being t-boned, rolled back into, hitting police officers, etc. Beware, vacationers: if the water doesn´t kill you, the drivers will. :D

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