Sunday, January 03, 2016

What I Learned in Mexico

Author’s Note: I was in Mexico from 16 December to 25 December 2015. It was my first visit to that country. I stayed on the Yucatan, on the Mayan Riviera, and drove Highway 307 back and forth to Cancun several times. Those are the only true facts in this post.

1.    The Mexican has a fluid interpretation of driving. The property manager for our little casita stopped by on our first day to ask how we were doing, and give us some local knowledge. He laughed when we mentioned the driving. Mexicans don’t need to take a driver’s test to get a license; they only have to pay the fee for the license. Then he began cataloguing all the accidents he’s suffered through. Here’s what we experienced:
a.     Four-way flashers. The Mexican puts on the four-way flashers for a variety of reasons and meanings:
                                               i.     “I’m merging onto the highway. Kinda. I’m not sure yet, so I’m just going to straddle the line between the breakdown lane and the right lane of the highway and put on my flashers because they are a secret sauce that protects me until The Great Calabaza decides it’s okay for me to be in traffic.”
                                              ii.     “There’s a police checkpoint coming up, so I’m going to be slowing down, and since my brake lights probably don’t work because we don’t inspect our cars, I’m warning you.”
                                             iii.     “There’s a speed bump coming up in this middle of this highway that has a posted speed limit of 100 km, and since my brake lights probably don’t work because we don’t inspect our cars, I'm warning you.”
                                            iv.     “I’m not sure what to do. I feel confused. Or I’m tuning the radio station. Or I’m hungry. Or…hey, is that The Great Calabaza over there?”
                                             v.     “Oooh, flashing lights!”
b.    Left and right turn signals are used infrequently and deceptively, as in, “Fooled ya! I’m not really going right!”
c.     License plates, headlights, paint, and wheels are optional items on Mexican automobiles.
d.    Scooters are everywhere, and the Mexican uses scooters the same way the Clampetts used their 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster in The Beverly Hillbillies.
e.    Renting a car is an act of faith. Your gringo insurance is no good down in Mexico, and everyone is trying to upsell you. But get pulled over or get into a fender-bender without the right documentation, and the Mexican defers to Napoleonic law: You’re tossed into jail while they try to figure out what to do.
                                               i.     We were issued a beater from our car rental company. The right side mirror was smashed, there were dents and scratches (which I photographed), an no functioning brakes to speak of, unless you consider the grinding screech of metal coming from the front wheels the brakes.
                                              ii.     The rental agent proudly pointed out the new spare tire, which did not inspire confidence.
                                             iii.     The clutch had the range of a Boeing 777. Pushing it in order to shift required a prosthetic extension on my left leg, and that didn’t guarantee that the gears would shift. Eventually I gave up on shifting altogether, and I just jammed the manual transmission into the gear I desired.
                                            iv.     Buying gasoline requires more focus than the dodgy driving. All fuel is pumped by attendants, so it’s imperative that you follow these rules:
1.    Make sure the attendant zeros the pump before beginning fueling.
2.    Try to pay with a credit card, because the attendant will try to negotiate U.S. dollars from you. Don’t. He will give you a poor exchange rate.
3.    Don’t bother checking the fluids. The attendant will offer this service, seeking a bigger tip, but who knows what he’s doing under the hood? Better to leave it be and drive another 1,000 km without any oil in the crank case.
4.    Tip your attendant. Though some may be incompetent, and some may be trying to swindle you, they are still poor, much poorer than you and your pale skin. You are the 1% to them, so cough it up. Twenty or thirty pesos will do.
2.    Pay no attention to that man waving his arms. Arm-waving is the primary source of income generation on the Mayan Riviera. In Tulum, we pulled off the highway to go to the ruins, and dozens of men began running after us, running in front of us, waving their arms. Since I didn’t speak much of their language, I couldn’t tell what they wanted, but they seemed concerned. Here is what I thought they were saying:
a.     “There are velociraptors up ahead! You must stop!”
b.    “There are banditos up ahead! You must stop!”
c.     “Turns out the Mayan calendar was right! World’s ending! You must stop!”
d.    “Landshark! You must stop!”
3.    Waving Arms, Part II: When we slowed down, I could understand their excellent English (shame on me for not speaking Spanish), and this is actually what they were saying:
a.     “Park here! Best rates! You must stop!”
b.    “Swim with the turtles! Best rates! You must stop!”
c.     “Titty bar! Best rates! You must stop!”
d.    “Landshark! You must stop!”
4.    The Yucatan is heavily militarized.
a.     AK-47s hang off cops, soldiers, and security guards the way coconuts hang off the trees: in bunches.
b.    When you realize all the security if for you and your gringo dollars, your tipping increases significantly.
5.    There is a caste system:
a.     The taller, whiter, and more bilingual you are, the better your job.
b.    Pretty, well-spoken, light-skinned women occupy customer-critical contact points, like condo sales associate, or spiritual hostess, and they are lightly-clothed.
c.     Smaller, darker, cross-eyed men are issued machetes and sent out into the heat to hack away the vegetation choking the sides of the highway.
6.    The ratio of limes to human seems to be about 4.5 billion to one.
7.    Grocery stores have coolers strategically placed at the ends of most aisles. These coolers are filled with freshly made tortillas. The tortilla and the lime seem to be the basic unit of food in Mexico.
8.    The scuba diving is extraordinary.
a.     The dive shop to human ratio seems to be about 1:1.
b.    There were so many sea turtles swimming past me when I dove on the reef that I thought some air traffic controllers would be a good idea down there.
c.     My thought as I continually equalized on the way down: “My God, this is the most astonishingly beautiful and unique environment on the planet. Everyone (and I mean everyone; that’s not hyperbole) should come down here and understand the importance of our environment, and that in this world, there is only the environment. Everything else is derivative.
d.    Actually, my thoughts as I continually equalized on the way down were, “Holy shit! A sea turtle! Holy shit! Another sea turtle!”

In conclusion, go to Mexico. They are our neighbors, and they deserve at least our understanding.