Saturday, November 29, 2008

walking on the wild side

Earlier this year, my mother visited Mazatlán. She telephoned to tell me that she was enjoying the visit, but she had witnessed several tourists taking nasty spills on the sidewalk. She had even taken a tumble herself.

That is not an original complaint -- at least, from Canadians and Americans. (I suspect less so from European visitors.) We are accustomed to walking along even-planed concrete sidewalks -- with a few well-meaning cuts for the disabled. Our sidewalks are public rights-of-way, and we expect them to be as easy to traverse as a freeway in Manitoba.

With my mother's experience in mind, I took several photographs of "sidewalks" in Melaque this past July.

I did not see any tourists take tumbles in Melaque. That may be because there are not a lot of Canadian and American tourists there. It is a resort town -- but a resort for Mexicans. They tend to be far more vigilant about hazards.

The other reason may be that the Melaque hazards are so obvious.

But why do the hazards exist?

My friend Juan Alvarez tells me that I am starting from a false premise. The concrete in front of most businesses and homes are not a public right-of-way. In colonial towns, most homes are built right up to the street; the front door opens onto what would have been the thoroughfare. Most towns have developed off-sets, but the property still belongs to the owner.

In effect, the "sidewalk" is the equivalent of a patio or a front porch. It is not unusual for the whole family to be sitting out on the sidewalk with a full array of living room furniture. (I did not take a photograph to illustrate that point. I would have felt like an intruder in a home.)

Another factor cannot go unmentioned: the blessed rarity of liability suits. Trial lawyers in Mexico are as mercifully rare as an original thought in Congress.

The best advice I can give to visitor and resident alike is exactly what our mothers told us when we were children: Watch where you're walking.


Anonymous said...

Alas, even in Mexico City, the sidewalks are no place for the distracted.

In addition to the hazards you note in Melaque, you can count open manholes, random bits of steel or rebar protruding from the sidewalk, and my least favorite, the random pole.

Many of these random poles rise about 3 feet from the sidewalk, and tend to flank driveways, as if to keep impatient drivers from taking to the sidewalks. Alas, they are quite hazardous as they threaten especially vulnerable portions of the male anatomy. Odd thing in such a macho country. One does not quickly forget an encounter with such a pole.

Caveat Pedes


Kim G
San Francisco, CA
At least for a while

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I have a theory that tourists are so busy looking at the new sights, they forget to follow first principles. I saw a young Canadian girl almost take the dive illustrated in my third photograph. That is about a two foot dropoff. Her father grabbed her in time. As for the crotch-level poles, I am happy to say I have not yet encountered one.

Life's a Beach! said...

I fell twice last November on Isla Mujeres -- neither time involving any obstacles. Both times, during or right after a rain. My theory is that store owners clean the sidewalks and streets in front with soap almost every morning. Then it's extremely slick when wet!

Theresa in Mèrida said...

What I hate is when the sidewalks get slippery, the cement looks almost like the hundreds of people walking on it daily have polished it. We live in the "Centro Historico" and some of the houses actually have no sidewalk, the doors open directly onto the street! There are wide sidewalks and sidewalks so narrow you can barely fit between the house walls and the telephone pole planted in the sidewalk. Some sidewalks are so high that there are steps to the street, but not many. The electric meters all seem to be at my head level, and Husband usually can't walk under awnings with out ducking because he is over 6 feet tall.
I have heard that it used to be much worse! That people were often electrocuted during storms because of low hanging wires and the streets flooding!

Steve Cotton said...

Life's a Beach -- I forgot about the slippery when wet problem. And it does not seem to matter if your soles are leather or rubber.

Theresa -- Choices between electrocution and decapitation must make pedestrians either alert -- or extinct.

Babs said...

Wait til you're in Melaque in the winter - it is overrun with Canadians.totally, which is of course not a bad thing.
In San Miguel, the homeowner or shopowner is required by law to keep the area in front of their premises swept and cleaned on a daily basis or they face a stiff fine. If I'm not mistaken, that is traditional in Mexico.....hence the soap and water and sweeping.
Most ex-pats walk in the streets,especially in Melaque, it's much smoother and flatter and less hazards, other then traffic.

Islagringo said...

Knock on wood, but I have never fallen because of the sidewalks in Mexico. I am very careful about where I put my feet. However, being so cautious has it's setbacks. I usually walk right smack into the guywires that anchor phone and electricity poles to the middle of the sidewalk. More embarrassing than painful.

Felipe Zapata said...

Gringos are brainwashed in their native land. They expect sidewalks to be level at all times and, with very rare exception, they are. You don´t have to pay any attention over the border to the ground. It is level, and always will be.

It is difficult to switch gears for newbies and tourists, and a great many take tumbles.

If you live here, you learn in time to watch where your steps are landing. Usually, you learn the hard way. And this obstacle-course terrain is not restricted to sidewalks. It´s everywhere. In homes, hotels, modern shopping centers, everywhere.

A related issue is driving at night. North of the border, you do not, with very rare exception (always always deer), find big animals on the highway.

In this we are brainwashed again. We drive at night with the very slightest attention being paid to what´s ahead. Nothing is ever ahead, and if there is, it has a bright light on it.

Here, things are ahead. And appear in your path with lightning speed and no lights attached.

Blame the uneven terrain on the lack of liability lawyers. Blame the cows, mules, donkeys, horses, whatever, on the highways on the nonexistence of fences.

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- I early learned the joy of Melaque streetwalking. But that is why I included photograph #1. When it rains, short of taking up a new profession of goldolier, the only recourse is the sidewalk.

Being a summer visitor to Melaque, I do not get to see many Canadians -- or Americans.

Michael -- One of the first lessons I learned living in both Greece and England is that things were seldom what I expected them to be -- more so in Greece than in England. Of course, the same was true in Laredo. I am hoping that this need for greater awareness will fight off the ravages of old age -- or exacerbate them.

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- At times I feel as if I am walking around on a Three Stooges set. The comic opportunities are almost infinite.

Jonna said...

That's why the rule is: "Don't walk and gawk". 3 or 4 years ago during Carnival, I stepped off a very high sidewalk into a street drain and promptly fell. More than a month of recovering from a badly sprained ankle reinforced the rule. It's hard not to gawk at Carnival, but you have to stop first.

Calypso said...

Steve - Probably in part because there is NO liability for dangerous sidewalks they exist as a norm - and once you accept that watching your step becomes a way of life here in Mexico.

Would that people that have the freedom from being burdened with excessive laws could regulate themselves, as well as care about the safety of others without the reason being fear of liability.

I suppose all that is a libertarians pipe dream ;-(

Just keep looking down and thinking up as you walk the streets of Mexico.

Unknown said...

Ha! Come on down a bit further south. We often have holes, open drains, etc, where sidewalks should be. I really really really don't want to fall down an open sewer hole in Honduras. On the other hand, I like the occasional tiled mosaic patterns that some homeowners provide. It offsets the sewer problems I guess.

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- "Don't walk and gawk." I like that. I think the corollary is true for driving, as well.

John -- Michael keeps warning us that we are getting the natural consequences of our libertarian meanderings. But I am not complaining. I happen to like expanded personal responsibility. (Remind me of that when I crack open my coconut.)

Tancho said...

It's pretty simple Steve, It a new concept called personal responsibility.

If you are not attentive and place your foot into a hole in the street YOU are inattentive.

That's one of the reasons people are attracted to Mexico, the absence of litigious actions run-a-muck, like in the homeland to the north.
One of the first things I do when visitors come down is to walk them around our big plaza and point out the first two or three open ankle busters in the pavement. I advise them they can only sue themselves, it's a basic trade off.

We did have personal responsibility at one time in the north lands.....

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- It is nice to know that someplace exists where the dangers are greater. And requires a bit more vigilance. Looking down, at least gives you the joy of looking at the mosaics.

Ken -- I fear that my profession, while attempting to do some good, has created a pitiful liability mentality in America. I hear children today using the term, "I'll sue you" in the same way we used to blithely chime as cherubic children, "I'll kill you."

Tancho said...

And you occasionally find something on the ground!

Steve Cotton said...

Ken -- Safety and acquisitiveness. Who could ask for anything more? Ayn Rand is smiling somewhere.

Felipe Zapata said...

Ah, you libertarian wing nuts! The Good Life depends on cooperation. Laws spring from this cooperation because many folks are not cooperative by nature.

The trick is not overdoing the laws, as the U.S. and other nations have done. That´s the hard part.

Mexico is Libertarian-land. So watch out for that hole in the sidewalk in front of you. That and a million other problems. Everybody´s on his own! Trouble is, most folks don´t give a hoot about your well-being.

Islandgringo, you reminded me of another thing. Tall guys, till they get used to it and alert, will get their heads banged by the horizontal metal bar Mexicans love to install in toilet stalls. They really irritates me.

Which is to say, every time I do a squat, I end up cursing Libertarianism, especially if I´m sporting my gimme cap and don´t see the dang bar again.

Felipe Zapata said...

And furthermore, libertarianism, which leads directly to uneven sidewalks, horizontal bars in toilet stalls and rude driving, shares a basic faith with Godless communism: that people are basically good and, left to their own devices, will do the right thing.


Libertarian Mexico proves that wrong every day. Watch your step!

Steve Cotton said...

Ah, Michael, there you are wrong. There may be some libertarians who believe that Eden will come to Earth with the passing of government regulations. But not me. I am willing to let people be as good as they choose to be. Sometimes they will be good; sometimes bad. We can hope for some form of limited government. But history tells us that every republic starts out with the best intentions, and ends up simply being somewhere on the scale between oppressive and annoying.

Anonymous said...

That's why most of us Mazatlecos walk in the street if possible. It's much more level than the sidewalk. Everybody here in Mazatlan uses their bit of sidewalk exactly as they choose. Just watch out for the inlaid tiles when it gets wet!

Larry Lambert

Steve Cotton said...

Ah, yes, the oldest remedy: street walking. Most folks eventually do the same in Melaque -- when the streets are not filled with puddles.