Wednesday, December 17, 2014

road to manzanillo

If you drive in Mexico the same way you drive in Salem, you are going to turn into a statistic.

On most days here, I do not bother looking at my calendar.  The days tend to blend into one another.  And that is fine with me.  After all, I did not retire to merely replace one busy calendar with another.

I woke up earlier than usual on Tuesday morning.  When that happens, my normal course is to roll over and try to get the cast in my dream to start that scene from Act II from the beginning.

Instead, for some odd reason, I looked at the calendar on my telephone.  The only entry I expected to see was Lupe taking caring of the pool.  But I was wrong.  Painfully wrong.

First thing in the morning, I was scheduled to be strapped into an interrogation chair with sharp objects jammed into my gums.  That is my version of what you would call "teeth cleaning."

The problem was that I could just make it to Manzanillo on time if I left at that minute.  Obviously, my morning ablutions would have to wait for another day.

I love driving in Mexico.  It appeals to my adrenalin rush style of driving.  Fighter pilots might call it a "target rich environment."

My favorite venue for letting my Stirling Moss run free is the Mexican toll way system.  For a fistful of pesos, I get to drive on a well-maintained road managed by the Red Chinese.  As bizarre as the combination sounds, those roads are some of the best I have encountered in the world.  And, when I am on the toll roads, I am usually passed by everyone.

Not so on our local highways.  When I was growing up in Oregon in the 1950s, we called two-lane roads "super highways."  I can still remember those pre-freeway days where we would drive from Powers to Portland on what seemed to be rather sophisticated roads.  Compared to our southern coastal roads, they were.

There are quite a few things that remind me of Oregon fifty years ago.  Highways being one.

The major highway that runs from Barra de Navidad to Manzanillo (part of Mexico 200) is a relatively new highway.  Portions of it were not built until the 1970s.  It is the sole highway for traffic along the Pacific coast of Mexico.  That is why its two-lane construction often presents problems.

Most of the surrounding area between Barra de Navidad and Manzanillo is rural.  Burro rural.  That means there are two types of traffic on the highway -- people in a hurry and people who are not (either because that is their choice or it is the result of an inherently slow or overloaded vehicle).

I am almost always in a sub-category of the first group.  In my case, I just like to drive fast.  But, on Tuesday morning, I was also in a hurry.

That, of course, is when all of the people in the second category decide it would be a great idea to go for a slow drive on the highway in the combine or field truck -- or some other lumbering equipment.  It appeared there must have been a slow driver convention on Tuesday because I encountered tortoise after sloth on the way to Manzanillo.

One of Mexico's greatest personal achievements is learning how to deal with limitations through creativity.  Take two-lane roads.  Wherever a two-lane road has adequate shoulders, the highway will morph into a three-and-a-half lane road.  Motorcycles, pedestrians, bicycles, and assorted farm animals will often use the shoulders as transit routes.

But, if the shoulders are open, good Mexican drivers will note a vehicle approaching from the rear and move to the shoulder to allow the category one drivers to roll on down the road.  I suspect that is a custom, rather than the law. 

There are oblivious drivers here just as there are in all countries.  That is when the graceful art of passing comes into play.

On my trip yesterday, I came upon two separate vehicles with plates from northern provinces.  Coming from a land where people are cautious, both drivers were maintaining speeds 10 kilometers below the limit.

But they chose not to pull to the shoulder to allow faster vehicles to pass.  I asked a northern friend once why he refused to pull over for faster traffic.  "Because it is not a safe driving practice, and I am going to teach the Mexican drivers how to drive properly."  Ouch!

One sign that northern tourists have arrived is the number of near-collisions at the few stop signs scattered through our villages.  Local drivers treat the signs as yield signs.  They watch to see that the intersection is clear, and then drive right on through.

Not so recently-arrived northern drivers.  They toss out their anchors at each stop sign. 

As I started my drive this morning, I watched as an Alberta-plated pickup drove up to one of those stop signs.  He put on his brakes.  The local driver behind him was watching for traffic on the highway.  There was none.  When he looked forward, there was a pickup stopped in front of him.  Fortunately, he veered.

One of the first rules my father taught me is to avoid being a defensive driver.  People who think they are driving defensively are often the cause of accidents.  His advice is certainly true around here.

So, I made it to Manzanillo with plenty of time to spare for my appointment.  Here in Mexico, that means the dentist opened her door to call me in just as I stepped into her office.

And because I had no reason to rush on the way home, I drove back to Barra de Navidad at speeds under the limit.  Being a category two driver has its place.  I even followed local custom and allowed the speed maniacs to pass me by pulling to the shoulder.

Given the choice, I far prefer driving here to Oregon.  Even when I allow an endocrine sabbatical.

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