Saturday, February 09, 2019

bikes and feet in mexico

I call them non-tariff cultural imports -- those attitudes we northerners tuck into our suitcases with our swimsuits and smoked salmon when we saunter south to Mexico.

And we all have them. Trying to trash them is a  quixotic task. Those cultural notions we have exercised for decades may not be hard-wired into our systems, but they certainly are endemic. And, even though they do amuse me with the potential of blog fodder, they too often get in our way of enjoying what Mexico has to offer.

Yesterday I was walking along our main coastal highway from Barra de Navidad to Melaque. A group of four bicyclists were rapidly coming at me.

What initially caught my attention were their costumes. They were outfitted in the type of lycra outfits that look good on people until they reach the age of 22, and, after that, the material exposes every erosion and decay of getting older. Sort of a cross between Star Trek and a high school cheer squad.

I had starting conjuring up phrases for an essay when I noticed that the lead biker, festooned in his national colors and emblems, had that look Tom Cruise gets when he is trying to act like a man with an intense mission. All stare and furrowed brow.

When he was about 20 feet away, he bellowed: "Get off the bike path."

Well, that is not exactly what he said. The words he used were not particularly nice. But, stripped of the vocabulary-handicapped vulgarities, that was his message. The other three riders dutifully glared as they whisked by on their fast and extremely expensive dandy horses.

This is not the first time I have encountered that attitude here. A couple of years ago, a concerned visitor asked me who she needed to see to enforce violations of the highway bike path rules. When I asked her what she meant, she said she was concerned that motorcycles and pedestrians were walking on the bike path making it difficult for bikers. Cars were often parked there.

I told her 
there is no bike path on the highway, the white line designates where the shoulder begins. But it is just part of the highway -- a multi-use part of the highway.

She was happy with the explanation -- and just a little bit embarrassed that she had made the mistake.

But I understood why she made it. In Vancouver, if a lane is marked beside the car travel lane, it is usually designated for the exclusive use of bikers. And, for a lot of reasons, once they have conquered that strip of territory, bicyclists will not surrender it.

Bike paths are not unknown here. We have one that runs the length of the access road into Barra de Navidad.

In fact, there are two paths -- each marked subtly for the exclusive use of either walkers or bikers. This one is marked for bikes.

This one is marked for pedestrians.

Interestingly, some visitors do not unpack their bike etiquette when they arrive in Mexico.

I regularly walk there. About 90% of the users stay in their designated lanes. Not surprisingly, the largest group of users are my Mexican neighbors. Which puts to rest the silly notion that Mexico has rules that no one follows.

Now and then, though, a small number of bikers choose to use the walking path and most will barrel right through walkers with that same Top Gun stare, rather than move to the proper path. The sad thing is that nine out of ten of the violators are northerners.

Each time I have attempted to point out the clearly-marked differences in the paths, I have been met with the same invective-punctuated screed used by the lead biker yesterday. Often with a coda shot over the shoulder: "There are no rules in Mexico."

Well, there are. And it would do all of us well to know them and apply them. Part of the problem is getting over ourselves -- and I include myself in that category.

Here is one last example. I had dinner with a woman who was visiting our area for the first time. She was one of those seasoned travelers who tries to gauge the cultural lay of the land and to then act accordingly.

But something was bothering her. "I love the bus system here. It took me just one day to figure out how it worked. My fellow passengers are friendly and always teach me a lot about Barra. But, when I get off of the bus and try to cross the highway at that crosswalk, cars don't stop. Why?"

Her use of the term "crosswalk" threw me. We don't have any designated crosswalks here. At least, none that I could remember.

When she described it, though, I knew exactly what it was. 

A tope has been constructed on the highway at the bus stop and it has been painted white and yellow to warn drivers of its presence. I suspect it is there to slow traffic for the people who get off of the bus and need to cross the hig
hway into Jaluco.

But it is not a crosswalk, and it does not carry any of the rights and obligations that one would find in a Portland crosswalk. The tope may cause drivers to slow down enough to give pedestrians an opportunity to cross, and some drivers may be courteous enough to allow that. But anyone who expects that to happen and exercises her "right of way" to cross the road may very well have the additional cultural experience of seeing how the Mexican medical system works.

I offer all of this in the spirit of advice. You are welcome to do with it as you choose. But, I am willing to bet, we can all improve our experiences in a new culture by constantly questioning our own assumptions. 

If you leave your own cultural notions in your suitcase, they will be there when you get home. 

I will now see if I can get that mote out of my own eye. 

PS -- A Facebook reader raised a good question that reminded me I had one additional point that I failed to mention. So I will now.

She related a story that she had been the object of northern scolding for riding in the wrong lane on the andador, and that the experience had destroyed her enjoyment of her otherwise-fun bike ride.

I meant to note that I am now out of the advice business. Getting angry over such things also ruins my day. I am going to start doing what my Mexican neighbors do. They seldom confront bad behavior. Instead, they store up those experiences to share in the barrio. My neighbor once pointed out: "You are really weird people." He meant me, as well. I suspect he meant me primarily.

A Mexican friend, who works as a waiter, asked me last week: "Why do you Canadians [he meant "northerners"] complain about everything?" He also included me in that category.

Both of them are correct. We complain and confront far too quickly. And we are miserable for having done it. I intend to continue collecting our aberrant behavior, but you will not see those tales here. Those are going to be adventures shared over tacos.         

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