Now that I’ve clocked over 1000 miles on Mexican highways, byways and calles, I feel like I have enough street cred to write up a little guide for my fellow American drivers who are thinking about traveling here by car. If you’re an aggressive, fast and furious driver like me you’re going to have a blast. All you granny drivers out there will be OK too- the Mexicans will figure out how to get around you one way or another. So without further delay, here’s the quick start guide for my gringos:
We’re traveling exclusively on the toll roads (cuotas) and you should too, because the public roads (libres) are slower, crowded and not as safe. Toll road conditions are terrific- totally cherry black asphalt with new paint. 90% of the time these are 2-lane highways, i.e. 2 separate 2-lane highways running parallel to each other. Fees are typically 60 to 120 pesos per toll, but sometimes as cheap as 20. Expect tolls (casetas) every 100 miles or so but they’re painless and hassle-free.
The speed limits are in kilometers per hour, i.e. 100 km/hr. I go with the flow- sometimes even a bit faster- which usually puts me between 80-90mph. Pass on the right or left- it doesn’t matter- there seems to be no slow lane.
I haven’t seen one single federale actually cruising the highway this whole trip! Sure, there are plenty of cops standing around at checkpoints, waving you through, but an actual federal in his little blue race car looking to pull you over and extort that infamous mordita (bribe)? Hasn’t happened yet. I think they’re too busy having a drug war with one of the cartels or the army or both. Update: Kara sighted one federale pulling over a car on northbound 15. Since we’re going south, I’m not counting this.
Gasolina is cheap and not much more than in the good ol’ USA. Pemex and OXXO are the major franchises and they’re attended by nice men who fill ‘er up full service style (just say “yen-el-oh por favor”). Tip them 1 big coin or a couple small ones and be on your way.
I don’t have enough battery life on this laptop to expand upon the perplexing system of highway signage in Mexico. The people of Mexico are honorable, resourceful and friendly but they have all collectively flunked environmental design 101. Given the fact that there are redundant, self-referential signs every 50 km, I’m only listing the ones that you will actually care about:
- Vibradores: Small speed bumps that are like yardsticks glued to the pavement, painted white
- Topes: Speed bumps found at the entrance and exits of all towns. They’re usually not painted so watch out
- Topes de la muerte: Imagine hundreds of cannonballs shot into the asphalt. Can do real damage if you don’t slow down for them. See the Crossing The Border At Nogales post for video documentation
- Disminuya su velocidad: Slow down so some dudes can stand out in the middle of the road and sell you food
- Curva peligroso: Means dangerous curve but honestly you don’t have to worry about these- it’s the curves that aren’t marked that you need to worry about
- Radar en operaccion: Means radar but I’m suspicious that this may just be a bluff
- No tire basura: Literal translation: “Don’t litter the highway with your old tires. Instead, please drag them to the side of the road and set them on fire”
- Cruce de peatones: I think this means pedestrian crosswalk but then again, any section of street not blocked by traffic is a crosswalk in Mexico
- Retourno: Flip a bitch here
The best advice I can give you is to stay alert and keep your eyes focused on the horizon because unexpected curves, reckless drivers, objects in the road and other hazards will pop out of nowhere. Drivers are aggressive but they’re not necessarily jerks. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or pulling the occasional bonehead maneuver if you get flustered- most Mexicans are way too polite to flip you the bird or give you stink eye. Just go with the flow, pay attention and don’t fear the journey!