Driving Lessons in Mexico

Like any slightly traveled American, I’ve crossed the Mexican border by car at either Tiajuana or Calexccio/Mexicali and driven the coast along the Sea of Cortez, or the Pacific coast in Baja California. However, it wasn’t until last week that I realized my Mexican driving skills resembled an Englishman following Britsh driving regulations on the highways of the United States.

By renting a truck from Gecko http://www.geckorentcar.com/ located on the outskirts of Puerta Vallarta, we were given a complete package; surf and boogie boards, straps to fasten them to the truck, and instructions for the rules of the road in Mexico. I was surprised to learn that a blinking left turn signal does not announce one’s desire to make a left turn, but instead, transmits a message to the guy driving behind that it’s ok to pass. In reality, the correct manner in which to make a left turn, is NOT to use a blinker, instead, pull over onto the right shoulder of the road, allow all the cars behind to pass, and when no one is coming from either direction, make the turn.

After memorizing the “rules”, we mounted our truck and discovered that, like all good Mexican vehicles, everything was “manual”, from the windows and the door locks to the map,… and we didn’t know how to get to Sayulita.

Like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, Adam at Gecko swiftly produced a photocopied, hand drawn map of the route. Five minutes later we were lost. We are of the digital age and can’t figure out how to read a friggin’ paper map, so all 3 of us pulled out our phones and enabled $2/min. roaming data in order to get from the Mega Mart http://www.comercialmexicana.com.mx/comercialMexicana/cm/index.html (where we had purchased water, towels, and a beach umbrella in case none were available in Sayulita… By the way, it was all available in Sayulita…) to highway Mexico 200 in the dark.

As my friends in the front seat argued like all good married couples, I sat in the back and tried to keep the plastic cover of the cookie bin from squeaking while I peeled it off and gorged myself on Mexican sugar cookies drizzled with a bit of chocolate (My friend Karen, the wife of above mentioned duo, is a food aficionado, and had already assured me that the cookies would not be good. But I’ll eat anything made with sugar and butter… or in this case, most likely sugar and Crisco. I thought they were delicious).

Thank god for GPS, we finally figured out which turn took us to Mexico 200 (yes, it should have been obvious from the paper map, there were only 2 ways to go, right or left; one way led to Sayulita, the other to Punta Mita).

About 60 seconds into the drive on the curvy 2 lane road, we caught up with an old convertible Chrysler Le Baron sporting a blue neon light illuminating it’s license plate so brightly that the interior of our truck turned blue. Chrysler Le Baron was driving about 35 km/hr (speed limit… 60km/hr). Every time the lights of an oncoming car appeared in the distance, Le Baron would start tapping the brakes, but continue moving forward, now at 15 km/hr until the oncoming car had passed.

After 50 minutes, we realized we had finally reached Sayulita by the jolt of the first “Mexican Speed Bump”, as Adam at Gecko referred to them. Our manual, no shocks truck bounced me right out of my cookie induced coma because, as Adam warned, Mexican speed bumps have no signs, no gradual slope up the front, nor down the back. Suddenly I understood why Le Baron was driving no more than 35 km/hr; hitting one of those babies at 60km/hr can jar lose all the cookies one has recently consumed.

Sayulita is a small “used-to-be-fishing-village-growing-into-mini-Puerta-Vallarta” town of dirt roads with 4 “paved” ones at the center (“paved” roads consist of cement and rock that form a sort of cobblestone). But we were still on the outskirts and quickly discovered our manual map did not have instructions for what to do once we arrived near Sayulita (beside drink beer and eat fish tacos). My married friends started their marital exercises in arguing about the map again.

-Turn here!

-Here?! You want me to turn down this dirt road!? It won’t go anywhere!

-Yes it will, I remember it from last year.

-No it won’t!

-Just do it!!

We bumped our way down the narrow streets to discover, yes, it was the correct street from last year, but this year it was blocked by broken slabs of cement preventing us from accessing the entrance to the street we needed.

-We went the wrong way.


-Well it’s not my fault! I didn’t put the cement there! Turn around and then go left at the main street.

-But the ocean is that way!

-No, it’s that way!

-No! it’s not!

-Just do it!

So we did. A few more missed turns and we finally arrived at the plaza from which we could easily locate our rented condo and finally start eating fish tacos and drinking beer….

So, what is the Mexican driving lesson?

If you want any cookies, don’t leave them in the backseat with your pastry freak friend.

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