Driving Lessons in Mexico
Written by Christine Offutt
Like any slightly traveled American, I’ve driven across the Mexican border and cruised along the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific coast in California. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized my Mexican driving skills were less than adequate.
My friends and I rented a truck on the outskirts of Puerta Vallarta on a day trip for surfing – something we had always wanted to do but never had the time before now. We were given a complete package; surf and boogie boards, straps to fasten them to the truck, and rules of the road in Mexico. The written instructions for driving were quite surprising. I learned 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. The correct manner in which to make a left turn is NOT to use a blinker. It stated we should 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 got in the truck and discovered that everything was “manual,” from the windows and the door locks to the map. We had no idea how to get to our destination of Sayulita.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, Adam at Gecko swiftly produced a photocopied, hand drawn map of the route. We took off and five minutes later we were lost. We couldn’t figure out how to read a friggin’ paper map, so we all pulled out our phones and enabled mega roaming charges in order to get from where we had purchased water, towels, and a beach umbrella (in case none of that was available in Sayulita) to highway Mexico 200.
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.
Thank god for GPS. We finally figured out how to get to Mexico 200. Sixty seconds into the drive, we encountered an old convertible Chrysler Le Baron sporting a license plate brightly illuminated with blue neon light. It was so bright that it lit up the interior of our truck with a blue glow. Chrysler Le Baron was driving about 35 km/hr (speed limit, 60km/hr). Every time the lights of an oncoming car appeared, Le Baron would tap the brakes, but continue moving forward, slower and slower -until the oncoming car had passed.
We realized we had reached Sayulita by the jolt of the first “Mexican Speed Bump,” as Adam at Gecko referred to them. Our stick shift, no shocks truck, bounced me right out of my cookie induced coma. There were no warning signs, no gradual slope up the front, nor down the back. Suddenly, I understood why Le Baron was driving 35 km/hr; hitting one of those babies at 60km/hr can jar loose 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 four “paved” streets at the center. But we were still on the outskirts and discovered our paper map did not have instructions for what to do once we arrived near Sayulita (beside drink beer and eat fish tacos). Once again my married friends started their marital exercises in arguing about the map.
-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.
-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!
A few more missed turns and we arrived at the plaza from which we easily located our rented condo where we enjoyed fish tacos and cold Mexican beer.
So, what is the Mexican driving lesson? If you want cookies, don’t leave them in the backseat with your pastry freak friend.
Photo credits: explorandobaja.com and globeguide.com.
Christine Offutt is a 50 year old writer and artist living in Los Angeles. She spent 20 years working in the television industry and recently did a career change into the tech industry. When Chris isn't writing, she enjoys the California weather hiking, yoga or strolling around the block with a very slow Pekingese named Silly Billy.