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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Thoughts on Mexico


From the time I mentioned traveling to Mexico years ago, I've never heard one good comment, Everyone, especially those who've never been, have warned me over and over not to go. Surely I'll be robbed, decapitated, kidnapped or worse. There's a bandit behind every bush!

It would have been nice to have heard an encouraging word, but they only came from other motorcycle travelers who'd actually spent time there.

My first venture in was in 2012 when I went with four other riders to a BMW Motorrad Rally in Uruapan, Michoacan. I was afraid initially, as much about getting sick as anything else. It turned out to be a hurried but absolutely rich life experience and I fell in love with Mexico and its people. Successive shorter trips came until February of 2017 when I spent three months exploring much of Mexico with my partner Kim. It was a great time and experience. About the only dangerous thing that we worried about was getting our toes stepped on in fiestas.

Unless you are hanging out in known bad areas, flashing gringo cash and toys, traveling at night or hanging in bars and drug related areas, you're likely to have a great time. I think travelers and vagabonds aren't worth a nickel to major cartels, and the only thing you may attract are the same types that haunt any tourist area in the world - pickpockets and petty thieves.

Experiencing any place on a motorcycle is great in my opinion, and the people of Mexico have welcomed me with warmth, smiles and curiosity across the board. The only place that I felt unwelcome was in the large city of Uruapan with the indigenous people. They were cold and hard, but not as a whole.

Driving or riding through, you'll encounter thousands of "topes", concrete or blacktop speed bumps, at any area they feel needs to have speed controlled. However they can and do appear anywhere, on any road and unexpectedly. They are a great, low tech way to control speeds, but they are exhausting and irritating!

There are basically two types of roads in Mexico, the toll roads known as "cuotas" and the other toll-free roads known as "libre". The toll roads are similar to the ones in the US, fast, smooth and generally in excellent condition. If you need to make time they are the way to do it. There is a lot of truck traffic on them so generally the right lane can have potholes, and the left lane is similar to the autobahn. Despite speed limits, the left lane is for very fast driving and you are expected to stay to the right. Be careful when you do move left as there can be cars traveling 150 mph easily at times.

Generally the drivers in Mexico are courteous and aware. Usually they will move to the right to allow passing, generally putting on their left blinker to signal that it's clear to pass. By the same token you never know if it's a signal to pass or if they are signaling a left turn so be aware.

Also, passing cars from the oncoming lane will come into your lane and it's normal for you to move over to allow them to pass. Sounds odd but you'll get used to it.

If you are on a motorcycle, you are expected to lane-split and move to the front of a line or at a stop light. This is normal for Mexico and drivers are used to it. If you can fit through, then go ahead whether between cars, the oncoming lane or shoulder. I've also discovered that on a larger bike, they seem to honor you. Possibly it's a bit due to the macho thing, or who knows what, but you'll be treated with a bit more respect with cars making room for you on a large bike as opposed to the ubiquitous Italika's and small local bikes that are everywhere.

Gasoline is plentiful with all stations being owned by Pemex. They are attended and small tips are appropriate to the person filling your tank. It's recommended, at least on a motorcycle, to use the Red Premium gasoline. The routine is to pull in, say "Roja" for red and then "lleno" for full. Using a credit card at one is difficult and in most cases they are cash only, so carry plenty of pesos for a fill up.

In general, driving in Mexico is really more about common sense than rules, and when you understand that, what seems like chaos will suddenly make sense. If three cars will fit in two lanes, why not? If there's a route through the cars in a traffic jam, why sit for hours in the sun on a motorcycle? I find it a lot of fun and bit refreshing. Funny thing is, I've been riding in Mexico for many months and have seen very, very few accidents compared the the U.S. It's amazing to me. Spent three months in Mexico from big cities to small villages, and saw three accidents, all minor. The first day across the border back into Texas, I counted seven wrecks from Laredo to Austin in the four hours I was on the road.

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