Tuesday, November 02, 2010

All Downhill From Here

The drive from Querétaro to Zihuatanejo is pretty spectacular, mostly for the range of scenery involved. It's like driving through Vermont, Utah and the Mekong Delta all on a single tank of gas. But then something happens to remind you, oh yeah, this is indeed Mexico.

One of our most frequent complaints involves Mexico's rather cavalier attitude towards personal safety, particularly when asphalt is involved (is there even a word in the Mexican language for "guard rail"?). So we're cruising along at our usual 80 mph (the closest thing there is to a speed limit is the occasional sign suggesting we "moderate your velocity") when, somewhere between Patzcuaro and Uruapan, we see a sign warning us of a DANGEROUS DOWNHILL ahead. Every few hundred meters, there's a new one. DANGEROUS DOWNHILL BEGINS IN 5 KM... CHECK YOUR BRAKES... DANGEROUS DOWNHILL BEGINS IN 4 KM... etc. At this point, the sweat is pouring down our faces, and we're thinking of jumping, Steve McQueen-style, out of the moving car. Imagine The Boy Who Never, Ever Cried Wolf suddenly running through town screaming "We're all gonna be eaten by wolves!!!!" If the Mexicans are this adamant that there's a hazard ahead, we assume the road will simply end suddenly, and the "dangerous downhill" is actually a 10,000-foot free fall.

DANGEROUS DOWNHILL BEGINS! says the next sign and...okay, it's not so bad! Kind of steep, but not precariously so. The thing is, it's really long - seven kilometers of unbroken descent. We know this because the signs now read DANGEROUS DOWNHILL CONTINUES FOR THE NEXT 7 KM, with the countdown broken up with more reminders to CHECK YOUR BRAKES and instructions for finding and utilizing the two runaway-truck ramps built into the mountainside. The downhill itself feels like no big deal, but the road is heavily trafficked by double-length trailers carrying hazardous materials, and we certainly do agree that we'd hate to be in the way of one of those things as it rockets out of control for four or five miles. In an admittedly condescending way, we're actually somewhat impressed: erring on the side of caution is an enormous improvement over the usual insanity that rules the roads in this country.

But now if this seems to you like the dumbest possible place to put a toll plaza... well, amigo, you just don't understand Mexico.

Yes, right in the middle of the DANGEROUS DOWNHILL!!!, traffic is forced to stop so they can collect 62 pesos from you. But, magnificently... if you look at the dotted red line in the middle of the road, that's the line you're supposed to follow if you need to crash-land into the runaway truck ramp. It leads you through that middle lane, where the yellow sign up above explains that this is reserved "Only For Vehicles Without Brakes." So you think it's crazy to put a toll booth on a DANGEROUS DOWNHILL? Friends, the Mexican government has already thought of that! If you're screeching down the hill in a double-length trailer full of hydrochloric acid, swerving out of control at 100 mph, with fire shooting out from the hunks of metal that used to be your brakes, there's a special lane just for you! You can send us the 62 pesos when you get out of the hospital.

Oh, and that white horizontal line right above the big white arrow in the middle of the picture? That's a speed bump. Because if you're going to send a trailer full of acid rocketing through a toll booth without brakes, you might as well get the fucker airborne, right?


Anonymous said...

Is that a man's arm holding a red flag which is protuding from the toll booth? Is he there to stop the runaway trucks in the NO Brakes lane?

Anonymous said...

Bravo Frank,
My laughing got increasingly out of control as if I was careening down the road with you guys.

victor said...

Wet myself!!

Dave said...

Would be a pretty wild ride. At least they could set up for electronic scanning as you flew past the toll.

If I read that right, it means you are ONLY to use that lane unless your brakes fail? Must (hopefully) be a pretty boring job in that lane.

Anonymous said...

one of the best posts in a long time. This has become my favorite blog on the planet! When my workday gets too stressful, I make my way to BurroHall for a quick trip to Mexico! Anyone who's driven in Mexico before can only love this post!!!

Keep up the good work, I can't make it without my BurroHall fix!!

JustaCanuck said...

I almost ran out of breath due to so much laughter.
The "via rapida a Santa Ana" which connects Puebla and Tlaxcala has speed bumps every hundred metres. So much for a "via rapida."
This post made my week.

Burro Hall said...

Awww...shucks, people.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with everyone else here. This was one of your funniest posts! The visual you created was priceless!


Ziggy Bombanuts said...

I love Mexico, it's charm is infectious. Rule #1, never assume anything. It is like going down the rabbit hole when you move here. Been telling myself for 2 years "It is a developing country".