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Dave and Jan's travels:
Driving in Mexico

30th October
In point of fact, driving in Mexico is nowhere near as frightening as in many Asian countries. There's a lot more space than you might expect, as the growing population is still not enough to densely fill this vast country (at least here in the north-west). Also, people are fairly calm drivers. Although rather faster and more aggresive than in the western U.S., most would not stand out in central London, for example, and most are too timid to make it as New York taxi drivers.

We've travelled on several toll roads which, although expensive, are usually reasonable roads, sometimes with two lanes, and are rarely crowded. However, it is necessary to stay vigilant. There are occasional potholes, and the hard shoulder is often 6 inches below the level of the road. Even more worrying, especially on a road where people are travelling at 70mph, you still meet cyclists coming the wrong way up your lane, roadworks with people filling in holes and no advance warning, and pedestrians running across the road! Another slight worry is the number of people who travel in the back of pick up trucks. Seems like a national sport.

One thing that had us a bit confused to begin with was the 'vibradores'. However, being vigilant (see above) we slowed right down where everyone else did. If even the lorry drivers are coming to a stop it seemed the right thing to do, and so it proved. 'Vibradores' are, in fact, speed bumps and are often at least 12 inches high so speeds of 5mph are required if you want your car to last more than a few days. They appear all over the place near towns but the most alarming thing is that often the warning sign comes 6 feet before the vibradore itself. In case anyone is wondering, our tyres (or tires for the US contingent) do squeal if you brake hard.

We have also been on a few winding hill roads. These are tough on clapped out lorries, especially those carrying huge tree trunks. This yields a fair bit of excitement. Sometimes you come round a bend to find a lorry coming toward you on your side of the road (their size and length means they have no choice) which leads to a heart stopping moment or two before everyone finds a way through. Other times you come up behind a lorry that tries to help you overtake them. This help consists of using their left indicator to say 'pass me'. This is exciting for 2 reasons. First, there's always the possibility that the indicator is actually saying "I'm about to turn left". Second, pulling out from behind a big lorry with no more guarantee that it's safe than the word of a well-meaning lorry driver could be considered somewhat risky!

And a note on petrol stations. The guide book told us that we had to be careful as attendants would try to overfill the tank and waste petrol, that we wouldn't be able to pay by credit card and that we wouldn't be able to find lead-free petrol. I am happy to report that we have only met very friendly and helpful petrol station attendants and although it costs you, paying by credit card is often possible. Seeing the expression on their face when you put in 30 gallons though is very entertaining. They come back to check at least 10 times to see if it is full!

And so to one little story. We picked up a hitch-hiker while travelling from Mazatlán to Durango. He was a local guy but unfortunately didn't seem able to talk at less than the speed of sound so communication was not good. He was a fruit picker (we think) and heading for Durango (we think). Well, he didn't seem to know Durango at all and we got into very heavy traffic caused by a carnival. (They were welcoming the Year 2000 with dancing and singing and a parade. When we asked people why so early, the reply was that they would be too busy doing other things at new year!). We kept on asking him if he wanted us to drop him off, but he seemed to demur. When we finally arrived at the hotel we were going to in the centre of town, he said 'This is no good for me. I need to go somewhere else'. I asked him to repeat this as I couldn't believe my ears! Luckily my spanish only extended too 'Sorry mate. This journey is finished' and he had to get out - none too happy I can tell you! Maybe in Mexico there is a custom to take hitch-hikers exactly to where they want to know? Or maybe not.....!