Monday, 7 January 2013

Vacaciones en México: Parte 4

Weather report for today: no rain.  A lazy day near the beach when thoughts turned to one of the endearing peculiarities of the area.

It's not long before anyone driving in the Yucatan (and I assume the same applies to other regions of Mexico) comes across the local version of the sleeping policeman/speed bump - the tope.  In the UK these are usually found where traffic restriction makes sense, such as near a school or for preventing high-speed dashes down quiet suburban avenues.  In the Yucatan topes are everywhere and seem to be placed without any discernible logic. You'll just as commonly find them strung across a dual-carriaged highway as in a town or on a dusty potholed track at the back of beyond. And there seems to be no pattern in their number or frequency. You might just come across one or five or more in quick succession. They fascinate me and, I'll confess, it's a fascination that could develop into an obsession.

Rope tope
There is no standard tope and they come in various guises. They range from the relatively benign (perhaps just a piece of rope across the road) to the positively malign (a 9-12 inch high reinforced concrete bar blocking the way).  And all variants in between.  The favourite seems to be a line of 6 inch high solid metal hemispheres, set at 2 inch spacings. in some cases, but not all, the vertical sides of the concrete bars may be softened with a little cement filling to form a sort of ramp.  A rathe empty guesture as it makes no difference to the impact.

The rope type topes, not in the majority by any means, can be taken at speed and are singularly ineffectual as traffic regulators. But the others?  To take them at any speed risks damage to tyres, suspension and teeth.  They really do work.  In fact, some of them can only be negotiated safely from a standing start.

Topes may or may not be signposted and our travels suggest that most of them aren't.  To come across a monster tope unawares is a body jolting experience for both vehicle and occupants.  Vigilance is mandatory when driving and the very best way I've found of spotting a tope is to keep a keen eye on the traffic in front.  If it bounces in the air rather alarmingly, that's a good sign that there's a tope lurking.  Of course, if there's no other traffic around or you are driving at night, you are on your own!  I have to say that the topes bring an added level of interest to driving over here.

Why are they there?  Perhaps a conspiracy between the government and the car repair business?  Perhaps a free form of street entertainment, watching drivers being thrown from their seats?  But the charitable explanation is that really are there to limit the speed of traffic and it has to be said that traffic speeds over here are reasonable.  Banish any images of a droopy moustached Pedro in a sombrero hurtling along at 100 mph in an open pick-up truck laden with wife, children and chickens. It is a safe place  to drive and the standards of driving are high, surprisingly so as the driving test is somewhat rudimentary (actually effectively non-existent according to a guide I talked to).

For the locals, topes are useful in other ways.  It is quite common to see street vendors clustered near the most vicious sub-species.  If a car has to come to a grinding halt, it provides an ideal opportunity to try and sell something.  If you are in the car, it's a good time to get a bite to eat or a drink or a souvenir or even a haircut or massage.  There are some very enterprising Mayans out there.  In the more rural areas, the tope-based vendor is commonplace but we've also been assailed by 'urchins', taking the opportunity of the car slowing down, to hang onto our wing mirrors and ask for money.  On one journey this happened so often that we had a competition amongst ourselves to see who could correctly estimate the speed at which the adhered urchin lost their grip and fell off as we accelerated away.  An impressive 75 mph was the best we recorded.  I must point out that we always checked in our rear view mirror to see that no bones were broken during their descent into the dust.

Given all of the potholes appearing in the lanes around us in Cornwall, I have a feeling that my topes negotiating skills might very well be called upon when we get back home.

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