Tag Archives: Driving hazards in Mexico

License Address Change

Since CFE made that momentous change from #1A to #1, and the most recent bill had the number without the letter, my newly renewed motorcycle driver’s license had to be changed to match. 

So we went back to the Oficina Reginal de Movilidad de Moroleon and talked to the only guy working that morning. He asked for a copy of the new CFE receipt and that was it. We went around the block for the copy and came back. By that time, the sole employee was nearly overrun with people and we had a bit of a wait.

Finally, he called me over and gave me the paper to go and pay for the new license. We headed to Farmacias Guadalajara and paid $196 pesos for a change of address transaction. Then we waited some more.

Eventually, it was my turn. Reinforcements had arrived and a lady was manning the license issuing computer. When I approached the desk, she wanted to see my IFE. I said I didn’t have an IFE. She said she wanted my migratory documentation then. OK. I pulled out my permanent residency card. She said she needed a copy of it. 

I tried twice to explain that I was here for a license address change, but she wouldn’t even let me finish my sentences. Remembering that I had my folder with all my medical papers with me, I started going through those, certain I had a copy of my permanent residency card in there. A few seconds later I was waving the copy around in triumphant. 

Apparently the lady behind the desk didn’t share in my triumph and all that paper shuffling offended her. She said that there was no reason for me to be angry with her, scolding me as if I were a misbehaving child. I looked at my husband in confusion as she continued on her tirade about how I needed to be in the country legally and blah blah. My husband said that I wasn’t irritated. I repeated that I wasn’t irritated only I didn’t understand why I needed to show this documentation when I was just getting the address changed. I renewed my license less than a month ago.

So she looked at my application. She called the other guy over. He patted her shoulder and said he forgot to tell her it was a change of address request. Then, she asked me if I was changing the address from #1A to #1. I said yes. She asked again, like she couldn’t believe it. Yes, that was the address change. I didn’t elaborate. I didn’t want to rile her up anymore.

After doing some typing and fiddling on the computer, she turned to my husband and asked if he was with me. He was. She gave him my previous license and told him to go and make a copy of it so she could put it in the file. So he did. I waited.

When he came back, she didn’t seem inclined to take the paper from my hand. So the other guy came from the other end of the office, took the copy and placed it with my pile of documents at her desk. Eventually, she came to the counter with my new license which I took, thanked her, and left. Whew!

Next stop, back to the Oficina Recaudadora for another attempt at registering my moto.

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Just another weekend adventure

It's a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

It’s a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

Saturday started out rainy, which never bodes well. The amount of rain that falls is proportionately related to the number of classes I have.(See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes) Sure enough, I had only half my classes show. Well, I put my time to good use on other projects for the school until the rain let up and my son and I raced home on the moto before the next storm hit.

My husband arrived shortly thereafter for lunch. As it was clouding up again, he thought it best to take one of the vehicles back for his afternoon shift at the viniteria (liquor store) instead of his moto. Butch, the truck, had a slow leak in the back tire. He loaded the tire into Myrtle (See Placando Myrtle) to have it repaired in town before his shift. Then Myrtle, the VW bug, wouldn’t start. So he and I pushed her out of the garage, only to discover the back tire was flat. There was nothing to be done but put some air into the tire with the bicycle pump. That finished, Myrtle still wouldn’t start. We gave her a running push down the hill and nothing. My husband opted to take the battery out of Butch and connect it up, hoping that Myrtle’s battery would charge with the drive. We think maybe there’s a loose wire someplace but didn’t have time to run a full diagnostic during lunch break.

Joey posing for the camera!

Joey posing for the camera!

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, except for an incident with Joey. (See Joey) Joey, as the biggest male in our animal kingdom, fully believes he is the head mucky-muck around here. Joey’s dad lives across the way in my brother-in-law’s B partially finished house but is seldom out and about. Joey’s dad is a full-fledged, ornery stallion. His bad-tempered self happened to be tied out near our house for an afternoon grazing session. Not thinking much about it, my son took out Shadow and Joey for their dinner grazing. B hollered over and told my son to take them back in until he got his horse back in his stall. Shadow obediently trotted back inside. Joey didn’t. He sniffed the air, snorted and was off, rearing and neighing. Of course, Joey’s dad didn’t take kindly to the upstart challenger. There was a lot of horse screaming, bucking and running about for the next 10 minutes or so. Joey’s dad was tied, so Joey felt brave enough to get right up next to him and throw some shadow kicks. My son and B had the lasso out and were trying to catch Joey before Joey’s dad broke his rope and caused some real damage. Throughout it all, Shadow was carrying on in the stall, eyes rolling in her head. All of a sudden, Joey gave up the fight. He ran right through the neighbor’s corn field and back to his stall. Joey’s dad snorted and huffed, then went back to his dinner. Of course, we waited until the coast was clear before taking our two horses out again.

While my son was out with the goats and horses, I cooked dinner. I wasn’t expecting my husband until about 11 pm but I didn’t want to be cooking at that hour, so I made his favorite cacapapa (fried potatoes, garlic, onion, and tomato) so I could just heat it when he got home. Well, 11 pm came and went. Midnight came and went. By 12:30 am I was starting to get worried. I tried calling his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. I dozed a bit, woke up to find that he still wasn’t home, and called his phone again. The next morning, he still wasn’t home. I called his phone at least 30 times during the course of the day.

We checked with my father-in-law, who went to town on his bicycle to see if he could find out anything. We drove around between torrential rain showers, checking his regular route and hang out places and found no trace of him or Myrtle. By mid-afternoon, we were pretty sure he was dead in a ditch somewhere. I started worrying about how to get the truck out of the garage for the wake since the back tire was in the back seat of Myrtle. (See Mass and burial Mexican style) My son and I talked about which animals to sell to cover the funeral expenses. Joey, after his little stunt, was at the top of the list. Then I started to worry that nobody would inform us of his death. None of his documentation in his wallet has La Yacata since the community doesn’t have any street names. Neither is Myrtle registered at our home address, for the same reason. (See Getting Legal–License to Drive)

My father-in-law came by to say that none of my husband’s buddies had seen him since yesterday. He also told us that my husband’s nephew L, who had only been out of jail for a few weeks (See More thoughts on Safety and Security) had been in a serious moto accident on Saturday and was in the hospital. The passenger was in a coma. Due to the nature of the laws here in Mexico, should the passenger die, L will be charged with homicide (See And Justice for all?) Since he had been to the hospital, he was able to confirm that my husband had not been taken there. He suggested we contact the police. I told him that if he had been arrested, surely he would have been allowed to call to let us know where he was. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one phone call rule here in Mexico, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I sent messages to my sisters-in-law T and P. T hadn’t seen him. P didn’t answer. A little while later, T called to say that a muchacho (young man) had just been to see her to tell her that my husband was in the jail in Uriangato, the neighboring town. I didn’t even know Uriangato had a jail. T didn’t know where the jail was, nor had transportation to go and get him out. B, who is currently living with his sister T, knew where the jail was and had transportation but wasn’t interested in doing anything about getting his brother out of jail. My son and I went up the hill when the rain let up to see what my father-in-law had to say. He’s always full of good advice. He didn’t know where the jail was either, but his son C, who was visiting, did. I couldn’t follow his directions, but understood it was just minutes from where P had moved to recently. So I called P. From the noise in the background, it seemed like she was at the hospital. She sent her brother M and her sister L on the moto to check the jail and called me back. Yes, my husband was there (which I already knew) and that the fine was 200 pesos, which nobody was willing to pay. In any case, he could only be held 24 hours and as he had already been there more than half, he’d be released soon. I had the money to get him out, but I still had no idea where the jail was and no one was willing to take me.

About an hour later, my husband himself called me. He said that he had just been released from jail and was walking home. I told him to take a taxi home. He said he didn’t have any money. I told him that I would pay the taxi when it arrived. So 30 minutes later, he was home. The taxi ride was $70 pesos.

Here’s what happened. My husband got off work at about 11 pm. Myrtle’s tire was low again, so he started towards the gas station a few blocks away to put air in it. The car stopped. The battery was dead again. It wouldn’t start, so he tried pushing it. As he was doing that, a police car came up and asked what he was doing. They checked the car out, saw the truck battery in the back seat, arrested him and had the car towed to the police station. Apparently, someone had reported a truck battery stolen or so they said. Sounds like the time my husband was arrested when getting a load of water because someone reported a stereo stolen in Ojo de Aqua en Media (See Christmas in Mexico–La Aguinaldo)

While waiting for the judge to hear his case, he was put in the holding cell with 4 other hardened criminals. Three of the four were from Cuitzeo and had been arrested for changing their clothes. Yep, you read that right. Most of the manual labor workforce and domestic servants in Moroleon are from Cuitzeo, a small town just across the Michoacan border. They have the curious custom of changing clothes. They take the bus to Moroleon, walk to their job sites from the bus terminal, change their regular clothes to work clothes, work their shift and at the conclusion of their shift, change back into their regular clothes to take the bus back to Cuitzeo. That’s what these three men had been doing. It seems the walls of their job site weren’t finished yet, so their changing could be seen from the street. They were seen, arrested, and charged them with indecent exposure.

The fourth delinquent was the young man who runs the papeleria (stationary store). He had been arrested because his music was too loud. You know those paper store types, always causing a ruckus. Once he paid bail, he stopped by T’s house to let her know where my husband was.

Meanwhile, one of the three from Cuitzeo paid my husband’s bail of $341 pesos, a bit more than the 200 quoted to M and L. He told my husband to pay it forward. When he went for the return of his personal items, the $400 pesos formerly in my husband’s wallet was nowhere to be found. So the judge gave him 10 pesos to take the bus back to Moroleon. Unfortunately, by now, it was late Sunday afternoon and the buses weren’t running anymore. Thus the $70 pesos taxi ride.

On Monday morning, my husband took the car title and my identification, because Myrtle is registered in my name, back to the police station to get the car. In order to regain possession of the car, he had to pay the police grua (towtruck). That bill was $850 pesos. He borrowed a battery from el plomero neighbor and brought Myrtle home. Since the money was gone, there is the very real concern about his debit card. On Tuesday, he went to the bank to see what could be done since his card number has been stolen once already. That time we did not have to pay for the resulting mystery shopping spree because we had informed the bank and changed the card prior to the date the charges were made. So far, no strange charges have been credited to our account.

I have to say that I am mighty impressed with the local police force. They certainly know how to clean the riff-raff off the street and keep its citizens safe. I mean, just last month alone….the mother of three of my students was gunned down on her way to the gym at 9 am….oh wait, no one was arrested. And just after that, the father of two other students was stabbed and his taxi stolen…but no, no one was arrested in that case either. And before that, the father of another student was kidnapped, his dismembered body returned to his family even after the ransom was paid…yet again, no one was arrested. However, committing the heinous crime of having two batteries in your vehicle or changing out of your work clothes or playing your music just a bit too loud, well, the police all over that. Thank God!

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Driving Hazards–Mordidas

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

A bribe is often called la mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

So for the past 2 months, the GTO State Police have set themselves up at the crossroads that is the main entryway, not only to La Yacata, but also La Ordeña, Las Peñas, Caricheo, and Pamaceo. These communities are very small, very poor and very targeted by the police for mordidas (bribes). The police’s constant presence prompted me to get my motorcycle driver’s license, however it isn’t an option for everyone. Many campesinos (country folk) are poor readers or illiterate so don’t even attempt to take the computerized exam. Others might not have an electric or water receipt to prove their residence because they lack these services in their homes. Furthermore, many of the IFE (voter’s registration cards) that I have seen from these little communities have nothing more than domicilio conocido (known address) listed since their home has no street name or number. So what’s a body to do?

So on to the story….

Sunday, my husband went to town for huaraches (large cheese and meat filled tortillas) as a special treat. He took my motorcycle rather than his own because I had just filled my tank and he was low on gas. Right after he left, my son and I went for a walk towards the crossroads so I could take a picture of some yellow wildflowers by the side of the road that I had spotted earlier. Just as we came out of La Yacata, my husband’s brother J passed us on his bike. He spent the day in La Yacata reportedly preparing an area to plant maize (corn) but mostly drinking.

We snapped the picture and headed back to La Yacata to wait for my husband. He was gone an unconsciously long time. We tried to call him, but he had left his phone at the house. My son got impatient and decided to head to the store on his bike for some munchies.

My husband arrived 15 minutes later with the huaraches, having been gone nearly 2 hours. Here’s what happened.

At the crossroads, the police stopped my husband on the moto and asked for his license, which he just renewed (See Getting Legal—Motorcycle license), and the tarjeta de circular (vehicle permit card) which he had taken with him, usually it’s in my purse. My moto has placas (license plate) and all the miscellaneous and sundry impuestos (taxes) paid. But that didn’t satisfy the police. They said that the card wasn’t valid, but it was. They said that the moto was stolen, which is wasn’t. They even lifted the plastic to see the VIN and check it against the card. Even though it was all good, they said that they would have to call it in. My husband wasn’t going to pay the mordida (bribe) they were fishing for, so he told them to go ahead and he’d wait. The officer got up in his face and wanted to know if my husband had a problem with him. He didn’t, but intimidation is part of this whole macho-mordida thing.

While they had him wait, he said that they stopped a car heading to Las Peñas. The car didn’t have any placas (license plates) but everything else was in order. The police told the driver that the new law is that you have 9 days to get placas (license plates) from the date of purchase or the vehicle will be impounded. Hmm, as we just purchased a new vehicle, this is good to know. (See Getting Legal—License plates) Many vehicles in the area are chocolates, which is the name for a car brought into Mexico from the United States that has overstayed its permit and not been legalized. (See Getting Legal—Legalizing a vehicle). This isn’t true in our case however.

By this time, my husband’s brother J rode past the policía on his bike. There is no law requiring license plates, nor license, nor helmet for a bike, although I believe there is a law that says you have to register your bike to prove it wasn’t stolen, but nobody does that. So J just assumed the police wouldn’t stop him. However, my detained and “uncooperative” husband waved to him as he passed. The officer turned to my husband and said that he knew that was his brother, then told my husband he was free to go.

The officers jumped into their official police vehicle and drove towards town. Since that was the direction my husband was going anyway, he followed. He arrived just in time to see them take J into custody. His crime? A suspicious backpack. Inside were 3 empty caguamas (liter size beer bottles) and 1 full one. He also carried an ax and hoe—deadly but not concealed weapons. My husband followed them to the jail and signed for custody of J, promising to deliver him safely to his house, which he did. He took him and his suspicious backpack and deadly weapons all the way to Uriangato and left him at the door with his heavily pregnant wife. Then he headed back to town and picked up the huaraches and headed home.

While my husband was retelling this story to me, my son arrived home from the store. He said he had just seen J by the store on the back of a gray moto with some heavy-set man he didn’t recognize. It seems that having 3 empty caguama bottles is a crime against nature and, therefore, he must have left his house minutes after my husband had dropped him off in search of the not-so-elusive cold one. So much for seeing him safely home.

Anyway, police presence also curtailed our driving practice that afternoon. Technically, the State Police only have jurisdiction on the main road. The road that goes to La Yacata and all the other little communities I mentioned is overseen by the transito muncipal (local traffic police) but they hardly ever come out to check on anything. We wanted to take Myrtle, our new VW bug, out for a spin on the local road, but since we didn’t have placas (license plates) yet and the State police were following bicycle riders to town, we thought better of it. So no practicing until the plates are on.

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Driving Hazards–Motos

moto man
I love my moto. In this land where having a car is a symbol of success, I thumb my nose at status and have voluntarily chosen this form of transportation. Most roads were designed for burros anyway and it takes some doing to cross town with even a small car, much less a truck like Butch. Using my moto makes every trip to town an adventure as I zoop around slow moving vehicles, piles of donkey dung and crater-sized potholes, outrun furious Chihuahuas nipping at my heels and fly over topes (speed bumps) just like a racing video game.

Parking is a breeze and, for the most part, I can cut around heavy traffic, go up one-way streets the wrong way, pass turning vehicles and park practically on the sidewalk. And I can haul more than you would think possible since my moto has a glove box and the seat opens for storage plus there is a front floor board to set plants or grocery bags or a small child on.

moto cart

My husband added to his moto cargo capacity with a nifty little cart and we only have to use Butch the truck for large hauls.

I must admit it is sort of cold some mornings with the wind rippling through your hair, but we dig out our scarves and mittens and bravely press on. It is also less than enjoyable to be a moto driver during the rainy season when buckets of ice-cold droplets pelt your face, leaving you drenched to your chonies (underwear). I have taken the precaution of keeping my bright yellow rain poncho in my moto at all times. I know I must look like a giant yellow canary, but it keeps most of the wet off.

Driving a moto isn’t as easy as you might think. Although my moto is not one where I need to change gears like my husband’s, I still have to balance a bit. As I mentioned, there are all sorts of road hazards to maneuver around: Pot holes, open or missing manhole covers, topes (speed bumps), construction material left in the road, uneven pavement, pedestrians, animals, babies running barefoot, double or triple parked cars, cars swerving around buses in the opposite direction, burros tied along the side of the road or roaming loose, etc.

Other moto drivers are often the most dangerous road hazard. They seem to have no concern in following the general traffic rules and weave in and out of traffic, up one-way streets the wrong way, up on sidewalks, around turning vehicles, directly in front of moving cars and more. They also can be carrying up to 5 persons each moto, with or without helmets or other safety devices. Sometimes without lights. Men, women and children ride motos, here not just Hell’s Angels. Newborns are wrapped in a rebozo and carried by the helmeted mother while the 2 & 3-year-olds stand on the floorboard of the moped and the bigger child rides backwards on the back. Imagine trying to balance that load of wiggle worms! Beware of the motos I say!

Helmet use is mandatory in some areas, optional in others. But in most cases, even when helmet use is mandatory, it seems to be just fine if the rider is wearing a plastic toy fireman’s helmet with a string under the chin to keep in on. We err on the side of safety in our household and require at least a bike helmet or stronger for both riders and drivers. Yet even wearing a big heavy moon landing helmet, my mother-in-law did not escape severe head trauma when mowed down my a police vehicle cruising at more than 200 mph. (See On life and liberty).

I also take the precaution of not taking my moto on roads where there will be fast and furious traffic patterns. In truth, it scares me to hear an 18 wheeler barreling behind me and not knowing if hugging the line will give it enough room to pass. For superhighway trips, we use the bus or take Butch, the truck. But my moto is the bomb to get to and from town and in the event of a flat, not so heavy that it can’t be pushed home for repairs.

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