Tag Archives: Driving hazards in Mexico

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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Getting Legal–Legalizing a Vehicle

Our red truck--that we no longer own.

Our red truck–that we no longer own.

It is possible to legalize a vehicle at the border, however, our truck was a model year 2000. You could only Mexicanize (legalize) vehicles with model years before 1997 at that time. So basically, our truck was too new to become Mexican at the time we entered México.

But for those bound and determined to legalize their vehicle–
One method of renewing the permission is to drive back across the border into the United States, have the permission sticker removed, then drive back into Mexico and obtain a new permission sticker.  As we lived several days drive from the border, this wasn’t a feasible option for us, although I have heard of persons making the trek every six months for this purpose.

There is another option, what seemed a loophole in the system to us, was the fact that as long as I was in the country legally, the truck was legal. It seemed what we needed at the time.  But then seems are always too good to be true here in México.

So this second process entailed taking the original and copy of the truck title, the original and copy of the importation permission paper given at the border, and the original and copy of the page with my picture of my FM-3 to the Aduana (customs office). The nearest Aduana to us was in Querétaro (about a 2 1/2 hour drive). It’s on the same street as the Kellog’s factory and the ejercito militar (military), so when looking for directions from native Queretarians, ask for the road to one of those as no one seems to know where the Aduana is unless you are standing in front of it.

The Aduana was open from Monday-Friday from 9 am until 2 pm. When I arrived, I signed a big book stating my purpose and left my id (passport) as a guarantee at the gate. We couldn’t drive into the Aduana as it was a restricted area (heavily guarded by a man nearing retirement age and a large rope to prevent cars from passing). My son wasn’t allowed onto the compound, so my husband, my son and the truck had to wait across the street while I tackled this alone. I walked about 1/2 mile to the very end of the compound. The Aduana is in a large gray building. I walked around to the front door and signed in another book to pass into the office.

The customs agent had me fill out a letter saying to the effect that I owned a vehicle (blah, blah make and model) and was in México legally (had my FM-3) and, therefore, was entitled to own the vehicle in México until my FM-3 expired next year. I filled out the form in triplicate and signed it. Then we walked to the front of the building to have the documents stamped with the date. And that was it. Really!

However, the fly in the soup was that although the vehicle may be in the country legally I did not have permission to drive it in the country, as we learned several mordida (bribe) stops later. For that, the vehicle must be legalized and issued a tarjeta de circular (permission to circulate in the country). For the make and model of our vehicle, it would have cost more than the vehicle was worth which and for us was not worth the effort. We ended up selling the truck and bought a made-in-México vehicle, known fondly as Butch, and relieved ourselves of that particular headache.

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