Driving through Mexico is a somewhat different experience than driving through the
United States, though not a completely alien endeavor.  The first thing we learned
was that on a lot of these highways – the ones that are not the big , improved
autopistas that are something like our Interstates – there’s plenty of room to pass
slower traffic, as they’re set up something like a three-lane road.  If you see a faster
car is moving up behind you, you just move over to the right  and they can zip on
by.  On that first leg of highway, once we managed to find our way out of
Matamoros, was actually in very good repair, unlike some of the back Texas
roadways that had brought us that far.  

Our first stop was a Pemex station, as we had two little girls desperate for
un baño.  
These gas stations typically have a convenience store of some kind associated with
them, and I herded the girls inside while Dave escorted Rommel around to find his
baño.   I said to the clerk, “¿El baño?”  She started talking a mile a minute,
and in response to the confused look on my face managed to gesture to me that the
bathrooms in the store were closed or broken or something and that we could go
over to another building.  Turns out that much of the time the bathrooms are
connected to the gas station itself, rather than inside the convenience stores.  So we
found our way to another building that looked something like a garage and located
the door for
damas.  Another peculiarity alien to us for the most part:  there was a
man outside the restrooms collecting admission of two pesos per person and handing
out toilet paper.  At this point, we had not exchanged any money, so I had no pesos.  
The fellow was satisfied with a quarter, which amounts to about twenty-five pesos  
(a few moments later, Dave apparently was able to get into the men’s room free).

City driving in Mexico is a whole other ball game.  We had a taste of that coming
across the border in Matamoros, but since have struggled our way through Ciudad
Victoria, Tampico, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Salamanca and Morelia.  Other than
the state of semi-organized chaos, as people pretty much do their own thing, the
most maddening thing was the scarcity of directional signs or, when the signs were
there they were unclear – and this issue had nothing to do with language barriers!  It
might have helped to have a better map, which we eventually got but only after we
had settled in our new home.  

And then there’s the well-known phenomenon of the ever-present speed bumps.  
These can be a bit of a pain, as can be imagined, but I have come to appreciate them
in certain instances.  Rather than having stoplights all over the place – in fact, I’m
not aware of a single stoplight here in Patzcuaro – the speed bumps slow down
traffic, giving you opportunity to pull out into a busy intersection as the oncoming
cars creep over the barrier.  

As for the landscape in this beautiful country, I have to admit I didn’t know what to
expect.  In short, it went like this:  flat, scrubby fields turned to rolling green hills,
approaching the edge of the Sierra Madre Oriental; the Gulf of Mexico was
distinguished by dozens and dozens of thatched sun shelters; the first half of the
road west to San Luis Potosi wound up and down lush mountains, a strange
combination of familiar and tropical vegetation; high desert valleys led again to
mountains, dotted with lakes.  All along the way, we saw church towers, cows,
roadside memorials, cows, ancient adobe buildings, clusters of dwellings hugging
sides of mountains, cows, walled haciendas, some horses, a few ostriches and more
cows.  Oh, and burros.  Rather than using those big lawn mowers to control the
vegetation beside the roads, people put their livestock out there, sometimes tethered
and sometimes not.  Oh, and speaking of lawnmowers and roadside landscaping:  
we’re so accustomed in the U.S. to see Mexicans mowing and blowing the lawns of
our country ... On a median in Tampico, I saw a large crew of men cutting the grass
with machetes.  Can you imagine?

So after our miles and miles and various hotels – all of which were more than we
had wanted to pay, thanks to both having a dog and being concerned about security
and/or clearance for our overloaded vehicle – we arrived at our destination, tired and
perhaps a little disoriented and ready to settle in for the long haul.

#  #  #
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Patzcuaro 992 km
Typical roadside in central
Pen's Essays - 6
Lush vegetation in the Sierra
Madres Orientale.
Mountains, mountains and
more mountains.