We often get mail from our readers expressing concerns and curiosity about driving in Mexico and what it’s like to own a car here. Doubts about safety are often first on their list.
Meet two road warriors
Originally from Arizona, Lynne and Bernie have lived in Chapala for three years. They began visiting the area when their business partners and friends moved here eight years ago and decided they liked it so much, they would make the move themselves. But they weren’t strangers to Mexico. They knew Puerto Penasco (otherwise known as Rocky Point, a popular vacation destination of U.S. visitors) years ago when it was just a stretch of beach and nothing more.
Crossing the Mexican border twice this year alone, they log thousands of miles on the roads of Mexico in their Toyota Highlander visiting well-known archeological sites as well as small villages to get the real flavor of Mexico.
Freedom is paramount
“No tours for us” Bernie says emphatically. They like the freedom, privacy and spontaneity that having their own vehicles allow them. Aside for one time when they had a flat driving through Mexico, they have never had vehicle trouble while on the road.
“Six men came out of nowhere in the mountains and helped us with our flat. I was pulling a small trailer at the time and my little car jack couldn’t lift up the car far enough for me to change the tire. After assessing the situation, the men went back into the woods, and returned with a railroad tie that had a slanted broken place on the end. Although my Spanish is limited, they instructed me to drive my car over that slanted edge and we used it as a fulcrum and got my tire changed. Incredible experience. Mexicans are very creative thinkers.”
Angels on the road
“The Green Angels are everywhere on the roads of Mexico. We have never had to utilize their services, but we see them all the time,” says Lynne.
Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism provides roadside and tourist help through a fleet of trucks known as the Green Angels which passes by a location on a major highway at least twice a day. They aid drivers in need, offering repair, tow truck service and medical assistance throughout their patrol area. These utility trucks carry spare gasoline, diesel fuel, and miscellaneous car parts. While service is free, you will need to pay for parts and a tip is always appreciated.
But isn’t having your own vehicle stressful? What about finding gas stations, reading road signs in Spanish and very importantly, how do you keep your ‘stuff ‘ safe overnight?
My inexperience with cars and using this style of travel didn’t faze Lynne and Bernie in the slightest.
“Gas stations are everywhere, and since the government owns them, prices are the same at each station. There’s no need to go scouting around for the best deal.” Bernie says matter-of-factly. “Years ago we memorized the universal shape of signs to know what they mean.”
“And we always travel with a Spanish-English dictionary. If we don’t know a word we look it up on the spot,” adds Lynne.
Advice from the masters
The Metcalfs seek out hotels that offer parking, and they always bring their valuables inside nightly. If they stop for a meal along the way, they choose a public place with lots of traffic in which to park, such as in front of a Cathedral or Plaza, they lock their vehicle doors, and cover their belongings to keep them out of sight.
They make it sound so easy, don’t they?
When I asked for advice to others who are considering bringing a car to Mexico, both the Metcalfs stressed not to purchase a new luxury car. “If you don’t bump, scratch and dent the car, someone else will,” Lynne maintains. “Sometimes there will be trees overhanging the roads, or a sign that is lopsided and while your eyes may be on the road, you car can take the beating.”
We discussed the current unfavorable view of Mexico in the news North of the Border. Right now, people seem very afraid to visit Mexico due to the prominence of reporting of the drug gangs. I asked if they could offer any other safety tips.
“So much of this is common sense, “ Bernie states. “You must know where you are, and what you are doing. You don’t put your fat wallet in your back pocket with money hanging out, you don’t open it up and flash cash.”
“No glitzy jewelry, no walking the street in the wee morning hours wearing skimpy clothing, half-crocked” says Lynne.
“You simply do not put yourself in a bad situation. Smart people don’t even get there! Take advantage of the obvious clues,” Bernie warns.
Princesses won’t survive
In ending our enlightening conversation, I asked each of them if they had any closing thoughts they would like to share.
“I have found it helpful to have a wash-and-wear attitude living in Mexico,” Lynne advises. “Princesses don’t belong here.”
“Another good thing about having your own vehicle in Mexico is that you can take your pet along on your travels. We’re looking forward to bringing our dog, Gypsy, with us soon,” Bernie stated with a wide smile.
Metcalf Road Tips
1. Keep your papers current and bring them with you when you travel.Although Lynne and Bernie have only been stopped once and asked for papers, they advise that you bring all travel documents, including those for your car with you. Have duplicates made and place them elsewhere in your luggage.
2. Use the Cuota Roads whenever possible. These roads have less traffic and are in better condition than the free roads. Smaller roads will tend to have speed bumps (called topes here) so continuously, that the joy of travel can be affected.
3. Don’t drive at night. The conditions of the roads are hard to see in the dark, but most importantly, you can come upon cows, donkeys, horses or other animals and won’t have the time to stop, thereby endangering your lives. This fact is something to take seriously.
4. Invest in a Guia Roji. This map guide of roads in Mexico is available on Amazon or in any large store here in Mexico. This will give you an idea of the way roads are laid out in this sizeable country.
5. Consider using the “Auto Hotels” in Mexico. These are hotels spaced along the highways and your time there can be purchased by the hour. The Metcalfs recommend these hotels for their affordable 150-200 Peso nightly price, the fact that they are very clean, and most importantly, they offer an inside garage where your souvenirs and personal belongings will be safe from theft.
Thanks Lynne and Bernie for taking your personal time to share your travel style and road wisdom with our Readers!
To read more of our interviews with successful retirees and captivating characters, click here