Although it says this is a post from Allison, this is actually a joint effort between Dan and Allison. If you know us well you’ll “hear” Dan’s voice in this post.
When you move to a new place you immediately notice all the things that are new and different. And we have the added advantage of comparing these things both to the USA and to Panama. It’s fun to have that shared experience as a family. It’s a bit like an inside joke. But these new and different things soon become ordinary. I daresay they became familiar and ordinary much faster than things did in Panama. Maybe with each additional country we adjust faster? I dunno, but it’s kind of fun to feel like “I got this!” when you see them.
We’ve been taking pictures of some of these now-ordinary things to share with you. Here goes…
1. Speed bumps. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill neighborhood speed bump. We’re talking about in the middle of the highway, with barely any warning, large hills of cement that will literally KILL you if you hit it too hard. Imagine going 55 mph on a 3 lane highway and out of nowhere, having to slow down to about 1 mph, in order to scale this large mound of cement that is between you and death. There are essentially five kinds of speed bumps in the Cancun metro area. 1) The large ones with a sidewalk perched atop of the mound with the dual purpose of acting as a crosswalk and killing your car and it’s occupants if you’re going too fast. You literally have to come to a complete stop and slowly roll your front tires up the steep grade. Four wheel drive is recommended. 2) The large mound of cement that has NO crosswalk atop of it. Since there isn’t a crosswalk, you’re less apt to notice it. So it’s dual purpose is to support local funeral homes and auto mechanic shops for the survivors. 3) The smaller solid curb-like bumps that we’re used to seeing in parking lots in the US. You can hit these accidentally and it’ll scare you to death, but it’s probably not going to kill you or the car. 4) Extremely large hard yellow spheres that are spread across the road in some sort of random pattern. Again, hit these without warning and you might need to check your drawers, but you’ll survive. 5) They have patches of grooved cement with a very small ditch right before it and right after it. These you can hit at full speed and you’ll think to yourself, “did I just hit something I shouldn’t have?”. There is one speed bump here on the road to Costco that has the small parking lot kind of bump followed by the large mountain with the crosswalk on top of it. You would think they would separate them a bit. The small one warning you to stop for the bigger one. Right? Nope. They are literally about 3 feet from one another. Every time we go over this menagerie of bumps, I feel like I’m in a Jeep commercial.
They do try to warn you of these bumps, but not with any amount of conviction. The signs are usually RIGHT AT the bump. They are sometimes yellow, sometimes white and sometimes they are hidden by trees. There is no consistency to the signage, either. So really, if you value your life and the life of those you love, it’s best to just pay attention. Speed bumps are to Mexico as potholes are to Panama. It can take two people to drive on some roads. One to pay attention to the directions and one to look for speed bumps.
2. Parking lots here are like being a member of an exclusive club. Your membership card is the little ticket the machine gives you when you enter. If you lose your membership card, GOD HELP YOU!
First off, many of the parking lots are just plain silly to gate off. Yeah, having paid parking at the mall is understandable, to pay for all that underground construction. But a gated parking lot at Costco? Really? Anyway, we have way too much experience with these silly things, having been; 1.) stuck in parking lot jail; 2.) losing our ticket and; 3.) forgetting to get the ticket stamped with purchase. But we’ve got the system down now. You just get used to taking your ticket in to the store with you and getting it validated. (If validation is even an option… many lots you simply have to pay the 50 cents when leaving, with no chance of validation). DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT lose your ticket. Really. Heaven help the poor child that misplaces their parking lot ticket. Getting parole from parking jail is a very time consuming and awkward process when you’ve got to maneuver out of the line and hunt down some form to fill out. Couple that with having almost no chance of getting someone that speaks English to help you (if you don’t speak Spanish) and no one to speak to in person since most times, your only option is trying to communicate through a very low quality speaker system in a concrete box. We’ve experienced both situations… we’ve been the ones who lost the ticket AND we’ve been in line behind someone who has seemingly lost their ticket and all twenty cars in line have to back up so that one knucklehead can get out of line and start their parole process. It’s ALL quite simply, annoying.
3. Meeting spots. When we first arrived we noticed these signs with dots and arrows. We saw them painted on streets, in parking lots, on signs, walls of stores. They’re everywhere. I finally asked someone and he said they are meeting points in the event of an earthquake. OK, well, sidenote here: I (Allison) hate earthquakes. I’m deathly afraid of them. I grew up in Alaska and experienced way too many of them, including a fairly big one when I was home alone. I almost vetoed Mexico because of their earthquakes, but Dan assures me that they don’t get big ones in Cancun. OK, I believed him but then I see these signs everywhere. Whaat!? We aren’t really sure of their value because sometimes the signs are right next to buildings that could be unsafe. In addition, the guy told us that Mexico has an early warning system via the cell phones. If they sense an earthquake bigger than 5 or 6 based on some kind of voodoo magic algorithm they can alert the public with a 30-second to 1 minute warning. Then we’re supposed to run to the nearest “meeting spot” wherein we will be safe, I guess. This is kind of like the dust storm advisory we would get in Arizona. The guy told me that they do this sometimes as a test. They send it out, everyone panics and runs to the street and waits and… no earthquake. But it gets people’s attention and supposedly they plan better for the next time it might not be a test. I am not fond of this, not at all. It is possible that our departure from Mexico will be conveniently timed the day after such test or a big earthquake.
4. Volunteer baggers. At the grocery store, every checkout counter has a bagger. They tend to be 80 year old ladies or 14 year old children. I noticed Mexicans tipping these baggers so I do the same. The first time I did it I gave the guy the Mexican Peso equivalence of $6 USD because I was TOTALLY clueless as to what each of these colored pieces of paper actually meant. Needless to say, he was a happy camper. But since then I’ve learned what size and color of coin is best. Tipping is important because these folks are volunteers. In some places, they also are the ones who validate your parking ticket. The ones who take the time to REMIND me about the parking ticket get an extra coin from me! At our local grocery store there is even a guy with a gigantic rain poncho and a big umbrella. If it’s raining when you are going out to your car he’ll give you the umbrella to hold, he puts his big poncho over your cart and takes your groceries to your car with you. He’ll load your groceries, then hold the umbrella while you get in your car and he’ll even stop traffic around you so you can back out safely. Obviously, you tip him. The typical tip is maybe 50 cents to even a dollar if you’re acting especially grandiose that day.
5. Armed guards. At first it’s a little disconcerting seeing these gigantic machine guns (Daniel says they aren’t gigantic.. they’re little Uzis… tomato, tomatoe) and guys in bullet proof vests standing around. But it becomes normal after awhile. You notice the same ones at your favorite stores and they are almost like old friends. Friends who don’t smile and don’t wave and holding an Uzi, that is. But that’s OK. At least you know if there is any kind of active shooter situation it won’t last long. But just like in Panama, in many places workers who take money are separated from workers who do not. At the car insurance place the guy could write up the entire policy and issue it but could not take any money. We had to go to the bank and make a deposit in the company’s account in order to pay for our policy. By doing it this way they did not need to hire any armed guards to protect the insurance office, nor pay the worker guy some different wage that would indicate he is trusted with money. It makes sense in a non-USA kind of way. But in places like Costco, where the cashiers have to take money for the transaction, there are no less than 5 armed guards within about 5o feet of the checkout stands. No one’s getting ANY money out of Costco alive.
6. Spices. Everything is spicy here! Unlike Panama where the food was quite bland, here all the food is so spicy! I like it but it can make it hard to find our favorites. Zoe taught us how to buy the correct Doritos and Cheetos. You have to AVOID THE RED PEPPER. The package won’t necessarily say spicy but if you see the red pepper, as Dory would say, just keep swimming. In fact we’ve only found plain Doritos and Cheetos at one place, the store with the big import section. Even ketchup and mayonnaise and A1 sauce comes extra spicy and you have to hunt down the plain kind. I’m trying to work a few more spices into our meals to see if we can adjust our taste buds. With the kids, it’s like trying to feed pills to horses. They aren’t fooled.
7. The police here drive around with their lights flashing. All the time, not just when they are pulling someone over. It is a bit disconcerting at first but soon you learn that when you hear the loudspeaker along with the flash, that’s when you pull over. Dan speaks from experience here. And we love how they joyride in the back of the pickup.
8. Last but not least, it’s the grass/concrete combo. In parking lots they have these criss-cross concrete bricks with little patches of grass growing up through them. It’s so cute! We have no idea the reason for it but we assume it’s economic or perhaps better drainage. But it’s everywhere. It’s like a little welcome mat just for your car. It makes me happy.
So there you have it, the new normal in Mexico. Nothing to see here, folks!