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Mexico Toll Road closed or planned robbery?
We crossed the border into Mexico at sun up this morning, at Progresso Texas. Thought this might be a little better/safer than the larger border crossing at Reynosa.
Just outside the border town there were red pylons placed across the single entrance to the Quota/Toll Road . The attendant at the booth told us the Quota Toll Road was closed and we would have to travel on the Libre/Free Local Road to Reynosa. There was no other traffic, and the situation just did not feel right.
I might never know if this was an actual road closure or something more sinister. We returned to the US and then crossed at Reynosa.
Has anyone encountered a similar situation?
Well there's just no way of knowing what the real situation was since you turned back.
We routinely have road closures and detours in my part of the world and would never think anything of it besides "hmmm must be a mudslide, roadwork, accident, avalanche, blockade due to a native land claim protest, etc, etc" and merrily follow the detour.
Due to the exaggerated bad press Mexico is getting (bad news sells) there is a tendency to immediately assume the worst when something happens down there that would be considered routine back home.
All I can say is that I spent close to three months in Mexico and Central America this past spring and basically met with no problems whatsoever and met many beautiful, helpful, curious and friendly people all over.
I would honestly rather be a victim of an extremely rare highway robbery than be a victim of my own fears. The bottom line being, I believe Mexico is no less safe than most other places and probably safer overall than some large American cities. Take it with a grain of salt if you wish since I've only travelled there 6 times since 1985.
Do bad things happen in Mexico? You bet they do! just like the do in the USA, Canada, Europe and many, many other places.
This is only meant as food for thought and not a criticism of the original poster. We all have our own comfort and tolerance levels and our own reactions to our internal fears.
Do you speak Spanish and did you fully understand what he was saying?
Also, simply go to the nearest town and ask for the Federales de Caminos station and they will alert you to what is happening.
Or simply go to the public phone that is present at any toll road and dial the numbers 078 and that will get you the Green Angels/Angeles Verdes and they can advise you.
If a major accident has happened or work is being carried out that requires lane changes they will close a stretch of road but it is usually not for very much more than a few hours max unless it is something very serious.
The Mexican government takes toll roads seriously because your receipt is your insurance while on the road and most people have no idea about this.
Also it is a major source of income for either the government or the permit holder for the toll station (yes, many are privately run through political favor concessions and corruption).
I crossed at the Matamorus border last Saturday, first time in Mexico and no Spanish at all, travelling alone.
I am presently 1 hr drive from the Guat. border
I used pretty much all the tool roads there are between here and the U.S. border and never had any problem with detour or road closure. The only thing that scares the s...t out of me is the way they drive.
Overall it was a pretty safe trip so far
I couldn't agree more. They do drive like bats out of hell. When I was down there I was literally 1 second away from a high speed head on collision with someone dangerously passing and coming straight at me in my lane. Luckily she reacted at the last second and swerved into a boulder strewn construction zone. I had no place to go and couldn't do anything except hope that my guardian angel wasn't on her lunch break.
That is one real danger down there, but one that can be mitigated by being extra alert and not insisting on some nebulous concept of "right of way"
Are both of you familiar with the "third lane" system in Mexico?
The middle area of the road is used for passing. You should also become familiar with the left turn signal blinking. Not to mention the headlight blink that means the other vehicle has claimed priority and is coming through and you must adjust accordingly. I have seen many people who are not familiar with the "third lane" get terrified for no reason. The third lane is a very practical way to deal with traffic in Mexico. Get familiar with these 3 "rules" of driving in Mexico and you will find that the drivers actually are doing things correctly according to their country. If you are not familiar with these 3 things it goes like this:
1. The "third lane" is a concept whereby the center lane becomes an impromptu passing lane for traffic in both directions though obviously not at the same time but sometimes that will happen. That is why there are extensive paved shoulders on the roads but not all roads and some have a very steep drop off so be careful with the 3rd lane if there is no paved shoulder. When a vehicle is passing they expect you (as oncoming traffic) to yield enough space by utilizing the paved shoulder. Anyone who has experience driving in Mexico has likely developed this skill over time, locals learn it from the get go. It works very well and yes, like anywhere, you will find locals who don't have a clue and others who are just being buttheads and stubborn. The latter category contains a large amount of foreigners.
2. The "blinking left turn signal" is a concept whereby A) the driver is often (but not always) signaling that traffic is clear ahead if you want to pass and it will be obvious if there is no left turn possible as to what they are actually signaling to you B) it also means that the driver is passing a long line of cars in the center "3rd" lane and will not be pulling in amongst them but will be attempting to pass all the slow traffic so don't pull out and cut them off as they are coming through REMEMBER the left turn signal is often not activated when they begin the pass but when they are in the process of having passed the first vehicle and want to pass a long line of cars and you will often see a whole line of cars behind them with the turn signals on and passing the other vehicles and yes, some of them initiate the pass with the blinker but then do not turn the right blinker on to rejoin the normal traffic position C) many, many people in Mexico do not turn left from the center of the road but pull over to the right lane and let you by first, however there are lots of exceptions to this one D) the left turn blinker can be used for many other situations so it is really a heads up to you to pay attention and be prepared.
3. The "headlight blink" is a concept whereby the one who flashes the lights first is claiming priority. There are often signs that tell you to yield to the one who is flashing the lights, this is the opposite to many places in Canada and the USA where it means they are giving you right of way as a courtesy. Here it means "I am coming through so you should yield". It can also mean they are signaling you that you have your headlight on because many drivers here do not use running lights during the day and many vehicles are not equipped as such for the Mexican market (though almost all auto and truck vehicles will have a fire extinguisher as original factory equipment as well as road emergency markers and booster cables and this is handy to know).
To call Mexican drivers dangerous or wild is incorrect for the most part. I feel safer on Mexican toll roads than on the Hwy 401 in Toronto for example and certainly much more safer than the Gardiner Expressway!
Driving in Mexico means you stay alert, you understand that size is very important and the bigger vehicles will take priority and you better yield, you do not ever EVER drive at night unless you absolutely must do it because of an emergency. There are a million hazards that can ruin your trip on all Mexican roads (toll and libre) during darkness, and there are a half a million during daylight hours. Use your mobility and agility on the bike to your advantage and get larger vehicles to "block" for you in urban traffic by using them as shields.
Never forget that you never EVER ride at night unless you absolutely have to. In cities it is not as much of a problem as it is on highways and rural roads.
Watch out for drunk drivers AND DRUNK PEDESTRIANS AND BICYCLISTS!!!!
Get off the cuotas from time to time because you are missing all the best sites of Mexico and, often times, the best bike roads in Mexico. Taking the cuotas through Veracruz means you miss at least 4 really good bike roads and some absolutely beautiful scenery and delicious food. If you are going to pass through Veracruz, give yourself some time to make it worthwhile and you will not be disappointed! PM me for more info at your convenience.
The "third lane rule" is actually a thing of beauty and almost like watching a ballet performance. But it only works when there are shoulders or very wide lanes. I've even witnessed this in rural Alberta and Saskatchewan and it actually makes a lot of sense. When someone attempts to perform this ballet maneuver when there is absolutely no shoulder, not even a gravel one, and the lanes are of just enough width to hold one truck, with its' mirrors projecting into the oncoming lane, then it's simply stupid and a sign of crazy driving. This was my experience several times. Except for my one "life flashing in front of my eyes" experience I was able to jam on the brakes to avoid a collision in all the other occurrences of bad ballet. I suppose that since I spent about 95% of my time on side roads and "non-toll" roads I would have obviously been exposed to more narrow shoulderless environments.
One thing we as motorcyclists need to be aware of is that in Mexico and Central America they're not used to larger motorcycles moving at the speed of car traffic. They probably underestimate our speeds, thinking it's some little 125cc coming at them at 50km/h and think they have plenty of time to finish passing.
Be safe all of you, whichever way you personally interpret "safe".
Actually on the cuota roads the drivers expect bikes to be able to move very quickly and expect the riders to be capable of using the bike. Most Mexicans think large capacity bike riders are a little loco to begin with but are fascinated by the equipment on the bikes and the gear the riders are wearing.
Especially the kids in cars.
On rural libre type roads, nobody over estimates or underestimates what anyone else can do, it is simply a case of "if you are going to try it you better be prepared to make it work and if it doesn't you better be able to pay the consequences".
There is no psychology involved, it is all physics and inertia when it comes to driving in Mexico. A primordial highway soup of critters that move in an ebb and flow of an environment that can be placid and pleasant one minute and turn rough and Dawinian the next.
You have more to worry about from topes than you do from Mexican drivers.
Well....these systems of driving are used elsewhere in the world as well, not just Latin America. To some extent they include the shared understanding--shared by everyone but us foreigners--that motorcycles, like bicycles and pedestrians, really just need to take full responsibility for their own safety. That means if a truck, bus or taxi want to pass they'll often do so even when that means taking up the same space in the roadway that I'm currently occupying. My responsibility is to make this possible for them, or to understand that I'm likely to pay the consequences. My choice, freely taken.
In parts of Africa it's far more extreme. There, the assumption is that the bike or pedestrian will dive off the road into the bushes if necessary to allow oncoming traffic to pass at will. No one even considers for an instant the possibility that I might not like this, or that oncoming traffic might chose otherwise. Think I'm exaggerating? Uh Uh. I've been pushed off the road--actually I was once even knocked to the ground by a bus which came up behind me--but no one but myself seemed to think I had any reason at all to get offended. Why didn't I get out of the way? Don't I know how to drive?
In Latin America it's generally more benign; for the most part people pass only when they think there's room for me to squeeze by. For the most part, in fact, they're correct and there really IS room....provided I'm willing to pass within inches at closing speeds which I find terrifying. On the other hand, contrary to Mike's assertion they sometimes assume that I can use a ribbon of soft shoulder to do so, like the tiny, slow-moving local bikes do. They don't really get the fact that I'm going far to fast to hit a soft shoulder at speed. But mostly they're just trying to do what it takes to get along, helping each other out whenever possible.
I still don't find Latin American drivers as bad as they're often portrayed; they're far more cooperative about their driving than, say, American or Canadians. Plus I sure do miss being able to pass at will, use both sides of the road, lane split, ride on sidewalks, and in other respects fully utilize the unique capabilities of my bike.
As to the OP's situation, I often found closed roads in Central and South America. If I worried about robbery and fled the country every time I hit a crudely-indicated desvio I'd have died of adrenal stress long ago. But I wasn't there, don't know what the vibe felt like, and I try not to second guess too overtly. I sure have backed out of situations which didn't feel right to me, and I'll sure do it again when that feels like the right thing to do. Just don't let it become the model for your entire trip.
edit to add: I agree with Michelle (as usual) that on local roads other drivers do not expect us to be able to move at high speed. They are accustomed to little overloaded mopeds and Chinese pieces of junk, not great big gringo bikes. For me, the key has been to never ACT like a little moped or a Chinese piece of junk. I do not ride on the far right, and I keep my headlight on. Facing oncoming traffic, I weave a bit, and I make a point of taking up my whole lane; I want to establish for everyone's benefit that I'm not what they might think I am, that I don't fit the ordinary categories, that I'm probably not going to act the way they might otherwise assume I will. This helps more than you'd think.
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