Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Natural Born Driver and Jedi Navigator in The City

The last few times we were in Mexico, we stayed close to home, but last week, we rented a car and headed up towards Guadalajara.

Big Dog does not like Big Cities and I have yet to step inside DF Mexico. However, just south of Guadalajara is an area called Tlaquepaque and Tonala and it was here that we found dealers and makers of the most incredible furnishings when we traveled around the country 5 years ago.

"Yeah, we're finally getting new furniture for our ranch house," I emailed my best friend in Tokyo. "After an entire life of hand-me-downs and other people's trash, I feel kind of guilty actually buying something new. It's so not eco."

Previously, we had driven down Mex 80, a steep, curvy, sometimes scary road. This time, Big Dog wanted to try the cuota (toll road) that goes through Colima.

"I'm not sure why. We've never been on toll roads before," he started muttering as we approached the second of 3 toll gates. Then, as we got stuck in road construction delays, the muttering became louder.

"This totally sucks! I thought the cuota was going to be a multi-lane highway! I can't believe we're stuck behind this exhaust belching truck!"

We could see other cars whizzing by on the libre, the free road just parallel to us. It made no sense. But not much does on Mexican roads and once you approach cities, it only gets worse. Thank god Big Dog was used to deadlocked traffic in Tokyo.

One clever thing they have done in Guadalajara, an innermost "express" lane and many overpasses, became my bane.

"Crap. I think we were supposed to turn there. OK. Let's see if we can move into the outer lane and turn onto Lazaro Cardenas." It was my turn to start swearing under my breath.

Just as much as Big Dog is a Natural Born Driver, I think of myself as a Natural Born Navigator. I've prided myself in being able to navigate us everywhere. (Betcha I can take you to hell and back, too!) But with only the most rudimentary of maps showing us only the very biggest of Guadalajara's roads, it required more than Natural Born Navigation. It required Jedi Knight Navigation!

City roads tend to change names. One side of the town square is one name, the other is another. Many of the streets are named after people with incredibly long names and these name are abbreviated. (There are also many streets named after commemorative dates, so many towns have an Avenida or Calle Cinco de Mayo, 18 de Marzo, 16 de Septiembre, etc.) Street signs may or may not be there. Many streets are one way. And very narrow. And there are people all over them. Or you think you're on one road but you find out 10 dusty miles later that it's the wrong road and there's nowhere to turn back. You really DO need The Force. But sometimes The Force fails you.

"Oh, #$%^&! This is turning into the highway for Mexico City!!" I panic as we drive through an intersection...right onto an on-ramp.
"What do you want me to do?" asks Big Dog who, thankfully, doesn't wait for an answer but quickly executes a dramatic U-turn (actually a Y-turn) right in the middle of this on/off ramp with cars speeding up to us from both directions. I was impressed.

There were many hairy moments like this, but it is always entertaining. In crowded traffic, you can buy newspapers, candy, individual cigarettes, sunglasses, religious icons... You can get your windshields washed. One night, we were entertained by a pair of fire twirlers! (That one earned my pesos!) There are topes (speed bumps) everywhere and sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Next time, though, I will probably print out a detailed map beforehand. A GPS? Nah. Not for a Jedi Navigator.

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