Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mexico 2017 – Day 6 – Speed Bumps

What do you think Mexico specializes in? Taco, yes. Burritos, yes. Tequila, definitely. But none of those are the answer. What Mexico specializes in are speed bumps. After driving around here for a few days, I can honestly say that I have seen more varieties of speed bumps than I have in my entire life. The sheer creativity is amazing. In fact, they are so amazing that I am thrilled every time I see one because I am able to slow right down, stick my head out the window, and marvel at the engineering excellence.

The first and most common type is what I call the Panty Stainer. These are the ones that are small protrusions in the concrete arranged out in a wide strip across the road and are the only Mexican speed bumps not designed to destroy your automobile. I don't even think they are meant to slow you down because the effect is the same whether you are going 10 KPH or 100 KPH, so they are really just for fun. You also can't really see them, especially at night, so when you are driving back from the cantina with your chica, who has been drinking Dos Equis beer all night, and you hit a strip of these, they energize your body with a supersonic burst of vibration which causes that full bladder to leak just a little bit; hence the name.

The second type is called the Undercarriage Grinder. These are speed bumps so large that just after your front wheels reach the top, the momentum of the vehicle causes the giant concrete mound to scrape off the underside of your vehicle, clearing away anything that is not firmly attached, such as your entire exhaust system and sometimes the fuel tank. If you hit these too hard (and often you do because they are the same colour as the road and are not usually signed) it will launch you into a Dukes of Hazzard commercial, except that in place of Daisy Duke in her backseat hot pants and Bo and Luke hollering and pumping their fists out the window you have an airborne mini-van of exploding air bags, old people going into cardiac arrest, and kids shitting their pants.

The third type are the Balls of Death. These are perfect stainless steel half spheres that have been hammer drilled into the pavement and are usually only two rows deep but stick up at least six inches. If you take them too fast they act together as sort of a land mine and your entire car will blow up. When you slow down for them your tires get mashed between the balls, which jerks the steering wheel out of your hand, destroys your alignment and puts the car on autopilot for a brief moment. You can't go too slow through, for that will cause your tires to get permanently trapped in the Balls of Death and you'll have to walk home.

The fourth type are called Mexican Laundry Day. Legend has it there was a female Mexican engineer whose lazy husband didn’t work and just sat at home all day eating tacos. To make things worse, he refused to help out around the house so his wife, after returning home after a long day at the office, would first make dinner and then have to take the washing board out back and scrub the grease stains out of all his clothes until her fingers and knuckles were bleeding. After many years of this she became a man hater and plotted her revenge. She designed a Mexican speed bump based on the common washing board that would make men’s lives miserable (only men drove back then). This design has persisted to this very day.

Today we had planned to go to Punta Morales – a town between Playa and Cancun that has a great beach, but Mom learned through the Real Ibiza apartment grapevine that there had been a rash of protests because the government has goosed gas prices by three pesos per litre this week. Some bus drivers had completely blocked the highway to Cancun and people were getting stuck there for hours. She also heard that some gas stations had been vandalized so many of them were closing down. Because of this, we decided to go out and fill up with gas to ensure we had enough for the rest of our trip in case things got worse. So John, Mom and I went out and found an open gas station with long queues, but we waited patiently and were able to fill up. After this we stopped at the grocery store for Mom to pick up a few things and made it back home by 11. Everyone was in a bit of a funk because our plan for the day had been thwarted, so Mom suggested we go to a smaller, local beach in Playa del Carmen that was on 88th Street and typically a lot less busy than the main beach.

We packed up the Odyssey with a hundred pounds of beach gear and cruised downtown. Mom guided us down this road that appeared to be built for foot traffic and not vehicles, but it opened up into a public parking lot complete with free showers and bathrooms. The beach was spectacular and there were few people there so we set up camp and jumped into the beautiful cool water for a glorious swim. I thought about the freezing cold temperatures back home and our driveway undoubtedly packed in with snow and it made that ocean water and sun in my face feel even better.

Magnus and I took a long walk up the shoreline and found a shallow cenote that was just off the beach and actually drained into the ocean through a narrow stream at one end. Interestingly, you could see the place where the fresh water was pumping itself into the cenote from cracks in the ground, almost like a Cartesian well. There were dozens and dozens of Mexicans there – mostly kids – splashing around and having fun. In the middle of the cenote was a small island with beautiful palm trees and it was packed with people on lawn chairs and blankets watching the kids playing in the water. It was such a treat seeing all these Mexican families having so much fun and I will admit that I felt a bit like an intruder, but the people didn’t seem to mind us being there at all.

Back at base camp, things were taking a turn for the worse. One of John’s feet had swelled up into a club shaped object and he had developed a headache. He blamed it on the heat but we had a feeling it was due to his lack of diligent attention to his diabetic nutritional needs, which did not include multiple beers per day and vanilla ice cream cones dipped in chocolate. But hey, give the guy a break, it’s his vacation. He did check his diabetes level later that night and found it to be as high as it’s ever been so he went back into dietary restriction mode, which left an awful lot of beer for me to take care of.

Shortly before we left I did another walk to the cenote with Stella, Ana and my mom. Stella was wearing a cute bathing suit, fancy hat and oversized sunglasses, making her look like quite the celebrity. She definitely takes after her mom – always wants to look good and is even taking great care of her hair these days too. We had a nice, slow walk down the beach all the way to the cenote and Stella held my hand most of the way. I will be a sad man the day she decides she is too old to hold her dad’s hand. There is truly nothing better in life than walking down a beach in January, hand in hand with your little girl, with the sun shining down on you and the ocean breeze caressing your face. It got even better when I found a lovely pair of Oakley sunglasses sitting in a pile of seaweed.

We drove back home, dropped off both sets of parents, and then the four of us drove back downtown to do some shopping and wait for my uncle Don and aunt Donna’s bus from Cancun to arrive. They had flown out of Saskatoon this morning and would be spending the next two weeks with my mom. Magnus’s love of shopping rivals his mother’s and he had been itching to spend more time on 5th Avenue exploring the shops. So off he went, hitting every single souvenir store while Ana focused in on the silver vendors. Stella either hung out with me (leaning on the doorframes of shop, crowdwatching) or popped into a shop if she saw something interesting, which she eventually did and spend nearly her entire trip budget on a fancy backpack. Magnus looked and looked but just couldn’t find anything he wanted.

The kids and I decided to stop for a drink while Ana continued on and we found a place that was playing old rock videos on a huge screen so we enjoyed our overpriced drinks to the soothing sounds of ZZ Top and AC/DC. Ana joined us for a drink and then we made our way back to the ADO bus station and met with Don and Donna, who looked understandably wiped after the long travel day, and got to do the walk of shame back to the van through the humid Playa evening in their blue jeans and white faces.

We returned to Mom’s to find a full-on pool party in motion. Some Argentineans had the charcoal grill fired up and were cooking enough meat for a small army. We loaded charcoal into the other half of the grill and I started cooking our more modest quantities of chicken, pork and burgers. Jose, Soani, Sebastian and Jose senior joined us and we ate and drank together as family.

We finished the evening with a nightcap at Mom’s and got into a great conversation with Don as he was telling us of his next prospective purchase -  a street legal dirt bike. The males on Mom’s side of the family are all gear heads and never met a bolt they didn’t want to torque.

“So how many motorized vehicles do you actually own?” Ana asked.

“Hmmm.  I’ve never actually stopped to count them, “ Don replied. “Well there’s our two vehicles at home, a motorhome, 4 snowmobiles, 2 ATVs, a side by side, 2 demolition cars that use for the redneck races in Alberta and.... a mud truck.”

“What’s a mud truck?” Ana asked.

“Sort of like a monster truck. It’s awesome.”

“OK, so that’s 13 motorized vehicles?”

I piped in, “So are you saying you don’t have a riding lawnmower?”

“I did, but I gave it to my brother Blaine.”

“Well,” Ana continued, “We have three motorized vehicles – our two cars and the sailboat – and even that’s too much to deal with."

“Oh yeah, I have a boat too – forgot about that. That makes 14.”

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