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The second day in Mexico


   May 17

The second day in Mexico

I got up early hoping to catch up some time. I also needed to find a bank and exchange more pesos. With that in mind I started around 6:00 AM when it was still dark and foggy. Things got quite scary when sudden dense fog hit the road after some curves. It took some time to get used to it, but traffic was much lighter than previous day. That made driving little easier.

Despite the fog I spotted my first turn and was on lookout for second. – a road sign with direction. The distance about matched, but the names of villages and towns were different. Yet, they matched others in my direction and I took the turn. That was right decision although it took some time of driving in the fog to find confirmation. Road signs do change like everything else in life. This is probably true everywhere, but specifically in fast developing regions. Therefore, no matter how good the sources are, always know the names of locations before and after your planned turn. Keep in mind that any of them may have been replaced since your information was gathered.

After 3.5 hrs of driving I reached the Costa Esmeralda where I hoped to reach previous day. This is Caribbean coast tourist area. 
Costa Esmeralda

Costa Esmeralda

The large number of hotels would have made last nights choice easier, and competition not only suppresses the prices, but also stimulates faster introduction of new features: Internet. Costa Esmeralda is a pretty stretch of Gulf beaches. Beautiful buildings and clean and improved roads and streets. I was hoping to find a bank here everywhere, but did not.

Typical little town of Costa Esmeralda

Typical little town of Costa Esmeralda

Mountains on Horizon

Mountains on Horizon

Driving down South from town to town on a new modern highway I started asking locals where do they bank. I failed to find one that did. They get paid in cash and used it to pay for goods and services they need. Restaurant and “Taller Mehanico” businesses do the same. Banks do nothing for them and they ignore banks. It was quite a surprise to me that towns with populations between 20 and 30 thousand had no banks. Few thoughts about the consequences of the missing financial services below.
Finally, through multiple inquiries I stumbled on a small business that exchanged money for locals when they needed. It was also in a small touristy town with no banks. The lady who ran the operation offered a tertiary dealer exchange rate that I could not accept as it was worse then what I got at the border.
Cardel central park

Cardel central park

In the last of the coastal towns of Costa Esmeralda – Cardel –  I found a few banks and a money exchange business offering same rate as I got at the border. Unfortunately the clerk only agreed to exchange $20 bills and only when they are in perfect condition. Well, I got them a day before from an ATM, so they were whatever the ATM spit out.

I ended up short of my need for pesos because most of my bills had either a little rip somewhere or a pencil mark or pen mark somewhere. Apparently, I needed to find and ATM and draw more money in hope the bills would be in better condition. To my surprise the HSBC ATM spit out pesos and the exchange rate was much better; very close to the market rate. Why didn’t I use an ATM for the whole exchange since beginning?
Street of Cardel

Street of Cardel

Another confusing issue with money in Mexico is the identification of pesos. On bills and ads, receipts, everywhere they same $ symbol exactly as we do, just that in Mexico it means pesos, not dollars. Imagine your surprise when the price of coffee is posted as $12.00 in a gas station convenience store.

Small town business operates mostly locally and does it old fashioned way – without loans. The farmers sell their products on the market of the town, usually at or around the main drag to attract more outsiders. Same with other service or product oriented businesses. Furniture, pottery, clothing makers use the same market to sell their products. They don’t need banks to fund their small operation. In the town I exchanged money I also stepped into a Mexican bank and saw people exhausted standing in line to deposit or access their funds. I assume few consider that necessary or fun. They simply do not need banks, therefore there aren’t any either. One consequence of this for us, outsiders, is that none but the people themselves know how poor or rich they actually are. The government can only estimate, but has no way to know.

The driving day that started on the Caribbean  coast of Mexico ended at the Pacific coast passing the narrowest place of this country. It took from 6:00 AM until 9:00 PM or 15 hrs minus an hour and half in search of banks. The route went through free roads (libre) and paid autopista’s (cuota).
Modern bridges on autopistas

Modern bridges on autopistas

Mexican autopista freeway/highway is little different than what we intuitively assume in few aspects. Some are important to consider as they should affect your behavior to be safe. There is no minimum speed on autopista. You will find very slow moving things there sometimes. Pavement condition varies from place to place and it is wrong to expect to see there only cars. I saw people and animals walking on autopista. I doubt they paid to use it, but they did anyway. There are very few rest areas, but you can buy fruits and juice on autopista. Almost under each overpass in shade is a fruit and juice stand. Of course, have in mind that whoever is buying has to stop on the pavement for the duration of the transaction at least. Watch out.

On this route I was stopped several times by police and military in search for weapons. Once an officer even opened my glove compartment to convince that I don’t carry any. All other times my verbal confirmation was enough.

Military checkpoints are using improvised RV’s – IRV to slow the traffic and give then time for profiling vehicles and drivers to stop.
An improvised vehicle torture device -- ITD before military checkpoint

An improvised vehicle torture device -- ITD before military checkpoint

In search for weapons

In search for weapons

My route took me through the narrowest part of Mexico from Caribbean side to Pacific. This is a tough road over the mountain range. I happened to cross it at a very windy day. Unfortunately the wind was from West, straight against. Truck engine got some work to do climbing up the steep slopes and against the very strong headwind was not easy. The road across Mexico is “libre”, passes villages and is tattered by RV’s. The pavement is good in some places, full of natural RV’s on others. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic and it took me 2 hrs 40 min to drive the 181 km. The cross road reaches the Inter- Americana highway on the Pacific side. At the corner of this intersection are very large wind generator farms. Probably the same high wind that slowed me down is typical there and powers the generators.
Green Energy in Mexico

Green Energy in Mexico

I turned South on the Inter-Americana. Another 2 hours and 133 km I reached the old Mexican town Arriaga.
Inter Americana in dusk

Inter Americana in dusk

After checking in and taking a shower I took a walk to the center of Arriaga to find some food and see the people. Walking from the hotel I noticed people’s living rooms being without windows and open to the street. I have never seen that elsewhere, but in Arriaga. Literally, everyone passing by can engage in discussion with the people in the living room without entering the house. I asked directions few times this way. It was late, past 10 PM but the central park was full of young people hanging out.

On the central plaza I found a restaurant open late and had a very good tasting and filling dinner of authentic Mexican Garnatchas with drinks for 37 MXP (about $3.00). This correlated well with the basic, but well decorated hotel room I paid 250 MXP (about $20) for a night with private guarded parking. How can they do this, but we can not?

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