Before leaving the USA, I deeply contemplated wether or not to bring the kids car seats. Hours upon hours weighing the risks vs the benefits. Now as I sit here in central Mexico, where transportation is everything except what would be considered acceptable in the states, I can’t help but laugh at all my careful consideration.
There are cars here and people really use them. V’s brother, for example, has a tiny car similar to a geo metro. When he drove us to see our house for the first time, we squeezed 10 people inside the bright red, 2 door, 4 seater. Who needs seat belts when you’re packed so tight you can’t even breathe? Perfectly safe.
A main method of getting from A to B here if it’s too far to walk (and too far to walk definitely depends on who you ask), is the Combi. It’s like the city bus, except there are no designated stops or schedules. This dilapidated fleet of 1970’s VW busses are cheap to ride, smell like exhaust, and will carry as much as they can possibly hold and then some… I have seen farm tools, rolls of fencing, caged chickens, groceries, school children… You name it. If it fits, it goes. We even hauled trees to our new house on the combi one day.
Our long, 8 hour drive from Mexico City, with a stop in Toluca, was in a combi. Wooden bench seating around the sides, we filled it way past maximum capacity. We had eleven people, fifteen suitcases and a jogging stroller inside. At one point while stuck in traffic in Mexico City, we stalled in a mostly dark tunnel with fish painted inside to look like an underwater ocean scene. The driver could not get it started again and traffic began going around us. It was hot and the air was thick with the smell of fuel. After several attempts, he began flicking a lighter somewhere under the dash. Then the engine started up and we sped off!
As soon as we entered Michoacan, we were stopped by the Policia. They approached us with their large assault rifles and the driver looked back at us and said “Tiene propina?” (do you have a tip/bribe?) Abuelo forked over 200 pesos, the officer let his gun fall to his side, smiled and waived us on.
Taxis are another option, though they are more expensive than the combi. One day we stuffed 4 adults and 3 kids in the back seat of a taxi to make the 40 minute drive to zitacuaro. There are “topes” (speed bumps) everywhere and we were bottoming out, scraping the under carriage, on each one. Despite the full load and the extreme difficulty the taxi had making it up the hills, our driver did not hesitate to make dangerously close passes, as often as possible, around slower moving vehicles. When we finally arrived at our destination near “el jardin” (the garden/ central plaza), Abuelo could barely stand up. We had been so squished for so long that his foot and leg was asleep. We had to sit on the corner and wait until he could walk again!
On any given day here, you see people riding horses, pushing wheel barrels full of anything you can imagine, driving motorcycles or scooters with no helmet- sometimes with half a dozen people on one. Pick up trucks with plenty of folks riding in the back, even cars with the trunk popped open and passengers sitting inside with their feet hanging out. I have yet to see someone put on a seat belt and have never seen a child in a car seat. Even the police ride in the back of their pick up trucks, standing up with their guns up and ready. It’s a different world.
The only bicycle. I have seen here had a home made knife sharpening contraption built onto it. The man rode around town whistling to announce his services. And one more bicycle just now with large boxes filled with several dozen small chickens.
Since I have been here, I have never been in a transportation situation that would have accommodated one car seat, let alone three. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to have my baby tied into my rebozo, eating or sleeping, instead of in the back seat strapped in crying. And I have walked more here in a month than I would in a year in el Norte.