Day 33: San Fernando, MX to Soto La Marina, MX

We found a small cafe in town where we had taquitos for breakfast, and had more taquitos for lunch at a roadside cafe about 25 miles later.

A few recurring things I have noticed so far in our first two days in Mexico. First, the only chain-type business that I noticed so far are the PEMEX gas stations. I realized today that all of the gas stations in Mexico are this one brand, because of the country’s nationalized oil industry.

The second recurring theme is the mini-super stores, like the first one we stopped at for lunch yesterday. These are small family-owned convenience stores, usually operated out of a very small building, sometimes in the front part of the family’s home. They sell very basic snacks and beverages, including soda, water, and beer; the brand of beer they carry is usually a prominent feature of the outside paint job of the building. There is typically not much fresh food; sometimes bananas or other fruit. Sometimes these stores are referred to as “aborrotes;” Ray said that name is related to  “general store” or “groceries,” which would imply a wider selection of products, but I never saw any big difference between these and the ones that called themselves a “mini-super.”

The third recurring thing I noticed were the small auto tire repair shops, known as “vulcanizadoras.” These are often set up in small open-air shacks, even less pretentious than the mini-supers. Some vulcanizadoras can even be found in stretches of highway in the middle of nowhere, but they are always easy to identify by the half-buried tire place on the edge of the higway with “vulcanizadora” crudely written in spray paint. In every city and small town, even the smallest of unincorporated villages, you will find at least one, usually more than one, vulcanizadora and mini-super.

Another thing you will find along the highways, in every town both large and small, is groups of speed bumps as you approach and go through the populated areas. They are called “topes.” Ray thinks the name is related to the Spanish word for “turtle,” and that they may be using that word because of the turtle-like shape of a speed bump, or maybe because of the fact that you have to slow down to go over them (or maybe both reasons). You get ample warning as you approach them, with signs stating “Zona de Topes” and “Topes a 150 mts” for example. I imagine that these were put in place to protect the local residents from speeding traffic, as there are usually few sidewalks along the roads, and the people are often traveling by foot along the sides of the roads. I bet that they are very tedious to drivers, though. It’s a mixed blessing for us as cyclists. On the one hand, it’s good for us as well as the local pedestrians to not have to worry about the traffic speeding by as fast when we’re going through a congested area. On the other hand, they are a pain, because we have to be careful and go over them very slowly; they could do a lot of damage to a bike, especially a heavily-loaded touring bike.

The highway conditions during the past two days have been much better than we expected. Usually there is a very smooth, wide shoulder on the side of the road to bike on, whether the road is just one lane in each direction or two. It seems that with Mexico’s expanding industrial base, they’ve been working on many highway modernization projects, which has been a boon to us. Often, as we approached a small city, the newer highway would branch off to loop around the city, like what we would call a “bypass” in the US, and the original, smaller road would go straight into the city, like what we would call the “business route” in the US. Often, the newer bypasses were not yet pictured on the road map that we were using.

No matter what the road conditions were like, we found the drivers in Mexico to be pretty respectful of us as cyclists; no worse than most places in the US; usually better.

Unfortunately, for about the last 20 miles of today’s route, we were stuck in a section of highway in the middle of the modernization process. For a few miles, the pavement was a very rough chip-and-seal surface. Then, it turned to gravel, and for a while, to dirt and mud. Our bikes, bags, shoes, and legs had a good coating a gray and brown by the time we checked into the Hotel Hacienda. After getting ourselves cleaned up, we walked up the road to explore the town a bit, and found a local place for dinner with fried fish and french fries. A pretty hard thunderstorm hit while we ate, but passed by the time we were done eating.

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