Cuotas and besos on the road home
Opinion by Patrick O’Heffernan
I recently drove from Los Angeles to Ajijic, over five days and four nights; I know you can do it faster but I had a dog with me so, we made extra stops. The only really long day was from Yuma, Arizona to Hermosillo – 9 hours. But the trip was all good. The Mexican toll roads, the cuotas carreteras, are four- lane divided highways, except when they are not, and are in pretty good shape.
They can also reveal insights about Mexico and Ex-pats. Anyone who drives the cuotas has encountered toll plazas taken over by local villagers or ejidos, so they collect the tolls instead of the government. I understand that they are seeking justice, usually from a government that promised them a share of the tolls but never delivered. I have no problem with the people at the plazas; they are always friendly and they ask for a donation far less that the official toll. Plus their presence and their signs are an opportunity to learn about Mexican society.
I had an experience on this trip with a rouge toll booth that also revealed something about Ex-pats and Mexico. The four lane road in Sonora had narrowed to two lanes and as I approached a small village the two lanes were blocked by a big tractor so there was just enough room for a car to squeeze by. A high school-aged boy put a plastic barrel in the middle of the lane and smiled as I rolled to a stop at the makeshift toll plaza.
There was a party going on around him, with a iPhone speaker, kids dancing and talking and looking at their phones and having a good time. A really cute couple came over to my window and shook a plastic bucket for a donation. There were just a few coins in it and they were so attractive and so happy! that I gave them a 20 peso note laying on the seat. Cheers, thanks you’s and shaking rattles greeted me. I asked them in my rough Spanish what the money was for and the girl replied in Spanglish it was for a fútball field for their school. Great cause; I gave them another 20. More cheers, rattles and thanks you’s. Then the girl reached into the car, took my face in her hands and gave me a big long kiss on the mouth before she waived adios.
When I told some friends in LA about this one, said I was extorted out of $2 by children who should have been in school. “No!” I said. “For a two dollar donation I got to join a party, get kissed by a beautiful girl and sent on my way with a lipstick-smeared grin, feeling young again and happy for the rest of the day.” Those kids in Sonora gave me a gift and a memory that will last forever. That is worth far more than $2.
When people ask me what are the most important things to take to Mexico, I usually tell them “patience and a sense of humor.” After the experience with the rouge toll plaza in Sonora and my friend’s reaction, I am going to add two more items to that list: an open mind and an open heart, and keep a twenty on the passenger seat when you drive the cuotas carreteras.
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