Thursday, May 13, 2010

Road Construction, Mexican-style

Although I have mixed feelings about leaving Mexico (looking forward to the dry, mountain air...going to miss the mangoes and pineapples), one thing I know I will not miss is the pace or logic of road construction in Mexico.

I know I will return home to a torn up intersection in a part of town that I used to traverse frequently on my way to Whole Foods, Target, the Y, and the chiropractor. That will be a pain, but, there are ways around it. And the project will run on a schedule. The schedule may be delayed, but it will not be a never-ending project. Here in San Pancho, the main road in town is torn up. There is no decent way to get around it. It is dusty. It is loud. It makes a mess of traffic. And it may possibly never end!

Here is the backstory as I have heard it from people who have lived here much longer than I have. In typical Mexican fashion, some road construction guys showed up one day to begin tearing up the road. The locals (both gringos and Mexicans alike) were shocked and dismayed, for the cobbled main road seemed to work fine for them and added character and charm to our main street. With the kids from our little elementary school sitting in front of the bulldozers to prevent work from starting, the construction crews agreed to wait until the town had a chance to talk over the road plans and approve them.

Originally the road was going to be a hot, fast, character-less strip of asphalt. This would not suit our town well so the town and whoever was in charge of the construction (someone up high in the state) compromised with the town and agreed to pour a stamped, dyed concrete road with planters along the curb that protrude out into the street in order to slow traffic down.

One of the great things about the cobbled roads here, besides their smart use of natural resources, is that they keep people from driving faster than about 20mph (or 5mph if you are my dad), keeping animals and pedestrians semi-safe despite crazy drivers. Smooth roads here are scary.

So sometime last year, like in February or early March, the construction began at the end of the road down near the beach. In true Mexican fashion, it started and stopped, started and stopped, and was still not completed when we arrived in August. We're talking about maybe a half mile of road. Possibly as little as a quarter mile. And it took well over six months to finish. Who knows what delays construction around here? I've heard there was a concrete shortage (hard to believe considering the abundance of it here), possibly a shortage of the dye they were using in the concrete...who knows? It was left unfinished for a while and we all figured out ways around the mess, but tourists were baffled. How do we get to the beach? How do we get to shops? Restaurants? Merchants lost money and everyone was annoyed. And dirty.

Around mid-November the construction crews arrived again and dug up the second section of road. The second section was maybe an eighth of a mile long. They started it as tourist season really got going, tore up the road (and sidewalks), and then left. The difficult-to-find detour was a dusty, dirty, pot-holed, narrow, hilly mess that caused tourists to turn around and find someplace else to visit. When it became clear that the road crews were not coming back to finish their work, everyone started using the main road again, even though it was unfinished. 4WD vehicles come in handy here.

Holes in the sidewalks were covered with plywood to keep us from falling in (Callie nearly tripped and fell in once before they were covered) and the road was treated as a one lane road with people taking turns to navigate it in cars. A few months later, the crews returned, filled in the spots they had left open, but chained the road off so nobody could pass. They left hunks of concrete in the middle of the road, a steamroller at one end of the road and a bulldozer at the other in order to make the road impassible. And they never came back. This section of road was started before Thanksgiving. By the time it was clear the road crews weren't coming back, it was Spring Break. The community came together, cut the chains, removed the concrete chunks, filled in a few leftover holes, and got someone to move the steamroller and bulldozer. Thanks to the community, the road was opened up for the Spring Break crowds to use.

Two weeks ago, the crews returned. Sigh. We were SO hoping to finish our time here without witnessing more of this mess. The third section of road has been dug up. There is no detour, so the crews are trying to keep at least one side of the road passable for cars at all times. One sidewalk is torn up. Our little produce stand is enveloped in dust. EntreAmigos is a hot, dusty mess. The mango trees that line the road are begging for rain -- they are so covered in dust they are nearly unrecognizable. It is a mess. A grity, sweaty, dirty, grimey mess.

In the meantime, someone from high up in the state government came to visit our little town. He thought it needed to be cleaned up, so he sent in crews to pull all of the weeds along the road, pick up all the garbage and remove all of the signs pointing people to businesses in town. Oh, and he removed signs on peoples' businesses if he deemed them as interfering with his view. So it is a little hard to tell now what is a bar, restaurant, or shop versus what is a private home. Hopefully merchants will return their signs to their original places once the likelihood of fines goes down. Then he also had crews paint both curbs on the street yellow to keep people from parking on the main street which is a whole different, illogical story. In true Mexican fashion, the yellow curbs don't seem to be deterring people from parking on both sides of the street, keeping traffic gummed up as usual. Annoying traffic is better, I suppose, than no traffic at all?

Ahh, life in Mexico! It is unpredictable and sometimes seems to be lacking in forethought, common sense or any kind of sense, really. There has to be some cost to paradise, right?

Just think: in six weeks we'll be back in a different kind of paradise. The kind where everything is predictable, well-laid out and...boring? Maybe boring, but clean. I like clean.

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