Besides “don’t drink the water” and “watch out for pink drinks,” there are a few other things to watch out for while enjoying the country and hospitality of Mexico. Living day to day here in paradise, you see some things you would never expect to find up-north. Let’s start the series with a few common scams. I know there are many more to add to this short list.
The first thing you will find on the way south is Pemex gas stations. This state-owned corporation has set fuel prices across the country, other than in the “economic zone” at the frontier with USA, where prices are adjusted for cross-border trade advantages. Here are a few slight-of-hand tricks that might get your attention: When you are fueling your vehicle, always note the pump is reset before starting. The game is to set the nozzle in the tank, then distract you for minute or two. Then the attendant asks again “full?” He points at the current number on the pump, then resets to zero to pump some fuel. He will then try to add the two fills as your bill. It happened to me once, and I showed him my owner’s manual to clearly show it was impossible to pump that much fuel into the truck. Fortunately, I think Pemex has had a lot of hostile replies to this scam, and now it is common for the attendant to get you to acknowledge the pump fully reset. Another is the $500 peso vs $50 peso bill trick. For example, for a $1,000 peso fill, you might give the attendant two $500 peso bills. He does a quick 360 degree spin to show you a $50 peso and one $500 peso note, asking for another $450 pesos. Your other $500 peso note went up his sleeve and he replaced it with a waiting $50 peso note. Instead, count out each note as you hand it to him. The bill colours are very different and it is hard to confuse the two bills.
When driving through Empalme, Sonora (Pemex #2754) this past October, I hold out the pair of $500 peso notes for a fill of up to $1,000 pesos of diesel. The attendant’s English is quite good, and with my Spanish, we both know what I’m looking for. The attendant points out the zeroed pump, which I understand is now a tradition for Pemex, and he promptly delivers $200 pesos (about 18 liters). His buddy shows up to point at the tires, talk about the weather and other distractions. I point at the $200 pesos. No, fill to $1,000 pesos. He starts filling again, and shuts off at $800 pesos. I remind him the pump was not zeroed for the last fill. Right. The pump cuts off at $945 pesos. Between the two of them, they reluctantly scrounge up the $55 pesos change. The buddy asks for “propina?” No. Off we go. Seven years ago, I experienced the same scam at the same Pemex. They haven’t changed their approach, so it must still work with the gringos.
A fairly new scam, that I only heard of this year, is the insurance or vehicle damage scam. An older fellow from up-north had parked his vehicle on a major street in town. Coming out of the store, a young man and a Transito police officer were beside his vehicle, stating he had hit the young man’s car while parking. Upon looking at the scratched vehicle, the old fellow was certain he had not hit the car and didn’t recall the car there at all when he pulled in. Fortunately, the Tourist Police drove by, and after a short discussion, the young fellow admitted he had dented the car elsewhere, and had simply drove by to find and park beside the gringo vehicle. No further actions and the kid just drove away. I guess some gringos might feel sorry for the kid and just pay-up. Not so for this smart old fellow. This is called “Dirty Wake” in boating: whatever you do in another country sets the tone for what is now acceptable for those following you.
Many northerners now take their pets south with them for the winter. While driving down, we have found the border /customs officials to rarely look at animals. However, anyone flying in will find the customs officials will look over the Vaccination Certificate quite closely for current Rabies shots and general health of the animal. One recent case I heard of at the Puerto Vallarta PVR Airport found the Mexican Customs official asking for a current Canadian Health Certificate, as well as confirmation of the Rabies vaccination (in this case, the animal actually originated in Mexico a few months ago). You don’t have one? No problem, you can buy a copy from the Mexican Customs Official, signed in Canada, for just $20. Oh, the beauty of photocopiers and whiteout for a business venture.
The only other annoyance we experienced was the squeegee guys at the toll-booths. For some reason, these guys don’t understand NO! in Spanish or English. At the Los Mochis toll plaza, this went to the bizarre stage as the guys wanted to sell me some weed with a Federal Police cruiser, with an officer on the hood, about 10 meters away. Go figure. We quite often take the free/libre roads, so thankfully don’t get these guys too often. I’ve heard the toll receipt provides you with insurance coverage while on these roads. I’ve often wondered what would happen if these guys dent/scratch your hood, and you went into the manager’s office at the toll-booth to collect an insurance claim for the damages?
Other than the texting cell-phone-warriors ignoring traffic while driving like mad on the Interstate in Tucson, we experienced no problems at all driving south. Nogales had the cleanest streets and least graffiti we’ve ever seen. Mexican road re-conditioning is underway and complete in a number of areas. It was an enjoyable and easy drive south this year.
It’s great to be back in the winter weather of La Peñita!
About the Author: Rob Erickson, his wife Heather and their rescue cat Mayo, spend half the year living on Vancouver Island, BC. and the other half in the Jaltemba Bay area of Mexico, where they enjoy the warm weather and slower pace of life. Now that Rob has finished building their new house in La Peñita, he can be found mountain biking around the area, volunteering at the JBAR spay and neuter clinics and relaxing in his Mexican-style hammock.
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