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February 2024
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Watching for Signs

One of the first things you notice in a foreign country is the signage, isn’t it? For one thing, it’s talking to you… telling you what to do or what comes next. Of course there are the ubiquitous ALTO signs, which if you haven’t figured means STOP after the first one or two, you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway.

On the highway from Cancun to Merida, a drive that many people make the first time they come to this town, there are an assortment of signs in Spanish that can be puzzling and mysterious, especially if you don’t speak the language, but sometimes even if you do!

Maneje con Precaucion is a common one and pretty easy to figure out: Drive with Caution. There’s also Conserva Limpio Yucatan (Keep Yucatan Clean), a sign foreigners often wish the locals would pay more attention to.  Aduana a 2 KM signals that in just two kilometers, your car might be searched for contraband as it crosses state lines.  Puesto de militar pretty much means the same thing, but the people doing the searching will be dressed in camouflage and carrying weapons. Caseta de Cobro means there’s a toll booth ahead… get out your wallet. Radar en Operacion means they might be tracking your speed with radar (but really, they probably aren’t). Disminuya su velocidad tells you to slow down, and Curva Cerrada means there’s a nastier-than-usual curve coming up, so slow down. Respete Limite de Velocidad just wants you to respect the speed limit (usually 110 kilometers an hour), which probably means you ought to slow down. And if that doesn’t work, they have other ways to make you slow down. If you see a sign that just has a line with little bumps on top of it, slow down immediately because you are about to come upon speed bumps, some of which can be pretty nasty. Sometimes the sign will say “topes” too, but sometimes not… it’s a good idea to learn to read the signs (and to slow down, did we mention that?).

Some of the signs along the highway wax poetic. No Maneje Cansado means “Don’t Drive When You’re Sleepy”. We love Si Toma No Maneje… If you drink (and we know you’re going to…), just don’t drive. But our favorite is somewhat wistful and poignant… it’s practically haiku. Despues del accidente, nada es igual. “After an accident, nothing is the same”.

Topping it all off are the signs about the signs. There’s the omnipresent No Maltrate Las Señales (Don’t Hurt the Signs). And then of course, there’s the meta sign that you can see almost anywhere: Obedezca Las Señales. If you don’t do anything else, please “Obey the Signs”.