Safety First Part 2- Topes

Getting Mexico

January 12, 2011

Safety First – Part 2

Wednesday was spent doing laundry and studying.  How boring.  So I thought I would continue my lecture on safety.  To day we will talk about ‘tope’ which is a small Spanish word that means ‘limit’ or ‘stop’.  What it really means is ‘giant hairy speed bump.’

Topes are used to slow down traffic in congested areas in the cities, school zones, near auto repair facilities, chiropractic offices and in any place where someone just wants to be mean. 

The average side-street in a small town like San Carlos will look something like the following picture.  On this type of surface you can get a car up to 10, sometimes 11 miles per hour before the vibration from the road will cause large and critical parts to leave the car.  This is the top speed you can go unless you are driving a borrowed car or a rental, in which case there is no limit.

Cobbled side street


In order to slow traffic down where it needs to be slowed, speed bumps as shown in the next picture are often installed.  These topes are known as the industrial strength topes and are rarely seen because they costs money and are permanent. Both of these features are not required in Mexican road construction.

Industrial Grade Topes


So that leads us to the home grown topes which are considerably cheaper and one heck of a lot more effective due to the height and the randomness of their locations.  Going over one of these at more than 2 mph will have you subjected to the same g forces as a fighter pilot ejecting from his cockpit.  If you go over one of these at more than 10 MPH you are going to need a new car, new dentures and help finding your hairpiece.  I love these things! This I get!  It is a passive system with the ability to automatically issue a very expensive fine to anyone who does not obey.  No paperwork, no policeman, no court.  You simply dole out your own penalty.  You have to love these things. (Note:  The flat spot in the middle is to allow passage of migratory animals.)

Respectable Topes


But wait!  It gets better.  Most things made of concrete in Mexico don’t last very long. I don’t know why.  Our next door neighbor believes they have concrete eating termites here and while there is much evidence to this, I just don’t believe it.  Whatever the case, most topes will not last very long and will end up looking like the picture below.  And here lies the true beauty of a tope; once you have hit one of these things on a street, you are not going to ever willingly speed down that street again.  Even if the tope is old and falling apart you are not going to do it.  How will you ever know if and when someone has rebuilt it? This rebuilding effort has never happened in recorded history but it could.

A crumbling tope

In most cases there is a sign warning a driver of an upcoming tope. Sometimes there is no sign warning a driver of an upcoming tope.  But here is the beauty of the system; sometimes they put up a warning sign without putting up the topes, saving themselves a ton of money and getting exactly the same effect.  How neat is that? 

Just a sign. No tope. Just cobble


Sometimes they don’t put up the sign, don’t put up the topes, but paint something that sort of looks like a tope in the road and there again, they get the same effect. These are known as a ‘stealth topes’ or ‘stealtho topeso’ in Spanish. You have to love this ingenuity.

Is this a tope? Are you feeling lucky today, Punk? Well are you?


Then there are those that are not authorized to put up signs and don’t have the money to invest in a couple of sacks of concrete, so they lay some old piece of rope across the road as in the picture below. Now this is just not cricket as the British would say if they had been smart enough to come up with this system. (Note:  The British came up with the ‘roundy’ which is a lot of fun but does little to slow down traffic.) It really makes it more difficult for all of the real topes and even the stealth topes to be effective.  If enough people put up these candy topes then the system will fall apart and people every where will ignore all of the topes.  But there really only needs to be one functioning tope in the entire country, to make the rest of them effective, so maybe it isn’t a big issue.

Candy Tope


In conclusion, topes work.  Put a few of these up in your neighborhood and kiss your hot-rodding neighborhood kid goodbye.  The next time you will see him is when he passes by in low earth orbit.  I like topes. I get topes.

Next: Random Acts of Safety


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