By: Rebekah Mullinix
Driving in Mexico is certainly different from driving in the USA. One unexpected condition is blockading. Blockades in Mexico are a common form of protesting and are something to be aware of when driving through Mexico. Unfortunately, blockades as well as other driving conditions in Mexico are completely unpredictable. There is no announcement or much knowledge about when or where a blockade will occur. Mexico has a history of political unrest, especially around election time.
What is a Blockade?
A blockade is when a group of people, whether that be community members, taxi drivers, cartel members, etc. block off a road completely. I have seen it done a couple of different ways. One time, an 18 wheeler was parked sideways on the road surrounded by community members with signs stating their cause. Another time I saw a short wall of sandbags accompanied by a wall of people holding signs. Blockades can look many different ways, but the common goal stays the same: disrupt travel.
Why do they Setup Blockades in Mexico
The community feels there is an injustice and wants to get the government’s attention. Often important roads or even railroads are targeted and become either impossible or very difficult to detour. Some causes are more pay for teachers, more money for the community, for roads to be fixed or crimes that are not being addressed. I have to admit, blockades are very effective and create a lot of anxiety among everyone involved.
Are Blockades Dangerous?
Blockades are not safe places; there are a lot of frustrated people. There are lots of unknown information: who the protesters are, what their intentions are, and if they are armed. The community is angry that the government isn’t helping them. The drivers are frustrated because they can’t do their jobs. Often the drivers stuck in the blockades are taxis or large trucks transporting goods, so this really hurts the economy which makes blockades an effective tactic. Tempers are high and it’s a rather volatile situation for everyone involved, including you.
What to do if You Encounter a Blockade
First, you might want to ask locals or consult local Facebook pages to try to figure out what is going on and if they know when the blockade will open. Some blockades happen only during high traffic times and others last for days to weeks straight. Because blockades are hostile situations, it is best to just find an alternative route. Sometimes locals will help you find alternative routes. When I was stuck in blockades, the taxi drivers would often tell me which detour they were taking. Depending on the time of day, consider getting a hotel and coming up with a game plan, you definitely do not want to be in a hostile and unfamiliar area at night.
My Personal Experience with a Blockade in Mexico
My husband and I were driving from Palenque to San Cristobal de Las Casas, which is normally around a 5-hour drive. About 3 hours in, we came across a blockade that was blocking the major road to San Cristobal de las Casas. There were cars backed up about half of a mile long. I tried to ask the locals what was going on, but all I could understand was “blocked.” I walked down to the end of the cars to see for myself and I saw an 18 wheeler across the entire road. Cars were In a jam because people were trying to pass, some were trying to turn around, and others were parked on both sides of the street. People were everywhere, some protesting with signs, some just trying to walk through the blockade and catch a taxi on the other side, as well as the locals that lived in the village trying to carry out their daily activities. I finally was able to find someone who spoke English and he suggested a detour although it was not marked on the map which made us wary of the journey. It started getting dark and we decided to drive to the nearest big town to get a hotel.
We checked again the next day and the blockade was still intact, so we decided to check out this mysterious road that was suggested by a local. We carefully started down the dirt road and decided to continue as long as we felt comfortable. Driving a Ford F-150 gave us more confidence that we could make it through the detour. If we were driving a different vehicle, we would not have attempted this detour. We drove through super small indigenous villages at around 8 miles an hour. We came across mountainsides with no guard rails, collapsed portions of dirt road, and evidence of rock slides. It was certainly a stressful and cautious drive. It took 3 hours to reach a paved road and about 2 hours after that we finally made it to our destination. We made it!
Read more about my experiences in Mexico here!