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Anyone who has traveled by car in Yucatan – or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter – quickly discovers the tope (pronounced toe-pay), which literally means limit. A tope by any other name is just a speed bump, but they are such a common nuisance here, especially in residential and rural areas, that somehow just calling them speed bumps does not do them justice.

We have seen topes of almost every imaginable design: There are standard asphalt topes with a rounded top, commonly seen in the U.S. There are steep concrete topes that feel like skate board ramps as they launch you towards your destination. There are topes made of over-sized Botts dots, qué moderno!. There are portable topes made from five-inch diameter rope, the sneaky ones. There are topes that are actually raised pedestrian cross walks. This last type are usually well-marked by a sign that warns of a fine of 16 or more multas de salarios (16 times the minimum wage) if you pass through while occupied. But often – more often than we think the Geneva Convention allows – there are no warning signs for topes. No day trip by car through the Yucatan is complete without hitting a tope at full speed…

We thought we had seen every kind of tope until a recent trip to the Mayan Riviera. We were driving down Carretera 307 and took the exit to visit Xcaret, a well-known eco-theme park. We had not seen it in a couple of years and wanted to check its condition after Hurricane Wilma. As we rounded the corner towards the park, we noticed the unusual “cow in the road” sign, shown above. One often sees unusual and sometimes highly-creative signage around Mexico, but what made this sign unusual was that there are seldom any cows running loose in the Yucatan. Dogs, goats, turkeys and pigs, perhaps, even a coatimundi or jaguar on rare occasion, but not cows.

Cows in Yucatan are usually of the Brahman breed, those huge, hardy, long-eared, hump-backed bovine that, originating from India, don’t seem to mind the tropical environment here. They are expensive and highly prized and well fenced and you just don’t see them jogging along the road (thank goodness).

So you can imagine our surprise when we rounded the corner and immediately saw, not just a cow, but a classic Holstein dairy cow (think Gateway computers) munching her cud by the side of the road. Then we saw another. Then another. Not just one, but three! (Ohmygosh) The car screeched to a crawl as we marveled at the sight.

And that’s when we noticed that the cows were not moving, eyes vacant, tails poised in mid-swish. They were not cows at all; they were manikins, or cowikins. And the most effective tope we’ve yet encountered.

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15 Responses to “Topes”

  1. Yay, cowikins! Go, bovinikins! If topes are a necessary evil, I love this creative twist.

    Your ‘new’ site looks great, by the way. Congrats for freeing yourself from the inconsistencies of Blogger. :)

  2. I know what you mean about “topes” I just got back from Merida and it seems like we hit 3 or 4 in each block.

    Anyway, I love your new Look, and thanks for keeping all yucatecos abroad updated.


  3. Thanks, KAT. Glad to hear you got your streaming audio feature working, too. It’s the price one pays for being on the bleeding edge. See you Saturday!

  4. Gina,

    You know the drive must be even more thrilling for all those Yucatecos who own Vochos!

  5. Topes, the Mexican authorities’ answer to their own incompetence in handing out drivers licenses as if they were prizes in a Bran Flakes ceral box, have other unusual names besides the ubiquitous ‘tope’; vibradores is another one, applied to a small series of topes that will make your cars suspension shudder in disbelief. There is another one I saw recently on a drive to Majahual whose name escapes me at the moment… it’ll come to me…

  6. [...] At a really good long stoplight, a driver might be offered three or four of these items by various sellers walking up and down the line of cars. In more rural parts of the Yucatan and Mexico, entrepreneurs even go so far as to create topes by putting thick ropes in the road, causing drivers to slow down and thereby creating their own selling opportunity. [...]

  7. I know all about topes now. We just got back from our trip along to the Riviera Maya. We opted not to take the cuota on the way there.

  8. Re: No day trip by car through the Yucatan is complete without hitting a tope at full speed…

    My first trip down, by car, was with just me, 3 dogs and a cat – and it was pre-cuota, except for one little piece. My poor little car. I have no clue how she survived my learning (the hard way) about topes! …but, bless her heart, I’m keeping her forever because she can handle anything any tope throws at her.

  9. yo soy un exclavo mas de los topes en todo mexico es parte de una mala tradicion, todo progreso es frenado por un tope es desir despues de años de no tener caminos cuando los tienes los llenan de topes asi es la trizte historia de este pais me da mucha pena ante la comunidad mundial asi se frena aqui el progreso ya reniego de sr mexicano

  10. Question: As we were driving through many villages … some were only two tope towns and some were ten topes towns… we noted how many villagers had set up green house like exhibits in their front yards.

    We didn’t see anyone buying them or trying to sell them so it left us wondering if they’re small greenhouse enterprises that sell to larger ones that furnish all of these mammoth parks and resorts??

  11. When I was traveling through Mexico, we went from Oaxaca (the city) to Puerto Angel and it was maybe a 5 hour drive…with a total of I think 180 topes. Without the topes, it probably would’ve taken about 3 hours…or maybe that’s just my imagination! Topes are definitely a charactristic part of Mexico. :)

  12. Sleeping Policemen
    I first was introduced to topes in 1959 when I first came to Mexico City during the first month of my summer vacation as a student at the University of Minnesota. During that month I visited many sites in and around the DF, Cuernavaca, and Acapulco. Needless to say, even at that time, there were plenty of topes around, especially outside the city and in the residential areas. The word tope was not in my Spanish vocabulary that I had been learning at the U of M. In fact it was not even in the Spanish dictionary since the word is a modismo from here in Mexico. The Mexican Spanish Dictionary Phrasebook by Lexus Publishing says topes are speed bumps and in quotation marks it says ‘sleeping policemen.’ It appears that the sleeping policemen are being replaced by sleeping cows. Well, whatever works, so be it.

  13. I am from Mexico City, i have lived all my life here and TOPES are a very natural thing for me, though i accept the some topes no tienen madre (mexican expression of disgust (in this case)). There isn’t a standard material, neither a standard size, nor anything. I think a reason for that depends on many things: 1) The place where it’s placed; if the speed of the cars is low on that street usualy there is a small tope, if it’s a looong “straight” road or streets in which cars go at high speed a bigger TOPE is needed. But I’ve been a victim of unmarked and unpainted topes. As I said before, topes are a very natural thing for me. All my life i have traveled around the world but it was until last spring when I went to Germany that I made myself conscious that topes don’t exist in many parts of the world, and it was very hard to explain what a tope is to the Germans. It was a funny thing for me!

  14. Es pésimo el uso de topes, es un mal nacional absurdo, una práctica tercermundista y retrograda. Así como Migue, me siento esclavo y rehén de los topes y me apena que ustedes como invitados a nuestro pais tambien lo sufran. Soy mexicano, y me avergüenza que tengamos topes. Estos obstáculos hacen que vayamos en retroceso y perdamos competitividad en una economía cada vez más globalizada.

    Translation: The usage of topes is a national problem. It’s absurd, a third world practice and reactionary. Just like Migue, I feel a slave and hostage of topes and I feel embarrassed that you as guest to our country have to suffer with them too. I’m Mexican and I’m ashamed of having topes. These kinds of obstacles make us go backwards and lose competitiveness in a more and more globalized economy.

  15. We appreciate your comment, Gerardo, and your sentiment. But we kind of like topes. They’re a little bit fun, and they work.


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