21 March 2006 CULTURE, Utilities & Vehicles, LIVING, Interviews & Editorials 0

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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