News for the Week of 12/23/14

Merry Christmas
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
                    And he will be called  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.    
                    Isaiah 9:6

The Faculty, Staff and Administration of St. Mary's School Wishes Everyone a 
Very Blessed & Merry Christmas!

Please be sure to "open" the last few doors of the SMS Advent Calendar - the final two days are our most special gift to you.  Click here.  The Advent Calendar will be available until the Feast of the Epiphany - January 6, 2015.

Calendar Reminders for the Start of 2015

Sunday, January 4 - Everyone is invited to attend a Farewell Reception for Father Santiago at noon in the Parish Center.  Father has played an active role in our school community as our school chaplain and we will miss his cheerful, reverent presence at morning prayer and school Masses.  We wish him all the best as he begins his new assignment at St. Anthony's in Bristol.

Monday, January 5 - School reopens and our celebration of Catholic Schools' Month begins!

Friday, January 9 - School Mass at 9am in the Church.  Everyone is welcome to join us in worship.  Please remember that no physical education uniforms should be worn to Mass.


School Survey - In January, each family with children attending Saint Mary’s School will be invited to participate in a School Survey to provide feedback for the ongoing development of Saint Mary’s School five year strategic plan. We are working toward enhancing our strategic plan to be in step with the Office of Catholic Schools Ministerial Plan, 20†20 Vision: An Eye on Our Future. This plan brings to life four critical domains that have been tested and supported by relevant literature and Church documents: Mission Formation and Evangelization, Leadership and Governance, Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Operational Vitality. As we work to build out our strategic plan it is important that we continue to look to the future. Our plan is very robust, however we felt it was important to seek broader feedback from the Saint Mary’s Community. 

In order to continuously improve in our ability to educate today's students, we ask you to share your experience by completing this important survey. Saint Mary’s School is working with an outside contractor, VOC Analytics, to conduct this web-based survey. VOC Analytics has generously offered its time and expertise so we can obtain this valuable feedback. On behalf of the St. Mary's School Board and Administration, we would like to thank you in advance for your participation in this important survey. You may look forward to receiving the web link for the survey early in January.  Claude Howard, Chairman - St. Mary's School Board

It's beginning to look a lot like.....

There were some reindeer games in the school office today!













End of Week Reminders - Friday, 12/19/14

"As we’ve already seen, Advent is a time of waiting. But does this mean that we do nothing? 
That we sit like lumps? No. In fact, there is something very “active” about waiting.

Do you recall how lively and attentive you are when you are eagerly waiting for someone to arrive? When you watch for every car that comes by when you are waiting at the airport? Every sense strains to take in what is happening. Your mind is alive with expectation; your spirit is jumping.

This is what waiting means in the spiritual sense; this is the mood of Advent. We’re invited to actively wait, attuned to the coming Christ, looking for him in the liturgy, the Scriptures, in prayer, and in all those around us who bear his image."  
   
  Fr. Robert Barron



 If you have not already done so, we invite you to share our Advent journey with the very special SMS Advent Calendar. The doors for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are our most special gifts to you.  Click here.





Monday, 12/22 - Christmas Band & Choral Concert.  Dress Rehearsal at 2pm & evening performance at 7pm in the Parish Center.  Everyone is invited to this evening of seasonal instrumental and vocal music.  Directions regarding arrival time and concert attire for band students is available here. Band students are reminded that they should bring their instruments, music and stands to school on Monday, 12/22, for the dress rehearsal. Mrs. Lepak will provide dress guidelines for chorus members.  Snow date is Thursday, January 8, 2015.






Tuesday, 12/23 - 12:45 Early Dismissal for Christmas break.  There will be NO Prekindergarten Enrichment and NO aftercare.

Monday, 1/5/15 - School reopens and our celebration of Catholic Schools' Month begins!





Mrs. Gannatti invites all students to wear casual dress on Tuesday, 12/23/14 - Please help your children make appropriate choices for their apparel.  Pajama pants or lounge pants are not acceptable for school.  Please refer to the Parent/Student Handbook for other guidelines.




Reminders from Mrs. Gannatti as we look forward to 2015:

          Teachers are available to meet with parents before or after school by appointment.   My faculty members tutor, meet with colleagues and/or prepare for the day before the children arrive in the morning.  It has come to my attention that parents are waiting in the halls to speak with teachers without prior notice.  I realize things come up and you may need to speak to a teacher.  I encourage you to send an email to the teacher.  Teachers do check their emails regularly and will respond within 24 hours.  For more urgent concerns, I ask that you come to the main office and my administrative staff will call the teacher to the office.  I appreciate your understanding in this matter.  This procedure is also required at the end of the school day.  Parents waiting in the hallways near classrooms at the end of the day are distracting to the classes in session.

Our school day ends at 3:20pm.  I ask that you try to schedule appointments after school or during school holidays or vacations.  Again, I realize this is not always possible.  Late arrivals and early dismissals impact your child’s learning as well  it is also a disruption to the other children in the class when children arrive late or leave early.   Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Middle School iPads - After thoughtful reflection and discussion, it has been decided that we will not collect the Middle School iPads over the Christmas vacation.  Students are encouraged to use the devices to complete any long term assignments or for study and review.  Please refrain from taking this school owned device on trips to minimize the chances of loss, theft and/or breakage.






Looking for some vacation fun?  Talcott Mountain Science Center is hosting Vacation Science 2014. Programs are available for students in Grades K-3 (Cool Chemistry and LEGO Robotics) and Grades 4-8 (Green Energy and Winter Nature & Geocaching).  Click here for more information and registration.


Selfless Giving - Every day, we are given many opportunities to practice selfless giving.  Sometimes, our actions are very small but even the smallest selfless gesture is important.  Sometimes, we have opportunities that are much larger in scope and have the potential to really test us.  This year, our community was blessed to witness a selfless act of generous giving when Maggie Domashinski, mother of Grace (Gr.8) and Kelly (Gr. 5), donated a kidney to Father Michael Whyte, her pastor at St. Catherine's of Siena in West Simsbury.  You can hear more about this amazing act of generosity and the faith journey of Maggie and Father Whyte  on " Crossroads Magazine" this coming Sunday (December 21)  with Father Gatzak. The show follows the daily Mass and is available via some local cable providers as well as via streaming video.  Click here.  Their story was also featured in the Hartford Courant.  Click here.



"Happy" to share - Take a moment to share the SMS Happy video - click here.  The exuberance of our students is one of our school's greatest gifts.  At this Christmas time, we are so grateful to you for sharing your children with us each day.  They inspire us with their creativity, they invigorate us with their energy, they humble us with their heartfelt and reverent spirituality, their happiness is contagious and they renew our desire to create a learning community worthy of their gifts.



News for the Week of 12/17/14


Third Week of AdventPhilippians 4:4–7: “May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus”  If you have not already done so, we invite you to share our Advent journey with the very special SMS Advent Calendar.  Click here.


Monday, 12/22 - Christmas Band & Choral Concert.  Dress Rehearsal at 2pm & evening performance at 7pm in the Parish Center.  Everyone is invited to this evening of seasonal instrumental and vocal music.  Directions regarding arrival time and concert attire for band students is available here. Band students are reminded that they should bring their instruments, music and stands to school on Monday, 12/22, for the dress rehearsal. Mrs. Lepak will provide dress guidelines for chorus members.  Snow date is Thursday, January 8, 2015.







Wednesday, 12/23 - 12:45 Early Dismissal for Christmas break.  There will be NO Prekindergarten Enrichment and NO aftercare.

Monday, 1/5/15 - School reopens and our celebration of Catholic Schools' Month begins!




The regular registration period for the Ski and Snowboard Club is now closed.  Late registration will be available until the program starts January 7. Late registration requires a $25 late fee and completion of the required forms - click here.

Room is available on the bus to Ski Sundown for anyone who has a season pass.  Please contact the group leader Jim Shanley at j.shanley@me.com or the school office for additional information.

The program will start on Wednesday January 7, 2015 and runs each Wednesday through 2/4/15. If a cancellation is necessary due to weather conditions or school closure, the program is extended to the following Wednesday.






Season of Giving - This year's 8th grade poinsettia sale was a huge success.  In addition to the funds raised to support our 8th grade's graduation activities, over $400 worth of poinsettias were donated by families, friends and students to the McLean Home and Governor's House.  Our commendation to our 8th grade class for using their fund raising efforts to also spread the joy of the season.

Home & School Association News


Merry Christmas

The Home and School Association would like to wish our wonderful community a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!
Jennifer, Amy, Ellen, Beth, Noreen and Frank


Blue Fox Family fun Night was...... Fun! We had lots of fun bowling and playing Laser Tag!   




Neckers Toy Store
Thank you to all who were able to participate in the Neckers Toy Store Christmas event.  Your generous purchases helped to raise additional funds for the school.


Skeleton Scramble:  Planning for Skeleton Scramble 5K is going strong and we’d like to invite everyone to keep updated.  Our new Facebook page is located at https://www.facebook.com/skeletonscramble5k.  Please visit and like the page to keep up with the latest news.  Don’t forget to share it with your friends!”

Alumni news


The poetry of Aaron Belletsky, SMS Class of '14, has been featured in a new book, A Celebration of Poets (Summer 2014). Inspired by his summer vacation to Maine, Aaron’s poem “The Beach” was judged to be a high merit poem by a panel of teachers and educators and from among other entries submitted by students all across North America. Less than 50 percent of the submissions are accepted for publication.  Click here to read Aaron's poem. Aaron is completing his freshman year at Northwest Catholic High School.  
Katharine Jessen and Sarah Jessen, SMS Class of '13 (Pictured above, front row, first & second from right)have been selected to perform in the Connecticut Music Educators Association's (CMEA) Northern Region Orchestra. Katherine and Sarah are currently completing their Sophomore year of study at Northwest Catholic High School.

If you have alumni news to share, please send it to dhatch@stmarysimsbury.eduk12.net.


Community News


The Simsbury Public Library has announced several events for teens over the holiday break.  Events include a Holiday Movie Marathon, an afternoon of board games, a New Year's Eve party with karaoke and more.  Click here for more program details.

News for the Week of 12/10/14



"Advent is a time of joyful anticipation.  For someone even bigger than Santa Claus is coming to town."
                                                                                                        Marcellino D'Ambrosio, PH.D.



Students in Mrs. Jehning's First Grade have created their own manger scenes as part of their Advent journey.  They are all beautiful and reflect both the spirit of the season and the personality of the artist.

Be part of the SMS Advent journey by sharing our Advent Calendar. "Open" a door every day to share an SMS Advent moment.  Click here.








Hot Lunch Orders for January - March are due NLT Friday, December 12th - The order period for hot lunches for January - March is now open.  Orders and payments must be received NLT Friday, December 12th.  Sign-ups for lunch volunteers is also available.  Click here for your lunch order form. Hot Lunch volunteers are always needed and it's a great way to share in your child's day.  Click hereto sign up to volunteer for lunch duty.

Grade 2 Reconciliation Services -  There will be two Reconciliation services on Saturday, December 13th in the church.  The 9AM service will be for families whose last names being with A through K.  The 11AM service will be for families whose last names begin with L through Z.  If you have any questions, please contact Judy Eagen at 860-658-5919.

Tuesday, 12/16 - Lessons & Carols Prayer Service. Dress Rehearsal at 10am & evening service at 7pm, both in the church.  All students in grades Kindergarten through grade 8 participate in this reverent retelling of the Nativity in prayer, reflection and song.  Student attendance is considered mandatory unless a student is absent or a written note has been submitted to Mrs. Gannatti requesting an exception. Look for a blog post from homeroom teachers that will include specific information regarding student arrival time and protocol.  Students in grades 1 -7 wear their full formal uniform. Dress guidelines for Kindergarten and grade 8 students have been provided by home room teachers.  Grade 8 dress guidelines also available here. Snow date is Thursday, 12/18.




Monday, 12/22 - Christmas Band & Choral Concert.  Dress Rehearsal at 2pm & evening performance at 7pm in the Parish Center.  Everyone is invited to this evening of seasonal instrumental and vocal music.  Directions regarding arrival time and concert attire will be provided to musicians and chorus members by Mrs. Morse and Mrs. Lepak.  Snow date is Thursday, January 8, 2015.







Wednesday, 12/23 - 12:45 Early Dismissal for Christmas break.  There will be NO Prekindergarten Enrichment and NO aftercare.

Monday, 1/5/15 - School reopens and our celebration of Catholic Schools' Month begins!




The regular registration period for the Ski and Snowboard Club is now closed.  Late registration will be available until the program starts January 7. Late registration requires a $25 late fee and completion of the required forms - click here.

Room is available on the bus to Ski Sundown for anyone who has a season pass.  Please contact the group leader Jim Shanley at j.shanley@me.com or the school office for additional information.

The program will start on Wednesday January 7, 2015 and runs each Wednesday through 2/4/15. If a cancellation is necessary due to weather conditions or school closure, the program is extended to the following Wednesday.

Home & School Association News





The HSA is pleased to announce that Red, White and Brew, Social Saturday was a funfilled, wonderful success. We would like to extend a special thanks to the people that worked so hard to make it happen; our chairpeople Sarah Mutarelli and Laura Williams, and Michelle Howard for coordinating the creation of beautiful class art projects that raised spirits as well as funds and to our generous local community. 







Please keep in mind and support these local merchants who consistently and graciously support us!
Kane's Market
Valley Fine Wines and Spirits
Attilio's 
West Simsbury Pizza
Over the Moon Kid's
Tastefully Simple consultant, Donna Nolan 
Jamberry Nails consultant, Michelle Howard
The Warmer Theater










Family Fun Night at Blue Fox Rock 'N Bowl  
 Unlimited Laser Tag & Bowling for $15pp from 4-7pm.  All payment is at the door.  Cash or credit- Click here for more information.  St. Mary's will benefit from any Necker's shopping done tomorrow (Thursday, 12/11/14) between 9:30am-7:30pm, just mention St. Mary's when you make your purchases.








Community News

The Teen Space at the Simsbury Public Library is offering a wide variety of programs this December.  Click here for a schedule of events including SAT Preparation, Art Portfolio development, a showing of "Elf", DIY Holiday Crafts and "Hour of Code".





Hiring a Car in Mexico?

An Adventure in Itself!

We are just recovering from the long flight and gathering our luggage trying to get ourselves and all our bags to the car hire counter when other people, wearing different uniforms, yell in strange accents to us:  “Try our special offer and get one day free!! Come in my friends!!!” One more over there, ready to intercept us, and then two more at the very edge of our car hire agency. So, after saying “no thanks” to many and struggling on our way, we finally arrive to the small stand. Some paperwork and offers of extra insurance later, we get our car and it is a big one. That is really odd!! The steering wheel is on the wrong side. What a rare angle of view from the mirrors!! Anyway, we manage to get familiar with every part of the car and in spite of being nervous, afraid and excited at the same time, we decide to start the motor and move on to our hotel.
 Oh my God!!! There are many signs on the next junction, it is a kind of roundabout, I can´t see any road marks, and the other cars behind us are honking so much, who has the priority??? "Try to pull over there", says someone in the back seat…. But there are no hard shoulders drawn, Aaaarghh!!! "Now go! Go! Now! No cars are coming! You see??" We continue on our way and then 5 minutes later we are on the motorway.  It is very busy, cars changing carriages all over the place with no previous indication at all! And what does that sign say??? Now cars are slowing down, it seems an accident might have occurred further ahead…. We don´t know exactly what’s going on, but when we see military vehicles, red cones on the tarmac, soldiers waving their hands in slow-down movements, we realise that it must be a security military inspection instead. The main stop point has 4 officers, they look at us and move their hands in a kind of "go-on" gesture, we assume it means we are allowed to continue our trip. No questions at all, no revision, nothing. Whoa!! That was scary, but a bit exciting, too!
We are now arriving to our hotel. Great adventure we have had and our holiday has only just started!  We are feeling a kind of relieving sensation with a bit of pride strangely mixed in, due to the achievement of such a challenge.  By the way, we are amazed at how big the car park spaces are.  We deserve now an extra cold Mexican beer, margarita or piña colada and that sun bath on the beach we have been waiting for, it is still sunny and we’ve earned it!


Cases like this are not rare and represent how people commonly perceive some of the differences (some of them very, very big) in driving.   If only I had known about it before…. you’d say.  There is no way you can change the style or the rules of how people drive in other countries; it can be, in other words, frustrating.  However it helps enormously when learning a few tips and being aware of what to expect.  Then you will realise that driving in Mexico is, in fact, not as crazy an idea as it sounds, and you will come out of the experience more knowledgeable and will be more confident with driving in remote and strange countries.  Driving in Mexico can be as hard as it is in any other place in the world, or it can be as easy as it is at many tourist areas in others latitudes.  That is actually one of the key factors that can make your driving experience less stressing and demanding:  stick to driving in the tourist zones, because mostly everything is made and planned with the foreign visitor in mind, in a more international style.

Having said that, taking your adventure farther and being more daring will allow you to discover that going “deep into the country” can be a marvellous, rich and unique experience, and one you are likely never to forget.  If you are one of those travellers who really likes to take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and get the most of it, then this advise is for you. Many of the main descriptions on how to drive in México and the most important contrasts between UK and this area are shown in the following article:

(Please note that while many of the main differences are detailed below, this article is by no means all-encompassing.  Try to do your own research and always keep yourself informed and up-to-date, especially for the period you are visiting the country, given that some laws, festive days, events, seasons, type of car or other variables could change.)


THE BASICS

THE VEHICLE

The very first thing you will notice is the “empty-driver-seat” effect in cars already moving.   The steering wheel is located on the opposite side compared with British cars and you will need your LEFT HAND TO CONTROL IT whilst you change gears.  Even though the gearstick is in the same place, you will use your RIGHT HAND TO CHANGE GEARS instead of your left one.  The order of gears and the position are the same.  Pedals are fitted in the SAME SEQUENCE as the UK counterpart.  The dashboard, depending on car model, year of manufacturing and brand is similar in appearance and it has the SAME FUNCTIONS.  Mirrorsare located on both sides in the exterior (most of them) and there is one in the interior (rear view mirror).  You should be aware that ANGLES and PANORAMIC VIEWS CHANGE compared to British ones.  It is highly advisable to review and check the car manual or booklet in advanced and to ask questions to the car rental people about your car itself, as well as completely familiarising yourself with the interior and workings of the car BEFORE you head out.


THE ROADS AND STREETS

The first main difference is RIGHT.  The driving in Mexico is to your RIGHT.  You need to keep to the right lane all the time, unless you need to overtake a vehicle or an obstacle; you must always overtake to the left.  Many roads are dual-carriageways and the low speed lane is the right one.  One other main difference is that streets, roads and motorways are WIDER compared with the British ones.  Within the motorway and main roads there are hard shoulders and resting areas in good condition.  However, the situation again may change if you go farther and away from these tourist routes, where neither hard shoulders nor resting areas are provided.   Also important to note and look out for, it is not uncommon for drivers to wrongly use the hard shoulders to overtake on the right.

Car parking is generally not a problem, it is abundant and cheaper, especially in tourist areas.

Traffic Signs for restrictions, warnings or directions are installed on posts and billboards in high places and it is really very easy to see them, they are the main and primary source of information, while road marks are much less used than in UK.  The main signs and indications painted on the surface of streets and roads are the lines dividing carriageways, those at the edges of the road, Zebra crossings for pedestrians and yellow ones painted on the edge of the pavement (generally meaning no parking allowed) and very occasionally speed limits, school areas and restricted areas.  But compared with UK and Europe in general, there is a LACK of road marks (drawings on the tarmac’s surface) and even in those rare cases when you see them, they look worn out and are barely visible.

There are MANY humps and speed bumps on the streets and roads in order to prevent speeding; with the main difference that they are usually an uninterrupted rise that goes from kerb to kerb, so the car “climbs” over it rather than having it go between the wheels.   Most of the time, they are correctly indicated, although sometimes warning signs are very close to the bump itself, almost at the edge of it, so you don’t have enough time to reduce your speed.  In few cases they are not signalized at all.  Some of these obstacles (bumps) can be extremely high or wide and could cause DAMAGE to your vehicle or passengers if it is crossed too fast.   These bumps are varied and are sometimes made up of creative and inventive materials:  they can be concrete, nylon boat ropes, metal pipes, or metal semi-circles in a row.  As a general rule, look out for yellow striped bands crossing the road ahead, changes in darkness or colour of the road, proximity to villages, schools, crossings or cities, and so on.

The general condition of roads is acceptable and in good condition most of the time; but some of them have serious design problems, POT HOLES (some could be called craters), SURFACE GRIP (lack of it), cracks, loose gravel, permanently flooded areas (rainy season), and again, some of these problems are not properly indicated.  The farther you go from main roads and tourist areas, the more you find these conditions.  You must use your common sense, guessing and intuition, and be constantly alert and aware of what the other drivers are doing:  why are they reducing their speed or braking?  What is the meaning of a traffic jam in a place with low movement of vehicles?

Driving in Mexican roads demands extra attention, focusing, alertness, hazard awareness and knowledge, and of course, a pinch of good luck is always very welcome.  Following these rules, your driving adventure will be safer, more comfortable, enjoyable and fun.


SAFETY

 When you have travelled and driven in many varied countries and cultures across the world, you can conclude that there are definitely a few common and universal rules for safety.   Here are but a few to consider:

·       Avoid driving at night in isolated areas
·       Do NOT pick up any hitchhikers
·       Do NOT leave any visible valuable things inside the vehicle
·       If you need to check the map or GPS, pull over!
·       Do not use your mobile while driving, it is dangerous and may cause accidents

The same rules apply while driving in Mexico.  You would be amazed and surprised that areas like Cancun and Riviera Maya have a smaller ratio of assaults, robberies or felonies related to tourists while driving, than in many big cities or other mega tourist zones in the rest of Mexico, as well as other parts of the world.   Just follow the general rules.

In addition, and more specifically in the Mexican Caribbean area, as in many other parts of the country where it should be highly emphasized, stick to the rule of avoiding isolated areas, especially at night.  In some cases this rule should be followed at any time of the day, but it becomes highly important to do so during the dark hours, when you may encounter drunk people crossing a road or walking along it, (unfortunately) drunk driving is not uncommon, there may be a herd crossing a road, people on bicycles with no lights, and so on.  Loose animals on the roads are a very real and common risk while driving in rural and secondary roads.  Lorries, tractors, wagons, motorcycles and bicycles with no lights are not rare to find in these roads and in streets within the main cities too (bicycles and tricycles in particular).  In extreme cases you may see them (hopefully) in intersections with main roads or even the motorway.  PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION when approximating bridges, junctions, intersections, small villages, etc.  The right and legal speed, hazard awareness and alertness are your best way to prevent or minimize the risk of this.

Avoid areas where mega events are going on, such as protests, international leaders’ meetings, concerts, celebrities visiting, etc. It is common in Cancun to see this kind of events and because many people are participating, the result will normally be crowds of people surrounding the place.  You will be safer not driving near of those perimeters. Keep yourself informed and updated about it.


SERVICES

You will find a variety of services offered in main roads.  Gas stations are named PEMEX and they are located along many points during your journey in the major tourist areas. You always receive personal attention from one or two employees who fill your tank with the fuel required. At the same time they normally clean your windshield, mirrors or check the air pressure in your tyres expecting to earn a tip (their main source of income).  Inside the principal gas stations you will find convenience stores, takeaways, restaurants, cafes and other shops.  In secondary roads you need to plan your journey in more detail, because the petrol stations are much LESS FREQUENT and they lack the offer of services.  Petrol is much CHEAPER when compared to UK.

Always make sure you have the emergency contact numbers for the car hire agency, and keep them with you at all times.  It is highly advisable you get full insurance or coverage that includes services such as tow truck services.   When getting the car, ask and go over the procedure of what to do in case of an accident or car trouble, it pays off to be prepared.


THE ADVANCED

DRIVING IN CITY CENTRE AND BUSY AREAS

 One of the main characteristics of Mexican driving style, especially in central streets, high traffic areas and busy roads is how lanes, carriageways and road marks are used.  Cars sometimes don't align with the lines painted (if they are still visible at all) over the surface of a road indicating where your carriage is, so many times you will see three cars using 2 lanes and one of them is overlapping two of them while waiting to cross over a street or the green light.  The same could happen while you’re moving, some drivers won’t previously indicate they’re switching carriages, they just do so without any pause at all, moving in just a little bit ahead or behind your car.  Suddenly you could find yourself stuck in an entanglement of cars, motorcycles and buses (sometimes they invade 3 lanes).  But remember, this happens every day, it is a normal and everyday situation, it is not a personal matter against you.  Just take a deep breath, wait and follow the vehicle in front of you while at the same time inching your way back onto your own carriage.   On a side note, one important thing to point out about buses, they do not have their own lane and although they usually stick to the right side, they DON’T HAVE TO.

You need to keep your eyes on many things and all your attention should be focused on EVERYTHING that is going on around you.  Take a glance a little bit in front of you (you don't want to hit the car ahead of you), another quick look to the road (find your lane), another for the ALTO signpost (mandatory STOP) or stoplight, check your mirrors for turns or before changing carriages and so on.

In addition, another annoying noise that you’ll find is very common:  honking.  It’s coming from everywhere, even from people behind you while you wait for the red light to turn green, as soon as that stoplight changes, you’ll hear a honk half a second later.  It is a learnt behaviour and a cultural feature firmly ingrained in every driver, so don’t take it personally or as a insult, nor is the driver necessarily having a bad day.

You have to keep in mind that pedestrians are a very important thing to look out for at ALL TIMES.  Although Zebra crossings and pedestrian stripped humps are relatively well marked and signalized, and some high-speed avenues even have pedestrian bridges, you must expect people crossing the streets from any given direction.   You may also see people walking, running, working in stands or just having a chat at any part of the road.   You must remember you are a pedestrian too; keep in mind that if there is no stoplight, even when walking across a specifically designed crossing area for people, CARS DO NOT ALWAYS STOP, they may expect you to run or wait for them to pass first.

Public service buses can stop at any place and at any moment, to pick up or drop off people; so besides looking out for the bus suddenly halting in front of you, you must BE CAREFUL with those people getting off the bus, because they could be CROSSING the street from ANYWHERE around that bus.

As many cities in the world, Mexican ones lack parking sites or spaces in the areas close to the centre or with heavy traffic.  As a general rule, a yellow line painted on the edge of the kerb or pavement means NO PARKING, and you must park 15m or more from the corner.   However, don’t worry, as there are many private car parks that are cheaper than European or British ones.

Most side or secondary streets are one-way only and traffic goes in only one direction, so it is important to take note of the traffic’s direction for each street.  This is usually indicated by a white arrow on posts located on street corners, but sometimes, although less common, you will find it painted on the wall of the corner house or building or painted on the surface of the street.

Keep in mind most of the scenarios described above refer to busy areas, or sometimes rush hour.   As soon as you leave that zone, you will find a more organised area to drive.  That’s why one more piece of advise is to try and avoid the high-traffic times; your travel agent should be able to help you with these.


DRIVING ON MAIN ROADS AND MOTORWAYS

Travelling along dual carriageways or motorways is not hard at all if you keep in mind all that you’ve read so far, and whatever else you may have researched.  After a while, you will become familiarised with the local way of driving and will probably feel more comfortable as you go along your way following the car in front of you.  After that, you might even start feeling confident and quite sure of yourself.  Well, that could be one of the worst mistakes to make.  As soon as you leave behind you the heavy traffic sites and find yourself driving all alone on the road, and you don´t see any more cars that have so far served as an implicit reference, it is very easy for your subconscious to take over and unconsciously swap to the left side, in particular when you turn at intersections, junctions, when a dual carriageway turns into a single one and NO OTHER VEHICLES ARE PRESENT.  Always check indications and signals, over all if you have been driving for a while with no cars around you.  When possible, AVOID DRIVING ALONE at anytime, IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO HAVE A COPILOT.

Speed limits in motorways are normally well regulated and signalized, but in real life you can encounter vehicles travelling at different speeds, from very slow lorries and trucks to the very fast sports and 8-cylinder cars.  Normally the right carriage is for LOWER SPEED and the left carriage for HIGHER SPEED AND FOR OVER TAKING.  Speed limits can change at any time, and vary repeatedly along motorways.  Be alert and on the lookout for these signals, because sometimes you will only have one warning to reduce your speed.   Always keep an extra distance between you and the other vehicles.

When the car behind you, in the left carriage, is coming very fast towards you, it is a common practice for them to use the high beams to alert you THEY ARE COMING AND YOU NEED TO STAY CLEAR OF THAT CARRIAGE.  The same could happen at an intersection, junction or crossing and the meaning of getting the high beams from a fellow driver is ambiguous at best; although it usually is used more as a WARNING that THEY have priority, than as yielding it to you.  Try, if possible, to look for extra hand or face gestures indicating that they are giving you way.  When in doubt, it is definitely much more advisable that you give way.

CHECK constantly the appearance of the TARMAC OR ROAD SURFACE. When no signs are displayed and if you see changes in colour, texture, width or shape you could face also a change in your gripping capacity situation.  Loose gravel, concrete (sometimes polished by extreme use), humps, bumps, spilled oil or others could AFFECT THE CONTROL of your vehicle, especially when you have been in one kind of road surface for a while and then you suddenly change.  The best way to prevent losing control is TO REDUCE YOUR SPEED until you are familiar and confident with your new environment and, thru observation and common sense you are able to determine what caused that suspicious change in surface.  The same situation could also happen when entering a city or village.  You could encounter speed limits changing abruptly, the number of carriages increasing or decreasing, two carriages or dual carriageway becoming one without warning, stop lights being in use, etc.


THE LEGAL ASPECTS

In addition to your own international insurance policy you SHOULD contract the MEXICAN FULL INSURANCE COVER with your car hire agency.  Many people in Mexico have no insurance covering and in case of an accident, car stealing or third party damages, it is much easier to deal with the process through the Mexican insurance than with the British or European version.  If possible, try to contract both.

In case of being stopped by the police, try to insist that you do not speak Spanish and ask them politely if they can give you a warning (this may not necessarily work, but at least it gives the impression you want to do the right thing).  You might probably have heard about famous Mexican corruption and how “easy” it is to bribe an officer in order to avoid the fine.  The reality is that it's a learnt art imbibed in the culture, and you must be very, very careful if trying to put it into practice; you may be accused of bribery intention and your fine could be increased or they (if in effect, they are corrupt) could ask you for many times more the money they would be asking from the locals.  Normally, when you commit a minor fault (common for tourists) and it is not one involving any damage to human beings or property or resulting in an accident, fines usually are not very expensive and it is preferable to pay it.  The only issue then is the time you will spend paying this penalty, which could be 1-2 hours, or even half a day, depending on day, hour, season or others.

Do not pick up, carry, deliver, store or receive in your car any kind of package, luggage or even a parcel from unknown or people you’ve recently met, asking you for that favour or service.  Drugs or weapons possession are a very serious crime and most of the time the penalty is many years in prison, plus the huge payments for the legal process.  The method of using innocent tourists as a transportation means for illegal articles is a very real risk, which can be easily avoided if you take the mentioned precautions.

Military and security stops are common in areas close to airports, big cities and tourist areas.  Almost every time, you need to reduce the speed or stop for five or ten seconds to let the officers see you and that’s it, you can then continue your trip.  Most of the time the military stop checks are that easy, even in those rare cases when you are stopped, as soon as they realise you are a tourist, they let you continue your trip without any questions.  In extreme and rare cases, they stop you and ask for destination, hotel bookings, passports, return flight tickets or documentation and they could proceed to make a visual inspection of your car, outside and inside, mainly looking for illegal things (drugs and weapons basically), thus if you are not in possession of any of these, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Most of the time, and keeping in mind all the advice and tips suggested in this article, you will not have any trouble with legal situations, like the vast majority of foreign people travelling to Mexico.


IN SUMMARY

1.  Take your time in advance to learn, know and get familiar with your car model, maps, routes, restrictions, special events, trip logistics, weather, etc.

2.  Right-side driving.  Right-side slow speed.  Left-side higher speed and over-taking.  Although keep in mind some drivers wrongly overtake on the right side as well.

3.  The main source of information and signs are situated high on signposts and billboards, NOT painted on the tarmac.

4.  Avoid night driving.  Avoid remote and isolated roads.

5.  Double your attention, alertness, hazard perception, focusing and awareness while driving in any road, especially the secondary ones.

6.  Try to stay away from busy city centre areas (it is preferable to walk), special-event zones and dangerous areas identified by your recent updated research.

7.  Keep reminding yourself about the right-side driving, especially when you don't have other vehicles as a reference.

8.  A change of high beam lights could mean the opposite of what you’re used to!  If you receive it, it normally means you need to give way.  Try to find and check for other non-verbal indications, and when in doubt, give way!

9.  Changes in the appearance, colour, width and any other feature noticed on the street or road mean caution.  Reduce your speed and pay extra attention.


10.    Always contract your travelling insurance and try to get a full cover one from the car rental in Mexico.

Always refer to your travel agent for further advise and tips.  Happy driving!

Kategori