I don’t like speed bumps. For most of my car-driving life this was not much of an issue because I encountered few. However, a decade ago, Brooklyn, my home, started putting in speed bumps on some streets I regularly drive. Mostly they signal a school that I am approaching. I understand the concern, but I was not aware that speeding cars had been wiping out schoolchildren in my neighborhood before the bumps were built. They did not seem necessary. However, now, on my way home, I have to slow to eight miles per hour or less and then go back to twenty-five and then back to eight three or four times on the last few blocks of my trip. I realize that this is a minor aggravation except when I am concentrating on a stroller or a bicyclist or the behind of a pedestrian, and don’t see the bump coming. I hit it too fast and fear my head is going to hit the car roof. However, I am restrained by the bruise-leaving, always-worn seat belt as I say various non-Christian oaths. On the other hand, I am grateful that many other blocks I drive do not have speed bumps, and on occasion I get home on a route that would otherwise be less convenient except for the absence of speed bumps.

I have become resigned to the Brooklyn bumps. I felt much yuckier about the Yucatan ones we encountered on a recent trip.

We had flown to Cancun, rented a car, and drove ninety minutes on a good road. We turned off the main highway onto a narrow, meandering street to get to the apartment we had rented on Akumal Bay. Our place was a little over a mile from the turn off, but it seemed much further because of speed bumps. There were many of them. I tried to count them but invariably lost track because of their number—more than two dozen but perhaps thirty or more. The bumps were not all the same. Some were nicely rounded and could be driven over at, say, five miles per hour without any danger of losing fillings. Some were plateaus with an incline, a flat space of several yards, and then an off ramp. Some, however, were not really bumps, but triangles with sharp tops that required extra care and speeds that matched a baby’s crawl.

Before some of the bumps, but not all, a sign was posted on the side of the road—TOPE—which we took to mean “speed bump” in Mexican. We figured that this was a two-syllable word, but the spouse like to pronounce it as if it were that brownish-gray color, that, to me, should have a hint of purple. Her exclamation of “Tope” was sort of cute the first time and even the second and perhaps the third, but we drove this road multiple times each day. Her shouting taupe the thirty-fifth time had lost all cuteness.

The road had a posted speed limit of twelve kilometers per hour, but if that speed was ever reached, the brakes had to be immediately pushed hard for the next speed bump. You could drive the road faster than walking, but only by a bit, and the usual trip the length of our little road took up to fifteen minutes.

This road was not an outlier. Every town where we drove in Yucatan had speed bumps. Even main roads were mined with them. We decided to visit the Mayan ruins at Coba, which we had not seen before. Google maps correctly indicated that it was about a ninety-minute drive, but the mileage (or should it be kilometerage or kilometreage) did not seem that far. Google maps apparently knew of the many, many, did I say many speed bumps we would have to traverse even though almost all of the drive was on main roads.

I wondered if some sort of bizarre corruption was at work. Had some well-connected speed bump construction company “convinced” local officials that this annoyance was necessary? I concluded that if all the speed bumps we encountered on the drive to Coba had been stacked on top of each other, it would make an edifice higher than Coba’s pyramid, a structure that we were told was even higher than the one at Chichen Itza.* If the speed bumps survive, I wonder what future anthropologists will make of them.

On the other hand, I don’t remember seeing any evidence of traffic accidents in our drives.



We toured Coba in a pedicab. The spouse and I sat up front in the vehicle in what was a spacious area for the young but a little tight for us. Rodrigo, who lived in the nearby town of 3,000 also named Coba, narrated as he peddled.

We learned some natural history. Rodrigo pointed out two trees growing together. He said that the bark or sap of one was poisonous and caused a rash, but the bark or the sap on the other one contained the antidote. The two trees always grew side by side. At another tree, Rodrigo pointed out a barely discernible hole with a swarm of small, flying insects. He said the creatures were a native, nonstinging bee. Its honey is harvested by boring into the tree and is a delicacy of the area. 

As can be expected, we heard many different languages and accents at Coba. French predominated, but at the pyramid we met a couple from Bulgaria, who seemed thrilled that we had been to their country, even though it had been for a matter of hours on a trip down the Danube. They took our picture with the pyramid in the background. I fell in love with her, but she has not called me, and my ardor has waned.

Of course, we were primarily there to see Mayan ruins. While Coba’s pyramid may be higher than Chichen Itza’s, it does not now seem as grand because it is in greater disrepair than the more famous site. The stairs have crumbled to pieces. However, I only remember one ball court at Chichen Itza while Coba has two smaller ones that seemed almost intimate.

The Coba feature we had not seen elsewhere was a portion of a raised road. Rodrigo told us that this road originally extended fifty or more miles through the jungle to other Mayan cities. I realize that I was only seeing a small portion of the road, but in spite of my close inspection I saw no speed bumps. On the other hand, the Mayans did not used wheeled vehicles.

However, on the more modern Coba paths used by our pedicab, Rodrigo did have to maneuver over…yep, speed bumps.

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