Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Accidental Tourist

From the beginning of this Blog over 5 years ago I have maintained a positive point of view about Loreto in general and Loreto Bay in particular, following my dear Mother's advice "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".  So this week's posting is somewhat of a departure, as it deals with a serious topic and I think it includes lessons that some residents and visitors alike could benefit from.

A recent visitor to Loreto Bay who has been reading the Blog for years and has visited here several times, after being introduced to the place during the marketing phase of the Development, came into my Office the other day and told me this story, suggesting that he thought it might be a good Blog topic.  I agreed, as it points out a real concern of mine that I think some visitors and residents here may not be taking as seriously as they should - responsibility and liability issues for foreign drivers in Mexico.

Different than in the US and Canada, Mexico operates under the Napoleonic Code - in effect you are guilty until proven innocent, which is why automobile insurance is so important for foreign drivers.  When I drive my Canadian registered vehicle into Mexico I have a supplementary Mexican Insurance policy that provides coverage while I am in Mexico.  However, unlike most North American policies, this insurance is specific to the policy holder NOT the vehicle.  So if I want to let another Driver use my car my insurance carrier requires me to write a letter (in Spanish and English) that specifically authorizes that person by name, address and drivers license number to drive the car, and keep this letter in the vehicle with the policy, for them to be covered by my insurance.     

While no one likes to think about the "bad" things that could happen while in a Foreign country, I think there are perhaps lessons for all of us in Don's story, which he has called; The Accidental Tourist.

After flying into Cabo and renting a car Don, his wife Ramona and 16 year old son Lucas drove to Loreto
Bay with an overnight stay in La Paz.  On arrival they unloaded their things and then headed into town for dinner, on their way Don had noticed the recently widened road that extends several km south of town, but at that time the new highway had not been painted with lane markings.  So on the return trip in the dark, without street lights or lane markings, Don thought he was being cautious by keeping in the right lane away from oncoming traffic.  However, in the dark, approaching a two lane bridge (which has not been widened to the new highway width) he only realized to late that he was about to drive off the end of the widened lane he was in and land in the arroyo, or dry riverbed.

The car crashed nose first, air bags deployed, seat belts locked up, but everyone survived - however Ramona had serious back pain, Lucas had the wind knocked out of him and Don was in some degree of shock from the sudden unexpected crash.  Getting help was his first instinct and so he scrambled back up onto the highway, over a barrier sign that had apparently been blown over in the high winds (but could have prevented the accident had it been in place) and tried to flag down approaching cars.  Much to his frustration no cars stopped so, with the help of Lucas, they moved the barrier sign into the oncoming traffic lane which finally stopped the next car.

With the assistance of the car's driver, who spoke some English, the Police and Ambulance were called and both arrived quickly from the nearby town.  Ramona was carefully removed from the car and put on a backboard for transport to the Loreto Hospital, where she was given a preliminary check, but they explained that their X-Ray equipment wasn't working and she would have to be transported to the larger Hospital in Constitution, two hours south by the Ambulance, to be fully checked out. 

While these arrangements were being made, Don paid the emergency treatment bill for 775 pesos (about $60 USD) and agreed to pay the 2,000 pesos (about $150 USD) for the return Ambulance trip, but before he and Lucas boarded the Ambulance with Ramona, the Federal Police Officer took him aside and, with help from someone the Officer called on his cell who acted as a translator, explained that he would let Don go with his wife in the Ambulance but he had to surrender his Driver's License.      

It was explained to Don through the interpreter that when you have a car accident in Mexico, even a single vehicle accident, blame is assigned and as the driver of the car he was to be "detained" until a report was filed. The Officer did not want to detain Don and would allow some leniency as long as he promised to report to the Nopolo Policia Federal office the next day.  Despite the language barrier, it was clear to Don that everyone involved was trying to be as helpful as possible, and the Officer even offered to loan Don some cash, but he didn't think he needed it. 

After a long and cautious drive through the night to the Hospital in Constitution, Ramona and Lucas were checked out and X-Rayed and it was confirmed that there were no serious injuries or fractures and after receiving some meds for the pain they were released for the return trip to Loreto.  But first Don had to settle the Hospital bill which, after a failed attempt to charge it on his credit card, was adjusted down by the Hospital to equal the remaining 2,500 pesos cash he had on hand.  After another long, but uneventful, trip back to Loreto Bay Don and his family finally arrived back at their rented Villa in Loreto Bay about 5:30 am and got a few hours sleep before Don got up the next morning to deal with the legalities from the accident the night before.

One of his first steps was to contact his Visa Credit Card, through which he had booked the trip and paid for the car rental, and they confirmed that they would cover the medical expenses and the full insurance he had purchased from Cactus Car Rental in San Jose would cover the damages to the car.  He then contacted the Car Rental and explained that there had been an accident and the car had been totaled and was now impounded and they made arrangements to send a representative and a replacement car to Loreto.  Don then contacted Dennis Guadalupe at 411 Solutions Office on the Paseo in Loreto Bay, who offers translation among other services, to assist him and they went to the Police Station to handle the necessary paperwork.

What followed over the next few days was a typically bureaucratic Mexican procedure that involved Don paying a 3,000 peso ( $230 USD) fine for his responsibility in the accident and the Rental Company delivering a replacement car and paying the impound fee to get the damaged car released to haul it back to San Jose, after a 4 hour round trip to Santa Rosalia to get the necessary paperwork done.  While the expression "All's well that ends well" might be an oversimplification, I am pleased to report that Don and his family are all doing well and enjoyed the remainder of their holiday in Loreto Bay, following their experiences on this visit, so I think it is appropriate that I conclude this more serious Blog post with a few words of conclusion from Don:

"This has been a lesson in Mexican medical care, their laws, their bureaucratic process and the multiple departments involved. Throughout it all there has been one consistent silver lining, and that is the kindness, compassion and patience shown to our family by everyone involved in Loreto, Nopolo, Constitucion, San Jose & Loreto Bay. What an awesome community.

In closing here are the things I am thankful for and would recommend  to anyone travelling in the Baja:

·         I purchased a Mexican Travel phone plan which was invaluable.
·         I purchased the extra collision and liability insurance required for car rentals which covered all damages, tow fees and the replacement car.
·         I used my Travel VISA card to pay for the flight and car rental which covers all medical expenses and any expenses not covered on the car rental primary insurance.
·         I engaged the help of Dennis & Chris at 411 for translation assistance which reduced my stress and anxiety as I knew what was happening every step of the way.

Thanks Drew, for allowing me to tell my story and hopefully help anyone who comes upon a similar circumstance in Loreto. "Living Loreto" means you are in a community that will support you when needed."

In conclusion, and continuing with Don's positive tone, I would like to share a link to one of several recent newspaper articles that have appeared in the US and Canada about Loreto, while I may quibble about some of the details in these articles, I cannot argue with the tone and enthusiasm that they express about this place I call home, enjoy: