Why Were We Treading Water In A Little Rain?

Why the city all but shut down

When a big storm is predicted, local businesses and schools quickly need to decide how to proceed. In the event of a hurricane or a tropical storm such as tropical storm Bud that hit us a couple of weeks ago, the decision is usually to close up shop while the storm passes through.  If you’re an expat or a tourist, and especially if you’re coming from a place where rain is a normal thing, you might wonder why the city all but shut down during Bud when it was little more than a rainy day. The answer is pretty simple: the infrastructure in Mexico is not meant to handle even a little rain.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of dirt roads in Mexico. The highways and most of the tourist-heavy roads are all paved (albeit pothole-ridden, but we’ll take what we can get), but many of the barrio roads are not even paved. The roads going through the older and less glamorous neighborhoods are largely dirt roads, or paved roads with missing chunks that have been filled with dirt. When it rains in any quantity, navigating these roads becomes anywhere from a tricky inconvenience to downright dangerous, as the rain carves big canyons across or parallel to the roads. When a big rain is predicted to hit, many businesses shut down because people just can’t get to work or get their kids to school, or the people need to stay close to home to tend it.

Then there’s the issue of housing quality. Homes in Mexico are built quite differently from homes in the United States. Pretty much every home leaks here, but the less expensive a home, the more it leaks. In addition to staying home from work in order to avoid perilous driving conditions, many people need to stay home to stem the flow of water into their homes and try to limit the amount of damage. They also often have mud flowing into their homes and they need to clean that mess up. When we say every home leaks, we mean every home. From new million-dollar condos to old lean-toos in San Jose’s barrio, if you’re anywhere in Mexico during a storm, prepare to get wet.

This area is also lacking storm drains, which means instant flooding in the streets. During Bud, the streets of downtown Cabo were flowing like a river after just a few hours of rain. So even the paved roads can be dangerous for driving during a storm. Los Cabos is built on a slope. As rain falls, the water rushes down the slope to the ocean, as all water everywhere does. As we drive around town we need to cross that rushing water, which this time was several feet deep in places.

After the rain stops, it doesn’t take long for the roads to dry up. We have the arroyos, (dry riverbeds that become not dry at all), that catch water and open directly into the ocean, and that helps. When a storm is predicted, volunteers make an effort to empty any trash from the arroyos to prevent it from being washed into the ocean.

So there you have it. Sure, Bud was just a rainy day, but without proper infrastructure, a little bit of rain can cause a world of problems.