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Pemex Follies



By Gene Kira, Dec. 3, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:

I just went through the notes from my recent drive to Baja Sur. On this trip, I drove about 3,400 miles, and it seems like I averaged about 15.5 miles-per-gallon. Trouble is, my truck gets at least 18 miles-per-gallon.

Q. What happened to the extra gas?

A. PEMEX short-pumping.

Intermittently, over the years, some Baja gas stations have short-pumped about 5-7%. In other words, if the meter says you received 10 liters of gas, what you really got was, say, 9.5 liters.

Fair enough. I can live with that. It would be silly for someone who can't even balance his own checkbook to criticize the sophisticated workings of a mega-company like PEMEX. Besides, as a Baja tourist, I have always accepted occasional short-pumping as one of those quaint local customs that make foreign travel so endlessly interesting, exotic, and adventurous.

However, it seems that short-pumping may have gotten just a wee bit out of hand on this last trip.

At the brand new PEMEX station that just opened next to the iron eagle monument at Guerrero Negro, I watched in horror and fascination as the attendant calmly pumped 101 liters of gas into my Toyota. That's about 26 gallons that he somehow squeezed into my 19-gallon tank. A desert miracle!

After that, I started keeping a close eye out at every station. Most, I felt, were within traditional short-pumping limits, but there were a couple that were well into "ludicrous range," as Mel Brooks would put it. One of the worst was a station with a lot of tourist traffic that was not only short-pumping, but also charging a usurious 11% currency exchange penalty for gas bought with dollars rather than pesos.

It's one thing to get screwed, but quite another to have it done with a 36-inch pipewrench (especially if you are a hard-working Baja columnist on a starvation travel budget).

One important thing to keep in mind is that, even though it's the individual gas station that's screwing you, it's not necessarily their fault. Typically, station owners resort to short-pumping in a desperate attempt to stay in business, sometimes because they themselves have just gotten royally screwed by PEMEX.

When you look around Baja, there are many examples of gas stations in super-prime locations that have gone out of business for no apparent reason (there is one good example that discretion prevents me from naming here, but it rhymes with "Punta Prieta").

The owner of one of these unlucky stations was always mystified when the sale of his gas didn't even produce enough money to buy the next truckload. He decided to have a friend secretly follow the PEMEX tanker truck from the Santa Rosalia ferry all the way to his station. They discovered that the driver was what you might call a PEMEX Santa Claus. He was stopping along the way, here and there, and giving barrels of gas to his friends.

Another station just barely survived being delivered a mysterious, bright red liquid that smelled similar to gas, but had been adulterated to the point that it put most of the town's vehicles out of commission for two weeks. I happened to get a half-tank of that stuff, and I just barely made it back to the border by keeping the gas pedal almost floorboarded for the last hundred miles.

And--many years ago--another Baja station borrowed thousands of dollars to pay PEMEX cash up front for a shipment of gas scheduled to supply a large group of American trailer boats arriving for a big Easter Week fishing tournament. The gas never arrived. The Americans left in disgust, angrily blaming the resort owner for the fiasco. The whole town lost a lot of business, and the station was forced to fold for a while.

Gas flows downhill, I guess.

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")