Sunday, September 18, 2011

How safe IS Mexico?

It's about 6 weeks until Chris and I shove off and sail south into Mexico. Seems like a good time to ask the question: How safe IS Mexico?

It's pretty entertaining to observe the wide variety of differing responses we get when we share our travel plans. It usually includes some combination of raised eyebrows, shocked utterances ("Oh really?") and pregnant pauses, followed by a smattering of well meaning questions from our landlubber friends and family:

"What about tsunamis?"

"Don't you worry about storms at sea?"

"What about pirates?"

"Will you have, uh, radar, and stuff like that?"

And the most common:

"Isn't Mexico dangerous?"

Sigh. Look, I'm as shocked and horrified by photos of beheaded Mexicans as the next person. And the news media has shown us plenty of them in recent years. We can tell ourselves that 95% of the violence is between drug cartels and the police, and is confined to the Northeastern border of Mexico (far from the Pacific coast).  But it's still scary.

So here's where it's a good idea to apply my Rule #1 in decision making:

Try to make decisions with equal parts heart and head.

Clearly, photos of beheaded people cuts right to the heart -- emotions like repulsion and especially fear spring to the forefront. We've got the "heart" part down (emotion). Now what about the head (reason and intellect)?

In researching this topic a few months ago I searched State Department and travel websites and found several entries akin to the following:

"Use caution with ATMs and be aware that burglary and identity theft are not uncommon..."

"Women in particular should not be in bars or dangerous areas alone, especially at night..."

"Use caution and realize that communicable diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and the Hanta Virus are prevalant in many areas..."

"Avoid crime prone areas, especially at night. Do local research and stay near safe tourist zones. Avoid bars, back alleys, and do not buy drugs..."

"Lock your car when driving, especially at night...."

"Do not leave valuables unlocked either in your car or your hotel room as burglary is a problem. Always use a hotel safe whenever possible..."

"Do not flash large wads of cash or credit cards..."

And the list goes on and on. Scary, right?

What would you say if I told you that the websites from which I gleaned the above warnings were for citizens of Australia, England and New Zealand who were planning travel to the United States? It's true.

I think we Americans are in a little bit of a bubble sometimes when it comes to our perception of the relative safety of the United States.  In the greater Los Angeles area where we live, there were thousands of murders in the last calendar year alone.

Meanwhile, south of the border, for every one Mexican drug dealer murdered, there are hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens quietly going about their business, taking care of their families and just trying to get through the day as you and I are.

Let me ask you: if a loved one was coming to the U.S. on vacation, what safety advice would you give them?  Would you advise them to avoid dangerous areas, especially at night? To lock their valuables? To not buy drugs or hang out in seedy bars at 2AM? To not flash wads of cash, and be careful and alert when using ATMs?

This common sense advice is just as true in Los Angeles, California as it is in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico or Bogota, Columbia.

My experience is that Mexican people are some of the warmest, gentlest and most welcoming people on the planet.

 Although I haven't traveled there (yet), I'm told that South Pacific Islanders are even MORE so -- a thought which fills me great expectation.

So our plan is to do what we do here in the states: lock our boat, be safe and sane, make smart decisions based on our current surroundings, and realize that most human beings, while certainly flawed, are basically good and don't set out to hurt others. Most people, in my experience, practice the golden rule most of the time.

So, please don't hesitate to come visit us in Mexico. We look forward to welcoming you with a hug and a big "Bienvenidos!"

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