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Don't Be Too Scared to Head to Mexico

Take a trip past the seedy border towns to visit our southern neighbor.

Many residents of the Ross Valley love to head south to enjoy taste of the real Mexico. But, many of our friends are now afraid to visit our southern neighbor, because of all the violent crimes and general chaos reported in the American media. Would you plan to drive down to Mexico City?

Clearly, it would be foolhardy to make the drive across the US-Mexico border these days on any local road. It appears that the drug cartels are spinning out of control and have no regard for anyone who is in their way or just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Puerto Vallarta to enjoy some time off and Mexican food (try the flan or shrimp) and to find out for myself about the situation. First off, I cheated and flew down from Los Angeles, where I had attended a business meeting. Los Angeles, by the way, has more steel grates and gates than I saw anywhere in Mexico. 

The Puerto Vallarta International Airport is large, modern, and continually being upgraded, having grown from a small terminal to a one with more than 15 gates, and more on the way. Our Alaska 737 taxied under the watchful eyes of a Mexican soldier, who stood in a tower overlooking the whole complex. Clearing customs was a breeze, even though they no longer have just the “red” (full inspection) or “green” (no inspection). Now, all luggage goes on an x-ray belt for one more scan. That was the easy part.

With a whoosh of the entry doors opening, I was now really in Mexico -- to be greeted by about fifty pushing, yelling and otherwise overly solicitous timeshare salespersons, each begging for my attention. With steely eyes, I marched through this welcoming receiving line, past more cabbies offering to take me anywhere I wanted to go. As I got in the cab of my choice it was the first time that I saw the Federal Policia, who are the elite of Mexico’s police. They just sit behind their dark glasses and watch from their sleek black Dodge patrol cars. 

Puerto Vallarta, especially its “Old Town,” is one of the finest settings on the West Coast. It reminds one of a European city with a multicultural flavor. However, this time it was not as crowded as usual. I discovered a similar situation at our condo, which is six miles south of town in the village of Mismaloya (where Night of The Iguana was filmed many years ago). Apparently, the Canadian and midwestern snowbirds had heard rumors and horror stories, without verifying the facts, that all of Mexico is a place where you could find your head, and not your hat, in your hand if you looked the wrong way. Not so.

One of the more secure features of Puerto Vallarta is that it has a naval station where cruise ships dock every day of the week. Adjacent to the airport is an active army base. The US Drug Enforcement has trained helicopter pilots there. Another positive geographic feature is that Puerto Vallarta sits on a road (Mexico 200) that goes to the southwest, away from the states and away from drug cartel activities.

Simply stated, Mexico does not have a large drug consumption problem; it has a huge drug transportation problem. Local drug consumption is probably less than here at home, because drugs simply bring more money up north in the US. The cartels operate in the manner similar to the ways that rum runners operated during Prohibition. One cartel attempts to put another out of business. So, the majority of the random violence still remains close to the California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas border towns.

The tragedy of this situation is that the beauty and charm of Mexico and its gracious people is being damaged by the use of US-manufactured weapons illegally imported over the borders from the United States. These weapons protect the supply trains that carry the drugs to their final market: sometimes even our own streets. US money is being used to supply back to our country huge quantities of drugs without all of the messiness of killings and gang wars that the drug trade generates.

Meanwhile, those of us who have taken the time to find out what really is happening, and where it is happening, are able to make safe plans to fly over the boarder strife. Is it worth the risk of going there? Absolutely! Just stay away from border towns.

Once you have become immobilized by an imagined fear, you become the unintended and unknown victim of that fear and cannot safely move about in the world.

So, fly on down to where the weather is warm, the people are gracious and the food is delicious. (I had the best pizza of my life. Go figure.)

William Atherton-Powell February 13, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Wouldn't go there on a bet these days. We have been robbed, swindled, mugged and generally treated like pigs on many, many occasions, and those were the good old days. Now many Mexicans are trying to find a way out just to be safe from criminals. It is a shame because it is a lovely country in many ways.
Wendy Adler February 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM
We have spent at least two weeks to a month a year in Puerto Vallarta almost every year since 1993, and this year is no exception. We feel safer there than in our hometown, the U. S tourist destination, Santa Fe, NM. It is tragic that the continued horror and strife along the U.S./Mexican border has had such a hurtful economic impact on the majority of this tourist-friendly country. Many, many U.S. and Canadian citizens live there as full time expats and many others have part-time vacation homes, like us. They are not fleeing their homes and in fact, major development is continuing along the Pacific Coast north of Puerto Vallarta and real estate is picking up again. While we would agree that it it not advisable to drive from the U.S. to reach the rest of this wonderful country right now, people should not be afraid to vacation and travel in Mexico.
Fred Habacht February 14, 2011 at 11:15 AM
We retired to Lake Chapala seven years ago and have never regretted a moment of it. We are safe and secure and surrounded by wonderful caring Mexican neighbors. Whereas when we lived In Atlanta Georgia we knew few if any of our neighbors here we know them all. As to rudeness...we only run into that from visiting US and Canadian tourists.
Peter Russell February 14, 2011 at 03:14 PM
I have lived here full time for over 17 years, never had a problem. Safer than anywhere I lived in the USA.
pedro kertesz February 15, 2011 at 03:32 PM
i live here[4 1/2 years] and here is where i'm gonna stay.
Rich Carter February 18, 2011 at 10:27 PM
I"ve been to Mexico so many times, all positive. I think people should only post NEGATIVE things here If they actually have been, and document where/when they were there. Next time you go to Hawaii, head to Kalihi at night or the West Side, see if you come back in one piece with all your stuff. Or in LA, try out the flavors of East LA. Give me Mexico anytime.
armando morales February 19, 2011 at 06:08 AM
My expierence has been that Mexico gets a bad rap. I have been to Mexico four times with in the last year, it has been very pleasurable. The Mexican drug war has been kept to themselves so if your not involved with drugs you have nothing to fear. Of course there are people that never go anywhere and want to descourage others in doing so, misery loves company. Lonley paranoids exagerate events that they know nothning of, lets look at our own back yard first. The United States has more violence and ranks way ontop of Mexico as safe places to go. Is it true a lot of Americans are headed to Canada and Mexico to get out of here?
Belle Marko February 19, 2011 at 06:19 AM
I have had more problems with creepy people in the US than I ever have in Mexico. I've owned a home in the small town of Sayulita just north of PV for seven years,I often rent a car to drive 5 hours over the mountains to visit my mom in Ajijic. it has always been a fun and friendly adventure. I have never met a more gracious people than the rural Mexicans, they are kind and genourous and full of humor. If only we could learn from them. I experience a much bigger culture shock returning home to the often pushy, entitled and unfriendly people of Marin. It seems to me that the media loves to keep us in fear that people are not to be trusted in other cultures. God forbid we find out the truth that Mexico is a lovely place and take our money to spend it on a $200 root canal by an ethical dentist, rent a two bedroom casita on the beach for $650 a week or eat the best taco in the world for 70 cents!
Jarrod Jacobi February 20, 2011 at 02:30 AM
My wife and 4 year old daughter go to the PV area all the time. Last year we drove down and spent the winter there. Never have I feared for the safety of myself or my family. BTW, you should stop perpetrating the "majority of weapons in Mexico come from the US." Stratfor put out a great piece that explains where they really come from. If you don't to read the link I've supplied, here's an exerpt: " According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States." http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110209-mexicos-gun-supply-and-90-percent-myth
Claire February 20, 2011 at 03:34 AM
We spent 10 days in Sayulita (North of PV) in January 2011 my husband and I are returning tourists and we love it. I am sad to see that Canadians and US citizens are getting drawn into the media and fearing to travel to Mexico. The Mexican people are amazing, and enjoy the simplicities of life we could learn a lot from these people. We will continue to travel to our favorite destination without fear or hesitation. I simply feel very safe there in this family oriented country. We went to Maui several years ago and were robbed! It happens everywhere people. I say lets starts looking at ways to all be as one. Just like John Lennon said.
Claire February 20, 2011 at 03:36 AM
True True True!!!
Claire February 20, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Sweet

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