Mexico Travel Advisory: Hysterical or Legit?

Guerrero dangers: sunburns, surf injuries, too much ceviche, and a small army of Victorias

The US State Department recently issued its latest Mexico travel advisory. The preamble is remarkably reasonable, and contains several points that support my own point of view on the subject of Mexico travel:

  • “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. More than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012.”

 

  • “The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality.”
  • “Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that is reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes.”

They then discuss some valid concerns about violence in Mexico, and go on to give the best possible advice:

  • “We strongly advise you to lower your profile and avoid displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw attention.”

However, despite all this even-handedness, the state-by-state assessment still strikes me as a bit hysterical. For your consideration I am contrasting state department warnings with our own experiences traveling through the areas mentioned:

Chihuahua

State department sez: “You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua. In Ciudad Juarez, personal travel by USG employees outside the northeast portion of the city (the area near the Consulate General) is restricted. Crime and violence remain serious problems throughout the state of Chihuahua, particularly in the southern portion of the state and in the Sierra Mountains, including Copper Canyon.”

While its true that cartel activity is notable in Chihuahua (and I certainly agree about staying out of Juarez), we enjoyed our time in the state, and even discovered an amazing hot spring in the middle of nowhere. Rich wrote:

“Fosiles. Aguas termales!” Churpa blurted excitedly as we passed a dusty side road on our left marked by a faded sign.  ”Let’s try it.  Maybe they’ll let us camp there.  If not, the land isn’t fenced, so maybe we could find a spot out of sight of the highway.”

“Umm…” I tried to stall as we sped past the sign.  ”Umm. . .I guess.  Should I turn around?” Churpa immediately replied in the affirmative and I gave up on the idea of a hotel. Camping in the desert it was.

Zacatecas

State department sez: “You should defer non-essential travel within the state of Zacatecas to the area bordering the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, and Jalisco and exercise caution in the interior of the state including the city of Zacatecas.”

Although we did speak with a Pemex (gas station) employee on a rural highway who said they’d had problems with thieves, our time in Zacatecas was notably peaceful and pleasant and we did not feel endangered. In fact, our biggest disturbance was a serenade:

This was one of my favorite days ever, and it ended with an appropriate flourish. We retired to our room after dinner so that Rich could watch the play-offs…I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of a brass band. From my stone balcony I could see a whole procession: a marching band followed by a hundred revelers, who seemed to be, by and large, middle class middle aged Mexicans happily drinking Modelo in the street. I was just thinking, “Man, do I love Mexico,” when the trumpet player spotted me on the balcony, stopped marching, and began to serenade me. In moments the rest of the band joined him. A hundred revelers crowded around, laughing and waving up at me.

Guerrero

State Department sez “You should defer non-essential travel to the northwestern and southern portions of the state (the area west and south of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca), except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa. In those cities, you should exercise caution and stay within tourist areas. You should also exercise caution and travel only during daylight hours on toll highway (“cuota”) 95D between Mexico City and Acapulco and highway 200 between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa. In Acapulco, defer non-essential travel to areas further than 2 blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which parallels the popular beach areas.”

We spent quite a bit of time in Guerrero. Our friends who live near Saladita acknowledge that the area has felt dangerous in years past, but they say that things are lightening up. We had an excellent trip on Highway 200, and spent an even better week hanging out on the beach. That said, I did experience some trauma:

Then we got to the difficult part: walking down the beach carrying a surfboard. First of all, I wasn’t sure which way the fins were supposed to face. Was there a cool way for the fins to face? Secondly, I have almost no upper body strength so it was actually a struggle to keep the surfboard balanced under one arm. The board kept wobbling in the breeze and slipping, and I had to stop five or six times to switch arms. If carrying the board is making me feel like a total idiot, I really can not wait to get in the water.

The State Department list of no-go states is long, and I could go on and on contrasting their warnings with my anecdotal evidence, but I’ll rest my case.

 

2 Responses to “Mexico Travel Advisory: Hysterical or Legit?”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    I decided to spend the night camping near Nogales, AZ because I wanted to visit my bank branch there before crossing the border. I spend my last quarter purchasing the local rag (what am I going to do with a US Quarter in Mexico?)

    I read: “Extreme caution needed between Lukeville and Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco) Sonora. Unauthorized police roadblocks have been reported”.

    Ahhh damn! Anything but that! This was like waving an entire prime rib in front of a starving Tiger. So I crossed the border and beelined it to the US Consulate. Caught them just as they opened the door at 1:30PM

    With newspaper in hand I went to the bank teller like window and spoke through the vent

    “What does this mean? Unauthorized roadblocks? Are there authorized roadblocks? How does a person tell the difference?”

    Silence

    Then…”Well they *should* announce them so they don’t scare the public”

    “OK, but have there been any reports of phony roadblocks; you know, run by criminals?”

    A really long pregnant silence…

    “Or should the SSP (now I had worked up a little steam and the charade was obviously exposed) announce *surprise roadblocks* a few days in advance in the newspaper so the criminals wouldn’t get a fright?”

    The lady turned her back on me. The source of the announcement was the Nogales Sonora U.S. Consulate according to the newspaper.

    Take it forever what it is worth.

    A few years later “Elizabeth” a U.S. Consulate employee told me “No way in the word does a policeman have the right to ask a U.S. citizen for their tourist card!”

    It wasn’t long after that a really kind and considerate commandante of the SSP Petlatlan Guerrero SSP office showed me the various code paragraphs in his big black book showing it was absolutely legal for ANY sworn police officer in Mexico to ask for immigration papers, car papers, and photo I.D. a driver license being a photo I.D. Kudos to commandante Joaquin Baez, for taking the time to show an ignorant gringo tourist the printed law about these subjects. A teniente (Lieutenant) in the Mexican Marinas showed me his copy of the marina law book. Same laws, but he cautioned that the military seldom interfered in purely civilian law, and concentrated on criminal violations.

    Since I am on a rant, a bit more than a year ago, there appeared a hysterical account in US news media about 2 CIA agents and a marine lieutenant being “ambushed” on an access road to a Mexican marine base where the 2 CIA agents were training the marines in counter-terrorism. The base was south of Cuernavaca Morelos in a very rural area.

    The agents were driving an armored “US diplomatic vehicle with diplomatic plates”. The agents claimed they encountered a roadblock with “Civilians toting automatic weapons – obviously a narco ambush”

    So the driver gunned the gas pedal. The “narcos” opened fire, then gave chase. The rear window of the car was shot out. The poor NISSAN gave up the ghost a short while later after it had reached a paved highway. Four flat tires, radiator steaming…etc.

    The “narcos” caught up with the car and stood around for longer than 15 minutes until a contingent of marinas arrived. The “narcos” made no attempt to enter the car, or empty their magazines through the shattered rear window.

    The “narcos” were federal cops. They were arrested. The 2 CIA agents were whisked to the gigantic US embassy in Mexico City then flown out of the country the same day.

    Narcos use armored automobiles, forge counterfeit license plates and love opaque windows, just like what the 150,000 dollar NISSAN had. When the CIA agent decided to ram the roadblock, the cops opened fire, immediately discovered the car was armored. What would you think? They followed the slowly disintegrating vehicle and surrounded it until the Marines arrived. For their trouble they were arrested.

    The CIA agents continue to collect a hundred grand a year, the NISSAN suffered tens of thousands of dollars worth of stupid damage, and US taxpayers paid every last cent. Yellow journalism made a fortune.

    And I am supposed to believe ANYTHING our government says. As Jim Varney used to quip…

    “Now, do i look like I’ve got the word STUPID written all over my face?”

    End of rant

    I sent “Elizabeth” an incredibly polite email. I never got a response.

  2. ACV says:

    MÉXICO: In economic stalemate. TOURISM looses competiveness.
    IMCO (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) that regularly analyzes Mexico´s international competitiveness is diagnosing the OBVIOUS: The decrease in arrival of tourists and private investment in México´s tourism industry during the past years is due to the drug war.
    Public Relations and promotional campaigns don´t help much to change Mexico´s image.
    Can you re-brand a country in the same way you might re-brand a packet of soap powder? The first thing you have got to do, without any shadow of doubt, is to fix the product.
    The problems are deeper: What the country needs is a complete social reform.
    SECTUR, the Secretary of Tourism sends conflicting messages: On one hand stupidly maintains that the drug war does not affect the number of tourists arriving nor does it impact private investment in the sector. On the other hand SECTUR hurries to “guarantee” the security of tourists in México. Something very stupid to do as well, in view of the extreme levels of violence country-wide (with regional differences, though) and a being a place where visitors have been robbed, raped, killed and kidnapped.