The warnings are dark and ominous. Mass graves, crossfire shootout victims, kidnappings. Don’t Go To Mexico, the headlines SHOUT. It is a very dangerous place, amigo. Gringos should stay home or go to Vegas if you know what’s good for you. You don’t want to be shot, do you?
I read the daily drumbeat and wonder what the purpose is. I understand that fear sells, but the ethics of good journalism demand that the whole story be told accurately. I have been traveling Mexico since I was a kid, which was a long time ago (or so says my lying birth certificate). And the Mexico I know so well isn’t the same country I read about. Not even close.
Here’s a short story to illustrate my point. I had been to Mexico near the border a number of times, to Ensenada and San Felipe, first with my parents, then with my friends (Hussongs Cantina in Ensenada is still one of the great bars in the world). Then one summer in college I read about this place being discovered way down in Mexico called Puerto Vallarta, and they had just built a paved road to get there from Tepic– prior to that it was dirt and most trekkers arrived by boat or plane. So I called an old high-school buddy who was going to Stanford and we headed south on a road trip in my old VW van from San Diego, armed with a crude map, a case of beer, very little money and four bald tires with no jack. What could possibly go wrong?
Much to our naïve surprise we blew all 4 tires by the time we hit Guaymas, where we camped on the beach right where the movie Catch-22 had just been filmed, before continuing to PV. And each time a tire blew along the way a local Mexican would suddenly appear and help us. They never asked for anything, they just wanted to help the stupid gringos. I specifically remember the flat we had on the beach in Guaymas, where two cars full of Mexican businessmen (or politicians…I think one was actually the mayor) pulled up, along with their female companions, and changed our tire for us as we passed cold beers around (it was about 100 degrees). We then sat and shared stories into the night as they brought out the tequila – the local Mexicans and the blond-haired college kids. I knew at that moment that Mexico would become an integral part of my life – that it would always be a place I could go to be reminded what it is to be real.
The thing is, that same Mexico is still there every time I go. I’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles by car, bus, train and plane and have never been robbed, threatened or harmed in any way. Never. Yes, there are places I avoid these days, but they are few and well-known to anyone who takes the time to investigate. There are also places I avoid in the U.S. and any other country I visit. That’s the reality of living in the 21st century. Opie and Andy were a long time ago, but if you let your guard down you can still find a little Mayberry when you open your heart and mind. Mexico is a good place to start.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blogs are completely my own.