Don’t Go To Mexico

Posted on January 29, 2010 by

Baja

As you read this, we are probably somewhere with our toes in the sand and enjoying a cerveza. I just thought I would share a sample of the discouraging emails we have received regarding our travel plans south of the US border.

We’ve heard plenty of this, and it does generally seem to be from people who haven’t actually traveled in Mexico. This one stood out in particular because a) it was a tome b) it’s completely second-hand hearsay and c) the xenophobic bias seems to extend over the author’s entire lifetime.

References like “Many years ago, I worked with a man who knew a family” and “Several years ago, I talked online with someone” and my favorite “.. and cell phones weren’t even invented, yet” just make me scratch my head.

We honestly appreciate the concern, but, ummmmm, yeah.  Enjoy.

I don’t want to put a bummer on your trip, but if I were you, I’d stay clear of Mexico. It’s VERY dangerous, right now. When I say, “right now”, I mean, for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of very dangerous people down there, kidnappings for ransom are commonplace, and they will not hesitate to cut off fingers, torture and kill you.. or anything else which comes to their mind. NOT a place to take a young family.. Don’t expect help from the police. Some of them are in on it. I kid you not. Several years ago, I talked online with someone on the list who used to build surfboards with his son. He and his son went to Baja about every two months to surf, and they had done this for a few years. Then, once, they were sidelined by some bandits and had machetes put to their throats. They really thought they were going to die and said goodbye to each other. Shortly, the bandits left.. But, it does not always end so well. They never went back, and his advice to me was to stay away.. But, he said, “if you must go”.. to NOT travel at night, or on Sundays. Basically this is when the police are sidelining as bandits, the drunks are on the road, and cows crossing the highway cannot be seen. If you get into trouble down there, anything could happen, and it might not be good. I was terribly disappointed to hear all of this, because I had long entertained the notion of retiring in Mexico. “Mi amigo, asi es muy peligroso”.. My friend, it is very dangerous.
Not so long ago (a few months), there was a talk show program where callers were contributing their own personal horror stories of travel in Mexico. One was REALLY bad. A family went down there in an RV, looking to camp. They got lost, asked for directions, and were pointed right towards trouble.. a remote village or camp, where they could not turn around, out in the middle of nowhere. And, since nighttime was approaching, they decided to park and rest for the night. They assumed the people were friendly.. WRONG!!! In the middle of the night, they were awakened by loud pounding on the door. Strange men were demanding entry, and not in a friendly way. When they did not open up the door, shots rang out and windows were broken, the vehicle was penetrated with bullets. Left with no choice, the man opened the door, and several men came in.. starting going through everything, looking for things to steal. Raped the wife.. they took turns, while the husband watched helplessly. They beat his ass, and finally left. Lucky these people lived. They prepared to leave immediately, driving in the dark. When they went to report the crime at the local police station, they were told that they could not leave Mexico until the investigation was over.. which dragged on for weeks. Finally these people decided to head for the border, and were turned around there by police and made to go back to the town where they had filed a report. It was a huge mess!
Many years ago, I worked with a man who knew a family who went camping down there with some kids.. a church group. Only three adults along. When they got there and dropped the kids off with at the camp, they had to go to town to buy fresh food and provisions. Along the way, they saw two children on the road. They picked them up to take them into town. All the money for the trip was in a pouch on the dash. When they got into town, those kids grabbed that pouch and dashed through a crowd, taking advantage of a street signal to make their getaway. One of the two adults along chased the kid with the pouch and caught him.. But the kid started to holler like hell, and pretty soon, here is a policeman, arresting him (and taking possession of the money). Now, the other adult gets involved, trying to explain, and he gets arrested, too. Both go to jail, and the bus is impounded. In Mexican jails, you are not allowed to call anyone… and cell phones weren’t even invented, yet. So, here are all these kids, sitting around hungry, and the one adult with no ride, waiting and not knowing what happened. Finally they put it all together, somehow.. But it was a mess. And, when they got the money pouch back.. It was empty. This is a true story.
So, my advice to you is to just stay the heck away from Mexico. It’s a fine place to go if you fly and go directly to a resort area, and stay there. Traveling around the country.. Well, you take your chances.

If you do go, I sincerely hope you have a nice time and no troubles. But, it’s even more dangerous now, than it was a few years ago. So, think about it.

-name withheld

They then sent another e-mail 8 minutes later and decided to write off an entire continent.

Please read and do more research before you go south of the border. I had forgotten to mention that it is also very dangerous in some regions of South America. Again.. Your chances are not so bad if you travel with someone who is “savvy” and know people who can look out for you when you get where you’re going. Best bet is to fly directly to a resort destination. Mexico City is a mecca of kidnapping, but there is a lot of trouble along the border towns and districts, too.

-name withehld

viva_mexico

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Comments (42)

 

  1. Mike in Austin says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I also toured around the country in a bus. Following Phish in the early 90′s etc. I’m virtually there with you. Good luck!

    But I knew a young 20 year old girl that was raped in a border town in Mexico by going down the wrong street. I also have friends in church groups who have gone to Mexico and had significant problems in remote areas. There is still a lot of animosity towards America in some rural areas. And there are cartel towns in the mountains. I have a friend who went to Bolivia, and was held by heavily armed “border guards” in the mountains on the road to Machu Piccu for 14 hours. They were not official agents of the government.

    Like Miami, NYC, Detroit, LA, some other North American cities, which have neighborhoods that can be filled with dangerous thugs and gangs, you need to know where to go, and where not to go. Be alert. This isn’t Vancouver.

    Yes, there are certain areas that are VERY dangerous. You would hopefully understand someone’s concerns with you going to Columbia or Venezuela too. BE ALERT.

    There are bad people who will assume that VW bus driving hippies driving around in the desert are unarmed, vulnerable, have cash and potential victims who won’t navigate through their courts.

    Don’t get the impression that this is “like” America. These are very different countries.

    I have been to 15 LA and SA countries. The safest places are Costa Rica and Chile. Fantastic.

    This is not an indictment of the cultures. Mexico and South America have wonderful people and places and overall you are relatively safe. Especially in tourist friendly towns. They have good security and Police frown heavily on people who will destroy it for them. But don’t be naive. A lot of people get pick pocketed on the streets, and other “smaller” crimes.

    -Mike

  2. Kim says:

    Pshaw! What a load of crap! Have a great time! Eat lots of fish tacos, drink good beer and enjoy the culture. We had an amazing trip through Baja and not one problem. :)

  3. Strubbe says:

    Great post. I’m sure Oakland / Detroit / Compton / East St.Louis / DC…none of these could be as dangerous as Mexico. Perhaps you should stay in the states and tour these great destinations instead. Or, you could buy several additional gas cans and simply start driving as fast as you can until you get south of all that danger. Or, until you reach the beach and can enjoy a cold cerveza.

    Valerie and I drove about 2000 miles around Mexico in ’94. I found the people friendly and the towns nice – even for a gringo like me. ]

    Enjoy the Ride -

  4. Joe Greco says:

    Hey BodesWell. Guess I came across your path on the beach just South of Ensenada a day or so ago. Noticed your van as I left the beach. Then it dawned on me that you might be the van a VW mechanic in Portland told me about. I stopped to get some work done in Portland on my way south (on my own little trip), and he mentioned you guys had been in a month or so before me. Guess were probably traveling the same route. Maybe well cross paths again a little further South. Best of luck on your trip. Joe

  5. Keith from RWC says:

    Exercise caution anywhere you travel. An acquaintance did not and suffered the consequences. In Peru while trusting a person he met, he was a victim of a kidnapping by “police” and was freed after signing over $300 of travelers checks. In Paris, he left his bags at a kiosk so he could go exchange some cash at a different kiosk. When he came back, the bags (including his passport, and flight tickets) were gone. In San Francisco, he was robbed at gun point. With his track record, I would have to think twice before going to the corner store with him

    Regarding Mexico, most of my neighbors are from the Michoacán state in Mexico. Several of them feel the Michoacán area is not safe for them to return for a visit at this time. Too much drug related violence at this time. Avoid Tijuana at this time too.

    My point: bad things can happen anywhere. Again, please error on the side of caution anywhere you travel. Some areas are riskier than others. Some one else’s trip a few years ago may not be representative of your’s at this time.

  6. Jen-Mo says:

    Seriously … any of the stuff that guy mentioned in his e-mail could happen anywhere. Houston and Oakland have their share of horror stories, and so does Mexico. Be smart, friendly and alert, and hopefully you’ll be OK. Better to seek out life’s pleasures than hide in your home.

    Heck, didn’t you get ripped off by a fellow in Portland, of all places?!?

  7. melissa says:

    What? They had ALL the money for the trip in a pouch on the dash? And someone walked away from a bag containing their passport and flight tickets?

  8. whc03grady says:

    Probably the most reliable information on the subject:
    http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_4491.html
    Alright,
    whc03grady.

  9. Mike in Austin says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Mexico before you just “Phsaw … it’s just like Oakland, CA” I have grandparents that have retired in Mexico. But Puerto Vallarta is not Ciudad Juarez. Baja and Cabo are very safe, compared to parts of the interior like Torreón. I don’t get the impression you plan on going too far off the tourist path, so you should be fine.

    If you get arrested for Rape in Oakland / Detroit / Compton / East St.Louis / DC you’ll probably spend more than a 6 hours in Jail, or a $30 fine. Not true in many many areas of Mexico. The people who raped my friend were told to go home and sleep off the alcohol. No charges.

    Sure there are areas of the US that have bad crime. You also don’t park sleep in your van in the worst gang infested areas of Washington D.C. Not all parks are safe in Mexico.

    American’s aren’t as welcome in other parts of the world as some people would like to believe. There is a lot of animosity and hatred to Americans. Proving how “social and nice” we are by embracing their culture isn’t always the antidote.

    I’m not saying don’t travel. I’m a huge traveller and a big fan. But be alert and safe in the non-tourist areas.

  10. Whatever happens, it happens anywhere. Be safe and smart and watch out for Hawaiian mechanics…

  11. greg says:

    What, no one’s going to mention the water while they’re at it…? There are certainly many reasons to stay on the couch, but there are better reasons not to. Having never been to Mexico, I look forward to living vicariously through you.

  12. Cam's Dad says:

    Want some more unsolicited advice? Buy lots of hand sanitizer and insist that your kidnappers use it regularly so they don’t give you the Swine Flu.

    Cam says, “Hey Bode”.

  13. Heather says:

    Hi guys,
    Hope the beach is great!
    We are back in the snow at the Grand Canyon!

  14. AMD says:

    “and cows crossing the highway cannot be seen”
    Was this just on Sundays?
    We are counting down – 6 months til we start our leave. Just yesterday my son (15 years) talked through our itin and said “we are going round the world? Cool!”. That was worth all the worry and planning.
    Wishing you all the best and look forward to your stories the good, the bad and the ugly.

  15. Becky says:

    Ay yi yi! Bad things happen everywhere. Have a good time and eats lots of fish tacos. Hope you enjoyed your stay at my aunt’s place in San Felipe. Hope to meet up with you somewhere someday! Miss you all.

  16. julie says:

    just get a pistola (that’s gun in spanish) ; )

  17. Kevin says:

    I am all about the positive vibes! Have fun wherever you go. We will be thinking of you and looking forward to hearing about all the great experiences during your travels. Love to you all !
    Kev

  18. Brooks says:

    Oh the picture of the beach brings back soooo many wonderful memories. Beers for 50 cents and fish tacos for half that. My best Thanks Giving ever was on that beach 20 years ago.

    Enjoy the days, don’t drive at night and camp with lots of others. Have fun!

  19. Sara Miller says:

    I know this might not be the most appropriate place to post this but for other readers living in the USA are you concerned about the debt? It just seems like it is getting to the point where the country is going to go bankrupt and my husband and I are just a little concerned that our kids and grandkids are going to have some big problems in a few years. Thanks for letting me vent, Sara

  20. Francisco says:

    Hola es verdad México está pasando por una situación difícil pero es igual de peligroso que cualquier otro país y esto te lo digo porque viví 3 años en los Ángeles L.A. donde vi cosas tan malas como las que pasan aquí o peores.
    En los países como en Europa o cualquier parte corre uno peligro, mas en este tipo de aventuras pero también hace uno muchos amigos y eso cuenta mas.
    Yo soy de Querétaro y los vi en Guayabitos.
    Si llegas a pasar por Querétaro y necesitas algo con gusto te ayudare.

    Saludos y mucha suerte.
    Francisco

  21. Ghost Dancer says:

    I would rather live a short exciting life than a long safe and dull one.

  22. wendi says:

    Thank you for my morning smile… That is the best posting ever!!!

  23. Juergen says:

    Yeah – we experienced the same in the US: particularly since 9/11 everybody seems to be full of fear to the extend that they can be xenophobic. We heard many similar stories from people who claimed to have lived in Mexico…
    To the positive side of things:
    WE DID THE ENTIRE TRIP WITHOUT EVER BEING IN DANGER OR EVEN FEELING LIKE WE WERE IN SERIOUS DANGER! Corrupt police can cause the most trouble along the way – but we even managed to get out of all those situation w/o ever paying a ‘multa’.

    The worse, which happened to us, were two failed attempts to pick our pockets in Buenos Aires. [Then again: Canadians, we had met on our trip in Mexico, were hi-jacked on their last trip home. Bandits drove off with their RV and they were left standing, uninjured, by the side of the road with only their clothes on their back - but that's an exception!!! Plus the border regions in Mexico are more dangerous than all other parts... In general I believe most cities in the US or Southern Europe can be at least AS dangerous!]

    Check out our web site for camping links with GPS!

    Enjoy Colombia – we loved the people there = our favorite country of all!

  24. alan says:

    to most Mexicans do not like Americans, but when they come as tourists tolerate them, besides that in northern Mexico is very dangerous even for us Mexicans, it is best accompanied by someone native or can speak Spanish well, although some Americans know Spanish accent is very easy to detect.

    without cautions, dont come to mexico

  25. Sheri says:

    People are showing concern for your lives and you post it as if it were a joke? Maybe you’ve already been to Mexico many times and nothing bad happened. My uncle lives right near the Mexican / U.S. border and goes there and nothing’s ever happened to him…but….that doesn’t mean it’s not a dangerous place at the moment.
    Have you not been listening to the news lately? They’re saying that more murders have been happening in Mexico border towns than in Iraq and Afghanistan put together. They’re even saying that the Mexican cartel has come this side of the border to kidnap Americans, take them to Mexico and threaten their lives unless x amount of U.S. dollars are paid. Also, what about the young couple who recently was jet skiing on a lake that borders the U.S. and Mexico? They were shot at from a Mexican drug cartel person and the husband was killed. They weren’t doing anything wrong, just enjoying their jet skis. It’s a bit crazy to even compare what’s currently going on in Mexico to any American city or town. Sure there’s crime where ever you go but when the news says that over two thousand people have been murdered in Mexican towns in the last year and different police chiefs have also been decapitated along with mayors of some towns in order to keep law enforcement as well as the Mexican government as a whole, out of the drug cartels business, it’s something to be concerned about if traveling there.
    I don’t see one thing anyone has said on here that should be taken lightly even if they stretched what they were saying for the sake of your safety. I’d rather see people care than have hardened hearts and no one let you know the dangers you ‘could’ run into while in Mexico!
    Just my opinion … if it matters.

  26. slavio lovato says:

    There is infact very dangerous people in the border towns my best freinds family got robed at gun point and severly beat in puerto penasco….. but that has not made me steer clear of mexico. Me being an arizona resident who likes to travel i go to mexico and enjoy it but i think its just like any other town wrong place wrong time type of thing

  27. rrs says:

    There are no safe places in Mexico. Every week you read about tourists being raped and abused by cops, shot by drug gangs and killed in accidents at resorts resulting from negligence, corruption, sloppiness and greed. Mexico is a giant outhouse full of criminals and vermin. Even your average, “everyday mexican” will gladly steal from you if he thinks no-one is lookng and he can get away with it. They feel that we of more affluent countries are “spoiled” and “soft” and “undeserving” and have no qualms about taking whatever they can from us. Their own lives and property are treated with such little value by their own neighbors and government that they have very little respect for anyone else’s, either. No place is genuinely safe in Mexico. If you go there, you’re an idiot and there’s a better-than-average chance some misfortune will befall you, so beware and read the papers.

  28. Curtis says:

    I was raped and robbed by men dressed as police in October 2010 near Sayulita. I shall never return.

  29. Dawne says:

    I think what most people don’t realize is that Mexico is a ‘third world country’. You can blindly enjoy your all-inclusive holiday while the average Mexican family earns less in one year than what you’ve just spent. Only when you need medical attention do you realize how lucky you are to be just a visitor, because you could die in an ambulance that has to stop for gas that you’re asked pay for. Big business (and I’m talking the hotel chains) have created a false aura of paradise. The reality is that when you need safety and security, it doesn’t exist. Just ask the couple that was arrested by police in Playa del Carmen on NY eve, raped, and released to the cries of government denial that it ever happened.
    For these reasons, I’m boycotting (as much as I’ve enjoyed past vacations) until the Mexican government understands how important it is to keep their tourists safe. They won’t be getting my dollars any longer.

  30. Mark Tisdale says:

    I literally just stumbled onto your blog and this was the first post I read.

    I don’t know your travel plans entirely but Mexico is just not the hell on earth that some people are convinced it is. I just got back from my third trip there! I haven’t seen northern Mexico since ’04, and I’ve heard the border is much worse than it was then, but most everyone I’ve talked to has said beyond that it’s at least as safe as some parts of the US. Honestly, on my last trip I started in Mexico City. I have no doubt there are some scary places there, but you know what, I lived for a decade in Atlanta and there were some freaking scary places there, too!

    I have never felt as ill at ease in foreign countries I’ve visited as I have in the big cities of my own country. Nuff said.

  31. Jaime says:

    In Cuernavaca Dec. 2009 I heard people being shot to death during the Beltran Leyva raid. In Nov. 2010 the Mexican Army under the direction of the PGR raided a well known narco “El Negro” in my apartment complex. During the raid they entered and took cash, computers and vehicles of other residents without warrants. Total thugs. Newspapers have reported similar thefts by the 24th Zona Militar. Nothing was done by the authorities contacted about this. Ask yourself if you really want to take the risk of going to Mexico.

  32. Jim Johnson says:

    Wow! I’m glad that you had such a wonderful trip through Mexico, especially considering all of these things that everyone said would happen to you. What did you do wrong to have such a good trip? Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  33. Lorna says:

    Glad the scary stories didn’t get to you and make you stay safe and secure, home on the couch, or we never would have met you. Happy Trails!

  34. The Truth says:

    I’ve been to Mexico when traveling with my family and we were stopped by a “Police Officer” for breaking a law. After giving him all our money, $200+ he finally let us go. Would I go back, FCUK no.

  35. Old Gringo says:

    I’ve just returned from a two month driving trip to southern Mexico. Over the past 50 years my various VW buses have traversed Mexico many times.

    I’ve seen “stuff”; but I have also been treated wonderfully even by cops and military personnel.

    There is some bad boogie going down now. The statistical probability of it happening to you is still small. stay vigilant, banish fear, have a beer and a taco.

    Con todo respeto, no hay otro como Mexico!

  36. Amy in Portlandia says:

    Lmaoooooooooo. I love and always will love Mexico. We took a friend there n our 1st anniversary trip and he loved it so much he sold all his stuff aside from a bag of clothes and his laptop and his bass guitar and he’s made his life there and enjoys every day of it. :-) safety first…everywhere you go but I never even had one moment of fear or concern by myself at night on the city bus “home”. Nicest people ever.

    Hope you enjoyed your trip!!!

  37. Jenny says:

    This is an old thread, and lots of opinions both ways, but… I just can’t read some of these things without responding. I live in Seattle and have been lucky enough to be able to travel to Mexico every year since I was in 5th grade (which has been some time now- I’m 31!). First, they were family trips, obviously (Sayulita, Barra de Navidad, Melaque, Zihuatenejo, Ixtapa, San Blas, Todo Santos, Baja, Tulum) and then with friends, and now my boyfriend and I have gone together the last 3 years. We’re planning a 3 week trip for February now- Mexico City (my fave), Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido. My parents spend a couple months a year in Mexico every winter.

    To say that there “are no safe places in Mexico” is like saying there are no safe places in the US. False. By the way, I have never once stayed in a resort. We rent houses or condos. We speak spanish, we meet neighbors, we got to markets, and eat street food. My dad has been pick-pocketed in Latin America once (in Guatemala), but that can and does happen in the States, too. Other than that, the worst that has happened to us in an occasional stomach bug.

    It’s fine if some of you want to live in your “safe” little bubble (because no one has ever been raped or murdered there in your town, right?), but please don’t impose your xenophobic fear-mongering on the rest of us. We happen to be more than capable of assessing our own levels of risk tolerance while expanding our world views.

    I think it’s great what you’re doing, and what an amazing experience for a child. I am incredibly grateful that my parents felt it was important for my brother and I to travel to experience different ways of life.

    And lastly, to the person that said Mexico is a third world country- A. No, and B. That term is incredibly outdated, do people still say that these days??

  38. That is hilarious, we were warned as well. Many family and friends kept on saying “Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die”.

    So once we drove through Mexico and Central America we decided to write a Free book called Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die. And Other More Rational Advice for Overlanding Mexico and Central America.

    We are Currently in Chile after starting our tip in Seattle more than a year ago, So far we have not had any major problems.

    Btw, Do you have a list of campgrounds down in Argentina and Chile? It seems that we are on the same or similar itinerary.

    Keep up the great posts!

  39. Ana says:

    I went through some of the texts and started to feel so, so sad about the content. I’m mexican, live right by the border with the US and can’t believe my eyes. Don’t let fear make you miss one of the most beautiful places on Earth, meet the friendliest and most colorful people in the globe and fall in love with your own soul by encountering freedom and joy.
    Unfortunately, the news only publish what helps them sell (fear is the best seller -ask movie makers for example-) and avoid reality.
    Hope you the best wherever you decide to go folks, I’d like to have the chance and bravery needed to live the way you are living now.
    Ana

  40. Barry says:

    What Ana said! Mexcio has been, is, and always will be a spectacular place of beauty, incredible food and indeed, some to of the friendliest people on earth.

    I too cannot believe the xenophobia of some people.

  41. I’m brand new to your blog and very late to this conversation, but we’re traveling through Mexico now and this post cracked me up. All the dire warnings are so familiar. Looking forward to reading through your site. We spent a year camper-vanning through Europe & Turkey and are now (kinda sorta) considering doing it through SA. Cheers!

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