I Traveled To Mexico And Came Back Alive

Two weeks ago I did something absolutely crazy. I packed a bag, got on a plane, and spent an entire week traveling in Mexico.

GASP! The horrors! Haven’t you heard? Mexico is dangerous! It isn’t safe to travel there anymore. Go somewhere else – anywhere but Mexico. There be dragons out there…

One of the hottest topics in North American travel at the moment, the question of whether or not you should travel to Mexico has been hotly circulating about Gadling for the better part of six months now.

Chris Owen in February posted an article about 22 cruise ship passengers in Mexico who were recently robbed at gunpoint. As he states in the article, however, this also recently happened in St. Kitts, and I haven’t heard many cries for avoiding the small Caribbean nation.

Fellow Gadling blogger Dave Seminara even went so far in a recent article to highlight the point that the homicide rate in Puerto Vallarta (where the gunpoint, cruise robbery took place) is actually lower than many American cities.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to rehash this topic due to a recent conversation I had with a Canadian woman on a sailing catamaran in Maui. This, and the fact that I just spent an entire week in Mexico and managed to come back alive.While sailing in Maui I found myself discussing with a woman – who we shall call Carol – the recent addition of direct flights from Calgary to Maui by the Canadian airline carrier Westjet. To be fair, Mexico’s recent bust has been Hawaii’s recent boom, given the fact that many winter travelers who once frequented Mexico are now flocking in droves to what are considered to be “safer havens.”

“Everyone is coming to Maui now because you simply can’t go to Mexico anymore,” explained Carol. “Did you hear what just happened down there? A girl was mugged INSIDE of her hotel and was robbed! Can you imagine? Inside the resort!”

Then, with a squinting of the eyes and a lean towards my body she whispered in a seemingly prophetic tone, “it simply isn’t safe to travel to Mexico anymore.”

I bit my lip in reaction to her crowdsourced ignorance. Later that day, I opted to take 16 seconds of my life to look up the armed robbery statistics for the city of Calgary for the first quarter of 2012.

The result? Eighty-seven reported robberies in the first three months of the year, an increase of 19 percent from the same time period in 2011.

While I could rattle statistics off from a slew of different sources, the bottom line and the main point which needs to be made is that traveling to Mexico is no more dangerous than living in any major global city. Of the 60 countries I’ve wandered through and after 20+ visits to Mexico, you know where I’ve felt the most in danger (including when I thought I was kidnapped in Borneo)?

When I got lost on the south side of Chicago.

Also, Carol, there are a few travel safety basics, which need to be employed when traveling anywhere in the world with a much lower income level than we experience back home. Don’t flaunt expensive jewelry, don’t hang a $3000 Canon camera around your neck and don’t pay for a $1 bottle of water and flash a wallet, which is teeming with $100 bills. Chances are, you’re asking to be robbed. This isn’t called travel safety; this is called common sense.

You know where else people get robbed of expensive cameras, by the way? Maui (usually via car break-ins).

Sure, there are a lot of crazy headlines coming out of Mexico right now, such as rampant beheadings, mass graves and guys who mix corpses in huge vats of acid. But guess what? These people aren’t tourists; they’re drug lords. If you’re someone who’s heavily entrenched in the cocaine and marijuana trade then yeah, it might be dangerous for you to travel to Mexico right now. If you just want to go down and score some waves, soak up some sun, or experience the vibrant local culture, however, chances are that you’re going to be fine.

So why am I so fired up about this? Because what many headlines unfortunately fail to display is that the real, true victims of the Mexican violence are the peace-loving, everyday Mexican citizens who rely on tourism dollars to survive.

I have stood on the sandy shores of a campground on the Sea of Cortez and literally had a woman weep at my feet, thanking me for deciding to come and visit Mexico. Ever since the violence started, she claimed, the tourist business has completely dried up and her and her family are liable to lose their business, their house and their land because Americans who once came for the great fishing and cheap beer now go elsewhere because it’s “safer.”

I ask you, Carol, which one is worse? Having your camera taken from you, or having your house taken from you?

So, yes, I just traveled to Mexico for a week, and here is a rundown of what happened:

I ate fish tacos and lobster tails on the shores of an empty beach while drinking $1 beers after a day of surfing perfect, empty waves. I had long conversations with local people who smile and are friendly and are genuinely interested in what I have to say. I shopped at local supermarkets. I stayed in a $20/night guesthouse on the beach, not a fancy resort with a security guard. I hired a fishing boat. I entrusted my life to Mexican taxi drivers who took me exactly where I needed to go.

I wasn’t beheaded, and I wasn’t robbed. I traveled to Mexico and I came back alive.

Renewing a passport: The process begins

Yes, it’s true. My passport did expire a little less than a year ago. With a trip out of the country coming up in March, and the prices of renewing a passport going up tomorrow, I did fill out the application, got the requisite official size pictures, wrote the check for $67 and mailed it out yesterday.

I had had the application in the glove compartment of my car for a month, but one thing led to another so I just drove it around town. Feeling motivated by the $8 that I will have saved by applying in January (thanks for the reminder Anna), and the thought of not having to spend money to expedite the process if I waited much longer, got me to the post office by 4:45 yesterday afternoon.

I did call the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Passport Services Office to make sure that:

1. I actually don’t need a passport into Mexico or back if I’m driving across (actually, I’ll be on a bus).

2. I can get the passport back in 4-6 weeks. Basically, I just want to have it and see if I can get it back within 4-6 weeks. This is a do-it-yourself experiment on pushing the time envelope. What is last minute really? I did mail the application priority mail which was probably a waste of money since the passport folks won’t get it by Monday anyway. Regular mail would have gotten it there just as quickly.

It is true that one does not need a passport to go across the Mexican border and back by car, but you do need an official certified copy of your birth certificate and driver’s license or some other official government issued ID. The woman I talked with also assured me that my passport should be back in time. I’d like to have it since I’ve used the trip as a motivation to get it renewed. If I did need the passport, I’d have paid the extra $60 to expedite it.

As phone trees go, the one that leads through passport information of the Passport Services Office is fairly easy to follow. Most information is clearly stated, except the details about passport needs for Mexico and Canada are not provided. The Web site has detailed info about travel in the Western Hemisphere.

One recorded message does tell how to track on-line where your passport is in the process. If you have a passport that is being renewed –or you are applying for a new one, you can check on-line about 2 weeks after you’ve mailed off the application. That’s how long it takes to post the information. This link leads to the details about the process.

One helpful piece of information that I heard aimed towards anyone who is on a real deadline. The well-modulated recorded voice said that if you have not yet applied for a passport and you are leaving the country in 14 days or less, head to one of the regional offices to do the process in person.

In my case, I’ll let you know just when in the 4 to 6 week time period my new passport arrives.