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Mexico Guru

The Drug Wars There is little doubt that the drug wars are escalating in Mexico. But is it safe for the average tourist? The mayhem is for the most part localized---by far the most violent is near the U.S. border at Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua. Most of the victims are involved in organized crime and the drug trade in some way, as well those guilty by association, such as judges, policemen, and newspaper reporters. The mafiosos are not targeting tourists and, given the negative effect the drug wars are having on Mexico?s third-largest economic activity, the government is doing everything possible to protect them.

Traveling Safely in Mexico

You don't have to look far for warnings about travel in Mexico. There are reports of thefts, robberies, even rape. There are stories of car-jackings and muggings, extortions and set-ups. If you listen too hard or too long, you might never leave home again.

Newspaper publishers love to report misdeeds. Except in the travel section, a story about travelers arriving at their destination safe and sound would be undeniably boring. Yet it’s true that crime---violent crime---occurs in Mexico just as it does throughout the world. And certain areas of Mexico are experiencing heightened crime.

Drug cartels battle each other for territory, especially since former Mexican president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug trade. Since then, intimidation, kidnappings and killings---of police officers, politicians, and even musicians---have taken an alarming upturn. For the average tourist, however, violence and mayhem can almost always be avoided by following a few basic precautions.

Rule #1

Travel during the day. Criminals are like cockroaches … they love the night. Evil-doers can be identified by witnesses. This tends to irritate them! During daylight hours, you and other drivers are more visible to the vast majority of law-abiding, peace-loving Mexicans who welcome your presence. Buses as well as cars are less likely to be messed with during the day.

Rule #2

When encountering the police or the military at checkpoints on the major highways, treat them respectfully and professionally. A few civilities such as “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” go a long way in producing a hassle-free experience. Some of these officials come from humble backgrounds and are not as worldly as the average foreign traveler. Don’t flaunt your educational superiority, real or imagined.

Rule #3

When taking taxis in major cities (especially Mexico City), check with your hotel staff or other knowledgeable locals about any areas (or cab companies) to avoid. There are places and circumstances in your own city that you should avoid, and chances are you heed your own advice! Seek out the counsel of locals in foreign cities you aren’t familiar with.

Rule #4

When possible, travel in groups. The old saying “There’s safety in numbers” was coined for good reason.

Rule #5

Be aware of your surroundings. While enjoying the colors, sights and smells of a new environment, keep your eyes peeled. Enjoy being a tourist, and use this as an opportunity to learn of the people: their mannerisms, their charm, their beauty…as well as the cunning of the rare but dangerous ne’er-do-well. You needn’t be paranoid. But a little extra awareness goes a long way.

Goodness is everywhere. Unfortunately, so are miscreants and dangerous dirt bags. Expect the best but prepare for the worst. Mexico is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. No need to stay home and triple bolt the door ... not yet, and hopefully, not ever.

---Mike Harris