Many residents of the Ross Valley love to head south to enjoy taste of the real Mexico. But, many of our friends are now afraid to visit our southern neighbor, because of all the violent crimes and general chaos reported in the American media. Would you plan to drive down to Mexico City?
Clearly, it would be foolhardy to make the drive across the US-Mexico border these days on any local road. It appears that the drug cartels are spinning out of control and have no regard for anyone who is in their way or just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I recently returned from a two-week trip to Puerto Vallarta to enjoy some time off and Mexican food (try the flan or shrimp) and to find out for myself about the situation. First off, I cheated and flew down from Los Angeles, where I had attended a business meeting. Los Angeles, by the way, has more steel grates and gates than I saw anywhere in Mexico.
The Puerto Vallarta International Airport is large, modern, and continually being upgraded, having grown from a small terminal to a one with more than 15 gates, and more on the way. Our Alaska 737 taxied under the watchful eyes of a Mexican soldier, who stood in a tower overlooking the whole complex. Clearing customs was a breeze, even though they no longer have just the “red” (full inspection) or “green” (no inspection). Now, all luggage goes on an x-ray belt for one more scan. That was the easy part.
With a whoosh of the entry doors opening, I was now really in Mexico -- to be greeted by about fifty pushing, yelling and otherwise overly solicitous timeshare salespersons, each begging for my attention. With steely eyes, I marched through this welcoming receiving line, past more cabbies offering to take me anywhere I wanted to go. As I got in the cab of my choice it was the first time that I saw the Federal Policia, who are the elite of Mexico’s police. They just sit behind their dark glasses and watch from their sleek black Dodge patrol cars.
Puerto Vallarta, especially its “Old Town,” is one of the finest settings on the West Coast. It reminds one of a European city with a multicultural flavor. However, this time it was not as crowded as usual. I discovered a similar situation at our condo, which is six miles south of town in the village of Mismaloya (where Night of The Iguana was filmed many years ago). Apparently, the Canadian and midwestern snowbirds had heard rumors and horror stories, without verifying the facts, that all of Mexico is a place where you could find your head, and not your hat, in your hand if you looked the wrong way. Not so.
One of the more secure features of Puerto Vallarta is that it has a naval station where cruise ships dock every day of the week. Adjacent to the airport is an active army base. The US Drug Enforcement has trained helicopter pilots there. Another positive geographic feature is that Puerto Vallarta sits on a road (Mexico 200) that goes to the southwest, away from the states and away from drug cartel activities.
Simply stated, Mexico does not have a large drug consumption problem; it has a huge drug transportation problem. Local drug consumption is probably less than here at home, because drugs simply bring more money up north in the US. The cartels operate in the manner similar to the ways that rum runners operated during Prohibition. One cartel attempts to put another out of business. So, the majority of the random violence still remains close to the California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas border towns.
The tragedy of this situation is that the beauty and charm of Mexico and its gracious people is being damaged by the use of US-manufactured weapons illegally imported over the borders from the United States. These weapons protect the supply trains that carry the drugs to their final market: sometimes even our own streets. US money is being used to supply back to our country huge quantities of drugs without all of the messiness of killings and gang wars that the drug trade generates.
Meanwhile, those of us who have taken the time to find out what really is happening, and where it is happening, are able to make safe plans to fly over the boarder strife. Is it worth the risk of going there? Absolutely! Just stay away from border towns.
Once you have become immobilized by an imagined fear, you become the unintended and unknown victim of that fear and cannot safely move about in the world.
So, fly on down to where the weather is warm, the people are gracious and the food is delicious. (I had the best pizza of my life. Go figure.)