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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Readers weigh in on Mexico

By Catharine Hamm
March 22, 2009 - Las Angeles Times

Question: Should student Sarah Tjoa go to Cancún, Mexico, for spring break? She posed that question in a letter to the Travel section, and in the March 15 "On the Spot," we asked readers to weigh in. Here is some of what they had to say.

We just returned from a wonderful vacation on the Riviera Nayarit, one of many trips we've taken to Mexico in the last 30-plus years. We felt very safe everywhere we went. You can be a victim of crime at home or anywhere in the world. What is most important is to be knowledgeable about where you are and to exercise good common sense.
--Gail Mitsui, Glendale
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As a travel agent and lover of Mexico vacations, I think the reader is being overly cautious. I have traveled to Mexico five times since September 2006 and except for one time in Cabo where someone tried to sell me drugs, I have never felt unsafe, even by myself. (I'm in my mid-20s). Follow the basic rules: Don't leave drinks unattended, watch your alcohol intake (and don't do drugs), don't walk alone at night, use reputable tour companies when traveling outside the city, etc. and you should be fine.
--Darlene Anderson, Portland, Ore.
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Recent conflicts have been in Mexican border towns hundreds of miles from Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Unfortunately, most Americans are ignorant of the geography of Mexico. They do not know that Mexico is three times the size of Texas. If we had unrest in Los Angeles (riots, gang wars, earthquakes) would you cancel your vacation or meeting/convention in Chicago? I do not think so. In the end, it comes down to common sense.
--Larry J. Pagac, Barcelo Hotels & Resorts, Redondo Beach
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My husband and I went to Ensenada for three nights during winter break. We caught a bus down south. Tijuana felt deserted and desperate, but the bus ride was surprisingly pleasant (motor coach with movie and bathroom) and Ensenada did not feel unsafe. The tourist strip was clean and inviting at all hours, and during the day we even wandered within a mile radius or so to visit the stores and loncherias where locals eat, and we never once felt in harm's way. (And the food was far more satisfying than at the tourist restaurants.)

There was a shooting death in Tijuana while we were in Ensenada, but we never felt that such a thing was imminent. I would encourage people to open their hearts and minds to travel in the non-border towns of Mexico once again.
--Crystal Reed, Santa Monica
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You can never take caution too far when traveling. It's not as though all these young, inexperienced travelers would stick out, carry money or leave their best judgment at home. . . .

Is it going to take 10,000 or 20,000 lives before we adopt a pro-active mind-set on the drug wars?
--Rhys Logan, Bellingham, Wash.
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My wife is from Morelia, Michoacán. We try to go down there at least once a year or every other year with our two kids. We're going for two weeks this summer and everybody is looking forward to it. Sure I get the jitters; I try not to think about too much about everything that's going on. I want my kids to enjoy going to Mexico and to appreciate the food, language, music and culture. I don't want them to grow up in fear that something bad can happen when they go to Mexico. I also like knowing that my money is helping others to keep a job (airlines, taxi, restaurants, etc.).

When we go out, I carry only what we're going to spend that day and that's it. Leave the American Express at home. Even though it is good advice to be aware of your surroundings, I don't stress out about it too much, because I won't enjoy it. Hey, you have to be aware of your surroundings here in L.A.; it's not that much different.

I would recommend that the reader take that trip to enjoy the culture of the Maya and to stimulate the Mexican economy. They need it so much more than we do. Just don't flash your jewels, fancy cameras or anything that's going to make you an easy target.
--Jose Luis Carlos, La Puente
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That reader should go. I can't speak for Cancún, but I don't think the Maya country is a problem.

We recently spent eight days in Yucatán, traveling in a group of eight with a Maya-speaking American anthropologist and a local guide. The trip logistics were organized by EcoTurismo Yucatan, a Mérida-based company. We stayed in Mérida, Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Valladolid and Uxmal and visited many other sites, some major, some minor, all fascinating. We saw police checkpoints, but no other evidence of lawlessness. Saturday night in Mérida in the winter is an all-night fiesta with food, music and families out and about on the central plaza. Whatever the problems the drug war is causing in parts of Mexico, they don't seem to be an issue in the Yucatán. I guess she's stuck with Cancún, but if she really wants to see the Mayan sites, she should get out as soon as she can and visit the real Yucatán.

The Mayan people will make her feel welcome.
--Chris Taber, Palm Springs