Mexico has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately. By that, I mean with all the bad news coming out of Mexico recently, my friends back in Australia seem to think I now live in the same world all my American friends have always assumed I was born into – some kind of Mad Max fuckhole where the streets are paved with spent bullet shells and the bones of the weak.
It all kinda started on Monday, when the tourist hotspot Playa del Carmen was rattled after an early morning shooting at a local nightclub. The incident made international headlines, and has since prompted a flurry of pundits warning of how dangerous Mexico can be for tourists. One CBC piece even went as far as suggesting tourists should hide in their resorts to stay safe. Then there’s been the recent protests against petrol price increases, with most international coverage focusing on the handful of outbursts of looting and violence at demonstrations. All the while, Donald Trump keeps promising to build his damn wall, as though Mexico is the zombie infested wastelands of northern Westeros.
But is Mexico really all that dangerous – at least for tourists?
After all, four of the five people killed in the Playa del Carmen shooting were foreigners, and the nightclub itself is located in an area popular among holiday makers. Hence, I suppose it’s natural a few people thinking of visiting Mexico have had a few second thoughts lately. To put your concerns at rest, let me assure you that most Mexicans don’t give half a fuck about you, your flip flops, your stupid souvenir T-shirt or your dumbass fannypack. Why, you may ask? Because most Mexicans have more important shit to do than hunt down and murder double glazed guer@s.
If you visit Mexico, you probably aren’t going to visit some twisted Dark Tower universe where locals subsist entirely on deflated eyeballs clawed from the vulture-picked skulls of lost frat boys.
Sure, there’s crime galore, but any actual crime you experience in Mexico probably won’t involve machine guns, chainsaws or corn grinders.
To bring your expectations down to boring ole’ ground level, here’s a few examples of things you probably won’t encounter in Mexico, juxtaposed with more likely scenarios.
1. It’s totally possible that while in Mexico, you’ll be plunged into the seedy underworld on a search for revenge, after a small child you’ve been charged to protect gets kidnapped in broad daylight. Along the way, you’ll also discover Denzel Washington has put some serious effort into his Spanish. Another heart pounding adventure you might find yourself on is filling out a police report at 2am, after your stupid drunk self left your camera at the bar while taking a slash. You dumb fuck.
2. Something else you probably won’t experience in Mexico is being chased down the main street of a frontier town, before being knocked into the dust by angry villagers and hacked apart with rusty machetes. On the other hand, sometimes on long distance buses your luggage can go missing. The best practice here is to take your belongings on the bus with you, and keeping an eye on them at all times. Keep your bag on your lap (not overhead), and consider locking it and tethering it to yourself if you really need to sleep. I also like to sit above the doors to the luggage compartment, so I can check at every stop that my bag isn’t getting off without me.
3. Meanwhile, you don’t need to be too worried about being skinned alive on a cactus by outlaws in leather dusters and novelty size sombreros; you’re more likely to get your phone stolen on the Mexico City subway by some shithead 12 year old. The best way to avoid this particular inconvenience is to keep valuables somewhere safe, like the inner pocket of a backpack. Surprisingly, your sucker pocket isn’t a safe spot.
4. It’s not entirely unreasonable to be concerned you might get drugged after eating at the wrong taco stand; then wake up dangling upside down, covered in tinsel, glue and coloured paper, only to see a blindfolded El Chapo running at you with a baseball bat. It could happen, just like some taco stands serve salsa that will make your mouth feel like it’s been packed with a swarm of homicidal bees. The wrong salsa can seriously fuck you up for the rest of the afternoon.
5. Next, don’t worry about having narcos ram a starving rat up your backside after you’ve been force fed a kilo of extra smelly cheese; a more likely danger is having your pocket change stolen by dickhead cops. Numerous people have told me police in some tourist havens love to pull gringos over for a surprise search. It usually happens in the wee hours of the morning outside bars, where the cops will make up some bogus claim, like they suspect you have drugs or something. They’ll search everything, including your wallet. They’ll give you the wallet back, but it’ll be noticeably lighter. The best way to avoid this happening is to keep a wide berth of cops, unless you feel the need to fill out a report after that dick stole your camera at the bar the other night.
6. Moving on, another crime you don’t need to worry about too much: having your heart torn out of your chest during a Nahuatl ceremony, Indiana Jones style. A much more realistic scenario is being charged tourist prices on public transport by some prick who just thinks you’re just Mr Moneybags. A good way to prevent this is to figure out what everyone else is paying before handing over any cash.
7. Finally, don’t expect to have to fight your way out of a cantina with your fists, after a tequila soaked game of poker turns rowdy. If you do eat out though, accept that traveller’s diarrhoea happens the world over.
So Yeah, Not That Nuts I Guess
In almost a year of living in Mexico, the most threatened I’ve ever felt had to be this one incident when a street vendor offered to put extra quesillo on my quesadilla. Terrified, I declined, because there is a limit to the amount of gooey, stringy cheese I can shovel into my mouth in a single sitting.
In other words, Mexico isn’t one of the inner circles of Hell, despite so many people viewing the country as a wild-west butcherhouse of horrors, replete with roaming gangs of bandidos out to get you.
In all fairness though, none of this is say Mexico is a paradise. The country’s decades old struggle with violent crime is well known, and it’s getting worse. Official figures show the murder rate in the first half of 2016 (January to June) was 15 percent higher than the same period of 2015. All up, 10,301 people were killed across the country during the first six months of last year – easily surpassing levels seen for the two years prior. On top of this, Mexico is indeed a hellscape for certain groups of people: the poor, political activists, journalists and indigenous peoples. If you’re a Central American migrant, then your time in Mexico will likely be spent being abused, robbed, kidnapped and probably forced into indentured labour at some point. On the other hand, I personally know one journalist who was forced to leave the country for years because of the shit he put up with here. So yeah, some pretty messed up stuff happens in Mexico. Maybe you’ll get messed up in Mexico too. It’s totally possible if you’re coming here without documents after fleeing a war zone, or eager to bust the lid off a massive political conspiracy. But if you’re coming here to take a selfie in front of a pyramid – well as I said before, nobody gives a flying-upsidedown-on-an-antique-biplane-flying-through-hoops fuck about you. Nobody will bother you if you come here, have your fill of chilaquiles, buy a fridge magnet and fuck off.
Unless, of course, you disembark wearing one of those red caps with the words “Make America great again”. Then someone is going to mess you up, you joke of a human being.
First published at Medium.