Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

 

The major media chimes in on violence in Mexico, as well as a few expats and residents. It’s about #$@%! time. You tell me: are the media suffering from hysteria fatigue, or is America getting tired of the gory violence in mexico2 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US citiesexaggerated misconceptions about its beautiful, misunderstood neighbor?

 

Of course, you guys—being inquiring, informed, intrepid and intelligent world travelers—already knew all of this. (Forward this to your less savvy friends. Then you can say “Te lo dije!” That’s Spanish for “I told you so.”)

 

Some juicy tidbits to whet your appetite for truth, sanity and an end to media fearmongering: (Forgive me, but i’m going to put these direct quotes from the Washington Post in really big, colorful text, just for the sheer joy of it.)

 

“’It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.’ Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t…”

 

“Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1).”

 

Reprinted from the Washington post. Click here to go to the original article.

 

Viva Mexico lindo!

washpostmast Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

Mexico: A guide to which parts are safe to travel to, and which are dangerous

washpyramid1 Washington Post on Violence in Mexico—in very few, specific places, the rest is safer than many US cities

By , Published: December 16, 2011

Shortly before Arnoldo Pedroza was scheduled to lead a tour south of Mexico City, the local guide started to worry that recent disturbances would sabotage his trip. He followed news updates anxiously, hoping that the area would cool off and officials wouldn’t ban visitors.You’re thinking drug cartels, vendettas and gunfire? Wrong. Pedroza was worried about spraying lava, not flying bullets.

 

“It is an active volcano,” said Pedroza of Popocatepetl, the volatile volcano up which he led a group of American mountaineers a few weeks ago. “I was afraid that it was going to pour lava, but it stayed quiet.”Mexico’s second-highest mountain is an apt metaphor for the country itself: Despite threatening rumblings, danger doesn’t always materialize. Sometimes it’s even all in our heads. Yet misperceptions dog Mexico, which has been seriously shaken by the ongoing turf battles between drug cartelsand the frontal-assault strategy employed by President Felipe Calderon’s government.“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars(internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.“The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).But these figures don’t negate the fact that some places in Mexico are extraordinarily dangerous — so dangerous that they should be mummified in crime tape.“We are very much focused on Mexico,” says Hugo Rodriguez, chief for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services. “Providing U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico with accurate information about the security situation there is a high priority for us.” The agency’s travel warning on Mexico, last updated in April, specifies the dangers by state, delineating the possible threats to Americans, 4.7 million of whom visited from January through October.

 

Yet countless tourists balk at the border, unsure of where — or whether — to go.Well, we’ll tell you. We spoke to security experts, tour operators, government officials and expats for advice on where you can comfortably kick off your sandals and places you should avoid or explore with caution.

 

One quick PSA: No matter the destination, always be aware of your surroundings and follow the commandments of common sense: Register with the U.S embassy, don’t walk in the dark alone, keep the bling at home, etc. Street crime, like multiple days of rain or a vengeful plate of beans, can really ruin a good vacation.Visit with abandon (and your family)We know what you want: to plop down on the beach, sip a margarita and feel your stresses turn to goo beneath the hot Mexican sun.You’re not alone. About 90 percent of tourists flock to the beach resorts on both coasts, says Lopez-Negrete. Nor will you be disappointed. The majority of beach resorts, especially along the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, are sheltered oases.“Quintana Roo and the Mayan Riviera are safe by Mexican standards and safe by Latin American standards,” says Pablo Weisz, regional security manager for the Americas at International SOS and Control Risks, referring to the state and nickname of the major beach destinations.Mark these in your vacation planners as safe: Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, and on the Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Some spots left out of the glossy brochures also make the list, such as the colonial city of Campeche, a World Heritage Site on the gulf, and Merida, a city west of Cancun on the Yucatan. In addition, most day trips from the strands, including outings to the Mayan ruins, also occupy the lowest rung on the risk ladder. These excursions include Tulum, Uxmal and Chichen Itza.“I would take my family to these areas,” says Temo Tarrago, an Americas risk specialist with iJet, a global security risk assessment firm, offering the ultimate stamp of approval.The open lanes of travel don’t lead only south; they also wiggle inland, to colonial towns delightful with culture, crafts and heaping plates of regional cuisine.“Leon is large, safe and modern, but is also 400-plus years old. It’s the country’s leather capital; there is outstanding shoe shopping,” Shetterly wrote by e-mail. “From Leon, you have access to Guanajuato (World Heritage Site), San Miguel [de Allende] (expat enclave, tons of art, culture, concerts, great food, etc.) and even Queretaro(a gorgeous colonial city that is closer to Mexico City).”The experts also place smiley-face stickers next to the state of Chiapas, home to ruins, biosphere reserves, textiles and the cultural city of San Cristobal de las Casas.Finally, Oaxacadominated 2006 headlines because of protests gone awry, but the city known for its culinary traditions (pass the mole) has calmed down. The teachers union still strikes periodically, but the protests are typically peaceful. If you’re considering going to Oaxaca soon, your timing couldn’t be better: The strikes have already taken place this year. All’s likely to be quiet until the next school year.Go with caution, or a burly friend

 Pack your precautions for some areas that have improved substantially but still present slight risks.

Border town Tijuana has always worn a badge of dissolution, thanks to a spinning turnstile of partiers, drug suppliers and underworld denizens. But the government’s recent crackdown on the cartels has helped clean up the place.

“Tijuana is perfectly fine,” says Lopez-Negrete. “It has gone through a major renovation and transformation.”

Security experts agree on the metamorphosis but place an asterisk beside the town’s name. “It’s not as much of a concern,” says Weisz, “but that doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be considered safe.”

As safeguards, avoid low-end bars and drink or eat only items that have been prepared in front of you. Also, travel during the day and plan your modes of transportation in advance.

Mexico City is a beast of a different nature. The capital city of 20 million people isn’t pocked with drug-related skirmishes, but it does suffer from endemic street crime. Pickpocketing, shake-downs and kidnappings are common occurrences.

“It is a challenge by sheer size,” Tarrago says. “There are no drug cartels, but it does have organized crime.”

Tarrago reminds visitors to hire cabs only from authorized taxi stands and hotels, to keep valuables well hidden and to avoid unfamiliar places at night. “Know where you’re going and be aware of your surroundings,” says the Mexican native, recommending the upscale areas of Polanco and Las Lomas.

Although Guadalajara is unraveling and has experienced drug cartel-related activity, the violence hasn’t spilled over to Lake Chapala, less than 30 miles southeast. Ringed by small communities, the country’s largest freshwater lake draws retired North American expats and migratory birds to its shores.

“The security situation is kind of fluid,” says Tarrago, “but it’s not really affecting normal travelers.” That includes the American white pelican.

 

Don’t visit unless you’re a commando

Drug cartels don’t target tourists; the battle is cartel vs. cartel and cartel vs. government. Yet sometimes innocent folks find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to not go there.

So where aren’t you going? The towns along the border with the United States and along the Rio Grande, a line more than 1,200 miles long. One of the worst is Ciudad Juarez, where the current murder toll of six or seven a day is considered an improvement, according to Walter McKay, a Canadian expat who maps the narco-murders and posts the results on his Web site, Policereform.org.

While you’re crossing off names, draw a black mark through the entire state of Chihuahua, which accounts for 14 percent of the killings nationwide.

“It has the most violence in the whole country,” says Tarrago, who also warns against Copper Canyon, a natural wonder that is larger than the Grand Canyon and is reached by high-altitude train. “It’s remote,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there at this time.”

On the west coast, red flags wave in the northern areas of Baja California. Despite increased security — “They are better than they were before,” says Tarrago — travelers may come across military checkpoints and potentially sticky situations.

“You have to drive through dangerous areas to get to low-risk ones,” says Weisz. “You’re putting yourself at the mercy of those risks.” The solution: Fly south to Cabo.

Southeast of Baja, Guadalajara hosted the Pan American Games in October without incident. Seems safe, right? But no. A month later, 26 bodies were discovered on a road not far from the Millennium Arches, an iconic downtown structure.

“About 80 percent of Guadalajara is safe,” said McKay, “but how would you know which part of the city to avoid?” An easy solution: Avoid it all.

Some areas are an easy call, such as destinations along the northbound drug routes and near ports, such as Veracruz (city and state), Monterrey and the resort town of Mazatlan.

But one destination now considered dangerous is tougher to fathom. In its heyday, Acapulco was the glittery playground of jetsetters and such silver screen royalty as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. It later morphed into a spring break haunt. Now, its beaches are empty, its resorts devoid of guests — a casualty of heavy cartel violence. (To make matters worse, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck on Dec. 10.)

“Acapulco used to be a beautiful place to go to,” says McKay, “but you don’t go there anymore.”

The State Department advises Americans to “exercise extreme caution when visiting downtown Acapulco,” but thoughtfully provides an alternative: Diamante, a few miles south of downtown. That tourist area’s major selling point: “It has not been affected by the increasing violence” in Acapulco — a paradise lost, at least for now.

 
 
 
 

“Mexico safer than headlines indicate” —vindication, at last!

mexican dancer1 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

This article makes us so happy, we just gotta dance. Photo by Michael Amici.

What with all of our protestations of media mistreatment, we know you’ve probably been thinking “boy those Casita people sure are conspiracy theorists.” Or maybe you were going to start calling us Cassandra de las Flores.

But no, we’re not nuts, just the on the David end of the David and Goliath Public Opinion of Mexico Syndrome (commonly known as DGPOMS, at least around here).

The attached article on safety in Mexico is so balanced and honest, it deserves a re-print in its entirety. Will send (Oaxaca) chocolate (the cinnamonny kind) and flowers (calla lilies) to Christine Delsol. Or better yet, invite her to stay at the Casita.

The only thing we’d criticize about the article is the lukewarm headline. We feel it should be something more like “Most of Mexico is Probably Safer than where You Live, so Get Over the Trendy Media Hysteria and Get Down to that Beautiful, Amiable, Fun and Affordable Country!” Guess that might not fit, though.

Don’t miss the safety travel tips—good while travelling to Mexico or anywhere. (Our personal fave: “Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets.”)

Wishing you happy travels and many adventures (preferably in San Miguel de Allende, so we can see your smiling face),

Casita de las Flores
San Miguel’s cozy, comfy, and friendly B&K  
Hey! Don’t forget to check out our new specials

San Francisco Chronicle Article on safety in Mexico

 

Mexico safer than headlines indicate

Christine Delsol, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, August 21, 2011

mn mexico19 PH1 0501349765 part6 Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!articlebox img bg Mexico safer than headlines indicate —vindication, at last!

Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Tourists enjoy the beach near a police officer on patrol in Acapulco. The U.S. State Department issued a warning for Acapulco, its first for a popular tourist resort, after a year of violence in the city.

Quick – which national capital has the higher murder rate: Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate - 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.)

And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando.

It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. ”Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing East Palo Alto’s slayings to San Francisco.

But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts (travel.state.gov), which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots.

“We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

In the meantime, we have done some of the work for you. The chart above recommends destinations for various comfort levels and travel styles. If you’re totally spooked, there are places that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. For fearless travelers, these sometimes dicey destinations are worth the extra caution.

Mexico safety tips

Your most important tactic for traveling safe, in Mexico or anywhere else, begins before you even decide where to go. Get familiar with Mexico’s geography; it’s a big country, and your destination might be hundreds or even a thousand miles from violence-prone areas. Keep up on Mexico coverage in major dailies, then do some focused research. Some sources:

– The current State Department travel warning (travel.state.gov) and security updates make a good start.

– The travel agents trade publication Travel Weekly has created a map that puts the latest travel warning in easily digestible graphic form (travelweekly.com/uploadedFiles/MEXICOMAP4.pdf).

– The United Kingdom Foreign Office Travel Advisory for Mexico ( www.fco.gov.uk; “Travel advice by country”) provides another perspective.

– Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies and international corporations on security issues, is a reliable, up-to-the-minute source. Membership is expensive, but the website ( www.stratfor.com) makes some reports available for free.

Assuming you’re not headed for northern border areas, normal safety precautions that apply anywhere in the world will suffice. These are particularly important in Mexico:

– Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to part with; leave the bling at home.

– Carry only the money you need for the day in a money belt (not a fanny pack), and leave your passport in your hotel unless you know you will need it.

– Get local advice about areas to avoid.

– Don’t get drunk and stumble around dark, unfamiliar streets. Drunk or sober, don’t walk beaches late at night.

– Stick with taxis dispatched from your hotel or a sitio (taxi stand); if you go out for dinner, ask the restaurant to call a taxi for you.

– Drive during the day; if nighttime driving is unavoidable, use the toll roads.

– Leave a travel itinerary and a copy of your passport with someone at home. If you’ll be traveling in higher-risk areas, notify the nearest U.S. Consulate.

A final note: Don’t get rattled if you see armed soldiers patrolling the beach or manning highway checkpoints. They are young men doing a difficult job. On the road they’ll usually just ask you where you’re coming from and where you’re going; very rarely they will ask to inspect your trunk or your bags. I’ve never encountered one who wasn’t cordial and glad for a smile or a brief conversation.

- Christine Delsol

summertime, and the livin’ is easy in San Miguel

Summer in San Miguel always makes us wax poetic, but we won’t torture you with our efforts at poesy. Best look to our favorite bard:

 summertime, and the livin is easy in San Miguel

picking flowers

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

–ee cummings


 summertime, and the livin is easy in San Miguel

san miguel countryside, late summer

Summer has arrived in San Miguel … and here come our glorious afternoon rains (and many little birds.)

If you want to see wildflowers (which are all over the place, but incredible in the park behind the botanical gardens) come in August or September…

Tell me again, why aren’t you here?

chirp, chirp,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

San Miguel de Allende’s One and Only Fantabulous B&K (bed and kitchen)

good news for/about mexico — someone’s finally doing the math.

Last week, yet another guest told me that when she announced her audacious/suicidal plan to visit Mexico…(she’s been coming regularly for twenty years—and she hasn’t been beheaded, not even once) her co-workers went off on her:

“What, are you crazy?”
“Really? But it’s so dangerous! They’re killing people!!”
“Don’t you know there’s a war on drugs there?”

Argh. My eyes are still sore from the vicious rolling they got—having lived, worked, and traveled in Mexico since late 2000 (most of it alone) and never having met with anything even remotely dangerous.

A few days later, a guest/friend who has stayed with us no less than 10 times in the last nine years, cancelled her visit, due to dire friend and family warnings about Mexico.

This news made me deeply sad (and even more frustrated).

I am (still) so exasperated that I feel i MUST pull out the capital letters (desperate measures).

REALLY? SERIOUSLY?

Call me Miss Information

Where are these well-meaning folks getting their (mis)information? Oh, right. The media. The people that sell news (advertisements, really) for a living. News which is very often sensationalism. Which gets more viewers and sells more ads.

No news is decidedly NOT good news for the media. Happy stories don’t sell papers or garner top ratings. Beheadings—well now, that’s entertainment!

For example: Your average North Korean thinks Americans routinely eat small children for breakfast with barbeque sauce. Why? Because they believe what is fed to them by their media.

They, however, have an excuse—they do not have access to alternative and/or objective opinions.

BUT WE DO! And yet, most of us still just trust the major news shows/channels, many of who seem to be every bit as about titillation as any saucy sitcom (and perhaps more so than most reality TV).

Critical Thinking 101

Don’t believe everything you see on TV (or even in this blog). Look around, get other opinions. Investigate. Google stuff!

Do you know that in certain (if not all) countries in Europe, less enlightened people think the U.S. is intolerably violent— barbaric, even? Why? Because most of their news about the U.S. consists of American serial killers, American school shootouts, and American mad bombers. (NOTE: none of these are at all common in Mexico)

Think Unabomber, think Jeffrey Dahmer, think Columbine. These are, sadly, world-wide household phrases. But, do they define the United States?

San Miguel and 99% of Mexican towns and even cities have never witnessed such insane episodes of mass, mindless violence. (Ok, maybe in badly-dubbed TV movies.)

Case in Point: Tranquil Beach Town Fed to Sharks

Of course it’s fine, even necessary, to report a violent event. But does it have to get hours of press, days of coverage, and even re-runs years later to blow it hugely out of proportion?

The answer, apparently, is yes. Rumor has it Discovery Channel just RE-aired a show on my favorite safe, sleepy Mexican beach town, calling it “Shark Bite Beach” because, several years ago, two surfers were bitten there, and one nearby.

They neglect to mention that these were the first shark attacks in the area in 30 years. Nor do they focus on the fact that the unfortunate victims were surfing in front of open river mouths (Shark’s version of Furr’s Cafeteria. Surfing equivalent of playing in traffic.) Yet they make it seem like Troncones is overrun by Jaws and friends. Absurd. And yet people cancel reservations over this clever little phrase—affecting people’s livelihoods. (And yes, I swim and sort-of surf there as often as I possibly can. And Troncones is, truly, a beach paradise.)

Mexico: the Real Victim

It’s not just frustrating to be libeled and defamed, it’s immensely hurtful. (That’s why they have laws against that sort of thing.) A full 30% of Mexicans work in tourism…that’s a lot of families that are affected by all this trashy talk. Not to mention yours truly. Tourism, while it’s now starting to pick up, has been truly butchered by the media over the last few years.

Grateful aside: We salute the brave (rational) souls who do still come down, take advantage of the low prices caused by the anti-Mexico hysteria, have a great time and keep us alive. Bless you.

Mexican Violence Pales in Perspective

Of course there is violence in Mexico, and yes, there is a heavy battle going on to control the drug trade. Pretty sure there’s one in the States, too, with casualties and everything. I won’t even go into which country is Mexico’s main drug market (ahem) or supplier of weapons (double ahem).

But, one has to keep world-wide violence in perspective. Yes, there is violence in Mexio, but is it really that much worse than other places? Worse than, say, major cities in the United States? Read on…

Just the Facts, Señora

• There are fewer murders per 100,000 people in all of Mexico than in Los Angeles, California. (And far less than, say, Detroit.)

• Mexico is far safer than it was ten years ago, when you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about vacationing here…

• Mexico is actually one of the safest countries in Latin America.

• Big, bad Mexico City, for example, has far fewer murders per 100,000 people than Phoenix or Houston, and around half the murders (per 100K) than the City of Angels, USA.

• More than 50% of Mexico’s violent deaths happen in only four cities (Juarez, Laredo, etc.), places I would heartily avoid, myself. Like I avoid Detroit. (Sorry Detroit…I know you’re not all bad, but i’m not into big industry tourism, anyhow.)

• The other 2,396 towns and cities that make up Mexico (a country the size of Western Europe) have very low levels of violence, compared to these U.S. cities you wouldn’t bat an eye at visiting.
Disneyland, anyone?

Safe as Casas

If you really want to know what’s happening in Mexico, why not ask someone who lives here, or who visits regularly? Or at least consult the articles listed below for some professional and balanced journalistic opinions.

These accounts make a valiant attempt to intelligently fight the relentless slander of Mexico, with facts, figures, and, most importantly, a sense of perspective.

Thanks and hope to see you soon, you intrepid/rational/critical thinking souls!

xo,

Casita de las Flores
Bed and Kitchen, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a lovely, extremely peaceful town
in beautiful Mexico—and far safer than L.A., or Mayberry, for that matter)
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com

 

Article Highlights (the Juicy Bits):

Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico By Robert Reid, Special to CNN. May 6, 2011

“Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize. We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.

“Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.”

Top 8 places to (safely) visit in Mexico now. LonelyPlanet.com. May 5 2011

“Before brushing a Mexico trip aside this year, consider that about 245,000 square miles are free from the State Department’s warning list (for a visual, check this CNN map) and it neatly matches areas people usually visit (Cabo, Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende).”

Five safest places in Mexico for travelers Christine Delsol, San Francisco Chronicle. April 20, 2011

“But it’s still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists now any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico’s death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced.

The concept hasn’t changed: Stay away from the trouble spots and exhibit some common sense, and you’re more likely to perish in a tequila-fueled Jet Ski mishap than at a homicidal drug trafficker’s hands.

“In 2010, Mexico City’s drug-related homicide rate was 2.2 per 100,000. While it is not an exact comparison, since the Mexico database tracks specifically drug-related deaths, Washington, D.C.’s homicide rate for 2009, the latest year for which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report is available, of 24 per 100,000 adds some perspective. California’s rate was 5.3; the U.S. national average was 5.0.”

Away from the U.S. border, Mexico is peaceful, beautiful Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star Telegram. Mar. 20, 2010

“ Look, no matter what you hear, the U.S. has not warned citizens to stay out of Mexico.

The State Department warning says to stay out of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango — particularly Juarez.

At any given time, about 500,000 Americans are visiting Mexico. According to the State Department, 79 Americans were killed there last year, 23 of them in Juarez.

Mathematically, that means the rest of Mexico is safer than Dallas or Houston. It’s four times safer than New Orleans.”

Travel wise: How safe is travel in Mexico?  Carol Pucci, Seattle Times. March 16, 2010

Too often in the past, these types of government alerts have taken a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What’s different about this warning, issued Sunday following the shooting in Ciudad Juárez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail, and the way it rightly targets only towns where drug-related violence has been rampant.

“As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and this isn’t likely to change. Nearly a million Americans live in various parts of the country, enjoying the benefits of an inexpensive retirement and low-cost medical care.

I just returned from seven days in Mazatlan and Sayulita, a surfing and beach town near Puerto Vallarta popular with many from Seattle and Portland. I experienced nothing out of the ordinary, except perhaps, fewer tourists than usual. Restaurants were lively and filled with Americans and Canadians who were there seemed to be enjoying their vacations with no hassles or problems.

“The bottom line: If you’re planning a vacation soon to Mexico, by all means go, but heed the State Department’s advice and use common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur.”

Linda Ellerbee’s Mexico: It’s Much Better Than You Think  MexicoPremier.com. 2009, and others.

“Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.

Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.”


Is it Safe to Visit Mexico Now?
 Peter Greenberg. March 10, 2011

“Analyzing Geography and Crime Statistics

Here are some facts:

  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is in the northern part of the country.
  • The distance between Tijuana and Cancun almost matches the distance between Los Angeles and New York.
  • An overwhelming majority of the crime is drug related, and it is generally cartel versus cartel. Americans aren’t targeted.”

Violent Deaths in Mexico: Everything Is Not as it Seems TheCatalist.org. 11 August 2010

“According to available indicators, Mexico as a country has a general level of 13.3 violent deaths per 100.000 inhabitants, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America. Levels in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela surprised us since they are at high as 16.8, 36.7 and 44.9 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively. Brazil and Venezuela are two and almost three times more violent than Mexico, respectively.

Moreover, if we compare this indicator with some U.S. cities we will see that our country is much better than we would expect to imagine. Comparing Mexico to Washington DC, New Orleans or Detroit the difference is very big, violence is a tangible problem in those cities. And without going too far, Mexico City has 9.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, far below of other major cities like Houston, with 12.5, Phoenix, witn 12.6, and Los Angeles, with 17.1. It is true that there is a big problem in Ciudad Juarez and three other municipalities, which altogether sum up to more than 50% of violent deaths in Mexico. The rest of the 2,396 municipalities which form the country have relatively low violence levels.”

Amid drug war, Mexico less deadly than decade ago The Associated Press, Denver Post. Feb 2010

“A falling homicide rate means people in Mexico are less likely to die violently now than they were more than a decade ago.

It also means tourists as well as locals may be safer than many believe.

Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles’ and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.”


the truth about safety in mexico—reprint from cnn.com

I want to give Robert Reid a big, wet kiss.

Mr Reid, Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show, just published a brilliant article about Mexico.

I’ve been working on a similar story for several months—but it seems I am incapable of calmness on the topic of violence in Mexico. Just kept getting all ranty (it’s just terminally frustrating to hear what the media are saying about Mexico, this beautiful, peaceful yet lively country where I’ve lived, worked, and traveled for more than 18 years without incident).

So I keep hiding the latest embarrassingly strident article draft (awash in scrawled edits) away, under my Great PanAmerican Novel-in-progress, my nearly finished much-better mousetrap, and other more realistically completeable projects, like the blog entries i’m supposed to do every month.

Ok. well. Maybe just one slightly ranty anecdote (couldn’t resist):

An expat pal and 30+plus year San Miguel resident describes a dialogue she has all too often, whilst visiting the States.
Clueless travelphobe in the media’s thrall: “You live in Mexico? Oh, I wouldn’t go there—it’s too dangerous.”
Expat pal: “Do you deal drugs?”
CT: “No, of COURSE not!”
EP: “Then you don’t have a problem.” (Trying not to shout.)

Mr. Reid, who now holds a very special place in my heart, says it all so very well (and calmly!) in the following article (click on the headline to go straight to CNN—but you’ll miss my fab commentary).

None of this is news to anyone that lives here or visits often, but it’s nice to see the media finally start to get some perspective on the real situation in Mexico. Kudos, Mr. Reid. And a huge Gracias from the 30% of Mexicans who work in tourism. Not to mention big besos from Casita de las Flores!

Please pass it on! Go to our Facebook page and LIKE the link (and us, while you’re at it)…put the link on your FB page! Forward it, Share it, Twitter it, holler it over the fence. Whatever!!

Now, tell me again why aren’t you here??

xoxo,

Casita de las Flores
www.CasitaDeLasFlores.com


Travel expert: Why you should go to Mexico

By Robert Reid, Special to CNN  [Emphasis added by yours truly]
May 6, 2011 10:10 a.m. EDT
Beach resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula are removed from the violence, author says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Popular tourist spots are largely removed from drug violence, Robert Reid says
Reid feels the U.S. is “fortunate, not cursed” to be so close to Mexico
In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence isn’t on the radar of daily life
Editor’s Note: Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. travel editor and host of the 76-Second Travel Show.
New York (CNN) –

Mexico tourism is having a bit of a PR problem lately.    [This is a BIT of an understatement]

Reports of mass grave sites, daylight shootings and carjackings from the escalating drug war don’t exactly build confidence for a family planning a week’s holiday. And on April 22, the U.S. State Department upgraded its travel warnings to target 14 of Mexico’s 31 states.

Now’s not the time to visit our southerly neighbor, right? Well, wrong. Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize.
We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.  [It's SO much easier to generalize. All those pesky details just clutter up a good travel warning...]

Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.
Mexican protesters march to end drug war
An hour inland from Cancun’s beaches, Yucatan state — home to the most popular Mayan sites and “real Mexican” colonial cities such as Merida and Valladolid — is among the country’s safest. The state, with roughly the same population as Kansas, saw two drug-related deaths in 2010. Wichita, Kansas, alone had six gang-related killings over the same period.

Lonely Planet: 8 top places to (safely) visit in Mexico now   [Click on this link! San Miguel is in the top 8!]

In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence simply isn’t on the radar of daily life. “It’s as easy-going as it’s always been,” said Deborah Felixson, a diving operator on Cozumel who is “shocked” when people say they had been scared to go to the Caribbean island. “We’re just small communities here. We all know what everyone’s up to.”
That sentiment is found even in places once linked with political tension, such as Chiapas state and Oaxaca City, where political protest turned into a stand-off in 2006.
“Things are so much quieter now,” said Rogelio Vallesteros, who runs a Spanish-language school in Oaxaca City. “People call to ask about safety all the time, then they come and see how quiet it is. We’re normal, really.”
Mexico tourism official: Vacation spots far removed from violence
After the swine-flu crisis of 2009 — when some cruise ships diverted routes from Mexican ports that had no reported cases to American ones that did — travel bounced back a bit last year. Interestingly, the increase of returning Canadians and many Western Europeans doubled that of the American rate. We seem to remain particularly leery of Mexico.
That’s sad. [another wee understatement, especially if you're one of the 30% of Mexicans who makes a living from tourism] My love of travel began with childhood visits to Mexican ruins and beaches, and I feel the U.S. is fortunate, not cursed, to be so close to a place that offers jungles, deserts, volcanoes, beaches, coral reefs, ancient pyramids, living pre-European cultures and some of the world’s most satisfying cuisines.   [ditto!]
And of course the best reason to go: the people. [double ditto!]
A couple years ago, I informally polled various innkeepers and tour operators worldwide to find out who are the world’s friendliest travelers. Guess who won. “Mexicans are such a joy to have here,” one Bulgarian guesthouse owner e-mailed back. “They make everyone feel happier.”
And it’s often better in Mexico, where locals show particular gusto in love of life. [si señor! mucho gusto.] Once I saw fireworks go off in Mexico City, before sunset, and asked a local why. He was surprised I didn’t know. “It’s Friday,” he explained.
In restaurants, strangers seeing each other’s eyes instinctively say “buen provecho” before eating. It’s an earnest wish that their food should not only be tasty, but really pleasurable, and that the hope that their life will be a bit better as a result. There really is no English equivalent. Even our adopted “bon appétit” pales in significance.
Naturally, crime exists everywhere in Mexico.
I’ve been pickpocketed in Guadalajara (and in New York, too). But that’s the extent of my unpleasant scrapes in a dozen visits that have taken me to home-stay language courses, traditional Mayan markets, mummy museums, cenotes (surreal limestone sinkholes in which you can swim) and even Zapatista zones in the south.
Most travel to Mexico, ultimately, is simply good travel. It’s fun, affordable, eye-opening and fascinating (seriously, what other city of 21 million other than Mexico City is founded on a filled-in lake?).
But, no, you don’t have to visit Mexico. And there are certainly places, like Ciudad Juarez or Tamaulipas state, I’d never visit now. Just know that the Mexico experienced on the ground almost never matches the Mexico we increasingly see and read about.

[amen y gracias, Señor Reid]

san miguel makes the top ten (and it’s good for you!)

 san miguel makes the top ten (and its good for you!)

According to journeyetc.com, San Miguel is up there with the likes of Berlin, Florence and Paris, artistically speaking. “If you yourself want to make art instead of viewing the artworks, go to San Miguel de Allende. This little town still brandishing its colonial architecture is the best place to go to in order to practice one’s craft. San Miguel de Allende’s artistry is high enough to be compared to Florence,” they write.

And of course, they point out that visiting a haven for art and artists, such as San Miguel de Allende, is good for you:

“Working and doing the same things over and over can be such a chore. Sometimes the work that we do mold us in ways that we don’t expect and at times surprise us because of the changes they seem to inculcate. When these things happen and you feel stranger and stranger as the days go on, the perfect solution is almost, always a vacation.

“Not all escapes are healthy though. It really depends if the place you are going to totally renews your interest in certain elements of your daily life. A perfect vacation or more specifically, a journey, should be able to help you re-engage with wonder and help you re-engage the world in a renewed manner. What is the perfect way to do this but an immersion in the arts?

“Exposure to what is beautiful, to geometric and mind labored shapes, to beautiful music that becomes grander and grander in scale as the orchestra plays it, can dramatically sharpen our senses and our sensual intelligence and sensitivity. If you want to go and get lost in art, here are some key cities you will find which will help you reacquire a vision for your life.”

Of course, they forgot to mention that San Miguel is so much more relaxed and personable than those big hectic cities.

Well, we already knew San Miguel was eye candy central, didn’t we? So get down here and soak up some culture. Take some art classes. (see our local resources page for more info on classes and teachers). Create your own work of art. Find yourself. Relax and have fun!

To read the whole article, click here.

hasta pronto,

Casita de las Flores
www.casitadelasflores.com

Your everlovin,’ artsy fartsy San Miguel B & K*—affordable, comfy and friendly.

*(Bed and kitchen)

the triscuit tally takes off!

 the triscuit tally takes off!

triscuit beauty shot

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO—Sanmiguelenses are amazed at one local B&K’s tasty marketing breakthrough: The Triscuit Tally.

Throwing caution to the wind, five intrepid travelers have braved the beyond-intimate scrutiny of TSA* bearing WMD’s (Wafers of Massive Deliciousness**)—all to participate in Casita de las Flores’ one-of-a-kind marketing scheme.***

The news has sent multinational corporations scrambling to adopt a cracker mascot of their own.

“This strategy could revolutionize the way people do business–and snack,” says Joe Suit, CEO of Promotions R US, a marketing think tank in Petaluma, Florida. “Betcha Bill Gates is bummed Triscuits are taken. Wheat Thins just don’t have the same archetypal emotional resonance.”

“Our focus groups have good things to say about Ritz crackers, but it’s nothing like the Triscuit phenomenon,” he added.

* Not to mention the goofy customs stoplights at the Mexico airport (pray for green!)
** Triscuits are a fully legal, importable item. Hint hint. (If they do get confiscated, which is oh-so unlikely, it’s only cause the customs guy is a fellow wafer lover.)
***Wondering what the heck we’re talking about? See “about us” on our website: www.casitadelasflores.com

—-

So, there you are.

To our five (count ‘em, five!) Triscuiteers—thanks from the bottom of our hearts and tummies!! (See the actual tally to the right.)

We love you!

Yum,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
www.casitadelasflores.com

—Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive San Miguel de Allende hotels and B&B’s

 


the holidays in san miguel de allende


img 0029 15 the holidays in san miguel de allende

Neighborhood altar to la Virgen de Guadalupe on our back street.

 the holidays in san miguel de allende

Notice the snacks left out for our Lady

As 2009 draws to a close, we’d like to give thanks to all of the wonderful people who’ve come to stay with us over the last seven years. Mil gracias for your company and your support. We hope you’ll all be back.

It’s been a slow year, tourism-wise. (Of course, we’ve been busy fixing up the place, revamping the website, and even getting on FaceBook.) Based on advanced reservations for winter and early spring, the general situation seems likely to improve in 2010. Yay! (So book early!)

Let’s hope things get better for everyone who’s suffering economic hardship right now.

December in San Miguel is yet another month of fiestas. December 12 was the day of the virgen (the Empress of Mexico, in case you didn’t know). It’s a day and night of altars, neighborhood processions and parties, and yet another night of cuetes (monster bottlerockets, set off all night long, and culminating in a dawn crescendo. Sleep is overrated.)

Then there are the late-December Posadas, neighborhood open houses with candles and altars, and pilgrims aplenty going ’round asking for room at the inn (and getting ponche and other goodies, if not a bed). Don’t forget midnight mass. Christmas is a really big deal in Catholic Mexico, of course.

Then, there’s New Year’s Eve—it’s literally a blast in San Miguel. Apart from private and public parties and dinners and such (with the good-luck ritual of eating one grape for every midnight chime of the clock), there’s the public blow-out in the jardin, or main plaza.

We look forward to this night every year. Nearly everyone in town—young and old, rich and poor, locals, expats and visitors alike—gathers in the jardin for live music and dancing, funny hats, and even a bit of drinking.

At midnight, there’s a big fireworks display, and castillos are lit (large firework-encrusted structures that whiz and hum and pop and eventually burn up, sending out light, sparks and clouds of joyful smoke, as well as shooting flaming spinning projectiles into space, to much clapping).

Other festive fire hazards include gorgeous three-foot long sparklers waving everywhere. (But really, it’s quite safe, very fun, and very Mexico.) The dancing and drinking goes on ’til quite early in the new year. Eventually we all stumble home, usually singing, to sleep it off.

What could be better than a huge, loud, jovial, communal celebration of the new year, a new beginning? (Especially with sparklers and funny hats—it just doesn’t get any better than that.)

No invitation required—just get there well before the witching hour to stake out a spot to see and be the show (comfortable shoes and a warm coat are essential, says me.)

And, after that spectacular night, we begin looking forward to Spring, which starts in February here, thank you very much. The weather has now gotten chilly at night and in the morning, but we still have warm sun most every day. (The nearby hot springs are fab on winter mornings!) We know we really can’t complain about the climate here, but we still can’t wait for primavera.

Casita de las Flores wishes you all the happiest of holidays, filled with peace, warmth, joy, love, and maybe even a couple of nice presents. And a new year overflowing with prosperity and cool travel plans.

ho ho ho,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
www.casitadelasflores.com
Your best value (and most fun) alternative to
expensive San Miguel de Allende hotels and B&B’s

PS. See you soon…