Several weeks ago, when my daughter told me she was traveling with her husband to central Mexico to spend a holiday week there, I experienced a momentary apprehension. The months of news releases about swine flu and border wars between drug gangs all caused me to wonder whether the two of them couldn't have chosen a safer spot for their anniversary celebration.
They returned recently from one of their best trips ever, singing the praises of Mexican vacationing and stressing the relative calm of the country, whose tourism has declined significantly in recent months. Prices, at an exchange rate of 13.5 pesos to the dollar, were remarkably low, and the colorful culture of Mexico with its Spanish/Mayan/Aztec traditions was utterly captivating. They enjoyed their holiday in the company of tourists from countries all around the world — French, Australian, Canadian — but with far fewer from America.
Swine flu? There is no more swine flu in Mexico than anywhere else in the world at present, but because Mexico was the first to experience this condition, the Mexicans are fervent in their efforts to contain the disease to an extent that we would never practice at home. Everywhere tourists gathered were dispensers of cleansing fluid that you would rub into your hands, just as the dining rooms of cruise ships now display such dispensers. In many restaurants, the waiters wore cloth face masks as they served you. The actual figures relating to the incidence of swine flu compared favorably with what we presently are experiencing in the U.S.
Drug-related violence? They traveled to sections of Mexico many hundreds of miles away from Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo and other communities along the Texas/Arizona/California borders where this problem is concentrated. While there obviously are non-touristed areas of Mexico City where tourists would not go (similar to conditions in many large U.S. cities), the remainder of Mexico City appears entirely safe and visited by the international tourists to which I've referred. The result was that their stay in Mexico City was a delight, an experience of color and exotica that both enlivens and elevates.
Never miss a local story.
I was reminded of my own earlier trips to areas that were widely regarded as unsafe. I traveled extensively in Northern Ireland during the time of the "troubles." As a tourist, I was never in danger. I have been in countries where coup d'etats were in progress as I rode from the airport into town, in places where tanks were rolling into the main squares. As a tourist, I was never threatened.
I don't want to appear a total Pollyanna about any of this. There are destinations about which we should exercise caution. I am presently concerned and worried about the safety of travel to Kenya, because of a severe outbreak of lawlessness (including kidnappings) in Nairobi; and I am presently considering whether even the most heavily chaperoned safari to Kenya can any longer be safely undertaken.
But central Mexico? Cancun and the Mayan Riviera? The Pacific Coast resorts of Mexico? Cabo San Lucas? Vacations to those heavily touristed areas seem no different in terms of safety than vacations undertaken in New York, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Las Vegas or San Francisco.