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Road Trip Through Hell

Driving (Like a Dumbass) 
up Mexico’s Gulf Coast

Road Trip Through Hell

DANGEROUS STATE Drug cartels are battling it out in a deadly rivalry for control of smuggling routes through the state of Tamaulipas.

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Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP / Getty Images
Mexican soldiers wearing masks patroled the streets of Ciudad Victoria after a car bomb exploded in August 2010.

Everyone warned me not to take the route along the Gulf, in the northeast corner of Mexico, through the state of Tamaulipas. The mass graves discovered outside the town of San Fernando last year contained close to 200 bodies—the victims kidnapped from passenger buses, migrants caught in the crosshairs of the internecine narco war. In town after town just south of the border with Texas, men are found dead in shallow graves and women are wearing the guns and badges of police.

I run an English used bookstore in Mexico City (a beautiful and, for the time being, very safe place, nothing like what most Americans think) and had some books sent by my most generous patron in Seattle to pick up in Austin because I couldn't trust them to the mails. Friends said take the long way: Drive up the Altiplano—where the high, vast, tilted plain acts like a giant satellite dish, and you hear radio stations in Alaska—to Nuevo Laredo and cross the border there. But it seemed the straightest, cheapest route was to cut east four hours into the state of Veracruz and follow the coast north.

All the travel books and websites and unsolicited advice and insurance policies say not to drive at night in Mexico. The free roads are—to put it gently—unreliable: signage poorly placed, potholes deep and wide, road striping occasional, streetlights even more rare. It's not quite a dangerous free-for-all, but it's more work than driving in the US, because it's a realm pretty much without rules: You have to pay close attention, but everybody else is doing the same. I think the super-evident death toll of driving in Mexico (each deadly accident commemorated with a shrine) is probably more due to poverty (bad roads, sleepy truckers, cars seat-belt-less and crammed full of people) than recklessness. In the US and Canada, to drive feels like entering a vast machine: parts labeled and brightly lit, road smooth, green means go and red means stop. You can practically do it in your sleep—or, having overslept, shave, read the paper, talk on the phone, eat, drink, sing to the radio, etc. As wild as driving in Mexico sometimes gets, you'll very rarely see anyone on the highway do anything but watch out.

So driving only in daylight, it looked like four short bursts between safe havens of RV parks or hotels in four towns before the Rio Grande. These RV parks existed (or seemed to, on the internet), which meant people used them on a daily basis, thousands a month, you'd have to assume, right? I repeated this vague calculation like a mantra. I thought this route would be cheap, I wanted to swim (at beaches that turned out to be bunk), and I'd already found a rider on Craigslist to split gas. The van was a worn 1995 Econoline, its greatest liability not mechanical but its Washington plates, which made it an immediate target for police shakedowns. My friend Lina, a child of Mexican parents raised in the US, said to make myself and my passenger as filthy and incomprehensible as possible: Don't bathe, scatter the van's interior with food and waste the cops won't want to touch, affix punk bumper stickers to the back.

How empty the highways were of people like us I had no idea. But I felt like we could ask along the way for a real picture of what we were going into, and if it sounded too gnarly, surrender and head inland. But people, Mexicans—a couple of whom I didn't even think liked me—kept urging me not to go through Tamaulipas. Was something tantamount to a civil war, they said, not enough? Wasn't a van piloted by two honkies (one looking like a Boston Irish cop and the other like his Hollywood-hippie rookie partner) enough to attract at least a look from every single person seeing it in four states, at least some of whom would have intentions less than amigable? Was I totally crazy? Similar bogeymen floated over Tijuana, Sinaloa, and Michoacán, until I drove through those places myself and found life proceeding peacefully and everyday. Tijuana was said to be crawling with death, and yet when I walked across that town at midnight two years ago with nothing but my backpack, I was fine, carefree as crossing a supermarket lot in Seattle. Same with traversing the traficante-infested city of Tepic on New Year's Eve entirely without incident, after which I heard Tepic was deadly: stacks of heads found on a daily basis, a curfew at dark (that no one paid attention to), etc. Let me be clearer: The narco murders—tens of thousands, at least—are real. Bloody business goes on in the articulated shadows of daylight, as it does all over the hemisphere. But people in Tijuana and Tepic did not seem in the least either frightening or afraid.

Simon, the 25-year-old Canadian who answered my Craigslist ad, had been all over Mexico in the last year—and before that China, Australia, East Timor, and Indonesia—and knew how rarely the horrific legends you hear were borne out. I showed him two discussion boards in which hysterical rumors were shut down, one by a traveler who had actually driven the Tamaulipas coast and another who did so regularly.

But Tamaulipas and Nuevo León aren't even in the big guidebooks, as if they don't exist. I've thought ever since emerging from my adolescence—strangely cloistered despite its globetrotting reach, in front of the same bright box that raised us all, with so many wrong ideas about how life goes on—that our familiar phantoms are unreal. TV and movies are our mass dreaming, and something as mundane as poor job satisfaction or ordinary sexual frustration can find its vent in the arithromania of a police procedural or the image of a splash of blood on black. I was 8 years old on a navy base in Spain the summer I learned about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from other kids at the pool. None of us had seen it, but we accepted it as documentary fact, the way kids will into being that perceived half-reality we maybe never quite grow to understand is entirely false. Just the aura surrounding the film made me so uneasy, I didn't watch it for 30 years. It is a shadow play of wicked impulses and a masterpiece about the helpless inevitability of economic entrapment—what you might find if you run out of gas.

Forty years ago, the Manson gang picked a house—apparently at random—in Benedict Canyon at which to invite nightmares to play in the sun ("I am the devil," said the tall all-American Tex Watson to one victim, "and I'm here to do the devil's work"), and the crimes of that night are like a bell that has shaken every atom of our time. Somewhere between the noir that assured suburban America the cities they abandoned were a cesspit and the TV news demonization of the young black male as a type, Americans came to see the stranger as enemy, the worst thing imaginable likely true. When I started living in cities, I came to feel I'd been under a common delusion: The mass nightmare had prejudiced us against the day itself. I saw that we were all, to some extent, hallucinating together, and the world is consistently a gentler place than we believe, waiting for our hearts to open.

Tuxpan had the half-abandoned air of a navy town, which it was. On the beach, a seafood restaurant appeared to be open, and we pulled in, the apparent customers in fact hosts. We ordered dinner, made arrangements ("Pay what you like") to park for the night, and ran into the sea.

Beyond the empty restaurants was a ruined boardwalk of bricks steered apart by the moving sand, vegetation leaning away from the wind, and a dance floor under a collapsed pavilion filled to the wall tops with sand, nobody in any direction. At dinner, the teenage son of the landlords lay in a hammock from which he seemed to have never risen, telling us it was open war to the north: his cousins from San Antonio robbed in daylight of everything including the car; a girl kidnapped last week found dead despite the ransom paid; narcos going onto buses and taking migrants for their armies; the dead found month after month in the hundreds; they will shoot you just for fun.

We drank beers as the sun went down, and then the rest of a bottle of Presidente brandy I'd found in the van, and a hundred yards away, the police were driving up and down the surf looking for somebody to rob. Nevertheless, I stood up to walk, panic accumulating in bits: Is this going to be the last stupid thing I do? Am I going to get this kid and myself killed? This wasn't someone in the capital repeating what they'd seen on TV. We were close, hearing secondhand accounts of what lay just up the road. To change plans now would cost hundreds of dollars I didn't have, take us over the Eastern Sierra once more and up, forcing us into the long, toll-roaded center of the country. I sat on the disintegrating wall. Simon joined me. The gray sand extended to a sea that suddenly seemed to be boiling in the dusk, becoming a hell.

I felt as bad, as lost, as I ever have: not only afraid but cursed, entirely at fault, half-certain that a young man I hardly knew would die because of me. How much of this was real danger and how much of it just the warnings we love and conditioned fear? When we got up to walk back, there was not a light on the whole frontage of the town. A truck on the tide line shifted into reverse to follow us. Wild dogs ran at us out of the trees. I dropped into hominid attack stance and growled from deep in my throat, teeth bared in the ancient language all mammals know. We overshot, then found the seafood restaurant again, made brave noises at the owners about the next day, and retired into the van, windows shut against the mosquitoes, each trying for perhaps an hour to sleep.

The alarm we'd set sounded at 5:30 a.m. and was reset in pitch-black for 6:45, ringing again in the theatrical, glittering dawn. Everything restarted simple, no fear, no question of changing plans: A glance at Simon told me he was of the same mind. On the beach, boys played pickup soccer, barefoot at the surf's edge. Far out on the Gulf, the sun slid out of the mile-high fog bank with a crash of brass instruments in the fourth dimension.

I skipped a second swim, showered, and we pulled out. Later that afternoon—after Tampico, I think, the southeasternmost city in Tamaulipas—we sought to explain our sudden, common confidence. Simon, cornered the night before by the same thoughts I was having, had meditated, and then understandably woken up at 2 a.m. to insist we start the engine to run the AC. I'd just drunk myself into a stupor and slept, and my dreams were the kind that move earth: bones broken and reset, the beloved dead talking in their secret tongue, taking me down roads I would not remember in this life. I woke feeling so refreshed, I thought I'd never need sleep again. All I remember of Tampico is getting repeatedly lost crossing through it, and that every cop or soldier at every checkpoint played with the 18-inch rubber crocodile I kept on the dash and did exactly two reps of a bicep curl with the dumbbell that had been loose and rattling the whole ride.

In Ciudad Victoria, we secured a shower, bed, courtyard, pool, and internet inalambrico for $25 each. Now just a hundred miles from Brownsville, the southernmost city in Texas, we got reliable, specific advice from the couple at the desk: Never drive at night. Buy gas, food, and water and use the bathroom in Ciudad Victoria, and don't stop for any reason until crossing the border. It should take four hours. If you see a roadblock manned by anyone except police or military, or anyone wearing improvised masks, go back. Don't pull over for anyone who is not a uniformed police or military officer. If a car tries to run you off the road, fend them off, drive faster—escape, or you will find yourself where there is no help or mercy.

It was a relief to know—and at last believe—just what we were looking at. And yes, we were the first norteamericanos driving through that anyone could recall since forever. I swam in the flowered courtyard until the bats came out and a crowd of children gathered around me in the water, peppering me with questions—and jokes I didn't quite catch—and I made them explode with laughter by mimicking them back, until by the time I went to shower, I had them chanting my name like my private army and agreeing to "like" the bookstore on Facebook.

In the morning, we pulled the van out in front of the cafe next to the hotel for breakfast, and I realized I'd gotten too comfortable and had forgotten to remove the license plates the night before. Two combat helicopters, doors open, guns mounted and aimed out, swept low along the wide street. At a table by the cafe door, two men in their 50s stared with uncomplicated surprise when we came in. The waitress was immediately nervous; the cook slammed the mirrored window to the kitchen shut. I sat with my back to the television, which was talking about the day's murders. I hoped Simon's limited Spanish kept him from hearing, but he could see.

Instantly, the fear was in my stomach again. I am still convinced the people there were not that frightened all the time. They feared what we would bring down, that whoever wanted to kidnap us would kill them, too. After we ordered, it was like an invisible hand turned up the tension in the room: the whut-whut of the choppers from outside, the words from the television—matar, Zetas, ejército. When our food came, I asked for more coffee. I felt if I behaved normally, lifting the cup slowly to my lips, events would proceed only at the speed I let them. "Is this not freaking you out?" Simon whispered fiercely. "These people are terrified."

If I blotted out his fear, mine could not grow. Simon wasn't touching his food. I ate and ate. "You are freaking me out," I snapped. The tortillas were like aluminum, the salsa was acid. I wouldn't meet his eyes.

Simon plunked down a 200-peso note. "Dude, just finish, and let's go." I made a concerted effort to stand slowly and walk to the door. Outside, the Washington plates were broadcasting from both ends of the van. I'd meant to borrow a wrench from the hotel and take them off—my tax sticker was all the legal I'd need until the border. I knelt, thinking I could turn the bolts with a coin. Useless. "Forget it," Simon said. "Everyone is looking at you." This would kill us, my forgetting to borrow a wrench.

We drove. The day wound out through empty fields, the soldiers passing from the other direction in their convoys, lead guns ready to fire, and under duress in the moving vehicle, heeding the advice not to stop for any reason, I attempted to shit into the stone bowl of a large mortar and pestle that was for some reason in the van—but I could not, and so, laughing, we stopped at a convenience store/car wash in the very town of the mass graves, San Fernando, where I gave also the fruit of my bowels to that universal soil. And it was fine.

And when we continued on through that country of red sorghum and wooden farmhouses that looks so much like southern Indiana, my passenger played his amazing compositions on guitar, one after another (his full name is Simon Russell: He will be famous), and I sang him "John Walker's Blues" and "The Old Main Drag" and "Racing in the Street." In Matamoros, things looked ordinary, so I pulled into a supermarket and bought a bottle of Centenario tequila, but looking for the border queue we were stopped by a cop in a hat reading TOURIST GUIDE who threatened us with arrest, and, overwhelmed by instinct and seeing he was unarmed, I jammed the gas and fled.

There is nothing to say about America, for you know it all. I took the other route, the Nuevo Laredo route, coming back: the highway fast and empty, the tolls just $50. I will not take the road along the coast again until the violence has ebbed—as it has in Colombia, and Watts, and other places in this long war—and my adopted country is in a different time. recommended

Grant Cogswell is the proprietor of Under the Volcano Books in Mexico City (www.underthevolcanobooks.com). Stephen Gyllenhaal's movie about Cogswell's 2001 Seattle City Council campaign, Grassroots, opens June 22. Cogswell will read from his book The Dream of the Cold War: Poems 1998–2008 (Publication Studio) at Elliott Bay Book Company on July 2.

 

Comments (29) RSS

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1
beats the fuck outta chuck.
Posted by juan gabriel on June 13, 2012 at 9:33 AM · Report this
2
Yeah--you are a dumbass. Also arrogant. "They feared what we would bring down, that whoever wanted to kidnap us would kill them, too." So you not only put yourself in danger, but the people in that cafe too.
I lived in Mexico City for years. It's true that not all of Mexico is dangerous. But when in Rome--don't go where not even the Romans want to go! You did all this to save $50. So you're cheap, too.
At least you got a good story out of it.
Posted by Snarky on June 13, 2012 at 10:03 AM · Report this
3
Good piece.
That was the trusted At the Spine tour van that Grant bought off me a few years ago. Econoline E 150 with custom built loft. Amazing that thing is still going and glad it got them through that madness.
Posted by AtTheSpine on June 13, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
4
Good piece.
That was the trusted At the Spine tour van that Grant bought off me a few years ago. Econoline E 150 with custom built loft. Amazing that thing is still going and glad it got them through that madness.
Posted by AtTheSpine on June 13, 2012 at 10:33 AM · Report this
5
Awesome.
Posted by puto on June 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM · Report this
6
hey Snarky -- it's not Grant's fault that our politicians make drugs illegal ensuring the zetas fantastic profits and creating the system in which their violence prevails. Also, doesn't sound like he realized he'd endanger others by his mere presence. So, callate la boca y no mames guey. Ademas los romanos si estuvieron en este restaurante tonto, no padecian de "romanos."
Posted by celoso mucho? on June 13, 2012 at 11:32 AM · Report this
flaneur 7
God looks after fools and drunks. But, next time, just in case God is busy with something else, you might want to consider being less of a fool.
Posted by flaneur on June 13, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Report this
8
Grant, your story was well written, ballsy, and obviously memorable. What the hell were you doing driving a van through Mexico with no tools? This amazed me more than many details in the story!!! Get a tool box, friend! Cheers!
Rick Klu
Posted by rickklu on June 13, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Report this
9
@Snarky

I find that many Mexicans (especially middle-class Mexicans) will refuse to go to certain places in their own country, entirely off of hearsay. If I didn't go anywhere that people told me not to go to, I wouldn't have gone anywhere here besides the super-fresa neighborhoods of Mexico City. I think 90% of the time, it's perfectly alright to overlook what the Romans have to say about something (for example, I always hear "Don't go to Tepito!" from people who don't even know where Tepito is in the city). The other 10% of the time, this happens. Like he said, if you constantly hear that Michoacan and Tijuana are dangerous and they turn out to be fine, what will make you think Tamaulipas will be any different?
Posted by redemma on June 13, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
10
So, @6 celoso mucho, if those people were in that restaurant, they're also part of the problem? Por eso se estaban cagando de miedo con su presencia? No mames tu, guey. Of course it's not Grant's fault that U.S. and Mexican drug laws (and of course U.S. demand) have created this monster. That's not what I was saying. I think he put himself and a number of other people at risk unnecessarily, and maybe he's milking it for sensationalistic reasons.

Which also bears on @9 redemma's comment. Yeah, I agree--Tepito can be OK, if you're lucky (and it helps to go with a local). Same with Tijuana. Apparently, Tamaulipas can be "safe" too--again, if you're lucky, as Grant was. There are dangerous places that "turn out to be fine," but like @7flaneur said, God looks after fools and drunks.
Posted by Snarky on June 13, 2012 at 3:03 PM · Report this
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13
I appreciated this story. We get so many mixed messages about Mexico--sometimes it sounds scarier than shit, but then you have Tony Bourdain doing an episode on Tijuana and Baja that makes the scare-stories appear wildly overblown. As usual, the reality is somewhere in the middle, and it really does depend on where and when, precisely, a person is traveling.

The writer tacitly acknowledged his foolishness in the final paragraph, and apparently learned his lesson, so those comments criticizing the writer's decision-making aren't being very generous or kind. Let he who is without sin (or a dumbshit decision, in this case) be the first to cast a stone.
Posted by Functional Atheist on June 14, 2012 at 12:25 AM · Report this
14
I have driven through a lot of Mexico over the years - probably in excess of 12,000 miles. My biggest trip was in 2007 when my then girlfriend and I drove from the border at Juarez down to Manzanillo (which is on the west coast) and then took several side trips over a month.

Few people will believe me when I tell them I have had more problems with police in the US than Mexico. It really is all about avoiding certain parts of the country, definitely NOT driving at night, and taking advice from people who know... Yes, apparently there are roads where roadblocks are sometimes set up for shakedowns (or much worse), and yes, generally the idea is to absolutely keep on the road and keep going through any questionable areas.

It is definitely the third world, obviously - but then there are things like the amazing and surprisingly expensive toll roads that run up through the middle of the country and which connect most major cities. You can drive hundreds of miles on these and would swear you were somewhere in the US; in many ways they are better than the average highway in say, Michigan.

Mexico is so diverse - you can find places that are absolutely European or like the best parts of southern California... it really is an adventure.

I would say that if you want trouble, drive a new expensive SUV (just to show how scarred and incapable of mature decisions you are), ignore words of advice regarding routes, and disregard traffic laws. You will definitely find some kind of trouble.
Posted by dude-man on June 14, 2012 at 7:36 AM · Report this
15
Ummm, not to make you sound like a wuss...but my family just drove roundtrip from MN to Cancun along the Gulf coast this year and we had a great time. That includes two young children. We never paid a "donation" to the Policia, my husband is fanatical about it. We visited some of the same towns you did and had a great time. We actually boon docked on the beaches half the time. Mexico is safer than parts of the USA. Some safety tips: don't ever drive at night, don't get so drunk or high people see you as an easy target, and don't be an asshole to people. Also, don't get involved in the drug business. Speaking Spanish will help your anxiety levels. Your advice about a crappy looking vehicle is sound however. We never looked worth robbing, we always kept only small bills available in purse and wallet, and always make sure you have all your papers ready and organized.
Posted by MNmom on June 14, 2012 at 10:54 AM · Report this
16
Ummm, not to make you sound like a wuss...but my family just drove roundtrip from MN to Cancun along the Gulf coast this year and we had a great time. That includes two young children. We never paid a "donation" to the Policia, my husband is fanatical about it. We visited some of the same towns you did and had a great time. We actually boon docked on the beaches half the time. Mexico is safer than parts of the USA. Some safety tips: don't ever drive at night, don't get so drunk or high people see you as an easy target, and don't be an asshole to people. Also, don't get involved in the drug business. Speaking Spanish will help your anxiety levels. Your advice about a crappy looking vehicle is sound however. We never looked worth robbing, we always kept only small bills available in purse and wallet, and always make sure you have all your papers ready and organized. This year we are planning on driving to Cost Rica. We are more worried about the roads than the violence....
Posted by MNmom on June 14, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
17
thousands of innocents have been murdered; tongues cut out, heads cut off, slung up across from the shopping mall in the city of forever springtime. my homegirl works at a paper in Veracruz and an acquaintance of hers who shoots photos for Notiver was found a few weeks ago, cut up and rearranged, in a plastic bag. the lady covering Zs for el progreso was strangled in her bathtub in Xalapa. if you hang out in Ignacio de la Llave, where the marines had to fight the pendejos off the streets, you will read about grisly results but there is no reporting on live gangsters or ongoing activities because that's a suicide mission so they might have 4 pro journalists covering some brat's quincenyera. I hope you all continue to have good trips in Mexico and I'm certainly too in love to stay away, myself, but the narcos don't just kill each other no matter what the ignorant folks say on either side of the border and flippant "Ummmm" dismissals seem counterproductive and hurt feelings
Posted by chuchoroto on June 14, 2012 at 10:24 PM · Report this
18
1. Let's say a prayer for those minnesota kids with that minnesota mom.
2. who said costa rica was violent?
3. "Mexico is safer than parts of the USA" -- um, sure, there are parts of the usa that are deathly violent and you shouldn't go, but it's like 90% of Mexico is too violent and you shouldn't go. Becausse what's the point of going to acapulco if you can only stay right at the pool in the sheraton?

Posted by someone -- call MN CPS! on June 15, 2012 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Fnarf 19
The article isn't too bad, but The Stranger continues to peddle nothing but sensationalism and fear on the subject of Mexico. Notice that there were, in fact, no stacks of heads, neither in Tepic (a poor but pleasant, if not particularly lovely, town, in which my cousin lives) nor anywhere on this trip you took -- but that's what Christopher Frizzelle says the keywords were.

Mr. Frizzelle is lying. The real subject of the article is the fear inside Grant's head, even though Tepic and Tamaulipais are safer than plenty of places in the US, even though the drug violence is down, not up, in most places, even though the whole tenor of The Stranger's coverage is complete and utter bullshit.

What's especially egregious about The Stranger's blinkered reporting is that, in addition to a rich culture that in many ways vastly outshines Seattle's -- certainly anything that appears in The Stranger's pages -- there really ARE big issues in Mexico these days -- but you'll never hear about them here. The big protests in Mexico City the other day against the PRI? Nothing. The banning of the "Presuntos Culpables" movie about the Mexican justice system, a subject that directly affects far more Mexicans than drug violence? Nothing.

I'm sorry Grant decided to be a part of it by publishing his story here, and letting them promote it the way they have. The Stranger has an agenda on Mexico, and neither the real Mexico nor real Mexicans are a part of that agenda.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 15, 2012 at 4:43 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
@18, Costa Rica is starting to suffer from the same waves of violence that have swept through Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Central America (and the Caribbean, countries like Jamaica) is much, much more dangerous than almost all of Mexico. And yet people travel there every day without being attacked or seeing "stacks of heads".
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 15, 2012 at 4:54 PM · Report this
Fnarf 21
You want to see ultraviolence featuring Mexicans, you don't need to go to Tamaulipas; you just need to go to Florida, where the poor Mexican Indians who pick your fucking tomatoes are beaten and held as slaves in shipping containers without toilets. Won't see too many articles about that in The Stranger, though, will you?
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM · Report this
LaPuerta 22
Interesting story. I think maybe part of why you didn't get killed (and weren't that likely to get killed) was BECAUSE you were foreign. Not worth the bad press/US involvement. I think people get used to the fear and the violence. Humans are incredibly adaptable and can get used to almost anything. After a long enough time living in Mexico, even I have gotten used to the tanks and the guns and chopped up people turning up in garbage bags. Good to know there's a used English book store in Mexico City though, and other Washingtonians!
Posted by LaPuerta on June 15, 2012 at 8:59 PM · Report this
raku 23
I went through Mexico and Central America recently, and I felt the same feelings as Grant described going through the "bad" parts. There are 3 different vibes you get from locals as an obvious foreigner:

- Touristed/cosmopolitan areas (pretty much everywhere in the guidebooks): Treated like anyone else or touted for money, very safe.

- Untouristed but safe areas (mostly rural and small towns): You get stares, especially from children, out of interest and curiosity. Feels uncomfortable for me but safe. I got this same vibe from small towns in the midwest and US South.

- BAD areas (I only experienced this in urban areas): You get stares, but they're not out of curiosity. They're either full of anxiety as if something bad's about to happen, like Grant described, or locals walking away from you as fast as they can, or full on intimidating glares like you've got a target on your back. Children on the street aren't curious and don't ask for money, they demand money ("or else" what?). Oh, and guns are everywhere...

I haven't been through the bad parts of Mexico (the north only), but the murder rates in some of Central America (like Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula) are similar to the areas Grant went through (that is, the highest murder rates in the world). Meanwhile, Mexico City literally feels safer than Seattle and looks like it actually has a lower murder rate than Seattle so far this year.

Posted by raku on June 16, 2012 at 7:28 AM · Report this
24
I have to agree with Fnarf - I expected actual stacked heads, and mass graves, based on the "key words". I read that and thought, wow, it must actually be a lot worse than I thought if a random driver sees stacked heads on the road.

The trip, overall, doesn't sound that bad. Kind of underwhelming. Which is fine, I guess, except it was sold as "look how crazy sick it is down there right now".
Posted by Jude Fawley on June 16, 2012 at 4:10 PM · Report this
25
I will just add two things related to other comments: Mexico City is an awesome city and I'd recommend anyone go there. I love it.

The only place I've felt really unsafe in, in Latin America, was Guatemala City. I wouldn't recommend anyone go there, I'm afraid (although Guatemala outside the capital is wonderful).
Posted by Jude Fawley on June 16, 2012 at 4:16 PM · Report this
kimpunkrock 26
the mexico of the days of Humphrey Bogart are long gone but its like you brought those back just by having the courage to bring them back by just driving through. there is something special in that.
Posted by kimpunkrock http://www.facebook.com/kimpunkrock on June 18, 2012 at 12:14 AM · Report this
27
God the writing is so pretentious. Hard to get to the actual story.
Posted by haroldlamont on June 18, 2012 at 3:19 PM · Report this
28
'Pretentious' seems a go to adjective for people who harbor jealousy for the author who they use it to criticize.

Mexicans on both sides of the border often look at me like I am crazy for walking around Tijuana, though I have had not problems except for a few sketchy looks and comments from miscreants.

It's similar to the U.S., there the bulk of the middle class sticks to their cars and homes and rarely takes the bus or walks. People who keep sheltered tend to have a skewed perception of how dangerous the world outside of their bubbles actually is.
Posted by slyke on June 19, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Report this
29
One site: BorderlandBeat.com

See it, and be afraid.
Posted by MrMyke on June 19, 2012 at 11:48 PM · Report this

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