Mexico As Imagined By the Washington Post

Categories: Indigestion
Flickr user yarhargoat

It gets fatiguing reading the same articles on travel to Mexico that parrot the U.S. State Department over and over again. Precious few of those people have ever actually been to the places they're writing about, but they turn the fear dial up to 11, the result being that Americans are more convinced than ever that all they have to do is put el dedito pequeñito south of the border and they'll end up dead.

It was refreshing, then, to read an article in the Washington Post last week by Andrea Sachs called "Mexico: A guide to which parts are safe to travel to, and which are dangerous" (though that title needs some work). Surely this would calm the hysteria, right?

The intent of the piece--to get people to stop treating Mexico as one giant, bullet-sprayed turf war--was noble, and she's helping to dispel some of the old, lingering myths; Chiapas, for example, has been a safe and amazing destination for years, filled with some of the kindest people and most jaw-dropping sites in Mexico.

She's also right about some of the places she mentions. It's not a good time to go exploring Ciudad Juárez--not necessarily because of the danger of crossfire, but because the city is paralyzed and not functioning at its best. Going fishing in Falcon Lake along the border is one of the worst vacation ideas ever. The state of Chihuahua is a beautiful desert, which would be the Texas of Mexico if Jalisco didn't already hold that title; they make wonderful cheese and are masters of grilled meats--but reports are that it's sewn up tight out of fear.

Dave Lieberman
Then there's Sachs' treatment of Tijuana, which she files under "Go with caution, or with a burly friend."

A burly friend? Are you kidding? What is a burly friend going to do, loom in the darkness and scare people away?

"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."

That's not how you avoid the illness known as las turistas. Any seasoned traveler can tell you that you pick the places where people are eating, preferably the locals. People line up for food for a reason; the places that are busiest are usually the best, and the patrons are usually proud of them and will tell you what to order, even if you're communicating via exaggerated body gestures.

Writing off street food is a ridiculous idea in a city where half the best food comes from carts and tents. Fish tacos from a cart in Ensenada or birria from a cart in Tijuana is one of the glories of the food down there. There's a reason there's a constant stream of people, even early in the morning, at Tacos Fitos next to the Mercado Hidalgo. I can't see the food being prepared in front of me at the Carl's Jr. at 5th and Revolución, but that's not the reason I avoid it.

Also, it's winter right now, in case Sachs hadn't noticed, which means that if you don't venture out after dark, you're going to be mighty hungry between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. That means no cocktail receptions at art galleries, no long, upscale Baja Med dinners with Baja's excellent wine, no bar hopping along Calle Sexta, and no churros, bacon-wrapped border dogs, or steaming bowls of post-club seafood soup with your fellow partygoers.

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