Demonisation of a nation

16 Jan

PD & JD, Xela, Guatemala

We have so much to say about what’s happened in our first week at Spanish school. Not least there is the shocking news that Jeremy is pregnant. That’s what he told his teacher anyway. She informed him it was impossible, so he turned to his dictionary to see where he’d gone wrong. Turns out the words for embarrassed (embarazarse) and pregnant (embarazada) are very similar.

But more of our schoolboy and schoolgirl errors in a few days. For now, if you don’t mind indulging us, we’d like to briefly rewind to a subject that has been in our minds for several months – and now we are out of Mexico we want to address it. It’s a subject that came up in almost every conversation we had with north Americans in California, and then in Mexico itself.

Grim reaper at roadside shrine

It's not all grim down south, you know

The brutal drugs war in Mexico has led to the entire nation being demonised in the eyes of much of the outside world, but particularly by those north of its border. It’s a deadly, grim situation – no doubt – but no one who actually travels there believes the hysteria is justified.

We were shocked at the level of fear in the US about going to Mexico. Almost everyone – there were maybe only a couple of exceptions – warned us how deadly it was, how we could be caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out, how we would be robbed in the street or in our van, how we would be car-jacked, how we would definitely be “shaken down” by corrupt police or military officials at some point, how we should carry a gun to protect ourselves, how we could be scammed by people faking road accidents, how we could have our tyres spiked by bandits, how we’d get sick on street food… the list goes on.

This wasn’t just the usual over-cautious official warnings about things that could happen – and, to be fair, all of those things can happen, in many countries in the world. It was every conversation we had. And it was hard not to be infected by it.

Most went like this:
US: “So, we’re planning on driving to Argentina in our campervan.”
THEM: “What, through Mexico?”
US: “Well, yes, there’s not really another way from here to Argentina.”
THEM: “Is it safe to drive through Mexico? I’ve read/heard/been told..” [Cue long list of things that would happen – see above].
US: “Well, thanks for the tips, we’ll let you know how it goes or perhaps you’ll read about it in the newspaper.”

One particularly worrying conversation was with a Latin American guy, Angel, who worked at the dealership at which we bought our campervan. When we told him of our plans he said: “What, through Mexico? Wow, that’s brave.”

I asked which country he was from. “Mexico,” he said. Gulp.

Iguanas, Chichen Itza

I forgot to mention that iguanas are another fabulous thing about Mexico. What's not to like?

Once we were on our way the evidence of fear was all around us – there has been a huge drop in the number of tourists coming from the US, and it shows. While many places were still thriving, we did see virtually abandoned trailer parks where campers and cars sat gathering mildew, rust and leaves because their owners – who would normally go south to Mexico every winter – had obviously not returned for years.

Those that continued to travel there, and US expats that had remained, said they always received the most dire warnings from friends and family who had never actually been to Mexico. They usually blamed the media for its reporting of the drugs war as being over-the-top and terrifying the hell out of everyone.

However, the conflict is real, and we don’t want to try to diminish the effect it has had, with thousands dying every year because of a brutal gang warfare and the government’s response to it. We also don’t want to be so naïve as to claim that just because we spent three months there without incident that there are therefore no problems at all.

The point is that it does not affect every area of the country, and the violence is not targeted at tourists. Many parts of Mexico rely on tourism and it is sad to see people struggling because of a problem that is not of their making. Drugs are a global issue. What market are these gangs feeding? Where does the root of the problem really lie?

Mexico is a vast, varied, modern, culturally-rich, beautiful, welcoming country – a country that is more like several nations within one. It also has loads of problems and its share of crime – who doesn’t?

To characterise it simply as a homogenous violent, dangerous, brutal place is just plain lazy.

Days: 105
Miles: 5740
Things we now know to be true: We love Mexico

16 Responses to “Demonisation of a nation”

  1. lyndacuba January 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this. I remember some time ago having a conversation with a Mexican friend in London who described how the perception had devastated thriving tourist industries in areas far, far away from the violence.

    It’s very sad. The problem of the impact of drugs wars extends far outside Mexico. I spent two weeks in Jamaica over Christmas and New Year. It was a very sheltered exisitence as our relatives constantly feared for our safety.

    One morning I overheard a loud debate outside my cousin’s back gate – mothers in the neighbourhood were worrying about drugs.One mother lamented: “yes, my son’s going to become a runner when he goes to school … a drugs runner.” Jamaica’s a beautiful country but parts of it have been destroyed by the drugs trade. I hope to mention this when I get around to updating my blogs!

    Keep posting when you can.

    Happy travels.

    • emiliaalltheway January 18, 2012 at 6:13 am #

      Mucho Gusto Jeremy y Paula! What a journey, I might have to copy you one day 😉 Have an amazing time at PLQ! if you have a chance to send pics of graduation Im at: deimezis at gmail dot com.


      • jeremyandpaula January 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

        loved the song! will send pics in next few days…

  2. Emily English January 17, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Great post, friends!

  3. Jonny Jacobsen January 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    If it’s any comfort Jeremy, I fell into the same embarazarse / embarazada trap when I first started. It was very, well… one or the other, I can’t remember which!

  4. Wes Craiglow January 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Love this! Thanks for sharing your views on the subject. I have shared this link with our audience:

    Keep up the great writing!

    • jeremyandpaula January 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

      Thanks Wes..glad you made it back safely and thanks for link on site. We’ve found a couple of excellent new places to camp. will send you details by email…

  5. Debbie January 19, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I knew it would only be a matter of time before Jeremy had to find a platform to make a speech from – even if he did have to settle for a virtual platform. 😉
    However, if Paula wrote this then it is brilliant and a very intersting read!!

  6. Gary Rubin January 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more….Even on our little jaunt to the Baja we were met with the same litany of warnings, cautions, shock and awes of ‘why there’?, can’t you go somewhere safer?, you guys are nuts!,etc,etc…………and this was to fly to Cabo, rent a car, and drive 2 hours!!!

    It has long been our experience that many Americans are just un, mis and/or ill-informed…we have had similar tales of caution before we went to Costa Rica and even the Czech Republic and Slovenia…..Sure, could something random happen? Of course but then could it happen right here in Charlotte, NC, or London or where we are headed in 3 weeks—Tanzania……absolutely but if you prepare, plan, have an open heart and a willing spirit, it has long been my experience that will just get you through…happy, healthy and hole ( OK, whole, but was shooting for the alliteration)

    Great post, as usual!

  7. Becky B February 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    Very interesting post, which I agree with 99%… except this bit: “What market are these gangs feeding? Where does the root of the problem really lie?” To me, the root of the problem is not the consumers north of the border. They may need help (in some cases) but I don’t really think they can be fingered as the evildoers. Instead we must look to the US and allied governments which insist on funding and perpetuating the war on drugs, often as a cover for their own deeply dubious political agendas.

    I’m pretty sure you’re with me on this, and perhaps you didn’t mean what you said as I read it, but I totally reject any kind of “consumer choice” solution to the war on drugs. In fact there is a simple solution to this problem, which is to legalise drugs and the drugs trade, and then provide help to those who need it – as well as fighting for social justice and redistribution, which might remove some of the causal factors in making miserable people reaching for a short-lived escape.

    Miss you guys! xxx

    • jeremyandpaula February 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      Hey missus, I was wondering how your high horse was! 🙂 No, not fingering ‘consumers’ as evil, that’s not what this post was meant to be about. Hope you’re well. Send news!

  8. Nathan Segal March 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I’ve traveled to Mexico for eight years and I’ve been all over the country. For three of those years I’ve lived in La Paz, BCS and Bucerias. In all that time I’ve had no problems with violence of any kind.

    The media hype is disgusting and I’m tired of well-meaning people coming up to me and telling me about the dangers of Mexico. And many of them have never even been there, so it’s clear they let the media do their thinking for them. It’s a sad situation that doesn’t seem to be getting better.

    • seventeenbysix March 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks Nathan, good to hear from you, and about your positive experiences. We can but try to put the good word out there! Paula

  9. Ben Pacas November 14, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    As a business developer and ship engine mechanic my job takes me places, a lot of places. I am from Central America and when I was told I would go to Baja in Mexico I had mixed feelings and some fear. All turned out to be baseless and originated from frenzy happy objectivity lacking media companies. And still before reading this article I was like, ok my experience is based on Southern Baja, but takes from the rest of the country maybe right!!!. There was a time when traveling to and through Mexico was very common, heck my grandfather was one that never missed a year traveling to Acapulco to fish for marlin!!!

    I believe that as in Europe, the U.S. and many other parts of the world (including were I live in Central America) one must move around with all precautions necessary, precaution and safety first for me is a way of life this keeps you from accessing potentially risky and dangerous situations and places no matter were you are.

    Thanks for republishing this blog, Mexico truly is a beautiful country.

    • seventeenbysix December 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      hi Ben, thanks, we agree that Mexico is a wonderful country. We’re glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for reading!


  1. Seventeen by Six: Demonization of a Nation :: Central Overland - January 17, 2012

    […] Continue reading… […]

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