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Are you still going to Guadalajara?
by Linda Lane
2009-03-21 09:02:43
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Yes. It is safer in much of Mexico than it is in many places in the US in terms of the general crime rate. I have traveled to more dangerous places and been held at gunpoint in Dhaka, Bangladesh for example, and on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, USA more than once, and in the American Embassy in Calcutta, India for example.

Ok I forgot - there were the Mexican Pacific coast endangered-turtle-egg poachers riding horses with rifles, sure, ok, there was that, but they didn't actually *point* their weapons at me, so much as shake them and hold them up in view. I got the point. Mexico is a groove anyway.

In Dhaka the jet liner we arrived on had just touched down and rolled up to the airport when 5 or 6 men dressed from head to toe in black, sporting loaded Russian AK47's climbed on board, pointed their weapons at us and searched the plane - for who knows what. They demanded to speak with the pilot, and after 15 minutes they all left. These bullies felt powerful coming on board, yet they retreated in a way that felt sheepish, and I am sure more than one person snickered.

There was very little discussion of the event afterwards, as if some steward had accidental dropped a fork and no one wanted to embarrass him by mentioning it. One man just looked over his New York Times for a second, and went right on reading it though the whole thing. There was something funny and sad -- still grim and dangerous about it.

On the Kenai Peninsula outside of Anchorage I had just finished telling the Federally employed fresh-out-of-college biologist (I was traveling with him as a guide and wildlife photographer) that he had no right to cross private land in Alaska. And being "not local" - not recognized - it was likely that someone with a shotgun would soon appear - he no more than put his hand on a gate to open it - when sure enough a very very angry man appeared with gun just like I described. The young biologist was incredulous when it actually occurred just as I said it would, as soon as I completed the last word of my sentence. I said to him in an undertone, "do whatever this man asks and we will get out of this alive, and keep our jobs." I was 20 years old. The young biologist's name was Tom Turner, from Oregon. Tom and I were held at gun point by private Alaskans twice during that trip, in spite of my warnings.

If you work for the Fed and want to maintain peace, don't drive a marked federal vehicle into rural Alaska. And don't do stupid things like entering private property without permission carrying a camera. Private people are fed up with being taken to court for what others view as breaking a law. There are major crimes being perpetrated every day by industry and corporations but they have lawyers to keep the accusations at bay. Rural Alaskans are hanging on by a few thin threads and can not afford to be continually harassed so they personally defend themselves. I can really understand their situation. If there are no gas stations to buy gas, or stores to buy food from up there, how are people going to travel and see the beauty of Alaska? There needs to be private industry.

My trip to the American Embassy in Calcutta taught me a great deal about what it is like to work within a foreign nation. Earlier in the day I watched as a local Indian embassy employee looked right at me and re-shuffled the embassy paperwork so that I, one of the few Americans in line, was the second to last person on the daily agenda behind every Indian citizen although I arrived early in the morning.

I was sick and exhausted when finally meeting with a low level American official who was terrible; insulted by his position he mistreated nearly everyone he came into contact with - snearing and speaking down to me -suffering succotash!- he finally gave the advise I needed, but it meant calling a Bhutanese government official.

Reaching the main door, I looked outside at the 115 degree heat madly distorting the light above the sidewalk and I - I lost heart - I just couldn't go outside to find a phone. So I asked the Indian guards to use a phone to make the required call.

One Indian guard said no, I had to find one outside the Embassy. From behind the large glass panels at the last door, over zealous Indian guards pointed their guns at me - which caused an unexpected reaction on my part! I had enough and threw a fit on the Great Seal of the United States embedded in the flooring, stomping my foot down, I demanded a phone. This was the American embassy, but I was treated like a criminal, they showed no intention to aid me in any way. I yelled "This is MY embassy, and I am NOT going any place until you GIVE ME A PHONE." and pointed at the American Flag and the Seal and at myself jumping up and down - I am sure I looked like a nuke had just gone off in my brainpan banging my hands wildly in the air to get my point across.

I pointed my finger at their guns and laughed! "This is what you do when someone asks to use a phone??!!?" I was beyond overwhelmed, and right then I lived up to my nickname "Chernobyl".

It worked, like nothing else had. Their supervisor was called in - and on command they relented immediately, lowering their weapons against me - a single unarmed protesting American female tourist - they looked terrified. Embarrassment ensued but not by me. They presented me with a phone, I made the call, finalized my business and dragged my diarrhoea racked, bug bitten, infected, overheated body back to the sweltering hotel as the sun sank red into the heat.

I am still learning from that experience that being 'polite' is not always the best modus operandi, because repression can bubble up later in unexpected ways.

In short I have no worries about Mexico; sure it will be hell here and there, but I've seen it before. Just don't eat in restaurants where the line of sight does not include a view to how they prepare and store food, how they keep things clean, or where locals do not eat - or like India where the walls in the kitchen are black. Yah, don't eat meat in India either if avoidable.

Plus, I am not traveling to a border location - just through it, nor to any famed drug dealer areas, just headed to Guadalajara, so I am not concerned. A friend has offered to put us up in San Diego overnight so we can arrive at the border in the morning, go across and drive a couple of hundred miles south before the devil knows we've left (as the saying goes).

What is a drag is all the paper work required to obtain car insurance, permissions to take the car to Mexico, forms that need to be filled out, money paid for certificates, permits and so forth. I have to notify the State of California, my bank, and the Mexican government and put up insurance against leaving the car in Mexico. I'm just not one for paperwork - it's not that bad.

It would be much much easier to haul my stuff back to Seattle put it in storage there and fly to Mexico from there, using public transportation when I arrive. But I wouldn't be able to get around as well to more remote destinations.

Today I applied for a copy of my California drivers license (cause I misplaced mine), donated some clothes and a ton of Microsoft software. Now I am looking for a place to buy boxes to begin packing.

I'll be applying for school loans, and finalizing some financial details to get ready to go. And I look for work stateside over the Web every single day - that is my job.

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