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Old 12-16-2008   #1
rivermanryan's Avatar
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 580
How dangerous is Mexico right now?

I have seen reports all over the board and I am curious of what it is really like from some of you who have been down there lately. I am planning to cross the border at Matamoros and take the usual highways down to Valles, then on to Mexico City.

I'm planning to take me kids and need to know the risk (of travelling the highways and crossing the border, not the whitewater). Is this equivalent to taking my kids on a Class IV or V? Or is the violence/crime limited to those trafficking or involved in it in some way?

The State Department doesn't seem to have a travel warning, just general announcements about being aware of your surrounding in the border zone. I have heard others say it is almost an all out civil war and kidnappings are common. What is the real scoop? Should we go?

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Old 12-16-2008   #2
Salt Lake City, Utah
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 148
It isn't dangerous unless you do something really stupid. I drove to Panama and back earlier this year, and the only place that felt even a little sketchy was the El Salvador-Honduras border. The biggest danger you will face is a traffic accident.

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Old 12-16-2008   #3
CUkayakGirl's Avatar
303, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Mar 2005
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We went down there last year and it was fine. We are probably heading there in the next week or so as well. We crossed the border at like 4 or 5 in the morning to get through Victoria and other sketchy towns before people were really awake.

We ran into a few military check points that were a little scary, but nothing happened, they just searched the car for a while. Overall, it was way safer than I thought it would be.

I would strongly strongly suggest having a few people that speak good Spanish. We had a few people on the trip with good Spanish and we still had a couple circumstances where Derk and I answered some of the questions at the check points wrong or could not really understand what they were talking about. It would be a very bad idea to drive down to Valles if no one speaks Spanish, I don’t think you would even get though customs.

It is so awesome down there!
"I would lick it up if it weren't all glassified and on concrete"
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Old 12-16-2008   #4
Salt Lake City, Utah
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Apr 2007
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With limited survival Spanish, I had no trouble with any border crossings all the way to Panama. Its more fun if you speak Spanish, but it certainly isn't necessary if you are patient and even a little bit resourceful.

The military checkpoints are nothing to worry about unless you have guns or drugs. I was stopped at dozens of them, and everyone I dealt with was professional and courteous. It helps to keep your vehicle clean and organized so you can get through the checkpoints more quickly.
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Old 12-16-2008   #5
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Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1984
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First, I would avoid Matamoros. It's a confusing shithole, and hard to find the Immigration building. Any border town is way more sketchy than the interior, and you're going to be flying a huge Gringo flag with kayaks strapped to the top. I highly recommend you consider Pharr - you don't even actually enter a border town.

And CUKayakGirl is dead-on. Driving is probably the most dangerous thing about Mexico. Traveling in the early morning is the ticket. Driving at night down there is perilous- tons of trucks with dim lights on curvy roads with no shoulder. We almost clipped a dark-clad woman crossing a toll road in Veracruz - walking across a 100KM/hr freeway. Missed her by a few feet; otherwise I would still be in some Mexican jail, I suspect. Avoid nighttime driving.

As for the kidnappings -relatively speaking, I think it is likely more dangerous than it used to be. That scary statistic of the murder rate quadrupling in 1 year in Juarez is shocking. I used to think I would drive my wife & kid to Valles someday, but I don't think I would risk it right now. And I've never had a problem, other than getting grafted for $40 in Baja 18 years ago. But once you get to Valles, I think you're as safe as can be- it's basically a farming community. It comes down to how/when /where you cross the border.
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Old 12-16-2008   #6
Oak Creek, CO (noon bell, bitches), Colorado
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Posts: 83
Jump on NPR's site and listen to the mutli part series on mexico drug war/ violance. It seems to be affecting much more than people are aware of. However, I am not certain about the area you are planning on travelling through. For example, and I know you aren't planning on going through TJ, but it is a complete ghost town right now - with bars and retail all boarded up. I also read the article posted in last month's Rollingstone about the same thing and personally I wouldn't run with my kids right now. It doesn't seem that there is much promise of protection or control inline for tourists or locals. That said, I haven't heard that tourists have been targeted either. Just an opinion.
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Old 12-16-2008   #7
Salt Lake City, Utah
Paddling Since: 2006
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TJ didn't seem very boarded up when I was there in April. I thought it was actually much cleaner than it was when I was there 10+ years ago, and I actually enjoyed all of my visit except the line crossing the border back in to the US.

You can certainly find trouble if you look for it, particularly in border towns or doing stupid things like camping on deserted beaches near big cities or driving at night. The articles I read in magazines and newspapers before I left just didn't reflect the reality of traveling in Mexico at all, and I spent months driving through nearly every state in Mexico.
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Old 12-16-2008   #8
Highlands Ranch, CO Paddling Since: 1993
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The cartel wars going on down there is being under reported.

I just got back from my 4th trip to the Puerto Vallarta region over the past couple years. This time there were federales all over the place, they had check points set up in front of all the major resorts in Nuevo Vallarta.

In years past you went through a minor checkpoint at the border between the states of Nayarit and Jalisco only.

Speaking with the locals about it they have been having many problems down there, lot's of houses now have bars on their windows.

I am sure you could do it and be fine, but I would want to be fluent and travel through the border towns at dusk as mentioned.
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Old 12-17-2008   #9
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
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Class IV, if you use good sense;don't drive at night,don't be a target= look poor and be inconspicuous,speak Spanish if possible.Border towns generally suck most of the interior is fine.Kidnapping is a problem in Mexico City[ Guadalajara,Acapulco ,Juarez,and Tijuana too],
usually wealthy locals ,driving makes you conspicuous/theft target if you stay in one place though.I would use the subway during the day and walk close to your hotel at night.If you are there any length of time don't establish a predictable routine.That is probably semi paranoid ,just be on your toes,lots of interesting things to see/do in the DF.

I went to Chiapas during the Zapatista conflict,tourists were not bothered much ,some even watched the invasion of San Cristobal while partying on hotel rooftops on New Years Eve .There were some military checkpoints outside Palenque on the road to Agua Azul,no big deal if you had your passport.One night bus ride from Villahermosa to Chetumal they kept stopping the bus at checkpoints and state borders to check papers and scope out the passengers for rebels and gun runners. That road goes through a sparsely populated area near an even more remote part of Guatemala.It was a bit unnerving to be awakened by armed men shining a flashlight in your face demanding and questioning in Spanish multiple times.They pulled one Indigena off the bus in the middle of nowhere and did who knows what to him.They were all geared up for trouble in Tuxtla Gutierrez on the anniversary of some event but it never developed.I kind of wanted to see some shit go down ,witness some historic event.The military closed the roads into the most embattled areas,as much to keep reporters and human rights activists out as to protect tourists.

Flaco's advice about the border crossing sounds good.Make sure you have insurance and any other requirements met.If a cop hits you up for a small bribe just pay it,most just need the money,but if you cross a corrupt cop that could bring you more trouble .Never offer a bribe outright ,broach the subject delicately if necessary,if they try to take you in " no podemos/puedo pagar aqui/ahorita ?"
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Old 12-17-2008   #10
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 34
Blend in and be careful everywhere...

My workplace is about 90% latin and large portion of them are Mexican (mostly legal ) and make a trip back home at least annually, usually driving. They all say it has gotten much more dangerous in the last couple years. This summer one of our guys was stopped by a gang on a highway outside of Juarez (ranching area). They had machine guns and put a black hood over his head, threw him in a van with a gun at his head, and dropped him of in the middle of the desert. They were going to kill him and steal his truck but they decided to just steal his truck. My wife's brother is a doctor in Mexico city, he and his wife got into a cab and were kidnapped by the cabbie at gunpoint. He drove them around to various ATM's making the husband withdraw money while holding his wife at gunpoint. Eventiually he made them strip their clothes and dropped them off in alley.

Having said that, and proabaly scared the shite out of you, I would still make the trip. I don't know that I would do it with my kids though.

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