At the time I'm writing this, I have been traveling in Mexico for 19 days. By bus, except for a ferry between La Paz and Mazatlan. I've made stops in Ensenada, Loreto, La Paz, Mazatlan, Mexico City, and Oaxaca de Juarez, and I plan to stay in Oaxaca de Juarez for four weeks.
At no time during this trip have I felt unsafe or threatened. Because I'm on a long trip, I'm carrying along a lot of stuff, and I have a justifiable concern about the stuff being stolen. That hasn't happened. There have been military checkpoints along my route, a military presence in Loreto and La Paz, and a visible police presence in Oaxaca. When I arrived at the Terminal Norte in Mexico City, they have the same arrangement for taxis that they have at the airport; there's a desk where you tell the lady where you're going, she tells you how much it will cost, and sells you a ticket that you can use only on approved taxis. (Taking an unlicensed taxi is the most dangerous thing you can do in Mexico City.)
My experience has been the opposite of warnings that have been issued by people who should know better, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety. Here's two experiences I've had that say a lot more about this country.
1. I went out late at night in Mazatlan to purchase some fruit. I found a juice stand at the Mercado in the Old Town, and asked for a banana and a grapefruit. Then I asked the lady, "how much", and she said "nada". I even pulled out a few pesos to pay for the stuff, and she still refused to accept them.
2. I had to go to an agency on Avenida Insurgentes, a major north-south thoroughfare in Mexico City, to purchase my bus ticket for Oaxaca. My next destination was Coyoacán, a neighbourhood in the south part of Mexico City. There's a rapid bus line on Insurgentes, similar to ones that exist in Bogata and other cities working on low-cost transit solutions. So, I got on a southbound bus, with the intention of making a left turn somewhere to get to Coyoacán. Once on board, I learned from nearby passengers that I should get off at the Altavista station, and take a bus marked "General Anaya".
I did this. However, the bus stop wasn't very visible, and I walked right by it. When I saw the next station on the Insurgentes line, I realized I had done something wrong, and turned around and started back. As soon as I did this, I saw a short middle-age lady, one of the people who provided the directions on the rapid bus. She saw that I had walked by the stop, and followed me down the street in order to show me the error of my ways. Since she was shorter than I am, she couldn't walk anywhere near as fast. She escorted me back to where the stop for the General Anaya bus is, and made sure that I got on the right bus.
Of course, I said "muchas gracias" to this woman and the one at the Mercado in Mazatlan several times. Because my Spanish is very much a work in progress (that's why I'm in Oaxaca, as a student in a Spanish immersion program), I was unable to say more to them. So, I'm writing this article as another way of thanking them.
The message I want you to get from the two anecdotes presented here is, think about them the next time you see a story in the news about some new inconvenience legislated by some state for Mexicans, such as the one passed in Arizona requiring police to ask for papers from any brown-skinned person. Or the law passed in Alabama requiring brown-skinned people to carry identification at all times.
I've described people here that deserve the same respect from you as the people at your country club or Rotary. They want their children to go to good schools, and have a secure future.
Click here for more pictures I've taken along the way.