Monday, January 30, 2012

las vacaciones

A couple of weeks ago, the boy and I attended a travel expo here in Halifax - we had heard about it from friends and had been thinking about booking a trip down south for March, so we thought we would check it out. We weren't expecting to find a deal, but you never know (that's pretty much my motto in life - I think I say it at least a few times every day)!

Well, it turned out to be a great plan, because we did (unexpectedly) get a great deal and booked a trip to Mexico!! We got our preferred week, preferred area, and preferred star rating - ALL within our preferred budget! How amazing is that? (See? You never know).

So, from March 16th to 23rd we will be enjoying the sun, sand and beautiful culture and history of Mexico at the Occidental Grand Xcaret resort!

To say we are excited is an understatement - we both love to travel, and have done quite a bit of traveling together already, but have never flown anywhere together (and the furthest out of the country we have been together is New England). This trip is particularly special also because the boy is half Mexican (his father - who he has never met - is Mexican) and he lived in Mexico for a few years when he was a kid. It will be neat to visit a place that he has personal ties to.

Bonus: He is fluent in Spanish, so I am slowly learning some words and phrases that I can use while down there (in addition to the few I remember from my University intro Spanish class). My pronunciation is good, but my accent is horrible - we Maritimers and our hard R's are not a good match to the fluidity and softness of the Spanish consonant. Ah well, at least I'm trying, right?

For those of you that follow the news, you may be aware that there have been a lot of instances of violence against tourists in Mexico in the past few years. There is a lot of negative talk surrounding travel to the country because of these incidents, and many people don't understand why we would ever want to go there. Normally I don't feel the need to justify my decisions to anyone else, but the fact that many of the complaints out there are either extremely ignorant (i.e. not based on any actual personal experience or research) and broad-based, frustrates me. So, I just feel the need to address some of this negativity:

- 75% of the violence in Mexico occurs in the Northern states (this is where most of the drug/gang activity is and many of the cities in this area are on travel advisory lists - translation: you are risking your life going there). I would never visit the Northern states for that reason. The area we are going to - Playa del Carmen, which is on the eastern coast and many many miles away from the Northern region - is one of the safest areas in the whole country. I have a friend who backpacked with her boyfriend in this region for 3 weeks and never had any problems.

- The onus for personal safety is just that: personal. It falls to each and every traveler to "travel smart" - and that goes for EVERY location you travel. When traveling in a foreign place you should never do things like: visit remote areas at night or alone (don't wander anywhere alone or at night, more to that), get involved in confrontations, accept rides from people you don't know, or walk around carrying lots of cash or wearing expensive jewelry or clothing. I'm sorry but if you do any of these things, you are basically asking to be robbed or attacked. I'm not saying that anyone who has been robbed or attacked deserves for that to happen (that is OF COURSE not true); I'm just saying that we each have a responsibility to be safe and smart when we travel and if you choose not to do this, you are putting yourself at risk.

- Further to the above point, the onus is also on the traveler to educate themselves about where they are going. DO YOUR RESEARCH before visiting a place - I really can't stress that point enough. Read reviews and news online both about the region you are visiting, and the specific hotels and sites and if there are consistent warnings about a particular place, don't go there.

**Even if you prepare, is there still a possibility that something may happen to you? Of course. But the possibility of something bad happening exists everywhere at every moment of the day - the point is, how LIKELY is it to happen? Most things are possible, but this doesn't mean they are probable. You can't completely eliminate the possibility of anything happening, but the more you prepare yourself and the more safety precautions you take, the lower your chances of getting into trouble.

- It isn't fair to paint one entire country with a bad brush because of the issues caused by a few - the boy and I have seen comments all over the internet talking about how Mexico is a dirty, disgusting place that should be bombed, etc, and these kind of comments are completely unwarranted. Mexico may have its problems, but so does every country. And I'm not saying that there are not places in Mexico that are in dire need of a "clean-up", but for every area like this there is a beautiful place that is a perfect tourist destination. Any Mexican people I have met are completely lovely, and I am sure many of them are not happy about or proud of the negative incidents occurring in their own backyard. Most of them are honest people, just trying to make a living - like you and me - and this can be said about any country. 

I try not to get too "ranty" on this blog very often, but if it's one thing I can't stand it's ignorance. I can respect comments based on research or first-hand experience, but not those based on only rumour or gossip. I am very sorry that there are people that have had bad experiences traveling in Mexico, and I hope that they find peace and compensation from their experiences. But I am also very sorry that the negative press seems to be the main and constant focus within dialogues about the country (and many other countries). There is so much wonderfully vibrant history and culture there so it pains me to see such a fixation on its flaws.

I just hope that they can find a way to fix the problems that they have and make the entire country safe again - for everyone. In the meantime, I will gladly visit (albeit only certain areas) and encourage others to do so. 

Viva las vacaciones!


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