It’s Summer mid-week. The fresh sea breeze has cleared away the morning fog, and the skies are blue over the Pacific. Rosarito Beach is quiet today for which I am personally grateful, but many pray for the return of the booming tourist business. I step out of my car, having found a convenient parking place in front of the fish store. Walking inside I am greeted by a friendly “Hola!” A light smell of salt and sea life is present and I swear the fish are so fresh they are still wiggling. Leaving, with a full bag of shrimp, the man calls out to return pronto. Sunlight is bright and I marvel that the streets are devoid of the bare-skinned summer youth. They used to fill the streets. They have not returned in any great numbers.
However, there are thousands of us who never left. We foreign residents transplanted into northern Baja for many different reasons. Even through all the many changes that have taken place since 9/11, we didn’t leave. Of course, it is an old story that the Mexican people have paid a very high price for all the fluctuations in US economy; terrorist attacks, closing of the border, real estate booms and crashes, and the latest is the blatant media attack and travel warnings declaring how dangerous it is to travel here. I don’t intend to minimize the fact that there is violence in the world. Violence against one another is a holy war that still rages. Instead, I am suggesting that a peaceful life in Northern Baja is a newsworthy truth. For most of us who live here, we would not choose to live anywhere else.
The past Mayor, Hugo Torres, began the campaign to clean up the streets of Rosarito, and he did just that. He then took on the US media. What was happening to tourism in the Northern Baja cities was “Murder by Media” he said and an all-out effort to kill the tourist trade. The residents can support his view entirely. We are witness to the constant media’s lack of good journalism when reporting about Baja. It is a blatant and relentless intention to feed a negative image to travelers. We all just look at one another and shake our heads in wonder. The truth is that we live the most peaceful lives of any people anywhere, and this includes the United States of America.
“Aren’t you afraid to go to Mexico?” is becoming a tiresome question. It makes no sense to put out a travel warning to stay away from Baja, because there is violence in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas. It would be like Mexico telling people in Baja not to travel to California because there was a mafia shootout on the streets of Chicago. Admittedly, it does require a reasoning mind.
Robert Reid, Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor, reports:
“What we don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence in Mexico than at home.”
Tijuana has dropped off many of the most violent cities in the world lists. It has seen an increase in business travelers, medical tourists, and day visitors. It is, in fact, more dangerous to visit Disney World of Orlando than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, reports Reid.
The State of Texas Department of Public Safety advised against “spring break travel anywhere in Mexico.” Suggesting instead, places like Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica, all of them having much higher homicide rates. “Mexico may be more dangerous overall, but not for Americans.” This, according to the FBI crime statistics, is less than half of the US national rate for crimes against Americans. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico and three times safer than in Houston.
Reid further reports that New Orleans broke its own tourism record last year, 8 million visitors. It had ten times the US homicide rate, and close to triple Mexico’s national rate. Even the violence in Juarez dropped 45%. Most of Mexico’s 31 states are not on the State Department’s travel warnings. The warning does recommend against travel to select parts of other states. Thirteen States are completely free from the warnings, including Baja Sur. Reid gives thumbs up to Mexico travel, saying that the Lonely Planet “took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home.” He goes on to stress, “And, equally as important, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences.”