The news this past week has been fraught with questions about travel and safety. Rick Santorum took a pot shot, implying that President Obama is an irresponsible parent for allowing his daughter to travel to Mexico (with 25 security guards and her school) in light of the State Department warning on U.S. travel to Mexico.
Travel blogs are ablaze with words of love and devotion to Mexico. Just read Lonely Planet, Peter Greenberg and Jennifer Rose to hear the words of diehard fans.
If you study the State Department maps, you will see that the majority of warnings are, for the most part, in border towns like Ciudad de Juarez and Tijuana where the transportation of drugs into the US is causing terrible violence. Yes, there are trouble spots like Acapulco, Cuernavaca and Monterrey, but incidents rarely involve Americans.
Full disclosure: I love Mexico. Mexico taught me how to relax, how to kick back, how to say 'manana' and 'de nada.' The warm-hearted people (warm-hearted, yes but also not beyond hustling tourists) also taught me about kindness, eating, cooking, and in some interesting ways, family and love.
Mexico has inspired poems and a recently published story; "Mismoloya Beach" (recently published in the Art magazine, Folly gives a dramatic interpretation to the destruction of the pristine beach where "Night of the Iguana" was filmed.
I am not alone in my love of Mexico. The New York Times recently reported that over 22 million people visited Mexico in 2011 and the Mexican government estimates 50+ million for the upcoming year.
I am also not the only artist drawn to Mexico. Legions of writers and artists have made homes in San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Monterrey and Mexico City. Lonely Planet message boards report that many foreign artists are living and working in charming and off the beaten path cities of Guanajuato and Morelia. They take up residence there to work in comfort on an artist's budget and to soak up a warm and rich culture.
Why this love? Why the pull? For me, there is a way that the culture is connected to their spiritual roots, the earth and their ancestry. There is a primacy that exists that is compelling, charming and, to go out on a limb, healing. It was after a massage with 'healing herbs from the Sierras' that I had a dream about my work and the meaning of life. Not a small thing and not a common side effect of comfort zone travel.
But back to warnings and safety and questions of travel: Here's my question: When did we get lulled into a false sense of security when traveling? When did our desire to experience exotic cultures and places become subsumed by a need to go, see, do and yet still remain in our comfort zone? In 1983 when I traveled to Puerto Vallarta for just the second time, I met a Canadian couple that reported being held up by 'banditos' twice -- but it didn't stop them from traveling south for their annual visit.
I'm not denying the harsh facts of the drug wars currently being raged in Mexico, but I am posing the question: How much are we willing to sacrifice to experience a texture and culture that simply does not exist in the safe, but sanitized States?
Are we really safe anywhere in a post 9/11 world? Travel issues are warned for Israel, Kenya, the Philippines, Mali, Korea and Haiti to name just a few on the long list deemed unsafe for Americans. But Americans travel to these beloved countries in droves.
And what about the U.S. and our own infractions? What of our breaches of safety that has had German and European tourists murdered in SF, Miami and most recently Sarasota?
I say, put the 'venture' back in adventure, the unknown back in the great beyond and the willingness to risk back into travel. I say go, do, be aware, and enjoy.
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