Traveling South Of The Border Comes With Risks

This is the point we get to in winter where “anyplace but here” becomes a mantra. Don’t you just want to run away to a sunny place, kicking off your boots and ear warmers every mile along the way?

Mexico is a popular-and often wallet-friendly-destination, but it’s important to make plans to travel there with a healthy dose of caution. I have been there many times in the past 15 years leading archaeological tours and have never had a problem, but beach-goers and people not traveling in groups sometimes have a different story to tell and often enough that it’s wise to take notice.

One of the biggest problems has been the presence of boot-legged alcohol being bought and served by resorts. After the death of a young American tourist who was in Cancun with her parents and brother, Mexican authorities say they have worked harder to clean up the tainted alcohol industry. She drank one shot of tequila at their poolside hotel bar in 2017 and it killed her and put her brother in the hospital.

The black-market tequila has dangerous levels of methanol.

According to a December, New York Post article, whose headline warned of “risking death” to vacation in Mexico, other types of alcohol can also be a problem. One woman reported that after three sips of a beer, her son woke up in a Mexican jail not remembering anything-a common story from tourists drinking tainted liquor. Despite his wallet being “stolen,” the police handed him his student identification and his license, which are convenient tools for getting money wired from desperate parents. The Mexican police wanted $300 to spring him loose from jail, and by all accounts, that was a bargain.

There is reportedly plenty of corruption among authorities in Mexico and many people who find themselves in trouble are told by the U.S. consulate not to even bother reporting crimes.

Last July, a 21-year-old Chicago native was killed by a stray bullet while vacationing in Mexico City with her husband and another couple.

The young woman had traveled to Mexico before with her family, but “this time,” according to the Post article, the “slim blonde who worked for a pharmaceutical company in San Francisco, returned home in a body bag, becoming one of the 16,399 homicides recorded in the country in the first seven months of this year, according to statistics collected by Mexican law enforcement.”

Indeed, the website “Mexico Vacation Awareness,” is writhe with terrifying tales written by vacationers who have had terrible experiences in the country. Most blame black-market alcohol, but rape and robbery feature prominently, too. Couples and friends report blacking out simultaneously after drinking very little alcohol, and regaining consciousness hours later to learn they had been assaulted, robbed, taken to the hospital and, in some cases, jail.

Thankfully, word has gotten out by publications like the Milwaukee Post Sentinel, who did a thorough and lengthy investigation after a young woman from Wisconsin died in Cozumel while vacationing with her family at an upscale resort, reportedly from tainted tequila.

The family of the young woman filed a civil lawsuit last year claiming that the resort knew that their bar was serving tainted alcohol and “failed to meet the bare minimum standards for food and beverage safety.” The Sentinel article exposed dozens of other tragedies experienced by tourists visiting Mexican resorts.

A report, quoted by the article, said that 43 percent of all the alcohol consumed in Mexico is illegal and produced under unregulated circumstances.

And tragically, following most of these blackouts, robberies and assaults, the victims received little help or compassion from Mexican authorities or from resort staff. Obtaining justice in Mexico, according to the Sentinel article, is next to impossible, which makes those experiences all the worse. American attorneys representing the victims say it is not uncommon to be swindled by hospitals and ambulance companies who have been summoned to “help.” The aftermath of these events, then, for the victim, is often as bad as the experience itself.

If you’ve booked a vacation to Mexico and are now feeling somewhat uneasy, keep in mind that nearly 35 million Americans traveled to Mexico in 2017-a staggering number. But twenty years of escalating violence and recent political tension south of the border are changing how Americans plan, book, and take vacations there.

One solid piece of advice is to book your vacation through an American-based travel company so that in the event you do encounter a problem, there is a responsible company to respond to you.

The problems seem to accumulate in the tourist areas of Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and others, and it might be wise to drink only beverages that are handed to you sealed-such as a can of beer or wine cooler.

The price point of a Mexico vacation doesn’t seem to act as a deterrent to these incidents, with problems reported at expensive luxury non-inclusive resorts as well as the moderately expensive and “cheap” all-inclusive resorts.

And since travel agents, according to an April 2018 Sentinel article, aren’t exactly shouting from the rooftops about the dangers there, travelers have to take it upon themselves to be informed.

And cautious.