Wednesday 24 July 2024

Would You Visit Mexico City?


Let’s play word association.
“Mexico City”.
“Polluted. Overcrowded. Dirty. Dangerous. Murder. Poverty. Thieves. Drug Lords. Criminals. Avoid”.
I suspect that most people who have never set foot in Mexico would agree with these associations. So how are these perceptions formed?
Without a doubt, the mainstream media (MSM) is the source.
The mainstream media is a powerful force tasked with controlling what we think. If you don’t believe me then lend me 45 seconds of your time to watch this. 
The MSM is so powerful that it can convince people that Justin Bieber is a huge talent. It can leave the masses hanging on Kim Kardashian’s every vapid Tweet as if her claim to fame was that of a brilliant literary pundit rather than a hard-core porn star.
Essentially, the MSM can convince us that a circle is a square or that blue is red. Or that Mexico City is a hell-hole. It is that powerful.
As individuals, we exist in a vacuum when it comes to most issues. We cannot personally investigate global issues (e.g. is Mexico City really that dangerous…) so are forced to both rely on, and trust, the MSM to inform us. And because of this reliance, those who control the MSM can exert incredible power over our perceptions of the world around us.
And where there is power, there is inevitably abuse.

Couple power with the need to attract viewers and advertising dollars, and that leads to hype and frequently to a total distortion of the facts.

With these thoughts in mind, and the immense negative coverage Mexico has received in the MSM over the past year, I set out on an adventure to Mexico City with a side trip to Oaxaca.

After a door-to-door 40+ hour flight and layover odyssey that started in Queenstown, I checked into the splendid Red Treehouse (what’s not splendid about a free happy hour every evening!)

I stripped off my watch and left it with my wallet in the safe, taking only a small amount of cash with me, and hesitantly walked out of my hotel in the Condesa district to test the streets, fully expecting to be mugged or shot by a drug dealer (because that’s what the MSM told me would happen!). I looked warily at everyone who passed me, prepared to scamper back to the hotel shouting ‘never get out of the boat – never get out of the boat!!!’ 

But nothing happened. Nobody mugged me. Nobody shot at me. Even when I set out for dinner at El Califa (superb Mexican fare!) after dark, on foot, 4 blocks from the hotel, nothing happened. It’s not supposed to be like this!

Having not encountered any bad guys (yet) I decided to tempt fate and go for a run in the park near the hotel the second evening. Yes, there are parks in Mexico City. With trees, and people running, and walking their dogs. And the air seemed much cleaner than I expected, nothing like the air in Hong Kong. I ran in this park regularly, round and round, and not once did anyone shoot at me, not once did I even hear a shot fired.

Of course, these are just anecdotes, the limited experiences of a single traveller. Where could one obtain a broader understanding of the dangers that surely lurk around dark corners throughout Mexico City.

Who would have their finger on the pulse? Of course, the tourist police. I organized an appointment with one of the honchos at the main tourism office and brought along a very thick notebook expecting to be regaled with horror stories.

Yes, I was told, tourists are robbed, but given the number of tourists who visit Mexico, the numbers are insignificant. And for the most part, the muggings occur when tourists visit places that are obviously not safe.

It would be like traveling to say, Detroit, and taking a stroll through a slum at midnight. As the officer I spoke to stated, ‘they go to places where even I would not go. Run down, crowded markets in high poverty areas. I have no idea what the attraction is.’ I suggest that perhaps they are budget backpackers in search of cheap tacos?

As for crossing paths with one of the drug gangs that are featured on the endless Netflix series, the officer said, that is highly unlikely. She could only recall one incident where a woman caught a stray bullet from a drive-by. Kind of like encountering a great white shark – in a lake, I suggested.

As we wrapped things up the officer left me with some words of caution advising that I do not dismiss the risks because Mexico City is not a safe place and it is becoming more dangerous as poverty worsens.

If I encounter thieves I should not resist – I should give them everything immediately because they will not hesitate to kill. Her parting words were ‘Their lives are so miserable and desperate that they are beyond caring what happens to them’.

And with that, I set out to the mean streets of Mexico City walking the few kilometres back to the hotel, whistling the entire way.

Clearly the truth of the situation is that Mexico City is not that much different than many other major cities around the world. If you use common sense, don’t go in search of the cheapest taco, and don’t prance about with a Louis Vuitton bag dangling from your shoulder, the odds are you will be fine.

And remember, if you do visit, and someone does approach you with a gun and asks you to handover the goods, don’t resist. You’ll live and have a captivating tale to tell at dinner parties for years to come.

Trip Highlights 
Buy a Pair of Hand-Crafted Shoes from Casa Caballeria
Possibly the most comfortable shoes on the planet. 
Take a Tour of Lalocura Mezcal Distillery (Oaxaca)
While visiting I ran into two Americans who distribute for this distillery in the US. They commended me on having chosen what is, in their opinions, the best distillery in all of Mexico. A bottle of this stuff sells for over USD100 in the States….
Monte Álban Ruins (Oaxaca)
I almost didn’t visit these ruins believing that having seen the ruins near Mexico City, these would pale in comparison. I was wrong. This is a must do.
Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante
Suffice to say, this was by far the best restaurant of the entire trip.  So good that I had dinner here 3 times during my stay in Oaxaca.  I have been swallowing Xanax by the handful since departing Mexico to deal with the profound depression caused by knowing I may never eat at this restaurant again…
The author, Paul Luciw, is the Founder and Managing Director of AsiaXPAT.