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Sensationalism at it’s worst?

19 Mar

 

Well it’s that time of year again when the neighbourhood starts to break up. Folks have to start heading home now for a variety of reasons, some for jobs, some for taxes, some for doctors appointments. The reasons are as varied as the folks who live here all winter long.

 

Of course, few leave without a send off of some sort or another and it’s always a damn good reason for having a potluck.

 

The last get together we had, the conversation rolled around to Sirius Radio and a news report that was heard on a Canadian station. The same folks then viewed a similar program on BCTV. (Yes, some of us have satellite TV down here). The stories were about how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico!

 

This prompted a great deal of hilarity around the campfire. None of us have EVER had any problems down here, except for the occasional, minor pilfering. No violence, no hold-ups, no kidnappings, no drugs, no guns, and there are people who have been coming to this area for over 30 years. Oh sure, we’ve all heard the stories about somebody’s friends cousins girlfriend, who was held up at a blockade on the highway by gun wielding drug runners who stole everything including their car. Try as we might though, none of us have ever been able to find a single person who has experienced this first hand and every year we hear the exact same story only the location changes.

 

Any excuse for a party. Eat drink and BS

As we sat around talking about this, all of us had stories to share of the exact opposite treatment. There was not one of us on the beach that didn’t have an anecdote, about some Mexican going way out of their way to be helpful. For example, we often stop on the side of the highway for coffee and more than once, we’ve had locals stop and ask if we were okay, and did we need mechanical help?

 

We stopped in a very small agricultural town a couple of years ago, far off the beaten track. We discovered they had beautiful gardens so we drove down every street admiring them. At one point an old farmer in his beat up old truck passed us. About half an hour later, when we’d pulled over to have a cup of coffee, the same truck pulled up in front of us, now with 3 people in it. One got out, came to our window and in halting English asked us if we were okay, were we lost. We explained how we had come to their lovely little town, and that we were just having a cup of coffee before heading off, but we thanked him for his enquiry. It seems that the old farmer was concerned that we were lost and so he drove around the town until he found someone who could speak English well enough to converse with us and make sure we were alright!

 

 

We added another little tidbit to the conversation. Recently my father-in-law who also lives near here in the winter needed to go to a bigger town for mechanical help and parts. So off he and Richard went with only an address in hand to Constitution about 100 kilometers away. Needless to say, they couldn’t find the place, so they pulled in to a Frenomex, (which is equivalent to a big chain brake shop at home). The manager spoke English and tried to explain where to go. Realizing that neither of them were familiar with Constitution, he got in his own car and drove them to where the mechanics shop was, then took them to the parts store and refused all offers of recompense.

 

The stories shared that night by more than 30 of us were very similar. All of us have had experiences where complete strangers have gone out of their way to be helpful to the Gringos.

 

We all think there must be some sort of media conspiracy to stop travellers from going to Mexico, especially since there’s hardly a week that goes by that the headlines aren’t blaring about some Canadian or American that’s been beaten, robbed or murdered in Mexico.

 

Okay, yes these things have happened, but they almost always happen in either border towns or big tourist areas, or to someone doing something they shouldn’t have been, or hanging with the wrong kind of people. That’s not to say that murder doesn’t happen in Mexico, it most certainly does, and some of it is pretty horrific, but mostly it’s Mexican on Mexican and is directly related to the drug trade, with the vast majority of it being rival gangs fighting for control, and sometimes innocent bystanders are the unintended victims.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know enough not to go to border towns for my holidays. If there’s going to be violence, it’s going to be there, especially since border towns the world over are primary smuggling areas, and where there’s smuggling, there’s big money and where there’s big money, there’s violence.

 

I also don’t go to tourist meccas. Anyone with a criminal bent knows that there are going to be tourists with lots of money doing stupid things. Tourists seem to think that if there are many other tourists around, it’s a safe place, so they can get roaring drunk, buy drugs, get into fights and do all sorts of dumb things and nothing bad will happen to them.

 

Now, that said, the media play up every criminal act that happens in Mexico but when was the last time you heard about a tourist having problems in New Orleans? Bet you haven’t, yet many Americans, have told me if I go there to stay away from specific, well-known touristy areas. It seems the bad folk there know that drunken tourists in unfamiliar places make easy marks and being robbed or killed is a fairly common happenstance.

 

I grew up in Vancouver, and it’s a beautiful city, but I don’t travel in the Downtown East side at night there. I’m not interested in hanging around areas that are frequented by gangs either and since the worst gang problems mainly relating to the drug trade in Vancouver are mostly centered in the bucolic suburbs of Surrey, intelligence tells me to stay the hell away from there, especially at night.

 

Talk to Californians, those who live near Los Angeles and they’ll tell you it has a major gang problem and can be a deadly place to go for a walk if you wander into the wrong neighbourhoods, especially if you happen to be wearing the colours of a rival gang. Accidental death by drive-by shooting is a fairly regular occurrence.

 

I’m sure if I looked at statistics, I’d find that just about every tourist area the world over has a an ugly underbelly, yet only Mexico seems to be the country held out as an extremely dangerous place to go on holiday. I can’t tell you why; maybe it has to do with money, ideology, politics or any combination thereof.

 

Maybe your idea of a Mexican vacation is to hang around a large tourist area like Cabo San Lucas, for a week, hoping from crappy bar to crappy bar, drunk out of your mind, being loud and obnoxious and flashing a wad of cash. Or perhaps you’re looking for a little drug and hooker action in places like Tijuana or Mexicali. Chances are if either of these is your idea of a good time, it won’t matter where you are, trouble is going to find you, and it won’t be pretty.

 

What I do know is, if you come to the Baja to visit the little villages, hamlets, towns and beaches, see the sights, take a few photos and enjoy eating some of the local cuisine, you won’t need to worry about any of those things. Of course from the point of view of those of us in the know, the more people afraid to travel to Mexico, the less crowded the beaches will stay.

Hmm, maybe you should listen to those newscasts….

 

 

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IT’S ALL IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

27 Oct

So how are things going with you? Hopefully you’re working or maybe collecting U.I.?  Maybe your benefits are just about at an end and the prospects of collecting Welfare are starting to loom large. Ever since the recession hit, things have been pretty rough and if you watch American T.V. you’ve certainly come to realize that things are way worse in the States than they are in Canada. Europe is constantly in the news, as Greece slides into financial chaos soon perhaps to be followed by other countries that have been unable to control their financial messes.

A cardinal comes to sample our oranges in the early morning

Through it all, how much have you heard about Mexico? Probably the only things you’ve heard about have been the drug wars and innocents being murdered by the drug Cartels, or perhaps the media ranting about how unsafe it is because some tourist has been mugged or killed. I’d be willing to bet you haven’t heard a word about how the Recession has impacted down here have you?

Things are very bad, very bad indeed. First let me explain a little about Mexican Employment Law. Once you have been hired, unless you do something so egregious that you could be arrested for it, you can’t be laid off or fired. The only way you leave a job is to retire, quit or die. Our social services such as Welfare and Unemployment insurance either don’t exist here or are offered only sporadically depending on which State you live in and Baja Sur has neither. Now I exaggerate, but not much, you can be laid off but it requires a large severance package to be paid.

So imagine what happens to cities and states that have all these employees, but no money to pay them. Not only do they not have money to pay the employees, they have no money to run the basic infrastructures that keep cities functioning. Since they have no money to pay in wages, they certainly don’t have any to pay out in severance packages to laid off employees, so they stay on the payroll.

Trying his luck, fishing at dawn

Let me give you a little background here, so you’ll have a little understanding. Mexico is a third world country that has lots of petro dollars and like every other similar country; it also has lots of corruption, from the local city cops right up to federal government ministers. It also has very wealthy drug cartels.

Now this is going to sound a bit strange but when there wasn’t this huge crackdown on the Cartels, things worked better. The Cartels held areas of the country, mostly along the border and in a few other states such as Sinaloa and Chihuahua. In these places the Cartels ran everything, including the schools, hospitals and charities. They made sure that the people were looked after. Sure the elections were rigged and only those politicians who were being paid by the Cartels were elected, and if you crossed them your life wasn’t worth a plug nickel, but things worked, maybe only in a warped way, but they worked. Money trickled down eventually to everyone.

That is no longer the case.

Who watches the watcher?

First came the American war on drugs and the billions of dollars offered to the Mexican Government to do away with the Cartels. Now, I’m not saying that was a bad thing, since at the same time Calderon was also getting rid of those in his government from Customs Officers to Federal Ministers who were corrupt and replacing them with honest people who would work for the betterment of the country as a whole. In the minds of right thinking people this was a wonderful idea and full of good intentions. The problem is we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Calderon was using the American money to try and break the Cartels and was siphoning other monies to the cause from various Government agencies, when the recession hit. Now the Cartels are no longer looking after the people in their areas, they are using it to fight a war against the government and the Government no longer has excess money to spend on anything. The people are suffering.

A school of fish paying me no attention.

Down here in Baja, the city has employees, but no money to pay them and hasn’t for 2 years, there is also a drought that’s in it’s 2nd year and the fishing is getting worse every year. Unemployment is rampant and even those with jobs are only holding on in hopes that eventually some money will appear and they will get some back wages. The Rancher’s animals are dying because they can’t afford to feed them and there is nothing left to eat in the desert. The fishermen, generally the poorest of the poor are bringing in less and less all the time and no one has any money to buy their catch anyways. Even the big tourist developments have stopped work because the tourists are not buying anymore and they certainly are not coming in the numbers they used to. Things are very bad.

Now, try to predict what happens in places like this when every 6 months, there is a large influx of what look like rich tourists who come to stay for 3 to 6 months at a time. Do you think you’d look upon these folks as fonts of money? Bingo!

When we arrived a few years ago, the economy was booming, condos, golf courses and hotels were being built at breakneck speed and all the beaches that were accessible were free to all. That changed in 2009, with the introduction of a rental fee for the right to stay on the beach and call the space you occupied yours for the season. Now we are talking a million dollar view for a pittance. The rate was 1940 pesos per month, that’s about $160.00 Canadian.

This little fellow was just as curious as I was.

You can imagine the hue and cry that ensued, with some flat out refusing to pay and actually being escorted away by the local constabulary. I mean let’s face it, none of us, regardless as to where we come from, could find anywhere at home for that price, probably not even a rat infested flophouse.  So most of us coughed up the money, knowing that we were is some small way helping the locals.

The price stayed the same all of last year, but and it’s a big but, no one was quite aware as to what the local Mayor was up to. It seems after the election in Loreto last February, it become obvious that the previous Mayor was a big time crook and he took the city for ever last cent they had, then buggered off. The city is absolutely, flat out broke and there is no money to be had from the State of Baja, since they can’t get any from the Federal Government. What’s the new administration to do? Why, raise the beach rates of course.

The fellow who has always collected the monies came last week and told us that the new Comptroller wanted to raise the fee to 3600 pesos a month, (about $300.00 Can). Since we are all rich tourists we could afford it they thought. Wrong!

Heading back to his home.

Off we all went to see this gentleman and to try and disabuse him of that impression. Most of us who spend 6 months of our lives every winter in this beautiful place do so because we can’t afford to live in our own counties full time. We are the poor (but not impoverished) of Canada and the United States, who have to travel to a poorer country in order to survive on our limited pensions and incomes.

We made a new friend that day and we all came away with a new understanding as to the struggles we are all facing in this new age of financial uncertainty. He understood that we could afford a small increase and that all of us try very hard to spend as much money as we can afford to support the local businesses. We were made aware of just how bad things are down here and how far they need to go to get back to where they were just a few years ago.

So rent has gone up to 2400 pesos a month, (about $200.00 Can) bringing in some badly needed funds into the cities coffers and helping to pay city workers that haven’t had a pay cheque in months, we got an offer of garbage pick-up, better security, a little work on the road coming in here and maybe, somehow they’ll bring in water. We’ll see, sometimes money in hand down here means we won’t see anyone again until next months rent time, but since we now have a better understanding as to what poor means down here, none of us mind. We pay our rent and this beautiful spot is ours for the winter and if we can help the locals make it through the bad times, so much the better.

We may not have much but for those who have nothing, we are rich beyond compare. They see us arriving with our cars, motorhomes, campers and boats and see wealth. We see old cars, motorhomes and campers that are past their prime and boats that need TLC to keep them afloat and constant tinkering to keep the motors running.

I guess everything really is relative and people judge things based on the only reality that exists for them. We all see our selves as poor or just getting by, yet we all seem to feel ourselves lucky to be here at this place and in this time. Even the locals who are suffering, will tell you that they know folks who are in worse shape than they are and that though things are not great, they could certainly be much, much worse.

Life truly is seen simply through the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?