Thursday, February 5, 2009
When Bob began to do research for this trip he ran into discussions on the web, and even in some articles, about various reasons to either not come, or to spend a lot of energy on security. We heard about bandits, theft and the terribly dangerous roads. Since we have been down here we have completely gotten over any concerns about the roads. They are fairly narrow and have very limited shoulders, but if approached at moderate speeds and with two hands on the wheel, they are not a problem. We have honored the admonition not to drive at night – it seems to us like a wise one. We have not run into anyone who has had experience with being robbed in person. We have heard credible stories of people having things stolen from their campsite at night or when unattended, but have not actually talked to anyone who had the experience directly. However it is clear there is a huge wealth differential between the North American travelers and the local Mexicans, so it would seem reasonable that theft could occur, just as it has (to us) in Costa Rica and the Turks/Caicos. People who were already poor and just getting by have been hard hit by the dramatic drop in tourists, and we suspect, for example, that some of the vendors who sell to tourists may occasional resort to theft to put food on the table. One of the stories we heard before we came was about corrupt cops. The best way to avoid this problem of course is to obey the traffic laws and stay on the straight and narrow. However we did meet one fellow who told us that in La Paz he drove through an intersection at 2 miles an hour, and was stopped by the cops who had parked their van in such a way as to obscure the stop sign. He said they asked him for $200, or threatened him with a trip to the police station. He paid, he left La Paz mad, and was headed for the border as fast as he could get there – never to return. We suspect his story will be told many times, growing with each retelling, and convincing a lot of people not come to Mexico! They will be missing a lot of beauty and a wonderful culture, just to avoid a $200 expenditure. In talking over the story with some old Baja hands, they concluded that the guy probably was right about what had happened, but had misinterpreted the request, which was probably for 200 pesos ($15), which is apparently the more typical honorarium. These old hands in fact recommend that we just put a 200 peso note behind our driver’s license, and if stopped, hand over the money and drivers license together, and likely you’ll be waved on with some sort of vague warning. We’ve implemented the recommendation and hope that now that we have, we will never have the opportunity to try the system out.