Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mexico: Then and Now

I must say, with everything that is going on in Mexico right now, it disheartens me to think that it may no longer be an ideal getaway for families, couples, and spring break teenagers. Ten years ago, people had no reason to worry when traveling to Cozumel, Cancun, or even Cabo. Just like any other tourist, they readied themselves for the sun, the beach, authentic Mexican food, and cold margaritas. That is what I prepared for when I took my first trip to Cozumel.

Considering that this was our first real cruise -- our first cruise broke down the year before -- I was beyond excited to be in Mexico for the first time. I mean, just imagine docking at this fun and exciting city, walking to the end of the long, wooden dock, and being met with loud music, young people dancing, and a large neon sign that reads “Fat Tuesdays.” If that doesn’t say "Welcome to Mexico," I don’t know what does.

We had an excursion booked at Dolphin Discovery, a place that allowed for snorkeling, dolphin encounters, and even a seal show. I thought we would be swimming with dolphins; however, once I strapped on my orange life vest and stepped down onto the long, metal walkway that was submerged in the warm, crystal clear water, I quickly realized that this would just be an encounter. Here is a piece of advice, make sure you know what you are getting when you go to book an excursion on a cruise ship, just saying. I couldn’t help but be a little bummed, but after the beautiful creature swam by us and let us rub its rubbery, yet, smooth belly, I had to admit that it was a great way to start my day in Cozumel. To top it off, I even got one of those pictures with the dolphin kissing my cheek.

Okay, so the start of my day turned out pretty well. Since we were in the area, we decided to hop over to the nearby lagoon and do some swimming. Here’s the catch though, we had to swim over a massive wall of rocks, containing sea urchins and sharp, rocky edges. My dad quickly realized just how sharp those rocks were when he raised his leg to see a cut along his shin bone. However, that cut would be minor compared to what we heard next.

“What in the world?”

I jerked my head around to see who was screaming. The four of us stopped to see a young girl, probably around the age of 10, being carried towards the shore, her screams sounding of pure agony.

“What happened to her?” My mom asked someone nearby.

“She was trying to swim over those rocks and stepped on a sea urchin,” we were told.

Now, I don’t know about you, but just the thought of what it would feel like to step on one of those black, spiky balls makes me cringe! I was so terrified that while I swam over the rock wall, I literally found my legs hardly moving at all.

Our time spent in the nearby lagoon didn’t last long as we decided that lunch was in order. Walking through the streets of Cozumel, we stumbled upon a Mexican eatery that allowed for outside seating. Not only was it decorated in reds, greens, and whites, but it housed the best tasting salsa; my mouth was practically watering at the sight. Large bowls of homemade, warm tortilla chips came out and I was convinced you could fill up on just the chips alone. But to make it even better was the individual bowls of salsa that they placed in front of us. Vibrant colors of red and green filled the bowls; a mixture of salsa and peppers just waiting to be scooped up by these deliciously warm chips and then taking a trip to my mouth. If we ate anything else for lunch, I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was because I’m convinced that I made a meal of just the chips and salsa.

Naturally, we ended our little day in Cozumel with the first place we saw on our way in, Fat Tuesdays. What better way to be welcomed and sent off, right? Well, considering that the legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, and I was only 15 at the time, I technically should have been drinking a virgin strawberry daiquiri. However, if you were at a place called ‘Fat Tuesdays,’ in Mexico, and people were dancing on the bars and tables, would you be expected to consume a non-alcoholic drink? I didn’t think so. While my parents and sister enjoyed their red, margarita filled tubes (because the drinks were served in yard glasses), I sat back and relished in the thought and enjoyment of drinking an actually strawberry daiquiri. Unfortunately for me, that enjoyment wouldn’t last long as I ended up passing it off to my dad because it was too strong for my liking. I was 15, cut me some slack!

Thinking back on my first day in Mexico, I laugh at the fact that my biggest fear was stepping on a sea urchin. If that was all I had to fear, then I was extremely fortunate. Never, while I was petting that dolphin, sipping my daiquiri, or eating that divine salsa, did I ever worry that someone might try to kidnap me and my family, or start shooting at us unexpectedly.

In September 2010, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to those traveling to Mexico, to be on guard and alert at all times, due to the rising violence. The drug gangs that are taking over these cities and killing innocent lives are doing a superb job of repelling tourists from the beauty that Mexico has to offer. It is a shame since it is such a popular tourist destination for so many. It is unfortunate that even all-inclusive resorts are no longer safe. Tourists are becoming just as much of a target for these drug cartels and it is not just occurring in and around the border.

Just today, CNN reported that the Jonas brothers were canceling their concert in Monterrey, due to the “rising wave of violence” brought on my drug gangs “battling one another.”  At the end of September, a husband and wife were on the U.S./Mexican border, jet skiing, when they crossed over into Mexican water and the husband was shot in the head. According to Sky News, pirates are being blamed for the murder of David Hartley, but the drug gangs are making it difficult for authorities to investigate.

For the past year and a half, at least, news reports are constantly telling us about the heinous crimes being committed by drug gangs in Mexico. Beheadings, shootings, and kidnappings seem to be the typical work of the members of these drug cartels. I don’t know about you, but those three words: beheadings, shootings, and kidnappings, are enough to keep me away from Mexico and its borders.

I hope one day tourists can return safely to this tropical haven and enjoy the splendors of places like Cozumel and Cancun. Until the Mexican government steps in and takes a stronger role on nailing these drug gangs, my vacations will be spent elsewhere, in places where I won’t feel that my life is in danger.


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