Mexico! The country awakens a score of emotions. For those who live at least a few hundred miles from America’s southern border, the country is all about relaxation, a good time, a mellow sun, spectacular water, and food second to none. Ranchers and residents who happen to live in close proximity to the wall or lack thereof face other issues. Those we will sift through another day.
Mexico does tourism well, and despite the growing violence in states such as Guerrero and Michoacan, they entice at least forty-million frozen northerners across the border every winter, and that’s not counting the hundreds of cruise ship passengers who stop at a score of warm Mexican ports like Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel and Cancun. Most avoid the unseasonably cool high desert country where I find myself.
Expat communities flourish in the sun along the Nayarit coast and at least a dozen other areas of the country, and even though Mexico has vaulted to number one as the most dangerous country for kidnapping in the world, the price of beach area real estate appears to have held up well. The Mexican tourism industry has done a stellar job of downplaying the violence, and though a few disturbing anomalies skew their murder statistics, be assured that most of the mayhem happens outside of the tourist areas.
Unfortunately, my favorite places in Mexico no longer slot into that tourist-favoured category. I love the Sierra Madre. So does Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel. Though he is now in one of America’s Super-max prisons, his organization is alive and well. The whole area is sketchy at best.
But—if you’re adventurous, put a train trip through the massive Copper Canyon on your bucket list (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Then, take the ferry from Los Mochis across to the southern Baja city of La Paz. It’s a reasonably laid-back atmosphere until the Mexican celebration of Carneval. Traditionally celebrated the week before Lent, the event is wild and wooly, filled with gaudy parades and a crazy carnival atmosphere. Every room in the city is filled. If you’re unlucky enough to be there, it’s safest to stroll the malecon at nine-o-clock in the morning. You’ll be able to view the carnage without the danger of being stripped of everything you own.
If Carneval in La Paz is too tame for your blood, take the ferry back across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan. Carneval there is even bigger, rivaling New Orleans Mardi Gras for crazy. Oh, one other small item. A cartel war has made it dangerous enough that cruise ships have regrettably crossed that port off their list, but if you’re careful, it’s probably still okay. The history of the city is like few other places in Mexico. For most of a century it remained the gateway to the silver mines. Untold wealth passed through here. Some of it stayed. One of the most ornate examples is the Angela Peralta Theater just off the Plaza Machado which should be at the top of your list of things to do. Whatever is playing, buy a ticket.
I well remember loitering in a plaza one sultry evening listening to a couple of expats discuss the city. I’d become acquainted with one of them in the Spanish language school my wife Pat and I were attending...
“I’ve been everywhere in Mexico, and Mazatlan has the most beautiful women of anywhere in the country,” he declared. The gentleman went on to state his theory of why that was so, something to do with European sailors cohabiting with the local enticing indigenous females. I shrug. Certainly those of the fairer sex who stroll along the malécon give credence to his rationale. I trace my way through the dark back streets to the quiet cul-de-sac where we stay with Lupita who knows nothing of our foreign tongue. We converse in Spanish. Or rather, she does. We listen, and occasionally nod as we grasp at whatever few syllables we recognize. Eventually, those sentences will untangle enough to have meaning, but for now, my undisciplined mind numbs with exotic words that all run together. Then it stalls completely and I wander back to the expat’s premise. I doubt he’s right, but it’s a lovely city, and who am I to argue?