Is It Really Safe?
It’s the question we get most frequently:
“Is it really safe?”
Some readers pose it more directly:
“Why do you keep misleading readers, Kathleen, telling them Fill In Country Name X is safe when it isn’t? Haven’t you read the State Department’s warnings? Haven’t you watched the CNN footage? Haven’t you seen the statistics? Do you have your head in the sand? Or do you just not care about the safety of your readers?”
Recently, these questions have come in response to our coverage of Medellin, Colombia. We get them every time we write about Belize, as well. And, now that we’re featuring Puerto Vallarta on our short list of world’s best havens, we’re drowning in anti-Mexico mail…including, for example, this reader comment received overnight:
“Dear Ms. Peddicord,
“While I enjoy and benefit from your comments on where and how to retire abroad, I really can’t understand how, with all the violent, pervasive, and deadly Drug Trade Wars going on in Mexico, you can honestly suggest people retire there. I for one would not be at all comfortable advising retirees to move to or invest in Mexico…no matter how much I needed to peddle books, tapes, and seminars just to line my pockets with money…”
It’s hard to respond to these kinds of remarks without sounding defensive…but I’ll try. Because, in truth, I don’t have anything to defend…just something to try to correct. A fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on here.
I don’t need to promote Puerto Vallarta…or anywhere in Mexico. I don’t need to promote Colombia or Belize either. I need to get up each morning, fire up my laptop, and compose some thoughts on some place or some opportunity that I hope will be of interest to the hundreds of thousands of readers of these dispatches. I need to do that, first, because, at this point, I’m not sure what else I’d do each morning if I didn’t do that. Hard at this stage to break a habit developed over more than a quarter-century.
I need to do that, second, because, right, that’s how I make my living.
But needing to communicate something of interest to you each day, dear reader, does not equate to needing to promote Puerto Vallarta. I’m not suggesting that you consider reinventing your life in this lovely Mexican coastal city because I have to. I’m suggesting you consider reinventing your life in Puerto Vallarta because it’s a lovely Mexican coastal city…with much else to recommend it besides.
I could recommend anywhere…right? But I’m choosing right now to recommend, among other places, Puerto Vallarta.
Yes, I’ve read the State Department warnings. Yes, I realize Mexico is losing its battle with drug lords and gang thugs. And, yes, I do take my responsibility to you very seriously. Why would I intentionally send you and your fellow readers off to a place where I believed you’d be at risk? That doesn’t seem like a very long-term business strategy to me. Sooner rather than later I’d run out of readers.
Here’s something I’d like you to take for granted whenever reading one of my dispatches: I don’t recommend any place that I have any reason to believe is unsafe. A place can have more or less developed infrastructure, more or less international-standard health care, a more or less comfortable climate…but unsafe is unacceptable. I agree.
That said, you’ve got to keep all this in perspective.
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent my early working years coming and going from an East Baltimore Street office. Local drug dealers hung out and did business on the street corners and the front stoops (that’s what we call front porch steps in Baltimore). Sometimes they shot each other. Sometimes they shot at each other and missed but hit someone else. The murder by gun rate in Baltimore remains, I believe, among the highest in the country.
Baltimore is also the only place in the world, among all the places I’ve traveled, where I’ve been mugged.
I know what dangerous looks like.
I also understand that the danger zones in Baltimore, like (and this is the real point) anywhere, are contained. It’d be silly and unfair to say that all Baltimore is a miserable, gang-ruled battle zone. Though that’s a reasonable description of some downtown neighborhoods.
Most all my family lives in Baltimore still. In very nice neighborhoods where they’re happy to let their kids play outside and ride their bicycles back and forth to friends’ houses.
So, if it’d be silly to say that all Baltimore is too unsafe a place to live because of the drug and gang problems in particular downtown Baltimore City neighborhoods (and it would)…what would it be to say that all the United States is too unsafe a place to live because of crime and safety concerns in particular downtown Baltimore City neighborhoods?
That’s also what it is to think that all Mexico or all Colombia or all Belize is a war zone, at the mercy of drug gangs and other low-lifes, because, yes, these countries have those problems. But not all over. You want to avoid some areas in all three of those countries…just as you want to avoid some areas in any country…or city.
But Puerto Vallarta? Medellin? San Ignacio in Belize’s Cayo District? These places I continue to heartily recommend as among the most appealing places to spend time anywhere in the world today…for many reasons, including that, yes, they are safe.
I return to Baltimore at least once a year, to see my family and old friends. I’m aware of the safety concerns in this city. I grew up with them. I don’t let them keep me away.
But neither do I walk through Patterson Park alone at 2 a.m.