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Travel Advisory? Count Me In!

“If you’re like Vicki and me,” writes intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst, “you’ve been reading about violence in Mexican border towns. In some cases, the police have given up and left.

“Whole neighborhoods have come under the control of gangsters. Obama announced the U.S. will beef up security on its side of the border.

“What to make of all this? I figure it’s time to start planning a trip to Mexico. Other tourists will get scared away, and we’ll have the place to ourselves.

“Vicki and I first noticed the joys of traveling to hot spots years ago, when Chileans were rioting in Santiago. Then-president Pinochet declared an 11 p.m. curfew to keep demonstrators off the streets. The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory, and Chile became off-limits for tourists. But Vicki and I had been planning a vacation to Vina del Mar, Chile, for some time. We decided to go anyway, even though most tourists canceled their trips.

“Our first surprise was the hotel. We found a three-story, family-run hotel on the coast road. The front rooms had magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and beaches. To our surprise, the front rooms were quite a bit cheaper than those in the rear. Reason? Traffic on the coast road made the front rooms too noisy. But with an 11 p.m curfew, we soon discovered there was no traffic and no noise at all. We took the cheaper rooms with the best views.

“The casino opened at more convenient hours, and restaurant owners went out of their way to give us the best fish, to offer discounts, and to cater to our every need. We were the only ones there.

“The same thing happened to us in Turkey during the 1990 war against Kuwait. Turkey was on the sidelines in that conflict, but still tourists stayed away.

“Last year we visited Oman, next door to Yemen. Yemen is on the alert list, and we decided not to visit. Yet we talked to foreigners living in Oman who had recently visited Yemen and fully enjoyed themselves. More to the point: Oman is on the sidelines of the Middle East conflicts. This is a very good time to visit Oman.

“More recently, Vicki and I have spent time in Thailand. First came SARS, then bird flu, then terrorism in the south, and finally the political unrest last December. In every case, tourists stayed away. We were the beneficiaries, enjoying better deals, less crowded restaurants, and easier travel without the hordes.

“Sometimes people stay away just because there’s news, even if it’s good news. In the early 1990s, Mexico devalued the peso from 3 to 10 to the dollar, and tourism dried up. The country was dirt cheap; prices were just a fraction of what they’d been. Yet Canadians and Americans had heard about ‘trouble’ or ‘collapse’ south of the border. They decided not to visit, even though that was, in fact, the best time to go.

“Let’s be clear about this. In that long ago trip to Chile, Vicki and I stayed away from the riots in Santiago de Chile, the capital. In Mexico these days, you’ll want to avoid the war-ravaged border towns and any other places run by outlaws. But you could visit the old colonial cities up in the mountains–my favorite is Guanajato. Or head for the beaches, from Mazatlan south to Huatulco. My favorite is Puerto Vallarta.

“You’ll need to exercise normal caution, as always, when traveling. But if you pay attention to news stories and head for the right places, you should have a safe trip. To paraphrase what one traveler says, ‘Choose your destination from the list of U.S. government travel warnings.’

“I take this to mean both that the warned countries have more to offer…and that they’ll be less crowded. Plus, the warnings tell you where and how to avoid the problems.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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MAILBAG:

“I think you guys are missing a most fantastic retirement spot–namely, Santa Marta, Colombia.

“I have lived in Colombia for nearly seven years, four on the island of San Andres in the Caribbean and the last three in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, four hours by bus from Cartagena. For me, Cartagena is way over-populated (especially with foreigners) and over-priced. Heck, Donald Trump has bought up nearly all the coast outside Cartagena for his high-rise condo developments. But Santa Marta is another story. You need to check it out fast.

“The president of Colombia has been diverting tons of money into restoring cities. Santa Marta is just finishing the refurbishment of its main downtown/beach park, the entire boardwalk of 12 blocks in front of beach, and the downtown Lover’s Park (Parque de Novios), complete with free Wi-Fi Internet access, etc.

“You still can buy nice homes in decent areas for US$15,000 if you look hard enough. For US$75,000, you could buy a huge three-bedroom beachfront condo with a fabulous ocean view at nearby Rodadero, sort of the Riviera of Colombia. Fifteen minutes outside the main city, you can buy a country home on nearly 2 acres for US$65,000. And on and on.

“Investing in business? Heck, there is a 15-room mini-hotel/monthly room rentals, a half-block from main beach, US$85,000.

“But prices have jumped over 250% in the three years I have been here.

“There is an international airport.”

— Tom Y., Colombia

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