Original story via the Ottawa Citizen - by Stephen Maher, January 26, 2012 - Photo provided by Huatulco Life
Take precautions, then crack a cerveza
After I checked my email at a poolside bar in Playa del Carmen last week, I checked the news, and read about Sheila Nabb's terrible injuries in Mazatlan.
Nabb, a 37-year-old Calgary office worker, was attacked in an elevator at her five-star resort in the small hours of the morning. Every bone in her face was broken and she faces a long, painful recovery.
On my flight back to snowy Ottawa, I watched a TV story about another Canadian attacked in Mazatlan.
Scott Giddy, of Fergus, Ont., was beaten over the head near the same resort last spring.
The TV networks have been playing these stories in heavy rotation, asking whether Canadians should feel safe travelling to Mexico.
These are compelling personal stories, the kind of news that keeps you from clicking your remote, and it is easy for producers to justify this sensationalism because the TV stations are making Canadians aware of the risks of travelling to Mexico, which are real.
But there are risks, also, with a day on the nearest ski hill, with the drive to the ski hill, with taking a cruise in Italy, or even staying locked in your own residence in Canada, where you might slip in the tub and crack your head.
As we become safer and richer, our culture becomes ever more risk averse, and stories like Nabb's and Giddy's loom too large in our thoughts.
It would be unwise, to be sure, to take a holiday in Ciudad Juárez, on the Rio Grande, where ruthless and well-financed drug cartels are engaged in an unbelievably grim war for control of the choke point of the multi-billion-dollar cocaine pipeline that runs from the jungles of Colombia to the noses of your neighbours.
They find bodies all over the place in that unhappy city - often headless, disfigured bodies. Police officers quit their jobs out of mortal terror, and the morgue sometimes runs out of space. It's so bad that hundreds of thousands of locals have fled to safer cities.
But Mexico is not a place. It is a bunch of places, and some of them are safer than places in Canada.
I had a great time in Yucatan province last week, inland from Playa del Carmen. We rented a car and drove to Chichén Itza, which is stunning, and spent a happy night at a fiesta among the welcoming people of the colonial city of Vallodilid, watching proud young people dancing in beautiful, hand-embroidered clothes.
The murder rate in Yucatan is 2 per 100,000. Thunder Bay's murder rate is 4.2 per 100,000.
In 2011, six Canadians were murdered in Mexico, which is six tragedies, but 1.6 million Canadians went there - enough to fill the Air Canada Centre 80 times.
In 2010, according to crime statistics compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs, four Canadians were killed in Mexico, two in the Dominican Republic, one in Costa Rica, five in the United States and none in Cuba or Costa Rica.
When you divide the number of murders by the number of tourists, you get one death per 8.5 million in the United States, one per 400,000 in Mexico and the Dominican Republic and one per 150,000 in Costa Rica.
But I'm not sure there's even any point to giving it that much thought, because all the numbers are so low. In Mexico in 2010, 21 Canadians died in accidents and 76 died of natural causes, many among the 60,000 retirees who live there.
And last week many people were bashed on the head here in Canada.
The expatriates I spoke to in the lovely beachside bars of Tulum, down the coast from Cancun, are more worried about potholes than being murdered.
In Canada, we have nine road fatalities per year per 100,000 inhabitants. Compare that number to the number of Canadians murdered in Mexico, and you have to come to the conclusion that crime in Mexico is not worth thinking about very much.
That doesn't mean you can't find trouble. You can find trouble in Thunder Bay if you go looking for it.
Don't go to Ciudad Juárez. Wherever you go, don't get hammered and wander around with your wallet bulging in your back pocket. Get your hotel to call you a taxi. Don't drive at night. Don't bring a prostitute back to your hotel room. Don't buy drugs. If you go out at night, stay on busy, well-lit streets.
Keep your eyes open but don't think about it too much. Obsessing about the tragic stories of the small number of people who get attacked or murdered in Mexico distorts our risk calculations and makes us needlessly fearful.
Mexico is amazing. The chances of anything bad happening to you there are small.
Do you want to live your life obsessing about tiny risks or do you want to enjoy the fiesta?
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