Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Addressing the Safety Issue in Puerto Penasco

Panic
-by La Huerita

Lately there have been two opposing camps arguing about safety in Puerto Penasco. One camp is mostly of the "It's perfectly safe, absolutely nothing to worry about" variety; the other insists "It's dangerous, full of crooks, murderers, drug-related crime and I may never return".

Both camps have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support their positions. Both are partly right and partly wrong.

Is Puerto Penasco perfectly safe? No. Is it a dangerous place to visit? No. Let's address the issue objectively.

Right now, due to the state of the economy, Puerto Penasco is tense. Construction jobs have disappeared, tourism has dried up, business in the local restaurants and bars has nosedived, no one is buying souvenirs and generally speaking things are not looking good for the Mexicans who live there. Add to that a well-publicized drug-related assassination (four people who had been followed to Penasco from Caborca and were gunned down in their car, shocking because of the rarity of such an event), the lingering effects of the swine flu scare and the misleading travel warnings from the US State Department and college officials and it's safe to say that the local populace is worried. If you are in town for longer than a weekend and have any meaningful interaction with the locals it is impossible not to notice it.

Given those conditions, it would be unnatural if crime did not increase. But what kind of crime are we talking about? Murder? Mayhem? Gangs? Drug cartels fighting it out on the street corners?

For the most part it involves petty crimes such as theft, burglary, drunk and disorderly, that sort of thing. Mixed up in that is the increasing use of methamphetamines among younger people, which inevitably leads to various types of theft. Except for the occasional theft/burglary most of it rarely affects tourists and the weekend warriors.

In other words, it's pretty standard stuff for a city of 45,000 anywhere in the world, and for a coastal town making a transition to tourism as its major source of income it is unexceptional. As of now Penasco has not become a hotbed of drug cartel violence, its violent crime rate is low and there has been no kidnapping or major harassment of tourists. Does that mean that you are perfectly safe in Penasco? Of course not, but keeping things in perspective you are almost surely not perfectly safe where you are now, either.

The biggest dangers to tourists and gringo residents in Penasco are the same as those throughout the country: Motor vehicle accidents and drowning, which are by far the leading causes of non-natural death among foreigners in Mexico. In both cases, records indicate that excessive alcohol consumption is usually a contributing factor.

Memorial Day Weekend recently passed and the town was pretty full of tourists having a good time. None of them were murdered. Coming up on June 6 is the highly anticipated Circus Mexicus with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers; hopefully the town will be packed again for this event, and the odds of anyone experiencing violence at the hands of Mexicans are very slim.

The usual caveats apply when you visit Puerto Penasco: Don't leave your brain at the border; don't flash money around; be aware of your surroundings; don't go to the kinds of places you would never visit at home; don't forget you are in a foreign country with its own laws and customs; don't bring weapons or do drugs; if you're nervous, stay with a group and don't go out on your own at night; try real hard not to drink so much that you get totally stupid.

Puerto Penasco is as safe as any other tourist destination, probably safer than many of them, and you are not risking life and limb by visiting. The vast VAST majority of gringos who visit or live in Puerto Penasco rarely suffer anything worse than a bad hangover, a sunburn, and maybe paying too much for a bad hamburger or a trinket. There is no cause to believe that your own experience will be any different.

Of course, dealing with US Immigration at the border when you're trying to get back into the USA, well, that's another story... ;-)

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