About an hour south of Puerto Penasco, on the newly renamed Sonora Hwy. 003 (formerly Hwy 37), you will reach a stop sign at a Y-shaped fork in the road. Continue on to the left for about 40 miles and you will reach the city of Heroica Caborca. Make the sharp turn to the right and you will be heading toward the beaches at Desemboque.
A small town is located at that fork in the road. Officially named Plutarco Elías Calles (after the president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928), the town is locally known as La Y Griega ("the Greek Y"), or even more informally simply as "the Y", due to the shape of that fork in the road. With a population of around 3,000, this peaceful little community boasts little in the way of services other than a Pemex station, a police sub-station, some mini supermercados and mechanic/tire repair shops.
On Wednesday, June 3, 2009 the tranquility of that little town was shattered when a convoy of vehicles filled with armed men rolled in, reportedly kidnapped several employees of a local tire shop at gunpoint, shot up the police sub-station, several parked cars and nearby businesses and houses, then fled. The Mexican Army, AFI, PESP, Policía Federal, municipal police and a helicopter were promptly called in to help search for the criminals. To say that the town was traumatized by the event would be an understatement.
At about 6:00 the next morning one of the vehicles used in the attack was spotted by a Highway Patrol officer and a chase ensued. The driver apparently leaped out of the vehicle at some point and fled on foot, leaving the engine running. Inside the stolen Yukon SUV 11 bodies were found, along with some sort of drug-related messages which were not made public by authorities.
Through all that, 60 miles away life went on as usual in Rocky Point, which was buzzing with anticipation of a big concert scheduled for June 6. Rocky Point, blissfully unaware of the incident in Y Griega, was not directly affected by it at all.
The incident was covered well and accurately in Rocky Point News Online. It was covered briefly and less accurately by Channel 12 in Phoenix, AZ, which followed the usual US media pattern of scaring people to death about violence in Mexico without presenting the whole picture or, frankly, any perspective at all.
Is there an uptick in drug-related violence in the Caborca to Sonoyta area? It's beginning to look like that may be the case. Does that mean Puerto Penasco is a dangerous place to visit? Perhaps-- if you are connected to the drug culture.
Let me put it this way. Reports of gang/drug-related violence in the greater Los Angeles area do not stop tourists from flocking to the beach communities and theme parks within an hour's drive. The very high level of violent crime in New Orleans does not stop tourists from enjoying the French Quarter. The fact that Atlanta is the new drug-cartel capital of the USA does not deter people from visiting that city to enjoy all it has to offer.
Yet the well-publicized drug-related violence in Mexico, which affects Mexican citizens involved in the drug trade almost exclusively, prevents potential visitors to Mexico's resort communities from even considering a vacation there.
The only connection between Y Griega and Puerto Penasco is that they are Sonoran towns that happen to be on the same highway. But the PERCEPTION, fueled primarily by sensationalist news coverage that promotes hysteria at the expense of facts, is that if you visit Puerto Penasco you will be taking your life in your hands. Ignoring that perception will not make it go away, it must be countered as publicly as possible and as often as possible with facts and proper perspective. Otherwise, as is too often the case, perception will become reality in the minds of many, and that perception, left unchecked, could become more of a danger to the future of Puerto Penasco than the drug trade itself.
In the meantime, the much anticipated Circus Mexicus with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers was well attended last night (June 6), and this morning the revelers have been enjoying the Mananathon after-party at JJ's Cantina. No one got killed, no heads were chopped off, and other than some pretty bad hangovers everyone is still having a good time today.
Around town, the Camel Toe Cantina still has live music three nights a week (Thursdays: Akustikos (Mexican and American Rock) and Banda Sinaloence (Traditional Banda Music). Friday: Grupo Norto (Nortena Music). Saturday: Akustikos again).
The Baja Cantina still has its pool tournament every Tuesday at 6:00PM.
Each Wednesday and Thursday you can enjoy the Horseshoe Tournament at the SandBar Paradise Beach Club in the Mirador and a Jam Session in the Crows Nest at the Lighthouse Restaurant is ongoing on Wednesday nights at 9:00PM.
There are more regularly scheduled events-- and SPECIAL Events-- listed on our Events page; they are not stopping because of any unrealistic perception of danger.
And every day there are beaches to enjoy, tide pools to explore, good food to eat and new friends to meet in Puerto Penasco.
As I have said previously:
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.
See you there!