Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Ad Gone Awry and A New Travel Warning for HWY 8. Gosh Dang It...

Two unconnected things have occurred within the last week that have stirred up passions within Arizona and threaten to further devastate Puerto Penasco's (and Sonora's) already shaky tourism. Neither needed to happen and the reaction to both is hyperbolic, in my opinion. I'm going to take a look at both and try to add some sanity to the mix.

First I'm going to discuss the already infamous ad which the Sonora Tourism Bureau recently ran in the Arizona Republic. What they meant to show was that Sonora is safe, that tourists are being watched over, and Sonora wants Arizonans to come down and play. But whoever devised the ad and whoever approved it had their heads in the nether regions of their anatomy, because instead of being reassuring it caused many Arizonans-- who are already hyper sensitive for various reasons-- to believe Sonora was threatening them.

Big oops. Click on the picture above to see it bigger and you'll understand why. If you have images turned off in your browser, I'll describe it for you:

It shows a close-up of a young man's head, wearing what looks to be a camouflaged military helmet and peering through a big pair of binoculars. The text says: "In Sonora We Are Looking For People From Arizona".

The reactions were immediate and severe. The blogosphere, especially the right wing blogosphere, ran it to death with headlines such as "Mexican Government Runs Threatening Ad… In the Arizona Republic Newspaper". FOX news loved the story (Michelle Malkin ran with it in her blog); Sheriff Joe Arpaio urged people to call the 1-800 number on the ad and demand to know what it meant. Hysteria ensued.

Well, apparently, the Arizona Republic cut off half the ad. It was supposed to say "...looking for people from Arizona who want to have fun.” In the reflection in the binoculars you can see families frolicking on the beach. (I'm not sure that's much better, since it just makes the young man look like a peeping tom.)

People, you've just got to get a grip. The ad was poorly thought out bad. Yes, it was a bad ad. But that's ALL it was: AN ADVERTISEMENT trying to entice people to visit Sonora.

This really reminds me of an incident in the late 1980s in Cabo (before Cabo was big and famous). Hubby and I were driving out of town toward our condo in Cabo Bello and we passed a flatbed truck packed full of young Mexican soldiers, all in uniform and armed to the teeth with assault rifles. They smiled and waved as we drove by. What was funny (hilarious, really) about that was the big sign draped across the side of the truck. It essentially said something like "The Mexican Army is here to protect you" and was meant to reassure gringo tourists who thought Pancho Villa was still on the loose out there.

Why was that funny? IT WAS WRITTEN IN SPANISH!

Sometimes good intentions do go awry. Don't get your knickers all in a twist about a misguided ad, or let it keep you away from a fun Memorial Day Weekend in Puerto Penasco.

Now for the second issue, which is much more serious. And since all the local Arizona media are running with it big time, it has much more sinister consequences.

I refer to a recent "Warden's Message" from the US Consulate in Nogales, AZ. I have some serious issues with this warning, as it seems to be backed up by little in the way of documentation. It starts off like this:

May 19, 2010
This Warden Message is to inform U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Mexico of security concerns for travelers driving on Highway 8 between the U.S./Mexico border and Puerto PeƱasco (Rocky Point). There have been unconfirmed reports that unauthorized checkpoints have been set up by unknown persons at night. Reports from those passing through these checkpoints indicate that the operators of the checkpoint only requested to see identification before allowing them to pass. U.S. Consulate Nogales strongly advises any traveler who must take this route do so during daylight hours.

The key words in that are "unconfirmed" and "at night". First: That vague word "unconfirmed". That's the biggie. Syononym: Rumors. The Consulate is using unconfirmed reports (from whom? how many? where are the details?) to warn people about possible danger on HWY 8. How many people who read that warning noticed that the warning was about DRIVING AT NIGHT? How many do you think just saw a general red flag that added to their paranoia about driving to Rocky Point?

Second: it is never safe to travel Mexico's roads at night, not just because of the threat of violence but because of the more realistic threat that you'll run into livestock on the roads at night. I mean LITERALLY run into livestock. And of course there's the increasing danger of being on the road with drunk drivers as the day gets old... Don't drive at night!

The warning also says: "At some checkpoints, motorists who have not stopped at unofficial checkpoints have been shot at and killed." Wouldn't you think that such incidents on Hwy 8 would have received media attention? Where did it happen? Who are/were those motorists? When did it happen? Why has NO ONE apparently heard of any such incidents? You KNOW that with the way the Mexican media loves to report on such things, complete with close-ups of any blood and gore, it should have been all over the newspapers in Sonoyta, Puerto Penasco and Caborca. But it wasn't

Perhaps that particular statement referred more generically to incidents elsewhere in Sonora, since the warning also "advised Consulate personnel to limit travel to major roads during daylight hours. Further, Consulate staff on official travel between cities must use armored vehicles."

At any rate, with the large number of people who travel regularly to Puerto Penasco from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, California, etc.-- entering Mexico via the Lukeville port of entry at various times of day and night-- you'd think that at least ONE would have reported being stopped or detained or in any way bothered along Hwy8. But there have been no such reports that I've been able to find (not counting being pulled over by the Highway Patrol for speeding).

I'm not trying to be a Pollyanna here. Late last year there WAS a car hijacking just south of Sonoyta that was very traumatic for the vehicle's occupants. There WERE 6 bodies (young Mexican men) found at an Ejido north of Penasco in a drug related incident. More recently there has been a rash of car thefts in Puerto Penasco, most specifically thefts of big, newer trucks such as Ford F-250s (take precautions).

But unauthorized stops, gunfire and murder along HWY 8? I'm skeptical, to say the least. Show me some solid evidence, please.

To the best of my knowledge there have been NO verified reports of detention, injury or death by aggression against Americans along Highway 8 between Sonoyta and Puerto Penasco/Rocky Point. If you're afraid to drive, take one of the several shuttles available to you from Phoenix and Tucson, and leave the driving to them. There have so far been NO threatening incidents with the shuttles.

And as is true when you are traveling anywhere, keep your eyes open, your wits about you and don't leave your brains at the border.

Sonora and Puerto Penasco would love to see you!