I have been living in Mexico for well over seven months now. While mostly based at Mision Mexico in Tapachula, Chiapas I also have spent five weeks in the famous surf town of Puerto Escondido and I have visited the beautiful cultural and colonial centers of San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque, Oaxaca City and the capital Mexico City. In essence I have experienced life here from not only a tourist perspective but also from an everyday Mexican perspective while working in Tapachula. From my experience what I can tell you is that Mexico is definitely a country of extreme contrasts largely dependent on where you visit.
Unfortunately when most people think of Mexico more often than not the first thing that comes to mind is Cartels, drug trafficking and violent murder and this perception and fear often curtails ones potential travel plans before they even begin. However, if one was to purely stick to the well beaten track (the "Gringo Trail") and to solely visit tourist friendly locations such as San Cristobel, Oaxaca, Tulum, Cabo and Cancun one could almost be forgiven for thinking that all of the media hype surrounding the dangers of Mexico has been blown well out of proportion. Many of the aforementioned places are very pleasant, clean, and safe destinations for foreign visitors although simple safety precautions should still be taken. These tourist hubs are filled with strong colonial and cultural attributes and are often of close proximity to some astoundingly beautiful and breath taking natural attractions. These attractions range from stunning Aztec and Mayan ruins to gorgeous Colonial towns, churches and squares. The country is rich with beautiful traditional arts, clothing, festivals and not to mention the mouthing watering (yet stupidly cheap) cuisine. The natural beauty in Mexico is truly jaw dropping with breathtaking waterfalls, forests, mountains/volcanoes and stunningly beautiful beaches...Mexico has all of this in abundance and much, much more. [Continued below]
However, once you venture from the well beaten trail and move away from your popular tourist locations to your more typical Mexican towns, villages and cities you may be able to gain a more realistic view into the real lives of Mexicans. Often life in Mexico isn't always as peachy as the postcard cities and stunning landscapes would have you believe and poverty and crime can be readily abundant if you look hard enough. For the majority of Mexicans life in this beautiful although at times violent country is tough, very tough. Mexicans often have to work ridiculously hard for most of their lives for next to nothing by Western standards but still they are more often happy with what they have than what they don't have. For most Mexicans family and friends are the main focus in their lives and not material possessions.
In the Southern border town of Tapachula where I spent the majority of my time while living in Mexico I was often presented with real life examples of the everyday challenges facing many Mexicans. Tapachula is located very close to the Mexican/Guatemalan border and thus brings with it many of the typical problems associated with a border town. Tapachula is a common staging point for many immigrants traveling through Central America on route to the USA to chase the American dream. This border zone, while not nearly as dangerous as it's Northern counterpart bordering the USA it is still very dangerous at times. It is not uncommon for drug related crime to take place and unfortunately many desperate immigrants often become targets for robberies and ransom kidnappings while young women and even children can become abduction targets for human trafficking and/or for sex workers in the sex industry.
Fortunately during my stay in Mision Mexico I was sheltered from most of these issues...well apart from being followed and aggressively asked for money on three separate occasions but luckily this was the worst of my personal experiences. I was fortunate to not be exposed to the darker sides of Mexican life as many of these dangers usually occurred outside of Tapachula in the smaller border villages. While during daylight hours the town is relatively safe with foreigners very rarely being targets for these more serious crimes.
While not being directly exposed to some of these harsh realities of Mexican life I was directly exposed to the affect of these issues during my six month stint volunteering at Mision Mexico. At Mision Mexico I worked closely with over 32 amazing children who were the direct victims of these issues and many of whom had been abused, abandoned and even homeless in their very short but difficult pasts. I will cover life in Mision Mexico much more closely in an upcoming post.
In essence Mexico is a stunningly beautiful and vibrant country with a strong sense of culture and history while containing some of the most humble and friendly people you will ever meet. While many travelers will never experience life outside of the picture perfect tourist zones please do not be fooled as life outside of these popular tourist hotspots is hard. While the dark side of Mexico can be easily avoided one does not have to scratch to deeply below the surface to discover the hardships and dangers lurking below which is unfortunately often a part of the everyday life of many Mexicans.
Ending on a positive note I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering visiting Mexico to not be put off by these negative issues and much of the negative media surrounding Mexico as most tourist destinations in Mexico are readily safe especially if you do your home work and take basic travel and safety precautions. Please come and experience this beautiful and vibrant country and I can guarantee that you will have the time of your life.