Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Way Through Mexico

Because of a conversation about the possibility of driving to El Salvador, I decided to see if I could map out a reasonable way there. I know from articles like this one that not all of Mexico is a war zone, plenty of the country is much safer than America. Surely, there must be a way through Mexico involving a minimal risk beyond the normal car issues.

So, I found Google's suggested map to El Salvador and proceeded to google the names of cities as I would hit them. 

Right off the bat, I hit a snag. The directions send me through the city of Chihuahua. It was pretty clear from reading about it that this is a rough city. Avoiding it to the East is not possible. The next reasonable option is Ciudad Juarez where murder rates top those in Afghanistan. Going West seemed reasonable though. So I moved the map so it would go through the rather calm city of Hermosillo.This actually looked like a reasonable route past the border, so I was thinking I might actually be able to pull this off.

Then I came across the State Department recommendations about where not to travel in Mexico.

The city of Nogales, where I would cross the border is also on the do not visit list. OK, fine. They also suggest that the crossing at Sonoyta is actually pretty good. This still left me with a reasonable path a few hundred miles into Mexico without going anywhere actually dangerous.

Then I returned to checking city by city all the ones I was passing through. Culiacan unfortunately came up quickly. The second most dangerous city in Mexico and another one on the state department don't go here list.

Now it became clear. It is not possible to drive into Mexico without going through an area the state department considers too dangerous to be worth your trouble. There is a triangle from Culican all the way to Ciudad Juarez  and in to the state of Tamaulipas on the Atlantic coast which is not considered safe.

The reasonable routes I saw at this point would send me through the most dangerous city in Mexico, the second most dangerous city in Mexico, or Chihuahua which is not very nice. None of these seemed particularly appealing; although the suggestion Google makes of going through Chihuahua would probably be fine. If nothing else it would be high traffic from all the people Google sends that direction.

There does appear to be a ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. Baja California and Tijuana are generally considered safe by the State Department. So you could make it pretty far without going anywhere too rough.  Still, once you leave Mazatlan you will be in areas the State Department does not consider safe. A five hour drive from Mazatlan though would put you in Guadalajara which has no suggested cautions from the State Department. You won't spend much time in the area it suggests against, and you should be able to make it in one shot on a toll road. That left me with this route, which really does seem the way to through Mexico which does the best job of avoiding places the state department says to avoid. Still, even then it is not possible to drive across Mexico without passing through some of these areas.

On the plus sides, Homicides in El Salvador are down 40% in a year, and Mexico is even doing a bit better than it was. So now would be a much more reasonable time to make the trip than a few years ago would have been. In reality, murder is probably not a risk worth worrying too much about. Even in the bad cities most people killed are gang members and the total murder rates rarely go much over 150 per 100,000 people per year. A few hours there wouldn't much exceed the risk I faced living in Pico Rivera or Fresno. However an American would be a real target for kidnapping since it would be obvious they are not a local and have money.

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