Mexico has a PR Problem

And in all honesty, the severity of the problem is not well deserved. I’ve been in Mexico these past four and a half years – off the track, in the heart of the country so to speak – and what is being said in the press about Mexico and the truths of the matter are seriously out of alignment.

I think what could go a long way towards correcting the situation would be a new guidebook written for an international audience that both correctly assesses the current levels of danger as well as gives depth and detail to the many wonders that are Mexico; and done on a state by state basis.

Let me explain.

First let’s list the problems behind the bad PR: drug cartels, stratospheric violence, kidnapping, and personal safety fears.

The reality is all those problems do exist – but what is not said in the mainstream media – are mostly confined 99% of the time to the criminal elements themselves. In otherwords, it’s cartel on cartel violence with the occasional police dust-up thrown in. Civilians are rarely included. And if they are it’s generally confined to the occasional kidnapping of some local who was stupid enough to telegraph his wealth by living ostentatiously.

So apart from doing something equally stupid, the average international traveler has very little to fear. And by following the usual rules of conduct that any sensible person would employ in any major world city, Mexico is as safe a place for a tourist to travel as say a place like the US.

The stats available on the web suggests that Mexico tourism is a growth industry and accounts for something like 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP. Regardless, the country still has a major worldwide perception problem  and there seems to be little if anything done here to address it.

I have proposed to a friend who has federal political ties that an easy ready made solution to combat the negative PR might be something as simple as for an agency like The Mexican Department of Culture or The Mexican Department of Tourism to sponsor a first rate travel book targeted at the international community that would allay those fears and present Mexico as the true multifaceted cultural gem it is by highlighting everything from the regional antiquities, architectures, and cuisines.

So you think that’s already been done right? There are after all numerous Mexican guidebooks that should meet any travelers needs but like most conventional wisdom there is a significant gap between meets needs and what constitutes first rate.

My Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico might weigh in at a hefty 1000 pages but it fails miserably to even reach the quality level of meets needs. How could it when it devotes a mere 29 pages to the entire great state  of Michoacan and then totally omits the entire state of Sineloa?

How can 29 pages do justice to Michoacan which boasts 130 miles of Pacific coast, several volcanic lakes, one of CNN’s 7 Natural Wonders of the World (the Volcano Paricutin), 8 Pueblos Magicos, and several World Heritage sites including: old town Morelia, The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, as well as those UNESCO Intangible Culture of Humanity designations that includes the epicenter for The Day of the Dead celebration (Lake Patzcuaro), also Michoacan’s cuisine, and then the indigenous Purepecha vocal tradition.

That’s right, Michoacan’s cuisine has been designated as an UNESCO Intangible Culture of Humanity. And you thought Mexican food was just tacos and whatnot. Shame on you. Or if you are slightly more knowledgeable you might recognize the distinct cuisines that come from Puebla or Oaxaca. But what you most definitely didn’t know was there are almost innumerable different – as in distinctly different – food traditions scattered across the entire country.

Take Michoacan as an example. It is one of the most bountiful states when it comes to food crops. The state is number one in the world in the production of avocados. The state’s cuisine includes foods that exist nowhere else in Mexico such as fruit gazpachos, uchepos (green corn tamales), corundas with rice and beans, atole beverages, and carnitas – delicious pig parts and meat boiled in its own rendered fat.

Did you realize that the average traveler to Mexico does at most just three things here while incountry? They hit one of the megabeach resort areas typified by Cancun, see a pre-Colombian ruin or two, visit Mexico City (or Guadalajara, or Oaxaca, or Puebla) and call it day; returning home like they experienced the real Mexico.

What a laugh. I am learning almost every day just how unique my little region is situated in northwest Michoacan (forget about the rest of Mexico). You only need to go a few kilometers in any direction to experience a significant change in temperature or do a time travel to a Mexico that hasn’t changed much in a century. It’s astounding that the people who live just 7 km. away in Jiquilpan eat different food than we do here in Sahuayo.

And so what do you think semi-affluent Mexicans do for vacations? Somewhat unsurprisingly – depending on season – they hit one of those same beaches as do the incoming foreigners. Or maybe they take a trip to the US or Europe.

What this means is the average person, Mexican or otherwise, knows next to nothing about the spectacular array of truly marvelous landscapes, adventures and experiences that lie between the beaches, the precious few highly publicized ruins, and major cities.

Did you realize there are ruins and pre-Colombian antiquities found just about everywhere in Mexico? I was down in my friend, Max’s shop this morning and his buddy, Juan stopped by carrying 2 partial (just the heads) figurines measuring about 4 inches tall each of some fired clay effigies that dated back to somewhere like the fourteen century.

Stuff like that is so commonly found that Juan paid just 400 pesos ($20) for the both of them.

I continually marvel that I am still a guest in this country which continues to surprise me with its absolute density of mysteries and marvels.

And someone should write a book about it before anymore of it gets paved over by that relentless engine of progress.

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