Is Mexico as dangerous as they say?
Season 6 : Project Alaska15 July 2022
In late 2019, I started my Patagonia to Alaska journey. From the first day I announced this journey, the messages about Mexico already started pouring in. Those were not messages telling me how beautiful Mexico was, how friendly the locals were, or how amazing the food is. They were all about how incredibly dangerous Mexico is, and how I should avoid going to that awful place.
Avoiding Mexico altogether did not make any sense to me, because the concept of overlanding the world on a motorcycle, kind of involves riding overland. And one glance on the map will show you that there is no other way to ride from Patagonia to Alaska without riding through Mexico.
This wasn’t the first time I had received messages about how dangerous a country was. When I rode through Central Asia, in countries like Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, I received tonnes of messages about how I was risking my life there. The same happened when I went to South Africa. Did I not know how dangerous it was there?
Many people I met along the way also told me how dangerous the neighbouring country was, or the next city or province further down. When I subsequently reached that next place, the locals there would tell me the exact same thing about the place I'd just come from. It confused me at first, but then I started to see patterns in how people perceive danger.
Perception of danger
First of all, the concepts of risk and danger are simply perceived differently by different people. Riding solo around the world on a motorcycle is considered a very dangerous activity by most. To me, it's just another day in the office. It's my day-to-day life. I would never be able to do this for years on end if I'd had to be afraid of doing so all the time. And yet, a few times I did speak out about the dangers of cartel activity in Mexico for example, and changed my route because of it. I then received messages stating that I was totally overreacting and there was nothing to be afraid of. It made me realize that everybody perceives danger differently. That means, it's up to you to identify what a true risk is for you and whether you are willing to take it or not.
The second thing I realized when it comes down to danger, is that many people instinctively fear the unknown (and then project those fears onto others). The far majority of warnings I receive about certain countries come from people that have actually never been there themselves. The fear is mainly based upon reading bad news in the media. Those stories in the newspapers surely are true, but unfortunately the media tends to always paint a more negative picture than the actual reality. A murder makes headlines, people helping out a stranded traveler doesn't. Listening to, undoubtedly well-meant, warnings from people that base their opinion on the news, is therefore something I never do.
Of course, I understand that warnings about all the dangers in the world are always very well-meant and it shows how involved people are with my journey. That concern is a type of love that I recognize and find incredibly amazing to receive from people that I haven't even ever met. However, receiving hundreds of messages about having to be careful on a daily basis, affects the joy that traveling the world on a motorcycle provides. No matter how well-meant the warnings are, they don't actually keep someone safer. All they unfortunately do is spread and project fears. Fears that aren't my own.
Daily dose of fear
This is to give you an idea of the messages that I receive in the hundreds, on a daily basis. Try reading these and then try to still feel safe, confident and excited about motorcycle adventures.
"Just be careful where you park your bike as you get closer to the USA. Don't become a victim of accidentally smuggling drugs in to the US"
"Be very careful swimming in thermal pools. The warm temperatures are great for Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that can enter through your nose or ear. It is almost 100% fatal unless caught very early which almost never happens. If you want to swim in thermal pools keep your head out of the water"
"2 murdered priests, please be careful!!"
“US Embassy just announced high security alerts in Baja Mexico today”
“Don't tell strangers that you are riding alone and where you are going”
"I am from Tamaulipas. You really have to be more careful around the central and North Mexico"
"Be careful giving too much info to the soldiers and aduanas they pass info to the cartel"
"Noraly, please be careful in Mexico. A lot of illegal stuff going on. Watch your back as we Americans say"
"Careful…been riding around the world for 34 years now.. sooner or later your luck will run out if you don't actively avoid risky areas"
"Noraly, please take a lot of care on your road, always ask before to take the road again because unfortunately now the situation in México is sadly dangerous"
"Take care of yourself, do you have a gun?"
“According to the UN you are now in the most dangerous part of the world”
"If you are going to Texas, be careful, watch out for gun violence, too many mass shootings there and many drug addicts makes it dangerous in the roads!"
"The closer you get to the USA border the worse it will get. Please be careful. Take the main roads and get out of Mexico. Not only Cartel but thousands headed to USA. . I live 300 miles from Border in Texas"
"MEXICO IS A NARCO CONTROLLED STATE. BE CAREFUL"
Getting travel advice from locals
If I would have listened to every person telling me not to go somewhere because it's dangerous, I probably would have never even left my home town in The Netherlands. I'd be sitting at home feeling anxious and afraid. Afraid of the outside world and all the people that are supposedly out there to try and hurt me. I'm glad that I never listened, or I wouldn't have traveled to over 80 countries in the world by now! Although in fact, I do listen to some advice. Advice coming from certain people, after carefully picking my sources.
For South Africa for example, I asked my close friend Mandy, who is South African and a very experienced traveler. I listened to and trusted her advice on where to go and where not to go. After that, I didn't worry about my safety in South Africa at all and rode all through the country enjoying every single moment.
For Mexico I did the same. I managed to get in touch with some Mexican bikers that know Mexico very well, and have a large network of people all over the country that ride off-road motorcycles. They know the trails. They know the areas. They don't occupy themselves with fear mongering or irrational fears. If they told me not to go somewhere, I knew I had to take their advice. When they told me an area was totally fine, I was already on my way!
Did I feel safe traveling in Mexico?
Let's go back to the original question. Traveling Mexico on a motorcycle: safe or not? I rode around Mexico on my own for about 6 weeks, and during those 6 weeks, I didn't get robbed. I didn't get mugged. I didn't get shot or otherwise hurt. Nothing bad happened, even when venturing off the main roads and riding tonnes of dirt roads. I met incredibly friendly people, I saw unforgettable places, had delicious food and rode amazing dirt trails.
Did I have some scary encounters? Yes, I did. Several roadblocks, some with armed people, and two encounters with armed cartel men. Was I afraid in those moments? Yes, I was momentarily. You won't hear me say that Mexico is a crime free country and you can ride your motorcycle wherever you want. But if you manage to find some locals who actually know what they are talking about and can provide you with sound advice, Mexico can be an absolutely incredible place to explore. Without having to feel afraid all the time.
Noraly, watching almost all your videos, still working on Season 5, I feel your instinct on traveling throughout the world is refreshing. Showing us the people, the cultures, the beautiful scenery, and history lessons is magnificent. You give us hope that there are good people and places to visit. Continue your dream job and thank you for sharing your adventures with us. As a rider I always wish fellow riders enjoy and ride safe.😊😊
Great post. My wife is from Mexico and we drive there a few times per year to Chuihuahua from the US. I have never felt threatened or in danger in the last ten years of traveling there. 99% of what I see are Moms, Dads and kids living there lives and trying to survive like the rest of us. Most people are good around the world. Don't let the media create unwanted fears and keep you from traveling to beautiful destinations. Sometimes the greatest risk is taking. no action at all due to fear.
Nothing is EVER “safe.” There are risks at all times, even just sitting at home.
I hear all the time from well-meaning people, “How can you ride those awful, dangerous motorcycles?”
I like the example of former astronaut and US Senator John Glenn. Combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut, yet lived to a ripe old age, going into space yet again in his 70s, only to nearly die slipping in his bathtub.
Danger is real: it’s everywhere, all the time. Calculate the risks and do your best to mitigate them for whatever activity you choose - situational awareness is essential.
But fear is just an emotion. It has no basis in reality. Never let it keep you from living your best life.
Just try not to go to stupid places with stupid people doing stupid things (stupid people being the key factor - the rest is subjective)!
Keep up the good work, and try to keep the rubber side down.
The perils and mishaps along the way are the difference between a long, boring commute, and The Odyssey!
Noraly, tudo bem? Confesso que com medo mesmo só fiquei quando você foi visitar aquela mina de ouro na África, com aqueles tipos mal encarados. No mais, concordo com você, a indústria do medo é a que mais atrapalha as realizações, em todas as áreas.
Nice to hear about your experience in Mexico. I follow Danny as well and he heard all the horror stories as you did and he was very afraid at first. He usually goes off road with his harley and he was afraid to do that in Mexico. He saw one dead body while travelling through Veracruz and that shook him. I commented in that video that 1.5 people are murdered every day in Chicago. Mexico gets a bad rap and is likely safer than the US in the overall scheme of things. You are right though, the media puts the fear into people and we need to put that all aside and decide what comfort zone we are willing to put ourselves in. Usually your senses will tell you if a situation you are in is not safe and you act accordingly.
I've been afraid for you three times: the gold mine in Nicaragua; the mud road to the pyramids in Guatemala when the day was getting short; and most of all when I translated the graffiti on the little white house in Sinaloa. It's a comfort knowing your spectacular posts are weeks behind where you actually are. When you posted the Sinaloa video, we knew you were out of there and could exhale. What a ride you are giving the world of your followers. Thank you so much for the joy and enjoyment.
I am very happy you made it through Mexico. I think your blog is right, although to be quite frank, you came very close to a very unpleasant situation with the cartel. If your cameras had been on, or if you had been a foreign male, they might not have let you go.
Overall, your smile, your skills, your courage and positive spirit is what is getting you through all of the difficulties.
But we can't ignore the fact that just because you've been fine so far does not mean the danger is not real. This is like your blog on the use of helmets. Can you ride without one? Yes. Is it advisable? Heck no. The longer you ride, the more likely it becomes that the helmet will save your life. Same thing with the dangers mentioned above.
You're work is fantastic, I love it. Stay safe, have fun!
There are two dynamic determinable common traits in Historic Explorers and Historic Inventors: Perceptions of fear
If a person allows themself to fear the unknown, they will not ever succeed at being either an explorer or inventor and will sink into a mundane life, which many people require for happiness.
Throughout the history of mankind, there has not ever existed a truly "crime free" country, some countries might have less than others, but aren't any that have been "crime free".
Thank you so very much for all that you do, you are in fact a true explorer who will go down in history as such.
Never mind my past trip suggestion - it's all scam like set up. Good luck with that.
Noraly, Actually besides Zion, close by Vegas is the Valley of Fire which would be a good trip for you. rw