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May 5, 2014 05:08 AM

AB in Mexico

Don't watch this episode if you are prone to depression.
The first part Tony explains how the entire country of Mexico is 100% owned and operated by the 'cartels'. He even provides a map of where each cartel controls which part of the country.
Pretty damn bleak business.
In the last quarter of the episode Tony throws in a few compulsory/compensatory scenes about some local foods.
But by then the damage had been done to my psyche.
I'm not 'glad' I watched the whole episode but I now have a clearer picture of the very sad reality facing those you live there.
I did note that the point was made that at first the drugs were mostly being smuggled into the US. But now a lot of the drugs are for 'home consumption'.
After the Mexico episode the TV station re-ran the Lyon episode.
The contrast was mind numbing.

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  1. I likewise was disappointed. It focused too much on the dark side and overlooked the beauty and spirit of the vast majority of Mexico and its people. I have traveled through more than 20 of the 32 Mexican states (counting D.F.) and lived there several years and had nothing but good experiences and great food there. The national Por Eso newspaper regularly shows gruesome photos and does not help the cause.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Por Eso is trying to help IMO.
      It's no good to pretend the cartels aren't running the entire country. "Sunshine is the best remedy" as they say.
      I have visited Mexico also but in all honesty I would never consider returning nor recommending anyone visit there as things are now.
      Pretty sad state of affairs for such a beautiful country and it's mostly kind honest people.
      I don't know what the touristm stats are but I'm guessing they aren't going up.

      1. re: Puffin3

        Actually, tourism stats *are* up and growing monthly.

        It is true that tourism took a major hit from about 2007 - 2011, but it is rebounding surprisingly well. Between the sensationalization by the American press and the travel warnings from the State Department, the U.S. government has done a remarkably good job at scaring the hell out of many Americans about Mexico. It's a very one-sided, and inaccurate portrayal. Other countries are not so quick to do a hatchet job on Mexico and have supplied a lot of tourists.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          In Quintana Roo in the Yucatan, from Cancun to Belize, many additional federales and resources have been deployed to protect the valuable tourist industry, with a message to cartels not even to think about camping out there.

          1. re: Veggo

            The Yucatan is one of the safest places in Mexico. The number of drug related crimes and murders is very low, particularly when compared to states where the cartels are particularly active.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              Agreed, I feel quite safe there. On my last visit I wanted to take a side trip to Chiapas, but out of an abundance of caution I didn't go. Very frustrating.

              1. re: Veggo

                I think you would probably have been okay, but I understand your hesitation, and frustration. Michoacan is my catnip and I feel quite safe there, but it's an active state right now and it is more than prudent to exercise caution in abundance :-)

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I love the glazed pottery and distinctive folk art and pine forests and giant eucalyptus trees and mariposas in Michoacán, it is way too beautiful for criminals.

            2. re: Veggo

              You are so right. The Mayans detest outsiders who come to disrupt. Non-Mayans are relegated to their own area of Cancun. I see no trouble at all in Playa del Carmen. The Yucatan is safe. Safer than many areas in the USA.

          2. re: Puffin3

            Tourism is huge business in Mexico. It bounces between 10th and 12th most popular place to visit in the entire world. Think about that, that is tens of millions of people every year!
            Mexico has learned, the hard way, to support and encourage tourism from all over the world. They learned not to depend on the USA for tourism due to their politics and economy. It is paying off big time.

        2. Too bad tony sold out to CNN and media wants. Your post expresses someone's complete ignorance of Mexico and the people of Mexico.
          :he even provides a map..." which is given out free by the USA Department of Tourism.

          1. After reading ABs Under the Volcano blog piece I was really looking forward to seeing his Parts Unknown segment on Mexico. About 5 minutes in I realized he had a massive agenda to push, and it wasn't about food and culture.

            Certainly cartels are powerful and active. That corruption is an issue all all levels in Mexico is no secret. I think an argument could be made that corruption in American politics is also as corrupt...but I digress. I live on the border, I saw what happens when cartels go to war. But I day trip to Tijuana regularly and I travel pretty extensively and regularly in Mexico including nearly off the grid in Oaxaca and to Michoacan. I'm pretty sure I don't have the "head in the sand" mentality that many in the ex-pat community have about the violencia or corruption.

            The violence, fear and corruption are real. But the violence *has* lessened over the last 18 months or so, fear is beginning to lose it's grip, and even corruption is starting to slip, though it will be a long time before it's no longer an issue. After all, 500 years of codified practice is hard to break. AB may have felt that the way he portrayed Mexico was gritty and real. It wasn't, it was sensationalism journalism at it's worst and not particularly balanced. For every Tepito in D.F. there is a Polanco. AB told a one-sided story. His perspective is not invalid, just not very balanced. If I wanted to hear about the cartels and the violencia I'd simply just read Borderland Beat every day...

            There is another side to Mexico, I wish it's face and voice had been heard in this episode as well.

            4 Replies
            1. re: DiningDiva

              You say "violence, fear and corruption are real".But the violence has "lessoned" over the last year and a half. And it will be a long time before it's not an issue.
              All this is great.
              I just don't have enough interest in Mexico or it's food to want to risk my life. There's lots of beautiful places with great history and cuisine out there.
              The last two couples I know personally who have visited Mexico recently had two different stories:
              One couple spent years outfitting their Vanagon camper to travel for a few months through the rural parts of Mexico. When they heard warnings they laughed and said the warnings are "over blown". On the fifth day in Mexico they were 'car-jacked' and robbed in a convience store parking lot. They contacted the 'authorities and were told "the more money you have for use to pay over time to our police officers the better chance you will have of getting whatever remains of your van". They went to the airport and got the first flight home. That was last year. Neither will discuss what happened.
              The second couple, on their second evening decided to "go native" and took a cab into a part of the town their were advised not to go into. During dinner a man came through the kitchen door with a machete and robbed them of everything they had.
              Yes yes, these are (cough) "isolated incidents" but they occur just enough times to give pause to anyone planning a holiday.

              1. re: Puffin3

                "a part of town they were advised not to go into" , but they went anyways?

                1. re: Veggo

                  Well, almost every story that starts out that way ("we were advised not to visit that part of town ...") goes on to gush about how "all the warnings were unfounded, the people were so warm and glad to see us, we had one of the best meals of our life etc etc etc. ..."

                  Apparently there are some places where if you're warned to stay out you should stay out.

                2. re: Puffin3

                  There was a time, 2008-2010 when stepping foot across the border into Tijuana was a foolhardy proposition. When I began crossing south in late 2010 I looked over my shoulder with every step, certain I was going to be assaulted. I was convinced every cab driver was out to rob me. But, you know...a funny thing happened...the more I crossed south the safer I realized I was. No one was out to rob me, no one was out to assault me. As I relaxed and got reacquainted with Tijuana and the people in it, I began to realize they're really just like everyone on my side of the border in San Diego.

                  I am cautious in Mexico. I pay attention to where I am, who I am with and who is hanging around. I am responsible for myself and my well being when I travel and part of that means not doing stupid stuff, going places I shouldn't, and assimilating as much as I can. About a year ago I had dinner (in Tijuana) with a Mexican human rights activist. During the height of the violencia he had 6 body guards at all times. We talked about the cartels and the violence because, frankly, it's hard not to when you're sitting in a city that was torn apart by it but is recovering. The drugs and violence still exist they've just been isolated to the eastern part of town where, to quote the activist, "no one cares and it doesn't matter if they kill each other". TJ has a vibrant street food culture, but if someone told me the best taco truck in the world was in eastern TJ, I wouldn't go. I don't care how good it is, I would stick out like a sore thumb and I'm not setting myself up to be a victim.

                  There are many, many places in Mexico that are perfectly safe. There are also a lot of places that aren't. Know before you go...

              2. Interesting. Andrew Zimmern paints a less bleak picture in the Cabo episode of Andrew Zimmern's Big Departure. While he acknowledges there is a problem, particularly in the border areas. He contends it does not effect the entire country and he does not see it it in Cabo, which he visits 3 - 4 times a year.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mike0989

                  Zimmern just did Lima, which AB featured in PU season 1 or 2. It would be interesting to see the 2 shows back to back.

                  Zimmern also visited Columbia (Cartagena ), which AB shows earlier NR.

                2. Hi, Puffin:

                  Too late--I watched it last night. I don't have a transcript to quote from, but I didn't take the episode to be all doom and gloom, especially considering where in Mexico AB filmed.

                  One thing I value about Bourdain's approach is that he at least attempts to portray food and culinary cultures in a wider societal and historical *context*. As you are fond of pointing out, AB has strong opinions about such things. Many are wont to see political motives behind anything that's not tightly focused on the plate in front of him, but I don't. From my point of view, there'd be no point *going* to these locales without giving a similar kind of context--otherwise Tony could just stand in some studio and cook that 37-pepper mole recipe.

                  Frankly, I'd rather it *all* be political screed than watch Guy Fieri stuff his face and just say "Yum" 40 times before driving off to some other Everywhere. But that's just me.