Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Learn Spanish by the Beach

There is no easier and more effective way to learn than another language than by being immersed in a culture and country that speak it as their first idiom. Being able to use what you’re learning and put into practice on a daily basis in real-life situations greatly increases not only the speed of your learning, but also the depth of what you learn. The Spanish language is no different, and surrounding yourself with Spanish-speaking individuals is your best bet for apprehending the vocabulary of a language and also being able to use it conversationally with the myriad of other aspects that accompany verbal communication.

Whether you’re a newly established full-time resident here in Playa del Carmen or wish to spend a month or discovering the wonder of grasping another language, nothing beats doing so by the Riviera Maya’s incredible turquoise beaches.

There are many options here in town for learning Spanish and can come accommodate any level from complete utter beginner to the more experienced speaker of Español, here a few of the ones we recommend –

 

Playa del Carmen Language Institute

 

Solexico Language and Cultural Centres

 

International House

 

Although knowing Spanish is certainly not a pre-requisite to living in a paradise like Playa del Carmen that has come to accommodate the large number of foreigners visiting and residing here, it is extremely useful to have a solid grasp on the language for any purpose you can imagine from dropping off your dry-cleaning to banking and let’s not forget impressing your friends that come to visit. Not only that, the more Spanish you learn the faster you will continue to do so, before you know it, you’ll be able to confidently visit any Spanish speaking country in the entire world without the worry of not knowing how to communicate effectively.

 

So why not? Improve yourself and expand your mind by taking on the Spanish language with Playa del Carmen being the perfect location for you. You can speak English to accomplish everything you need and as you grow more confident slowly begin to integrate Spanish into your daily life. The thrill of realizing you are beginning to understand what was previously jibberish to your ears is a truly fulfilling feeling.

 

 

www.American-Development.com

Friday, March 25, 2011

Free Roadside Assistance in Mexico

It may not have crossed your mind but have you ever considered would happen in the event that you to breakdown along the Riviera Maya’s highways. It’s not so much a matter of safety as it well-known fact the crime-rates in the area are exceptionally low, but rather a matter of inconvenience. How long would be stuck there? Would you have to call a tow truck? If so, what number do you call?

Rental cars in the Playa del Carmen area are generally kept in top-notch condition so the chances of breaking down are minimal but unfortunately, sometimes thing do go wrong, its called life. In the unlikely event you are stuck roadside there is no reason to worry, Mexico has established a rescue system for its stranded roadside visitors known as the Green Angels (Ángeles Verdes).

The Green Angels are a free roadside assistance service specifically aimed at aiding foreigners in a bind. They have a fleet of trucks ready with bilingual crews ready to dispatch at the soonest possible notice. The services they offer include advice and information on tourist destinations, medical first aid, emergency radio communication, mechanical aid for your car and basic supplies. The only thing that will cost you is any necessary parts, gas or oil to get you back on your way, changing your tires for example is completely without charge. The Green Angels patrol daily from dawn until sunset, so if you are unable to call them chances are they will find you.

It is very important to Mexico’s tourist industry that vacationers use the roads as it is an excellent way to advertise popular sights and attractions that give witness to the history, culture, values and natural wonder of Mexico, and as such Mexico puts a big effort into assuring people feel safe using the roads through services like the Greens Angels Corporation. They also maintain close coordination with emergency services such as the Red Cross, the Federal Police and the department of Federal Roads and Bridges.

The Green Angels suggest the following checklist for any driving venture you wish to take –

• Check your spare tire, tools and car jack
• Check the engine oil
• Check the electric and cooling systems of your vehicle
• Drive safely, respect the signs and avoid high speed
• Refrain from driving if you are tired
• Don’t drink and drive
• Use your seatbelt
• Do not litter 

Should you ever find yourself in an emergency while driving, or even just a blown tire with a faulty jack, call the Ministry of Tourism's hotline (55) 5250-8221 or simply dial the Green Angels direct emergency hotline on 078, this service is available to you anywhere in Mexico.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bringing Your Pet to Mexico


We all love our pets, so much so many people would never consider moving to a new location if they weren’t able to bring along their adopted family. So what happens if you want to make the permanent move to live in paradise year-round in stunning Playa del Carmen? Not to worry, bringing your pet to Mexico is easy and requires only a few simple steps, useful also for those who wish to bring their pets along as part of their vacation.

You
only need to obtain two certificates to bring your beloved with you –
  • A vaccination certificate stating that your pet has been vaccinated against rabies, hepatitis, pip and leptospirosis. 
  • An official health certificate that must be issued by a veterinarian no more than 72 hours before entering Mexico.

You may enter the country with up to two large pets (dogs or cats). If you want to enter the country with any more than two pets you will need further permission wh
ich can be obtained from the Mexican consulate nearest you. In any case, it would be a good idea to contact a Mexican consulate before you leave on your trip to inform them of your plans, after all it’s your baby we’re talking about here. 

There is no quarantine period required for bringing a pet into Mexico. However you must note that airlines have certain restrictions on pet weight and pet size, as well as on pet containers, so be sure to do your research before booking any flights.

Once having found your dream location in the Riviera Maya and have adequately insured pets are allowed to reside whatever location you have chosen it would also be a good idea to include a clause in your contract stating that you have the right to break the lease without any penalties should any changes in the rules occur during your tenancy concerning pet restrictions.

From that point living with a pet is very much same as anywhere else if not easier. With such a large US and Canadian population Playa del Carmen has grown in stride to accommodate a large pet population also and is you’ll find is very animal friendly. Household help such as dog-walkers and caretakers are very easy to come by and are very inexpensive should the event arise that you are too short on time to sufficiently care for your pet on any given occasion.

With all this being very much as easy as it sounds, it’s just another reason why Mexico could very well be the perfect home for you.


Rapid Growth Rates for Playa

Many people know of Playa del Carmen as the choice destination for those wanting to visit the Riviera Maya in search of an escape, whether they are honeymooners, retirees or spring-breakers, this part of the Yucatan appeals to all demographics. With some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, incredible diving opportunities, an abundance of excellent restaurants and a very exciting nightlife all with a small, tropical beachside town feel, this reputation is well-earned. Many do not know however, at the incredible rate at which this one tiny fishing village has grown and how rapidly it continues to do so.

In case you didn’t know, Playa del Carmen was named originally for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who is the patron saint of Cancún. She was known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a town in Italy, which was the first place where a chapel was built in her honour, in 1263, before her ascension into heaven. 

Starting in the early 1980s, little by little, street by street, the tiny fishing village and ferry town began to grow. New shops, restaurants, and even a couple of hotels opened their doors, luring the passing visitors to stay a while. The first hotels were built of bamboo and palm fronds, with slatted wood doors-not to keep out thieves, but to prevent the wild pigs from entering and looking for food.

These days Playa del Carmen has become one of the world’s most desired tourist hotspots, with tourist numbers at record highs and a massive hub of foreign investment and development. The town is inundated with incredibly large variety of boutique hotels to suit every desired accommodation imaginable. 

Playa del Carmen now plays host to over 120,000 year round residents which has seen real estate values continuing to climb rapidly and given way to almost continuous new construction, ranging from homes, hotels and mega-stores like Wal-Mart to new highway overpasses and even a world class hospital. Its current growth rate is set at +25% per year and according to Guinness World Records is the Latin America’s fastest growing location. To the point where most homes and condominiums have appreciated before construction is even completed.

While the growth of Playa Del Carmen has been extraordinary, the town has been careful to preserve its small-town feel. There are no high rises allowed, for example, and smaller piazzas (town squares) dictate the feel of this coastal resort. As such, Playa Del Carmen is known for having a European flair that helps attract many international visitors and buyers. Such legislation to safe-guard this vibe also keeps the demand in the region continuously high.

This is also important lest the very soul of Playa del Carmen, its most attractive feature, is lost due to over-development. It is expansion in fine form, not only allowing the location to provide a permanent home for many North American and other international migrants with all the amenities one would expect from living in a county like the US, but never straying from the place Playa del Carmen will always be, ocean-front bliss.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bringing Your Car to Mexico


One of the most frequent questions we are asked is how to bring a car into Mexico.  There are three ways you can do it, depending on how long you need to keep your car in the country.  In each case, you will be importing the vehicle, either on a temporary or permanent basis. 

Under temporary provisions, you can have the car for a limited period of time for a specific purpose, and the car must be removed from Mexico in the same condition. A permanent import allows the car to stay in Mexico for an unlimited time because the car becomes “Mexican” and is given Mexican license plates.

These are the three options that foreigners can use to import a car. These options also apply to other licensed vehicles, including motorcycles and trailers:

Option #1  “With your Tourist Visa”
With a tourist visa (FM-T), you are allowed to import your car and drive it in Mexico for a period of up to six months from the first date of entry of the vehicle into the country. These six months have no extension, which means that you have to remove your car before the end of this period.  If you have plans to stay longer in Mexico, then you have to leave the country with your car and return after completing the procedure again.

Option #2 “With your FM2 or FM3 Visa”
In this case, you can keep your car in Mexico for the same period authorized in your FM3 or FM2 Visa for your stay. When your visa expires, the permit for your car will expire too, but it will be renewed for the same period of time that the FM3 or FM2 visa is renewed. If you entered the country with a tourist visa and then applied for and received an FM3 or FM2 visa, the car doesn’t have to be removed from the country. You only need to notify customs within 15 days of your change of immigration status.

Option #3 “Permanent Import” (Nationalized Vehicle)
Permanent imports are regulated by and require a permit from the Secretary of Economy, but there is a special provision for used vehicles that can be imported without a permit. These vehicles satisfy the following rule: they are exactly 10 years old from the year of import and are manufactured in NAFTA countries. For example, in 2010, cars built in 2000 can be imported permanently without a permit if manufactured in the U.S., Canada or Mexico. Either with or without a permit, the procedure for permanent importation has to be done using  a customs broker. The importer can hold an FM3 or FM2 visa or be an inmigrado or a Mexican citizen.

Mexican customs (called Aduana in Spanish) uses the Bank of the Mexican Army (Banjercito) for payment of the first two options. After payment, Banjercito will issue a special sticker that allows the car to be driven legally in Mexico. Without the sticker, the vehicle will be considered illegal and is subject to confiscation by customs.

Before bringing your vehicle to Mexico, you must have the following documents: 

o    Original and Copy of Passport or Birth Certificate
o    Original and Copy of Vehicle Title
o    Original and Copy of Vehicle Registration
o    Driver’s License
o    Proof of Return of any Previous Vehicle (If applicable)

If you are not the vehicle owner, you will need to provide a document showing the relationship you have to the owner, which could be a marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc. If the vehicle is in the name of a corporation, the company must provide the title of ownership and proof that you are an employee.

Temporary Importation Procedures
The Mexican government regulates the temporary importation process through the Import Control Modules and temporary entry of vehicles, called CIITEV (Control de Importación e Internación Temporal de Vehículos in Spanish) There are three ways to obtain a temporary import permit.

On The Road
With the exception of Baja California, when driving into Mexico, about 16 miles south of the Mexico-United States border, you will be stopped by customs. The offices of the Aduana and the CIITEV modules in the Banjercito branches are located at these facilities. Enter the offices of theAduana and fill out the forms requesting temporary vehicle importation. You will have to sign a commitment where you promise to remove your car within the time period allowed.

The procedure costs $27.00 USD and can be paid in cash or credit card at the CIITEV module in the Banjercito branch.  If you pay in cash, you will have to pay the fee and a deposit to guarantee the return of the vehicle abroad in the time period allowed.  This deposit varies depending on the manufacturing year of the vehicle:

Manufacturing year of the vehicle
Amount of the deposit in USD
2001 to 2007
$400 USD
1996 to 2000
$300 USD
Models prior to 1996
$200 USD

If you pay by credit card, then you won’t need to pay this deposit. In the event that you do not remove your vehicle before the time period expires, Banjercito will charge the penalties automatically to your credit card.

At The Consulate
You can obtain a permit for temporary importation at any Mexican consulate in the United States that has a CIITEV module. In this case, you can start the process up to 6 months in advance. The following consulates are known to have CIITEV modules:   

o    Chicago, Illinois
o    Austin, Dallas, Dallas Fort Worth and Houston, Texas
o    Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Sacramento, California
o    Albuquerque, Nuevo México
o    Denver, Colorado
o    Phoenix, Arizona

At the consulate, ask for the permit of temporary importation of vehicles and sign the declaration of commitment.  The fee is $36.00 USD plus tax and the payment can only be made using a credit or debit card issued by a non-Mexican bank in the name of the importer.

By Internet
Why wait? You can do the entire procedure over the Internet right now.  This is a service that the General Administration of Customs offers and is operated by the Banjercito website.
Click the link below, fill in the form, scan the complete list of documents required and email them to Banjercito. The cost of the procedure is $ 45.00 USD plus tax and can only be paid with a credit or debit card issued by a non-Mexican bank in the name of the importer. 

Once the registration and payment is done, Banjército will email you a confirmation and the estimated date when the importation documents will be mailed to your home, usually within nine calendar days.


Removing Your Vehicle
When the temporary import expires, you must present your vehicle and your temporary import permit to Banjercito and they will give you your return certificate. Make sure they take the sticker off your vehicle to be deactivated from their system. You will be welcomed to come again and bring your car during your next visit.
IMPORTANT: if you do not remove your vehicle from Mexico before the permit expires, you will be subject to penalties and your car can be confiscated by the Aduana at any customs location in Mexico or at the border. Don’t let this happen to you.

Permanent Importation
Importing your vehicle permanently involves a more complicated process. You must hire a customs broker who will collect the required information, which includes the documents for temporary importation plus proof of legal residency or citizenship. The broker will file the necessary forms with the government. You will pay an import duty based on the type and age of the vehicle, as well as other taxes and a fee to the customs broker.

After the vehicle is officially imported, you are required to take the proof, called a pedimento,  to the Departamento de Registro de Control Vehicular to obtain Mexican license plates for the state in which you reside. It is important to understand Spanish or use the services of a translator so you can fully understand any complications or additional requirements that may arise in your specific case. 

For those who intend to live full-time in Mexico, another option is to sell your foreign car in your country of origin before entering Mexico, then purchase a new or used vehicle in Mexico. Nearly all of the major makes and models of cars are available and represented by authorized dealers. In fact, there are several smaller and more affordable car models available only in Latin American countries.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New 2011 New Mexico Vacation Guide Released

Official state guidebook helps visitors navigate their way through the state of New Mexico

By Deanna Ting / travelagewest.com
 
www.newmexico.org
 
 
 
The 180-page 2011 New Mexico Vacation Guide is now available, free of charge, at visitor destinations located throughout the state of New Mexico.

“This official state guide takes a long look at this nation’s most enchanting destinations,” said Michael Cerletti, secretary of the New Mexico Tourism Department. “This guide is designed with the reader in mind, providing detailed information targeting not only our visitors — be they here for business or pleasure — but also residents and potential residents.”

The 2011 New Mexico Vacation Guide is produced by New Mexico Magazine, a division of the Tourism Department.
                                                  
“This useful tool is distributed far and wide though our fulfillment center, visitor information centers, mobile visitor centers, industry partners and by department staff at media and trade shows around the world; and on our website, NewMexico.org,” Cerletti added. “It is a major marketing tool for us that is both well done and well received.”

The tourism department’s nine Visitor Information Centers welcomed more than 1.2 million visitors to New Mexico in 2010, the most in the nearly 30-year history of its Visitor Information Center program. The 2011 guide is currently being made available at the Department’s nine Visitor Information Centers and at chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus statewide.

 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Simple Ameneties of Home

Starbucks in Mexico? Of course.

International retailer and coffee giant Starbucks Coffee Company opened its 300th store in Mexico as of December 2010, in partnership with Alsea, the leading operator of fast food establishments QSR and casual dining in Latin America, operating other big-brands name such as Domino's Pizza, Burger King, Popeyes and Chili's Grill & Bar.

Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks along with John Culver, president, Starbucks Coffee International, joined Starbucks partners in Mexico City for the milestone occasion.
“Over the past eight years in Mexico, Starbucks and Alsea have remained committed to delivering the Starbucks Experience for our customers,” said Schultz. “Our 300th store opening not only marks substantial growth in this market, but it also represents our continued enthusiasm for providing positive impact in our local stores and coffee growing communities in Mexico.”

Starbucks was first established in Mexico in September 2002, in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma in front of the Angel of Independence. Starbucks then continued rapid expansion into the Mexico City metropolitan area and within 2 years the streets of Providence saw its first location in the city of Guadalaja. Starbucks continued to sweep across the country with Mexico now being Starbucks largest market in all of Latin America. Starbucks and Alesa now currently operate Starbucks stores in 43 cities across Mexico and employ more than 3,200 employees.

So often it’s the little things, like the availability of your favorite coffee roaster that makes you realize just how far along Mexico has come into the developing world.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Producing the Future


Mexico’s economy is in a better shape than ever according to economists. Much of this can be attributed to the industrial advantages of Mexico at this time. 

It is quite well known that not only is Mexico an important producer of goods exported worldwide, but also of added value thanks to its highly qualified, skilled and competitive professionals, with every year more than 90,000 students graduating from engineering and technical programs. Thus Mexico has become a powerhouse of technological manufacturing.

Mexico is the leading supplier of auto-parts and trucks in the United States with one out of every seven cars sold in the U.S. having been made in Mexico. Mexico is also the primary destination for the aerospace industry, with more aerospace companies located in Mexico than anywhere else in the world. In fact, for the aerospace industry, Queretaro is the most profitable city in Mexico as it has the highest return for investors.

Mexico is the world’s second largest exporter of colour T.V. sets worldwide (20 million units) and is one of the most important colour T.V. suppliers in the United States. Mexico is also the main producer of smart-phones (93.5 million of mobile phones were exported in 2008); and the third largest refrigerator exporter, along with other home-appliances.

Mexico is the largest medical instrument and device supplier to the United States and again, is one of the main destinations for the world’s software, Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), industries. It is a strategic ally to companies from all over the world with a privileged location that allows direct access to the United States market, the world’s #1 consumer of information technologies. With highly qualified personnel and a solid public policy, the IT market is expected to grow from US$10 billion dollars in 2007 to around US$16.9 billion in 2012.

Mexico is the fourth favourite country for mining investments in the world and the second largest silver producer and according to a study carried out by the consulting firm AlixPartners, Mexico has the lowest costs for the manufacturing of industrial components among the main emerging economies (Brazil, China and India) largely due to it possessing an attractive exchange rate against the dollar, comparatively low transportation costs and a large number of Free Trade Agreements.

This is the new realization of Mexico by the world, not the under-developed sleepy desert displayed so commonly in Hollywood flicks, but rather a tropical paradise listed as one of the world’s top destinations and technological, rapidly developing investors dream.


Friday, March 11, 2011

No Holding Mexico Back

Thanks to the certainty, security and support of its institutions, Mexico has developed a solid economic stability and structural changes that have increased its competitiveness as an investment destination despite the global economic crisis.

As a result of the global crisis, the Mexican market contracted 35% in 2009; however, it has strongly recovered since, much faster than most other countries (29% during the 2st quarter in 2010).The country’s public finances are well-balanced, as are its banking and financial systems with Mexico’s external accounts showing very moderate deficits and one of the lowest inflation rates among Latin America’s main economies.

Likewise, the country has signed Agreements on the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments with 28 countries and signed Agreements to avoid Double Taxation with more than 30. AT Kearney has ranked Mexico as the 8th most attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the world, moving up 11 positions between 2007 and 2010.

Another factor is Mexico’s increasing transparency and law enforcement regarding such. Its system of government has made it easier to endorse laws and mechanisms that guarantee the transparency and security of investments, as well as of industrial and private property.
 
On June 12th 2003, Mexico approved the Federal Law on Transparency and Access to Public Government Information which, as part of the process of reform that the State is going through, its purpose is to strengthen the democratization of the country, as well as to establish a relationship based on the government’s accountability to society. As for NAFTA, it provides the appropriate legal framework and certainty for trade in the North America region through legal instruments such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and also includes provisions covering trade rules and dispute settlement.

With these along with many other positive factors, it seems like nothing can slow Mexico down. The economic policies of the last few decades have proven to be a determining factor in guaranteeing the sound and stable macroeconomic environment that continues to persist in Mexico.


www.American-Development.com

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tourists Aren't Worried

Sun, sea and...severed heads? Mexico’s image over the last few years has been greatly tarnished since the government began its crackdown on organised crime partially due to requests of the US in efforts to control their own drug issues. Despite facts stating otherwise, such as the 30,000 odd related deaths being almost all drug-traffickers, foreign news coverage has given the impression that the entire country is an all-out civil war, burning from border to border. For an economy that relies on tourism for nearly a tenth of its income, the gruesome headlines are painful.

Yet despite the negative media coverage, Mexico’s tourism sector is doing exceptionally well. After the swine-flu scare of 2009, which emptied hotels overnight, the number of visitors has recovered rapidly, this year estimated to reach approximately 33 million, setting new records.
Many have been lured by cheap hotel rates and airfares, with the average tourist this year spending 5% less than in 2008. Spring break reservations for Mexico from U.S. college students also continue to remain steady. This year, reservations for Mexico from students at Oberlin, Baldwin-Wallace and other colleges have been coming in strong for months, said Kim Gray, a travel agent in North Olmsted, Ohio, with Travel Leaders, one of the top 10 travel agencies in the U.S.

They're heading to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and other destinations on the Riviera Maya, she states; "Some of them want to get away from the big crowds of Cancun and spend time in a smaller town where there's still beautiful beaches."

This all comes with a rise in public awareness that most of Mexico is still very safe, with almost all drug-related violence occurring in areas very far away from tourists.

“When I told people I was going to Mexico for a vacation for a month, people asked me why on earth I would want to go there; didn’t I know about all the drug-wars?” Jeremy from Seattle comments as he sits on the beach in Playa del Carmen, taking a well-deserved rest from working on the fishing trawlers, “Alot of people have no idea what it’s actually like here.”

There are strong signs that public fear in the US and Canada is slowly beginning to wane and is being replaced rather by education of the places one should and should-not visit while on vacation, very good news for Mexico’s continuing strong tourism sector.

Severed heads? Not one in sight.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mexico: an Investment Hub



Mexico is becoming a more and more well-known investment hub as time goes on due to its unique comparative advantages as an up-and-coming international trading superpower, and as such, continues to develop at an ever-increasing rate.

For instance, Mexico has large geographical and infrastructural advantages over competitor countries. It is one of the largest countries in the world and has strategically positioned to have direct access to not only Latin America and North America, but also Europe and Asia. The US-Mexico border stretches for over 3,000 kilometers with 52 international access points while the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines span over 11,000 kilometers. 

In 2009, Mexico invested over $40 billion USD in infrastructure alone, exceeding 5% of GDP in the same year, reaching record levels. This resulted in 85 new airports, 76 seaports, 26,700 kilometers of railroads and 366,000 kilometers of roads.

Not to mention the increase in competitiveness and trade facilitation Mexico has undertaken having now become a direct threat to the Chinese manufacturing and development explosion. Mexico is reducing import tariffs from 13% to 5% from 2008 to 2013, and has also implemented programs for trade simplification through which products with zero tariffs will increase from 20% in 2008 to 63% in 2013. This reduction of duty rates will benefit products such as steel, shoes, fabrics, apparel, automotive and chemical.

Mexico also has preferential access to the most important markets internationally through one of the largest networks of commercial and free trade agreements, encompassing 43 countries and a potential market of over one billion consumers, representing 2/3 of the world’s imports and 75% of the global GDP. Mexico, with its domestic market of more than 107 million people, exports more manufacturing products than all other countries in Latin America combined. 

These are just some of the many reasons people in the US and Canada are favoring putting their time and money into Mexico, whether it be opening a business or buying a home, it makes fiscal sense.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mexico: One Journalist’s View

By:Linda Ellerbee - PVNN
Sometimes I’ve been called a maverick because I don’t always agree with my colleagues, but then, only dead fish swim with the stream all the time. The stream here is Mexico. 
 
You would have to be living on another planet to avoid hearing how dangerous mexico has become, and, yes, it’s true drug wars have escalated violence in Mexico, causing collateral damage, a phrase I hate. Collateral damage is a cheap way of saying that innocent people, some of them tourists, have been robbed, hurt or killed. 
 
But that’s not the whole story. Neither is this. This is my story. 
 
I’m a journalist who lives in New York City, but has spent considerable time in Mexico, specifically Puerto Vallarta, for the last four years. I’m in Vallarta now. And despite what I’m getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York, possibly safer. 
 
I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don’t live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York; which is to say I don’t wave money around, I don’t act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I’m aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool. 
 
I’ve not always been successful at that last one. One evening a friend left the house I was renting in Vallarta at that time, and, unbeknownst to me, did not slam the automatically-locking door on her way out. Sure enough, less than an hour later a stranger did come into my house. A burglar? Robber? Kidnapper? Killer? Drug lord? 
 
No, it was a local police officer, the "beat cop" for our neighborhood, who, on seeing my unlatched door, entered to make sure everything (including me) was okay. He insisted on walking with me around the house, opening closets, looking behind doors and, yes, even under beds, to be certain no one else had wandered in, and that nothing was missing. He was polite, smart and kind, but before he left, he lectured me on having not checked to see that my friend had locked the door behind her. In other words, he told me to use my common sense. 
 
Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans, and if there are bars on many of the ground floor windows of houses here, well, the same is true where I live, in Greenwich Village, which is considered a swell neighborhood — house prices start at about $4 million (including the bars on the ground floor windows.) 
 
There are good reasons thousands of people from the United States are moving to Mexico every month, and it’s not just the lower cost of living, a hefty tax break and less snow to shovel. Mexico is a beautiful country, a special place. 
 
The climate varies, but is plentifully mild, the culture is ancient and revered, the young are loved unconditionally, the old are respected, and I have yet to hear anyone mention Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Madonna’s attempt to adopt a second African child, even though, with such a late start, she cannot possibly begin to keep up with Angelina Jolie. 
And then there are the people. Generalization is risky, but— in general — Mexicans are warm, friendly, generous and welcoming. If you smile at them, they smile back. If you greet a passing stranger on the street, they greet you back. If you try to speak even a little Spanish, they tend to treat you as though you were fluent. Or at least not an idiot. 
 
I have had taxi drivers track me down after leaving my wallet or cell phone in their cab. I have had someone run out of a store to catch me because I have overpaid by twenty cents. I have been introduced to and come to love a people who celebrate a day dedicated to the dead as a recognition of the cycles of birth and death and birth — and the 15th birthday of a girl, an important rite in becoming a woman — with the same joy. 
 
Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV. 
 
Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, "Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?" or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country. 
 
It would be nice if we could put what’s going on in Mexico in perspective, geographically and emotionally. It would be nice if we could remember that, as has been noted more than once, these drug wars wouldn’t be going on if people in the United States didn’t want the drugs, or if other people in the United States weren’t selling Mexican drug lords the guns. 
 
Most of all, it would be nice if more people in the United States actually came to this part of America (Mexico is also America, you will recall) to see for themselves what a fine place Mexico really is, and how good a vacation (or a life) here can be. 
 
So come on down and get to know your southern neighbors. I think you’ll like it here. Especially the people.