Mexico, Part 1: A “Dangerous” Land

I chose to travel to Mexico – alone, with almost no Spanish skills, and with an unconventional travel philosophy involving hitchhiking and sleeping in strangers’ homes through Couchsurfing.

I was warned so many times not to do this, so choosing to cross the border was a big test for me of guts, persistence, and clear mental thinking. Some say I failed the mental thinking test, but I disagree.

Traveling Central America has been a goal for me several years now – in order to experience different people, cultures, and ways of life. And, despite quite a few odds and despite many people discouraging me (which happens for most of my best ideas), I am now on a journey that I have long wanted to go on. 


Why you should never, ever, ever go to Mexico

Now, being in Mexico for three weeks, I find many of people’s fears about Mexico humorous. I find it funny how people fear the unknown. I find it embarrassing how, before I left, I was scared. But I was scared. 

Why was I scared? Because when I started talking about visiting Mexico, people from all backgrounds and all parts of the USA made it their personal duty to give me every reason not to cross the border. For you to get into my initial mindset, here are 4 highlights that particularly gave me the shivers:

1. “You will get drugged, kidnapped, or beheaded by the drug cartels.” This is one of the most common conceptions about Mexico. A number of people found compassion within their hearts to show me brutal YouTube videos of drug cartels beheading and mangling victims in public and leaving them in the streets. In addition, I was told grueling statistics of how many tens of thousands (including many tourists) die each year from Mexican drug violence.

Some cartel members. Many cartel members in this gang are former police and military officers, and they are known to have a higher tactical degree than official Mexico police forces. Needless to say, police in Mexico have a strong reputation for corruption.

2. “You will be shot dead while walking in the woods or camping.” This warning came to me particularly alarming, mainly because the guy telling it to me was Mexican (one of the first Mexicans I ever talked to) and he also happened to be a United States Marine. He said, “If you go exploring around in the mountains, one of two things will happen: 1) You will wander onto private property and be shot dead. 2) You will wander onto someone’s marijuana field and certainly be shot dead.” I told him I had already bought a new tent. He followed up by laughing and saying “you got some big balls man,” a phrase, earned or unearned, that was to be heard many more times during the course of my trip.

An armed guy and a marijuana field. This would not be a good camping experience. 

4. “The culture in Mexico is animalistic.” People told me the Mexico culture is harsh. Even my uncle, who I deeply respect and who has far more adventure experience than me, warned me not to go to Mexico. “There is such poverty there. People there are animalistic because they lack the basic human necessities. It is not safe.”

My grandmother, one the master worriers of the universe and an ESL teacher for Spanish students, notified me of other horrors: snakes and vicious animals, extreme temperatures in the mountains, deadly viruses, and other miscellaneous Mexican travesties sure to kill me. She also suggested that I might die first by being hit by a car. “If the Mexicans hit you with a car by accident, they ram into you more until you are dead. This way they don’t need to pay your medical bills,” she said.

I was made led to believe that all Mexican people are evil vampires.

4. “Ariel, your Spanish is horrible.” This was probably my biggest concern. I took a year of Spanish in high school and briefly used Rosseta Stone, but that was all a few years in the past. Before heading to Mexico, I only knew around 20 Spanish words somewhat confidently. And most of the words I knew were pretty useless… like “hola”, “como estas”, “adios”, “gracias”, etc.

It would be one thing to have to deal with all the dangers listed above, yet quite another to have to deal with all of those dangers in addition to not being able to communicate. I imagined myself being trapped in dangerous situations, like being kidnapped by a drug cartel, and not even having a fleeting chance of talking myself out of trouble. What could I even say to them? “Hola amigo, como estas?” If I couldn’t win cartels over by friendship, maybe I could pull a “donde esta el bano?” and just make a run for it.

Assuming that I would not get immediately held hostage or die by snakebite, other questions remained. How would I buy a bus ticket to Mexico? How would I book a hotel room? If I went to to Mexico and miraculously survived, I would need to become a master of charades or learn the language very quickly.


Thoughts before Mexico: “Ahhhhh! I’m gonna die!”

Overcoming Fear of the Unknown

Was I scared? Was I nervous? Yes. When people from all across the United States nearly unanimously tell you that somewhere is extremely unsafe, you are inclined to believe them… at least I was, but probably not as much as the people who care about me hoped. When I told people of my plans – which are of course quite different than your average tourist itinerary – they gave me looks like I was crazy, had invincible teenager syndrome, or was just plain naive. 

As I traveled the United States and got closer and closer to Mexico, the warnings of others increasingly echoed in my mind. I seriously considered not going or at least finding a travel partner to go with who could speak Spanish. I searched for an impromptu travel partner for a week, but nobody was available or crazy enough at the time. (Now I am glad I am traveling alone now, though).

” HA-OOH! HA-OOH! Mexico, bring it on baby.”

I thought my options over, but my excitement and curiosity conquered my fear. I thirsted to see a different way of life, I desired to expand my worldview and perspective. I knew I needed to see what poverty looked like. I knew I needed something new.

How could I run away from something I felt called to do? The answer was I couldn’t. I was reminded of a quote by Ambrose Redmoon:

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important.”

One late April morning, I woke up on a stranger’s couch in Texas and my thoughts materialized. I said, “I am going to Mexico.” And that was it. I was going to Mexico.

Still Alive

Having been in Mexico for nearly a month now, I will save more details of my adventures for later posts. But I want to assure you that I am still alive, and have survived all of the dangers Mexico has thrown at me so far. None of the above warnings have been issues for me. Mexico is considered dangerous because there is a lot of violence, but locals tell me that it is like any country… there are good parts and really bad parts. If I am going to go to the really bad parts, I will save them for later. Nearly all the places I have visited so far feel safer than an average American city. I feel comfortable walking alone at night. 


This cow did not like me, not at all.

 But just because I have not had any drug cartels kidnap me, does not mean I have not run into a few “dangerous” situations. I list here 15 of my most dangerous experiences so far:

  1. Crossing into Mexico through a border city that is headquarters for Mexico’s most powerful gang.
  2. When my bus arrived in Mexico, it dropping me off late at night in the wrong city.
  3. An angry cow charging at me atop a mountain in Guanajato.
  4. Riding in taxi in Mexico City with a driver who drove as if he was a stuntman for the Fast and the Furious.
  5. Developing a severe sunburn that took 15 days to heal.
  6. Learning how much college debt I might acquire.
  7. House-sitting for a friend while he was gone for a few days, and his landlord coming to demand rent that day.
  8. Not being able to find vegetarian restaurants or food anywhere.
  9. Touring a cathedral that only allowed access to the bottom floor, and then climbing four flights higher.
  10. Stepping out of hotel in Mexico City late at night and getting surrounded by Mexican prostitutes, one of whom I am quite sure was a man.
  11. Getting followed city to city, hostel to hostel, by a mentally unstable and potentially dangerous dude.
  12. Almost getting led into a secluded alleyway by a pretty girl, which may or may not have been safe.
  13. Staying with a small-time Mexican drug-dealer for two weeks, then watching over his house for a few days and having his landlord come to me to demand rent.
  14. Growing a really big beard (learn why in a later post) and then looking at myself in the mirror.
  15. Nearly getting bitten by a really big, really vicious stray dog.


A view from the top of a cathedral I climbed.

Closing words: What I have learned

Mexico has treated me far more nicely than most people led me to believe it would. In fact, Mexican people overall are the friendliest and warmest people I have come to know. I don’t think people in the USA were purposely lying to me about the dangers of Mexico, but I do think they were biased and misinformed. And who can blame them? TV and the media love to pick up on all the bad stories (even if they are only a few) and focus on them, because it excites peoples’ emotions and gives them comfort into thinking they understand the unknown.

And there are bad stories in Mexico, some very bad ones, but by keeping your head up and following common sense, one will be fine. The same goes for hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, shark-diving (okay, I don’t know about that one), and most other “dangerous” activities. Just because there are a few horror stories out there, that does not mean that the activity at hand is not overall very safe. That is what I think anyway… and guess what? I haven’t died yet!


If you have reached reading this far, thank you and sorry this post has been soooo long. This is my first blog post ever. Please let me know what you think!
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19 thoughts on “Mexico, Part 1: A “Dangerous” Land

    1. ArielTRV Post author

      I told him I would see him in the evening, taxied straight away to a bus station, and took a bus 5 hours away.

  1. LauRa Vite

    extraordinary! may I post it on fb? I want my friends to read it 🙂 also I laughed out loud, thank you.

  2. Ivan Prowler Hernandez

    Nice Man o como algunos dicen en México "te la rifaste" I think all countries has good and bad places, so I really enjoy your adventure. Please share your experience with your friends because is really important the people know the true situation in Mexico.

  3. Michal Klopocki

    thata' really cool Ariel (yeah in fact a bit too long but I managed). And I can tell You that if You're coming from the north the most dangerous part of the trip (in Mexico) You hjad passed because north is far more dangerouis than Puebla and southern states. Of course still You can die in the daylight when a brick will hit You in the head, in the most safiest place:)

  4. Osvaldo Jeronimo Chiko

    It is a reality, thoughts of people who do not know mexico is true that there are dangers and there are bad people but there are also good people, and you yourself have discovered..

  5. Osvaldo

    It is a reality, thoughts of people who do not know mexico is true that there are dangers and there are bad people but there are also good people, and you yourself have discovered ..

  6. Noah Bar-Shain

    Very entertaining to read! I really enjoyed it and I didn’t think it was too long.
    You did a great job describing the real Mexico, and as a result my perspective and expectations of Mexico have changed.
    I loved your list at the end, and I would like to hear more details from your travels! Have fun!

  7. LauRa Vite

    thanks! Are u going to Oaxaca or Chiapas? wish you the best and hope you are having a wooooonderful time on this trip, xoxoxoxo 😉

  8. Alice InWonderland

    Wow.I wish I could run away to Mexico for a bit and travel.I lie.It wouldn't be a bit.I would never come home 🙂

  9. LauRa Vite

    Oaxaca is amazing! … Allá hay muchos lugares para visitar, por ejemplo: la ciudad y playas como Chacahua, Huatulco o Puerto Escondido 🙂 Estoy llegando al trabajo 🙂 Y tú? estás en Puebla todavía?

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