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Fear of Going to Mexico

Is it safe to travel to Mexico?

"You're going to Mexico?" my friends asked. "Don't you know how violent it is, and how they are killing people in the streets?"

Full disclosure: I am certainly not deficient in the fear department. I do not fancy the idea of my head swinging from a lamppost with my body detached from it. My idea of fun is not being found by local kids in a black plastic trash bag, folded up into a non-breathing, fetal position.

So why would I choose to go to Mexico? Read on, my friends.

In the Spring of 2011, I went to Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. Problems? Yes. I couldn't decide which flavor of margarita to order. In October of last year, I went to Chiapas and Tabasco. Was I in danger? Yes, of wanting to be a no-show on my return flight home. And, shiver, shiver, I just came back from Sonora, Mexico. You can drive there from Tucson, Arizona. You have to cross the dreaded "B" word-border.

This time, because I got so many emails bidding me adieu forever, I decided to do a little fact-finding. I went to talk to the police in Alamos, a charming, Andalusian-style colonial town. Actually, three policemen were standing in the middle of the street during one of the largest music festivals in the world, named after Dr. Ortiz Tirado.

When guests exited an opera performance that was held in an indoor venue, they followed costumed local musicians in a street parade called a callejoneada, where wine was carried on the back of a donkey and distributed freely to enhance the party mood. Then everyone headed to another area of the city, where locals were boogeying to a Puerto Rican band.

"Dangerous job?" I asked the law enforcers.

They looked at me as though I had just landed from the planet Gronzo.

"Yeah. It's dangerous to be bored," one of them replied with an indulgent smile. "There's nothing for us to do. Wish we could dance."

I emailed my amigos back home that they could fill up their calendars, as they didn't have to wait to see what day my funeral would be.

The next morning, I snaked past paraders in stilts and masks to talk to Joaquin Navarro, the mayor of Alamos, who is also a doctor.

"Is it dangerous to be here?" I asked him.

He laughed. A well-known local politico, he had no security guard, and he was unarmed. He offered to take me to visit a genuine haunted house-his idea of danger.

At the gorgeous Hacienda de los Santos, where I stayed, I was in danger of gaping too intensely at the Mexican art collection, ogling the fine silver jewelry in the gift shop, and eating too much as I dined outdoors, overlooking the lush gardens. Next to me, a wealthy businessman was waxing ecstatic over his five-course filet mignon dinner, which only set him back $27. At downtown Charisma restaurant, dining under huge, perforated tin stars, surrounded by white Andalusian arches, I was horrified that after eating flash fried calamari with spicy dipping sauce, corn bread muffins, blue cheese truffle fries and rice paper salmon with lemon grass sweet and sour sauce, I still asked for the dessert menu.

In Guaymas, it certainly was threatening to be on a sunset cruise, looking out at the mountains that swooped down to the water's edge.

At the Perlas del Mar de Cortez pearl farm, I had to hold fast to my credit card so I didn't buy a $5,000 necklace made from pearls grown in the rare rainbow lip oyster. At the Delfinario Sonora, it was a threat to my well-being to talk to a blind man who had been helped by therapy outside of the water, as well as inside the water with the dolphins. Why? Because I wanted to become a therapist.

In Hermosillo, the danger was that I couldn't find a brochure after visiting the spectacular contemporary Museum of Art of Sonora, where the current exhibit, that includes work by Francis Bacon, Botero, Picasso, Giacometti, Magritte and Henry Moore, reportedly is worth $100,000,000.

So there you have it. My head is still attached to my body. I came home with some great folk art. And although there are a few areas in Mexico I would not willingly visit right now, I would visit the rest of Mexico again in a heartbeat. Or half a heartbeat.

As I write this, wrapped in a red fleece sweater, I am in danger of ripping it off and heading back to warm, welcoming Sonora.

All photos by Paul Ross.

Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist who has contributed to more than 100 publications. She is the author of the acclaimed book LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Sometimes she takes people on trips with her. Her website is