La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

(Avoiding) Crime in Mexico City

Or "Surviving Mexico City as a short, blonde gringa."

This article in La Jornada makes two important points regarding kidnappings in Mexico City. First, the overall number of kidnappings is in decline. Second, kidnappers are now more likely to kidnap students without much research into their family's ability to pay. No longer do kidnappers research families and kidnap the wealthiest victims. Kidnapping has become a crime against middle-class and even some working-class families. Kidnappers have been known to demand as little as US$1000, though for a working class family it could represent several months wages.

I now have the good fortune of having lived in Mexico City on three separate ocasions for a total of over three years. I have also had the good fortune to have never been a victim of violent crime (and I knock on wood as I say this). The U.S. State Department maintains a page with information for those travelling to Mexico, including a special announcement regarding violence along the border. They also have tips for travellers to Mexico, updated May 2005.

To this information, I thought I would add my own suggestions for a safe trip to Mexico City, or "How I survived Mexico City as a short blonde gringa without being assulted":

1. Never, ever, ever take a cab off the street. Especially, never, ever, ever take a street cab in a touristy area or one waiting outside a mall or movie theatre that is not part of a taxi stand. Always use a site cab or call a cab. These cost more, but your safety is worth it. (Some Taximex cabbies speak English, and when my mom left her jacket in a Taximex cab, we were able to get it back.)

2. Only use ATMs inside Sanborn's or large grocery stores.

3. If you must do business at a bank or use a bank ATM, go to the bank before 10AM and immediately take your cash home with you.

4. If you must carry large sums of cash between the ATM and your home, stick it in your bra; this is what middle-aged Mexican women do. (Sorry, men, I don't know where you would put it.)

5. Whenever possible, do not carry your ATM card (or credit cards) with you.

6. Keep less than $250 in the checking account that you access with your ATM card. Ask your bank to disconnect your savings account from your ATM, and use internet or phone banking to transfer funds to your checking account when you need to withdraw them. (The logic of this? If you get express kidnapped with your ATM card, your balance will not justify keeping you overnight to make a second day withdrawal. Most ATMs will allow up to US$300 withdrawal per day.)

7. On public transit, carry two wallets or a wallet and a change purse. Keep about $US10 in the change purse and make it easy to give up in a hold-up of the bus. Keep large sums of cash at home or in your bra. (Merchants don't blink twice when a woman removes money from her bra.)

8. Look grumpy and mean at all times, especially if you're short, blonde, and perky.

9. Carry pepper spray if you walk alone at night. If you can't bring it with you (given airline restrictions), buy a personal can at Wal-Mart or other large chain store in Mexico. It is usually in the automotive or hardware department.

10. Take buses instead of the Metro. In the Metro, people always stared and assumed I was a tourist. On buses, no one ever paid any attention to me. The bus system is so crazy and confusing that only a local would know how to use it. Having said that, the bus system is suprising logical. If there is a very large avenue with buses going up and down it, then the buses probably don't turn off the avenue and just go up and down it. If you need to go somewhere beyond the Metro system, you take the Metro to the nearest endpoint, and then ask for the bus that goes where you need to go.

11. Do not carry your passport and visa, but carry a copy of both.

posted by Michelle @ 12:43 PM,


At 7/21/2005 7:03 PM, Blogger Camicao said...

Michelle, this is really, really useful. May be going to DF in a few months. Last time I was there for an extended period was in the 80's before all the crime wave stuff worsened. I always felt safe in DF but lately, after all I've heard I'm a bit nervous.

At 7/21/2005 10:28 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Glad to be of help. I always felt relatively safe, but mainly because I was very careful. The biggies are the cabs and bank transactions. Looking mean can help, too, but since I'm 5', I can't claim that explains my luck.


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