Flights of imagination

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."

- Samuel Johnson



By the time we reached our room at the resort, my nerves were shot and my anxiety level was somewhere between skittery-jitters and ready-to-scream.



After taking four exhausting flights across the continent, we checked in after dark in the middle of a torrential downpour. You could've surfed the wave rushing down the street. The air was heavy, hot and humid and smelled metallic.



We crammed ourselves into the cab of a small, two-seater truck alongside the porter, and he handed us a large umbrella as he deposited us outside the door of our suite and went back for our luggage.



Our room was damp and cavernous and I braced myself for the wave that would surely flow under the door and flood everything.



It was raining too hard to venture out on foot in search of dinner, even if the travel warning on the federal government's website hadn't scared me senseless, and so we turned in early.



I lay awake in the dark for ages, listening to the pounding rain and expecting any minute that the door would be kicked in by gun-toting, drug-crazed banditos or riddled with bullet holes. Surely the flimsy room safe offered no real security against such a threat, and our small wad of cash, my inexpensive jewelry and our passports were easy targets, as were we.



I would drift off occasionally only to sit bolt-upright, wakened by an unknown noise in unfamiliar surroundings. Did someone try the door handle? Was there someone outside the window? I didn't want to be a target of violent crime at the best of times, but on our honeymoon? I prayed to God to keep us safe.



Welcome to Acapulco.



Brand new day

I woke the next morning to a room flooded with sunlight in a stunningly beautiful place of lush palms and vibrant flowers, flitting green and yellow birds, royal blue swimming pools, white lounge chairs and teak tables. When we took a stroll around the grounds, everyone we met greeted us with a warm smile and a welcoming "Hola!"



The world was in sharp contrast to how it had seemed the night before - a paranoid interlude brought to me by the fine folks in the federal government.



Read the travel warning for Mexico on the Foreign Affairs Canada website and you'd be hard-pressed to figure out why anyone would go there at all if they didn't have to.



"Crimes, murders and firefights linked to drug turf wars have risen substantially, mainly in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, MichoacÁn, Nuevo Leon and Sinaloa ...," the website advises (we were in Guerrero).



"In the state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala, the use of firearms between criminal gangs has often been reported. While Canadians are not specifically targeted, they risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Law enforcement and police protection are often lacking."



The site also advises of the prevalence of violent robberies, purse-snatching, pickpocketing, abduction, assaults and blackmail; of taxi drivers, security guards and others posing as tour guides and then forcing hapless tourists to withdraw money from their ATM; of poorly constructed, uninspected balconies crumbling, sending visitors plummeting to their death; of room safes being rifled regularly; of travellers being drugged and robbed.



Throw in the threat of swine flu, since Mexico is where the first cases of H1N1 were diagnosed, and it's not exactly Xanadu, eh?



Safe and sound

And yet what we found in Acapulco was none of that. We walked the main strip through the city every day and walked back to the resort every evening after dinner, without incident. The locals were friendly, warm and helpful.



Yes, we were assaulted by traffic noise, and we were targeted by aggressive would-be tour guides and time-share salesmen on many occasions, but that's about as violent as it got.



Our passports and cash sat untouched in our room safe, and no one made a grab for my inexpensive shell necklace and bracelet, bought from a street vendor for about $15.



A cab driver told us that while gun violence is common because of drug gangs and turf wars, that violence rarely extends into the tourist areas of Acapulco.



And while I have no doubt that the warning on the federal government's website is based on accurate information, and while I agree that forewarned is forearmed, our experience just goes to show you that not everything that can happen will happen.



"Please tell your friends that Mexico is OK and that they should come here," one man told us on an Acapulco street.



While it would be misleading to suggest that all of Mexico is an oasis of calm, it is also misleading to suggest that the entire country is a hotbed of criminality. Generalizations are bad for tourism.



Just imagine what a travel warning for Newfoundland might say:



Due to desperation caused by a widespread drug problem, armed robberies, break-ins and muggings are commonplace. Homes are invaded from time to time. Driving - both city and highway driving - is problematic due to the number of people who insist on driving while soused, and due to the constant presence of heavy, clumsy, four-legged beasts with a death wish. Clifftop walking trails can be unstable, and high winds can send visitors plummeting to the sea below. Rogue waves can pluck unwary tourists from the shore. Fog makes air travel to the island unreliable at times. Expect delays and cancellations. Local politicians have been implicated in a corruption scandal. The premier of the province regularly unleashes his considerable fury...

Hasta la vista, baby.



Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Foreign Affairs Canada

Geographic location: Baja California, Acapulco, Mexico Guerrero Chihuahua Coahuila Nuevo Leon Sinaloa Chiapas Guatemala Xanadu Newfoundland

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