Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Staying safe in Mexico means more than avoiding the ‘bad guys’

Now that I’ve done a few “how to Mexico”-type articles for newcomers, ideas for more have been rolling in! There are many good ones to be addressed (and many I’ll have to do quite a bit of research for). 

I won’t go straight through on only these topics — I’m betting there are at least, like, eight or so people who appreciate my social and political commentary as well, and things are happening, people!— but I’ll try to do at least one a month for the foreseeable future.

This week, we’re going to talk about safety.

When most people think about safety in Mexico, they likely assume that staying safe is mostly about avoiding “the bad guys,” a population that’s about the same size pretty much anywhere in the world. While this kind of advice certainly does have a place, for now, I’m trying to primarily stick with the “things you might not know that you don’t know” category.

So, without further ado: a few how-tos (but not an exhaustive list) on safety!

How to not blow yourself up or die of carbon monoxide poisoning

After my last article about gas in Mexico (which is actually a combination of propane and butane and not just propane, one reader informed me), I received several emails from people who had had close calls themselves or knew others who had suffered greatly from preventable accidents involving the gas where they were staying.

Since so many places in Mexico still use gas for so many things in the home, accidents involving it are things we must be on the lookout to prevent. Gas explosions are the more dramatic-seeming of the two, and, while rare, certainly happen. 

More insidious is carbon monoxide poisoning, which can happen rather easily and without anyone detecting anything is wrong. This can quickly lead to death or serious medical emergencies

Old water heaters are often the culprit, but, really, for those not accustomed to noticing the smell of gas, any leak can be dangerous. And if you’re like me, you might lie down to see if you feel better once symptoms start (headache, dizziness, confusion, among others), which in the case of a gas leak, could literally be the death of you.

The solution? In addition to making sure your various apparatuses are in good working order, a carbon monoxide detector or three can be a lifesaver. I’ll admit, I myself have never had one — but after hearing so many stories from you all, I will be getting one very shortly!

How not to get run over (and how to reduce your chances of an accident)

My third-ever article for Mexico News Daily was about some of the bigger differences in driving style down here than what many of us are used to. The short version is: trusting cars to behave the way you expect is a downright bad policy, and the infrastructure necessary for them to behave in predictable ways is not necessarily there anyway. 

First tip: if you’re on foot and there’s a pedestrian bridge, always use it if you can and it feels safe to do so; also use crosswalks. You’ll see plenty of Mexicans sprinting across the roads and dodging oncoming cars, but unless you absolutely have to, just…do not. Remember as well that — like everywhere else — drivers are often preoccupied with their cell phones, even when they’re actively driving, and might simply not see you. 

Make sure, as well, that you always look both ways before crossing, even on one-way streets. Road signs are sometimes simply seen here as suggestions, and I’ve seen plenty of people “back up” in their vehicles for a full four blocks because they missed a turn or didn’t realize they were on a one-way street until it was too late. You never know! 

If you need to cross and there’s no place to do so “officially,” do your best to make eye contact with the lead driver of the oncoming traffic. They’ll usually slow down and either wave you over with their hand or flash their lights as a “go ahead” signal so you can cross, and when they do this, other cars typically take notice and stop as well. 

Finally, if you absolutely must cross at a point where there’s no pedestrian bridge, traffic signals or crosswalks, try to do so at the same time as other people, as oncoming drivers will be much more likely to see several people than just one person.

As far as driving goes? This rule has served me so far: drive as if you believed everyone else on the road were both drunk and crying hysterically. Staying far behind other cars on the road and letting people into your lane or past you when they’re desperate has saved me from several accidents so far. Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits is also a favorite nerve-calming driving soundtrack for me!

How to not get your stuff stolen

Anyone anywhere can be a victim of theft, of course, but there are a few things you can do to lower the chances of that happening. Foreigners from countries where financial institutions allow you to dispute charges easily and without question may be taken aback by the response of Mexican banks to a report of theft or fraud: they are (unfortunately) well-known for saying “too bad, so sad” if your card gets stolen and a balance runs up.

So, if you do a lot of walking around and/or make regular use of cozy (read: packed) public transport, it’s a good idea to keep your phone and wallet in front of you rather than in back. While back pockets are comfy storage, they’re relatively easy for others to access, especially in a crowded situation. Keep them in your front pockets instead, or in a bag or purse. 

I carry purses quite a lot, and always make sure mine have some important features: zippers or snaps so they can’t be reached into and straps that allow me to keep them right under my arm (when out walking, I prefer messenger bags, which can be pulled to the front if necessary). It’s also a good idea to not carry too much money or especially too many cards with you.

So that’s three big things for now! Stay safe out there, folks, and don’t forget to also avoid the bad guys; I’m campaigning for them to get obvious villain uniforms for easy ID but haven’t succeeded yet. I’ll let you know!

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com

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