September 30, 2014
U.S. State Department Advisories for Mexico
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Mexico is "066". Although there may be English-speaking operators available, to avoid delay it is best to seek the assistance of a Spanish speaker to place the call.
Driving and Vehicle Regulations: U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican law requires that only owners drive their vehicles, or that the owner be inside the vehicle. If not, the vehicle may be seized by Mexican customs and will not be returned under any circumstances. The Government of Mexico strictly regulates the entry of vehicles into Mexico. Traffic laws in Mexico are sporadically enforced and therefore often ignored by drivers, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians. Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal in all parts of Mexico. Using a mobile device (such as a cell phone) is also prohibited while driving in many parts of Mexico, including Mexico City, and violators may be fined.
Insurance: Mexican insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. Mexican auto insurance is sold in most cities and towns on both sides of the border. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Mexico, nor is most collision and comprehensive coverage issued by U.S. companies. Motor vehicle insurance is considered invalid in Mexico if the driver is found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Road Emergencies and Automobile Accidents: Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death of U.S. citizens in Mexico. Motorists should exercise caution and remain alert on all Mexican roads. If you have an emergency while driving, the equivalent of "911" in Mexico is "066", but this number is not always answered. If you are driving on a toll highway (or "cuota"), or any other major highway, you may contact the Green Angels (Angeles Verdes), a fleet of trucks with bilingual crews. The Green Angels may be reached directly at (01) (55) 5250-8221. If you are unable to call them, pull off to the side of the road and lift the hood of your car; chances are that they will find you.
If you are involved in an automobile accident, you may be taken into police custody until it can be determined who is liable and whether you have the ability to pay any penalty. If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you may be prevented from departing the country even if you require life-saving medical care, and you are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and adequate financial satisfaction received. Drivers may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.
Road Safety: Avoid driving on Mexican highways at night. Even multi-lane expressways in Mexico often have narrow lanes and steep shoulders. Single-vehicle rollover accidents are common, often resulting in death or serious injury to vehicle occupants. Use extreme caution when approaching towns, driving on curves, and passing large trucks. Wear seatbelts at all times. Criminal assaults have occurred on highways throughout Mexico; travelers should exercise extreme caution at all times and should use toll ("cuota") roads rather than the less secure "free" ("libre") roads whenever possible. Always keep car doors locked and windows up while driving, whether on the highway or in town. While in heavy traffic, or stopped in traffic, leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver and escape, if necessary. In addition, U.S. citizens should not hitchhike or accept rides from or offer rides to strangers anywhere in Mexico. Please refer to our Road Safety Page for more information.
Demonstrations: Demonstrations are common and occur in all parts of the country. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Protesters in Mexico may block traffic on roads, including major thoroughfares, or take control of toll booths on highways. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests. Travelers should avoid participating in demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the authorities as the Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners; such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.
CRIME: Crime in Mexico continues to occur at a high rate and can be violent. Street crime, ranging from pick-pocketing to armed robbery, is a serious problem in most major cities. Carjacking is also common (see the Travel Warning for Mexico for more specific information). Rates of kidnappings and extortions in parts of Mexico have risen sharply in recent years, driven largely by violence associated with transnational criminal groups and increasingly smaller street gangs.. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect foreign visitors traveling to major tourist destinations. As a result, resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see high levels of violence and crime. Nevertheless, , the security situation poses serious risks for anyone, including U.S. citizens. U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are encouraged to report incidents to the police and to the nearest U.S. consular office.The Mexican government has taken significant steps to strengthen its law enforcement capabilities at the federal level. However, state and local police forces continue to suffer from a lack of training and funding, and are a weak deterrent to criminals, who are often armed with superior weapons. In some areas, municipal police are widely suspected of colluding with organized criminal groups. In other areas, police officers are specifically targeted by criminal organizations. Because of the dangerous situation in which police officers operate, all travelers are advised to take a non-threatening posture when interacting with police and to cooperate with police instructions. We further advise travelers to avoid any areas where public security or law enforcement operations are being actively carried out.
Pirated Merchandise: Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Mexico. Their sale is largely controlled by organized crime. Purchase for personal use is not criminalized in Mexico; however, bringing these goods back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Personal Property: Travelers should always leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or avoid bringing them at all. Visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, clothing, or accessories, and carry only the cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing. There have been significant numbers of incidents of pick pocketing, purse snatching, and hotel-room theft. Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets.
Do not leave valuables in rental vehicles, even when locked. Some travelers have had their passports stolen from their bags at airports. Remember to safeguard your passport within a zipper pocket or other safe enclosure so that it cannot be easily removed from your person or your luggage. Take steps to protect your passport even after passing through security and while waiting in a departure lounge to board your flight.
Business travelers should be aware that theft can occur even in seemingly secure locations. Briefcases,laptops, and similar items are regularly stolen at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport and at business-class hotels. Passengers arriving at Mexican airports who need pesos should use the exchange counters or ATMs in the arrival/departure gate area, where access is restricted, rather than changing money after passing through customs, where they can be observed by criminals. A number of U.S. citizens have been arrested for using counterfeit currency they had earlier received as change. If you receive what you believe to be a counterfeit bank note, bring it to the attention of Mexican law enforcement.
Personal Safety: Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe, and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable. Some U.S. citizens have reported being sexually assaulted, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses or Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Individuals who have been targeted were often walking alone in isolated locations. Be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If you must use an ATM, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets). Travelers to remote areas should be aware that they may be far away from appropriate medical services, banking facilities (such as ATMs), and law enforcement or consular assistance in an emergency.
Kidnapping: The number of kidnappings reported throughout Mexico is of particular concern.. According to statistics published by Mexican government in 2013, kidnappings in Mexico increased by 20 percent compared with 2012. While kidnappings can occur anywhere, the states with the highest numbers of kidnappings reported last year were Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Mexico State, and Morelos. According to another widely publicized government study, Mexico suffered an estimated 105,682 kidnappings in 2012 (including traditional, virtual, and express kidnappings - see below for a description of these crimes); of which only 1,317 were reported to the police. Police have been implicated in some of these incidents. Both local and expatriate communities have been victimized. Almost 90 kidnappings of U.S. citizens were reported to the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico between April and November of 2013.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to lower their personal profiles and to avoid wearing conspicuous jewelry or clothing bearing logos of U.S. sports teams or military themed apparel which that may identify them as U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated.
Kidnappings in Mexico have included traditional, "express" and "virtual" kidnappings. Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for their release. "Express" kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released. A "virtual" kidnapping is an extortion by deception scheme wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves from family and friends until a ransom is paid. The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones. The victim's family is then contacted and a ransom for the "kidnapped" extracted. Recently, some travelers to Mexico staying at hotels as guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.
Credit/Debit Card "Skimming": Exercise caution when using credit or debit cards. There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens in Mexico have had their card numbers "skimmed" and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. ("Skimming" is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader, or using a camera and skimmer installed in an ATM machine.) The risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and that they only carry what they need. Most restaurants and other businesses will bring the credit card machine to your table so that you can keep the card in your possession at all times. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions.
Buses and Public Transportation: Whenever possible, visitors should travel by bus only during daylight hours and only by first-class conveyance. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have experienced a markedly lower rate of incidents than (second- and third-class) buses that travel the less secure "free" highways. Although the police have made progress in bringing this type of crime under control, armed robberies of entire busloads of passengers still occur, including recent armed robberies of local commuter buses traveling within Mexico City. There was one recent incident involving the placement of contraband under a bus seat of an unwitting U.S. citizen passenger. Be sure to check around and under your seat and immediately report any items that do not belong to you. Metro (subway) robberies are frequent in Mexico City, especially during peak travel times. If riding the metro or the city bus system, U.S. citizens should take extreme care with valuables and belongings.
Taxis: Robberies and assaults on passengers in "libre" taxis (that is, taxis not affiliated with a taxi stand) are frequent and can be violent, with passengers subjected to beating, shooting, and sexual assault. U.S. citizens visiting Mexico should avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance. When in need of a taxi, telephone a radio taxi or "sitio" (regulated taxi stand - pronounced "C-T-O"), and ask the dispatcher for the driver's name and the taxi's license plate number. Ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual to write down the license plate number of the cab you are taking. Avoid "libre" taxis and the Volkswagen beetle taxis altogether. Although "libre" taxis are more convenient and less expensive, these are not as well regulated, may be unregistered, and are potentially more dangerous. U.S. Embassy employees in Mexico City are prohibited from using "libre" taxis, or any taxis hailed on the street, and are authorized to use only "sitio" taxis.
Passengers arriving at any airport in Mexico should take only authorized airport taxis after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths located and well publicized inside the airport.
Harassment/Extortion: In some instances, U.S. citizens have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by alleged Mexican law enforcement, immigration and other officials. Mexican authorities have cooperated in investigating such cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Please note this information if you have a problem with police or other officials. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or immigration or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification. Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime in Mexico.
One extortion technique, known as the "grandparent scam", involves calls placed by persons alleging to be attorneys or government employees claiming that a person's relative - nearly always a purported grandchild - has been in a car accident in Mexico and has been arrested/detained. The caller asks for a large sum of money to ensure the subject's release. When the recipient of the call checks on their family member, they discover that the entire story is false. If the alleged detainee cannot be located in the U.S. and the family has reason to believe that the person did, in fact, travel to Mexico, contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate for assistance in determining if they have been detained by authorities. Further information on international financial scams is available on our website.Beware of possible scams involving inflated prices for tourist-related goods and services and avoid patronizing restaurants and other service providers that do not have clearly listed prices. You should check with your hotel for the names of reputable establishments and service providers in the area. When using credit cards for payment you should try to maintain direct visibility of the person swiping the card in the machine to protect against credit card skimming.
Sexual Assault: Rape and sexual assault continue to be serious problems in resort and other areas. Many of these incidents occur at night or during the early morning hours, in hotel rooms, or on deserted beaches. Acquaintance rape is a serious problem. Hotel workers, taxi drivers, and security personnel have been implicated in many cases. Women should avoid being alone, particularly in isolated areas and at night. It is imperative that victims file a police report, which should include a "rape kit" exam, against the perpetrator(s) as soon as possible at the nearest police station. There have been several cases where the victim traveled back to the U.S. without filing a police report or undergoing a rape exam; their attempts to document their case later on lacked credibility with local Mexican authorities.
There have been instances of contamination or drugging of drinks to gain control over the patron.
See the information under "Special Circumstances" below regarding Spring Break in Mexico if you are considering visiting Mexican resort areas between February and April, when thousands of U.S. college students traditionally arrive in those areas. Additional information designed specifically for traveling students is also available on our Students Abroad website.
Organized Crime and Violencein Mexico: Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are engaged in a violent struggle to control trafficking routes and other criminal activity including kidnappings and extortion. Recent attacks and persistent security concerns have prompted the Department of State to urge U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to certain parts of Mexico and to advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution. For updated and more detailed information on these areas and the threats involved, please refer to the Travel Warning for Mexico.
TCOs have increasingly targeted unsuspecting individuals, who cross the border on a regular and predictable basis traveling between known destinations, as a way to smuggle drugs to the United States. They affix drugs to the undercarriage of the traveler's car while it is parked in Mexico. Once in the United States, members of the organization remove the packages while the vehicle is unattended. If you are a frequent border crosser, you should vary your routes and travel times as well as closely monitor your vehicle to avoid being targeted.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime in Mexico, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy, consulate or consular agency (see the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates). Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you. We can:
Replace a stolen passport. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate.
Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, we can contact family members or friends.
Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime. Under the best of circumstances, prosecution is very difficult (a fact some assailants appear to exploit knowingly), but no criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to Mexican authorities.
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Mexico is "066". Although there may be English-speaking operators available, to avoid delay it is best to seek the assistance of a Spanish speaker to place the call.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
September 28, 2014
Jones Pass is a pass over the Continental Divide that I discovered one morning about three years ago by looking out of the plane window on my way to San Francisco. I saw a road going over the continental divide that came down just north of Silverthorne, but there wasn't a road there. (At least...not that I was aware of.) Sure enough...it's there alright. Pretty cool little mountain pass and I went and hit it today just to have an excuse to get outside. It's supposed to rain tomorrow so...
Here's a link to my first ride up there three years ago.
September 25, 2014
September 22, 2014
And maybe in September, the seasons changed.
On Friday morning, the snows returned, pushing down summer's grasses. Releasing the seeds of next year's fields. The Scrub Oaks faded from green to brown and surrendered their leaves into the fields.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk, new to the area, discovered the neighbor's chickens and came to rest. Waiting for the chickens to make a mistake. To step out into the open, so that he might pounce down on them above.
In the evening, the clouds moved in, delivering thick monsoon rains of summer, so that no one might think we lived in a desert any more. But the rains went against the climate change models, so no one talked about the rains. Only the mountains that had once been brown by summers end were as green as May fields now. And no one talked of it. And no one spoke of it. Only we grew to love the green jungle mountains now. And if the eastern face of the Rockies grew as green as the western face, no one spoke of it.
Somehwhere overhead, the airplanes wandered across broad skies.
A dove coos softly from the neighbor's new roof.
It's so easy to see what's here. So hard to notice what's not here. The way the trees disappeared when I crossed Atigun's Pass, but I failed to notice. You look out and see only arctic tundra, but I never noticed that the trees had gone. I missed that somehow.
What's not here now is the lazy hammers of summer. They've all been put away. Packed away for the winter. And the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds have gone now. They were here last week but not I notice that they've flown south for the winter. It's so hard to sit here and notice what's missing. But somehow I feel obligated. Challenged to note what's gone.
The Dandelions are all gone. They've all spent their seeds up on the winds.
The spots on the deer have nearly faded away.
Chick-a-dee-dee-dee they call, hammering from the feeders. Beneath the feeders, the skunks move in to eat the seeds. Something startles the skunks, and they spray the front of my house. So I trap the skunks. But nothing is worse than having a live skunk in a live animal trap. I want to just let them die slowly, but Bud won't have it. I have to shoot them. It's the right thing to do.
It's funny to think how we all have our own ideas about right and wrong. I don't approve of all of the animals he shoots, and vice versa. Everyone has their own little set of principles, of right and wrong. What to let live, and what to let die.
And beneath the dense jungled desert grasses, the cats pounced on mice, birds, and grasshoppers.
Anything they caught was hurried inside and released so that it might be caught again, and again. Live an old soldier, reliving the victories of his youth.
Everything lives in fear of the cats, except the foxes and the skunks. They seem content to coexist. The cats go nose-to-nose with the skunks and the foxes, but no one wants to take it any further, really.
And maybe, the dogs bark off in the distance. And the Mountain Chickadees split seeds from the feeder on the branches of the Mountain Lilac.
An imposter flies down onto the fence, calling like a crow, but unconvincingly so. It's not a crow. It's a Stellar's Jay imitating a crow, for reasons only he might imagine. He imitates many birds...a Red-tailed Hawk and a Crow are just a few of the birds I've heard him imitate. But only he's not so convincing to me. I know when it's him. He's not fooling me.
Everyone grows up and then drifts away, like dandelion seeds on the wind. Leaving behind these old, furrowed fields. Plowed too deep and too long. Wasting away beneath short summer suns, but no new people come into the mountains. Only the people seem to age, but never die, like the methusula trees that paint the tree lines onto the mountains.
Everyone fades and cracks. Shuffling aimlessly, frail and brittle through empty houses wondering where the sun has gone. Where the birds have flown. When they'll return. And what's it all for, anyway?
September 7, 2014
Pokey Didn't Come Home Last Night
So last night, the black cat (Pokey) didn't come home. We let them out during the day. This is my decision. Jennifer isn't crazy about the idea, but I like for the cats to be outdoors. They have so much more fun out there, killing mice, birds, grasshoppers. Say what you will, I believe cats are happier outdoors. The vets and the adoption agencies make you sign a pledge that your cat will never see the light of day, but I let the cats out anyway.
The problem is that, we live in an area with lots of wild animals. I have seen, on the property, black bears, elk, deer, foxes, mountain lions, and coyotes. As a rule, cats don't live that long up here. So, what I do is let the cats out during the day, and then lock them inside at night. In the morning, Jennifer lets the cats out when she leaves for school.
On the weekends, I let the cats out in the morning...they pounce on me and start crying as soon as the sun comes up.
That's sort of the routine, and it's worked well enough up to this point.
But then last night (Sat night), Wallie came in at night, but Pokey never did. She just never came home. I locked Pokey inside, and I kept checking all night for Pokey, but she never turned up. Normally, they show up on the front patio, and I let them in. That's how it goes.
But then, Pokey never came home. And Jennifer is so attached to these cats...she's told me that she doesn't want them to be outside, at all, ever - and that if anything happens to them, she'll just die. So, I let the cats out, but I know that, if one of them ever dies or disappears, we're going to be in for a serious meltdown.
I still remember the last time it happened...she had a cat named "Kitty" that didn't come home one night, and she asked me about it while we were grocery shopping down the hill. I told her the truth...that Kitty didn't come home, and she just fell apart in my arms in the middle of the grocery store. The people just parted around us.
And now, today, Jen comes up and I can't let Wallie out, because I'm not sure what even happened to Pokey. So Wallie is locked inside and Jen asks about Pokey and I'm just like....
"Pokey didn't come home last night..."
Jen just turns around and heads back up the stairs, starting the old, familiar meltdown. Just the saddest thing you've ever seen.
"Come on....let's go look for her," I offer. But like....it's just a futile attempt....who knows where she is...where she could have gone...I have no clue...I don't even know what we're looking for...a dead cat? A pile of bones? I don't even know, honestly.
I have so many vehicles there just aren't words...we get on a green Honda ATV and start slowly driving around the property...like...I have no idea where to go, or what we're looking for really...in the back, we jump a few deer...a mom and two spotted fawns. Then, as we get up close to the house, I can't get the ATV to downshift. It's like stuck in 3rd gear and I need it in 1st and I get get it to downshift.
And I hate this part...I do like zero maintenance on my toys and I'm not much of a mechanic...I'm mostly just lazy, I think...it's been acting funny for years and I've never bothered to fix it, or get it fixed. I finally get it into the right gear, and we drive up to the swingset...a large wooden swingset that came with the house.
"There's Timmy..." Jennifer offers, when she spots a black cat perched atop the wooden playground.
I look up to see a black cat, high up in the wooden parapets of the children's swingset and fort. It was the only condition I had when I bought the house..."the swingset and fort stays here...It comes with the house."
"I don't think that's Timmy....I think that's Pokey..." the two cats are difficult to distinguish. They're both as black as coal. Pokey is slightly smaller, has a faint white spot on her breast, and an occlusion in her right eye that Timmy lacks. But from a distance, they're hard to tell apart.
Finally, I realize what has happened. There's been another cat in the neighborhood, that has been going around and attacking our cats. First, he attacked Timmy. Now, he's attacked Pokey. Pokey spent the night up in the tree fort, because it was the safest position she could find to defend. She's got some scratches on her...behind both ears...behind both front legs...she's definitely been in a fight, and she spent the night in the fort, scared for her life. Too afraid even to come when I was outside calling for her to come in.
We bring Pokey back into the house, and are keeping her and Wallie inside for now. Any cat that comes onto my property and attacks my cats, is about to meet Allah.
September 1, 2014
Jackson, Wyoming to SF, CA
One of my motorcycle buddies asked me how to get from Jackson, WY to SF, CA and, in my mind, there are two different general routes to get there. (Understanding that no motorcyclist with any sense would want to get on an interstate.)
1) Go through Craters of the Moon, Idaho, then head west to the coast, drop down the coast to San Francisco following The Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1 and 101). Here's a slideshow of what you'll see if you take the northern route: http://www.peeniewallie.com/2012/07/postcards-from-40.html
2) Go south out of Jackson, Wyoming, following the Snake River down through the Star Valley of Idaho, then down by Salt Lake City, Utah, then follow US Highway 50 and US Highway 6 across the deserts of Utah and Nevada. This road is known as "the loneliest road in America", but it is a beautiful drive. You will come over Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park, a stunning park, then go west into San Francisco. Here's a video of what you'll see if you go this (southern) route: http://www.peeniewallie.com/2011/09/postcards-from-30.html
Once you get to San Francisco, be sure to see the city for a few days. Spectacular. When you leave the city, follow the coast south along the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). You can go south as far as you like, but Los Angeles is a nightmare of traffic. The Pacific Coast Highway is nice all the way to Santa Barbara. At Santa Barbara, it turns into a 4 lane, and isn't as nice, IMHO.