Paradise or Danger Hotspot: Mexico’s Caribbean Nirvana

Standard
IMG_2272

Cancún, Mexico pristine Caribbean coastline

We’ve all seen those picture perfect postcards of a pristine white beach with wooden thatched bungalows and multicoloured beach umbrellas that line the crystal azure ocean. Beautiful women baking in the sun, children and men playing in the surf with people parasailing in the distance. These places are often the mecca of cultural integration, where people from across the globe travel to spend time in awe of the picturesque landscape, a place that could only be painted by the divine.

However some of these paradisiacal locations are found in the global south; areas of severe poverty and political repression. Unbeknownst to the many tourists who visit these beautiful areas they can be indirectly supporting these often corrupt regimes.

Located on the west of the Caribbean lies a small, but world-renowned town of Cancún, along with neighbouring Riviera Maya and Isla Mujeres, it makes up the tourist hotspots of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Featuring white sandy beaches and pristine clear turquoise oceans, historically, this area was home to many of the ancient Mayan civilisations with the remnants of their empires still visible today in the decaying pyramids and enigmatic monsters made of stone and carved into primordial edifices.

A 25 kilometre strip of coastline in the shape of a “7” is known as Zona Hotelera and is covered with luxury resorts and ancient Mayan ruins highlighting the collision of both modern and ancient civilisations. These contemporary resorts showcase the modern step that both Cancún and Mexico as a whole has taken in the last few decades to cater for the huge influx of tourist from north of the border who are choosing Mexico as their next holiday destination.

Zona Hotelera however has a veiled secret. During the day you wouldn’t suspect a thing, this prepossessing part of the world is as picturesque as those postcards with perfectly manicured gardens and pristine coastlines, but after nightfall during Spring, this Caribbean holiday hotspot goes from tropical nirvana to reckless student amusement park that the city is world-renowned for. Anyone not jumped up on copious amounts of alcohol or illicit drugs would find this place quite confrontational.

It is March 2013 and Australian student Stephen Cuff, on exchange in Boston from Melbourne, is visiting Cancún to experience the birthright of all college students, one that sees students from across the United States flock to their southern neighbour. “Spring Break is an American college tradition, as a student from Melbourne I was particularly interested in visiting a popular Spring Break destination, one that I’ve seen numerous times on television and film as a place where students have to visit. Cancún always looks to be the life of the party, and growing up in Australia, Spring Break is a new cultural experience that I was interested to take part in. Additionally it was pleasant to get out of the cold, below-zero Boston weather and spend the week on the beaches of Mexico.”

It’s recommended by the U.S. State Department that travellers intending to visit Mexico remain vigilant throughout their travels, avoid visiting areas that are experiencing drug violence, and before planning their trip, to visit the State Departments website for travel advisories. For many students booking their ideal Spring Break, this is not the case.
“Prior to booking my trip to Cancún I googled to see if the city was generally a safe place to visit. I know ten of thousands of students visit yearly for Spring Break and the area is full of tourists year round. Cancún itself is pretty westernised so I came to the conclusion that it would be safe to travel there despite the constant media coverage about the drug cartel wars and crime happening in the country.” Cuff said.

With millions of U.S. citizens and other nationalities travelling to Mexico yearly for leisure, study and work, “the Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations” and there has been no evidence of criminal organisations targeting these travellers, according to the U.S. State Department.

While there is no evidence of travellers being targeted, it was only earlier this year on April 14th that six people were found suffocated after being buried alive and one decapitated in the resort town over the same weekend. According to Juan Ignacio Hernandez, deputy attorney general of the state of Quintana Roo, the victims appeared to be “independent drug dealers without any links to any specific cartels.”

In an attempt to control any outbreaks of drug violence in the city, the Mexican military were posted to Cancún during the popular Spring Break period. “On our first night out we noticed a heavy military and police presence around the nightclub and tourist areas” says Cuff. With the military personnel patrolling the streets and policing any drug violence, Cuff says he felt a lot safer knowing the military were present in the area, saying “they certainly had a sense of authority.” Although on duty, the atmosphere was relaxed as a member of the military even photobombed one of Cuff’s photos with a peace sign.

This heavy presence of military in the city could be considered as a tactical response to combat the situation which happened in Mexico’s once popular Pacific coast tourist destination of Acapulco, which saw its tourism industry virtually wiped out due to drug-related violence and conflict between rival cartels. With the primary industry in Cancún and surrounding areas being tourism, the Mexican government would be wise to ensure the safety of all visitors to the area to ensure that tourism does not vanish like that of Acapulco’s.

One person who thinks the tourist areas of Cancún are incredibly safe and even moved to the city from the United States is singer, dancer and travel writer Kristin Busse, who says that danger lies in most areas outside the populated tourist areas. “If one walks down the sidewalk or beach in the Hotel Zone of Cancún, only a few kilometres from possibly dangerous areas downtown, should they feel safe? Of course. Would a tourist wander aimlessly through the South Side of Chicago? I would hope not. What about Downtown Cancun? I would hope not.” Busse concludes that the tragedies that occur in Mexico happen similarly in the United States, only when it happens in Mexico it goes viral, unlike the U.S. saying, “would you avoid visiting Tampa, Florida because there is danger and violence in South Central Los Angeles?”

Another issue that tourists have had to face in Cancún is the corruption in the local police force. Dhiren Mistry an English student visiting Cancún from Birmingham experienced the corruption first hand while walking through a busy supermarket car park drinking a can of beer while holding an open box a beer. “This I understand would be illegal but looking around, the majority of people were all American, all on Spring Break, and were all drinking cans of alcohol.” When a police officer rode in on a motorcycle, Mistry and his friends were the unlucky few that were caught out. “There were five of us including one Mexican. Only he could communicate to the police officer since none of us understood Spanish.” After the officer established that none of them were underage, he made a call and told them that a squad car was being sent out to pick them up for public consumption, they could either pay $26,500 in Mexican Peso each (US$2,000) or spend 24 hours in Mexican prison. Not having that sort of money on them, mobile phones or travel insurance, Mistry’s Spanish-speaking friend pleaded to the officer who then said if they gave him US$200 each he would let them go. “Again we didn’t have that sort of money either. Eventually he agreed that we give him whatever we have in our wallets at the time, equivalent to US$600 spread across the five of us.” says Mistry. What happened next was that the officer looked around the area to make sure that no one was watching, he took the money and let Mistry and his friends go. After returning to their hotel, Mistry spoke to hotel staff who told him that this was an empty threat and the officer would have had absolutely no desire to arrest them, he was simply looking for an easy target, young english-speaking students, who would bribe the officer.

While police corruption in Cancún is not uncommon, there have also been reports of civilians impersonating police officers in an attempt to seek bribes from unsuspecting tourists. However the Mexican government have said that they are doing everything they can to pinpoint the corruption in the local police force, resulting in the dismissal of over 4,000 local officers in the last two years, replacing them with military troops and federal police, according to Reuters.

Annoyed with the level of corruption in the city’s police force, Mistry says that after being robbed of his money he was not able to enjoy Cancún as much as he had hoped “I think had we been aware of this sort of activity we would have known what to do better. It did taint the holiday quite a bit.” However Mistry says that he had a great time in Cancún and would recommend the Caribbean holiday hotspot as a destination for all.

With increasing reassurance and action from the Mexican government that police corruption is being tackled in the city and the drug-related violence now at an all time low, it’s quite easy to see why Cancún has become one of the largest travel destination in Mexico being the epitome of Caribbean perfection.

Advertisements

I’m Back!

Standard

Well that was quite a break from the online world.

Obviously I didn’t disconnect myself from the Internet, that’d just be silly… right?

What a year I’ve had! It started in the wintery city of Boston in the United States, where I was living and studying on exchange at Northeastern University. Here I made some great friends and had an absolute blast enjoying a completely different university lifestyle to what I am used to here in Australia. I travelled to Mexico for Spring Break where I spent eight brilliant days in the Caribbean resort town of Cancún where I partied with my friends and drank possibly too much

Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canada

tequila (if that’s a thing?). I came home looking like I visited the Sun instead with some nice permanent sunglasses. Once my time in Boston came to an end I travelled to Washington D.C. and fell in love with this city and I can’t wait to return. I then went to the city that never sleeps, New York City, where I met my parents who had flown over to spend some time travelling with me. From NYC we went on a whirlwind trip where we drove north to Canada, spend a week in Canada visiting Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and finally Niagara Falls.

After Canada we drove back down the Eastern Seaboard through New York state, Pennsylvania, and Maryland until we returned back in Washington D.C., I just had to return! From here we travelled further south through North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana where we stopped in some famous cities such as Nashville, Memphis, Jackson and New Orleans. After New Orleans we headed back east along the Gulf of Mexico to Florida where we stopped in Orlando, and of course did the theme parks and visited Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

Key West, FL

Key West, FL

Heading south once again we stopped in Fort Lauderdale and finally Miami where we stopped for a few nights to check the sights before driving through the Florida Keys to the southern most point of the United States, Key West before heading back up to the mainland for the next leg of our trip.

From Florida we flew to Sin City, Las Vegas, where we spent the better half of a week enjoying the sights and standing in awe at the Mars-like landscape and the even stranger casinos. This place is definitely worth a visit and would be a lot of fun if you weren’t underage like myself.

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, USA

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, USA

From here we headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and took a helicopter ride over the magnificent natural wonder. After this we headed to California where we stopped in San Diego before driving up the Southern Californian coastline to Los Angeles, where we did all the tourist things like visiting Universal Studios and Santa Monica Pier etc.

Los Angeles marked the end of our trip to the United States and when it came to saying goodbye to my adopted country of six months I found it quite hard. Don’t worry I shall be back!

Since I’ve gotten back to Australia, I’ve moved from Hawthorn to Southbank, and started back at uni, where I’ve been ever since! Now that semester is drawing to an end I thought it best to update everyone on what exactly I’ve been doing since my last post, so there it is!

What’s the plans for the future? Well later this month I’ll be heading up to Sydney where I’ll be the newest work experience kid on Channel 7’s breakfast show Sunrise, yes the show that made me want to be journalist! After that I’m off to China for two weeks where I’ll be travelling through Beijing and Shanghai. Any suggestions on what to do in these cities is greatly appreciated!

Shanghai, China     Source: linked

Shanghai, China Source: linked

Anyway, let me know how everything is going with you and any feedback on the new layout of my blog by tweeting me @ben_hansen

John F. Kennedy

Standard

DSC00991

I’m in Boston, the birthplace of the United States most esteemed President – John F. Kennedy – how could I not check out a whole museum dedicated to the leader who’s reign sadly ended prematurely?

DSC00993

I’d read about the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum before I’d even left Australia and it was on the top of my list of places to go in Boston. The museum is in the Columbia Point area of Boston and features an enormous glass panelled section that houses an American flag, the largest flag I’ve ever seen.

DSC00986
DSC01264

IMG_1137

DSC01230 DSC01232 DSC01236 DSC01242

The museum began with a video introduction to JFK and how he rose from the son of an American Ambassador to a military serviceman to campaigning for Governor of Massachusetts and later for the President of the United States.

DSC00995

Then we walked through the history of JFK’s campaign for President up until November 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

DSC01001DSC01044

DSC01068

DSC01133

A map of a Cuban missile camp.

DSC01160

Replica of JFK’s White House Oval Office (minus the flat screens)

DSC01183

This coconut saved JFK’s life when he was stranded on an island as a seaman.

DSC01096 DSC01107 DSC01110 DSC01124DSC01126 DSC01155 DSC01187 DSC01195 DSC01211

I hadn’t realised how much President Kennedy had accomplished during his reign of 1,036 days. He had handled issues such as the space race, the Cuban missile crisis, Berlin Wall, and had done a lot to bring to light issues surrounding people with mental disabilities.

DSC01150

The day of the Cuban missile crisis

DSC01221

A piece of the Berlin Wall.

DSC01149 DSC01215 DSC01218 DSC01229

I very much enjoyed checking out the John F. Kennedy library and museum and would recommend it to anyone who’s visiting Boston – even if you’re not that into politics.

Three Weeks

Standard

Three weeks

It’s just ticked over three weeks since I’ve been here in the US and I have to say, it’s been a great experience!

The first week on-campus was a bit iffy – I was placed into an essentially off campus property, however this was quickly fixed by the university and I was moved into one of their new properties, International Village.

IMG_1036

My university for six months – Northeastern University!

My first week of American classes was an eye-opener! I now know what it’s like to be a true ‘full-time’ student. My class schedule requires me to be at university everyday from 9-5 – no longer do I have days off or one-lecture days, although I am studying five classes.

The view from my new apartment - International Village.

The view from my new apartment – International Village.

Goodbye to lectures as I knew them – American college classes are a hybrid of what most Australians would know as lectures and tutorials, and you’re encouraged to create debates and question the professor. Oh yeah, and at college, you call your teacher ‘Professor’ unless they permit you to call them anything else. (and I thought they only did that at Hogwarts?!)

The first three weeks have been a whirlwind of moving in, discovering campus, exploring Boston and being a true tourist, and don’t forget harassing the local wildlife!

This little guy kept us Australians occupied for quite some time.

This little guy kept us Australians occupied for quite some time.

I’ve also been checking out the Varsity and NBA games in Boston. Northeastern’s varsity teams are called the Huskies and Boston’s NBA team is the well-known Boston Celtics.

Boston Celtics V Indiana Pacers

Boston Celtics V Indiana Pacers

I’ll be sure to keep the updates coming more often, and I’ll be posting about my trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library soon!

Catchya from the US,

Ben!

Boston I’m Here!

Standard

After a long 31 hours of sitting in four different airports and flying in three different planes, I’ve finally made it to BOSTON!

All but the last leg of my trip went smoothly when my American Airlines flight was delayed at Los Angeles International for an hour due to a snowstorm in Boston. This meant I had a six-hour layover at LAX, which I filled with sleeping – sorry to the people at gate 42A for snoring!

After sitting on a cramped AA flight for five hours all I wanted to do was stretch my legs and sleep in a proper bed! Arriving in Boston couldn’t have come at a greater time. By the time I managed to collect my bags – which arrived without any delays – the previously mentioned snowstorm had made its way back to Boston. I jumped in the closest taxi and headed for my hotel, where that king size bed await me!

The taxi ride to my hotel was slow due to the amount of snow on the road – and we nearly slid through traffic lights. Once checked in, calling my parents, it was 11PM, I hit the sack and slept for 14 hours straight.

The next day I woke at 1PM, chucked on as much as I could and headed out to explore the area around my hotel. Luckily there was a shopping centre just down the road so I headed there first to buy a pair of snow boots – a must if you’re coming to Boston in winter.

From there I explored the shopping centre (Prudential Centre), bought a US sim card, and then I realised it was getting late; I guess I did sleep half the day. I went back to my hotel room. My first of many days in Boston had come to an end.

One great thing about Boston that I haven’t seen elsewhere is this website called Foodler – they deliver from most restaurants in your area and it’s really cheap! Lets get this in Melbourne!

Boston I’m coming!

Standard

Boston CBD and Boston Harbour

Summer is well and truly here, although for me, I only have four weeks left of summer… I’m off on exchange to BOSTON!

For those who don’t know where Boston is, it’s the capital of Massachusetts in the north-eastern tip of the United States, about three hours drive north of New York City.

A = Boston

I’m leaving Australia on the 29th of December and will be returning mid 2013 with my parents who are coming over for a business/holiday trip. I’ll be flying into a frozen Boston and experiencing my first snow capped city and a winter New Years Eve. All in all, I’m pretty excited

I decided to go to Boston after I met some Bostonians back in August who were on exchange at Swinburne. I’d never really thought of going on exchange while studying at university but I thought it’d be a perfect chance to travel in the US while also studying at a highly sought after university, Northeastern University.

One thing I plan to discover while I’m living in Boston – was the Boston Bun invented in Boston?

Is the Boston Bun originally from Boston?

So my blog will now also be featuring journalistic pieces as well as a travel blog that people can follow and keep up to date with what I’m up to while in the States. I hope some of the posts will make you want to embark on exchange to the US also.

 

Some places I’m keen to visit?

  • New York City
  • Washington D.C. (yay politics!)
  • Niagara Falls
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Quebec City, Canada
  • Toronto Canada
  • Philadelphia
  • Miami
  • The Bahamas and Caribbean
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • New Orleans
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Southern California region
  • San Francisco
  • Las Vegas (I’ll be considered underage in the US ☹ )
  • And Chicago

Got any other recommendations to visit or tips on surviving the US? Let me know in the comments!

For Grief or For Money? Taking Advantage of 9/11

Standard

This is an ad that was published in a newspaper and later condemned for downplaying the attacks. The WWF later distanced themselves from the advertising agency. From The Telegraph

With today being the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, I thought I’d have a look at whether using an event like the 9/11 attacks too promote a company is okay.

This ad for television show Mad Men was placed within a few blocks of Ground Zero.

Just a quick Google search shows a plethora of examples from companies across the globe, but is it too soon to take advantage of a truly devastating event? What gives a company the right to publish images of buildings portraying the North and South towers of the World Trade Centre that were destroyed 11 years ago.

If it’s not okay to use 9/11, what about the Titanic?

US President, Barack Obama, today announced outside the Pentagon that the US was now a more safer and unified country. Maybe the time of grief has passed and that opens up floodgates for advertisers to make money from others loss and grief? I couldn’t imagine an Australian company using images from the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, 2002 Bali bombings or the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami as an advertising ploy, and I can imagine that there would be uproar in Australia if someone were to take advantage of such a horrific events.

Smoking kills, but is this necessary?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.