We are currently in the southernmost point of the Yucatan, Peninsula in Mexico, 30 minutes from the Mexican – Belize border. We’ve been here 3 weeks so far, so inevitably you would think we’ve had some concerns along the way about safety by now, especially since we’re indeed foreigners here.
True. And just for the record, this isn’t our first time abroad. As a family, it’s actually our third country we’ve lived in. Our first was Argentina for 16 years while dad was alive, then the US (my home country) for 6, and now we’ve been in Mexico less than a month.
A situation arose on Friday after we’d had the best boat tour imaginable. Of course, it wouldn’t be the perfect day without something arising to make me as a single mom question our safety while traveling. Here’s what happened: My boys announced they were hungry and upon exiting the boat tour, we saw that the hotel we’d left from had a restaurant in it. There weren’t a lot of people in the place and my little guy just wanted to swim in the pool while my older son and I ate. Shortly after we finished lunch, there was a couple on the table next to us. They smiled and approached us, offering us a beer, which we agreed to. After all, they seemed so nice and everything looked so safe…
Moreover, because we’re fluent in Spanish, we can carry on conversations in the language on just about anything. The first thing Miguel (not his real name) said was that he owned a tequila factory in the state of Oaxaca. Then he said that his girlfriend, who was sitting at the same table, was traveling with him.
He then began to put on the charm and was touching my arm in a way that felt overbearing to me. Then he said that his girlfriend wasn’t really his girlfriend and then that was about the extent of all he could speak in English. Then the conversation quickly turned sexual, informing us that he slept with this girl who wasn’t really his girlfriend and also began to reveal things that I cannot include in this text. Let’s just say that it wasn’t appropriate for sharing with someone he’d just met. And then he invited us to stay at his house in Oaxaca!
The girl didn’t seem interested in the conversation and said they were just friends and that she had two boys who were the same age as my son. That’s when things got really weird. They wanted to exchange contact info and without thinking, I connected us on Facebook. They asked us some questions and it was soon revealed that my older son was a licensed massage therapist. Miguel then threw himself on the floor and expected my son to massage him!
Then, slyly, subtly, the girl asked the restaurant to put on some dance music and wanted to give my son a dance lesson. Things were getting weirder by the moment. Miguel begged me to come out to the pool area with him, which was a request that I declined, because I don’t like being in the sun and I burn easily. He then struck a sexy sunbathing pose, with his swim trunks open to my view. Chivalrous Latin dude was clearly showing off! Too bad for him, I wasn’t in the least interested in Miguel…
I went back into the restaurant and my son and Miguel’s friend who’s a girl, but not his girlfriend, had cornered my older son and was crying some sob story to him. My son didn’t know what to do. Then Miguel came back in and both of them shouted, “Vamos a Tulum!” Translation: “Let’s go to Tulum!” I was taken back. I said there was no way we were going to go to Tulum. We were in charge of five dogs on a pet sitting assignment for a very nice Canadian lady and it wasn’t going to happen…
Then they said, “We’ll just take your son with us!” That’s when this mama bear’s ‘antennas’ perked up. “Oh no, you’re absolutely not taking my son with you to Tulum!’ My mother’s intuition kicked in on overdrive, and it was then that I realized I needed to come up with an exit plan. I called a taxi and announced that it was coming to get us. I said I’d contact them and I grabbed my boys and left. When we got home, we deleted and blocked both those contacts on Facebook.
That night, with all the soberness I could gather, I sat my boys down and explained to them what could have happened earlier that day. Then we came up with a safety phrase in Spanish that would mean to all three of us that someone wasn’t comfortable with the current situation. After all, there is safety in numbers.
The following are 5 ways you might find helpful to keep yourself and your family safe:
- Don’t talk (too long and/or get too friendly) with strangers. This is a variation of the typical ‘don’t talk to strangers’ teaching I’d been taught since I was small. But the fact is nowadays people don’t always look like they’re bad news until you’re always wishing you weren’t there and can’t escape. After all, we’re always talking to strangers while traveling and we do want to make friends. But talking too long with strangers can often lead to dangerous situations that may reveal too much sensitive info.
2. Don’t walk too far apart from each other. My younger son has the tendency to walk far ahead of us and we’ve since changed that. I don’t let him go to the restroom alone (luckily he has an older brother) or go anywhere alone. The buddy system is the best plan anywhere. I repeat, there is safety in numbers!
3. Try to blend in as much as possible. This is another thing that we’re trying to change, and keeping our voices softer rather than our usual loud talk in English will help us not call attention to ourselves. We often need to remind each other of this, until it becomes a habit.
4. Don’t flash your money in public! You’d think people would know this ‘common sense’ rule, but I was surprised to see that when we lived in the Buenos Aires, Argentina area, I once saw a female North American flashing her dollars as if she were playing “Go Fish” in a deck of cards. My Argentine husband and I both agreed that within a few minutes, she’d be a likely candidate to get mugged. That includes using ATMs. Look around and see who’s around you. Don’t ever share an ATM with anyone. I’ve found that where we live in this small town in Mexico, there are two ATMs right next to each other and I don’t want them seeing what I’m doing or how much cash is being withdrawn from the teller.
5. Follow your intuition / gut. If it looks or feels like a place or situation could be potentially dangerous, get out and soon! Dimly lit streets, stairwells, and non-public places where a predator could hide could be asking for trouble. Don’t even wait until that happens. Just get out asap!
Last of all, have fun while you’re traveling, keeping in mind that Safety comes First!