Murder and Mayhem on the Arizona Border

We’ve always wanted to go RVing in Mexico. I have a long lost cousin in the beautiful small town of Cuernavaca, and I know other RVers who’ve spent long beautiful winters in Mexico. But when the border violence started escalating, we heeded warnings from friends and family and stayed away.

This year we tempted fate, and on a whim headed to Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, which is spitting distance from the Mexican border. It’s a beautiful park, much like Big Bend in Texas, but with more plant diversity (in my un-scientific opinion).

Being the low-budget travelers that we are, we camped at a remote free BLM campground outside of the park, and saw this warning as soon as we pulled in.

While we’ve heard rumors about immigration and drug running routes going through this park, we took this sign as more government hype.

That is until about 11 pm on our first night, when we saw a truck speeding through the campground, cruising around, obviously looking for someone.

While there were at least 5 other RVs in the park, it was a little disconcerting to think that really illegal activity was actually going on right outside our trailer. But with the swarms of border patrol agents hanging out in the area, we slept OK.

The next day we went on a long walk out into the desert and saw tons of beautiful plants and flowers. Later in the afternoon, I read about the murder of a prominent Arizona rancher that happened the previous day, about 200 miles from us in Douglas. The rancher’s murder has inflamed the anger of locals in the area who want more security. I can’t blame them.

The was the first border murder on U.S. soil since park ranger Kris Eggle was killed in 2002 while on duty near the park.

At the border town of Lukeville, we saw many RVers coming back from Mexico. I was partly jealous, partly thinking “those guys are NUTS!”

So what I want to know is, just how much of what we hear about the violence in Mexico is exaggerated by the media, and how much is real?

I want to talk to other RVers who’ve gone there in the last year, and find out what their experience was. Traveling south is something we really want to do, and I’m getting antsy to make this trek, possibly next winter.

Anyone with any feedback on recent RV experiences in Mexico, I’d love to hear about it.

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21 Responses to “Murder and Mayhem on the Arizona Border”

  1. Yes the good old USA can be dangeres as well Here is one differance in most of the USofA I can legaly carry protection We have gun permits good in most states. Of couse I count Ca as part of Mexico so I do my best to stay out of there as well.

  2. Hi Rene and Jim! I’m mexican and part of the very few Mexican RV traveler. I have a travel trailer and I use it every two weeks or so with my family. We love winter season because all our parks are full of Americans and Canadians. They are so friendly and amussingly interesting! We’ve been making very good friends every season. Last season (09/10) was really different from others. I guess that 80% of regular Canadians came down while only 20% of regular American travelers came down. The very few, and regular south travelers told us that us news where over reacting Mexico’s problems in order to distract attention to your domestic issues. That’s a pitty because that things hurts both sides. We also heard those awfull stories but no one first hand.

    My family and I are heavy travelers either RVing or just offroading and camping with tents. I’ve never had any remarkable problem in 25+ years doing this. BUT I want to share with you the insider advise:

    1. Mexico is like the sea: You must not fear it, only respect it.
    2. Be cautious: Never carry all your money or documents. Keep them on a safe place in your RV or in separate pockets.
    3. Avoid troubled places. Border cities or the very known places with issues are not that safe, but they’re not like a war field!
    4. Use major roads.
    5. Be confident with Policia Federal and the Army.
    6. Inform yourself with blogs from people who travel regularly to Mexico or even with people who do fulltime in here! (http://blog.vagabonders-supreme.net/)
    7. Get informed about how things work down here. You will find plenty of information in the web.
    8. Don’t break the law! But in order to not to break it, you must know it! Many blogs will tell you what you must know.

    I’ve traveled to many places over the world and I can tell you that US is a great country, and in some way, is like a theme park! Compared to the rest of the world, or maybe to less developed countries (which can be almost the rest of the world) US is like Disneyland. You simply don’t have the “real world” problems, like too many poor people, law’s not being fully followed, towns unplanned, high unemployment and so on. If you follow common sense understanding that you must take care of your self and your belongings you’ll do it fine. And that means simple rules like, dont leave your car open, or valuables in plain sight, don’t open your wallet full of bills on a crowded place… like you wouldn’t do in New Orleans, Houston, Miami, etc.

    I don’t know why, but it seems that our water really gives you a neck pain for a while. Maybe US water is too clean! 🙂 I have a US neighbour and she tells us now that one plus of being here is that she gather better body defenses, because she can now drink our water.

    This book will give you the most valuable information to enjoy your Mexican adventure… and surely, comming back again! (http://www.rollinghomes.com/default.htm)

    You and every American will be very welcome here.

    If you need something from here, contact me!

  3. Just an update. Our friend Eric sent us this news story about his Canadian friends-of-a-friend who were robbed of their RV when coming back to the U.S.:

    http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/100411/national/mexico_carjacking

  4. Eric Auckerman April 26, 2010 at 12:10 am Reply

    Aloha Jim and Rene!
    Talk about the timing of this post, Juli and I just got back from a tradeshow in Vegas where one of our volunteer staff (the marketing director’s father) talked about a Canadian couple he goes RV’ing (new verb?) with all over the U.S. and Canada since his retirement some years back.

    They were on their way back to Canada and just shy of the US Mexico border by 1 hour when they were stopped at gun point by, well, banditos with automatic rifles. The were robbed of everything from RV to the vehicle they towed behind and left on the side of the road with no water, ID, or even beer, everything was plundered by these hoodlums including their shoes.

    These are seasoned veterans of many visits to Mexico (Gulf side, just before Texas) who are low-key and don’t flash Rolexs or a big money RV according to my under paid and over worked colleague. However, it was also the kindness of a passing Mexican family that helped them as well, it certainly can go both ways and quick based on their story.

    They are now back in Canada and the RV has since been found but as you can imagine, stripped to the frame. They’ve been traveling in Mexico for over 15 years without an incident, this event was traumatizing to say the least but to make matters worse, the insurance they were obligated to purchase at the border when entering Mexico refuses to compensate them for their loss, claiming this incident was outside of the bounds of their policy.

    I’m not suggesting that you stay clear of Mexico because by and large the Mexican people are not trouble-makers, but those traveling through the country in RVs, 5th wheels or whatever are highly visible targets.

    Via con dios amigos or at least pepper spray, stay vigilant and safe!

    Enrico!

    • Hey Eric, thanks for sharing the story, scary indeed. But again, it’s another one of those second hand stories. I will definitely take it into consideration as to whether or not we go next winter.

  5. Friend living in stick-built house not saying you shouldn’t go to Mexico, but you definitely want to stay clear of this area. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100424/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_drug_war_mexico

    I would observe that the comparatively rare multiple shootings in the USA that get saturation media coverage bear no resemblance in either motive or brutality to the wholesale murders going on in multiple locations in Mexico as the drug cartels fight it out. The entire country has been divided up by them. See the current National Geographic for a map and an account of the new “narco-saints” that are worshipped by the “foot soldiers”.

    I’m glad that none of the above commenters have had to deal with any of this and hope that continues to remain the case.

  6. The stories are true. A friend’s 22 year old son was killed in the cross fire in a town close to San Diego. It took them over six months to get his body back for burial.
    Be careful!

  7. The latest travel advisory on Mexico (released 12 April) doesn’t sound good at all. I also just saw this post about how empty of gringos Tijuana is.

    I found these because I was thinking of going to Tijuana. But it also sounds like the problem is mainly in the border area, and what you’re thinking of might be just fine.

    Also, places in the US are just as dangerous as Tijuana, but no one tells you not to go to New Orleans.

    • Hey Jeremy thanks for sharing those links. Interesting that there’s more Europeans there than Americans.

      Yeah, we would definitely stay away from the border town chaos and head straight inland.

      Just yesterday there was a story in the news about a guy who shot up a bunch of people in a hospital waiting room in Tennessee. A hospital! If you aren’t even safe there, then what makes people think that the U.S. is any safer than Mexico?

      Ayi yai yai.

      • Hey, I thought of you because I just returned across the border from Tijuana about an hour ago. I walked.

        I was the ONLY gringo. The ONLY tourist. The ONLY one with a camera.

        I didn’t feel unsafe, exactly (it was daytime and crowded) but it was pretty uncomfortable: since I was the only tourist, I was the only target for everyone trying to sell something. The harassment was constant and relentless, I couldn’t turn around without three people coming up to me, couldn’t do anything without being the center of attention. It got to me and I left.

  8. We’ve spent the last two winters in Baja, three months during the winter of 2009 and 5 months during the winter of 2009/2010. We too have heard all the stories of banditos, drug runners and rouge cops, yet we have never yet found anyone who can tell us a firsthand story where they experienced these problems. We have run into people who have done dumb things like leaving their truck unlocked with the key in it, and guess what s**t happened.

    We don’t doubt that all these things exist, but then each year while we are in Baja we read about the multiple mass killings that have occurred in the US during the same period. Does that mean you should not travel in the US? No, it means that you should be aware of where you are and exercise reasonable cautions.

    Yes it different then traveling in the US but we find the Mexican people to be wonderful, friendly and helpful. We find the other RV’ers more “real” then those who lurk just north of the boarder and spend their time talking about how dangerous Mexico is. We follow three rules: 1) Cross the border in the morning and drive at least 100 miles south before staying the night. 2) Never drive at night (mostly to avoid the free range cows and truck drivers on narrow roads) and 3) never camp where there are not at least three other RV’ers. Check out our blog posts @ http://olallabay.blogspot.com/.

    Next year we are headed to the mainland. Do you know what our biggest concern is? Intestinal distress! We will do our research and avoid the specific areas that real data suggests is best avoided – just as we do in certain areas in the US.

    If you want to hear more about our experiences, or have specifi questions contact us through our blog.

    Bob and Cathryn

    • Bob and Cathryn, thank you so much for your insight, it means a lot and confirms what I feel in my heart, that we should take a trip down there and like you, use common sense and good things will happen.

      Count me in as a blog follower. And maybe a road trip follower…can we come with you next year? You can come meet my familia in Cuernavaca!

  9. I just ran across this blog today ( http://evesteve.blogspot.com/ ) of a couple who spent this past winter in Mexico. Some amazing pics and seemed like they found lots of very nice RV parks too. I’d never have the courage to do Mexico on my own (as a solo RV’er), but with a small group, it sure looks very inviting compared to some of the over-priced, underwhelming snowbird parks in the U.S.!

    • Thanks for the links everyone, I’ll check them out. I did know about Croft’s blog (which I didn’t follow this year but did last year, and I hear he is THE expert).

      You know I think every person who has told us not to go to Mexico was a stick house dweller. Of the people we do know who have gone recently, they were fulltimers and they all said it was fine.

      It makes me wonder if the “don’t go” perspective is because non-fulltimers or regular RVers don’t get out and see enough of the world to convince them that it’s really not as dangerous as they think?

  10. We were not going to cross at all, but when we got to Pancho Villa State Park this year everyone said it was safe to cross at Palomas, and we did. We only went 1 block to the Pink Store for lunch and then out. Last year in Texas they had a big shoot out on the bridge by Reynosa about 1 week AFTER we had crossed at Progresso…Personally, I didn’t feel nearly as safe at Progresso as I did in Palomas..PLUS the Pancho Villa State Park is fabulous!!!!!

  11. try east l.a or the mission in s.f, same old but bilingual !

  12. We had planned to spend last winter in Mexico but chickened out as well.

    I looks like we are about to pass you guys (but on I-10). Remember how I swore I would never be in west Texas during the spring? I guess I lied.

    jenn

  13. Sam and I would really like to travel into Mexico also. I’m the one holding us back. I am interested in hearing what you hear from other RVers also.

  14. Folks, here are two blogs that involved recent trips for the entire winter season. Both are Canadians. First up is Wandering Willy’s Travels and the second is Croft’s Mexico. Willy is back in Canada and Croft is stuck getting an alternator fixed in New Mexico, but their archives make fascinating reading.

    Frankly, I’m of two minds (or more) about Mexico at this time. Yep, in particular the border towns like Tijuana and Piedras Negras and others are the pits and a place an imprudent person is likely to be scammed or worse. But, no sane gringo traveler is going to hang about ANY border town on either side of the border for very long. Not prudent. If you ARE prudent, read these guys’ archives and decide for yourselves. If your passports are up to date, obtaining your visas shouldn’t be too difficult. Just go for it. Understand the limits and rules for prudent travelers and have a good time. I love Mexico, despite all its faults and troubles. I love the States, too. And there’s no lack of troubles and faults to be found on this side of the border, too.

    • “there’s no lack of troubles and faults to be found on this side of the border, too.”

      The equivalence of the two nations escapes me.

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