Kathys letter concludes with another very important question.
"...in my reading, I have come across a few accounts of recommendations to always camp near others for security reasons. This surprises me. Our camping has been limited to the Baja up to now and we have never had a problem. Part of the allure of Mexican RVing is to be removed from the typical RV campground scene."
Personal safety in Mexico is one of the most frequent questions we deal with and perhaps the most difficult. Im afraid that I dont have a simple answer, however, mainly because all of us, travel writers included, have our own thresholds of comfort and security.
First of all, many people who write about Mexico have almost no real experience outside of the larger cities and well-traveled tourist circuits. The customs, food and even the language of rural Mexico are a world apart from the countrys modern, fast-changing urban side. Unless youve spent a fair amount of time in backcountry villages and ranchos, or done a lot of independent camping and "rough" traveling, much of Mexico will seem surprisingly foreign and occasionally unnerving.
To complicate matters, no one raises the alarm about safety more stridently than Mexicans themselves, especially those who live in town. Although their fears and prejudices often hark back to past revolutions and the terrors of Pancho Villa, the steady increase in urban crime and daily news of drug war violence only increase peoples uneasiness. To gregarious Mexicans, camping is something you do at Christmas or Easter, en masse, when the entire family heads for the beach for an extended picnic and outdoor jamboree. The idea of solitary camping or deliberately getting away from others seems foolhardy rather than adventurous.
This is not to say, of course, that camping in Mexico -- like virtually any country in the Americas -- doesnt require a certain degree of precaution and common sense.
When looking for a campsite, our basic rules-of-thumb are:
-- Dont camp in 'wide spots'. On long hauls thirty years ago we often parked for the night right beside the highway. Because of heavier traffic and curious Midnight Cowboys, however, we no longer recommend this. Also, the margins of many Mexican highways are now heavily fenced and gated, and it isnt as easy as it used to be to access farm tracks and side roads.
-- If you cant find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to overnight, park next to an all-night restaurant or Pemex gas station. Bring heavy curtains and good earplugs. Most motels also allow RV parking with limited room privileges for a fair price.
-- Avoid camping near popular drinking places, beer joints and 'lovers lanes'.
-- If theres anyone around, ask "?Se puede acampar aqui? Hay peligro?" (Can one camp here? Is it dangerous?) If they seem doubtful, find another spot. Do the same when your own sixth sense tells you it probably isnt a good idea.
-- When you find a good place, keep a 'tight' camp. Dont leave fishing rods and ice chests lying around unattended, especially at night. Far too many tourists encourage pilfering by spreading out valuable equipment.
-- If possible, back your vehicle into the campsite. This makes it easier to jump start the battery should it be dead in the morning. Should you wake up early, and decide to hit the road again at dawn, youll also be pointed in the right direction.
Theres no doubt that camping in Mexico isnt as free and easy as it was twenty or thirty years ago. In our experience, however, theres been no basic change in the helpful, hospitable nature of the Mexican people. I encourage you to travel with an open, easy mind and to share your experiences in Mexico with others.
Do you have an RV adventure, campground report or piece of advice you'd like to share with others? If so, please let us know by email here.
San Carlos Bay by Carl Franz, Nikon CoolPix 900 digital camera.