Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Canadian Tourists Shot in Ixtapa

Here we go again.

On Wednesday, January 20th, two Canadian tourists were shot during an attempted robbery on the bicycle path on the far end of Ixtapa. The path runs from the north end of Zihuatanejo, through Ixtapa, and winds through a wooded area until it ends at Playa Linda. The attack happened two miles from the end of the path.

Image from Despertar de la Costa

Chislain Lazure, 55, from Quebec, was shot in the abdomen and his partner, a 40-year old woman, was grazed in the ear. They reportedly refused medical attention at the time but were later hospitalized. Wednesday afternoon they went to the Prosecutor's office to report the crime.

This article from a Canadian website gives slightly varying details, and as I'm not entirely sure what has happened since the shooting, I figured I should include that as well.

One thing I haven't found online but did hear through word of mouth is that the gunmen robbed up to nineteen people on that path and had them lie on the ground and hide in the woods when other people approached. Rumors spread faster than actual news around here, so I don't know if this is true, but I've been on that path and I can see how that would happen.

So, what does this mean?

When the violence erupted here last spring I received dozens of emails from nervous Americans and Canadians -- many of whom had been here before -- wanting to know if they should cancel their trips. Based on my stats, a lot of people find my blog while googling "violence in Mexico" and "is it safe to go to Zihuatanejo?" so I want to address that. (Especially for my former roommate who JUST booked a trip here two days ago.)

Mexico is a foreign country. Mexico is struggling economically. Tourists who come here and keep that in mind shouldn't have any problems. My standard response when people ask if it's still safe to walk around downtown Zihua is "if you stumble around drunk in the middle of the night, especially alone, something bad will happen. If you use common sense and stick to well-lit areas where other tourists frequent, you shouldn't have any problems."

I do not mean to imply that the tourists who were shot weren't careful. They probably never imagined someone would shoot at them in the middle of the day. That's the part that surprised me the most when I heard about the attack. Ibis and I walked that path once over the summer -- all five miles through the woods -- and we were more than a little nervous that someone might try to rob us. We weren't carrying anything besides our water bottles and car keys, but a desperate thief doesn't know that. (In fact, Ibis was probably carrying 100 pesos just so we'd have something to give and not make the person angry.) Once you set out on that path you're stuck until you get to the end. Something that all the locals know only too well.

Ibis and I agreed that we wouldn't walk on that path again, but at the time we figured rollerblading or biking would be safer. Now I'm glad I've walked through there once because I won't again.

Now, when I say "use common sense", here's what I mean:

- don't flash a lot of cash
- don't wear expensive or expensive-looking jewelry (I've stopped wearing my diamond ring)
- always always always be aware of your surroundings
- stay with a group
- don't go down dark alleys or streets

And a more recent addition for Zihua:

- don't walk on the path along the ocean between downtown and Playa Madera at night

The ironic thing about this list? These are the exact same precautions I took while living in Chicago. In the US. In the Midwest. Now that I'm living in Mexico I've stepped it up a notch:

- I don't go out by myself after dark -- EVER
- I always make sure my husband knows where I am and when I will be home

I know there are some ex-pats who live here and think that we're paranoid, but I'd rather be paranoid than get mugged, shot, or worse.

Before I've scared everyone into never wanting to visit our little fishing village, please know that the government and the police take tourism very seriously. As long as you stick to the beaten paths there's no reason you can't have an uneventful stay here.

I'll be sure to let you all know if there are further developments, and in the meantime, stay safe.


Melanie's Mom said...

I've traveled all over the world and the advice is the same everywhere as you've laid out. I wouldn't go downtown Detroit by myself at night -- why should I think I can do that in Mexico? I've wandered around the main squares in many cities (most recently in Buenos Aires and Santiago) and have felt perfectly safe. That doesn't mean I'm not careful. I wouldn't hesitate to go to Zihua again if I have the opportunity. That said, stay safe, Melanie!

Janna Qualman said...

Absolutely, a smart post. Caution and common sense go a long way, and that's whether you're visiting another country, or walking the streets of your home town. Because random bits of violence, odd attacks, happen anywhere. I think people get scared into believing that by stepping out of familiarity, they're stepping into harm's way. But it's many places, in many forms, and as long as we're prepared and smart, worry should be less of a concern.

That said, be safe, Melanie!

Janna Qualman said...

Oh! I just noticed my closing sentence was like your mom's. Funny! :)

JLC said...

All of this is great advice, and as others have said - it is great advice no matter where you are. Crime happens, so be careful!

That said, stay safe Melanie! (snicker)

Melanie Avila said...

Mom, thanks for commenting. I've had people FREAK OUT over certain things that are part of everyday life here, like us having bars on the windows. But we had bars on the windows at our last apartment in Chicago. You need common sense everywhere...

Janna, excellent point. Sometimes it seems like people expect that nothing bad will happen BECAUSE it's vacation, and I think those are the ones who get into trouble. (and lol!!)

Jen, hee hee...

Natasha Fondren said...


WendyCinNYC said...

Good advice, Melanie! The smartest thing people can do is to PAY ATTENTION.

Melanie Avila said...

Natasha, that was how I originally started this post.

Wendy, I just hope this gets to the people who need it.

Nadine said...

Scary stuff and I'm glad you're staying safe!

There are areas here that I wouldn't walk through by myself or go through at night, but many people think paradise is 100% safe. But there's danger anywhere you go.

Steve said...

Not to further scare anyone but I just sent an email to my friends about this news story and a similar situation we had in Xtapa / Zihua area (we went 3 years in a row from 1996 to 1998 - this happened on our second trip when we were staying in Zihua.)
We had gone up to Playa Linda to see the beautiful beach (on previous trip had gone to the Ixtapa Island). We had our binoculars and were birding and came along by chance the end of the bicycle path and slowly wandered along it further into the jungle area.
We were extremely lucky to spot one of the most colourful birds in these climes - a Painted Bunting (Google image it). We were so excited about spotting the bunting and all sorts Coots, Moorhens, Roseated Spoonbills, Wood storks, and Jabirus in the area not to mention alligators, we had to go back for more the next day. So off we went back merry as you please walking along the bike trail from where the bus dropped us in Playa Linda and we meet up with an American couple staying at the Club Med and said hi and kept going. Then latter (as we were walking slowly looking for birds) they walked back to us and asked what we had seen. Out of nowhere two guys jumped out of the forest, one had a knife pointed at us and the other had a gun pointed into the air demanding that we give them our possessions. The woman started screaming Policia! Policia! and the two guys ran for it into the jungle. We were of course totally freaked, as you would expect and we all ran back up to Playa Linda to tell the Police, who got into trucks and drove down the bike trail (its about 12 feet wide as I remember). On our way back to Playa Linda I asked the woman why she yelled like that. She said that she had seen these two suspicious looking characters earlier and was determined not to let them rob her. I said that was very brave of you to shout for the police considering that one of them had a gun. She said, “what gun”? She had not even seen the gun in the hand of the second guy as she was completely focused on the guy with a knife. Well we couldn’t believe our luck and neither could they when we all realized how close we had come to who knows what harm. Needless to say we never went back to the bike trail to bird that your or the following year, and the event put a complete damper on the rest of our vacation.
But we learned from the experience that you just have to be more cautious in areas you are not used to. We are off to Punta Cana next month and plan to put this lesson to good use while we are there.

Erica said...

Great post Mel - I think it's good advice for anywhere. Proceed with caution. I always look in my backseats, under the car, you just never know these days...

Thanks for sharing.

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, I'm sure I've done stupid things on vacation too, but it really bothers me how insulated people think they are.

Steve, thank you so much for commenting. We were talking with some tourists last night about all this and they all agreed that the path seems dangerous. That must have been TERRIFYING to go through it! I'm a little surprised they ran when she yelled for the police, unless you were close to the end -- it seems like no one would have heard you. Glad you're safe!

Erica, I need to be better about looking under my car...

Robin said...

That was such a great post. You're so right. The rules of caution are universal. I have to admit that I don't always follow them in my home town.

There's a bicycle route I love, that people tell me I shouldn't ride alone, but I can't always find a partner, so I do it anyway. Maybe I'll stop now. See? You just saved my life. Thanks!

Steve said...

Hi Melanie Avila,
After discussing this further with my wife she reminded me that once the woman started yelling for the Police and because we saw them draw back slightly, that my wife and I joined in and then they ran off. You are right there was nobody around to hear us and it was probably a combination of all of us yelling for the Police, their youth (maybe 20 or so) and that there was 4 of us that did the trick. We were damned lucky as who knew what could have happened.
Now we're off for a 1 month stay at a condo in El Cortecito (Punta Cana). We have learned that you really do have to be careful out there.

Robin said...

(He Robin) I don't even know you, other than reading and commenting on your blog for more than a year now, yet I worry about you often when I read your posts on the crime in your area. I think your advise is pertinant for all medium to large cities all over the world. It does, however, sadden me that it has come to this. In the small town in which I live we still go to bed sometimes in the summer with the front door standing wide open. Sometimes my wife will even sleep on the front porch on nice nights in a hammock. I know at some point in time it will get to where that will no longer be a good practice and I'm not looking forward to that time. I long for the "good ole days" when life was simpler.

I'll join the others in telling you, as I've told you several times before, STAY SAFE!!

Aimless Writer said...

Sounds like the same warnings we give to people visiting New York City (we're right across the river) and some still don't listen. I never wear my good jewelry to the city and I spread out my cash in different pockets. It's just being smart. People can get shot anywhere.
My cousin was killed in NYC and for the longest time I refused to go there. Now I know cities don't kill people, people kill people.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, I'm glad this has helped you at home be more safe. :)

Steve, that's just crazy. Luckily for you they were young and scared, otherwise who knows how it could have gone down. I hope you have a wonderful vacation.

Robin, it's a lot like that where my parents live and to me, when they have to change the way they live will be the biggest sign that things have changed for good.

Aimless, I learned my first "city" safety tips from my college boyfriend, who is from New York. Same rules apply everywhere. I'm so sorry about your cousin.