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Archive for the ‘News & Politics’ Category

Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 14, 2011

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

We think it is time to again talk truthfully about safety and crime in Playa del Carmen.

The two acts of violence which took place over the last month in Playa del Carmen raised questions in many people’s minds about safety in this area. Unfortunately many of the people answering those questions have no real information and simply offer their own negative opinions about Playa. So it is time to do several things: talk about the sad events of the last month, discuss the use of the internet by ignorant people to fan anti-Mexico fears, and offer sources where truthful and factual information can be found.

Recent Acts of Violence in Playa del Carmen

In the last few weeks we have experienced two very tragic events here in Playa. First was the killing of a man from central Mexico whose business was involved with drug gangs. According to police he fled here to Playa hoping to avoid retaliation for something he did which angered the drug gangs. He was shot to death in his car near a restaurant in the north part of the city. No one else was injured, and the assassins have not been found.

The second and even more tragic incident was the murder of the Chief of the Tourist Police. This branch of the city police is charged with patrolling the tourist/resort zone. The Chief was killed while getting out of his car on Avenida Juarez, a main thoroughfare from the federal highway leading to the ferry dock. This was the second attempt on this officer’s life in the last year. No one has been arrested, and no evidence has been found to explain why this particular officer was twice targeted.

Those of us who live here in Playa have been shocked and saddened by these events. No one likes to hear of such violent acts happening in their home town. It is particularly horrible to see a young officer killed in the line of duty. The government, the local community and the expats who are guests here have all strongly condemned these crimes.

However these events touch more than the local community. The thousands of tourists who visit here each year want to know what this means for them. In truth, it has very little effect on visitors.

These were not random acts of violence involving innocent tourists. No attempt was made to target tourists or the resort area. There is no evidence that these crimes are related to or represent some sort of burgeoning crime wave. These victims were specifically chosen for reasons which we do not fully know. What we do know is that these crimes did not target, involve or touch tourists, and we know that there has been no subsequent outbreak of violence around the city. In short, these are isolated incidents that do not represent a continued threat.

Put it in Perspective

Still, despite the fact that these two acts didn’t involve tourists, some folks wonder if they are safe when visiting here. Many people have publicly spoken of their fear of coming to this part of the world and question if they shouldn’t change their vacation plans. We say: keep some perspective.

Crime–even violent crime–is a fact of life in just about every city in the world. So why do we consider one safer than the next? If it is the number of crimes, then Playa is most certainly safer than most as its crime rates are lower than many US cities.

If safety is predicated on the type of crime, again Playa still ranks as among the safest. There are no riots here. There are no mass shootings and no crimes involving groups of innocent people.

Recent crimes in the USAThe fact is that people worry about safety in Mexico because they react differently, even unfairly, to hearing about a crime in Mexico than they do about crime elsewhere. For example, when this last summer began with the Memorial Day weekend, gang violence resulted in six deaths in Chicago and eight deaths in New York City. During the same weekend three police officers and four innocent bystanders were shot in Miami Beach.

Then summer ended with the horrifying act of a man with a high powered automatic weapon slaughtering five people in an IHOP restaurant in Carson City Nevada, while over the Labor Day weekend in New York City 13 were murdered, 2 police officers were wounded and 67 were injured by gunfire in 52 separate shootings.

Despite these horrendous acts leaving dozens of people dead and scores more injured, no one on TV or the internet told people to avoid going to New York or Chicago or Nevada. No newspaper article suggested people avoid the upcoming Broadway shows in Manhattan or skip going to the Bears games because of violence. And yet two isolated acts of crime in Playa are treated by many as the collapse of all law and order in that area. People worry that a trip to the Riviera Maya will turn them into victims, when in fact they may be safer here than in their own home town.

How did we end up with such a skewed perception of Mexico? Why do we have such an unbalanced view of crime in Mexico as opposed to crime in the US?

Not long ago it may have been because Mexico was the favorite whipping boy of a news media that feeds on sensationalism. But over the last year even they have come to acknowledge that the dangers of violence seen in Central Mexico do not extend to the peaceful shores of the Caribbean. However where the media left off, the World Wide Web has taken over. We think much of this anti-Mexico hysteria is generated by the ignorant and sometimes prejudiced people one encounters on the internet.

Opinions are Not Facts: Internet Forum Misinformation

In this time of instant gratification and access, most people turn to the internet for information. The travel industry is no different. Printed guidebooks have given way to web sites, chat rooms and forums where people can exchange ideas and opinions. And that isn’t a bad thing…except when opinion is taken for fact and speculation becomes a substitution for proof.

It has been our observation over the last few weeks that on certain internet forums dedicated to discussing Playa del Carmen, the intensity has been exceeded only by a lack of factual information.

On such forums, unless properly moderated, anyone can literally post anything, offering “facts” that have no basis in reality. The intentions of such posters are unknown. Perhaps they are attempts at making the poster feel important or perhaps they are intentional acts aimed to denigrate other peoples or countries. But even if we don’t know the reason for posting fantasy as fact we do know the effect…it creates false information that misleads people looking for the truth.

How Rumors Become “Facts”

We will give you some examples: Recently on a popular forum about Playa del Carmen hosted by a website called playa.info, a thread was started about a woman’s body found in the sea near the Playa shore with a rope tied around her. There followed several days of speculation by posters (the vast majority of who do not live in Playa) over whether or not she met with foul play. It was even suggested by someone with no facts or personal knowledge that her death might be evidence that the cartel had killed her and was moving into the area! Thousands of people read these baseless speculations until the woman’s son posted that she had drowned while swimming, and local fishermen finding her floating in the sea had tied her body to a buoy so that it did not float out to deeper waters before it could be brought ashore. No murder, no gang retaliation, no cartels moving into Playa. But for the thousands who read such irresponsible comments the damage was done. A simple drowning had quickly become the work of the drug gangs, and Playa was dangerous.

In other postings on playa.info about the recent shootings, it was suggested that the cartel would be coming after tourists next, that the drug war was escalating into Playa, and that everyone–but especially those with children–should avoid Playa to keep from getting hit by stray bullets. ‘The bad guys are moving in and they are not going anywhere’ was typical of the statements. Of course no statistics, articles or even governmental warnings were offered in support of these “facts.”

Sometimes People Just Make Stuff Up

A similar situation can be found all around the internet. On TripAdvisor.com (which bills itself as the largest travel industry website in the world), a forum dedicated to Playa del Carmen dealt with the shooting of the Tourist Police Chief by having many posters assert that most Playa businesses were paying protection money to the drug cartels. It went further. One individual posted that many businesses were closing “each day” because of drug cartel pressure.

We were surprised that while living here we had missed a daily wholesale loss of businesses. When we asked the individual for some facts or statistics or even personal knowledge about this massive loss of businesses in the area, his response was that he had been “told” of two businesses that closed. His story went from daily closings of many businesses to an anecdotal story of two unnamed businesses. Never mind that his original claim had been shown to be without basis, the damage was done. Other people had already picked up on his false claim and repeated it as “fact.”

In the same vein was the suggestion on the same forum that patronizing Playa businesses was just giving money to the drug cartels, since they all paid protection money. When we said we paid no such protection money and knew no one who did, the response was that we had to say that because the cartels would punish us if we admitted our support of them publicly!!! Seriously, that was the response.

The result is that people without knowledge created a new set of “facts,” i.e. the cartel is already in Playa; it controls Playa’s businesses; it puts those it can’t control out of business, and it silences the locals with fear of punishment if they talk about it. That is some scary stuff. Except there is not a single shred of evidence to show it is true. It is a fantasy which arises from a “common knowledge” (i.e. assumption and opinion) fed by too many viewings of the Sopranos rather than actual facts. Once again, irresponsible and ignorant people are painting a false picture of Playa that too many people see and believe.

Widespread Damage

In fairness to the forums we have just mentioned, they both have rules that prohibit inflammatory and false statements. Playa.info has barred further posting on a few of their most inflammatory threads, and TripAdvisor has done the same, actually removing some of the more outrageous posts. However neither forum moved to enforce their own guidelines for several days. The prohibition of these false statements was done hesitantly, at best. Why? Internet websites such as these two make money based upon the number of visitors to those sites. They sell more advertising, more tours and more vacation rentals and use the boosted statistics to seek new advertisers. So a controversial issue like crime, even if spinning out of control on their own website, is beneficial to them. Unfortunately, it’s not beneficial to others.

Not only do such irresponsible comments mislead the public seeking actual information, but they do serious and unwarranted damage to people and businesses here in Playa.
Just a few days ago we spoke with a local business owner who said he had had $5000 US worth of cancellations in a single day, and that the people canceling specifically cited their reason as being the frightening stories about crime in Playa del Carmen they had read on the playa.info forum. And the damage is not limited to just this individual or his business. It in turn will cause damage to his employees, to their families and to the local businesses where they shop. It will also cause damage to other businesses such as restaurants, bars and tours that these visitors would have patronized had they not cancelled their trip. The casual comments and opinions of someone with no knowledge can be magnified on the internet to do real damage. That damage is not to drug dealers and criminals. That damage is to local Mexican families. We would ask everyone who posts on the internet to remember that.

For questioning these irresponsible and false statements, we and other members of Playa’s expat community have been branded by many on the internet as “cheerleaders” for Playa. It is said that because we have businesses that rely on tourists we ignore and hide the facts about dangers here. That’s not true.

What we really do is demand that dangers of traveling here or anywhere be discussed responsibly with facts. Innuendo, rumor, speculation and guesswork are not the foundation of responsible discussion. And such opinions should never be the basis of deciding whether you visit Playa or Miami or New York. When deciding where you can go to safely spend your vacation time you need facts. So the question is…where do you go to get real information…real facts…about safety in Playa del Carmen?

Sources for Factual Information

Luckily there are plenty of places where you can get both facts and some responsible opinions about safety in Mexico, starting with the governments of the United States and Canada.

The US State Department assists travelers with information about countries they may be visiting, including issues of crime and safety. When the US government feels an area may be dangerous to visit, it issues a travel warning (as now exists for areas in central Mexico). No such warning has ever been issued for Playa or the state of Quintana Roo. In fact the US government has consistently said that the Riviera Maya is NOT experiencing the drug war violence seen elsewhere. Click here for the US State Department’s web page regarding Mexico.

The International Affairs and Foreign Trade division of the government of Canada has a similar function with a similar result. While a travel warning has been issued to its citizens traveling to the central Mexico/US border area, NO warning exists for traveling to the Riviera Maya or the state of Quintana Roo. Click here for their web page regarding Mexico.

Of course many travelers want more than just bare bones ‘is there a warning or not’ before making a decision. They want an overall picture from an objective source. We suggest checking out major respectable news sources. We googled the following news sources regarding stories on Mexico safety:

The New York Times, CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle, ABC News, the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and USA Today all say the same thing: While there are parts of Mexico that are dangerous and should be avoided, the Riviera Maya is far removed from the drug wars and is a safe vacation destination.

The prospective visitor can also check with major travel writers around the country to see how they feel about safety in Playa and Mexico. An example is the respected travel author and expert Peter Greenburg, formerly of NBC News. (A note of full disclosure…we do not know Mr. Greenburg but he once gave our hotel a rave review based on the experience of one of his reporters.)

Mr. Greenburg recently made a statement about the hysteria over Mexico that goes directly to the heart of so many negative postings on the internet: “I’ll call a spade a spade here. Mexico has been seen in an almost racist way by Americans for so many years. They imagine dusty border towns, guys wearing sombreros and doing shoot ‘em ups. They see it how it was portrayed in the movies. If you couple that perception with the drug cartels or with the swine flu or with select crime reports, suddenly everybody starts running for the border.” Peter Greenburg’s web site has many articles about all aspects of the Riviera Maya, including safety.

Finally if you want to know what is happening here in Playa you may want to ask the people who live here. There are many well-written blogs by expats living in this area. Yes we are sometimes “cheerleaders” about Mexico. We live and work here because we love it here. Yet if anyone thinks we are blind to dangers or problems, they are mistaken. We are here with our children and our families. We walk the streets and go to the beaches. Does anyone think we would do that in the middle of a war zone? More than any visitors, we stay aware of the issues of safety here. If it weren’t safe for us, our families and friends we wouldn’t be here. Here are some of our favorite blogs and websites written by people who live and work here:

And there are dozens more. Of course there is our own PlayaZone, the blog you are reading now. You will also find numerous Playa based pages on Facebook, including our own. On these blogs and pages you will find the voices of people who live here. And we might be worth listening to.

A Final Note

Mexico isn’t for everyone. And those who are interested in coming here often have legitimate reasonable concerns. We neither ignore nor condemn those concerns. We only ask that people seek out responsible factual information when looking for answers to their questions.

We will end on a personal note. We have been living here in Mexico for over six years. Before that we were regular visitors to this area for another seven years. In that time we have never been the victims of a violent crime. We have never witnessed a violent crime. The worst thing that happened to us was the theft of a backpack left unattended on the beach six years ago.

We realize there is crime here, just as there was in San Francisco when we lived there. Crime is sadly a part of life everywhere. But to us, Playa del Carmen is still a safe wonderful place where the pace of life is slower and the Caribbean beckons with warm blue water. It is our home and we feel safe here. If that ever changes, our readers will be among the first to know.

Happy travels to you all. And if you find yourself in Playa del Carmen, please stop by the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar and say hello.

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

Sons of Anarchy Stars Invited to Mexico

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 3, 2011

Katey Sagal, the baddest biker chick on TV - Sons of AnarchyBefore we ever moved to Mexico and bought the Luna Blue Hotel, we made a list one night over several bottles of wine, People Who Can Stay for Free. They were people who inspired us, who we admired, who turned us on or were our personal heroes.

The list has changed somewhat over the years. Some of the people on it sadly passed away. Others were dropped for personal reasons. (Sorry, but you just don’t steal Sandra Bullock’s husband. Enough said. LOL) And, we have added new people in the years since. Today we’d like to add a couple more.

We are addicted to the fictional televised exploits of a biker gang known as the the Sons of Anarchy. Sons of Anarchy’s fourth season premiere starts September 6, and to celebrate, we are adding two people from that show to our People Who Can Stay for Free list:

Kurt Sutter, Sons of AnarchyThe first is Kurt Sutter, the outspoken take-no-crap creator/writer/producer of the series (who also has a small acting part). Not only has he made one of the best shows on television, but his pain-in-the-ass, in-your-face media persona makes us want to invite him to dinner and open a couple bottles of tequila.

Second is his real life wife Katey Sagal, who plays Gemma Teller, the matriarch of the biker gang. Only Katey Sagal could play the baddest, sexiest, take-no-prisoners, leather clad biker chick babe on TV and also make her loyal, committed, loving and occasionally tender. Whether she loves you or hates you, you’re in for a wild ride.

We love this show and think it has the best writing/directing/acting on television since Deadwood went off the air. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Actually, Cheri wanted to add several of the hot guys from the show to our Stay for Free List, but Tony said we had to draw the line somewhere.

So, Katey and Kurt, if you’re ever in Playa del Carmen, the Luna Blue is yours for free.

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Posted in Friends, News & Politics, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mexican Hotel Rejects Gay Wedding

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 22, 2011

It is hard for us to believe, but we have just heard that a giant five-star resort here in the Riviera Maya refused to allow a wedding ceremony in their hotel because the couple is gay. We are outraged and saddened by such behavior in our adopted country. But truthfully, we’re not surprised.

Whenever someone posts on travel forums looking for gay friendly hotels, there are often responses that question why someone would require a gay friendly accommodation. It is often asked: why can’t the gay traveler be content to accept accommodations which are open to everyone?

The simple reason is that the gay traveler still finds discrimination in the travel industry everywhere in the world, even in Mexico, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and where same sex marriage is legal in Mexico City.

An example of this discrimination can be found at the five star La Amada Hotel resort here in the Riviera Maya (just north of Cancun), which specializes in wedding ceremonies and honeymoon packages for their guests. On their web page “facts sheet,” the section on “Romance” reads as follows:

“Our professional staff, superior catering options
and breathtaking backdrops invite you to experience
the Mexican honeymoon you’ve always imagined.”

It would appear however that romance at the La Amada Hotel is limited only to straight couples. Recently when a gay couple contacted the hotel to arrange for a wedding and reception, they received the following rejection letter:

“Dear [Redacted]: Thank you for you interests for La Amada Hotel.
Being a family friendly resort, we unfortunately cannot support or perform
a gay wedding. I understand you want to have a small intimate
ceremony, but we cannot proceed.”

As members of the travel industry, we are outraged at such blatant discrimination. We, the owners of the Luna Blue Hotel, support equal rights for all people regardless of religion, race or sexual preference/orientation. We believe that a hotel can be both family-friendly and supportive of gay couples.

We would ask our friends and readers of our blog to join us in condemning such behavior in the travel industry. Let the La Amada Hotel know that such discrimination is not acceptable. You can send your comments to them by emailing weddings@laamadahotel.com .

News stories regarding this outrageous behavior have properly protected the privacy of the couple involved. However, if their names become public, we ask the readers of this blog to let us know. We would love to offer the wedding couple a free stay at the Luna Blue Hotel to celebrate their love and to let them know that not all of Mexico practices discrimination. We may not be a five star resort like La Amada, but we think everyone in love should have a chance to celebrate that love.

By the way, the rainbow flag shown above is a Tibetan Buddhist prayer flag. It is hoped that as breezes flow through the flags, the sentiments expressed there (courage, joy, spirit, celebrate, community, equality and diversity) will be carried out into the world. This flag proudly hangs in the Luna Blue Bar.

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Posted in News & Politics, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Safety in Mexico…Canadian Alleges Rape in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 19, 2011

We had hoped to be blogging about the new restaurants in town, but the recent story by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about a woman who alleged rape by Playa del Carmen police has once more brought a lot of people to our blog asking questions about safety. So we thought we’d give our views.

First, we want to say that no woman’s allegation of rape should ever be treated lightly. Rape is a serious crime, and any allegation of that crime should be thoroughly investigated. It should never be assumed that a woman alleging rape is lying. But neither should it ever be assumed that she is telling the truth. We have police systems and courts in the US and Canada and yes, here in Mexico, whose purpose it is to investigate allegations of crime.

Therefore, we find it disturbing that so many people are automatically assuming this couple’s story is true and concluding, once again, that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit.

As far as the facts of the case are concerned we, like many people, have serious questions about the allegations. It appears that the couple was drunk on New Years Eve, got into a street fight, struck someone’s car and when the police were called had a confrontation with the police and resisted arrest. That seems to be without dispute. They were taken to the jail and housed separately. The woman says that she was raped by two police officers. In the meantime, her fiancee in another part of the jail admits he tried to hang himself in his cell. He says that other prisoners told him of his girlfriend’s rape and he decided his own suicide would bring attention to her situation somehow. (How other prisoners would know of this activity in another part of the jail, or even if the man spoke Spanish has not been addressed by him.) Police intervened and saved him from his self-inflicted hanging.

The couple was released the next day after paying a fine. They filed complaints both with Canadian and Mexican authorities. A physical examination of the woman showed no evidence of rape. Instead of returning home after this alleged ordeal, they continued their vacation for another 18 days. On the day before they returned to Canada, almost three weeks later, they gave an on-camera interview to the CBC in Playa del Carmen and continued to appear on CBC News once they returned home.

For us, the couple’s bizarre behavior raises questions about their truthfulness. But that is not for us or anyone else to decide. An investigation is ongoing by the authorities in Mexico.

What does concern us is the sensationalized nature of the coverage and the public reaction to it. As a result of these types of sensationalized stories–and in particular this story–some people are immediately willing to condemn Mexico and make a determination that it is dangerous to visit there. We disagree.

Even if the allegations of the woman are true (and no objective observer is able to say that they are or are not at this point), it would not reflect upon the typical tourist’s safety in this country. The sad fact is that assaults, including rapes, occur everywhere, including Canada and the US. The idea that one such allegation concerning one incident among literally millions of tourists who visit this country is proof that everyone who visits here is in danger is a ridiculous proposition founded more in bigotry than in fact, more in prejudice than in reason.

We continue to assert that our adopted home is as safe as any city in North America. We’ve lived here for six years and never been the victim of a serious crime. Is it perfect? Of course not. But then no place is. There is crime everywhere, but there is less of it here than in most places. And here, as in most places, we strongly suggest you not get so drunk that you end up in violent street brawls or resist the police when they tell you you’re under arrest. Don’t act here differently than you would act at home, and you’ll be just fine.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Thanksgiving and more…on the beach

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 5, 2010

Can you believe it? November is already here. Only seven weeks until Christmas and a week more to a whole new year. The whirlwind of the holiday season is almost upon us. Here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico this time of year brings some of the familiar activities we remember from the United States and some uniquely different ones.

Bye Bye Hurricane SeasonBye Bye Hurricane Season
When November shows up on the calendar the first thing that happens is that those of us living in the tropics begin to relax a little about the weather. The hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean officially runs from June 1st through December 1st. However the final month of November sees water temperatures drop, and the chance of a major storm is almost zero. This storm season has been very good for us here along the Mayan Riviera. While there were many named storms, including a large number of hurricanes, they never made landfall or even threatened this part of the Caribbean. In fact, we didn’t even have much in the way of normal rainfall. It was a great summer for hitting the beach down here in Mexico.

November in Playa also means getting ready for the “snowbirds,” the masses of tourists who come each year escaping the cold winds of winter in the north. Just after Halloween when temperatures drop up in the States, people start thinking about time in the sun. Around town you see businesses putting on a new coat of paint, sprucing up and making improvements in anticipation of our yearly winter migration of tourists.

Turkey Day
The first influx of the tourist season will happen around the time of the US Thanksgiving day. More and more people see that long four-day weekend as a chance to get away and get a tan before the snow starts falling back home. In response, many businesses in Playa del Carmen have adopted the holiday as its own. When we first moved to Playa many years ago we couldn’t even find a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. How things have changed.

Happy ThanksgivingThis morning on our weekly shopping trip to Sam’s Club we saw not only frozen turkeys but all sorts of holiday dinner paraphernalia like Thanksgiving platters, napkins, cooking utensils, and decorations. The stores here in Playa del Carmen now stock cranberries, stuffing mix and canned gravy this time of year. We even found pumpkin pie mix!! So if you are here in town and have a room with cooking facilities (like the Luna Blue’s Garden View Deluxe rooms with full kitchen) you can prepare a holiday meal just like back home…only with warmer weather.

Don’t Wanna Cook?
And if you think being on vacation means a break from cooking, you can still enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Many restaurants have special menus on Thanksgiving. Last year you could have had a gourmet turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Wicky’s or John Gray’s Place. Or you could have opted for a feast on the beach with buffets at Zenzi or Bad Boys beach clubs. Great multi-course Thanksgiving meals were also served at Cocina 38, Off the Vine, El Bistro and Ajua Maya among others. We expect an even larger list of restaurants serving turkey dinners this year. So instead of slaving over the stove all day, you can head for the beach, swim in the Caribbean sea and then go to dinner where someone else did all the work (and will wash the dishes afterwards).

The Game
Another Thanksgiving Day tradition you will find here in Mexico…Football! For many red blooded American men and women, Turkey Day just isn’t complete without seeing “the game.” That is no problem here where satellite TV will beam the broadcast into several popular sports bars in town. Our personal favorite is PG’s Sandbox which has several big screen TVs, good drinks and plenty of things to snack on (in case you are still hungry after dinner!). PG’s is just down the street from the Luna Blue Hotel at the corner of Calle 26 and 1st Avenue.

Fun Local Charity Events
Of course there is a lot to do down here during November in Playa del Carmen besides overeat on Thanksgiving day. This month there will be a fun charity event with which we are proud to be associated.

The Peanut Pet Shelter “Feed a Friend” Drive. People donating a $25 bag of food to the Peanut Pet Shelter are entered in a drawing to win a free vacation in Playa del Carmen including a week’s stay at our own Luna Blue Hotel. The party for drawing the winner will be held at the Luna Blue Bar on November 9, 2010. Click here for more details.

For Foodies & Jazz Buffs
November is also when Playa hosts two wonderful annual events, Taste of Playa and the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival.

Try the Luna Blue's newest drink, 'Sex on the Bar' at Taste of PlayaThe Taste of Playa, held on Sunday, November 21, is a food and beverage festival featuring tasting menus and samples from 40 of the best restaurants and bars in the area. This year, our own Luna Blue Bar will be participating this year, offering tastes of some of our finest cocktails including the legendary “Sarita B Careful” margarita and the new wonderfully wicked “Sex on the Bar.” Our booth will be a replica of our bar with Jorge serving the drinks and with some of the infamous “tangas” (thongs) hanging from the ceiling. Please stop by and see us if you come to the festival.

In addition, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival will take place November 25-28 at Mamita’s Beach Club and will feature jazz musicians from around the world. Personally we are really looking forward to hearing the Manhattan Transfer vocal group. Mamita’s is on Calle 28th just a few blocks from the Luna Blue Hotel. Regular blog readers already know that guests of the Luna Blue receive free use of chairs and umbrellas at Mamita’s. But now our guests will also get 10% off of their food and beverage purchases at Mamita’s. So now you can spend the day at the beach for free while eating and drinking for some of the lowest prices on the sand.

For more details on both the Taste of Playa and the Riviera Jazz Festival see our previous blog entry here.

Now’s the Time to Visit
As you can see there is a lot going on in our lives and in Playa del Carmen this month. It really is a great time to visit. The weather is still warm and the beautiful beaches are not yet crowded with visitors. And you can save money by staying with us at the Luna Blue Hotel. We still have a few rooms available for the week of November 21st (Thanksgiving week), and if you reserve and pay in full at the time of your reservation you can still take advantage of our 10% discount. Please visit our website for more details.

And remember whenever you are traveling in this area to stop on by and say hello. We love to meet the folks who read our blog.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, News & Politics, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mexico is NOT a war zone

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 7, 2010

By now you have probably heard the news: eight people killed this week in a fire bombing of a bar in Cancun Mexico. You probably first saw the headlines of a “Bar Bombed in the Popular Resort Town of Cancun.” Of course the immediate reaction was to imagine drug terrorists throwing bombs into a crowded hotel lobby bar as tourists in bathing suits were blown to bits. However the truth turned out to be something different.

Eventually, after the initial “Mexico is a war zone” reporting, the facts began to come out: The “bombs” were not explosives but rather gasoline filled bottles used to burn the building down. The bar was not a tourist bar. In fact it was miles from the resort zone on the outskirts of the large city of Cancun (the resort zone is on a peninsula, technically an island, separated from the larger city). The bar was owned by a figure with criminal ties, and it appears the arson was in retaliation against him. The “bar” was actually a ramshackle wooden building which housed a “full service” topless bar. The unfortunate victims were employees who succumbed to smoke inhalation.

It wasn’t an attack on tourists or anywhere near the tourist zone. Yet we have been overwhelmed with comments on the internet about how the drug war is “creeping closer” to the Riviera Maya tourist zones and, “it is just a matter of time before the drug cartels start killing tourists.” Pardon our French…but that is crap.

The facts are pretty simple:

1. The drug wars in northern central Mexico are mostly about control of the drug cartel’s smuggling routes across the joint US/Mexico border. Here in Mexico’s Caribbean coast known as the Rivera Maya (the area between Cancun and Tulum, including Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Akumal, etc.) there is no border with the US and so the drug war violence has never really extended to this part of Mexico.

2. Yes there is crime here, just as there is crime everywhere. The murders and arson of this Cancun bar are perfect examples. However murders related to drug gang activity take place in the US in almost every state of the union. In the past 30 days the Department of Justice news clearinghouse shows gang-related murders and criminal activity in California, Missouri, New York, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey, Utah, Oregon…the list goes on and on. Drug gang crime is on the rise in the US, too, not just in Mexico.

3. The reality is that Cancun has a crime rate less than the entire state of Montana…and Playa del Carmen has a crime rate less than that of Cancun. In a modern world any urban area has criminal activity…but our part of the world certainly has less than most and is undeserving of the label of “dangerous.”

However the facts don’t seem to matter anymore. Without a doubt any major crime in this part of Mexico will be broadcast through the US and Canada as a proof positive that Mexico is dangerous, that the drug war has spread across this country and that you are risking your life by coming here. It isn’t true of course but it serves a purpose. It sensationalizes the news, and that helps sell newspapers and makes people turn on the TV. More importantly it fosters the fear of “others.” It tells people to be safe, stay home and distrust anybody not like “us.” And that is working. Click on any major newspaper or TV news station website that reports on Mexico. Now read the comments left by the public…hateful, racist, angry, bitter comments about a country and a people of which few of these posters have any first hand knowledge. It disgusts us.

People have every right to be concerned and to ask questions. People should investigate to ensure they really are going to be safe if they venture across the border. But people shouldn’t fall back on easy answers, fearful conjecture or racism. Mexico is being used as a media scapegoat and as an appeal to the worst attitudes of many people in the US. And that’s simply unfair to the wonderful people of this beautiful country.

We don’t know what to do about this, other than to keep on doing what we have been doing…telling the truth. The Caribbean coastline of Mexico offers no more danger than your own hometown. It is beautiful and safe. Now wouldn’t it be nice if someone would make that into a breaking news headline!

BTW, to hear about the reality and safety of life in Mexico in words much better than we could ever put together, click here for an article by the wondrous Linda Ellerbee.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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The Truth about Safety and Crime in Mexico 2010

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 7, 2010

For the last year the US and Canadian media have been having a field day in revealing each new atrocity or crime in Mexico. The picture of Mexico as a lawless, dangerous destination has sold a lot of newspapers and filled a lot of time on 24 hour news channels. Yet the truth is the picture of Mexico they present is more myth than fact. Mexico is not the wasteland of drug gang warfare that has been portrayed in the news.

The stunning beach in Playa del Carmen, MexicoThose of us who live in Mexico and those brave souls who have continued to visit here have long known that the violence of the drug wars, while real and horrifying, is limited to a specific part of this country, far from the beaches and resorts of the beautiful Caribbean paradise that is Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Thankfully, it now seems that some reporters in the US media are slowly becoming aware of that fact.

This past week USA Today featured an article amazingly entitled, “Mexico’s Violence Not as Widespread as Seems.” The article by Mr. Chris Hawley sets forth some important facts (as opposed to the sensationalized conjecture so often seen in reports from Mexico). Some of those facts are:

A closer look at the latest official statistics indicates that much of Mexico has modest murder rates.

• The murder rate in 2009 was still lower than it was a decade before, long before the Mexican government began a crackdown against the cartels.

• The state with the lowest murder rate is Yucatán, the Gulf of Mexico state known for its beaches and Mayan ruins. Its murder rate of 2 per 100,000 was comparable to Wyoming and Montana.

• Washington, D.C.’s murder rate is nearly quadruple that of the Mexican capital, Mexico City. Washington’s murder rate was 31.4 per 100,000 people in 2008; Mexico City’s rate in 2009 was 8.

Mr Hawley’s balanced article makes several of the points we and others have been making for months now: Yes, the drug wars in central Mexico are terrible and constitute a danger to those living and traveling there. However, those areas are far removed from the beaches and resort areas of Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. Mr Hawley’s entire article can be seen here.

A similar article recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle under the title, “Most Dangerous Places in Mexico — and Where it’s Still Safe to Travel” by Christine Delsol. Ms. Delsol’s article notes that:

“Geography is still the overriding safety factor; most of the violence happens around the lucrative points of entry to the United States, particularly in manufacturing areas with a large U.S. presence. You can still go to Mexico, as about 18 million Americans do every year, and have a carefree vacation.”

Ms Delsol also quotes Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies, international corporations and other organizations on security issues as finding that:

“Popular tourist areas remain the safest places in the country.” She also notes that “Stratfor singles out Cozumel, Cancún and Los Cabos as the safest of all.” Ms Delsol’s entire article can be seen here.

And of course no less than the First Lady of the United States recently visited Mexico and invited her fellow countrymen to do the same. “I would encourage any American to spend time here,” she said.

In keeping with the facts and the reality of the situation, we would again ask…would you cancel a trip to New York or Orlando because of the high murder rate in Washington DC? If your answer is no, then it should be clear that the same rule applies for Mexico, i.e. violence several thousand miles away should not be a reason to avoid those peaceful and beautiful parts of this wondrous country.

It’s time to talk truth and facts: Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are among the most beautiful, tranquil and safe in the world. We invite you to come and see for yourself.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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FMM – The New Mexican Immigration Form

Posted by Tony & Cheri on May 7, 2010

On April 30, 2010, Mexican launched a brand new form for people entering and exiting the country. As before, passport holders from countries on Mexico’s no visa required list do not need to apply for a formal visa to visit Mexico. They may, instead, use a visitor’s permit which is now known as a Forma Migratoria Multiple, or FMM. If you’re visiting Mexico from the US or Canada, the following applies to you.

The FMM is not very different from the old form and works in much the same way: As a tourist, you fill out and sign the left-hand (blue) side of the form and fill out numbers 1-7 on the right-hand (green) side of the form and give it to the immigration officials when you arrive at your destination. They will check your documents and stamp and process the form, handing you back the right-hand portion, which you must keep and surrender when you leave Mexico. When you leave Mexico, you’ll need to fill out item #8 on this form with the airline and flight number of your departing flight. This you’ll turn in to the airline when you check in, just as you always did. If you lose this form, you will have to go to the Immigration desk at the airport and likely pay a fine for another one, so we advise clipping it to your passport, so it can’t be misplaced.

Click here to see the new FMM form.

In most cases, your airline will provide you with this form. If not, you will be given one when you arrive in Mexico. We traveled back to Mexico on May 1, a day after the new forms went into effect, yet we were still given the old forms by our airline. It may take a little while for all the airlines to receive the new forms.

It’s that simple. The above information mostly pertains to tourists coming into Mexico. For those of us who live and work here, the process is slightly different in that we fill out the right-hand portion of the form when we leave Mexico and the other portion when we come back. For more detailed information for non-tourists and people traveling from countries that require a visa, we recommend Mexperience’s article on Mexico Entry Requirements.

Happy travels, and if you are heading our way, consider visiting us at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

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Mexico: Safety, Health and Money

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 28, 2009

Ahhh....the gorgeous blue water of the CaribbeanHere at the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico we like many in the tourist business are wondering if 2010 will see a return of visitors to the Yucatan, or whether the fears that scared many people away from this part of the Caribbean earlier this year will continue. We know for sure that some people still have questions about crime and illness in Mexico…we see it in the statistics from visits to our blog where entries written months ago about safety issues are still the most read and sought out. And we hear it from people in the US when we travel there…”You live in Mexico? Aren’t you afraid?”

No, we are not afraid to live here. We continue to love our life here and enjoy running one of the area’s most popular small hotels. And we are not afraid to recommend this part of paradise as a travel destination whether with us or at one of the other fine resorts or hotels in Playa. And so we are going to end this year by once again talking about safety in Playa Del Carmen and the Mayan Riviera.

Crime

Mexico’s government is in a battle with drug dealers. That battle is sometimes very violent, and some innocent people have been hurt and killed. But the battle being fought (and won) by the Mexican government is NOT taking place anywhere near the tourist areas of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, the Caribbean coast which stretches from Cancun to Tulum. The violence which erupts between drug dealers and the police is primarily centered on the border of Mexico and the southwest United States. It is over this border that guns are smuggled to Mexico and drugs are smuggled to the US. The competition over these smuggling routes between drug dealers and the disruption of those routes by law enforcement has caused much of the violence which is so sensationally reported by the media.

Imagine yourself on this beach...However, the Yucatan resort coast of Mexico has not experienced this type of drug related warfare. We always remind people that Mexico is similar in many ways to the US. It is a huge country with borders on two oceans. It is divided into many separate states with sovereign governments under a single federal structure. Its people are diverse with different racial backgrounds, economic classes and cultural histories. Like the US it is difficult to pick one part of Mexico and claim it is representative of the whole country and people. Yet often the media of the US and Canada do exactly that, portraying Mexico as a solitary existence where drug dealers and banditos rule the country. While this may sell newspapers and cause people to stay tuned to the channel, it is simply not true.

According to the US State Department, the violence brought about by the drug cartels is centered in Ciudad Juarez, which sits on the northern border of Mexico across from El Paso, Texas. The distance from Ciudad Juarez to Playa del Carmen is approximately 2300 miles. This is about three times the distance from Chicago to New York, around twice the distance from New York to Miami and about the same distance as Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. And while there are travel warnings from the State Department regarding travel in the Mexican border areas with parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, there are NO TRAVEL WARNINGS for the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

We ask again as we have before on this blog: would you cancel your trip to Disneyworld in Orlando because of a crime wave in New York? Would you avoid vacationing in Los Angles because of drug problems in Pittsburgh? We think most people would say “no, of course not.” Yet those who use the drug crimes of central Mexico to say the Mayan Riviera is unsafe are doing that exact type of thing. They are painting all of Mexico with a single brush, and that is unfair and untrue.

Of course our little section of paradise has problems with crime just as every city in the world does. But as the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council 2009 report found, “The Yucatan Peninsula has not suffered the same level of escalating violence seen in other parts of Mexico.” And if you find safety in numbers, remember that the State Department says that over 3 million Americans (and countless more Canadians, Europeans and South Americans) visit Cancun every year. The vast, vast majority of these tourists will never suffer anything more dangerous than sunburn.

Traveling to a foreign country always involves some risk. Using common sense about how you behave, where you go and how much you drink usually lessens those risks considerably. Travel to Playa del Carmen is no different and no more dangerous than travel to any large city in the US.


Health

The beach in Playa del Carmen, MexicoThe single most devastating blow to Mexico’s tourism in the Yucatan this year was undoubtedly the swine flu/H1N1 scare. We say “scare” because the flu itself was never a problem in this part of the world. The real problem was the hysterical reaction of the media and the internet community.

When the swine flu epidemic hit Mexico City, the Mexican government and health workers responded in the best way possible. They announced it was happening, took immediate steps to isolate it and invited in international health organizations to monitor and investigate. Mexico’s reward for such exemplary behavior was to be publicly chastised as a “Typhoid Mary” among nations.

Bureaucrats and politicians trying to look important joined forces with a sensationalizing media and an internet full of self-appointed guardians of the public health to basically call for a boycott of Mexico. By the time it became apparent that the flu was present everywhere in the world and was milder than the seasonal winter influenza with a much lower fatality rate, the damage to Mexico’s tourist industry had already been done.

However in the end we did learn some important things. We learned that Mexico has a modern health care system which was ready and able to meet a medical crisis. We learned that Mexico has a policy of transparency when sharing information and seeking assistance. And while the swine flu never reached epidemic proportions here in the Yucatan, we saw doctors, hospitals and government offices were on alert and ready to deal with any problem that arose.

However even with this crisis now passed, there are those who are still concerned about medical care in Mexico. To those folks we can say that Playa has a number of excellent medical facilities including the Red Cross hospital, the ultra modern Hospiten hospital, and numerous emergency care facilities. We can also say that we personally have found the health care here to be of the highest order. For example, Dr. Eduardo Rovirosa, who is our family doctor and is on call for guests at our hotel, has seen us through any number of illnesses over the years, and we know him to be the equivalent of any physician in the US n terms of skill, training and dedication. We think he is typical of the medical community in Playa.

Being ill on vacation can be a scary experience, particularly when you are in a foreign country. Rest assured that competent modern care is available in Playa del Carmen should you ever need it.


Why Mexico?

Along with fears of crime and rumors about exotic illnesses, another reason people think they should avoid Mexico is the economy. The “staycation’ media blitz by the US hospitality industry has pushed the idea that it is cheaper to stay home in the US for vacations this year. We have already spoken about the safety issue…now let’s talk about money. What does your dollar buy you on vacation in Mexico?

Isn't this better than a snowbank?The peso/dollar conversion rate reached an all time high this year when it skyrocketed to 15 to 1 against the dollar. The current conversion is still around 13 to 1. With the current conversion rate, a dollar spent at home in the US is worth only a dollar, while in Mexico it is worth a third more! And not only is the dollar worth more, there are deals to be had. With the drop in visitors this year many hotels, restaurants, and tours are offering discounts and deals that will carry over into 2010.

As a result of the tourist friendly economy here, Mexico and the Mayan Riviera are ending up on more and more top ten lists for travelers concerned about cost. Budget Travel magazine and US News and World Report’s Money section are just two of the national publications recommending Mexico as a money saving travel destination in the coming year.

Of course it’s not just the savings that are attracting visitors. Mexico’s Caribbean coast remains one of the most beautiful places on earth. Recognizing this fact, the 2009 Travel Leaders Company’s annual survey of travel agents in the US yielded the surprising results of having four Mexico destinations in the top ten places for Americans to vacation. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, the Mayan Riviera and cruises to Mexico were all on the list.

To top off the year the prestigious Times of London named our own Playa del Carmen the number one destination for a tropical beach vacation in the entire world! It’s hard to see how a “staycation” at home buried in a snow bank is just as good as laying on the white sand of the world’s best beach. We say forget the “staycation” and go for the “playcation”…or better yet a “Playacation!”

The facts seem pretty clear…Mexico is not only safe, it is a world class travel destination with great value for your dollar. We hope we have cleared up some misconceptions about Mexico, and have made you think for just a moment about visiting a true tropical paradise…our home, Playa del Carmen.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Posted in Living the Dream, News & Politics, Safety in Mexico, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

All Shook Up…Twenty Years Ago Today

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 17, 2009

Twenty years ago today, the two of us stood in the middle of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the second largest earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area history. Here are our memories of that day.

~ Cheri ~
I can remember October 17, 1989 as clearly today as I did two decades ago. Twenty years ago today, at 5:04 pm, I had just left my job at a law firm in downtown Oakland, California. I was armed with my little portable TV and all my softball gear. The plan was to meet Tony for a drink at our favorite watering hole in downtown Oakland to watch the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. Then I was going to go on to my late softball game in Oakland (with the TV in tow so as not to miss any of the Series), catching a ride back to San Francisco with my brother afterwards, and Tony was going to go home. This was the first ever World Series between the two Bay Area baseball teams, and we, like most everyone else, didn’t want to miss it, so Tony left work early to save us some bar stools.

Fallen debris crushes a carI first heard glass breaking. My eyes followed the sound, and I saw panes of glass crashing onto the ground and others falling from the fifth or sixth floor of the large brick building I had just walked past. I jumped into the street and off the sidewalk to get further away from the building and the falling glass. What was going on?!? I looked at the little deli across the street, and the small sign in the window was swaying violently from side to side. I knew then that not only was this an earthquake, but it was by far the biggest one I had ever felt. I looked back at the brick building and saw it actually slither like a snake, only vertically. I was sure it was about to come down. Bricks started falling onto the street. I looked quickly to see if there were any people would be hurt by the falling debris, but the streets were amazingly clear for 5 pm. No one seemed to be on their regular schedules that day because of the baseball game. A guy on the street nearby yelled, “Earthquake!” and ran to hold onto a utility pole. I ran over and held on with him. The street I was standing on rolled like a magic carpet, rising about three feet up before coming back down again. That’s a sight I had never seen before or since.

When the shaking stopped, I just stood there, stunned. There was broken glass and bricks everywhere, and portions of the streets were cracked. I figured I’d better go to the bar and meet Tony, since he was waiting for me. I had no idea the extent of the damage, but I knew it had been a big one.

I got to Roy’s, but Tony wasn’t there. Roy, the bartender, said that Tony had been there during the earthquake but had rushed back to San Francisco to pick up his son from school. I sat down next to Tony’s Jack Daniel’s, ordered a margarita, and turned on the little TV. At that point the electricity was out, so everyone crowded around the tiny screen to get a glimpse of the news. The first news I heard was that the Bay Bridge had collapsed! OMIGOD!! I had a vision of the bridge falling into the water that I just couldn’t shake. Since the Bay Bridge is the only direct way to get from Oakland to San Francisco, I figured eventually Tony would come back to the bar to figure out what to do next. This was before cell phones, so we had no way to reach each other. I sat down and waited with the other people at Roy’s, our eyes glued to the little TV for news of how strong the quake had been and what other damage there was. Was this “the big one?” Everyone was clearly shaken by the experience. I know I sure was.

~ Tony ~
Twenty years ago today I snuck out of work early. The San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s were playing in the World Series in San Francisco. Knowing that getting back into San Francisco across the Bay Bridge back was going to be impossible for a couple of hours, Cheri and I agreed to go to a local bar near where we worked to watch the game and wait out the traffic.

The collapsed Cypress Structure between Oakland and San FranciscoThe game was supposed to start around 5pm, and so I went down early to grab us a couple of seats at the bar in front of the TV. By the time I got to Roy’s, there were seven or eight people already there with the same idea. I sat down and ordered a Jack Daniel’s and began to watch the pregame show while waiting for Cheri. Suddenly the TV screens went blank. Everyone in the place assumed it was Roy’s TV and began to groan loudly and yell complaints. Then the quake hit us.

The bottles and glasses behind the bar suddenly came flying off. People were knocked off their feet and off their chairs as the floor seemed to tilt one way and then the next.

When you live in earthquake country, it becomes second nature how to react. You get into a reinforced doorway or under a table. Within a few seconds, all of us in the bar were scrambling to fill the small doorway that led into Roy’s from the street. We must have looked like a circus pyramid group climbing on top of each other to find space in the doorway. As I clung to the moving wall of Roy’s bar, I looked out onto a terrifying panorama. The buildings around us swayed to and fro, and with every movement sent bricks, concrete and glass crashing into the street and onto the parked cars. For a moment, I really thought that my life might end there. Then after a few second that literally seemed like an eternity (they always say that, and it’s true), the quake ended. There was an amazing stunned silence broken only by car alarms.

As we untangled ourselves from the doorway, my first thought was of my son, Chris, who was in day care back in San Francisco. I had no idea how great the damage was over there, whether he was in danger, or whether his mother would be able to find him and get to him. I told Roy to tell Cheri that I had left for San Francisco to find Chris. I jumped in the car but had only gone a few blocks when the car radio announced that a section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. A few minutes later the radio also said that a large portion of the Cypress freeway (the freeway I would have taken to go home if I hadn’t stopped to watch the game) had also collapsed, crushing and pinning numerous cars beneath it. There was no way to get back across to San Francisco. I turned the car around, driving through rubble in the streets, and returned to Roy’s. When I walked in the door, I saw Cheri, pale and a little shaky, sipping a margarita at the bar.

~ Tony & Cheri ~
After exchanging stories of where we were and what happened during the quake, we agreed that our first priority was finding a phone and checking on Chris. None of the phones in the bar worked (remember, this was pre-cell phone), so we took off down the street. We each took a side of the street and began knocking on doors, stepping over broken glass and concrete as we went. We knocked on every door and asked at every storefront if they had a working phone we could use. Eventually someone said yes. Through some electronic miracle, we were able to connect across the Bay to San Francisco and find out that Chris was fine, there had been no damage to his school and that his mother had arrived there a few minutes after the quake. They were both safe and sound at home. We checked in with Cheri’s mom and other family members who lived in San Francisco and the East Bay and made sure they were all fine.

Earthquake damage in the Marina district of San FranciscoHaving found out that the family had survived, we went back to Roy’s for another drink. It seemed like the thing to do. Roy was still sweeping up glass and replacing bottles but took time to give us another round. We didn’t stay long as it was beginning to get dark and there was no electricity. We wanted to go back to San Francisco but didn’t know how to do it. The Bay Bridge was closed, so no traffic could cross it and BART, the underground railway, was closed in case the tunnel beneath the bay had been damaged. Probably the safest thing to do would have been to spend the night in Oakland somewhere, but we both just wanted to go home to San Francisco.

Part of the problem was that we couldn’t get good information. We decided we’d drive around and see if we could find any part of Oakland that still had electricity, so we could find out what was happening. We ended up in a small section of the city called Rockridge and to our relief and delight found the main street, College Avenue, had power. We went into a small restaurant called the Rockridge Café (which is still there and still serves great food) and found a table. We joined a lot of other “refugees” watching the news on the café’s TV. It was pretty scary. The videos of the collapsed freeway, the damage to the Bay Bridge and the fires that had broken out in the Marina district of San Francisco (where the damage was the worst) were horrifying. The city was badly damaged, and in a strange way it made us want to get home even more.

Eventually a news report said there was a way back into San Francisco. The northernmost bridge across the bay, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, was open. So was the Golden Gate Bridge. We could get home by driving over to Marin and then south across the Golden Gate into San Francisco. The only problem was that no one knew if the bridges were damaged or not. There were no lights on the bridges, and emergency teams were so busy in San Francisco that there was no one to inspect them for damage. People were being warned that they could use the bridges but at their own risk.

We talked about it for a few minutes and both felt the same way. We wanted to go home. It was worth the risk.

We drove slowly across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. There were a few other cars, all of us driving slowly, wondering if at any minute the bottom of the bridge would fall out beneath us. Luckily it didn’t. 🙂 Once across, we headed south over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fires in San Francisco after the earthquakeIf you’ve ever driven across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, you know it’s a spectacular sight, even at night. The lights of the buildings lining the rolling hills make for a beautiful skyline. This night, we gazed in amazement at a San Francisco which was completely dark. No lights were to be seen. The hills looked like giant shadows against the night sky. As we headed across the bridge, Cheri commented that there was a huge fog bank on the bridge ahead of us. As we drove into it, we realized it wasn’t fog, it was smoke from the fires that had broken out from ruptured gas lines in San Francisco.

We drove slowly through the smoke and into the City. The streets were deserted, with electric buses stopped dead in the middle of intersections. There were no people or cars on the street except for the occasional police or emergency vehicle. The only lights we saw came from candles in people’s apartments and houses. It was sad and it was frightening, but at least we had gotten home safely.

The next day the City started its recovery. Everyone had a story. Friends who had been downtown had to walk several miles back to their homes in the surrounding areas. There were no buses, no BART, no way to get there other than to walk. In true San Francisco style, however, the pain of the hike was lessened as bars along the main streets, having no electricity to keep their beer cold, were handing out free drinks to passersby. Most of the City was without electricity for several days, and the downtown business area was virtually closed. The City was forced to slow down, and it gave all of us a chance to look around us and once again appreciate where we lived.

In the weeks that followed, life slowly began to return to normal. However, for several weeks there was no way to get to the East Bay and back again except by ferry boat. We would take a ferry in the morning, drift across the bay to our jobs in Oakland and return in the evening. It was a slower, much more inconvenient way of rush hour travel, but in the end we actually came to love it. We were almost disappointed when the Bay Bridge reopened and we could drive to work again.

Of course, as with the first great San Francisco earthquake, out of the ashes came new beauty. The ugly old freeway that had lined the waterfront had to be torn down. The empty warehouses and rotting piers gave way to palm lined boulevards, restaurants, stores and new apartments. The Embarcadero, the area along the waterfront, is now one of the prettiest and most vibrant sections of the City (and is now home to San Francisco’s new ballpark).

Our beautiful city by the baySan Francisco has had more than its fair share of tragedies–from the 1906 earthquake to Jonestown to the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake to the AIDS epidemic. The people of the Bay Area have had a lot of heartaches. They mourn and remember those who were lost in the Loma Prieta earthquake but also take pride in their rebuilding and survival.

San Francisco may sit on the shaky edge of the continent, but its inhabitants have long ago figured out that the pleasure is worth the pain. And they long ago realized it’s better to dance than to cry.

We may live in Mexico, but today our hearts are in San Francisco, which is still and always will be our home.

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