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Marni Jackson

I survived a week in Mexico Add to ...

My husband and I have just returned from a week's vacation in Huatulco, Mexico. This lovely bay-scalloped stretch of the Pacific coastline lies far south of Acapulco, in the state of Oaxaca, roughly 3,500 kilometres from Juarez and the border towns where most of the drug-related violence occurs. Playa del Carmen, where five Canadians were killed in a gas explosion at a hotel, lies more than 1,500 kilometres away on the opposite coast. Nevertheless, this March break, far too many Canadians will take a pass on Huatulco out of media-fuelled fear.

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"It's our worst season since 9/11," said Alfredo Patino, overlooking his empty palapa restaurant in Maguey Bay.

Have these Mexico-abstainers not looked at a map? This is a big country, almost Canadian in its breadth and variety. To steer clear of a place such as Huatulco - ecologically conscious and custom-tailored to the most squeamish tourist - because of narco violence or attacks on tourists in far-flung regions is like the irrational pall that fell on Canada during the SARS epidemic, when visitors cancelled flights to Vancouver because of an outbreak in Toronto.

So, to counteract the bad rap against Mexico these days, here's a list of all the things that did not happen to us while on vacation in Huatulco:

I was not decapitated, nor was my severed head used as a bowling ball to send a message to drug lords.

While it's fair to say my brain was flatlining from beach torpor and the shock of encountering bright colours after an interminably grey winter, my head remained on my shoulders for the entire week. We also weren't caught in a hail of bullets while strolling across the zocalo of La Crucecita, the amiable town close to our immaculate and perfectly run B&B. In fact, the absence of conspicuous crime or desperate poverty in Huatulco was almost eerie. I see more crack addicts three blocks from my "safe" Toronto neighbourhood, and more homeless people in the heart of our financial district.

I was not murdered on a beach after agreeing to take a midnight ride on a Jet Ski.

The most violent incident of the week occurred while my husband was snorkelling with an underwater camera, and a clearly irritated yellow-tailed fish bit him on the leg, leaving a tiny three-pronged tattoo. But I feel this was a reasonable response. Fish, including Mexican fish, apparently do not like paparazzi. Can we blame them?

We were not overcharged or robbed.

Huatulco is a series of nine sea-scoured bays, with many protected wilderness zones. A $4 cab ride gets you most places, such as Playa Entrega, a beach popular with Mexican families. We first arrived at Entrega clutching our bags, afraid to both go swimming at the same time. When we offered to pay our waitress to watch our things, she looked at us as if we were insane. A $1.50 bottle of Corona secures you a table in a palapa, where we left our things untended while we went snorkelling. And if you accidentally swim with paper pesos in the pocket of your bathing trunks, they dry out nicely in the sun.

The only hitch in our week was the discovery that my husband had left an expensive pair of headphones and an iPod on the flight down to Mexico. We didn't bother contacting our charter airline; surely the cleaning staff would view such forgotten valuables as a well-earned tip. Then, at the end of our week, as we lined up for our return flight, my husband asked an airline employee if, by some fluke, they had been turned in. "Were they Bose headphones?" he asked. "Then I think you might be in luck." He ducked into an office and came back with both items.

We were not mugged or dumped in the trunk of a car.

The only remotely threatening thing we encountered in Huatulco was a tarantula, which was lounging on the steps of our B&B one night. Although he was absolutely riveting, in a Steven Tyler sort of way, the spider did not harm us, offer a tour of the nearby jungle, or try to sell us a tarantula-skin wallet.

We did not get sick.

The Huatulco area is clean and the water is filtered. I ordered ice and salads with abandon. We ate our meals in restaurants twice a day and incurred nothing more severe than numb hands from lifting icy margaritas to our lips.

We did not feel patronized or resented by the locals.

Not a great deal of English is spoken, so my laughable, hillbilly grasp of Spanish came in handy. Despite our ignorance, we felt the money we were spending in Huatulco made us welcome. Our relationship with the Mexicans who live there was simple: They are the artisans, stewards and facilitators of something that we Canadians desperately lack - a place that's hospitable, affordable, warm and beautiful all year round.

Marni Jackson is the author of Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest.

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