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Just how dangerous is Mexico really?

(Mexico) Permanent link

Drug wars. Crime. Poverty. Swine flu. Leones y tigres y osos, oh my!

Just how dangerous is Mexico really?

As safe as New York, at least in Puerto Vallarta and many other parts of the country, according to journalist Linda Ellerbee. In a first-person account published on the website of Banderas News of Puerto Vallarta, where the former NBC News reporter is a frequent visitor, Ellerbee writes that “despite what I’m getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York, possibly safer.”

Ellerbee, who now runs her own company, Lucky Duck Productions, in New York, continues: "I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don’t live in a gated community, or any other all-gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York, which is to say I don’t waive money around, I don’t act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I'm aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool."

In other words, the tourist as enlightened visitor.

It’s an interesting and refreshing perspective from a seasoned traveler and journalist, one that agents and operators would be wise to share with their Mexi-phobic clients.

-- Rob Fixmer

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Hurricane forecast: Active, but not as bad as last year

(Caribbean) Permanent link

Get the storm shutters out.

hurricane_flag2The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season forecast calls for nine to 14 named storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA predicts that four to seven storms will be hurricanes, and that one to three will be major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.

The agency released its initial outlook on Thursday for the six-month season, which begins June 1.

The 2009 outlook calls for a slightly less active season than last year, which produced 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major storms. Remember Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike?

Tropical storms get a name when storm strength and sustained winds top 39 mph. Tropical storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph, and become major hurricanes when winds increase to 111 mph.

The first name for 2009 is Ana.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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A bad batch of fuel

(Airlines, Caribbean) Permanent link

Airlines have lots of excuses for late flights, delayed flights and canceled flights. Some of these are out of the airlines' control, such as weather conditions, runway repairs crew tardiness or employee strikes.

A new one popped up Tuesday.

The Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago advised carriers serving Piarco Airport in Port of Spain that it could not supply jet fuel to airlines for 24 hours, beginning at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

The reason? A high sulphur content in the jet fuel rendered the fuel unusable.

The disruption resulted in at least one flight cancellation, a LIAT flight to Barbados on Tuesday afternoon. LIAT immediately arranged for a tanker of extra fuel to permit the operation of its flights from Trinidad later on.

Although LIAT said that it anticipated no further disruptions to its passenger services once the fuel arrived at Piarco, the airline warned that there could be some temporary disruptions in baggage and cargo services to Trinidad for a day or two.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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Projecting great confidence

(Hotels, Mexico) Permanent link

Secrets and Dreams, the AMResorts brands with eight all-inclusive properties in Mexico, are extremely confident that no vacationer is catching swine flu.

The resorts promise that guests booked May 8 through June 30 for travel through Dec. 20 won’t contract the virus. If someone does come down with the H1N1 influenza while staying at any Dreams or Secrets resort in Mexico, then that customer's next three vacations are free.

Let's hope that the traveling public has the same confidence that Secrets and Dreams do.

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A not-so-close encounter with pirates

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Just in case you were too chicken to cruise through the Gulf of Aden this month on one of the most luxurious cruise lines in the world, not to fear: Gene Sloan of USA Today has done it for you -- and lived to write the tale.

Sloan is a reporter and blogger for USA Today’s "Cruise Log" blog (our own Johanna Jainchill sometimes covers for Sloan on the Cruise Log when he is actually on vacation). And his tale of transiting the infamous, pirate-infested waters off Somalia onboard Silversea’s Silver Whisper was both fascinating and, thankfully, boring.

In other words: No pirate attack.

But there were cautions aplenty. Most of the open deck space, the spa, the gym and the observation lounge were off limits during the two-day transit. The pool was drained (so much the better if the vessel had to engage in "evasive" sailing tactics) and glass liquor bottles and other breakables were secured. Even passenger email and phone were barred, since it could interfere with possible countermeasures. A dozen (unnarmed) lookouts were stationed around the ship.

According to Sloan, the lookouts did spot two suspicious skiffs. But they didn’t approach, apparently agreeing with the assessment of the Whisper’s captain that "the pirates don’t like passenger ships."

Wouldn’t such a trip call for breaking out a few of those bottles (Captain Morgan, anyone?) for a nerve-calming beverage?

Perhaps, perhaps not. While Sloan said the experience of being shut up on the ship for two days was "bizarre," the passengers quoted in the report seemed at ease. One even said he hoped to see a few pirates, since it would be "great cocktail talk when we get back home."

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'Pig-litically' correct

(Airlines, Mexico) Permanent link

Pigs have taken a beating in the past week. Now, cooler scientific heads now have prevailed.

Within the blink of an eye and the achoo of a sneeze, government officials have replaced the phrase "swine flu" with the far more somber and scientific H1N1, which sounds like something from Star Wars.

Maybe it was the videos and photos of Egyptian butchers dragging hundreds of pigs to the slaughterhouses that did it.

The flu itself has not disappeared, not even close, but the upside to Mexico's all-but-shattered tourism industry is ultra-cheap fares from the U.S. to Mexico.

Those disinclined to heed Vice President Joe Biden's advice can travel with a stockpile of hand sanitizers in their checked luggage for dirt cheap.

The low, low fares may not last long, but hopefully H1N1 won't either.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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