Adventure, Adventure Prep, Mexico City, Travel

Muy Peligroso

I’m curious what Rogue Priest readers would do in this situation.

You’re visiting Mexico City. You took the subway to a neighborhood called Coyoacán. It’s a good part of town. When you get off the subway, you have to walk about 14 blocks to your destination.

You have an enjoyable afternoon. Then it gets dark.

As the sun sets you ask directions back to the Coyoacán subway station. Unfortunately the directions you’re given are not good. You wander far afield, rush through a dicey neighborhood and find yourself on a major street. Finally, you see a woman walking her dog. You ask directions again.

She’s confused why you want to go to the Coyoacán station. Apparently, you’ve wandered so far that another one—Zapata—is closer. You know Zapata is on the same line as Coyoacán, and either station will take you home.

However…

  • The directions she gives to the Zapata station are long and complicated. You understand the general direction, but not the complicated series of landmarks and turns. You’re pretty sure you’ll get lost finding it. 
  • On the other hand, the directions back to Coyoacán are simple. One long, straight walk, then turn right. But in her explanation you catch the words muy peligroso. You ask her to repeat and she confirms: you’ll go through a neighborhood she considers muy peligroso. Very dangerous.

It’s a dilemma. Going one way you face the known danger of a bad part of town. Going the other way you face the unknown danger of getting further lost, as it gets later and later at night.

You have no cell phone and no one to help you. Muy peligroso or terra incognitaWhich would you choose?

And to add psychology to the game… which do you think I chose?

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39 thoughts on “Muy Peligroso

  1. Awesome dilemma! First off, I’d tell the lady that your ‘apellido’ is ‘Muy Peligroso.’

    Then I would go back the way you came. You said it’s simpler. You’ve just traveled it. You should be closer to where you just were if you did need help (higher chance of finding the place you were.)

    I think you went back. Just a guess

    • “Mi apellido es Muy Peligroso.”

      “Ah, señor, entonces… usted es el hombre que fue enviado para MATAR!” blam blam blam blam

      Actually I must have described it poorly. The dicey neighborhood I just came through wasn’t the same one she was pointing me through as “muy peligroso.”

  2. I would guess you went the way of muy peligroso. Confidence and poise can have a strong effect on the danger of a situation. Plus, you’d probably have to go back that way anyways once you got lost going the complicated route. Better to just go back to where you want than have to do it later.

  3. Well, I’d chose Zapata, for several reasons. Firstly, if a local says a place is very dangerous, I figure it probably is, and I see no reason to walk into obvious danger when there are other choices. Secondly, I’m not scared of being lost. There’s always a nice lady walking her dog, or someone similar, whom one can ask. And I don’t see being lost as a danger, but an opportunity and an adventure. (I say this as someone who has been lost at night in dangerous unknown cities.) Also, I’m not scared of night. I know there’s this idea that night in a city is more dangerous than daytime, but that’s not my experience. So you can’t freak me out with your “getting later and later” part. I’d happily roam about “lost” until dawn if that’s what it took.

    Besides, I disagree with you on one point – that you have “no one to help you.” You have the woman with the dog. She has already helped you. She can probably help you more if you ask more questions. And no doubt other people will come along. Most people will help a friendly stranger. You also have yourself.

    But I don’t know which one you chose. Because on one hand you probably see “the unknown” as an adventure, but on the other hand you are currently in the middle of a project which could be summed up as “walking through a bad neighbourhood”, so …

    • You’re very right about that Sarah – I wasn’t totally without people to turn to for help. I just wanted to be clear that there’s no “turn to a friend” lifeline in this scenario.

  4. Well, there’s “dangerous,” meaning unknown and risky and exciting, and then there’s “dangerous,” meaning not just not safe, but potentially bad for you. If it were me, especially being a woman, I’d stick to the safer areas, even if it means having to ask for directions again. There had to be other people or places that you could ask for help if you got lost again: another pedestrian, a gas station, a restaurant, almost anywhere, really. And if the idea is to meet people and practice your Spanish, then the safer route is technically the more adventurous route to take, so I think you took that route, Zapata.

  5. the muy peligroso route – you’ll look like you know where you’re going, instead of wandering around obviously looking like you don’t know where you’re going. Also, what’s dangerous for a woman may not be dangerous for a man… Why don’t you have a map? What’s up with that? If you’re in an unfamiliar city, you need a map that shows transit routes and stations and so forth.

  6. I’d get the general direction of the closer station, not worry so much about the details, and go a couple blocks and then ask directions again.

    Of course, I’d also have a map on me – I’m a great believer in maps and do my best to acquire one within minutes of arriving somewhere new, or I print them out before going somewhere, having had far too many adventures when lacking one – and I’d have the lady point out where I am on the map and then indicate a route. I’ve been in Moscow four years and I still keep a 170 page street atlas in my bag, updating it yearly. I’m planning on getting a smartphone with gps once they’re out with Android 4.0 too.

    • Fair point about the map.

      In general, I almost never get lost. I have a very strong instinct for orienting myself and finding my way around. Usually a glance at Google Maps before leaving is plenty.

      Obviously, that failed me here. I was particularly convinced this trip would be easy because a friend had taken me there once before. Tsk.

  7. Answer Part One: If I were alone, I would be inclined to go the way the lady suggested. If I were with someone – I would absolutely go back the very dangerous way. Walk confidently like you belong. I’m from Detroit.

    Answer Part Two: I think you went the more dangerous route. You would not be rogue otherwise.

  8. Definitely not going anywhere muy peligroso. There’s only one Drew, and Drew needs to listen to the locals! I think your common sense won out, and you went the way of Zapata. Unless you brought your sword with you.

    • What would be great is if I said, “yeah, I did bring my sword!” right after telling the other commentors I didn’t bring a map. Priorities…

      Actually that’s awesome. Let’s just say that’s what I did.

  9. I think I would go back the way I came, the way I know. I think most of people would do that. It scientifically proven that people always take the choice that is the most known. You pretty much sure of the outcome, however nothing fancy will happen.
    Now the right answer is to take the unknown path. Probability is higher that you will make an encounter that will change your life or change your mindset on this path. But you know it, right? Are you living the the heroic life or the safe and boring life?
    Now I’m curious, which way did you go?

  10. I agree w/ Gwen………as a lady, I’d go with the safer route if it were at night. If it were daytime, I might venture the known route.

    I’m thinking about this and have no idea what to guess about you, though. But I’m interested to know the answer so you’d better update. ;)

  11. I’m also curious as to why you’re ventured out without a phone or a map or guide of some kind? I’m supposing that it is so you can “wander” and discover things that you might not have otherwise, but a back up plan is always a good idea!

    • No, it wasn’t specifically to wander. It was actually quite the opposite – I was totally sure I knew where to go, so why use a map? And I don’t have a working cell here in MC. I could get one with a local SIM and prepaid minutes but since I’m here such a short time and seldom on my own I didn’t bother.

  12. Okay so it looks like 5 of you guys think I went with the muy peligroso route and only 3 of you think I went with the safer/more confusing route. What’s with that? Why does everyone think I’d go the dangerous way?

    Well, here’s the answer…

    I did go the muy peligroso way.

    There’s really no right or wrong answer with this kind of dilemma, it’s whatever you’re most comfortable with (or least uncomfortable with, I guess). But here was my reasoning when I made my choice.

    1. It was getting late and I had a skype date to get to, so I valued a quick, reliable way home.

    2. Mexico City residents tend to exaggerate danger levels to extrajeros. They don’t understand what I’ve been through in New York, New Orleans and Thailand and often assume I will freak out at their bad neighborhoods, which so far haven’t been that bad.

    3. Many of the neighborhoods I’d been through had very few people walking around, or only creepy people. I didn’t want to count on finding more friendly strangers to direct me.

    Under different circumstances – especially if I didn’t have a self imposed time limit – I probably would have gone the confusing way. I learn my way around a city best by getting lost and wandering randomly. It would have been a great learning experience, whether it was actually safer or not.

    • You know, I figured you probably went the dangerous way, but didn’t want to say it for fear of insulting your intelligence and common sense. ;)

      Personally I figure it’s more or less about odds. Most likely, doing any particular thing, nothing bad will happen… but some things have more chance of it than others, and it seems those odds stack up over time.

      And also, I prefer to take risks on experiences that *matter* to me, not just crossing town. I generally avoid walking through dodgy areas alone, but have gone out and photographed riots and stood my ground and kept shooting when charged by 150 wild horses (one of the most exhilerating experiences of my life). So I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid risky things, just to pick the ones that matter enough to you to be worth it.

    • I entirely forgot to comment on this post earlier, which my guess would have been the muy peligroso way as well. Mostly because it is the way I would have went. Direct and to the point. I didn’t get this far in life by being scared.

      I really like the idea of a sword that Lisa proposed. I have three for my work at Fest. None sharp, but I don’t think anyone would notice.

  13. Zoh says:

    Interesting question, thank you for posing it!

    My answer, with total seriousness, is to definitely not go the muy peligroso route. If a local tells you a place is sketchy, then believe them until you know enough to make your own decision about it. It’s not necessary to fear danger, but needlessly taunting danger without some actual concrete reason seems like a waste of energy and gambling with bad consequences.

    Honestly? Perhaps this wasn’t an option in the situation above, but as a New Yorker, I would have asked the woman to help me call a taxi or car service and just shelled out the cash. Unfamiliar neighborhood, unfamiliar city, alone, at night, with bad directions? No way, I don’t roll that way. It’s not worth it to take the chance that some seriously messed-up person with a (a) knife (b) gun (c) group of equally messed-up friends (d) etc, will cross your path and decide to inflict themselves on you.

    My policy is to face danger fiercely, head on, with confidence, when it presents itself. But I don’t seek it out without a soul-deep important reason. And if you’ve got a way out of having to make a difficult decision ($ for a cab, for example), then call that cab.

    Come to think of it, even though she said that the one route was very dangerous, I would have asked her which out of the two ways had more humans on the roads, and then taken that route. I’d stay on well-trafficked roads, with as many people as possible, and ask directions frequently. And most importantly perhaps, assessed the situation afterward to figure out how I could make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Dangerous encounters are mostly a game of statistics — I try to make sure I’m not playing the game as much of the time as possible.

    • Zoh says:

      Aha! I just read your answer above! Sounds like you went muy peligroso and that worked for you. :) I’m really glad that you got back okay.

      I know what you mean about people exaggerating danger. I think some folks do that in NYC as well. I tend to err myself on the side of directing a direction-asking person to the more safe-but-circuitous route, unless I know them and their level of alertness, etc. It does make sense that she probably was exaggerating.

      Out of curiosity: are there cabs in Mexico City, easily call-able? Might not be bad to get a business card from a cab company and keep it on you, just in case.

      • Zoh says:

        Ack! And I just realized I also forgot to answer the last question, about which route you would choose.

        Now that I know the answer I guess it’s a moot point. Next time I’ll aim for better reading comprehension. ;)

    • Yeah we have some pretty savvy readers here at Rogue Priest. Which is good, because… well you guys are the brain trust I’m cultivating for tough moments on the Great Adventure.

  14. Certainly been there. I say risk it. The whole damn world is dangerous. And everyone is always repeating that this place is dangerous, don’t go there, dont do that.

    Meh, the best place to travel is the places everyone is afraid to see.

  15. Me, personally, and you may not know this about me, I would be too curious to resist taking the “muy peligroso” route if only to see how bad it really is. I have walked through so-called bad neighborhoods only to find out the people there were okay and, as long as you look like one of the locals, you’ll do just fine. With my mixed heritage and color, I could easily blend in sometimes and get ignored. Yet, I have also seen some folks look outrageous and walk by unharmed, too.

    One time while walking through a dangerous South Milwaukee neighborhood too late at night, I was chased around the block by three different cars of men looking to pick me up because they thought I was a hooker. An older man who was a friend of my land lady’s happened to walk by. He kindly took my arm and walked me home. The guys backed off. He told me never to walk after midnight again on a Friday night. Apparently that was the time when working girls came out!

    I have actually been accosted more times in safer neighborhoods in the middle of the day by men looking for sex. Now that to me is scary. I have been lucky to find ways to dodge them.

    Anything can happen anywhere. It’s a matter of perspective.

    I am guessing you were curious like me, but thought more about the time frame. If you had more daylight, I think you’d take the bad neighborhood way for the adventure of it.

    Do you think that a woman would have a harder time on the streets of Mexico City than a man?

    After the way you describe your experiences in that town and your friends, it makes me want to visit there! But for now, in a way I visit there through you on this blog. ;-)

    • I think women have a different time, for sure. Mexican women fortify before going out. They wear exaggerated heels, chunky jackets, and square their shoulders and keep their heads up. It’s like they’re putting on their armor, or like a cat arching its back. Foreign women either don’t know or don’t bother with these measures, but Mexican men seem to give them a little space. It’s part of the culture here: women are raised knowing the men here are very aggressive, so they have to fortify up if they’re on their own, but because they were raised that way they also expect and like their men to be aggressive, so they don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. They’re ready for it, whether that means ready to deflect it or ready to embrace it, depending on whether they like the guy.

      That’s my perspective as an outsider.

      • Thanks for your perspective, Drew! I was curious because just based on my experiences with Mexican and Cuban immigrants here in the U.S. — the men are quite aggressive, and yet there are also some who are total gentlemen and pride themselves on it. I’ve always wanted to experience life in Mexico myself, yet always wondered, since I am a solitary person, if I could hack it alone.

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