Adventure, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure

The Danger of North Mexico

I find myself back on US soil and there are only 3 months till I start the Great Adventure. It’s time to make decisions.

One of the most troubling segments of my trip has always been northern Mexico. Mexico as a whole is a very safe, friendly country (in my opinion) but along the US border the drug war rages on and it can be extremely dangerous to foreigners.

My planned route takes me down the Mississippi River. I start in mid June and aim to reach New Orleans by Hallowe’en, allowing a leisurely pace. I expect crossing the US to be relatively safe, with “relative” being the crucial word.

After dallying in New Orleans I’ll head down the Gulf coast through Texas. In this area, if all goes well, I’ll meet up with fellow adventurer Mitchell Roth. (That’s right, if the Great Adventure becomes a video game it will have a two-player mode.)

And after New Year’s we’ll cross to Mexico.

By following the Gulf Coast we won’t hit the very most dangerous spots, but we’ll go through some bad stuff. Friends have begged me to take a bus from the border to Tampico or San Luis Potosí, effectively cutting 500 miles off my walk. I know there has to be another way.

So Mitch and I brainstormed.

Bear in mind that the rule for the Great Adventure is that everything needs to be powered by my own muscles. That doesn’t strictly mean walking-only. In fact, I plan to bike part of it, because biking is fun.

So what about paddling?

The vision that Mitch and I now have is to buy two sea kayaks. We’d have to take some time on the Texas coast to be trained and put in a lot of practice. Then, when we’re ready, we’ll sea kayak along the Gulf—always in sight of land—all the way to Veracruz.

We’ll still need to go through customs when we cross the border. There should be a way for small vessels to enter port legally; if it doesn’t apply to kayakers we’ll need to find a way to cross by land at Matamoros. These are the kinds of details we’ll work out a hundred miles from the border.

In a way we’re trading one set of risks for another. But the dangers of the sea can be tempered by gear, training and attention. There’s something about it with a powerful appeal: every afternoon we put ashore in a different pueblo, find a place to sleep, and enjoy the beautiful evening. In the morning we go out with the tide, or take a week to bask on the beach before going on.

That’s the plan. Two kayaks, salt in my hair and the final tan I’ll ever need. My readers are my brain trust, and if you have thoughts or suggestions I’d love to hear what you think.

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32 thoughts on “The Danger of North Mexico

  1. Perhaps you’d benefit from doing some concentrated research into how the drug war works on a practical level. Where do people hide stuff? How do they relay it? Are the gulfs ever used as a form of transit or hiding material? The better you understand the mechanics, the better you’ll know what to look for and how to avoid it.

    • Arden says:

      I’d second this. My relatives in Mexico tend to say that while there is plenty of danger for foreigners, it’s a little like New Orleans… the dangerous parts are pretty specific, and VERY dangerous. If you know what to look for and what to avoid, your safety increases exponentially. Whatever you chose to do you’ll be in drugzone areas, so it can’t hurt to be well-versed.

      I can’t say much about the kayak idea itself, but it’s exciting and inventive and awesome-sounding.

    • That’s a really good point. So far my research has been very “zoomed out” i.e. where are the hot spots, how does it work, what are the Feds doing etc. I have a friend who edits news articles on this kind of topic so I’ll ask if he has any on the ground type info to look at. Thank you!

    • Yeah, I think it will be both hard and fun. And actually, a really golden memory as well. I can’t imagine anything better than the sea, the sun and making my way over the horizon. Thanks for your comment Lynn. I appreciate every bit of support.

  2. Julie says:

    I like the response above, I want you to check out how safe those pueblos you’ll be overnighting in are! & kayaking in January is certainly safer than at other times of the yr – no hurricanes!

    • It will probably vary from town to town but if there is a hostel or even a family who’d let us pay to sleep on their floor I feel good about it. But I do plan to put in relatively early in the afternoon each day. That way if we don’t like the feel of a place we can push out to an empty beach and sleep out.

      By the way Julie, welcome to Rogue Priest!

  3. That actually sounds like a pretty awesome idea. You know you can buy portable kayaks? They fold up or something – never actually used one but they are available. Otherwise, I’d go for a 2 person sea kayak. Very stable, and you can take care of each other if you have trouble. Get up to Duluth or Bayfield to try one out before you leave!

  4. I only ask that you keep me/us updated on the training with the kayaks because I once had a dear friend die attempting to travel along the entire length of the Wisconsin River. I still get anxiety whenever my friends go far out into the deep water, whether they are swimming or kayaking. I prefer to see them traveling by a much bigger boat that is less prone to tipping over. The Wisconsin River can have a strong current, but I know the sea is even more unpredictable and stronger.

    I would expect that it would take more than just a few weeks training to prepare for a long journey by kayak, even if you will be within sight of land. The rip tides are especially vicious in some areas. I don’t say this to be disparaging, but to be realistic. I foresee a third person going with you who is an expert guide/teacher, perhaps one who leads people in special journeys like yours for a cause. I suggest you keep brainstorming and searching now!

    All in all, I have great faith in you, as always. But the vision of the kayak reminds me of Tim, my long lost friend, who tipped over and was dragged by a strong current, so strong he couldn’t pull himself back up and drowned. I’ll tell you what you once told me whenever I’ve taken risks: “Remember you are VERY important, Drew” so protect yourself because there is only one you!

  5. Sounds super exciting Drew. My first thought is perhaps you could employ a trusted guide, recommended by someone close to you. And second I wonder how is Mitch’s Spanish. Other than that, wear life jackets. Securing the kayaks at night might be a concern. They’re not cheap and could be difficult to replace en route. Wow. Keep us posted. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what happens next!

    • Actually… Mitch is part Colombian and his mother is from there! So he’ll be practicing at home all this summer before we meet up. His español might be better than mine…. maybe

      I’m definitely open to suggestions about securing the kayaks. That is a big concern.

    • Honestly my Spanish is rusty. But nothing a Corona and sandy beach can’t fix once the time comes!

      To ease anyone’s worries though, I’ve studied Spanish for many years and taught 3 semesters of college-level Spanish — even chaperoned a group of college students to Costa Rica for a month:)

      • Mitch, that’s so cool! You are going to be a great adventure partner with Drew. Sounds like you will compliment each other well. And perhaps you’ve had some experiences in Costa Rica that will have helped to prepare you for this journey. I am curious about the issues of securing the kayaks AND your gear, both at night and then while at sea. At night can you “chain” the kayaks together and then TO something, like maybe you would with a bike? And then do you have a means of tethering your belongings to the kayaks, or will you travel with next to nothing? Will you send things ahead? But to where? I want to see photos during this part of the adventure, but can’t imagine you’ll be able to carry a camera. And what about communication along the route with your family, friends, fans? Will that be possible? So many questions …

        • Obviously I don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.

          1. I intend to put my notebook computer, camera, and phone in a waterproof container and try to bring them with. This may be one of the places along the way where I lose some electronics.

          2. I think the tethering plan for kayaks is good. I want to get some kind of very loud alarm and put it inside a kayak once they’re tethered. If someone moves them I want to wake up and see what’s going on.

          3. The rest of my gear will probably be inside the hostel/house/whatever with me.

          These are just ideas at this point – a lot of this we won’t know till we get there. BUT I definitely plan to take pics!

  6. nickiofcourse says:

    Did you read Satya’s newest blog post? Made me think of you! In every possible way- the danger, the living, the surviving (one way or another). You want adventure? You’re sure to get it!
    I am nervous about the dangerous parts of Mexico for you. It makes me want to hug your mom. :) Human is human is human- no amount of training can make us unbreakable or unkillable. Life is so very fragile and it’s so easy to make our bodies too broken to go on. However, it’s just as strong as it is fragile, and will to survive is a force to be reckoned with.
    What you are looking for, you shall find! When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
    Happy Tuesday!

  7. MitchRoth says:

    Hey Drew!

    Cool to see our plans actually written down — makes them that much closer to becoming real. I get excited each time I think about the sea kayaking stretch of the journey. The most exhilarating and memorable experiences in life are the ones when you push your boundaries and see what you are made of…

  8. Rua Lupa says:

    I think its safer so long as the weather is recognized to be good before going out. Take a week of paddling to get the muscle memory for handling the water from a trainer, and you’ll be swell :D

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