Gang warfare between powerful drug warlords, multiple murders, drunk drivers smashing into buses carrying tourists, Canadian tourists killed in their rooms in deluxe luxury resorts – the press reports about Mexico are not good, in fact some governments are warning their citizens to perhaps not travel to Mexico. My mother-in-laws sister called her when she heard we were going to Mexico to tell her to try to convince us not to go because it was too dangerous. Doesn't sound like an ideal location to visit does it?
Well, sixteen high school students have discovered that Mexico is way more than what you hear on the news, and they will be coming back to Canada with a completely different opinion of this country.
I had the opportunity to accompany my wife on a educational expedition to Campeche Mexico for a Leadership Camp where sixteen students from Halifax and sixteen students from Campeche spent two weeks working together sharing languages, cultures and experiences all based around developing leadership skills.
As the unpaid and overworked photographer/videographer, I spent the two weeks following these students around as they experienced Mexican culture, learned a new language, and found ways to make an impact in Mexico. They visited Mayan Ruins, explored the historical UNESCO World Heritage city of old Campeche, brought a bus load of material to an orphanage and a Mayan student shelter, visited a turtle sanctuary, and a nature preserve, and yes, they even got some time to enjoy the sunshine, hot temperatures and tropical beaches on Mexico. The biggest thing they did was see beyond the news stories, and the tourist resorts to discover the real Mexico.
Now it helped that this was an amazing group of young adults. I could tell that they were nice as soon as I met them, but the clincher was as I got off the plane in Mexico City I was approached by a man and wife who recognized my T-shirt and asked if I was with the youth group. They told me they were on the plane first and were expecting the worst as sixteen teenagers settled in all around them. Expecting the “Plane ride from hell”, they said they were so surprised to find them a most pleasant group. They reported that they were pleasant, polite and friendly to all around them. Not one “inappropriate” word was spoken the entire flight. They were amazed how well they all got along, and completely enjoyed eavesdropping on their excited enthusiastic chat about what they were going to be doing. They said it was the first time they enjoyed being stuck on a plane for five hours surrounded by teenagers.
When these students were not busy with their leadership activities they went home not to a hotel, but home with their Mexican friends to live with a Mexican family. The slept in hammocks, ate strange food, rode in pickup trucks, and partied on Mexican beaches at night.They did what their new Mexican friends did, which might have involved a lot of things they might not have done at home. There were no accidents, no drug wars, no murders – the worst thing that happened was a sprained ankle, and some upset digestive systems (You still shouldn't drink the water in Mexico). What they did see was friendly people, ancient civilizations, a vibrant colourful culture , a beautiful city, a wonderful country, and a whole lot of great new friends that they will remember for a long time.
These Canadian students are coming back home with a completely different picture of Mexico than most of us get from the news. They saw the real Mexico, and I know that the next time they hear warnings about how dangerous it is to visit Mexico they will speak up and tell everyone about the Mexico they experienced. Listen to them – they have been there; they know..