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The e-mail from my cousin in Mexico was fraught with anxiety.
She had lived in Puerto Vallarta for many years, and had settled down and married a wonderful Mexican man. Their life in Puerto Vallarta had been a simple one, but a happy one. They were both happy at their jobs, and life in this scenic west-coast resort city was buoyed by the constant stream of tourists from the visiting cruise ships. And this blessed white-washed city seemed to be a million miles away from the violence raging in much of the rest of the country.
But this letter was different. They’ve finally struck here, she wrote. The drug wars have finally reached us. The other day, someone tossed a grenade into a popular nightspot in town. And Puerto Vallarta would never be the same. The cruise ships and the tourists would stop coming, she worried. And when that happened, many of the jobs would vanish.
Her letter sounded, to me, like a mixture of shock, fear, and despair. And it reminded me of the placid country and the welcoming people that I used to love.
I remember well the brilliantly-colored floats on the canals at Xochimilco, where all sorts of waterborne vendors would glide up to your boat, and you could munch on freshly-picked ears of corn or just-rolled burritos or enchiladas, or just buy a beautiful bouquet or a piece of jewelry for your loved one.
I remember the murals of Diego Rivera at Mexico City University.
I remember the magnificent Zocalo in Mexico City, not only the central plaza of this metropolis, but also the soul of a nation.
I remember the mariachi bands gathering in the square each night, hoping for a gig.
I remember climbing the steps of the awesome pyramids at Teotihuacan, and looking down at the grassy fields which once served as a sort of lacrosse field (on which the losers never got to go home with their heads still attached).
I remember the magnificent natural setting of Taxco, the mountaintop city of winding alleys and red tile roofs and broad plazas and church steeples and wandering pigs and wonderful aromas wafting from open windows with chipped red or green frames and skilled artisans who created magnificent pieces of jewelry from raw silver.
And I remember Las Mananitas in the town of Cuernavaca, a world-class restaurant with whitewashed courtyards and rich woods inside and beautiful peacocks wandering haughtily around the grounds as if they owned the place, and memorable culinary creations from one of the best chefs in Mexico, and candlelit dinners at which you could linger for hours. A couple of months ago, Cuernavaca, too, fell victim to the violence. To the murders. To the bodies dumped in the streets.
Right at our doorstep, a beautiful country is slowly bleeding to death. And all we can do – all I can do - is watch.
And worry for my cousin.
Steve Winston has written/contributed to 16 books, and his articles have appeared in major media all over the world. In pursuit of "The Story," he's been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, flown World War II fighter planes in aerial "combat," trained in the jungle with a rebel militia, climbed 15,000 foot peaks, trekked glaciers, explored ice caves, and driven an ATV up an 11,000-foot peak in the Rockies, and - even scarier! - back down again...with the outside wheels hanging over the edge of a cliff with a 3,000-foot drop.