Amid holidays, Mexico travel warnings issued

Fernando Hernandez heard the travel warnings before he booked a bus trip to central Mexico, but he shrugged off reports of crime and kidnappings because he wants to spend the holidays among cherished friends and familiar traditions.

"We have to see the family," Hernandez said before boarding a bus Tuesday at a small station in south Fort Worth. He was traveling with his wife to the Mexican state of Queretaro some 18 hours south of the Metroplex.

U.S. and Texas officials have issued several warnings about travel to Mexico this year. The latest round -- sent last week by the Texas Department of Public Safety -- was aimed largely at the thousands of families that embark on yearly pilgrimages to cities and towns where they celebrate Christmas, New Year's Day and Dia de Reyes (Epiphany).

"We are certainly very concerned," said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman. "Christmas is a time when a lot of people travel to Mexico." DPS cited several concerns, including drug-cartel-related violence along the northern Mexican border and in cities such as Monterrey and Acapulco.

Drug-related and other crimes have been documented in popular tourist spots such as Cancun and Mazatlan, officials said. Kidnappings of tourists, assaults along Mexican highways and rapes at resort areas have also been reported.

"If they choose to travel to Mexico, they need to be very, very careful," Mange said, adding: "We just wanted to make sure people understood that it's dangerous."

In Dallas, Mexican General Consul Juan Carlos Cué-Vega said it is still safe to travel in Mexico, but he also stressed caution. He said anyone traveling on Mexican roads needs to take precautions and use common sense.

For example, he said people should avoid driving at night and use the main thoroughfares. He advised travelers to caravan.

Dwindling numbers

The annual trip south is a tradition among many families with Mexican ties, but reports of crimes in recent years have had an impact.

Mexico's Paisano Program reported recently that the number of travelers has dropped from about 1.1 million 2005 in to 669,488 in 2008. The program was created to help protect traveling Mexicans living or working in the United States and Canada and inform them about their rights.

Mexican travelers said the economic downturn coupled with increased immigration enforcement since 9-11 are also reasons why many no longer make the trek to Mexico. But several said the desire to see family and friends during the holidays was too strong a pull to resist. Others said that the crimes have been reported in regions they won't visit or that trouble finds those who seek it.

Family and traditions

"I come and go," said Concepcion Rodriguez, who traveled to Fort Worth from the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi to visit family for Thanksgiving. On Wednesday evening, she got teary-eyed as she hugged family and boarded a bus at an El Conejo bus depot on Hemphill Street in Fort Worth.

Rodriguez, 46, expects to take part in her Potosina traditions when she returned, including admiring Nativity scenes in which humans -- not statutes -- represent the birth of Jesus. Mexican candies and cacti decorated with lights are also common during the holidays in San Luis Potosi.

"I heard a lot of people don't want to go for fear," said Alejandro Samano, 42, who waited for a bus Tuesday at Transportes Juventino Rosas in north Fort Worth.

But Samano said he doesn't want fear to cost him his memories. Traditions and family were also the reasons Samano traveled with his family to his "pueblo" in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Their journey started in Detroit with a stop in Fort Worth.

Samano said they like to watch posadas (a Christmas procession retelling the birth of Jesus) and eat tamales with their families. On New Year's Day, they celebrate in the town square where booths and music entertain families.

"We go every year," said Alejandro Samano Jr., 12. "We have fun."

This report includes material from

La Estrella.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675