Oaxaca – Safety & Security

It was quite a change in pace arriving in Oaxaca and realising that we could start to relax in terms of personal safety and security.  Mexico City was huge, and I was always on high alert when I was out and about with my camera hanging around my neck, and Pedro stayed vigilant against pick-pocketers.  In comparison Oaxaca is smaller, less populated, and relatively well lit.

That said, on our first day in Oaxaca after leaving an ATM with pockets full of pesos we saw a young homeless lady rob an elderly disabled man begging on the street.  He put up a struggle, but she was soon running off with his bag, while he desperately yelled out for help to some waiters at the restaurant across the road.  Pete and I gave chase, thongs a flip-floppin’ on the footpath as we ran, and I hollered at a policeman and pointed to the lady and simply shouted ‘Policia’ unhelpfully.  He was the personification of a Mexican Chief Wiggum, as he broke out into barely a shuffle, his things rubbing together between every stride, his belly jiggling slightly as he ran.  By now there were two waiters, a teenage by-stander, a policeman, and us two Aussies chasing the mugger.  The teenager managed to catch-her and retrieve the bag and trotted it back to the man, but it definitely shook me a little bit.

But other than witnessing that brazen daylight robbery on our first day, we thankfully didn’t experience any trouble.  I felt safe walking around by myself during the day, although Pedro was normally by my side.  One morning when I was leaving for the gym, the darkness just starting to lift, I was locking the door to our entrance on the street when I heard someone running towards me.  I tried to yank the keys out of the lock to use as a weapon, but I wasn’t fast enough.  Suddenly they were behind me, I braced myself for the inevitable, and then a loud voice rang out “BUENOS DIAS!”  I definitely swore – very loudly – and must have jumped close to a mile in the air, because the runner stopped about five meters in front of me, turned around, and in English yelled “I’M SORRY” before taking off again. By this stage I was laughing, but the runner turned again a few paces further and said “I REALLY DIDN’T MEAN TO SCARE YOU”.  Crikey…. Definitely got my heart pumping before I’d even gotten to the gym!

One of the major issues with Oaxaca is the ATMs.  There are plenty of them, but we were finding that sometimes they didn’t work, and they had frustratingly low maximum withdrawal limits.  The Spanish school only accepted cash, and most of the ATMs only dispensed 4,000 pesos (roughly $265AUD/CAD) per transaction.  It meant that we were making frequent withdrawals, being charged a lot of ATM withdrawal fees, and walking around with bundles of pesos in our pockets.  It took us a week or so to figure out why some of the ATMs didn’t work – they had run out of money.  Instead of dispensing 500 peso notes as standard, some of them could only provide 100 or even 50 peso notes, so they literally didn’t have enough money when we were trying to withdraw larger sums.  There were a few times when we had to try three or four different banks before we could find one that would work for us which was obviously quite frustrating.

Another oddity was that people didn’t usually address me when I was out with Pedro – I would ask a question, or make a request, and they would look at Pedro and respond to him.  I imagine it is a cultural thing, being that Mexico is still quite patriarchal, however it really got on my nerves.  I would ask whether they had a particular beer, and they would turn to Pedro and say actually, they don’t have Leon at the moment.  I would ask for the bill, and pay from my own purse, but they would give the change to Pedro.  Even in the casa, if Pedro was given three crepes, I would receive two.  Very cheeky indeed!

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