My Run-In With A Notorious Mexican Drug Cartel

Mexican Cartel Members
My Craziest Travel Story
Somewhere In Mexico…

This is the story of how I accidentally wandered into an extremely remote Mexican village that was openly controlled by a ruthless drug cartel — and what happened next.

The other week I was taking an Uber from the airport, chatting with the driver about traveling and working around the world as a nomad.

After asking the standard question everyone asks “what’s your favorite country”, he wanted to know if I’ve ever felt in any danger while traveling.

Sure, I’ve been scared before.

Yes, looking back, I’ve done some stupid & risky stuff over the years…

But the most scared I’ve ever been — was on a journey through Northern Mexico about 7 years ago. And it’s a story I’ve NEVER shared on this blog.

I wrestled with writing about this experience for a long time.

It just didn’t feel appropriate to share publicly, or even very safe for that matter. I was worried about the possible consequences for myself and others.

Yet I think enough time has passed that I finally feel comfortable sharing my crazy (and pretty dumb) encounter with dangerous members of a notorious drug cartel in the lawless mountains deep within Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Maybe the story will be entertaining, but I hope you’ll learn something too.

Copper Canyon Mexico
The Sierra Tarahumara Mountains

Once Upon A Time In Mexico…

My tale begins in the Mexican tourist town of Creel. A major stop for the popular Copper Canyon Train which runs from the cities of Chihuahua through the Sierra Tarahumara mountains to Los Mochis on the coast.

After a very scenic (but uneventful) train journey through the mountains, I planned to explore more of this mountainous area on my own. Hoping to spend time with the Tarahumara, a Mexican indigenous group.

While chatting with locals, I learned of small villages at the bottom of the canyon that would present a more “authentic” Northern Mexican experience. Off-the-beaten-path if you will.

These places were not easy to reach, and the drive would take hours on rough mountain roads. I mentioned my plan to a local guy (let’s call him Fede) who I’d worked with earlier, and he offered to take me in his vehicle.

Fede wasn’t just some random dude. I’d already spent a few days traveling with him. Even crashing overnight at his family’s house. He was a well-known local professional. I trusted him completely.

Mountain Road in Mexico
Rugged Dirt Roads in Mexico

Surprises Down In The Canyon

I’m not going to name the specific village I traveled to in this story. However, I’m sure if you dig deep enough, you’ll probably be able to figure it out.

Because it’s not like what goes on down there isn’t unknown within Mexico.

Over the course of our 6+ hour drive down winding dirt roads into the depths of the Copper Canyon, Fede starts to share some unsettling information with me.

“When we get there, you may see some stuff that’s alarming. But don’t worry. They know you’re coming.” – Fede

“Wait, what?! What kind of stuff? Who knows I’m coming?” – Me

“The Cartel. They control this town. But when the guesthouse has a tourist, the owner informs The Cartel. They won’t bother you as long as you don’t do anything stupid.” – Fede

“……….” – Me

The Cartel he was referring to is the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. Aka Cártel de Sinaloa, aka the Guzmán-Loera Organization, aka The Blood Alliance.

The same cartel controlled by the notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was just on trial in the United States for drug trafficking, murder, and money laundering.

What the hell did I just get myself into?

Golden Triangle Mexico
The Golden Triangle – Drug Production Area in Mexico

Mexico’s Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is the nickname given to a remote and mountainous region in Northern Mexico that encompasses the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango.

It’s where Mexico’s powerful cartels have been growing billions of dollars worth of heroin & weed to supply an insatiable demand for drugs from the United States.

Cartels are able to produce drugs in the Golden Triangle because the area is so rugged & inaccessible that it can take hours to reach these small villages on unmarked dirt roads.

Mexico’s Copper Canyon, if you haven’t heard of it before, is a massive canyon that’s technically larger and deeper than the US Grand Canyon. It is the perfect hiding place for fields of illegally grown opium poppies & marijuana plants!

Combine this fact with a desperately poor workforce of indigenous people called the Tarahumara, and you’ve got a Mexican drug lord’s wet dream.

This is where I found myself.

On the edge of the Golden Triangle, in a village controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Remote Mountain Village
The Only Bridge Into Town

A Surreal Travel Experience

As we pull into the village, over a narrow bridge, I see a kid talking into a military-style radio. He’s announcing our arrival to the cartel. My heart begins to race.

Further down the road, we pass a group of men dressed in black, armed with assault rifles. I begin to sweat.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all…

Fede notices my apprehension and assures me everything will be ok. I’m not the first tourist to visit this town.

Because the cartel doesn’t want to draw any attention to themselves, they’d never harm a tourist. That would force the military to intervene and ruin everything.

I check into my guesthouse, the only one in town, and we eat lunch at his friend’s place, which is basically a small restaurant run out of her home.

One of the Cartel's Trucks
One of the Cartel’s Trucks

Keeping Tabs On Me…

Fede says his goodbyes and leaves town. He has to go back to work. So I’m on my own now. I walk around town. I visit some abandoned silver mines nearby.

I stop into the local museum and sign the guestbook (the last signature is over a month old).

I pass by the group of cartel members I saw earlier. We say hello to each other. While they certainly appear to fit the stereotype of hardened criminals, they seem friendly enough.

I still can’t quite believe this is happening.

My goal for the day is to visit an old Spanish Mission, located a few miles out of town. On the way, I run into a pickup truck with blacked-out windows on the side of the road. As I approach, the driver’s side window rolls down.

“¿A dónde vas?” says a large scary dude in a cowboy hat. There’s a beautiful woman half his age in the passenger seat.

“La misión Española” I reply. He nods, and the window slides back up. They’re keeping an eye on me. Making sure I don’t stumble into their fields of poppy or marijuana.

Mexican Farmer
Friendly Mexican Drug Farmer
Harvesting the Crop
This Sack is Full of Weed…

Everyone Works For The Drug Cartel

Over the next few days, I learn that basically the whole town is working for the cartel. They are the sole employer.

I’m not sure if it’s by choice, or by the threat of violence, but growing and trafficking drugs for the cartel is how this town survives.

And some of them are not afraid to talk about it. Growing marijuana is as normal as growing corn. It’s just another crop — only one that pays much better.

After chatting with one local farmer for a while, he takes me up to a small barn behind his house, pulls out a large sack, and offers me two giant handfuls of freshly picked marijuana buds!

I start laughing, thanking him for his generosity, but explain that there’s no way I can bring his gift back into the United States with me.

But… because I’m a polite guy, I accept a few flowers so he isn’t offended.

This man isn’t some murderous cartel member, he’s just a friendly, impoverished farmer trying to make a living for his family with very limited opportunities.

Making Friends in Town
Making Friends in Town

A Very Surreal Experience

So while the whole cartel situation had me feeling pretty nervous, this next part was the scariest moment of the whole few days I was down there.

My comfort level had been improving. I was getting used to chatting with cartel members each day. Maybe too comfortable.

One evening, a young Mexican guy dressed like a rodeo cowboy walks into the home-based restaurant where I’m eating dinner.

He’s wearing a pair of beautiful, very fancy white-handled revolvers on his hip. Like right out of your typical Spaghetti Western movie.

A heavily armed bodyguard wearing a bullet-proof vest waits for him outside.

We happily chat for a minute in Spanish, asking how I like the food, before they both disappear into the darkness of night. Everything is getting very surreal, and I seriously feel like I’m trapped in a movie.

On another occasion, I watch a team of five armed men loading blue 55-gallon drums of something from a truck into a guarded building.

Weed? Opium poppies? Human remains dissolving in acid? My imagination starts to run wild…

Mexican Drug Cartel Story
Sinaloa Cartel Members (Faces Censored for Safety)

Getting The Shot

I REALLY wanted a photo of one of these guys. No one would believe all this happened to me unless I had a photo!

So the next morning, I cut a small hole into the side of my backpack and tape a GoPro inside. My plan is to use “time-lapse” mode, quietly shooting photos automatically as I walk past them.

However as I approach, I decide to stop and chat. With my adrenaline pumping, I simply ask them directly. Pointing at the camera around my neck. What’s the worst that could happen?

“¿Puedo tomar tu retrato?” (Can I take your portrait?) – Me

“Jajaja… no.” – Cartel Dude #1

“Please? My American friends back home would love to see your big gun. I can leave your face out of it if you’d like.” – Me

“Jajaja… no. But you can get a photo of my amigo here.” – Cartel Dude #1

So, without thinking about the consequences, I aim my wide-angle lens at the truck driver sitting next to him. *CLICK*

Cartel Dude #1 is in the photo too, but just doesn’t realize it.

Immediately I start to panic — internally. What if he asks to see the photo? That was so dumb! I’m going to get myself killed. Maybe I can quickly use the zoom button before showing it to him…

Fortunatley he never asks — and just assumes the camera wasn’t aimed his way.

I try to act normal, end the conversation, and walk off down the road contemplating just how stupid that was.

I think it’s time for me to leave this town.

Patrolling the Village
Patrolling the Village
Villages in the Golden Triangle
Mexico’s Remote Golden Triangle

Cartel Wars In The Mountains

As someone who has spent almost 2 years of my life both living and traveling through Mexico, I’ll be the first to tell you it’s one of my favorite countries.

I certainly don’t want my story to scare you from visiting Mexico. This is NOT a typical Mexican vacation experience.

I specifically went out of my way to visit a remote area that isn’t very safe. Even for the Copper Canyon itself — if you stay on the normal tourist trail you’ll be fine.

However if you venture off-grid in this region, there’s a lot of sh*t going on.

Mexico is an amazing and beautiful destination, but like any country, it can also be a dangerous one if you go looking for danger.

One particular story that shook me recently was the murder of North Carolina teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrew, who was visiting a similar remote village in the same region last year.

That one hit close to home. A curious traveler looking for adventure, trying to get off the beaten path, exploring a dangerous area on his own… mistaken for a DEA agent and shot by the drug cartels.

When I first started traveling, I did many risky and stupid things seeking that addictive jolt of adrenaline. Hell, I haven’t completely cured myself of it even now!

Luckily everything has turned out ok so far, and I have some pretty incredible memories and stories to show for it.

But that isn’t always the case for everyone.

My Scariest Travel Story

I’m not sure if there is a lesson in this story. Maybe there are many.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes? Young people traveling with no responsibilities often take unnecessary risks for fun? Don’t be an idiot like me?

I’m sure I’ll be judged and ridiculed a bit for writing about this. That’s ok. It happened, and I have to live with it. I’m probably lucky to be living at all…

Have you ever done anything stupid like this while traveling? Taken on too much risk? Gotten yourself into a sticky situation that you regret later?

Frequent travelers have this insufferable tendency to “one-up” each other’s travel stories — and this one is mine. The one I share at bars after a few drinks.

Now it’s your turn to share.

Take a minute to quickly describe your scariest/dumb travel story.

If only to make me feel like I’m not the only one out there who’s done something stupid on the road…

Maybe we can turn it into a guide on “what-not-to-do while traveling.” ★

Enjoy This Post? Pin It!

This is the story of how I accidentally wandered into an extremely remote Mexican village that was openly controlled by a ruthless drug cartel -- and what happened next.
This is the story of how I accidentally wandered into an extremely remote Mexican village that was openly controlled by a ruthless drug cartel -- and what happened next.


I hope you enjoyed my Mexican drug cartel story! Hopefully you found it entertaining. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

What’s your scariest travel story? Have you ever done something dangerous or stupid while traveling? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
Join 20,000 others who receive exclusive email updates!

7 Reasons To Subscribe →
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I'm also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my policy page.

Leave a Comment

Comments (34)

  1. I have nothing at all to compare, except for maybe a very strange train ride in GERMANY, of all places, in the early 90s. But, my goodness, that land in the Golden Triangle/Copper Canyon is beautiful! Never heard of the area before. Really wish I could see it some day!

  2. This looks like Batopilas. I went there about 5 years ago and had the same experience. These guys leave you alone if you stay out of there way.

  3. Approximately four years ago my two friends and my young adult daughter traveled to central and South America where we had my”scary”, but equally exciting adventures. One that stands out in my mind was our trip into Bogata, Colombia. Our flight arrived at approximately 2 a.m. from San Salvador, el Salvador. Tired, and jet-lagged we disembarked, retrieved our luggage, and sleepily followed the crowd from the building at the airport through a semi-underground, darkened walkway toward an area just ahead teaming with taxis helping to take people to their destinations. Suddenly, as we were near the end of the crowd, an extremely well-dressed (Armani suit?) man approached us speaking in Spanish. I know enough to get by in a pinch and was immediately aware that he was offering us a ride. After quickly assessing the size of the crowd up ahead and comparing it to the number of taxis, I recommended to my friends and daughter that we take him up on the deal he was giving us (“…ride faster for less.”) They hesitated for a brief moment, and agreed. By now, it was nearly 3 o’clock in the morning and we had a full day of sightseeing ahead of us. (Here’s the really sketchy/stupid part on our parts). We did what everyone prior to our trip warned us NOT to do. We followed this strange, though well-dresssed looking dude. Away from the crowd. Up a remote stairway. To an awaiting car. The car, was a beautiful, brand new, high-end Mercedes. NO ONE else was around. A very nice looking, also well-dressed ( smelled good too!) young man took our bags and placed them in the open trunk. We mindlessly got in the car. The young man, whom we would soon realize was our driver, spoke briefly to our older escort. They spoke in muffled tones, too difficult to decipher. When the driver got in he asked our destination, and we indicated, (…me in my broken Spanish), that we would like to go to the Holiday Inn. We had NO idea where or in which direction we were to be heading. It was at the exact moment that we left the remote, upper parking area of the airport, that we collectively became nervous. As we drove further away from the lights and traffic, darkness really set in. The darker it got, the more nervous we became. I wonder to this day if the young driver was able to sense the fear in our voices as we stumbled and searched for some way to fill the silence of the darkened car. Because we had no idea in which direction we were to be heading and for how long, we literally were at his mercy. I whispered to my daughter to “jump out of the car and RUN”, if we had to. I was dead serious. Our eyes expressed a silent desperation and regret for our current situation. After 20-30 minutes, it seemed longer! We saw a light at just off the expressway, “Holiday Inn”. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we crossed our fingers and closed our eyes whispering a silent prayer, “Please take this exit.” He did. And into parking lot we went. And out of the car. And into the lobby, followed by the driver carrying our luggage!

  4. Ha that was probably Ivan in the restaurant. Only high ups have body guards like that follow them around. I have kids so I can’t do this but I’ve always been captivated for some reason by their lifestyle and so badly want to venture out there

  5. Thanks, really interesting. A much more honest approach to travel-writing than the far-too-many ’10 best things….’ blogs we see so much: people, please, not places or processes. My visit to Corleone in Sicily (per the Godfather) was creepy and unforgettable, though not as tense as your experience, while in Yemen it was perfectly normal to travel with folk toting guns and juggling grenades (just to test the stranger!).

  6. Thanks for presenting the Mexican villagers as real people with few opportunities to deter your readers from identifying them as something worse, as someone in the White House would have you do.

    I was in Vietnam once as a student, and a group of Vietnamese university students took a group of my peers on scooters all over Ho Chi Minh City, which was organized by our abroad program. I happened to jump on the back of the scooter of a man who pretended to be a student, and suddenly, I was whisked off into traffic, immediately losing my friends. I use the term “abduction” as a bit of a joke when I tell the story because the man was so small I could have knocked him over. But he did take me all over the city for 4-5 hours and eventually proposed (ha!). In the moment, it was, indeed, scary. Turns out he was a conniving tour guide who was disillusioned enough to think that, not only would I pay him, but that I’d marry him.

  7. What a crazy adventure! This is fascinating though. The whole way through, I was thinking “but HOW DID YOU GET THOSE PHOTOS” so it was kinda fitting that there was a crazy story to go with that too, haha.

  8. Traveling as an African American woman alone in many remote places puts me at more serious risk. As a white male, knowing you were on your way to a cartel community and not only pushing forward and staying several days and actually trying to take pics is an extreme privilege. One you shouldn’t take lightly. I’ve done several crazy things as well that makes me shake my head now because many could have landed me in hot water. The stupidest thing was visiting a dangerous favela in Rio on motorbike with a local my first night there that was just raided the night before. I made sure not to take pics of the gangsters though. However, whilst traveling, no matter how careful you are, it only takes a second for tragedy to occur. In Tanzania, as a medical student on a mission for 5 weeks, near my host home in a “safe” neighborhood I was attacked by a man that tried to rob me. Within minutes, several more thugs joined until more than a dozen were assaulting me, trying to rob, rape etc. I held on to my possessions (medical stuff/research) stupidly. I screamed nonstop and in the crowded street, no one helped. I had a depersonalization experience where I was hovering above myself realizing “this is it.” Finally, an old man from at least 10-15 yards away shouted in Swahili and those men scurried off. Just like that. I still had my Afrcian cloth bag but it was torn and I was tattered, bruised, swollen, half dressed, limping. Now, the pain from being punched, slapped, kicked, scratched, fingers in orifices came to light. I wanted to leave Africa “the mother land”, my mother land, that very night. I had 3 weeks left of my mission. In the end, I stayed and never regretted it. I had to stare at the place of my attack everyday that I remained. But staying meant that I délivered 11 babies, saved a baby’s life, did my first safari (life-changing), celebrated New Years in Zanzibar and overcame my fear of deep ocean swimming sans life jacket. I suffered PTSD for several years though. Prior to my attack, I had traveled to about 50 countries and have been in more sketchy situations and came out unskathed. But that lesson taught me that it only takes a second. So I’d really encourage thee to be more careful next time.

    • Wow, I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you Natacha. Horrible things can happen anywhere, even close to home.

      I’m happy to hear you’ve touched so many new lives by helping to safely deliver all those babies!

    • I’m not sure what or who you’re referring to here Ken. These guys aren’t police, deer hunters, or NRA militia nutjobs. Many US drug gangs have ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, and they are responsible for much of the drug violence in US cities like Chicago and Phoenix.

      “The Chicago Crime Commission named Joaquin “Chapo” Guzmán ‘Public Enemy No. 1′ in a city Guzmán has never set foot in. He is the only individual to receive the title since Al Capone.”

      El Chapo was one of Forbes’ richest men in the world, a billionaire psychopath who preferred to murder people himself. These men work for him and regularly fight rival cartels in these mountains, taking over police stations, beheading people, and engaging in massive shootouts.

      This isn’t your typical neighborhood drug dealer, this cartel is producing and shipping metric tons of heroin & weed grown in these mountains into the United States via 747 airplanes, submarines, and a huge network of tunnels.

      Maybe that’s just a typical day for you, but I found it very interesting (and a bit scary) to witness a part of one of the largest illegal drug operations in history up-close.

  9. OMG. From the description, I believe it’s the same town I have been to last year. Now it has become very touristy although the road to get there is still pretty rough. Spectacular views though. No guns in sight, but lots of huge sparkling cars driven by youngsters. And everybody knows is run by a Cartel. It’s hysterical if you think about it. Surreal. Congratulation for your new baby born :)

    • Interesting! I’m sure the cartel is still around, but maybe they’ve been pushed back farther into the mountains. Or just not going about their business so blatantly out in the open anymore.

      The town itself was very nice, as is the area.

  10. I also had a fair share of scary stories during my travels. But yours was pretty interesting! I could tell that you really take your adventures really seriously. Also, if you’ve never felt in danger (even for a little) while traveling to a foreign land, did you really travel?! Right, Matthew?

    • We are just back from Iraq. I’d love to say something scary happened but it didn’t. My wife and I both in our mid fifties spent a week in what we would describe as the safest place we have ever visited! Iraqi people are the friendliest most hospitable people we have ever met.

  11. Oh my goodness…I know exactly where you were because my hubby and I were there about 10 years ago. The road itself is scary–just 50 miles but it took 8 hours with all the zigzags on that steep narrow unguarded gravel one-and-a-half lane road. We came face to face with a truck full of gun-toting cartel laughing at us as we slowly inched ever so carefully to the precipitous edge so their huge vehicle could pass us. Down at the bottom, the walled guesthouse was a romantic dream from another era and we ate our meals at Maria’s yellow house too–no menu, just eat what she’s serving her own family that night. It felt really weird to drive to the mission cuz it was so remote–when we arrive there was a donkey at the door of the church and a girl came out of nowhere with a key to show us inside. Surreal experience in every way. Met locals missing legs from truck accidents falling over the canyon road and heard lots of sad stories. Fascinating place. Glad we went we did cuz not one I’d care to repeat either…!

  12. I’ve nearly been jumped in Amsterdam by a gang of Moroccans who were selling MDMA, they saw me look at them while one was advertising and started following me. I had just arrived that day, knew not where I was or where I was going. I eventually handed one of them my pocket change, and he got mad, but then I gave him another 5 Euros(note) and they left me alone with 100 Euros left. Almost got all my money, but I was strong and loud enough to stand my ground in public. I’ve seen something closer to what you’re talking about here in States. No further comment.

  13. Wow, just wow!! That’s a great travel story! There’s always few risks I guess, but Matt, I don’t think I have any story to top that one. And not sure if I even want one 😉

  14. Crazy experience! I watched a doco about a village pretty much exactly like the one you visited. Even the bridge looks similar. The gov was trying to clean it up by watching the only bridge in and out, but the cartel just humped drugs by hiking the mountains.

    I think being dropped off by a known local (Fede) is probably what kept you safe, compared to just turning up unexpected.

    • If you remember what the documentary is called, let me know! I have a feeling it was probably the same town… or at least the same area. There’s a handful of villages down here in a similar situation.

  15. I was there March of 2018 with some great friends. Like you said ….not your typical tourist town.The folks there were great. Especially liked the restaurant. Thanks for
    the story…for me it was that much more special.

    • The people in town were awesome. I just got the impression they didn’t have much choice when the cartel moved in and took over.

  16. Several years ago my wife and I drove from our home in Tampico to Reynosa, which is on the U.S. border. Unfortunately we’d gotten a late start, and were still some 150 miles from Reynosa when the sun went down.
    Suddenly, we realized we were the only ones out there. Nobody takes that road at night!
    Near the town of San Fernando (search the “San Fernando Massacre”), a pair of headlights appeared in my rear-view mirror. They paced us at a distance if maybe 200 yards for about ten minutes. Then they put on their high-beams and zipped right up to within ten feet of us, staying there for a minute or so. Then they back off to their previous position and followed us for a few more minutes. Finally, they roared past us. It was a white SUV with NO TAGS!!!
    All of my Mexican friends who know about such things agree that we had been given an escort by the Gulf Cartel, who were probaby wondering what those idiots were doing on such a dangerous road at night.

    • Glad they didn’t bother you too much! It’s easy to visit the more touristy parts of Mexico and never see this kind of stuff. But it’s there, and I feel sad that regular Mexicans get caught up in the mess.

  17. My riskiest story was the pretty classic – solo inexperienced hiking taking on more than she could handle. I was in Arizona and decided to take advantage of the time-difference (east coast native) and go for an early morning hike. I settled on Picketpost Mountain, a modest but gorgeous 4 mile hike. I grabbed my Camelbak (1.5L) BUT NO FOOD and headed out early. The parking lot was mostly empty but I didn’t think much of it. What I did notice is the slow, constant mooing of a cow, who I could not see. I headed up and the trail started out pretty well marked and maintained. The trail was all in shadow from the mountain, so it was cool and quite nice. In the trail description it was noted that after a certain point it is more of a “scramble”… and when I reached that point I kept losing the trail. I was almost all the way up so I tried for a while, until the sun started to catch me and I was getting uncomfortably low on water and really hungry before admitting defeat and heading back down… Unfortunately I managed to lose the trail completely at that point. The paths that water makes down a mountain can look like pretty convincing trails and I ended up in a completely impossible spot. I had misjudged distance and hopped down on a small (1 foot wide) ledge and realized that the other drop was much farther than I realized. I went to climb back up and the rock kept crumbling in my hands. I had a good 3 minute breakdown where I was positive I was going to be stranded on a mountain in the desert and become one of those awful statistics of stupid tourists getting in over their heads. I actually uttered the words… My mother was right. I then mentally slapped myself out of it, told myself I was an intelligent person and I would think my way out. Instead I grabbed onto a cactus and hauled myself out. I still couldn’t find the trail but I had TWO things to hold on to… 1. I could barely see the parking lot where I started and 2. I could hear that cow. It was now two cows mooing back and forth to each other. That constant mooing really helped me keep focus. I definitely got careless towards then end. I finally made it down and sat in my car when two other hikers came by. I started talking to them and went to turn around and they told me to stop and pulled 5 2-inch long cactus spines out of my shoulder. I was pulling smaller spines, thorns, and burs out of myself for days. The happy ending was that when I was driving out I found the cows!

  18. this is a cool story! :) I’ve been following your blog since last year when I’ve spent 3 months in Mexico. you inspired me also to go to Calakmul and to that camping near :) loved it, love it.

  19. Thanks for sharing this Matthew! Mexico is one of my favorite countries too and this was such an interesting read about somewhere I’ll likely never go.

    My riskiest travel moments would have to be the first few times I traveled out of the U.S. (EVER) – and they were to Venezuela where I spent most of the time traveling around by myself. I had never traveled before, spoke zero Spanish, trusted everyone, and was about as naïve as you could be. However, ignorance is bliss and I got to see and experience some unbelievable/amazing/totally wack things I wouldn’t have otherwise if I’d known better than to travel to Venezuela, period. There were so many times things could’ve gone totally sideways – so I do appreciate how lucky I am, even ten years later!

  20. I’ve been to a few places and loved them all for different reasons but had a few close calls that made more cautious of countries like Mexico.
    A trip through Mexico and Guatemala was amazing but scary at the same time. My group set out to hike the San Jose volcano in Guatemala one morning and half way up I fell ill and couldn’t continue.
    My group continued after being slowed down by my sickness. They now thank me for being so slow that day. 10 mins from the top of the volcano they were met with screaming tourists decending and crying for help. They were the first hikers to make it to the top in the morning and were taken hostage by masked armed gunmen. Placed in the bushes with guns to their head and robbed of anything with value. As hikers made it to the top they were placed in the bushes with the others until the group was too big to manage and then the gunmen fled down the volcano, leaving the tourists to flee the way they came.
    We began our hike with these people and almost finished it with them but because I was sick we kept our belongings and money.
    I have never been more grateful for being ill in my life.
    I probably wouldn’t go back but i’ll always remember the people I met from the villages as some of the best people I’ve met in my life.

  21. In 2015 my friend and I spend a night in the train station at Brenner Pass, Italy. All day we had been traveling through different train stations, and they all seemed kind of like malls. There were stores and business in the station, even when it got late it still felt very safe as there were many people still traveling. That is, until we got to Brenner Pass. We were suppose to have a layover there from 11 pm to around 5:45 am the next day, and we thought it would be fine to hang out inside the station. After all, the stations we had been through had power outlets and benches, bathrooms and even wifi in places! We were confidant we’d be fine. Upon arriving, we began to nurse doubts. It was dimly lit by a few flickering lightbulbs, and had none of the comforts of the previous stations. It was mostly deserted, though there were homeless people sleeping in corners, and it smelled strongly of piss. We stood by the guard station but the guard on duty refused to let us in. While standing there, two african men walked by us slowing, looking us up and down, checking out our backpacks. They passed by and immediately turned around, checking out our gear again. At this point I had a pretty strong feeling that we were being targeted. They were wearing shorts without jackets in the mountains, these guys looked desperate. After they rounded the corner, a group of 4 travelers (three guys from Portugal and a woman from South Korea) walked up to us and asked us if we wanted to wait out the night together. We all crammed into a small room down the hallway and wedged the door closed with rocks. Before too long, the two men came back. This time they had tied shirts around their faces and violently tried to open the doors. One held something under his shirt, like he had a knife or something. There were pointing at our packs and were (I’m guessing) telling us to give them up. We all held the doors shut and yelled at them until they left. Later, two guys traveling from Turkey showed up and we let them in too. After a while our would be robbers returned, and again violently tried to enter our room. One of the guys from Portugal pulled the fire alarm, and the men ran off at the sound. No police, firemen or security guards came to help us. We had to leave the room because the fire alarm was deafening. We walked up the road to the police station and asked the officer on duty if we could sleep within the gate, but he wouldn’t let us in. So we slept in front of the police station till dawn. We all left on the first train out of there that morning, and the alarm was still ringing.

    Really wish I had got any of their contacts, it was quite an experience to share.

  22. What an awesome story. Thanks for sharin’ your experiences with those of us who have to travel vicariously through you!

  23. This was a great read! And yes these are the stories we will remember and tell for a very long time.
    I absolutely love Mexico! It’s in my top 3 favourite countries I have visited.
    I remember when backpacking central and South America we had some wild times. But generally just in a wrong place at the wrong time.