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Steve Chiotakis: Mexico's drug wars claimed more than 5,000 lives last year. The violence is particularly heavy in the cities along the U.S. border. But some Americans are going south of the border anyway, lured by unprecedented deals and a devalued peso. From Baja California, Phillip Martin reports.
Phillip Martin: On Tijuana's busiest tourist strip, Avenida Revolucion, desperate merchants are out on the streets in full force.
Merchant: Come Visit Tijuana Amigos. Come
The ongoing violence here has left the streets basically deserted. Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton have been banned from traveling to Tijuana. The State Department has warned Americans to be careful when heading south.
But that didn't stop Floridians Linda and Steve. They're carrying arm-loads of souvenir T-shirts and sombreros.
Linda: We feel safe over here. I mean what they told us is it's the bad killing the bad, so that's good.
And that ongoing chaos means that tourists have the upper hand.
Enrique: Wanna take a picture? Yeah, take a picture.
One merchant named Enrique has a donkey painted in black and white zebra stripes. His deal is if you buy two t-shirts, you get to take a photo free of charge. Enrique says they need all kinds of give-aways because the narco-wars have put a damper on business.
Enrique: It's a big problem in Tijuana, drugs. A lot of drugs and a lot of gangsters. The mafia
Steve Wood from Anacortes, Wash., thinks the steady drumbeat of grim news creates a great buying opportunity in Mexico. Wood recently purchased a couple of time shares in Baja California, and he also found a great deal on a five-star hotel here in Cabo San Lucas, complete with a lake-sized pool.
Steve Wood: We got a deal in the mail: an opportunity to come down here for $299 for an entire week.
Martin:: Do you find opportunity when other people are afraid to travel.
Wood: Yes, I do. I think that's how we generally got our time shares.
These days, many hotels are only about 40 percent occupied.
Alberto Gutierrez is a resort sales rep in Cabo. He's convinced the number of tourists will inch up as Americans put the violence in perspective:
Alberto Gutierrez: Americans know that the drugs cartels are not going to go and destroy the resort. They know that tourism is the second source of income. So Americans know they're safe. And of course, there's always great deals.
If you have no problem going where many others fear to tread.
In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I'm Phillip Martin for Marketplace.