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San Felipe Time

 

Friday 27 February

Residents who get their water from the city main (CESPM) and have a meter are reminded that they can receive a 12% discount on their bill if they pay for the year in advance (about 400 pesos). The payment must be made before the end of February at the office on Mar Caribe. Jubilados get even bigger savings on presentation of their government-issued discount card. Every little bit helps these days.

The U.S. Senate has decided to hold hearings on the increase in violence along the border with Mexico. (...see here). The battles between police and drug cartel members are now moving north of the border into Arizona, and Phoenix appears to be the next major battleground. The New York Times reports that a wave of kidnappings, shootings and home invasions in Arizona is now occurring (...more). Perhaps it will be necessary for the US State Department to issue warnings about vacationing in Arizona.

Thursday 26 February

On Feb. 12, the University of Arizona issued a travel advisory to its students via e-mail that said "Every student should be aware that Mexico in general has seen a marked increase in violence recently," wrote Carol Thompson, dean of students. This has sent the US news media into a feeding frenzy and you can find numerous articles saying how dangerous Mexico is from every TV and newspaper along the southern border. (see more)

On February 20th. The US State Department reacted by updating its warning on travel in Mexico. The article is here. The State Department has in place a US citizen warden network. Many members of the community in San Felipe are members of that warden network. In the event that the US consulate for this area (located in Tijuana) expresses any concerns for the San Felipe-Mexicali corridor, an email alert will be sent out to network members and an advisory placed on the web page referenced above. No such notifications have been posted for our area of Baja California.

We, in San Felipe, have commented on this situation before and we continue to believe that San Felipe is still one of the safest places a visitor could come for a vacation. As always, play safe and travel only during daylight hours. With the present state of the construction project on the Mexicali-San Felipe road, driving in the dark is not a good idea.

Wednesday 25 February

On the trail of perfect vegetables in San Felipe, my first stop was the old Arragon Market which has been my staple grocery store for many years. I had not been there in some weeks so I stopped today to discover it has had yet another name change - now the Vaquita III. I am impressed with the remodelling that is underway and the selection of fresh vegetables and fruits they have. ....more.

Monday 23 February

I have had a lot of queries about healthy eating in San Felipe and it is clear that many visitors and residents alike want to know what to do about their dietary restrictions. As more and more people seek to control their salt and fat intake the question of where to shop and where to eat are becoming important items for our local economy.

Shopping: A few (very few) stores try to carry fat-free dairy products. The difficulty here is that they do not promote these items so people do not know they are available. The consequence is that the merchandise often gets close to its expiry date before it is sold. I purchased a liter of fat-free milk on Friday and it had turned by Sunday. One of the difficulties here is that produce brought down from Mexicali is often carried in poorly refrigerated trucks. This is especially a problem as the warmer weather approaches. Consider buying powdered milk and mixing what you need for the day!

Vegetables: There are plenty of fresh vegetables in the local markets but you have to shop around for who has what you want. It may be that there is fresh broccoli at one store and tomatoes at another. In some ways, shopping in San Felipe is like it was in the USA some 30 years ago; you have to make daily rounds at the stores to find out what is fresh and what is the special of the day. There is no way of knowing what vegetables and fruit are "organically grown". Some small farmers use natural fertilizers, others use chemicals. All can be assumed to use ground water for irrigation. One thing that Americans seem to be completely unaware of is that all vegetables and fruit to be eaten uncooked should be thoroughly washed and allowed to soak for 5 minutes in clean (reverse osmosis) water containing 1 drop/liter of Bacterin to eliminate any possible E-coli bacteria.

 

Fish and shrimp: These are perhaps the only products that you can be truly confident are locally caught and can be obtained fresh. Many fishermen sell their catch on the Malecon or at stands around town. Check out how well the catch is stored in ice and check for freshness. If you have any doubts, go to a good fish market like Reubens on Mar Caribe.

Restaurants: Salt is a key ingredient of San Felipe cooking! If you have a bowl of delicious shrimp stew on the Malecon, be prepared to get your daily allowance of sodium in a hurry. You can ask for the dish to be made without salt and sometimes you will be lucky. However, you should bear in mind that many places have a pot of stock on the stove (it could be a chicken- or fish-based stock) and that is used as the basis for many dishes.

Vegan: True vegan dishes are impossible to guarantee here. Friends that come to visit me always bring their own ingredients and cook at home. In exceptional situations where we have gone to town for dinner, they will bend their rules, close their eyes, and have plain boiled shrimp with a dash of Tabasco.

Thursday 19 February

A reminder to all our visitors and residents: Carnaval celebrations start tomorrow (Friday) and on Saturday we have the Paella Festival at the El Cortez. This is definitely worth going to!!!

A study presented by University of Michigan researchers at a stroke conference in San Diego today suggests that your risk of having a stroke increases by 1% for every fast food restaurant in your neighborhood. The data was based on a study of Nuces county in Texas which has 233 hamburger joints. Fortunately, we do not have any fast food restaurants in San Felipe. (Today the wait was 30 minutes even to order at Rositas - packed!). It would be a benefit, however, if we could trim down on the amount of salt that is used in San Felipe cooking. Too many of us are being told by our doctors to cut out salt altogether - yet it is difficult to find low-sodium restaurants here. I would welcome suggestions for healthy dining places in San Felipe that we can pass on to our readers. Read the Telegraph article here

 

Tuesday 17 February

NOTE TO VISTORS ON ROAD CONDITIONS NORTH OF SAN FELIPE:

Hello all,

We just returned to the States after a long weekend in San Felipe. While we had a good time (as usual), the trip down Highway 5 was an unpleasant experience (a sentiment shared among many of us who had traveled down for the holiday weekend). Indeed, on Friday afternoon (at around 5:30), as we were on the outskirts of town, we barely were able to see where the road abruptly diverted cars to the left (the electronic signal machine was OFF). To make matters worse, cars and semis traveling north and south were/are forced to drive at a snail’s pace for more than 5 miles on a narrow dirt strip!!! In this regard, I think it would be extremely helpful if you would post a warning about this on your website.

Thank you,
Christina Wickman

Here is a follow-up (Thursday 19 Feb) as I just did this trip myself. As you head south, there is a 5 mile stretch to the north of El Moreno (with the microwave towers) that starts with this diversion to the east:

You will be on hard-pack sand which is well graded. However, there are places where sharp stones and rocks poke above the surface and you definitely do not want to hit these at any speed over 10-15 mph or you could severely damage a tire - not just a puncture but a tear. This is not the place where you want to be stranded having to change a tire as all the construction traffic has to use this bypass as well. Note: the electrical arrow is definitely not illuminated during daylight hours, I do not know if it works at night but you should not be driving here at night.(ej).

The Mexican Government is delaying bidding for the construction of a for a container ship superport at Punta Colonet, south of Ensenada. The proposed port would include a new city with a population of 250,000 and a 200 mile rail line to Mexicali/Yuma. Though the delay is "temporary" it is clear from the remarkable drop of container shipping at the other west coast superports such as Long Beach, that international trade with Asia is going to be down for many years. Construction of the Punta Colonet port will not be an economic proposal for many years. ...more.

More ominous, is the plan to expand the port of Guaymas to handle international container shipping. This port already has infrastructure and rail connections to the USA and construction will proceed quickly. Environmentalists are afraid that this will make a major impact on the tranquility and the wildlife of the Sea of Cortez.

Another interesting infrastructure project that seems to be going wrong is the recently completed liquified natural gas terminal built by Sempra Energy 14 miles north of Ensenada. This shipping terminal was pushed as a solution to the clean energy needs for power generation in the USA. New forecasts by the US Department of Energy show that the new sources of gas in the US, together with the emphasis on conservation, will essentially eliminate the need for LNG imports for the forseeable future. Last May, the San Diego Union heralded this investment by Sempra (..see here), but the economic reality now is far, far different.

The fallout from the Trump Ocean Baja Resort failure south of Tijuana is having repercussions in Canada. The Vancouver Sun reports that many Canadians have lost their money in this development. Some $32 million in deposits on the luxury condominiums has been "spent" and there will be no refunds. ...more

Fuel costs in Baja: In the border region diesel is selling for 7.36 peso/liter ( equivalent to $1.99/US gallon at 14 pesos/dollar), this is an increase of almost 50% over the past six months. Public transportation systems are hurting badly because their costs for fueling buses has skyrocketed but the state, which regulates fares, has only allowed a 1 peso rise in the cost of tickets. Regular Magna unleaded gasoline is going for 7.72 peso/lit ( $2.09/gal) and Premium gasoline is 9.05 peso/lit ($2.45/gallon). Compare prices with those in San Diego - Diesel $2.38/gal, Regular $2.29/gal and Premium $2.50/gal.

Monday 16 February

The Mexican Judicial system is starting a historic reform by moving from an inquisitional to an oral, adversarial, system. Closed, written proceedings are to be replaced with public trials in which oral testimony is allowed. Up to now, cases have been argued based only on written testimony and there could be hundreds of such proceedings going on with stacks of attorneys' briefs, sworn statements and other documents shuffled on the judge's desk. Misplaced paperwork has been a significant problem in such trials and the result is that many legal actions take years to complete.

A constitutional amendment approved by Mexico's 32 states was signed by President Felipe Calderon last summer. It gives Mexico until 2016 to move to an adversarial system similar to the U.S. courts. Defendants would be presumed innocent until proven guilty. By opening the courtroom, reformers hope to reduce chances for corruption and increase the public's confidence in the system through transparency. Training has now started and here is an example from Colorado where prosecutors from Mexicali went last week to get an understanding of how the US system functions ... more.

Sunday 15 February

With cloud and dreary weather outside, today is a good day for staying indoors and browsing some of the recent local stories about Baja:

The Orange County Register is running an article about two people spending a weekend in deserted Rosarito Beach. Even though there are few tourists, hotels will not reduce the room rates....more

Donald Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Trump Ocean Baja Resort bearing his name that was to be located 10 miles south of Tijuana. The project was announced in October 2006 and many marketing meetings were held in California and elsewhere to convince investors to sign up for the exclusive condominiums ($300K to $2.5 million). Construction financing never appeared and the development has yet to break ground... more. For other articles on the border area from the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper... see here.

The Baja Times gives a good review to the Manzanilla Restaurant in Ensenada. Since we have a good number of San Felipe residents that enjoy a trip to the Pacific Coast and the sophistication of a weekend in Ensenada, they might want to read this.... more. Note that this is the season of art exhibits and film series in Enseanda so you might want to spend some time there and take in the cultural events ... see their calendar.

Mexidata is running an article by a real estate finance executive who paints quite a rosy picture of real estate investing in Mexico, including a summary of the Developers Conference in San Diego last December.... read more.

The Daily Breeze (fishing news in the Los Angeles area) notes that Gene Kira's wonderful book on Ray Cannon's adventures in the Sea Of Cortez between 1947 and 1977 is again available. More information on "The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez" can be found here.

An interesting article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette here on a small yacht cruise line (22 passengers, 9 crew) that explores the south half of the Sea of Cortez from Loreto for only $4000/person(!). See the American Safari Cruises catalog of full offerings here. Now if we only had a cruise ship out of San Felipe.......

Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego recently completed a deep water survey of the canyons of the Sea of Cortez to look at how human impact was influencing the population of marine animals and plants. Surveys below 50 meters depth (the practical limit for scuba diving) have not been made before. The new discoveries and disturbing findings are outlined in this news article.

The migration of the Grey Whales from the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia, to the warm waters off Baja is changing slowly. As the Arctic ice melts and other species of fish move in to feed, the whales have to swim further north to get their fill of the tiny crustaceans that sustain them for the 12,000 mile round trip swim to Baja. Since they now have to go further north to feed, it is taking them longer to migrate south for the breeding season. Surveys over the past 20 years show that the migration south is now, on average, 10 days later. ...more.

Thursday 12 February

In San Felipe, peace and tranquility reign. The slow pace of life has got slower as the number of investors and tourists has diminished. Taco stands on the Malecon are keeping shorter hours and upscale restaurants are doing what they can to bring the local residents in with special lunch bargains and free drink offers. Everyone is feeling the pinch from the economic slowdown. This is probably the quietest Snowbird season that we have had in a decade and it has prompted me to take a look at what is happening in our market. Obviously, the current state of the US, the Mexico and the world economy is our number one problem. Consider the latest US figures:

  • job losses in Southern California have reached a 25 year high, nationally 5 million are now unemployed and there is no plan as to how we take care of the additional 1.2 million new workers per year that are entering the job market,
  • housing values have fallen 40-50% from the peaks of 2005 and continue to decline, and foreclosures continue at around 250,000/month,
  • most family retirement savings have lost 50% of their value in the past two years,
  • home equity loans, which financed an overwhelming percentage of the purchases in San Felipe, are impossible to get,
  • credit card companies are reducing credit lines for virtually everyone.

as a result, nobody in the US is spending a penny more than they have to because of the great uncertainty ahead. It is also very worrying that some respected luminaries such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have started saying that this recession could last for four years - akin to the great depression of 1929-1933. (See more on latest national perceptions here..)

Inquiries that I get have shifted dramatically away from investors wanting the scoop on beachfront real estate and golf course condominiums that they can rent out with positive cash-flow. Now the demands are coming from families that have seen their nest eggs cut in half and their existing homes worth a pittance.

Typical of the needs is this example of a retired software engineer who told me of his $700K condo in Contra Costa county (near San Francisco) that was now on the market for $300K - and still no buyers. His only hope for survival was to find a place in Mexico (or anywhere outside the USA) where he could live out the remainder of his life in a much cheaper environment. He was figuring on paying maybe $20-50K for a small house near a decent medical facility that can provide palliative and geriatric care for his sick wife. San Felipe is clearly not a contender.

Recent reports on US national TV news programs have featured places like Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende which are gearing up with assisted-living and geriatric care facilities for the elderly. There, the claim is, a couple can live in their own colonial-style casa with daily domestic help, adjacent to a full-care medical facility, for around $1400 dollars/month with breakfast and dinner at the club house included! (see examples here...)

Compare and contrast this with the housing development plans in San Felipe. Here the focus has been on providing the US luxury-style of living with washing machines, dishwashers, garbage disposals, vacuum cleaners and every other possible labor-saving device.

But wait a minute...why on earth are we using labor-saving devices here in Mexico? What we need are job-creating systems! It would be far more beneficial for our local economy if we found ways to provide jobs for people by living according to the traditions and norms of Mexico. Consider hiring local workers to help with the cleaning, cooking, gardening and maintenance. We also need to conserve our resources: Don't be flushing all your food scraps down the drain and overburdening piping and sewage treatment facilities. Put the laundry out on the line to dry instead of running a dryer and causing more pollution - we have a great climate for airing the sheets! Recycle every drop of water that you can, San Felipe is living on water that filled our local aquifer over the last few hundred years and it is not being replenished at the needed rate. I routinely use my dish water for the cacti and aloe plants that I have and I capture the cold water from the shower to fill the toilet tank each morning.

Note to developers and town planners: San Felipe needs cost-effective assisted-living facilities and attendant medical facilities. We also need a bus service around town that runs from El Dorado in the north to Punta Estrella in the south so local people can get jobs working at houses in the developments around town.

For the tourism and snowbird sectors of the economy, the continual requests I see are for beachfront campgrounds with first-class facilities. No - people do not want a campground a dozen blocks inland; they may just as well stay in Yuma if they can't be on the beach! Overwhelmingly, snowbirds say that they have lost all of the great places to stay in San Felipe, places like the Marina Resort campground, El Faro, Mar y Sol, El Dorado..... The demand now is for secure, beachfront, campgrounds with full hookups, jacuzzis, restaurant/bar and internet facilities. Even people who were originally looking for a house to buy have now decided that it is less risky to play the tortoise and take your house around with you - especially now that RV dealers are practically giving away their large motorhomes. That way you are not at the mercy of unscrupulous landowners and you can get all of your "investment" out of Mexico in a couple of hours in the event of an emergency.

As a final note for today, my observations are that the drug war raging along the border is not a real worry for people who come to San Felipe. We are far enough from the Tijuana troubles that visitors do not have a great concern that they will be involved in the violence. You take greater risks being in some areas of Los Angeles or San Diego than in this area of Baja. People do express reserves about coming through Mexicali as it is such a big transition from a US city. However, the municipal authorities there are cleaning up the streets and repairing the infrastructure, and store owners are sprucing up their property. This gives a feeling of confidence that the city is being well managed and that people care about their environment. Citizens who are proud of their city are the best deterrent to crime and lawlessness. (ej)

Sunday 8 February

The deadline for getting US passports for returning from Mexico to the USA is approaching. All visitors wishing to enter the USA by land or sea from Mexico, Canada and the Carribean must have passports or other officially approved documents (such as SENTRI cards, passport cards...) by 1 June 2009. These documents are already required for entry into the USA by air. If you are planning any trips to San Felipe, we strongly urge you to apply for a passport as soon as possible. There is likely to be a last minute rush as people find that they can no longer use their birth certificates and drivers licenses. See here for more details....

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Tuesday 3 February 2009

The north-south highway through the construction zone just south of Costco in Mexicali is now re-opened to traffic to and from San Felipe. See more details here.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

There has been a major reaction to the reports that "No vehicles on the beaches" notices have been posted in the north beach region of town. These notices first started appearing on the bay beaches in 2006 and you can see an example and our comments at that time here. Overwhelmingly, the emails I am getting support this decision of the authorities to start enforcing the federal environmental laws of Mexico. For years, the developments along the beaches have had to put up with the hazards of under-age riders on quads running amock along the beach and in the sand dunes.

news

Accidents occur and environmental damage is done. At night, the roar of quads and dune buggies in the wee hours of the morning ensures that everyone in the neighborhood loses sleep - and all this in a region that promotes itself to investors and tourists for its peace and tranquility. In addition, failure to enforce the law gives legitimacy to those trucks and cars that roam along the beach during the pre-dawn hours. Maybe these are, indeed, early-morning fishermen bringing in the catch from pangas beached in remote locations, but why cannot they also obey the law and bring their catch in through the harbor where a better accounting can be made and taxes paid.

For those tourists that want to bring quads and buggies, there are plenty of desert trails to the west where they can ride and explore the natural wonders of the region.

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Friday 9 January 2009

Today we learned that the unemployment rate in the USA has skyrocketed to 7.2% and lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the worst annual performance since the end of World War II in 1945. A continuing deterioration is expected for the rest of 2009 and there is some talk of the real rate reaching 13% this summer. This recession is expected to be the longest and deepest since the 1930's. Of course, whenever some major economic event occurs in the USA, there is spill-over into Mexico and we expect our economy here to be (at best) stagnant for a while longer. It is up to us all in San Felipe to work together to bring new visitors and tourist events here during 2009 in order to be able to provide jobs for our local workers and to show new people the advantages of living here.

Many people write to ask what is the status of construction projects here in town and the basic answer is that pretty much everything is "on hold". The general model for the financing of construction projects in Mexico relies on the pre-sales of lots and buildings to pay for the initial development stages, permits and the installation of infrastructure. As more sales are made, further building takes place and, provided that there is a steady stream of sales, there is no problem in completing the construction and turning over lots and property to the buyers. This has been a very successful approach during the period 2002 through 2007. As sales slowed because of the economic crisis in the USA, construction also slowed in Mexico. Eventually, sales become so slow that they barely cover the overhead to maintain sales crews, pay taxes and provide some token progress.

Why are things so different from the USA? Well, the basic problem in Mexico is that the banks will not loan money at affordable interest rates to a developer. In the US, the developer gets a loan to build an entire phase of a real estate project. The labor and materials are budgeted and the buildings go up. If there is a dire economic recession, a completed building may sit empty with no occupants to help pay off the monthly mortgage and the developer may have to file for bankruptcy. By contrast, in Mexico, the developer stops work on the partially completed project and just waits for more money to come in. The important thing to remember is that the developer is viable and is not going out of business. It is just the Mexican system to wait for better times to return.

The news media tell us that Persident Felipe Calderon is having a meeting with President-elect Barack Obama on Monday 12th January. Topics that are on the agenda include the control of the drugs cartels, expanding our bi-national trade, and the situation of the illegal immigration into the USA. Undoubtedly President Calderon will want to talk about increasing investment in Mexico to create more jobs here so that Mexicans do not have to risk life and limb to get into the USA and do not have to stoop to drug trafficking to make a living. We shall see ....

Thursday 8 January 2009

Safety

The overwhelming number of enquiries that we now get concern the safety of travelling to San Felipe because of the publicity on the drug wars that are raging in Tijuana (and also in Ciudad Juarez).

What is important to understand is that this activity is limited to a very small area of Tijuana that is not a region where tourists would normally go. Virtually all the roads and towns of Baja California are very safe and have essentially zero small crime rates compared to anywhere in the USA. The local Mexican population is just as upset as you would be to hear of the very negative publicity in their towns and villages and its devastating effects on the tourism industry.

Here, however, are our specific recommendations for travel to San Felipe:

  • Cross the border at Calexico/Mexicali, at Tecate or at Los Algadones. Avoid the crossings between Tijuana and Otay Mesa and San Ysidro because these will route you east through areas that are seeing gang, military and police activity. The road south to Ensenada is safe and from there the route to San Felipe is in good condition. However, it is a very lonely road and we recommend the route only if you are travelling with two or more other vehicles.
  • Travel only during daylight hours and plan to be in San Felipe before nightfall. This is because there is a lot of construction traffic on the roads and the heavily overloaded Mexican trucks sometimes lose bricks, blocks or scrap as they go over bumps. You absolutely do not want to run over any such object on a deserted road at night and have a burst tire or bent axle. In addition, there are extensive roadworks underway in Mexicali and you need to watch carefully for the detour signs. For the most relaxed driving experience, travel Tuesdays-Thursdays when the traffic flow is very light - often less than 30 vehicles/hour. This is also the time when you are likely to encounter the fewest number of inebriated motorists.
  • Activate your cellphone for roaming in Mexico!!! You will have best luck with ATT and T-mobile, which have coverage throughout Mexico on the GSM networks. Verizon and Sprint will work along the border but you will find big gaps in coverage. Be sure that you instruct your carrier to allow both international dialing and international roaming. If you have any concerns while on the road, call the tourist department hotline 078. This will connect you with friendly, bilingual operators from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the calls are free. They will help you with directions or send help if you need it. For any emergency dial 066 and you will get the police who can send federal or state units to help you. Remember that if you want to call back to the USA, dial 001+ (Area Code) +7 digit number.
  • Once you leave Mexicali city limits, do not stop unless you have an emergency. The soft shoulders of the roads out in the country may be too unstable to safely park on and we have seen vehicles slide down the slopes into the desert sand. If you see stranded vehicles by the side of the road, use your cellphone to call 078 or 066 and get help sent to the unfortunate vehicle - note the kilometer marker by the road for better location of the breakdown.
  • Roadworks to upgrade the carriageway to four lanes are in progress south of the Ensenada Road junction. Be very careful driving on this stretch of highway as the road width is very restricted and there are no shoulders for emergency use.

Pelicans

There are reports from throughout California and Baja California of pelicans being found dead or dying on the beaches and also inland on the roads. The cause of these deaths is not presently known though some form of poisoning due to eating fish that have dined on algae blooms is mentioned as a possibility.

An AP newswire story reports.." A man vacationing in Baja California alerted the center about a similar problem there this week after discovering sick pelicans on the beach south of San Felipe.
"There are dead or sick brown's all over the place," Rick Meyer wrote in an e-mail Monday to the research center. "Normally there are just a couple, but in the last 10 days there is one every 100 feet... Something's going on."

Though it is unlikely that you could be harmed by touching one of these sick birds, we would recommend that you stay clear and instead call the Delegation Municipal in San Felipe at 577-1021; or the Tourism Department at 577-1155 to file a report. See more from the International Bird Rescue Center here.

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