Regional Topics, the San Felipe Economy and more.....
...by Tony Colleraine
Friday 25 March
It has been a foggy morning in San Felipe but a good time to catch up on what is happening in Mexico.
One thing that struck me today was the announcement that the Ministry of the Interior has published a handbook on the Non-sexist Use of Language and this is to be distributed to government offices across Mexico. The document was drawn up by the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women, CONAVIM.
In its introduction, the manual describes itself as "a tool to familiarize federal public workers with the use of non-sexist strategies in the Spanish language". It discourages the use of phrases such as: "If you want to work, why did you have children," and: "You are prettier when you keep quiet". It also advises against referring to women as possessions, as in phrases such as "Pedro's woman".
The manual says workers should avoiding using the masculine form in the Spanish language when it is not appropriate. "It is very common for us to use the masculine without knowing the gender of the people we are referring to or - even more incoherently - to use masculine adjectives or professional titles even when we know we are talking about a woman," it explains.
On International Women's Day on 8 March the Mexican government acknowledged that "insults and harassment" of women remained a problem. On the same day, women's groups protested against an increase in murders of women because of their gender, a phenomenon known in Mexico as femicide.
If you have a business bank account in Mexico you are familiar with the little hardware key that you must use to get an ever-changing system PIN to log on to your account. This random number, together with your username and your personal PIN are the three pieces of information that keep your account secure. These hardware keys have always been a frustration because your accountant needed it and you also needed it to be able to check the payments and to make transactions, for example, to pay the taxes.
A "typical" RSA keyfob
The result was that you would have to telephone the accountant's office to get them to give you the current random number that the key had generated and then log in within the brief time-interval that that PIN was valid (sometimes as little as 30 seconds). Now it has been revealed that the encryption technology behind the key has been compromised. A sophisticated hacker attack has stolen the algorithm and the secret seed that each key relies on. The final barrier to a hacker getting into your bank account and stealing money by transferring it elsewhere is the username and your personally selected PIN. If you are still using the default "12345" or "password" for your account, you are in danger. Log on and change your password to something very complicated as soon as you can. It is your last means of defence in protecting your money. Beware if you find that you are suddenly locked out of your account - it may be that you have already been attacked and you should see your bank manager immediately. Also be very vigilant for any "social engineering" phishing attempts that may occur - for example an email purporting to come from your accountant or bank that wants you to log in and confirm your credentials. Call them first and verify that you are dealing with who you should be.
A final word on bank security in San Felipe; don't assume that your information is kept private. Virtually anyone with a connection at the bank can get your current account balance over the phone - for example if you have someone preparing your visa application and they need to put a balance on a government form.
Wednesday 23 March
One of nature's miracles took place this afternoon. We had a grunion run that started about 5 p.m. as the tide was going out. The bay beaches from the harbor to Punta Estrella were glistening with the silvery bodies of the little fish.
I have revised my estimate of the loss of sand caused by the high tides this past weekend. The very windy conditions on Monday drove the water further inland and I would say that the total loss has been closer to 2 feet than 1 foot. This sand should be replenished as we get strong winds blowing onshore at low tide over the next several months.
Meanwhile, back in town, the Malecon is quiet and cleanup continues after the big weekend event. Everything should be ship-shape and Bristol fashion for the Blues and Arts Fiesta this coming weekend.
The lifeguard tower on the Beachcomber beach
I am very sorry to see that Catalina and Ed Meders have put their bookstore, The San Felipe Title Co., up for sale. The store has been a part of San Felipe for many years and you will probably remember it when it was next to Baja Java at the very center of town, upstairs from what is now the Tourism Office. I think that I express a hope that all of us have that someone will quickly come along and take over the bookstore operation. San Felipe badly needs to keep and nurture such businesses in its center if we are to survive as a tourism destination. See the advertisement in our classified section..>>
Monday 21 March - Benito Juárez National Holiday
The town has been busy this weekend as crowds from Tijuana and Mexicali arrived for the three day weekend holiday. There were tents set up on the Malecon beach by those that did not wish to stay in a hotel and the weather has been comfortable for beach activities with sea temperatures around 68F. The continual procession of vehicles cruising the Malecon created big delays; it took me around 20 minutes to get from the Costa Azul hotel to Rosita's on Sunday evening! While Southern California was being battered by a strong storm from Alaska, we benefitted from the strong southwest winds which pushed temperatures into the 80's on Sunday afternoon. We also got to see the "supermoon" rise on Friday evening, though it was no more spectacular than any other full moon seen from San Felipe (my photo below).
We are also seeing a lot of pangas out shrimping before the end of the official season this Wednesday.
This morning we awoke to a change in the weather as the storm to our north moves east into Arizona. There are winter weather warnings in the mountains and we are getting northeast gusts up to 25 mph with temperatures back down in the mid 60's. Considerable cloud now covers the northern gulf. On our local beaches, I estimate that we have lost around a foot of sand over the weekend. However, this could have been much worse if the northeasterlies had been with us during the very high tides.
Saturday 19 March
This weekend's "second" Tequila Festival was abruptly cancelled. I talked to the tourism office about this and they pointed out that this was an event sponsored by the COTUCO organization who would be able to supply more details. The San Felipe COTUCO office had little to add but I got the impression that the event will not be rescheduled. It is a terrible disappointment to the people who have travelled to town, particularly in light of the earlier cancellation of the "first" Tequila Festival at the BajaMar restaurant on 4th. March.
The Blues and Arts Fiesta is still on the schedule for next weekend (see their website..>>) and the Baja Love Ride, which has just been announced, is on:
San Felipe, Baja California, March 17 - The Baja Love Ride is a 4-day “ride for cause” fund raising bicycling event that will stretch from Rosarito Beach to San Felipe and will also include admission to the 5th Annual San Felipe Blues & Arts Fiesta. The event is designed to showcase the best of Baja, illustrate public safety and simultaneously promote tourism. This event promises to not only bring the Baja communities together, but also benefit those facets of Baja society that need help the most, the children of Baja.
Details of this four day event, which starts on Tuesday 22 March at the Rosarito Beach Hotel and ends at the San Felipe Arches on Friday 25 March, can be found on their website..>>
It is also reasonable to assume that Easter Week (18-24 April) will not be cancellled and we will have the traditionally large crowds from Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali who come to enjoy the Mexican National Hoilday and the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez.
Last weekend's SCORE 250 race was very well attended and was a great economic benefit for San Felipe. Here is a good summary video recommended by Jim Hatton that will give you a feel for what happened:
Friday 18 March
I got an unexpected extra hour of sleep this morning courtesy of Telcel because my mobile phone (which I use as my alarm clock) reverted to standard time:
Doubtless Telcel will steal the hour back later today, probably when I take my siesta.
This weekend is a period of very high tides as the full moon takes place on Saturday (the Vernal equinox - 12 hours of daylight - occurs Sunday morning).
The high tides will be around 1 a.m. and 1 p.m.(2 a.m am and 2 p.m. PDT) this weekend and we will have very low tides (good for looking for new shells) around 7 a.m. (8 a.m. PDT)
The moon is currently approaching its perigee, the closest approach of its slightly elliptical orbit to earth. The spectacle of the moon rising out of the sea at sunset on Saturday night should be worth watching. Disregard the foolish reports on the internet that it will be 18% bigger than usual. Actually, in San Felipe, the phenomenon is even more impressive the day after the full moon (so this Sunday evening) because the sky will be darker and the rising orb will have more color. We may also get a grunion run on Monday or Tuesday afternoon if we are lucky. This is the season for the silvery little fish to come up on the south beaches to lay their eggs...>>
It is worth noting that another Pacific storm is working its way southwards and will be over Southern California by Sunday night. This could mean windy conditions for us on Sunday/Monday and could be a period of concern for beach erosion.
Potential showers in the mountains to our north also could cause poor driving conditions on the Mexicali road in the construction zone between km 50-70 south of Mexicali. I drove this road on Wednesday and I have to say that it is not good. There are sections of very rough hardpack with many menacing rocks sticking through the graded surface - not good for your tires! In other sections the surface is still soft from the recent rains and there are deep ruts in places:
I drive very slowly (10 m.p.h.) when I reach these construction areas but even then I had some damage to my front suspension. Fortunately, a passing mechanic pulled over to help me and had the necessary tools to remove my front wheel and bend the distorted part back into alignment so I could get to San Felipe. When you make the trip take it slowly and do not be pressured to speed up by the big trucks and construction vehicles that will come up behind you!!!! Better to end up with your car covered with mud and battered by stones than to have a mechanical emergency. As always I recommend that you never drive this section after dark.
Sunday 13 March - switch to Daylight Savings time
This morning at 2 a.m. in San Felipe we moved the clocks forward one hour to conform with Pacific Daylight Time. We are on the same time as Mexicali, Rosarito, Ensenada Tijuana and Tecate in Baja, and San Diego, Los Angeles and the rest of California in the U.S.A.
|Current San Felipe Time|
The town also woke to a dense fog bank across the region. I am sure it must have taken the weary Baja 250 competitors by surprise. The big exodus back to the States will begin today and the Calexico crossings are already experiencing delays of around 2 hours at noon.
I have been reviewing our time-lapse videos from the tide camera and can find no evidence of any effect of the great Japanese tsunami that occurred last Friday in our region of the Sea of Cortez. However, the Pacific coast ports saw tidal oscillations that were generally 1-2 feet above normal as the wave went by. You can see this from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography tide gauge in La Jolla that is shown below:
The green trace represents the amplitude of the tsunami as it reached the San Diego area. The peak of this oscillation is about 1 foot above normal. It is interesting to note that the Pacific Ocean is still "vibrating" from the effects of the great earthquake some 2 days after the event.
The results of the 8.9 Magnitude earthquake on the country of Japan have been devastating. If you wish to make a donation to help the recovery effort there, you can easily do so through the Apple iTunes store if you have an account there. Donations can be made in amounts of $5, $10, $25, $50, $100 and $200. According to iTunes, 100% of donations go to the Red Cross. Connect to the iTunes donation page. You can also donate via a credit card to the American Red Cross..>>
While we, in San Felipe, sit just a few miles from the great San Andreas fault (the plate boundary runs up the Sea of Cortez and exits into the Pacific at San Francisco), we are not likely to get a tsunami here when the expected slip in the fault does occur. In our area, the earth movements are horizontal (left and right), as opposed to the Japanese fault which moves up and down - which causes the lifting of huge quantities of ocean water to produce the tsunami.
Thursday 10 March
The Baja 250 is almost upon us and traffic will be flooding into town today and for this weekend's event. I think that this is going to present several logistical battles with the road construction project and its detours south of the Rio Hardy. Even in quiet times, there is daily degredation of the hardpack. This volume of traffic is going to push the grading and water spraying into overdrive. If only people would drive slowly and avoid the impulse to overtake the slower vehicles, the road surface would remain much more stable. If you are driving here in the next few days be prepared for clouds of billowing dust and sand kicked up - especially at night when the maintenance people are off duty.
The economic boom to the San Felipe region should be substantial with 100% occupancy of hotels, motels and apartments; the boom in restaurant and bar activity, and the general spending in the shops and markets in town. Hopefully, some of the attendees will also be looking at the many real estate bargains to be had.
The economy in Mexico in general is improving quite nicely (much better than the USA) with close to a quarter of businesses saying they will be hiring personnel in the next 4 months. A significant driver of this is the industrialized Northeast sector of the country (including Tijuana and Mexicali) where rising exports of electronics and automotive components is taking place.
In San Felipe, activity in the real estate market seems to be picking up and there are more enquiries coming in from people wanting to find out about retirement living areas and/or to look for investment opportunities that can become retirement homes in a few years. There is notable interest in a new segment of the market, the small-footprint retirement unit and the fractional-ownership/timeshare property that is now emerging. An example of such a project near to the San Felipe airport is here..>>
Many people in the southwest USA, particularly those in state and local government and public institutions, are facing the problem of retiring from their existing job before changes in retirement benefits are forced upon them. With the loss in value of their existing homes (and the bottom of the market still not clearly reached in many areas) they need to find somewhere cheaper to move to. Mexico is increasingly mentioned and proximity to the border, without being in the high-risk towns on the border, is a strong consideration. These are people who presently live in houses that could potentially sell in the $200-300K range, but they want to put no more than half of that into a new house elsewhere. With frugal living they will be OK for ten or more years on what is left over.
Of course, the single biggest deterrent to coming to Mexico is the perceived risk brought on by the drug war. Certainly this is an important consideration but it is necessary to balance this risk against the economic benefits. For retired people who do not travel much and are happy to live in a "tight-knit" community with local social activity, San Felipe fits the bill. Our proximity to the border means that they can use their Medicare benefits if they are prepared to drive 2-3 hours to El Centro. Completion of the Mexicali highway upgrade in 2012 should help in making this trip safe and uneventful.
Another positive development is that a major obstacle in the use of the airport for commercial traffic has been resolved. For many years there has been a land ownership dispute with the Government on who owns what. This has now been resolved and it opens up the probability that the long-term development of the infrastructure to receive larger planes can proceed. As I have frequently mentioned, air service to Mexicali with continuation to hubs such as Las Vegas and technology centers such as San Diego will open San Felipe to a whole new world of tourism, research, education and convention activity.
Finally, for today, it is important to note that San Felipe is actively pursuing a path to become an independent municipality. This will put it on an equal footing with the other five cities; Mexicali, Tecate, Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada, and give it more control over its own finances. This will not happen overnight but it is something that we all need to support and work for.
Tuesday 8 March
I had a letter from a supporter who is trying to raise money for school children in town, and have some fun at the Baja 250 at the same time. I wanted to share it as an example of how a small entrepreneur can combine business with pleasure. I wish him every success at the upcoming event:
On March 12th, the San Felipe 250 will be racing through the surroundings of San Felipe and there will be madness everywhere. One of the hot spots will be at checkpoint 3 where the annual "SHIRT NACHOS" party is held in part to raise awareness and funds for students who need school supplies to succeed in school. SHIRT NACHOS solicits sponsor monies each year from various businesses, prints their logo on a 250 race shirt and serves some of the tastiest nachos you can get your hands on. Layers of chips, cheese, salsa, grilled chicken, cilantro, onion, tomato, guacamole, sour cream, black olives, and whatever else you can think of are all wrapped messily up in the special collectible t-shirt and served to race fans and racers alike during the race. Checkpoint 3 seems to be a great place for race fans to relax and eat their nachos while sipping on one of the special pineapple margaritas also provided by the SHIRT NACHOS crew. The best part of this party on the race course? its all free!!!....paid for by the sponsors who put their logo on the shirt for exposure.
NACHO KIDS is new to the event this year. The SHIRT NACHOS mascot, IGNACIO, is a 7ft tall tortilla chip with a shirt made of cheese. IGNACIO made his debut last year in La Paz at the finish line of the Baja 1000 and the kids went nuts over him. That started the wheels rolling on promoting an opportunity for the sponsor money to get out to the community that we love and support...San Felipe. So with the help of Tony from the sanfelipe.com.mx website, the SHIRT NACHOS crew was able to get in touch with the LAS AMIGAS group and from there finally met Kuchy Sanchez, who is helping with all the arrangements for the delivery of 36 backpacks filled with school supplies for each of the students at a local San Felipe schoolhouse. Rumor has it the students are hoping IGNACIO makes a special surprise appearance!
SHIRT NACHOS would like to thank Stewarts Raceworks, One Stop Tire, Tagline Construction, Harlan Trucking, Gametruck, Pinned, Jade Lounge, Inc, and the rest of the sponsors who make this event possible every year. Come by and say hi...listen for the loud music and smell the nachos! if you miss it, look us up at www.shirtnachos.com or become friends with us on facebook....just search "SHIRT NACHOS" ...see you there!!!
A course map for the 250 is here ..>>
Friday 4 March
Shirley, on her weather page, has had a senior moment and reports the Blues and Arts fiesta as taking place today. Actually it is on Saturday 26 March as you can verify from their website ..>
The past two weekends of bad weather in the Southern California and Northern Baja mountains made a terrible mess of the road construction project at km 60 south of Rio Hardy. I received reports of cars being damaged by the extremely rough road conditions. Those affected should file a damage claim with the State Tourism office ..> (call them as you will never get an email reply!). I am told now that the entire area has been re-graded but you should take it easy on the ~ 10 km of detours onto the desert hardpack. Don't hesitate to write and let me know your information on the road conditions. Only with your feedback can we keep pressure on the contractors to maintain acceptable driving conditions ..>
The countdown to that most confusing event, our change to Daylight Savings Time, is on. Mexico observes DST but the bulk of the country changes the clock forward on Sunday 3rd April. However, the Congress passed a bill in December 2009 to allow 10 cities along the USA-Mexico border to change to DST on the same day as the USA makes the shift so that commerce is not unnecessarily impeded. For us in Baja, this means that the municipalities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada will move the clock forward 1 hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday 13th. March - our weekend for the Baja 250. In the past, we have had a lot of confusion because of how the cellular telephone system handles the change on our phones. People driving between Mexicali and San Felipe would find that their phone display would flip back and forth by an hour depending on which cell tower they were connected to. While I can only hope that the engineers in Mexico City who are the Masters of Time on the network have got things straightened out this year, be prepared by having your wristwatch set to DST on Sunday 13 March. Also verify that your computer is set to use either Tijuana or San Diego for its time zone.
We have an unfortunate report from the El Dorado SAFE organization about an elderly resident being the victim of an assault and robbery in downtown San Felipe:
On Tuesday, March 2nd in the evening hours a 77 year old female El Dorado resident was with her husband and many others at a restaurant in downtown San Felipe. The restaurant was having its normal “dollar night” special there and many American and Canadians were there. Because of the crowd the woman and her husband couldn’t park next to the restaurant, but did so around the corner (in a darkened area).
At some point the woman needed something from her vehicle and went outside alone to go to it. She noticed one of the back tires on the vehicle was flat, and when she approached the car she was attacked by an unknown assailant. He struggled with her for her purse and during the robbery, he injured her shoulder and arm badly. She was treated locally, but had to be driven back to the U.S. for further treatment. I was told that the police and Dr. Abosolo were very helpful to the victim. She will be in our prayers for recovery.
President Felipe Calderon had a meeting yesterday with President Barack Obama in Washington. The demand from the USA is that Mexico clamp down on the shipment of drugs north, while the demand from Mexico is that the USA clamp down on the shipment of guns south. On the same day, embarrassing questions have arisen as to whether agents of the US Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency, knowingly let guns be transported south across the Arizona and Texas borders into Mexico ..>> A news item also appeared about the arrest near Tijuana of 13 Mexican soldiers who collaborated with a group of civilians to transport almost a ton of methamphetamines and cocaine in their backpacks. (That is 150 lbs each - an incredible load!) This is the first significant case I have heard of which involves corruption in the military and it is a very worrying sign. ...>>
Friday 25 February
A major winter storm is making its way south along the Pacific Coast of California and is expected to hit the mountains of Southern California and Northern Baja tonight through Saturday night. Heavy rain, snow and high winds are expected between San Diego and the descent into the desert leading to the El Centro/Mexicali region. If you are traveling to or from San Felipe this weekend you should watch the weather forecasts for the Mexicali region carefully. While no significant problems with rainfall are expected in the San Felipe area, the roadworks around km 60 south of Mexicali could again become a driving hazard if rain falls there (see Wednesday's comments below).
Wednesday 22 February
I am reminded to tell you that the Lions Club is busy preparing for the Blues and Arts Festival, scheduled for March 26th. If you would like to participate in the Arts and Crafts Show at this event, contact Vickie Silva at email@example.com Space is limited so reserve a spot soon.
Joe Malek is organizing the 9th Annual Club de Pesca International Chili Cookoff set for May 7th. Details will be posted on the Club de Pesca web page when finalized. You can get more info and details here..>>
The rain that we experienced last Saturday was minimal in San Felipe, only 0.03 inches. However, the storm to the north resulted in gully-washers from the mountains down the center of the Baja peninsular. The rains inundated the roadworks being done at around km60 south of Mexicali. The graded road on the desert floor turned into a mud bath and several people wrote in to say how difficult it was to make the trip north/south. I have emphasized on many occasions that the way that the road upgrade is being managed includes no contingency planning for rain. If you are driving between Mexicali and San Felipe during, or within 2-3 days after, any rain in the region, you should expect difficult driving conditions. In particular, trying to cross any arroyo during a rainstorm could result in your vehicle getting washed away - wait till the waters subside before proceeding!
Mexican real estate continues to suffer from the lack of American buyers. Major cities like Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta have seen declines of 60% in buying by the retiree market and are now revising their strategies and building models to cater to local buyers. New designs with smaller footprints are in the works in these cities to provide options in the $150K segment of the market and to add more time-share properties to the mix. Similar downsizing plans are in the works for the Tijuana-Ensenada corridor. From the correspondence that I have received over the past year, it is clear that any retiree still looking for cost-effective opportunities in northern Baja wants something in the 700-1000 square foot range that does not cost an arm-and-a-leg to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.
Friday 18 February
A break from jury duty - a complex case made more frustrating by the continual halts in the action interspersed with breaks for lunch etc. It is comforting to know that the United States has the best system of justice that money can buy.
On the San Felipe front:
A significant 5.1 Magnitude earthquake occurred this morning around 10 a.m. about 15 km east of the San Felipe-Mexicali road in the area where roadwork is already going on. At least it cannot make the road worse. We are likely to get these aftershocks from the Easter 7.2M quake for many years. The shaking was felt in San Felipe but no damage is reported.
News of bookings for Spring Break are coming in. The favorite places for students this year are Cancun and Cabo. This is in line with expectations given the recent ratings from the US State Department that the Yucatan and Baja California Sur areas of Mexico are the ones with the lowest crime rates. There is no organized "spring break" in San Felipe this year but a few students have enquired about whether it will be safe to camp on the beaches south of town. I suspect it will be very quiet.
The antibiotics regulations imposed last August are having a devastating effect on traditional pharmacies around the state. Being able to buy antibiotics without a prescription was a far bigger business than anyone realized, and was a major draw for Americans. One long-time pharmacy owner I talked to said his business is down 80%. Large pharmacies in border towns (especially Tijuana) have finally responded by having a "doctor" in the store to write an immediate prescription for shoppers in need. It just means that what I used to pay $20 for is now $50. With an eye to business, they will even make sure that you get stocked up on other medications that may require a "receta"; sleeping aids? hormone replacement therapies? mood enhancement? get a prescription and be safe when you cross the border. The other thing I notice is that "generic" pharmacies are springing up everywhere. They offer all the same types of pills but in small packages, often just 2 to 5 pills in a little bottle - so at a correspondingly lower price than a traditional drug store. The life of the old-fashioned pharmacy is in the balance.
The value of the dollar continues to drift lower and the punitive fees now being imposed by using an ATM for withdrawls is very discouraging. Currently we are seeing an official rate of about 12 peso/dollar at the bank, though what you get at a store is likely to be 11, or even 10 to the dollar.
A recent visitor wrote that she wanted to get around $50 from the Bancomer ATM in town to buy gas and have a cheap meal before driving back to California as she was outraged at the poor exchange rate she was offered. She selected 500 pesos from the machine and ended up being charged $47.12 by her US Bank. That is an exchange rate of about 10.6 peso/dollar. You can't win; you can't break even.
This is a period of very high tides. Let's hope that there will be no strong winds for the next few days, otherwise there is going to be a lot of beach erosion.
Tuesday 15 February
As usual, when I do not post news for a few days I get a deluge of mail complaining that I am not earning my keep. I am on jury duty and this makes it difficult to fit in all the daily demands on my time. Bear with me, I will get back to commenting in the near future.
Wednesday 9 February
Today is "Dentist's Day" in Mexico (Día del Estomatólogo) and a reminder to all of us to take care of our teeth. San Felipe has a modest, but steady, medical tourism business where people come down for a week or so of vacation and during that time get their teeth fixed at a much lower price than in the USA.
Most people in the US who get medical coverage through their employers can also get dental coverage, which has led to an unchecked rise in the price of dental work. However, when a worker retires, continued dental insurance coverage is frequently no longer an option and Medicare does not cover dental care. Now people have to shop around, and visiting a dentist in Mexico is very advantageous. From personal experience I can say that a crown in San Felipe costs around $250 compared to the same work in San Diego being quoted at $1100.
A recent study of prices in Los Algodones (which seems to be the dental tourism capital of Mexico with some 300 providers) reveals the following huge differences in price compared to the USA:
A filling is $50 in Los Algodones versus an average of $130 in the US; an implant $600 versus $1725.
The Baja State Tourism office is trying to publicize these cost advantages and thereby promote this new type of tourism. San Felipe, with its tranquil setting and safe environment for a vacation, could be a significant participant in this new activity.
While I am on the thought-track about health, I want to remind everyone that this is the flu season and it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before dining. If you see any town restaurant with no soap in their restroom, consider donating a small block for the health of both the workers and the diners.
Monday 7 February
Last week the municipality did heroic work in re-painting the parking lines on the Malecon. They are using the reflective white paint that shows up well when headlights hit it. In addition, the unrestricted parking areas are marked with fresh green paint on the kerb while restricted areas are marked in vivid yellow. Handicapped spaces are a fresh blue. The red "no parking" areas are coming. The scene below shows the new stripes as this area from Rice and Beans down to Rositas was being done on Wednesday. Crews are also working along Chetumal and also painting the bright yellow crosswalk areas at major intersections. Everything is looking much cleaner with this fresh coat of paint. Unfortunately, as you can also see in the picture, there is very little traffic and very few parked cars at noon.
Another welcome addition to the town center is the installation of fixed trash cans. There has always been a pressing demand for bins for disposal of litter. In times past, oil drums were tried but they would get blown about by the winds, damaged and stolen. Let's hope that the new system will result in a much cleaner roadway and beach.
Friday 4 February
The wind died down overnight and the calm, clear, air caused the temperature to drop to a new record low of 29 F at 4:40 this morning along the beach. At least along the coastline we have the relatively warm sea to act as a buffer. I suspect it was even colder in the desert as radiation cooling took over. It is worth noting that up in the San Pedro Martir mountains at the astronomical observatory, at an elevation of 9100 feet, there is still a NE breeze at 38 mph and it is 28F.
The road construction team north of the Laguna Salada is getting its act together. Yesterday afternoon a bevy of blade scrapers cleared out the worst of the rocks and started widening the temporary road so that the huge "doble semi-remolques" could get through. Water trucks were going up and down to keep the dust down and I would now classify the road as "dreveable at 10 mph". The photo below, taken looking towards Mexicali, shows a section of relatively smooth surface that has just been scraped, and over to the left is the first pass scraping to widen the carriageway. The existing road is on the right side of the photograph. A lot of construction traffic is going up and down along this 2 mile stretch as they prepare for the grading of further temporary
surface between Rio Hardy and the north end of the straight section of road across the Laguna Salada as shown below. Based on past performance, we can expect this construction task to
last for the duration of our high season for tourism. It seems incredible to me that the contracts for such work do not specify that the new road is to be built and ready to open before the old road is closed. Clearly, nobody from the tourism sector of the economy is consulted before embarking on such projects.
Thursday 3 February
This is the start of the new Lunar New Year, in China it is the Year of the Rabbit, though weather-wise, here it is more like a lion.
We still have the northerly winds but the intensity has diminished overnight and currently (9 a.m.) we have 10 m.p.h. breezes with the occasional gust to 20. Along the beach, the temperature dropped to 40F and I expect it to stay cool for the rest of today. In the deserts it got much cooler - Mexicali reported 32 F overnight and there were reports of hoar frost on trees! The large shrimp seiners are still sheltering in the bay but I was surprised to see the lights of a few pangas out just before dawn when it was calmer. The water is getting rough again so any catch today is likely to be minimal.
The construction area on the Mexicali road is being made safer as a result of prodding the SCT. We all hope that in future they will force the contractors to properly prepare the temporary surface before closing any other sections of the road. Incidentally, this new work is part of a 27 km work package that will extend from approximately km 49 to km 76 on the Laguna Salada this year. In addition, work has been authorised for the next 12 km south on the Puertecitos- Laguna Chapala highway.
I bought some hot tamales at the Pemex station for dinner last night - a traditional feast (with hot chocolate) for Candlemas Day. Gasoline is not the bargain that it was. Regular unleaded now costs the equivalent of $2.94/gallon because of the terrible exchange rate (around 11 pesos/$).
Wednesday 2 February
The wind has been blowing all night and we are experiencing 30 mph conditions this morning. The sea is a mass of white foam and shrimp boats are sheltering in the shadow of Machorro. Sand is drifting everywhere and the roads are hazardous - drive very carefully! The temperature has also been dropping steadily all night and now, at 11 a.m. it is only 48 F in San Felipe.
More complaints are coming in about the state of the temporary road diversion north of the Laguna Salada. This is a typical comment: "...It was the worst detour I have been on in my 60+ years of driving .....".
And from Mr. Ragtime: "Yesterday, there were quite a few RVs en route to San Felipe. I'm sure many suffered severe damage. The alternator on my Cadillac is mounted very low, beneath the engine. I'm sure my damage was done by one or more sections of the road that had a high crown between the lanes. I don't know the extent or cost of the damage yet. There were many, many rocks in the 6x6x6" range, plus many deep holes hidden by water. The bare desert would have been much better. Also, the transition sections were very steep with virtually no visibility during the ascent. Better remind people - again - not to drive at night. I have been an annual visitor to San Felipe since 1979. This is by far the worst I can ever remember."
The SCT has been contacted and will tell the contractor to improve the temporary roadway immediately. If you have any damage to your vehicle caused by the bad road conditions, contact the state tourism office (SECTURE) in San Felipe and file a claim for the damages.
4 p.m. update - The gale continues and driving is hazardous. This is one of the worst windstorms that I can recall in years. I can imagine that it is very difficult on the Mexicali road crossing the Laguna Salada and in navigating the chaotic temporary roadbed at km 60. In San Felipe most shops and restaurants were closed today and the streets were deserted. Obviously no shrimping or fishing was done today. A quick check of the beach shows that maybe a foot of sand has been removed during the overnight high tide. Fortunately, this is not a week of extreme high tides.
Although it is expected that the high winds will continue for the next 12-18 hours, we certainly hope that warmer and calmer conditions will be with us for the long weekend and the Constitution Day/San Felipe birthday on Monday.
Tuesday 1 February
Just when we had got used to a well paved and fast road between Mexicali and San Felipe, the next phase of progress has begun. A section of 2-3 miles is now being torn up around 60 km south of Mexicali and traffic is being detoured back on to the desert floor. I have not traveled on this road yet but the initial reports coming in say that this is the worst surface condition we have yet had to put up with - and we have had some extremely rough temporary surfaces. The initial comments are that you should be prepared for lots of rocks and bumps. The surface is soft and very quickly being torn up. If you have a truck, use that for the trip instead of your good car.
From another correspondent this evening:" I was on the road to Mexicali Sunday...............the part of the road you wrote about was terrible. It was even worse on the way back, not rocks, but mini-boulders and some really soft sand."
I am really sorry to hear that Kenny Whitmore who, with his wife Bonny, started the Childs Garden Foundation here, died yesterday in Las Vegas. We all wish Bonny our very best for the future.
Monday 31 January 2011
January in San Felipe is generally a very quiet month and this year has been no exception. In spite of the lack of current activity, I am seeing a noticeable increase in people enquiring about March and April vacations here. In most cases, these people are old friends of San Felipe. They used to visit Baja on a regular basis before the economic crisis hit and caused them to look carefully at their spending priorities. A few have even said that they still hope that one day they will be able to have a retirement or vacation home in Baja, but first of all they want to see for themselves what the situation is really like here. Fortunately, the Baja 250 in March should be the highlight of the season and everyone has high hopes for a sell-out crowd. San Felipe will be on display to the world and we need it to be a very successful showcase of our town.
With each enquiry comes the inevitable question on the safety of coming to San Felipe. All of us who live here are well aware of the negative publicity that the border region of Mexico is receiving as a result of the ongoing war with the drug cartels. Every week the U.S Customs and Border patrol trumpets the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana, cocaine and meth-amphetamines that are seized from vehicles crossing the border. In addition, the Mexican Army checkpoints are also reporting major seizures, sometimes measured in tons. Less publicized, but equally disturbing, are the number of guns being smuggled south into Mexico.
Several years ago, it was not uncommon for snowbirds and weekend visitors driving to Baja to bring a concealed weapon in their camping equipment, strictly for self-protection. When the military checkpoints sprang up and serious checks of southbound vehicles became routine, many long-time visitors had to make a hard choice - come to Mexico but leave the gun behind, or not come at all. A significant number of people stopped coming, particularly from states where gun-carrying in vehicles has been commonplace.
I have emphasized again-and-again that the Mexicali-San Felipe corridor is, in my opinion, safe and tranquil. We are not in the throes of violence and mayhem that is being reported in places like Juarez, Monterrey and Tijuana. Still, visitors are very nervous. Yes, drugs are seized at our local military checkpoint and at the Calexico border crossing but there has not been any violence associated with this traffic. Even in the high crime cities such as Ciudad Juarez, tourists are not the targets of the cartels.
Unfortunately, our positive experience here is of little consequence to the masses back in the U.S.A. They read the U.S. State Department warnings and the hair-raising press articles on Mexico that pop up every day with a Google search. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that an article in an obscure border newspaper will be picked up and run in a Canadian, European, Indian or Chinese paper as though it is vital new information. All of these "re-tweets" spread the sense of despair for Mexico tourism and contribute to more and more hits by Google, followed by further syndication of the articles in even more newspapers.
Obviously our local tourism organizations do not have the financial means to combat this negative international publicity. In Mexico City, the federal tourism secretariat is beset with the realization that three major cruise lines are threatening to leave the lucrative California-Mexico market and this is going to have a significant impact on Cabo, Mazatlan, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa, and Huatulco. (Consider that on a typical day when three cruise ships dock in Vallarta, the passengers can boost the local economy with a $500,000 infusion of spending on food, drink and shopping.)
A disconcerting sign to me is that It appears that the federal government has given up on promoting "drive" tourism. The logic appears to be that airports and sea ports can be kept "relatively" secure because of tightly controlled access, but highways cannot. Tourists can fly from San Diego to Cancun and can be virtually guaranteed a worry-free vacation.
By contrast, to drive from San Diego to Ensenada or San Felipe is "at your own risk". While I and the many residents who live here drive the Mexicali highway many times a year, there is no way of telling what is going to happen on that next trip.
"Is it better to drive alone or to be in a convoy? Should I park my car in Calexico and take a bus to San Felipe? What do I do if I see a vehicle by the side of the road with people flagging me to stop? Is there an accident or am I being set up to be robbed or kidnapped? If an unmarked vehicle with flashing lights is chasing me, should I stop? "
You may laugh at such questions but these are the types of things that people write to ask me all the time. Who is the authority who should be formulating the answers to such questions? The Military? The State Police? The Secretary of Tourism? Who is going to vouch for the safety of our visitors driving to and from San Felipe? Do we need to have an armed guard stationed every mile along the road to inspire confidence ?
Until San Felipe gets a functioning airport with shuttle service to Mexicali, San Diego and Las Vegas we are at the mercy of any gang that wants to set up a trap on the highway. This has already happened on the very isolated road between Mexicali and Puerto Penasco.
There is a fundamental need for the authorities to provide far better communication, surveillance and patrol of the desert highways and develop "rest stops" and assistance centers for motorists. Since the Highway Patrol makes periodic runs between San Felipe and Mexicali, perhaps nervous visitors could arrange to follow their cars if a schedule were set up. In any event, my single most important recommendation continues to be to drive only during daylight hours.
Thursday 6 January 2011
Today is Epiphany, or in Mexico "Tres Reyes", the official end of the Christmas season. Next week, business will get back to work and the paperwork will start flowing once more. For me, it is the end of the longest vacation in many years and I feel much refreshed. I appreciate the huge pile of email that people sent with their good wishes. I sincerely apologize for being unable to answer each one individually. Let me just offer my very sincere thanks to you all and wish us all, and our little town, a very happy and prosperous new year.
On the last day of the old year, the Mayor of Mexicali, Francisco Pérez Tejada, appointed Roberto Ledon to be the new Delegado for San Felipe. Many of you will remember Roberto as the Owner of campo Playa del Sol and as the former manager of the Conventions and Tourism office in San Felipe. He was also the office manager at Telnor many years ago when we were just discovering the age of the internet.
We wish Roberto the very best for the future in guiding San Felipe through these difficult economic times.
In mainland Mexico, economic growth is taking off and the projected 5% increase is the best in 14 years. A remarkable phenomenon is underway. Tens of thousands of Mexicans who have been living and working in the United States for many years are making their way back to their hometowns. They felt increasingly unwelcome in their adopted country and have been unfairly accused of taking jobs away from Americans. They bring home with them their accumulated savings, their new vehicles, their educated children and their acquired skills. This re-investment in the country is an unexpected and enormously significant benefit to Mexico - and a sad loss of talent to the United States.
The technology and skill transfer to the small towns of Mexico is expected to be one of the most significant demographic events to have occurred in decades. These people have learned new crafts and have seen how a society operates when relatively free of corruption and bribery. Most importantly, they have learned about the new communications revolution and the necessity of sharing information. I believe that this aspect by itself will initiate a wave of change in Mexico as they use their acquired entreprenurial talents to start new businesses here while they maintain their network of friends and business associates back in the USA.
A second important demographic shift is also well underway here. The birth-rate is plunging. Back in the 60's, Mexican women had an average of 7 children each, now it is 2.2 (the USA is 2.1); the replacement rate for a steady-state society. The projection is that within the next 30 years the rate in Mexico will be less than the USA. In fact, Mexico will need to do what the USA should be doing right now; encouraging immigration of young workers who will be able to pay into the tax and social security system to support the burgeoning elderly population.
By 2020, Mexico will need every one of its children to stay here in order to fill the jobs created by normal growth. Bear this in mind as you look around San Felipe. Children who are now in primary school in town will need to be fully "up-to-date" on the technology of business and industry by the time they graduate. We need schools, we need colleges and we need a university here in San Felipe! What are we planning for? Retirement communities!
previous months news - - November-Decembar 2010 - Calexico SENTRI lane, Baja 1000, the cold wave, the change in the Mexicali municipal government
San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico
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