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San Felipe Time

 

Thursday 30 April

San Felipe remains tranquil and, we believe, without cases of the new flu. For once, our isolation from big cities, our lack of a commercially operating airport and the fact that we are not on the road to anywhere is making us one of the safest places to be. We do not expect a tourism bonanza - afterall, the US and other countries have already issued statements to their citizens to avoid all unnecessary travel to Mexico. However, we are a safe place where you can drive in your own car, your cocoon, and settle into a beachfront hotel for a quiet vacation at a perfect time of the year for good weather.

The big event of the coming weekend is the chili-cookoff at the Club de Pesca on Saturday. I expect it will be packed but I also expect that you will not see people coughing and sneezing there, except for a few gasps from the peppers and spices. What virus is a match for a habanero pepper?

Meanwhile, in the rest of Mexico, everyone is on tenterhooks waiting for the labs to catch up on the analysis of the specimens from the suspected flu victims. Until today, Mexico has not had the laboratory test kits to be able to do its own investigations for the new influenza AH1N1 virus; it has sent specimens to the CDC in Atlanta or a World Health Organization lab in Winnipeg, Canada, meaning a lag of several days. Consequently, we have the lopsided statistics:

  • Mexico: 168 suspected deaths - 12 confirmed cases
  • United States: one death, at least 109 confirmed cases

A quick on-the-spot test can tell doctors if a patient has influenza, and some will tell whether it is type A. But more sophisticated tests must be done to show whether it is an H1N1, the type that includes both one of the seasonal influenza strains and the new swine flu strain. Now a lab with the new test has been set up in Mexico, in Veracruz, I believe, that will discover how many of the suspected cases are in fact the new strain of H1N1 swine flu.

Wednesday 29 April

The World Health Organization has just raised the pandemic flu alert level from 4 to 5 on a scale of 6.

Current level of influenza pandemic alert raised from phase 4 to 5
Based on assessment of all available information and following several expert consultations, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General raised the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5. She stated that all countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities. (see more)

In San Felipe we still have tranquil and normal conditions. Our local expert, Dr. Victor Abasolo, attended a meeting of health professionals in Mexicali yesterday and he brought back the news that there are no confirmed H1N1 flu cases in Baja California. However, the press in Tijuana are reporting this morning that there are two suspected H1N1 flu cases in Tijuana and a total of 5 suspected cases in the state.

Monday 27 April

Schools throughout Mexico have been ordered to close until 6th May in order to slow the spread of the new swine flu virus. (...more). The Secretario de Salud, José Ángel Córdova, today also announced that almost 2000 people in Mexico have now been hospitalized and the death toll has reached 149 persons.

In Mexicali, there have been two deaths, one in the city and one in the Valle de Mexicali. (..more) Meanwhile, in the US, some 40 people are now confirmed to have the virus, though none of them is seriously ill.

In San Felipe, we understand that the celebrations planned for Thursday 30 April - Dia del Nino - have been cancelled.

The current world situation at this time is summarized in the following map:

The Center for Disease Control has issued guidelines for hygiene and use of facemasks (be sure they are N95 surgical masks) ...see more. A list of Frequently Asked Questions is here.

The World Health Organization has raised the alert to pandemic level 4 ....here

Sunday 26 April

As expected, many new cases of the swine flu are now being identified in the US and Canada (...more). Hong Kong, site of the SARS epidemic six years ago, is taking exceptional precautions...(more). Incidents are also turning up in other parts of the world. Fortunately, all the cases outside Mexico appear to be quite mild. I suspect that the difference is that in the US and Canada, most people get an annual flu shot whereas this is a rare occurrence in Mexico.

Indeed, many San Felipe residents now are recalling that they had a bout of the grippe sometime in March. I personally had a touch of flu for ten days in early January, with a lot of coughing, nasal problems, aches and pains and some intestinal discomfort. Then in February I had a second, mild, attack that lasted around 8 days. Quite possibly, this was the arrival of the new strain of influenza that affected many people here - though nobody got really sick and died. It would be interesting to see the public health records (if any exist) of reported illnesses in San Felipe over the past three months.

For standard precautions to take, see here.

Saturday 25 April

In San Felipe, a fisherman was killed at the harbor yesterday when a box of fish that was being unloaded hit him in the head. The man, Isidro Gutiérrez, aged 61, was a worker aboard the boat 'Insurgente Morelos' (...mas)

The swine flu epedemic is spreading in the USA. Cases have now been reported in Kansas (..more), and in New York City many children at the nations largest catholic school have been taken ill and seven have now tested positive for the disease (... more). In Mexico City, two soccer matches this weekend will be played behind closed doors in empty stadiums due to a deadly outbreak of a previously unknown strain of flu in the country, the Mexican Football Federation said on Friday (...more)

Baja California's state epidemiology official Jose Aranda said it had confirmed 25 influenza cases after testing 200 of 378 people with flu symptoms. "They are all being treated," he said....(more....mas). Note that these are apparently not swine flu cases!

Statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan
Saturday 25 April 2009
Swine influenza


In response to cases of swine influenza A(H1N1), reported in Mexico and the United States of America, the Director-General convened a meeting of the Emergency Committee to assess the situation and advise her on appropriate responses.

The establishment of the Committee, which is composed of international experts in a variety of disciplines, is in compliance with the International Health Regulations (2005).

The first meeting of the Emergency Committee was held on Saturday 25 April 2009.

After reviewing available data on the current situation, Committee members identified a number of gaps in knowledge about the clinical features, epidemiology, and virology of reported cases and the appropriate responses.

The Committee advised that answers to several specific questions were needed to facilitate its work.

The Committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Based on this advice, the Director-General has determined that the current events constitute a public health emergency of international concern, under the Regulations.

Concerning public health measures, in line with the Regulations the Director-General is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

The Committee further agreed that more information is needed before a decision could be made concerning the appropriateness of the current phase 3.

6 p.m. UPDATE.

Mexico gov't decrees special powers in flu crisis - Reuters
Mexican President Felipe Calderon issued an emergency decree on Saturday giving the government special powers to run tests on sick people and order them isolated to fight the deadly flu crisis. (..more)

11 more suspected swine flu cases in U.S. - LA Times -
Total reaches 19 with a couple in Kansas, schoolchildren in New York City and a person in California believed to have mild cases of swine flu. It is not clear yet whether virus is easily transmitted...(..more)

 

Friday 24 April

SEE IMPORTANT UPDATES BELOW ...........Reports from Mexico City indicate that there is an outbreak of a new swine flu there and that schools and colleges are being closed to slow its spread - the first citywide school closure since Mexico City's devastating 1985 earthquake.. Up to 60 deaths may have already resulted from this unusual strain of virus and nearly 1000 people around Mexico are believed to be sick with the infection. There are no vaccines available for the general public in Mexico, and authorities urged people to avoid hospitals unless they had a medical emergency, since hospitals are centers of infection. They also said Mexicans should refrain from customary greetings such as shaking hands or kissing cheeks. World health officials worry it could be the start of a global flu epidemic. (...more)

Coincidentally, a similar strain of infection is being uncovered in San Diego and Imperial Counties in California, and in Texas. Three new cases have been identified in San Diego today. (...more)

Symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to those of seasonal influenza - sudden fever, coughing, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. This new strain also appears to cause more diarrhea and vomiting than normal flu. For more information on swine flu go here.

At present, we have not heard of any cases in this region. However, because of the extensive travel links between California, San Felipe and Mexico City, we urge residents to be careful to maintain excellent hygiene by washing hands many times per day, avoiding unnecessary physical contact, and making sure that all pork meat dishes are cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 F. If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms you should seek medical attention immediately.

UPDATE 4 p.m. The flu epedemic is getting a lot of high level attention and action. We have correspondents telling us of cabinet level meetings in Mexico City, people being sent home from work early, museums and public gathering places closed, people being discouraged from shaking hands and kissing when they greet each other....... The World Health Organization may raise the world pandemic flu alert from 3 to 4. Such a high level of alert — meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of a new virus has been detected — has not been reached in recent years. The WHO has made the following announcement:

Influenza-Like Illness in the United States and Mexico

24 April 2009 -- The United States Government has reported seven confirmed human cases of Swine Influenza A/H1N1 in the USA (five in California and two in Texas) and nine suspect cases. All seven confirmed cases had mild Influenza-Like Illness (ILI), with only one requiring brief hospitalization. No deaths have been reported.

The Government of Mexico has reported three separate events. In the Federal District of Mexico, surveillance began picking up cases of ILI starting 18 March. The number of cases has risen steadily through April and as of 23 April there are now more than 854 cases of pneumonia from the capital. Of those, 59 have died. In San Luis Potosi, in central Mexico, 24 cases of ILI, with three deaths, have been reported. And from Mexicali, near the border with the United States, four cases of ILI, with no deaths, have been reported.

Of the Mexican cases, 18 have been laboratory confirmed in Canada as Swine Influenza A/H1N1, while 12 of those are genetically identical to the Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses from California.

The majority of these cases have occurred in otherwise healthy young adults. Influenza normally affects the very young and the very old, but these age groups have not been heavily affected in Mexico.

Because there are human cases associated with an animal influenza virus, and because of the geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, these events are of high concern.

The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans. The viruses so far characterized have been sensitive to oseltamivir, but resistant to both amantadine and rimantadine.

The World Health Organization has been in constant contact with the health authorities in the United States, Mexico and Canada in order to better understand the risk which these ILI events pose. WHO (and PAHO) is sending missions of experts to Mexico to work with health authorities there. It is helping its Member States to increase field epidemiology activities, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management. Moreover, WHO's partners in the Global Alert and Response Network have been alerted and are ready to assist as requested by the Member States.

WHO acknowledges the United States and Mexico for their proactive reporting and their collaboration with WHO and will continue to work with Member States to further characterize the outbreak.

The US Consulate in Tijuana has just circulated this message to its wardens in San Felipe:

Flu Outbreak in Mexico
U.S. Consulate General Tijuana advises that as a precaution, Mexican authorities closed all schools in the Federal District and in the State of Mexico on April 24, 2009, as the Mexican Secretariat of Health announced hundreds of cases of flu in the country, some of which may be the H1N1 strain of “swine flu”. Some other public institutions, such as museums and government offices, are also closed. Exact numbers of the people infected with the various strains of flu are unavailable. The U.S. Consulate General has no additional information about closures.
The U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens in Mexico that most cases of influenza are not “swine flu”; any specific questions or concerns about flu or other illnesses should be directed to a medical professional.
At this time the Mexican Secretariat of Health urges people to avoid large crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting, or using the subway. Maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other persons may decrease the risk of exposure.

La Cronica reports..

Muertos por influenza en BC son de Mexicali - MEXICALI, Baja California(PH)

Los dos muertos por influenza que se registraron en Baja California, corresponde a personas de Mexicali, una del Valle y otra de la ciudad, reveló ayer la Secretaría de Salud del Estado.. ....(mas/more)

Vigilarán aeropuertos de BC para evitar Influenza

Debido a los casos de influenza que se están reportando en el País las autoridades de salud vigilarán los aeropuertos de Baja California, para prevenir que la enfermedad llegue al estado, informó la vocera de la Secretaria de Salud. (mas/more)

Nota Publicada: 24/04/2009 15:41

The San Diego Union Tribune: Mexico swine flu deaths spur global epidemic fears.....article

 

 

Sunday 19 April

This evening I was out watering the cacti and I noticed lots of what I thought were baby hummingbirds around the bougainvilleas. They were hovering and sucking the nectar out of the small white flower in the center of the red bracts. When I looked closer I realized that they were moths. I have never seen this hovering variety before and it was amazing to watch how they uncoiled their long proboscis and inserted it into the flower. You can see the proboscis in the first photo below as the moth approaches the bracts.

In the picture below the moth looks as though it is at rest on the plant but it is really hovering and its wings are moving just like a hummingbirds. The camera flash is fast enough to freeze the action.

If you go out on any of these warm evenings, just before dusk, you will see some remarkable sights like this, especially now that the night-flowering cacti are starting to bloom and attract the night insects that pollenate them. (James Jinks wrote in to tell me that this is actually a White Lined Spynx Moth and he referred me to this page for full information.)

 

Saturday 18 April

The first edition of the Guty Miranda Fishing Tournament was held in San Felipe this morning. The Prize Ceremony was held at 11:30 a.m. right across from Rosita's Restaurant in the Malecon.

Friday 17 April

Yesterday, the Mayor of Mexicali inaugurated three new animal control vehicles with nine more employees to help bring the escalating population of stray dogs and cats under control in Mexicali. The packs of animals roaming the city streets have become a serious health hazard. Even in San Felipe, we have seen a significant increase of homeless animals as people can no longer afford to feed them as a result of the decline in economic conditions. To compound problems, the cost of pet food has jumped recently as a result of a trade embargo on certain US products crossing the border. Just before Easter week, a cleanup was attempted in San Felipe though there were extensive efforts by our local Zapp group to save as many dogs as possible from euthanasia.

The Mexican federal elections will be held this year on Sunday 5th July. Last year, tourist cities were exempted from the day-long ban on serving alcohol. We believe that we, in San Felipe, will also not have to be subject to the alcohol ban during the long Fourth of July holiday weekend .

 

Wednesday 15 April

We have been taking things easy after the big rush of Easter. It seems as though the crowds were smaller this year - particularly on the beaches south of town. In the center of San Felipe the streets are always packed and the biggest crowds are along the Malecon. To the north, Playa del Sol seems to have had the record attendance with many hundreds of people at that one location alone.

The peso has been strengthening lately and was at 12.55 to the dollar in San Felipe today (at the local money exchanges).

The shrimp season is over till September but good quality specimens are still available for around 240 pesos/kilo in many fish establishments.

Meanwhile, looking at the bigger picture, we see that the Latin American Herald Tribune reports that the crime rate in Baja California has dropped very substantially in the past three months. There was a decline of 79 percent in the number of murders, down from 515 in the last quarter of 2008 to 108 in the first quarter of 2009. (... read the entire article here).

Rosarito has signed deals to bring Chinese citizens from Southern California and, eventually from China for vacations and for exploring business opportunities in their new business park (...more).

For the past two years contractors have been lining the All American Canal, just north of the border at Mexicali, with concrete to minimize water loss due to seepage. The refurbished canal will open on 30 April. It is estimated that this will save almost 85 million cubic meters of water per year that can be diverted to the cities of Southern California. Environmentalists have fought hard to stop this project as it will deprive the ecosystem and the agriculture of sections of the Mexicali valley of the precious water that it has depended on since the irrigation canals were constructed in the early 1900's. (..more).


The 62nd Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race takes place 24-26 April. This is reportedly the world`s largest international yacht race. It begins at noon on Friday in the Balboa Pier area of Newport Beach, California and concludes with trophy presentations at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Hotel Bahía in Ensenada.

Viernes Santos - Good Friday - 10 April

The bulk of the holiday crowds will be arriving today and we hear that the time to travel from Mexicali to San Felipe is taking in excess of four hours, about double the normal driving time. Strict traffic regulations are being enforced and no overtaking is possible for most of the trip so if you get stuck behind a very slow vehicle, put on some soothing music and be prepared to tough it out. In San Felipe, we have some 300 police and support personnel who are doing a very good job of keeping the crowds in check. There are foot patrols of the beaches and the police helicopters and naval patrols are going up and down the beaches to help with any emergencies. We have brisk northerly winds at this time and so far only small numbers of people are braving the cool waters. I went in to one of the local mini-markets to get milk and could hardly squeeze through the aisles because of the stacks of cases of beer everywhere. This is going to be a big weekend of boozing! The fun fair is in town and there will be major parties along the Malecon between now and Sunday.

The Malecon is the place to be if you really want to get into the communal spirit.

By mid-afternoon, the crowds had set up their tents on the beach there and had occupied virtually every square inch of sand available at high tide.

Reportedly, there are 60,000 visitors and 10,000 additional vehicles now in town. The waste collection department expects to pick up 10 tons of garbage every day. Let's hope that a lot of this can be recycled!

 

At all California border crossing points into Mexico, random checks of vehicles proceeding south continue to be made. So far it is not causing any noticeable delays.

Jueves Santos - 9 April

In town this morning there seemed to be more police than tourists. However, the ratio seems to be getting more typical of the holiday as the lines of cars from Mexicali start to arrive. One of our correspondents, a weekly visitor from El Centro, called to tell us that at the downtown Calexico border crossing the lanes had been closed to form a single line south and that every vehicle was being checked for firearms. This is a very welcome development for us in Mexico as we want to be protected from the wholesale flow of weapons to the gangs.

In San Felipe, the augmented police force is also being very aggressive in stopping and checking vehicles and their occupants for violations. At the stop sign by our office, occasional vehicles were pulled over and ticketed for failing to completely stop at the line. Note that, according to one person receiving a ticket, the law here requires that you stop for 5 seconds before proceeding. This driver had only stopped for 3 seconds (the "California stop"!).

Martes Santos - 7 April

I drove today from San Diego to San Felipe. A lot of people were on the road heading east from the metropolis, getting an early start on the Easter weekend and taking their campers and quads to the sand dunes of Imperial County. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly in these tense times, virtually no-one turned south on CA 111 and headed for the border at Calexico. Mexicali was bustling, as always. New construction has been going on everywhere and the city is obviously prosperous. South of Mexicali, the road is good and the southbound traffic was light. By comparison, the northbound flow was heavier as vehicles with Canadian, Idaho and Colorado license plates carried the last of the snowbirds away from San Felipe before the onslaught of this weekend's predicted crowds.

The most challenging part of the journey will undoubtedly be the section of around 10 miles where traffic is diverted onto the desert floor (see picture below). Indeed, this afternoon, I was trapped for a while behind two older vans that could not even maintain 15 mph (24 kph) on this stretch because of the washboard effect and their poor suspensions. Fortunately, traffic was extremely light today, but wait till Sunday when everyone heads back north to Mexicali. If you are visiting San Felipe this weekend, please be careful. If you can avoid driving, particularly on Sunday, you will save yourself a lot of frustration and hazardous situations.

Palm Sunday - 5 April

Easter Week , Semana Santa, has arrived. The peso has strengthened a little to 13.5 per dollar and the authorities are predicting that 80,000 people will be arriving in San Felipe later this week as the national holiday gets underway. San Felipe is being cleaned up in readiness for the crowds and businesses are looking forward to making money. Highway patrol checks will be underway and when the peak traffic days come on Thursday and Friday, it is possible that convoys of cars will be escorted by the police to ensure that everyone drives safely. During these days, and also on Sunday 12 April, expect the traffic flow to completely saturate the capabilities of the 2 lane highway at 1000 vehicles/hour. The road then looks something like this:

La Voz reports that testing of the sea water is being done along the Malecon beach to ensure that the waters are safe for watersports and swimming. In January, the director of Ecología Municipal, Enrique Villegas Ibarra, reported that the Dirección de Prevención Contra Riesgos Sanitarios de la Secretaría de Salud del estado had found an enteroccal contamination count of 520 colonies per 100 ml of water. A reading above 500 is considered unhealthy. Later tests show a decline in contamination: 4 February was 420 colonies and more recently 345 colonies. (see here.) California standards are somewhat stricter and include tests for fecal coliform... see here.

Monday 30 March

COMPUTER ALERT: The great Conficker worm is scheduled to go active on Windows machines on April 1st. All PCs that are running a pirated Windows operating system, or have not got all the latest security patches from the official Microsoft site are likely to be infected. We do not know what this new, remotely controlled, worm is going to do as it is part of a huge bot-net that can be commanded to take part in a "supercomputer" network and wreak havoc in many different ways. One effect that you may notice while using your computer is that your internet communications are very slow. This may be because your computer is sending out massive amounts of spam or credit card numbers. Look at your dsl modem and see if its "internet" light is flickering wildly when you are not doing anything. That could be all of your personal information going out to eager hackers in China. GET YOUR COMPUTER UP-TO-DATE ON ALL SECURITY UPGRADES NOW! (Skilled computer hackers may want to look at this page for presently available tools to defeat the conficker worm - this is not for the faint-hearted.)

In Tijuana, the people are still being inventive and managing to have a great time even in the face of the drug war adversity. An unusual new bar has opened up called La Mezcalera. If Pedro Almodovar, the king of controversial, kitschy Spanish cinema, were to open a mescal bar in Tijuana, it might look something like La Mezcalera. See a short video here. Oh, if only we had something like this in San Felipe!

Sunday 29 March

Linda Williams sent us the results of the Annual El Dorado Tennis Tournament that was held this past week. The summary of the various competitions can be found here. She also mentions that the annual meeting will be held on April 13th. They will discuss the possibility of expanding the advertisement next year and opening up this tournament to non-El Dorado Ranch residents. We will keep everyone posted as to the decision of the Racquet Club Committee and the input from our members here at El Dorado Ranch. This meeting is open to owners and residents of El Dorado Ranch and will be held at the Pavilion meeting room starting at noon with lunch--for those wishing to purchase lunch. The business meeting will start at 1:00PM. Please come and share your input.

Anyone considering making a large purchase in California should be aware that the state sales tax increases by 1% on April 1st. in an attempt to close the very large budget gap. Plan your shopping accordingly.

A very extensive spy system is operating on the internet and it appears that if you have your computer connected to an "always-on" connection, such as a Telnor DSL line, you might be vulnerable if you have done any web surfing to dubious sites. The spy network is believed to be operating from China and is primarily targeting "official" computers. The system can activate your computer camera and microphone to record what is happening without you noticing anything. Beware if you keep your computer in your bedroom. Macintosh computer owners have again been left out of this party.

U.S. Inspections and Border Patrol personnel, and also Mexican Border agents are now starting to search random vehicles heading south into Mexico. The purpose is to stop the smuggling of weapons, ammunition and money to the drug cartels. This action followed immediately on the heels of the visit of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to see President Calderon last week. Never, ever, bring weapons into Mexico and never bring suitcases of money that could be mistaken for drug sale proceeds.

 

Wednesday 25 March

The weeks odds and ends:

San Felipe residents who have FM-2 visas (permanent residents of Mexico) are reminded that their cars should be registered in Baja California. License plates (placas) are due for renewal by 31 March.

The Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) (the federal police) has published a new toll free telephone number for anyone who wants to report "illicit activity". The number is 01-800-831-3196.

The dollar is now selling for 14.80 pesos. If you want to buy pesos you will get about 13.1 per dollar.

Unemployment in Mexico has reached its highest level since 2000. Currently 2.4 million people are out of work, that is 5.3% of the workforce. By comparison, in California, unemployement is now 10% and is expected to reach as high as 15% by this time next year (UCSB Economic forecast).

In Mexico City, with midterm elections looming in July, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has been rather creative in his attempts to make life more livable for the people of this sprawling metropolis. There was a government-sponsored "Kiss-in" for Valentines day and “Bésame Mucho,” or “Kiss me a lot,” has been adopted as the city’s motto by tourism officials. Now men aged 60 and over qualify for free Viagra. “Everyone has the right to be happy,” the Mayor said. It is expected that Mayor Ebrard will run for President in 2012.

Tuesday 24 March

Today, the Latin America Business Journal comments on Travel and Tourism Competitiveness for the year:

"Mexico dominates tourism in Latin America, but it’s not the most competitive tourism market in the region. That honor goes to Costa Rica, according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2009. Brazil follows with Mexico in third place. Paraguay ranks last among 18 countries in Latin America. However, despite Costa Rica’s achievements, it still ranks behind countries like Thailand and Mauritius. The index looks at factors such as tourism infrastructure, ground transport infrastructure, price competitiveness, environmental sustainability and safety and security."

The New York Times is publishing a series of articles on Mexico in advance of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to have discussions with President Calderon this week, and President Obama's visit in April. A particularly incisive commentary "The Mexican Evolution", was written by Enrique Krauze, the editor of the magazine Letras Libres, in yesterday's paper (here). It makes the point that Mexico is a vibrant, young, democracy that has emerged from 70 years of a one-party political system. Its national institutions function, the military is controlled by civilian society, the church is a cohesive force, there are strong labor unions, good universities, important public enterprises and social programs that provide reasonable results.

However, Mexico is facing major image problems in the US media because of the violent reactions by the drug cartels in the crackdown by the military- something that former President Bush strongly encouraged President Calderon to do. Unfortunately, the US did not follow-through on its commitments to stop the flow of drug money and guns into Mexico (here).The previous administration became paralyzed by the housing/sub-prime mortgage crisis and the spectacular fall in President Bush's approval ratings.

Only now, under President Obama, are actions being taken to curb the supply chain of weapons headed south. This comes at a time when we also need to implement a strong economic stimulus, to take care of our environment, to fix health care, and to decrease our dependence on foreign energy sources. Both the USA and Mexico need to handle more than one issue at a time. The economic crisis in the US has caused consumers to stop spending; this, in turn, has meant a drop in national and international tourism and investment, a drop in the drug cartel profits and a rise in crime.

When cash flows suddenly stop, we have situations similar to when energy flows suddenly stop - people panic and companies are paralyzed. Businesses cut back, workers are laid off, people cannot pay their bills; yet banks and landlords continue to demand payments. This is why we need governments to provide "economic bridge" projects. Here in San Felipe we are so remote from the centers of power that they do not even think about us when handing out projects and grants, the best we can do is to encourage all of our residents to continue to go out to spend money in restaurants and bars, and to hire local workers to help them in their houses. Buy your goods at the shops in San Felipe rather than driving up to Mexicali and El Centro to spend money.

Saturday 21 March

Earlier this month the first El Dorado International Tennis Tournament was held, and by all accounts it was a great success. The organizers hope to put on an even bigger do next year so come and support them. The idea was the brainchild of El Dorado Ranch tennis member and resident, Jack Laven, and it took place March 4th and 5th. Six players from Stockton, California drove down to play with, and against, players from San Felipe....... read more here. Thanks to Cory Dudley for making sure that I got the notice.

What we need in San Felipe is many more such events, both small and large, that bring us good exposure and relationships with the outside world, and also demonstrate to our friends in the United States that this is a safe and tranquil spot to come to for sports, meetings and vacations.

Thursday 19 March

Mexico today announced in the Diario Oficial de la Federacion that new import taxes of up to 45% would be imposed on imports from the USA. Principal categories that would affect us in San Felipe are fruits, vegetables, juices, pet food and toilet paper. These penalties on us are in retaliation for the failure to continue the NAFTA agreement to allow Mexican trucks to drive anywhere in the USA. Undoubtedly these punitive measures will be rescinded when US President Obama visits President Calderon in Mexico City on 16-17 April.

The economic stimulus from the Baja 250 race last weekend was significant according to the information released by the Secretary of Tourism. Most hotels were full during the Friday-Sunday event and some 15,000 visitors flocked into San Felipe and an estimated $1 million poured into the local restaurants and bars.

In response to the mounting negative U.S. news coverage of danger for tourists coming to Baja, our Secretary of Tourism, Oscar Escobedo Carignan, released this letter which clearly spells out the tranquility and safety of our port of San Felipe:

Get a PDF version of this document here

 

Tuesday 17 March - St. Patricks Day

We understand that the family of Karen Wright, a missing person in San Felipe, is offering a cash reward of $15,000.00 dollars for information leading to or finding Karen. See the background, photos, contact information and known details here.

 

For the past few days I have been watching the evening news on Univision - the Spanish language station that broadcasts in Tijuana. What is eye-opening is all the crime that they report in the USA. Dozens of murders every week, particularly in Miami, Florida. It seems that Miami is the equivalent of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state with drug dealing and crime making up a big part of their economy. It is so strange to see this footage of police and SWAT teams swarming all over the city. Our newspapers in California never mention a word about the serious situation in Miami, though I expect that the Florida tourism officials do what they have to to keep this stuff out of the US news.

In Baja, selected hotels of Ensenada, Rosarito Beach and Tijuana have got together and are offering speed passes to cross the border back to the US for anyone who spends more than 1000 pesos (about $66 dollars) at their businesses. Tijuana authorities are setting up this new border crossing lane especially for visitors getting these new passes. One of the biggest deterrents to tourism is the long border wait to return to the US. Yesterday, for example, border crossing times were close to 3 hours at San Ysidro. These delays are having at least as much impact on tourism as the publicity on the drug cartel battles. Towns like Ensenada have seen their trade drop by as much as 80% over last year. What a pity that there is not enough space in the border lines at Mexicali to develop a similar program for San Felipe tourists. (read more...)

Saturday 14 March - Race Day

Listen to all the Baja 250 action live on this radio link: http://race-dezert.com/radio/

Robby Gordon San Felipe 250 Preview
March 13, 2009 by admin

San Felipe, Mexico (March 13, 2009) – While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enjoys a weekend off, Robby Gordon is preparing to return to his desert racing roots by participating in the 23rd annual Tecate SCORE San Felipe 250. After winning the season-opening Laughlin Desert Challenge, Gordon and his No. 77 Monster Energy / Toyo Tires team have decided to compete for the 2009 SCORE championship.
Gordon has only participated in this race twice in the last thirteen years. He won the race in 1996, but failed to finish in his most recent attempt in 2004. He will be racing the same trophy truck that he drove to victory earlier this year, so look for a great performance from the No. 77 Monster Energy / Toyo Tires trophy truck.
With over 225 entries from 20 U.S. states and 10 different countries, Round 2 of the 2009 SCORE Desert Series will commence on Saturday, March 14th at 10 a.m. PST. It will be a 232.4-mile race course, which will run through the picturesque fishing village of San Felipe that is located on the East side of the Baja California peninsula along the Sea of Cortez. The winner of tomorrow’s race is expected to finish in less than four hours, and the No. 77 team hopes to cross the finish line first.

Saturday 7 March

Well, we have been hit by an atomic bomb in San Felipe this morning. Spring Break was to start next Monday and today we get notice that SWAT has pulled out and is taking their parties to Palm Springs instead. This is a truly devastating loss for our local businesses. All of us who live and work in San Felipe know how tranquil and safe this town is. We are not, in any way, affected by the border violence that is plaguing Tijuana and Juarez. However, it is understandable that parents of college-age students want to be absolutely sure that their sons and daughters will be safe while in the care of SWAT. We sincerely hope that we can have our SWAT groups back in 2010. See the SWAT press update here and read more on Kats Korner.

Wednesday 4 March

It appears that the press release on the Spring Break dates that was issued yesterday by COTUCO is in error. The correct dates are on our calendar of events (click on the link above). Groups will be staying at the Marina Resort on the bay and at the Costa Azul and Don Jesus in the downtown area. Between the various groups, some 3000 students are expected to be in San Felipe. See the SWAT website for details and last-minute bookings.

In Mexicali, La Voz Newspaper reports that the new underpass and overpass at the junction of Calzada Hector Teran Teran (The Tijuana Road) and the Highway 5 (San Felipe road) just south of Costco is now officially 100% complete and in full operation. The underpass section, which facilitates the journey back and forth to San Felipe, has been open since 28th January. The picture below shows the San Felipe road looking north towards the border. The new junction and underpass is in the center. Costco is at the upper-center right edge of the photo.

The total cost of the roadworks was 9.3 million pesos (about $9 million at the time) and the junction handles 160,000 vehicles/day. This was one of Mexicali's worst bottlenecks and the remarkable speed with which the work was done (6 months) is a testament to strong leadership in the city and state government.

Reuben de la Pena, the head of the Conventions and Tourism Committee in San Felipe announced that Spring Break this year is expected to bring four separate groups of students between 23 March and 9th April. The economic impact is expected to be about $320K and hotel occupancy will be close to 100%. There will be some overlap of the student activities with our traditional Easter Week celebration when thousands of vacationers from Tijuana and Mexicali also descend on San Felipe. We expect that during Easter Week(6-12 April), hotel occupancy will be the equivalent of 300-400% with many visitors sharing rooms and camping out on the beaches. ...more

Tuesday 3 March

Many forms of tourism have arisen over the past few years. There is the snowbird segment, medical tourism, ecotourism, adventure tourism, business tourism ..........the list is quite long. Now, however, the New York Times reports that a new variant is springing up in Sinaloa: narcotourism. Enterprizing taxi drivers and tour guides in Mazatlan have started giving drive-by tours of the massacre sites or the exquisite houses where drug cartel bosses vacation to get away from the stress of organized crime. Although Mexican tourists are eager to see these notorious sites, these tours have not yet caught on with US visitors. ......more.

Monday 2 March

The Mexican peso is continuing its inexorable decline against the dollar as more bad banking news is announced from Washington. The trend is obvious in the graph below:

People have been writing to ask me how this will affect their visit to San Felipe. The short answer is that it will make no difference at all. Our local hotels and most tourist businesses price all of their services in US dollars and they will gladly accept your greenbacks at face value. If you want to pay in pesos, they will call the bank to find the exchange rate at that moment and will make the necessary calculation. In short, there is no need for you to exchange dollars to pesos to enjoy your holiday. Note that if you go to an ATM in town you will be able to withdraw money from your US bank account but the machine will give you pesos at the current rate (with some processing fees added). Obviously you should not withdraw more money in pesos than you absolutely need for a day or two. Be very aware that when you buy gasoline, the attendant may use an exchange rate that is much worse than the bank rate. Ask beforehand what rate they use! Also note that there is a tendency along the Malecon for a street vendor to take your payment in dollars but give you any change in pesos. Learn to use the calculator that is probably one of the apps on your cellphone.

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