Regional News Topics, the San Felipe Economy and more.....
...by Tony Colleraine .... contact
Sunday 29 August
It seems inevitable that the new Mexican money-laundering laws will go into effect on 13 September unless a miracle happens. These laws forbid businesses from depositing more than $7000 dollars in cash/month, and individuals more than $4000/month in a Mexican bank. The likely result is that large cash-flow businesses like gasoline stations, hotels and restaurants will reluctantly have to decline dollars for purchases if they are to obey the law. This means that they will have to accept credit cards or take cash in pesos only. (Note that very few small businesses in San Felipe will accept credit cards.) Banks are being told to increase the number of tellers for visitors who need to exchange their dollars for pesos and lots more ATM machines will have to be installed in shops and public areas so that Americans and other foreigners can withdraw money in pesos for each day of their vacation. In turn, the increased use of credit and debit cards is likely to give rise to more scams to steal both money, cards and PINs from unsuspecting tourists. These new restrictions are going to be a severe handicap to encouraging tourism to Mexico. Even trying to explain the situation to the tourist who, for years, has been able to cross the border and spend dollars in Mexico is going to be a nightmare.
The past week has seen northern Baja endure the hottest and most humid weather of the year. San Felipe, being right on the edge of the sea, has only been seeing heat indexes in the 110 F to 115 F range, but Mexicali has reported five deaths and truly incredible temperatures.
By Thursday temperatures had soared to 51 C ( 123F) as seen on the electronic sign in downtown Mexicali, and the only relief was brought by thunderstorms in the late afternoon. There is now a break in the monsoonal flow of air up the Gulf of California and we can look forward to a period of more stable and pleasant weather now that the hurricane (Frank) that was heading towards Baja has dissipated.
Wednesday 25 August
Yesterday (Tuesday) there was another ho-hum 4.2 magnitude earthquake just before 3 p.m. in the Mexicali valley about 30 km south of the city and just to the west of the San Felipe road. Buildings shook in Mexicali but there were no reports of injuries or damage. Most people were more preoccupied with the sweltering 115 F temperatures. The event went essentially unnoticed in San Felipe.
New scientific studies of the San Andreas Fault, however, are sobering. Excavations down into the fault in the Carrizo Plain south of Parkfield show that the fault has been far more active than previously thought. We had believed that major quakes on the San Andreas occurred every 200-400 years but now the evidence suggests that, up to 1857, a major earthquake occurred near Los Angeles about every 88 years. Since the area was so sparsely populated at that time, there is very little recorded evidence of the intensity of the shock though it is now estimated to have been a magnitude 7.9 event. Los Angeles population at that time was about 4000 people. Obviously we missed the "expected" quake in 1945 and, on this basis, we are well overdue for another major event. The thinking now is that the southern section of the San Andreas down through San Bernadino could slip at any time and generate an 8.1 magnitude quake. It would undoubtedly be felt for hundreds of miles around.
Katherine has now put up a new website for the Shrimp Festival this November 5-7. It will answer all your questions and can be found here..>>
Hurricane Frank is now moving west-northwest along the Mexican Pacific coast south of Baja. It is possible that the remnants of the storm could influence San Felipe weather in about a week.
Don't forget to look for the International Space Station in the sky to the northwest of San Felipe tonight at 7:57 p.m. It will be directly over Mexicali some 30 seconds later as it moves to the northeast. Lets all wave to the crew this time!
Monday 23 August
The International Space Station was right on time as it flew over San Felipe this evening. Carole Kingaby tells me that she went out on her patio at Club de Pesca to see it pass right overhead and waved at the crew. She did not see if they waved back.
Last Saturday in the late afternoon a little chubasco blew through San Felipe and left us with a trace of rain around 6 p.m. I received the following snapshot from Peter Munser at El Dorado who was on his patio that afternoon and saw this waterspout go by.
It is now the start of the cotton harvest in the Mexicali valley and you will likely see big trucks crammed with the fluffy white boles on the roads around Mexicali. These trucks look very top heavy because of the enormous volume of the packed cotton but they rarely topple over except on sharp corners. Stay alert if you get behind one, sometimes it is like being in a snowstorm if the wind blows hard.
Very high temperatures are forecast for the next few days. The deserts of the lower Colorado Valley through Mexicali and down to San Felipe could reach 120 F on Tuesday with high humidities. Stay in the air conditioning as much as possible and drink lots of purified water.
Friday 20 August
Next week there will be a couple of excellent opportunities to see the International Space Station pass almost directly over San Felipe. On Monday 23rd. at 8:39 p.m. you will see a brilliant object directly overhead moving from the southwest to northeast in about 1 minute. It should be a wonderful topic during coctails on the patio.
A second opportunity to see the same satellite path, just a little further to the north, will occur on Wednesday 25th. at approximately 7:57 p.m.
President Calderon is sending an initiative to Congress on 1st. September to severely restrict money laundering for the drug cartels. It is proposed to ban all cash transactions in excess of 100,000 pesos (about $8000 dollars). The Finance Secretariat will become the chief enforcer of tracking businesses, income, sales of vehicles, homes, yachts, jewelry and any other source of revenue, and financing for organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. Banking transactions with a paper trail will continue to be permitted without limits. Expect lots of new paperwork and collection of taxes when you sell your house.
Thursday 19 August
Late August through mid-September is the season of pomegranetes in central Mexico. It is also the time that the people of Puebla make their famous dish, "chiles en nogada" that combines poblano chiles, stuffed with meat, fruit and spices, topped with a walnut-based sauce and sprinkled with the brilliant red pomegranete seeds. Green herbs, such as parsely or cilantro are frequently added as a garnish. The red, white and green colors also represent the colors of the Mexican flag and make the dish a popular festive offering for the period around the celebration of Independence day on 16th. September.
Carlos at the Nauti Taco restaurant opposite Bancomer is preparing this dish for a special feast on Sunday 22nd. August. Give him a call on his cellphone at (686) 212-0158 for details and to make a reservation. This is a special treat and very rare opportunity to get in San Felipe.
Wednesday 18 August
Hot, very humid, weather is with us for the next few days. Yesterday there was a huge buildup of thunder clouds in the mountains to our west and quite a bit of rain on the Ensenada road. In Mexicali there was an afternoon deluge and a chubasco blew through the city with 25 km/h winds. Expect a heat index of 112 F in San Felipe today and 118 F in Mexicali.
The Calexico East SENTRI lane is almost ready for operation. The equipment is installed at the US port of entry and we are now awaiting the Mexican authorities to complete the infrastructure and the separate vehicle lane on this side of the border. It is possible that both this SENTRI lane and the one at San Luis could be open in September (or October, or..?). Incidentally, the SENTRI lane between Tijuana and San Diego now is frequently backed up for 1 hour or more; compare this to the regular lanes where the waiting time is 3 hours. Obviously, what we are going to need for the future are Super SENTRI lanes.
Recent data show a disturbing drop in pay for medium-skilled workers in the USA and a corresponding rise in pay for workers in India. It is now as cheap to establish phone call centers in the USA as it is to have technicians in India do the job. It would not surprise me if the next time I have a credit card or computer problem, I am greeted with a friendly drawl from Kentucky.
Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, head of the Secretariat of Public Security in Mexicali, reported today that the prison population in Baja California is now 18,200 persons, of which about half have received sentences. About 1 in every 175 people in the state is in prison. There is now an urgency to release as many misdemeanor cases as possible because of the high costs to the state. A typical inmate costs 100 pesos/day (around $8 dollars/day) so a crime involving the theft of merchandise of 1000 pesos, which takes 2 years to resolve, will cost the state some 70,000 pesos. The backlog of cases under the old system of justice is expected to take around three years to clear. For comparison, in the US, about 1 in every 132 people is in prison (highest in the world) although 1 in every 45 adults is in some community supervision program such as probation (2008 figures). The typical cost per inmate in California is $123/day, and $79/day for a U.S. national average.
Tuesday 17 August
The State Secretary of Health, Jose Bustamante Moreno, confirmed to the press over the weekend that there is a high incidence of diarrheal disease going around this summer and it is particularly affecting children. He emphasized that it is important to keep the body of any infected person well hydrated with a good electrolyte. Packages of salts to be dissolved in drinking water are available at state health clinics, though most people will be best served by keeping a few bottles of the commercially prepared fluid, sold as Pedialyte, in the refrigerator. You can buy this electrolyte at almost any liquor store or grocery.
The Mexican Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel) has agreed to auction off spectrum in the new 1.7 Ghz band to cellphone operators in Mexico. Nextel/Televisa may be the main beneficiaries for this and enable them to start a new 3G service in competition to Telcel and Movistar. Unfortunately, this block of frequencies is not avaliable in the USA, therefore US-manufactured phones would not be able to roam on these frequencies in Mexico; a phone specific to Mexico will be required. It is unlikely that the new infrastructure could be built for 2-3 years. Cofetel has 30 days to finalize the results of the auction.
Commercial investment in Baja California is getting back on schedule. So far, over $900 million dollars have come into the state in the first half of the year and it is anticipated that by December, the goal of $1.5 billion dollars will be met. This is consistent with the fact that major US companies are flush with cash and are looking to employ labor that is much closer to their home operations than has been the case over the past several years when cheap Chinese labor was the dominant labor force. Prime investment is coming from companies such as Walmart, Honeywell, Rubbermaid and a variety of electronics and plastics manufacturers. Around 54% is going to establish businesses in the Tijuana region, 37% in Mexicali and 9% in Ensenada. Meanwhile, the US retiree investment in housing continues to remain at a very low level.
I was sent an interesting blog post on the costs of living in San Felipe, compared to a climatalogically similar area in the USA (Yuma). It makes interesting reading. From the comments that I have received over the past few weeks from residents in San Felipe, I would say that San Felipe living is only marginally cheaper than "back home" for most Americans here if they continue to live an American lifestyle. Yes, real estate taxes and basic living costs are lower but many people make up for this by eating out frequently and consuming liberal amounts of alcohol. One thing that is obvious is that many people make a monthly commute to El Centro or San Diego to take care of financial matters and doctors visits, and to stock up on food and luxuries there. Obviously there are many things that are just not avaliable in San Felipe ( a cartridge for the laser printer, a DVD recorder, a pack of underwear...) but it does seem to me that a lot of people prefer to bring down stocks of frozen food (even frozen burritos and tacos!) for when they dine at home. The most obvious example of things that are different for many of our residents is the lack of infrastructure that they have been used to - emergency healthcare, main sewage and water systems, daily mail delivery, package services like UPS and FedEx, cinemas and theaters, shopping centers, a library...... Anyway, read the blog to see what you think..>>
Saturday 14 August
It is the second Saturday of the month and that means that price of gasoline gets adjusted upwards by a few centavos. Currently prices in San Felipe are the equivalent of $2.42 US/gallon for regular, and $2.85/gal for Premium. Diesel is going for around $2.52/gallon. Note that in Mexicali the prices are higher by about 10 cents a gallon. Overall, inflation in Mexico is expected to be about 5.25% for the year.
The Mexican real estate market is changing as the whole process of financing for foreign buyers appears to be consolidating for "integrated" projects. Mexican banks are now offering financing for high end real estate in locations meeting stringent qualifications. Examples are that the real estate must be associated with a destination resort, and that the location must be accessible by scheduled airline service from the USA. Such requirements ensure that the property is marketable and rentable even if there is a deterioration in the security of road travel. Targeted projects are primarily in locations such as Los Cabos and La Paz in Baja California Sur. Typical loan terms are for up to $5 million for 20-30 year fixed terms with fixed interest rates in the 7.5% to 8.5% range. Minimum FICO scores of 680 are required - not bad, really. Average US retirees are not the prime target of such programs.
Friday 13 August
To all of the triskaidekaphobiacs I send warm greetings for this Friday 13th of August. It is estimated that some 20 million people in the USA are affected by fear of this day. For interesting trivia, see today's Huffington Post ..>>
Cable television is close to becoming a reality in San Felipe, and with it will come high speed cable internet and also cable telephone service. The Grupo Omnicable company has been wiring the city for the past several months and service is likely to start this fall. A slight complication arose when Megacable Holdings agreed to buy out Omnicable in June. Megacable is in a battle with Carlos Slim's Telmex/Telnor for voice and internet customers. Telefonica, Grupo Televisa and Megacable won the rights to use the Mexican government's fiber optic lines installed by the CFE to open up competition to provide internet access to the bulk of the population that are not being well-served by the Slim organizations. Megacable currently offers capacity of up to 4 Mb/s on its network with proposed expansion to 10 Mb/s. The fastest service is expected to be priced around $820 pesos/month.
As I have mentioned in the past, the telephone technology and internet access provided by Telnor has been stuck at a level that was wonderful in the 2000 era but is entirely inadequate for the current generation of web-based services. Typical "broadband" domestic service here is limited to 1-2 Mb/s for downloads and often as little as 100 kb/s for upload speed. In today's world this is like having dial-up AOL service of the 1990's. Present-day web portals for internet banking, shopping, gaming and social interacting require much faster responses. If the user has a slow connection, these new services will frequently drop the connection and make you try again and again. A lone entrepreneur wanting to establish a remote-work business in a location like San Felipe needs a minimum bandwidth of 10 Mb/s to survive. A small office environment with several knowledge workers needs 50-100 Mb/s and a school will need 1 Gb/s for effective instruction of students in the new marketplace. Telmex/Telnor cannot provide these speeds with its antiquated DSL technology.
Wednesday 11 August
My comments about intestinal disorders generated a surprisingly large number of comments. It seems that everyone has their own personal experience of being taken ill while on vacation. It encouraged me to check on the statistics and typically 40% of visitors to Mexico experience some sort of abdominal discomfort during their stay. In most cases, the problem lasts 2-3 days and is over and done with. However, there is a minority of cases that are quite serious. One couple told me of an experience where they had rented a condo in May for four months but one of them was taken ill with shigella (which causes dysentry ..>> ) after eating at a restaurant in town. This resulted in a stay at the
San Felipe (St. James) Hospital (now, sadly, out of business) Buen Pastor Clinic, followed by four nights in intensive care in El Centro followed by six more days at Scripps Mercy in San Diego. In any event, getting sick on vacation is something that everyone wants to avoid.
One thing that I have noticed since the recession set in is that many public bathrooms at restaurants and bars do not have soap and clean disposable paper towels for customers and staff to use. I urge everyone to carry around some small tablets of soap and leave one in any bathroom that you visit. Always use the paper towel or a pocket tissue to turn off the faucet and to open the door on your way out. For your own personal protection, carry a small bottle of alcohol-based hand protectant (e.g. Purell) to use frequently during the day. Observations in the USA indicate that around 60% of women, but only 30% of men, wash their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom. I doubt that the figures in Mexico are much more favorable than this.
Tuesday 10 August
I want to thank all the people who wrote in to wish me a speedy recovery after my recent "intestinal distress". I hope to personally send a thank you to everyone but it may take some time. Incidentally, the state reports that there has been a 30% increase in gastrointestinal illnesses in children recently. Wash your hands frequently, stay clear of uncooked vegetables and salsas that have been sitting around on the table, favor ordering menu items that are well cooked.
On Wednesday 11th. August a new era will begin in Mexicali (and its suburb, San Felipe). The justice system will move from being based entirely on written arguments submitted by lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant to a judge to consider in private chambers, to oral arguments heard by a randomly assigned judge in a public court. The new system is aimed at reducing the backlog of cases (sometimes stretching on for years as written replies to written questions must be evaluated) to one where transparency and speed in the judicial process is open for everyone to see. In San Felipe, the new court is being constructed in the government center where the COTUCO and tourist office used to be on Avenida Mar de Cortez Sur. The court will be fitted with cameras to record all proceedings and anyone who wants to go and watch justice in action will be able to do so. I am told that you will even be able to buy a DVD of the proceedings for your education and enjoyment at home.
Remodelling of the old tourist office (center) as part of the new court complex
There will likely be many bugs to work out to start with and, at least initially, the system will only deal with civil cases. However, this is a huge step forward for Baja California and is to serve as a model to be adopted everywhere in Mexico.
Baja California is still wrestling with Mexico City on the proposed restrictions on how many dollars cash can be deposited in a Mexican bank each month. Businesses around the state say they will be crippled if they are restricted to being able to deposit only $7000 dollars cash per month. Fully 70% of the commerce in Baja is tied in some way to the US economy and the flow of dollars across the border. Everyone agrees that something has to be done to stop the laundering of drug money but the proposed restrictions are far to draconian when applied to the border region. Only around 30% of all Mexicans have bank accounts so that most small entrepreneurs have no way of handling financial transactions other than via cash. Possibly the new Banco de Walmart that has started up in major cities where the big box store has branches will have a positive influence on getting individuals to open checking accounts.
The state health department in Mexicali is proposing fines of 35,000 pesos against pharmacies that do not comply with the new regulations that require a doctor's prescription for the sale of antibiotics. The new regulation goes into effect on 25 August so if you regularly need antibiotics you should stock up now.
While the impact of Mexicana Airlines bankruptcy does not directly affect San Felipe, it is worth noting that service from Mexicali to other parts of the republic will be substantially curtailed as the company struggles to resolve issues with its creditors. If you were planning a trip on Mexicana, you should consult the latest status of the flight cancellations here..>>
Thursday 5 August
A couple of days ago I went for dinner at one of San Felipe's most popular restaurants and had a very good meal. Unfortunately, I must have picked up a germ along the way and came down with a nasty case of Delhi Belly. This has turned out to be one of the most severe episodes I have had in years, with terrible stomach cramps and frequent trips to the bathroom. It has stopped me in my tracks on answering many of the emails that have come in. Please be assured that I will reply as soon as I am able.
Sunday 1 August
It is Lammas Day already. The summer is flying by in San Felipe and the shrimp fleet from Sonora has been out in the bay near Punta Estrella conducting "pre-operational checks" to verify that their nets will be at maximum efficiency for the coming season. Let's hope that they are taking good care to avoid the Vaquita breeding grounds.
Let's also hope that our local pangueros get a bountiful harvest of the superb "azuls" this winter. I had a few of the "cafe" shrimp for dinner the other evening and they are very good when done with lots of garlic and lime juice. However, it pays to wait for the blue/white variety if you are planning on making a wonderful shrimp coctail or a ceviche.
The arrests last Thursday of some 62 state and municipal police officers in Tijuana on charges of participating in organized crime signals a further cleaning out of the "bad apples". The fact that these actions are being taken by the state and federal government in Mexico indicate that the days of turning a blind eye to the graft and corruption are coming to an end. Tijuana’s incoming mayor, Carlos Bustamante, issued a statement Friday backing the detentions. “We know that without security, investments will not readily come to the city."
It is important for our tourist industry to not pretend that these things do not happen. However, the public also needs to know that this is part of a larger story that Mexico in general, and Baja California in particular, is not going to tolerate crime and violations of security. Everyone; local residents, visitors and investors, need to understand that safety and security is now Number One. In Mexicali, the government recently reviewed its procedures and its standing in the ranks of the cities along the northern border; it came out as the most secure and trouble-free of all the cities surveyed. In San Felipe, we are very fortunate to be under the Mexicali umbrella.
A further step in the right direction was taken yesterday as a start to the resolution of the real estate purchase and title problems that have arisen as a result of the economic downturn. A meeting with the San Felipe Developers Association, the office of the Presidente Municipal, Profeco and the Department of Urban Administration has resulted in an endorsement of transparency concerning the troubled or non-performing developments in this region. As a first step:
Friday 30 July
This is normally the high season for our beachfront hotels and generally they are close to full on the weekends. This year, things are much quieter. Places like the El Cortez do have a loyal customer base, mainly from Mexicali and Tijuana, and the Marina Resort does well from its timeshares, but the rest of San Felipe is extremely quiet. Many shops and several restaurants have closed for the summer, not surprising when you consider the exorbitant rates that businesses have to pay for electricity to run the air conditioning.
The searing heat in Mexicali generally brings a lot of weekenders down to San Felipe but, again, this year seems to be different. Many more people are going over to the Pacific coast and staying in Ensenada or Rosarito for their holiday. The particularly cloudy conditions along the coast from Los Angeles to Ensenada are a definite draw for families looking for an escape. In addition, the hotels and restaurants in the Tijuana-Ensenada corridor have been offering very aggressive promotional prices and the local tourist departments have been staging all manner of festivals, wine-tastings and arts events. Rosarito is reporting the best crowds in a couple of years.
Another thing that is really hurting tourism in San Felipe is the extensive road repair work that is going on between the Ensenada road junction and Mexicali. The roadwork that has been completed is excellent but the condition of the "temporary diversions" is truly terrible and there seems to be no urgency on the part of the contractors to do anything about it.
Temporary road surface at km 45 south of Mexicali - stones galore.
You may be able to see the rocks and loose pebbles in the picture above, which was taken during mid-week when there is no traffic. Consider what it is like on a weekend when the traffic is heavier and chips are flying everywhere. Damaged paintwork and cracked windshields are unlikely to be covered by your Mexican insurance. Visitors have told me that they would never have come if they had realized how bad the road was. If you have a big, old, truck or SUV with massive tires and a Baja-1000 suspension then go for it. I have personal experience of how unpleasant the trip is - in fact, I will go via Ensenada and Tijuana when I travel to San Diego.
Now is the time for us to make a big effort to bring back the Snowbirds for the coming winter. Back in the 90's and the early 2000's, San Felipe was a major Snowbird mecca. These retirees from the northern states and Canada would drive their RVs to San Felipe and stay for several months. I can remember when the road down from Mexicali was an almost continuous line of RVs heading south for the season. This group kept the town alive in the winter and got us through to Semana Santa and Spring Break. We ceased to cater to them when all of the RV parks along the coast got turned into housing developments. Now we desperately need them back but there are few spots left that can provide the full hookups, internet access and 50 amp service for these bus-sized vehicles. Maybe we should be converting some of the dormant housing developments back into RV parks for a few years.
Monday 26 July
The hot, sultry, weather continues and this week should be one of those very high humidity periods as the low pressure off the California coast, coupled with the continuing high pressure over the Four Corners combine to draw sub-tropical moisture up the Gulf of California. Meanwhile, San Diego-to-Enseanda residents continue with the coolest July in a decade with virtually no sunshine along the coast.
I have had some interesting comments on the economics of living or retiring in San Felipe and will summarize those findings soon.
In Mexicali, merchants are becoming increasingly worried about the new bank regulations that are to be enforced in September on the amount of cash (in US dollars) that they can deposit in their Mexican bank each month. The deposit limit for a private individual is going to be $4000/month, which most people do not have a problem with. However, for for a business the figure is $7000/month. Consider all the border area businesses that rely on visitors spending dollars: restaurants, gas stations, shops, hotels... about 70% of the border economy is conducted in cash. Gas stations, in particular, are almost exclusively a cash operation and can take in a few thousand dollars a day at a busy station. How are these merchants going to be able to handle all this cash? Most of them are now starting to open bank accounts in Calexico and San Diego and make daily deposits there. Once the cash is in the American bank, it can be sent back to Mexico via wire-transfer without any restrictions. It seems to me that this whole business is just playing into the hands of the money laundering industry.
Another, more positive, action by the Bank of Mexico has been announced in the Official Journal of the Federation concerning fees charged by banks throughout the country. These fees will be strictly regulated. These include the fees for using ATM machines, for bounced checks, overdrafts, overdue interest on loans and late fees on credit cards. The practical effects on most of our readers will likely be minimal but it shows the efforts being made under the new "Transparency Laws".
There have been deplorable incidents of violence in the Juarez and Torreon areas in the past couple of weeks. A car bomb was used in Juarez to kill and injure police and bystanders responding to an emergency. This is the first use of such a bomb against the general population in the drug wars and it represents a new escalation of the conflict with the authorities; essentially this is the path that the conflict took in Colombia when the drug wars there reached their peak. In an incident in Torreon, the director of the local prison is accused of arming inmates with guards weapons and vehicles and sending them out to shoot-up a birthday party. The attackers returned to their cells afterwards and the prison director is now reported to be under house arrest. In spite of these developments, I want to re-emphasize that Baja California is calm and that the Mexicali-San Felipe corridor is safe and tranquil.
In an effort to stop police corruption and bribe-taking, the President has announced a program that will make police pay better and more uniform throughout the Federation. Currently, 20% of the national police earn less than a thousand pesos a month, 40% earn between 1000 and 4000 pesos and another 38% between 4000 and 10 000 pesos, and only one percent receives more than 10,000 pesos a month. The new pay scales have yet to be announced.
Thursday 22 July
I have been getting feedback on the "Arizona License Plate" problem. Many people who complained had AZ plates but I expect that there are also drivers with CA and other plates who are getting stopped. Only a few drivers appear to get to make a donation to the police benevolent fund. Most people seem to be able to talk themselves out of trouble. Time, and speaking only English, is definitely to your advantage and the longer you can engage a policeman in idle, good-natured, banter, the better off you will be. Make it clear that you are not in a hurry and that a trip to the police station will be an interesting and educational experience. Ask if you can get a photo of the officer in his smart uniform and new patrol car for your vacation album, and email him the picture.
Roads just south of border crossings in Mexicali appear to be the prime traps. As usual, I urge you not to pay "mordida" though I can completely understand the nervousness of first-timers to insist on making a call for help to the tourist assistance board (dial 078 if your phone is on the Mexican system or 011-52-686-566-1277 for the Mexicali tourism delegate if your phone is still on the US system). Many, many, people assure me that they are not speeding when they get pulled over. However, realize that the speed limit in the city is typically 25 mph and that is really slow when you have been whizzing through Calexico at 40 mph. My advice is to always travel slower than the speed limit.
Speaking of Calexico, the city council there has a $6 million dollar shortfall in an $18 million budget as a result of the business loss caused by the Easter earthquake and the decline in the economy. The city is looking at ways that they could impose a toll of around $2/vehicle for people crossing the border north from Mexicali. There is an uproar on both sides of the border about this matter and they claim that this is just a "study". However, members of the council have made a trip to El Paso TX to see how the toll imposition is handled there. As a separate issue, around 25% of people crossing the border would pay a toll if it resulted in providing an express lane. Indeed, weekend tourists would pay $10/vehicle if they could cross in 15 minutes or less.
A side note: construction of a new dedicated lane to the East border crossing SENTRI gate is now underway and should be finished in late August.
I have also been getting questions on real estate in San Felipe. The majority of enquiries are from people who have had it with the economic situation in the USA and are looking for a much cheaper place to live. Increasingly, the requests are from younger people who have lost their jobs in California and want to live cheaply and work online. They are not looking for beachfront mansions. They want small, efficient, apartment-style living that will cost well under $200/month. However, high-speed internet access is essential for any deal to be made. (More of this and the terrible on-line situation in Mexico in the future.) I have to admit to them that San Felipe is not geared for this this price range though I do think that it is what we need for the future to get young, educated, entreprenurial talent to this region.
Retirees are also expressing a similar sentiment. Their houses in the States have lost a lot of value and it is certain that they will not recover the lost equity for many years - longer than they can afford to wait. If they sell out now, they will walk away with a pittance plus their social security to live on. A correspondent recently sent me the following picture of a 4 bedroom 2 bath house near El Centro which was for sale for $32K:
The question was whether anything like this existed in San Felipe for similar, or less, money. When you think of all the costs associated with moving to Mexico, paying for a fideicomiso, getting a visa every year, plus the necessary travel back to California for Medicare, it is difficult to say that the couple would be better off here than in the Imperial Valley. I am interested in getting readers feedback about inexpensive living in San Felipe. How cheaply can you really live here? (Any information you send me will be kept strictly private).
Sunday 18 July
The terrible heat of the last few days is easing, though Mexicali is reporting seven heat-related deaths there. In San Felipe at noon today we are still toasty warm but the heat index (what it feels like for the human body) is currently at 97 degrees, down from 108 earlier this morning, and far below the 117 reading last Friday.
An unusual comment was sent to me yesterday concerning people whose vehicles have Arizona license plates. It says that there have been reports of the police and the military checkpoints giving these vehicles "special attention". I have not been able to confirm this but would welcome any email from people who have had first-hand experience of unfair treatment because of their Arizona vehicle registrations. Many permanent residents of San Felipe have AZ plates and there is rumor of a "letter" that can be shown to the officers that confers "immunity". Again, I would be interested in seeing such a letter.
Meanwhile, in the matter of the Profeco investigation into real estate problems here, the officials from Mexicali who were expected at the scheduled meeting in San Felipe yesterday did not attend. One of the American attendees is reportedly opening up an office in town called the "Baja Property Owners Collective" to gather case histories and take stories of the non-performing developments to the press.
Friday 16 July - Heat advisory
Yesterday's rainshower in San Felipe provided some welcome cleansing of the air and it would be wonderful if we had these small showers more frequently. However, it appears that the hot weather season is now upon us. For the next few days, high pressure sitting over the Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah region of the USA is going to bring us extreme temperatures with possible thunderstorms in the mountains and over the coast of Sonora. Mexicali is issuing hazardous temperature warnings for the deserts with temperatures approaching 120 F. If you are driving in this region you should have a couple of gallons of bottled water on hand; you might save someone's life if their car has broken down on the road. Take it very slowly in the road construction areas as tires are extremely vulnerable at elevated temperatures. Also I recommend that you carry a beach umbrella to provide shade in case you have a puncture and need to change a tire. Don't forget that you can call 078 (free call on your cellphone) for tourist assistance or 066 for emergency response.
At noon today in San Felipe, we are seeing temperatures in the El Dorado areas of 106 F, at the airport 100F and along the beach around 90F. Even at midnight last night we were suffering with temperatures in the 90's, making it almost impossible to sleep unless you have air conditioning. You will want to spend the mornings and late afternoons by the sea but very close to your hotel or condo to get periodic relief and avoid heatstroke. During the noon to 3 p.m. period, do what the locas do and take a siesta. (Note that locals never go to the beach till after 5 p.m.!!) When outdoors drink only water, stay in the shade as much as possible, wear a wide-brimmed hat, put on lots of sunblock and bring sandals for crossing the scorching sand.
Thursday 15 July
This morning around 11 a.m. rain hit San Felipe. It was a brief, heavy downpour with thunder and lightning but only around a tenth of an inch total so far. However, it reinforces the message to check your roof and storm drain (if you even have one!). It also pays to be aware that this is the time for monsoonal conditions over the Gulf and storms in the mountains to our west are common even though the rain may not reach the coast. A big storm will send a lot of water down the arroyos towards the sea and these are the things to watch for on the road. The sections of the highway between Mexicali and San Felipe that have been completed have bridges over the flood zones but areas where you are on desert hardpack diversions could turn into a sea of mud if a big storm hits. The graphic below shows the cloud cover and extent of potential rain this morning:
Reports continue to come in on houses being broken into. During the past week there have been a half-dozen incidents that have been reported in the north campos. However, since many owners are out-of-town there are likely many other properties that have been damaged but nobody yet knows about it. Get your neighborhood watch committee on the job.
The magnificent underpass on the San Felipe road out of Mexical (near the Costco store) has developed a leak and "naturally occurring diesel fuel" seems to be seeping up onto the roadway from the lowest point. The underpass has been closed for repairs and traffic is being diverted onto the overpass section. Suggestions from concerned residents of Mexicali have proposed that a sump pump be installed and the fuel returned to a gasoline station on an adjacent corner.
More details of the Profeco meeting of 26 June are here..>>
Wednesday 7 July
The economic figures for the July 4th holiday are in and around 4500 tourists visited San Felipe over the past weekend. The crowd was smaller than we hoped for and shopkeepers and restaurants complained that there was very little money spent in town. Many visitors brought all their food and drink with them and they spent the entire time enjoying the beach. A very common complaint was that the road from Mexicali was in terrible condition in the sections undergoing repair and upgrade. There seems to be a complete lack of understanding on the part of the officials supervising the roadworks that tourists will not subject their vehicles to these punishing conditions. Damage to the paintwork and windows from flying rock chips can cost hundreds of dollars of repair work to a late model vehicle.
Monday 5 July
Yesterdays election results in Mexico are stunning and could be a sign of a landmark shift in government policy to come. Out of 12 Governorships up for election, 9 have been won by the PRI.
Baja California has been a stronghold of the conservative PAN party since the elections of 1989. Yesterday, all five cities in the state elected the PRI party for their mayors and for 13 out of 16 state councilors (preliminary results). The newly elected officials take their offices on the first of December. The current (PAN) Governor of Baja California, Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, will continue in office through 2012 when the Presidential elections will be held.
Initially, these changes in Baja may make things difficult in dealing with a PAN governor and with the Calderon administration in Mexico City, but the clear indication is that the PRI will be in a very strong position to win back the Presidency in two years time.
Sunday 4 July - Independence Day in the USA
This is the day on which elections are held in Mexico and polls are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in San Felipe. These "mid-term" elections are for the mayor (Presidente Municipal), councilors and state congressional positions in the five cities of Baja California (Mexicali, Tijuana, Tecate, Rosarito and Ensenada). San Felipe is, of course, a suburb of Mexicali so changes in the administration there could have some effect on any paperwork that you have moving through the system. The Federal Presidential elections take place in 2012. It is expected, however, that the PRI party will make a strong showing throughout Mexico today as citizens express frustration with the Calderon administration policies and the ongoing war against the drug cartels.
The Ashley Furniture Homestore in Mexicali abruptly closed its doors at the end of last week and left many customers without the goods that they had paid for. Profeco is investigating the circumstances of the business closing. With the current difficult economic conditions, Profeco has become a very busy agency.
The weather in San Felipe continues to be very warm and humid, with the heat index during the day hovering in the mid 90's and the sea water temperature in the high 80's...>> Rest and relaxation is the only possible solution for the next several days. Fortunately, there are no reported hurricanes or tropical storms in the Pacific at this time that would give rise to additional problems for us. However, if you have not yet checked your roofs and storm drains, this is a good time to do it before the rainy season starts in this area of Baja.
Thursday 1 July
I have had a lot of feedback on the Profeco meeting last weekend and am still digesting much of the material. I want to thank the many people who wrote to me about what happened. I will post some additional comments later.
I am told now that the meeting in San Felipe that was scheduled for 17 July is still going to be held, so mark your calendars! For people who want to contact Profeco, the addresses and phone numbers for the sub-delegado in Mexicali and the main Baja office in Ensenada are here..>> Lic. Carlos Francisco Guillen is the man to see in Mexicali. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer has arrived with a vengeance and it is hot in San Felipe. The remnants of Hurricane Alex moved inland from the Gulf of Mexico last night and are now dissipating in the mountains of central Mexico as you can see in the satellite picture below. Tropical moisture will likely be funneled up the Gulf of California towards the US mainland so we can look forward to record high heat indexes, between 90 and 110 F, in San Felipe over the US Independence day weekend. Get a place with good airconditioning on the beach!
previous months news - more earthquake news, extensive reapirs to roads, Memorial Day, Vaquita, property ownership problems
San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico
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