Regional Topics, the San Felipe Economy and more.....
...by Tony Colleraine
Saturday, November 26th, 2011
We have had a good Thanksgiving week in San Felipe. Many residents with houses here came to town to check on their properties, bring the relatives and enjoy the relatively mild weather. Restaurants and bars along the Malecon were the places to be and we had quite a few people brave the 65 degree waters to go for a swim.
Today started out pleasant and warm but the Santa Ana winds kicked in during the late morning and the sea became covered with whitecaps. Shrimp boats scurried for the protection of Machorro and people on the beaches retreated to town for a day of looking in the curio stores.
I was sorry to see that Curios Mitla, on the corner where our only traffic light is located, is going out of business. I shall miss the back room with the walls lined with hurraches. Over the years I have bought many hand made glasses, Talavera pots and equipales chairs here and remember when the store was the best place for changing money when I was building my house; long before Bancomer became customer-friendly.
On Friday, the long anticipated work to remodel the Malecon started. At present the contractor is tearing up the sidewalks on either side of the south feeder road next to the Costa Azul Hotel. Traffic is still circulating normally but I expect that there will be periods during the next 2 months when the new concrete sidewalks are poured and the road will be blocked as the work proceeds north.
The sidewalk renovation begins
Monday, November 21st, 2011
Mexicali received light rain overnight from the major storm that hit Southern California on Sunday and left 0.5 inches of rain in San Diego. There was no rain in San Felipe but we woke this morning to cold, clear conditions.
There is an unusual, late season, hurricane churning a few hundred miles south of the tip of the Baja peninsular and moving steadily westwards. Although it could turn northwards in a few days it is not likely to have much effect on us in San Felipe.
I have had more questions asking about the safety of travelling on the Mexicali road. My personal observation is that it is best to be on the road when there is a moderate flow of traffic - generally during daylight hours around weekends (Friday-Monday). You want to be able to see vehicles well ahead of you and have time to react if you see them stopping for any reason. Is it because there is an obstruction in the road, a disabled car signalling for help, or a highway patrol vehicle pulling them over? If you have any doubts on what is happening, you may want to stop immediately, pull off onto the shoulder and let a few other vehicles go by the incident zone. See what happens to them before proceeding.
Last week, I was driving down mid-week after a visit to the dentist in Mexicali. Since I was not feeling so great, I was taking things easy. I was on a deserted stretch south of the start of the four-lane highway but north of Cerro El Moreno (where the microwave towers are at the start of the north campo region). There was essentially no traffic in either direction.
There are long stretches of the road where you can see 2-3 miles ahead and there was not a vehicle in sight - except for the flashing lights of a Federal Highway Patrol car parked way in the distance. Since I was not speeding, I did not have any qualms about proceeding. As I got closer I saw that the patrol officer had stopped an old truck and had just finished "giving him a ticket". I was surprised to see the officer walk into the middle of the road and wave his flashlight at me to stop when I was still several hundred yards away. I slowed and stopped next to his patrol car, rolled down my window and he told me I had been speeding and would be issued a ticket. Of course I protested I had not been speeding but he insisted I had because the limit was 80kph (50 mph) even though the last limit notice I had seen said 110 kph. I asked him how he knew I was exceeding the limit and he told me with a perfectly straight face that everybody on this road speeds!
At this point I was prepared to follow him into San Felipe and pay the ticket but a miracle happened. Another Federal patrol car appeared, heading north from San Felipe, and stopped in the fast lane opposite us with his lights also flashing. My officer looked over at the other patrol car, looked at me and told me to get going. I suspect that we have already entered the season of goodwill where police at every level are expected to be productive and earn their Christmas bonuses.
Sunday, November 20th, 2011
The Baja 1000 is over and it brought a good boost of business to the town during the past week. Some of the hotels and many private rental apartments and condominiums benefitted from the support crews who were based here. The restaurants and bars along the Malecon also enjoyed good patronage. Unfortunately, most of the visitors headed to Ensenada for the finish celebrations as soon as the race went through this area. The general comments were that crews really enjoy coming to the San Felipe area and all are looking forward to the Baja 250 next March.
San Felipe could return to its former glory as a vacation and retirement center if the various state tourism, convention and business organizations could only work together to sponsor events similar to the Baja off-road races on a much more frequent basis. These types of events bring money into the town, spur the need for accommodations and services and provide positive publicity. They would re-ignite investor confidence, stimulate our small businesses, increase traffic flow on the highways to improve the feeling of security, reduce the number of empty houses to be broken into and lift the hopes of everyone entering the job market.
One of our regular visitors and participant in the race scene, Jim Hatton (who is also our original sanfelipe.com.mx web designer), was here supporting the COPS (of TV fame) racing team from Los Angeles. He took the opportunity to check out the new road being constructed south of Puertecitos towards Gonzaga and provided the following pictures to compare the road conditions in 2007 with those today:
The road in 2007
The same area today
After working for many years in web design for Canon Cameras, Jim has a keen eye for nature and form in composing stunning pictures. He was impressed by the new road design and its integration into the scenic environment. His opinion is that it is far superior in visual appearance to anything being done for the Mexicali-San Felipe road and will provide a showcase entry to the Bahia San Luis Gonzaga region. All that will then be lacking will be the (hopefully carefully concealed) electricity lines and the opening of the international airport in San Felipe to make Gonzaga the pre-eminent new tourist destination in Baja.
Thursday November 10th, 2011
Now that the summer heat has gone, we are entering the season of road construction in Mexicali. Lopez Mateos, running southeast from the downtown border crossing is being re-paved. Consider taking alternate routes to reach the San Felipe highway for the next few weeks. The map below will give you an overview of the city and I will link it to a Google Map. There is also a major highway reconstruction project that will last "many months". It is the road to San Luis that joins the San Felipe road at the Sanchez Taboada Glorietta. Traffic in this highly industrial sector of Mexicali is heavy and I expect that there will be a lot of diversions on to the San Felipe road ahead.
There is a very large low pressure system coming down the Pacific coast from Alaska. It is expected to bring heavy rain in Southern California starting Friday evening. The complexity of this system and its interactions with other fast-moving Pacific weatherfronts seems to be giving rise to two different forecast possibilities: in the first, the storm drenches San Diego and the Imperial Valley. The second is that the Low pressure gets cut off from the jetstream guiding winds and drifts south towards Ensenada before trying to cross the Sierras into the Sea of Cortez. San Felipe can expect to get quite windy this weekend as we see which way the moisture will go.
Mexicali is preparing for rain. If there is rain on the Laguna Salada, be prepared for muddy conditions at the construction points. I would not recommend taking the San Felipe-Ensenasa road at a time like this. Rain in the mountains can cause flooding streams to rise and cover the road with a foot or two of water in places. This may last for several hours. It could make the Baja 1000 next week more challenging.
Wednesday November 9th, 2011
I have been surprised by the strong gains in unofficial employment in California.
While the official unemployment rate is over 9%, and seems to be stuck there, there is clear demand for workers who do not mind doing a hard days work. Agriculture is one very obvious sector of the economy as prices of vegetables and fruit are up and farmers are picking every last bunch. Home remodeling is also way up and almost all of the contracting is being done by day laborers who get picked up near the local Home Depot by local small contractors. Money is clearly flowing but it is not going through the traditional channels.
An additional sign of the strengthening of the US economy is the size of the remittances sent back to family in Mexico by migrants working in the USA. These remittances jumped by over 20% in September to $2.08 billion dollars, the biggest monthly increase since October, 2005. This makes the accumulated total through the third quarter US$17.3 billion, 6.64% more than during the same period last year, according to figures from Mexico's central bank.
A similar boost in the economy is apparent in Mexico. Here, official unemployment is virtually non-existent and the government has many programs in place to ensure that nobody has to go without food and shelter. Nevertheless, the informal, underground, economy in Mexico has always been huge. A recent independent study concludes that 63.2% (or 28.6 million) of the population over 14 years of age is working in the informal economy. The government is constantly trying to find ways to tap this unreported income but in a society where credit cards are shunned and most people pay for goods and root canals in cash, the trail is hard to follow. This fact alone makes it clear why the drug cartels work so well; only a small fraction of the money used in commerce flows through bank accounts.
In San Felipe, home building has been reduced to a shadow of what it was in 2005-2007 but fortunately the labor force found a new employer. The gold mine north of San Felipe near the Ensenada Road junction has sprung to life now the price of gold is so high. Many hundreds of people are now employed by the mine and this has really helped our local labor market. It appears that the future of the mine is so bright that they are building an entire town onsite to house workers and support personnel and avoid the daily bus shuttles from San Felipe that have to be inspected at the military checkpoint. In the meantime, supervisory and management personnel are able to rent luxurious houses and condominiums in San Felipe at bargain rates because of the slump in real estate.
One other indication of rising economic expectations for the tourism sector in Mexico comes with the announcement that InterContinental Hotels (which includes the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands) is planning to build 49 new hotels in the country over the next few years. Other hotel companies such as Marriott are also planning an aggressive expansion. Sadly, none of the new properties will be in San Felipe.
Monday November 7th, 2011
Everything went well. There was a good crowd for the shrimp festival and the weather was not too cold considering the storm that was battering Southern California with extensive rain over the weekend. It always pays to travel with a good thick sweater at hand for these chilly, windy, evenings in November and December. Hotel occupancy was a respectable 60% and we benefitted from teams showing up early to do practice runs for the upcoming Baja 1000 on the 17th.
The Secretary of Tourism, Juan Tintos, was also in town and announced that there will be a big "Baja on Sale" promotion for all of the state. Discount tickets will be offered for lodging and dining to attract more tourists through November and December.
The big shock came when visitors headed back to the border crossings on Sunday. At times, waits exceeded 3 hours. It is reported that there was another "alert" condition and heavily armed police were assigned to watch every lane crossing into Calexico. There was also a shootout at a seafood restaurant in Mexicali that may have contributed to the nervousness.
There is a good deal of trouble over financial matters for the five cities of Baja California. Revenues have fallen short of projectons as a result of the poor economy in the USA and there are many end-of-year payments which cannot be met. A particular concern is the annual "aguinaldo", the Year-end bonus paid to all employees. For the state this is a huge figure as bureaucrats are entitled to as much as 60 days pay for their bonus.
Friday November 4th, 2011
The Shrimp Festival is upon us - ready or not. Our Delegado, Roberto Ledon, is doing a lot to improve the appearance of the streets. When you drive in from the Arches along Chetumal, you see the new trees going in and upgrades being made in the center divider. The colorful posters for the Festival also add a touch of cheer. All this sprucing up of the town, particularly the cleanups that Martin Romo (of Rositas) is doing for the beaches, is welcome. (Bring him 55 gallon plastic trash liners if you want to help). It sets a happier mood, it says "look at us, we are proud of our town and we are working to make you proud to come to San Felipe". It provides jobs in the community and it is a positive sign for Mexico.
Yesterday, Juan Tintos, the state Secretary of Tourism was in San Diego to release a new advertising campaign to attract tourists to Baja. He is a remarkable man who is working hard to improve the image of the State. Of necessity, most of the advertising goes to bring in the most money fastest - the Tijuana to Ensenada corridor. There is also a very strong push to bring medical tourism to Los Algadones.
San Felipe is a tougher problem. More and more people that contact me are concerned about having to drive through Mexicali. Police corruption is no longer the issue, it is the concern over violent actions in the streets that may be related to the drug war. There have even been bomb threats at the border crossings which have shut down the ports-of-entry on a couple of occasions in the past week. There is not actually a bomb, but you can imagine the delays caused by the border guards going to an enhanced state of questioning and checking the cars in line. Personally, I think that Mexicali is a well-run and safe city though I am pleased when I am through the traffic mess.
In California, today, we have a cold winter storm making its way down the coast. In San Diego there is periodic rain, temperatures around 60, and thunderstorms are expected. The snow level will fall to 5000 feet in the mountains. It is an ideal weekend to get away from the coast and back into pleasant, late summer, weather at the San Felipe Shrimp Festival.
Tuesday November 1st, 2011
The Days of the Dead are upon us and families will be holding celebrations at the graves of their loved ones. There are times when the line of cars getting into the cemetries in Mexicali can be a mile long, and all along the road will be flower sellers who provide bouquets for the last minute shoppers to decorate their relatives graves. Since this is a school holiday, the young scholars can join in the tradition and festivities.
Local bakeries frequently produce the special bread of the season, pan de muerto, for this occasion and you might try to get a loaf or two at a panaderia.
I heard from our longtime correspondent at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Doug Magee, that he and his wife Peggy are going to start travelling around the state and they are selling their house at Papa Fernandez Landing with all of its furnishings. This turn-key home looks like a wonderful investment for the future. You can see Doug's announcement here..>>
previous months news - - October 2011 - Road conditions to Gonzaga, the summer ends in San Felipe, liquor allowances for visitors and residents