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A Christmas Message

Twelve years ago I founded The Net in San Felipe to provide internet access to our local community. It was a glorious time when we had a swarm of volunteers, students from the local schools, and tremendous enthusiasm for this new technology.

Over the years, we transformed from being a provider of dial-up services and "Eudora-floppy-disk-carry-in" email, to becoming a promoter of the region and an information service for the visitors and investors who were discovering San Felipe. As a result of these efforts, this website has become one of the most visited and authoritative sites on Baja California.

Even today, I am privileged to still have two of our early supporters, Katherine Hammontre (Kats Korner) and Shirley Thompson (The Weather Page, and also Member #1), involved in our activities.

Now the time has come for me to step back and enjoy some of that fabled San Felipe relaxation. I plan to leave The Net at the end of December and hope to catch up on some of my other interests here and in San Diego. However, I shall retain ownership of sanfelipe.com.mx.

I have offered Katherine the opportunity to take over The Net and run a more vigorous operation than I now have the time or energy to do. I shall keep an interest in our San Felipe website and may continue to write occasional articles on recent news, environmental and regional development issues. Mostly, however, I plan to enjoy my house on the beach and watch some of those incredible sunrises.

I send to all of our readers, advertisers and supporters my best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a very happy and prosperous New Year. Without you, this entire operation would not have been possible.

Tony Colleraine, President IISFAC/The Net

 

Monday 21 December

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year with the sun as far south as it is going. From now on our days will start to get a little longer and we will emerge from our winter hibernation. In three years we also will come to the end of the Mayan Calendar and then who knows what is going to happen. I expect that we will have a lot of "hurricane parties" on the evening of 20 December 2012 so book your seats now.

The low total hours of sunlight in this season also mean that the sea and the land are not getting a lot of solar heating and you can see this reflected in our high and low temperature trends over the past three months:

October
November
December
max (F)
91
83
74
min (F)
47
44
37
average (F)
74
66
59

January is also very cold because it takes time for the returning sun to start heating the sea and also causing the prevailing winds to shift away from the north and more towards the east. However, by March it will be warm enough for beach activities again.

 

As I noted on our front page, San Felipe has lost one of its most beloved citizens. The death of Don Tony Reyes last Friday has been a blow to us all. Tony was the quintessential soul of this town. He had been here since the 1950's promoting sportfishing. When I started this internet business in town, Tony was one of my strongest supporters. Even though he had never touched a computer, he saw the possibilities of being able to reach out and show people around the word some of the wonders of his fishing trips here in this isolated little town. He was one of our first advertisers and was responsible for the State Secretary of Tourism, Juan Tintos, taking notice of us from the distant metropolis of Tijuana and getting them to let me set up their first website for them (bajacalifornia.gob.mx).

Captain Tony Reyes (late 1950's photo)

Tony would come in to my office every week with photos of the fish that were being caught and we would get a little narrative from the fishermen who were so enthusiastic about their voyage on the old Jose Andres. Many of those old fishing reports are still somewhere on our website in our fishing section...some of them go back to 1998 and are worth looking at if you can find them. Those were the days of very primitive digital cameras and we would lend him an Olympus that could take 32 pictures at 320 x 240 resolution. The thing was that it was good enough to open up a whole vista of interest for people who had never even heard of the Sea of Cortez and the port of San Felipe. Tony was always so proud to tell about fishermen who had contacted him from places half-way around the world, some of whom later came and booked a fishing trip with him as a result of our stories on the internet.

I shall personally miss my "tocayo" and his wonderful smile and cheerfulness in the time of adversity as his health declined. It brings me to tears even as I write this and realize that I will never again shake the gnarled old hand and look into those honest and sincere eyes. Tony, you will be truly missed.

 

Friday 18 December

This is the season for parades and posadas in Mexico. In San Felipe you can climb the 111 steps to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadelupe, next to the Lighthouse, and get a great view of the bay. The shrine, itself, is also interesting and is well decorated during this season. Bring a candle to light and also consider leaving a donation in the box to help with the upkeep of this landmark.

Not a lot is happening now. Virtually all official government offices and large companies have gone into holiday-mode and, while they may be open, don't expect much to get done until after the New Year holiday.

Pemex, the national oil company, continues to report declining production from its fields in the Gulf of Mexico off Veracruz. Production has slumped by about 25% since the peak of 2004 and theft is becoming a $1 billion dollar/year problem as the drug cartels have seen new business opportunities and local groups have tapped into underground pipelines using garden hoses to obtain free oil and gasoline.

Good news comes from the Secretary of the Economy in Mexico City; the national economy is slated to grow by about 2.8% in 2010 and produce 500 thousand new jobs. On the other hand, inflation is expected to be just over 5%, mainly because of increases in taxes on the consumer.

Wednesday 9 December

Recent data that has been published in La Voz by the state Secretary of Tourism shows that there has been a decline of more than 12% (annual rate) in the number of people crossing the border at Mexicali. Particularly for people headed north, the delays and the poor economic conditions are the primary cause, but a drop in tourism is also contributing to the figures. The state estimates that almost $3 billion dollars and 40,000 jobs are lost in the region because of the border delays. Similar losses occur in California because of the loss of spending by Mexicans in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

 

We shrugged off the major effects of the very strong winter storm that hit San Deigo, Tijuana and Ensenada hard on Monday 7th. High winds in San Felipe were our major problem and I will put a couple of little video clips up on our photo gallery soon. Our town was covered with a cloud of sand blowing from the west and out to sea. Fortunately, the bulk of the sand was a few hundred feet in the air and conditions on the ground were not that bad. The shrimp fleet, around 20 large seiners and the Profeco patrol boat, took refuge just offshore south of the harbor to get some shelter. They were lined up along the shore overnight but moved to the shelter of Machorro at dawn. They are all out fishing today.

Mexicali had rain storms and high winds but commerce was not disrupted. In Tijuana there was a lot of rain, and local flooding occurred. Snow shut the tollway to Tijuana at La Rumorosa for a few hours. The drainage of the Tijuana river valley went well. San Diego authorities had just cleared the valley of debris and erosion byproducts.

A man was electrocuted when he slipped and grabbed at a power line in Rosarito Beach and a port worker in Ensenada was swept into the heavy seas. His body has not yet been recovered. More stormy weather is on the horizon for the next several days but, again, San Felipe should not be badly affected.

Friday 4 December

I needed to go into town to get Muriatic Acid (concentrated hydrochloric acid to the chemists) to clean out the drains today. A gallon bottle costs about 60 pesos at Medinas hardware store and you will find that it is an essential of life here. The high mineral content of the town water leaves lime deposits everywhere. It is most noticeable as a white line around the toilet, but where you do not see the cumulative effect is in the waste water pipes - particularly from the sink and washing machine where you have, over periods of years, used a lot of hot water. A good dose of acid with an overnight soaking of the lime deposits can work wonders in getting rid of "slow drains".

Of course, if you have a septic system, this is the last thing you need to be doing as you will kill all your beneficial bacteria and the septic system will stop working. The best thing to do under these circumstances is to "rod" the drains every few months. Look around at your plumbing. If you had a good contractor you will find that there are several cleanout plugs around the house. They may be in strange places, like in clothes closets! Take the screw cap off and push a long flexible rod down to break up the lime and gunk deposits before the pipes get too clogged. It is a morning well spent and it gives the man of the house something to do before happy hour starts.

While I was in town I happened to park right outside one of San Felipe's oldest restaurants - Los Gemelos - just south of Tavo's pharmacy (Botica Sagrado Corazon). Los Gemelos has been there since 1974 and I had my first breakfast there when I came to San Felipe in 1975. Well, I see a "For Rent" sign in the window and I am afraid that another San Felipe institution has fallen victim to this severe recession.

 

Thursday 3 December

I am always on the lookout for inventive and exciting dishes on the menus of San Felipe restaurants. Today was a true find at one of the best dining places in town. You can't go wrong with the Quisque.

(the writer inadvertently left the "lorem ipsum" placeholder text in the menu instead of replacing it with the actual menu items.)

 

Tuesday 1 December

In San Felipe, local residents and snowbirds are keeping busy with the various social activities on the calendar but there is not a lot of tourist activity in town. Increasingly, we see that most of the visitors are from Mexicali and Tijuana, and are here for a quiet family weekend.

Cross-border tourist traffic is down dramatically since the late spring. Initially, this was attributed to the swine flu outbreak in April and to the drug cartel violence that was affecting Tijuana and Juarez. These two concerns have now essentially gone away; swine flu is far more prevalent in the US than in Mexico at this time and the drug war episodes are clearly limited to very specific areas that do not impact tourism.

The big change has occurred because of the US passport requirements that started in June. Before this time, visitors from the US could come to Mexico and would only have to prove that they were US citizens by showing a birth certificate and a drivers license. Now, they are required to get a passport or similar document (such as a SENTRI pass), but to get such a document means going through a background check. Many people do not want to risk such checks because of the possibility of outstanding warrants and tickets showing up which will have to be settled in order to proceed.

You can see the effect of this every Friday afternoon on the highways of San Diego. Hundreds of campers and tucks with trailers loaded with skidoos, quads and bikes stream out of town and head east on Interstate 8. A lot of these would have come to San Felipe for a winter weekend vacation. Now they go by the thousands to Glamis and the dunes around the Colorado river. Many of these vacationers will never again be able to come to Mexico.

It has been a pretty quiet week in San Felipe. A modest crowd came down for the Thanksgiving holiday but a number of rental properties reported last minute cancellations, and in my area occupancy was well under 50% for the 4 day weekend. Visitors that did come commented on how thoroughly their vehicles were searched at the military checkpoint at the Ensenada road junction, and those that were returning to the US on Sunday afternoon reported monumental delays (2-4 hours) crossing back into California. This is not because there is a big flow of tourists; it seems to be because of the people in Mexicali crossing to shop in the malls of Imperial County. We desperately need a new crossing point geared to tourism between Mexicali and Tecate that will connect with the motorways on either side of the border.

A motorbike rally also took place this past weekend. A couple of hundred bikes, mostly from the Mexicali area, did make it and the Malecon was closed for their event. However, it appears that many more attendees had been expected but they dropped out at the last minute.

Tuesday 24 November

An interesting astronomical event occurs this coming Friday evening when the International Space Station passes directly over San Felipe. If you go outside and look up directly overhead between 5:35 p.m. and 5:36 p.m, just after dark, you will see a bright object moving rapidly from the northwest to southeast as illustrated in the following map.

Many other satellites are up there and the clear skies of San Felipe are a good place to view these man-made objects pass by. Look up and to the east just after sunset when there is no moon in the sky and you have a good chance of seeing a spy or communications satellite catch the rays of the setting sun a couple of hundred miles above the earth.

Monday 23 November

The Mexicali International Food Festival is to be held on 28 November at the museum Sol del Niño. Many Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Brazilian and Chinese restaurants will participate, as well as wineries from the Guadelupe valley. A giant, 10 meter, sushi roll will be made. The cost of admission is 40 pesos and that includes the museum Sol del Niño, which has over 100 exhibits of interest to children and adults. Various music groups will also perform. It is hoped that the event will draw attendees from both Mexicali and the Imperial Valley. Location..>>

Sunday 22 November

That time of year has come when the electricity tariff switches to the expensive winter rate. Because of huge government subsidies that are made for our use of power for air conditioning in the summer months, we have become used to relatively small bills. Starting with the electricity we use in November through April, the rate goes to approximately 2.6 pesos/kilowatt-hour (about 20 cents US). A typical household will use close to 600 kWh during December and the bill will be around $100 dollars for this. There is actually a cheap rate for very small users of power that is intended to help the impoverished family with a small refrigerator and a TV plus a couple of electric lights. To give you a way of estimating your future bills, the following graph may be useful:

What drives electricity consumption in winter is heating and hot water. If you have an electric hot water heater, set its thermostat as low as you can comfortably stand for the shower, say 105 F, or consider switching over to a propane water heater. Most people find that they need a small electric space heater in the bathroom or bedroom to take off the early morning chill. Use these devices sparingly, a typical space heater will cost about a dollar for 3 hours of use.

Heating the whole house is problematic. Close off unused rooms. Propane heaters are cheap and efficient but if they are not properly maintained they can be dangerous in small rooms because of the potential generation of carbon monoxide. In any event, using such a heater in a closed space will put a lot of water vapor into the air and you will notice the oppressive high humidity that results. If your air-conditioning unit also is a heat pump, you will benefit by using it instead of an ordinary electric space heater - a heat pump puts out about twice as much heat per dollar!

Ultimately, however, the best thing for San Felipe winters is to dress warmly (layers) and do a lot of cooking. The kitchen becomes the focus of life, not only because of the food, but because the stove may be the main source of heat for the house.

 

Monday 16 November - Día festivo en conmemoración de la Revolución Mexicana

Today is the day that Mexico celebrates Revolution Day. The actual anniversary is November 20th. but changes in the official holiday calendar now define the celebration as the third Monday in November. Banks, government offices and many official agencies will be closed for the day. At the Net, we will celebrate the holiday tomorrow and will be closed on Tuesday.

Thursday 12 November

Cotuco reported today in La Voz that there were 8500 locals, tourists and Snowbirds at last weekend's Shrimp Festival. BajaMar won first prize for their Grilled Shrimp, Georges took second place with a Carribean Shrimp Dish and El Cortez was third with their Shrimp Hornitos. I would have said that the offerings of our new Japanese Restaurant "Oshii" were the ones to beat.

Today was a very quiet day. I had to go to the dentist in the afternoon and on my 4 mile drive into town I saw only five cars on the road; four of those were clearly snowbird vehicles. Maybe the overcast conditions and falling temperatures kep everyone indoors glued to their televisions.

A winter resident reported that her debit card number was used fraudulently a week ago and thousands of dollars of computer equipment bought online:

I have been here in San Felipe since the 22nd of September. I have not used my card for any purchases or appointments or anything except to take money out of my ATM account around Nov. 1. I used it at the Pemex ATM here at Saltito Rd. and at the new Bancomer ATM machine. Has anyone else had trouble using these machines and getting their number and ID copied?

It is very important to check to see who is around when you go and use ATM machines. Check particularly to see if any "bank" cameras are looking down over your shoulder. In other incidents like this it has been reported that the thieves install official-looking video cameras to watch for the PIN you type. Incidentally, I have had trouble with the Bancomer machine in the downtown branch not giving me money in spite of charging my account. I reported it to the staff there but they just shrugged their shoulders. Apparently it is a fairly common occurrence. My USA bank is still trying to rectify the mistake (6 weeks and counting).

Wednesday 11 November

Last Friday, President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the first phase of a future satellite city to be built around a university between Tijuana and Tecate that is projected to eventually hold up to 1 million people.

The valley, with 50 square miles earmarked for future development, has water, electricity and a multilane highway linking it with the free road that runs between Tijuana and Tecate. The idea is to move away from the haphazard growth that has characterized much of the region’s development. Authorities plan to build housing, manufacturing facilities, parks, schools and shopping areas. The new campus is to be the heart of a sustainable community planned by Urbi, and dubbed Valle San Pedro. The first low-rise non-university buildings are under construction, and expected to open early next year. The company hopes to build 10,000 housing units.

Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán used the occasion of the president’s visit to plead for changes to a new Mexican federal customs inspection system for southbound vehicles. The new system, known as SIAVE, aims to electronically screen every vehicle entering Mexico and reduce the flow of contraband weapons and cash into the country that has helped fuel the drug trade. Though still being installed, the system has led to southbound bottlenecks, raising concern of business groups and government officials that the economy will suffer...>>

 

Sunday 8 November

"PUERTO PEÑASCO, Mexico--(BUSINESS WIRE)--One of Mexico’s best kept secrets is about to be discovered. The first international airport in Puerto Peñasco, and the first completely privately built airport in Mexico, opens today for commercial service. Vacationers across America and Canada, and the rest of the world, will, for the first time, have quick and easy access to Sea of Cortez beaches, natural beauty, wildlife and recreational offerings that, until now, required long drives across desert and mountain terrain for most travelers...."

.......... That is what Yahoo Finance reported the other day. Indeed, Puerto Penasco (population 45,000), 80 miles away from San Felipe as the crow flies, is making the big time. President Calderon inaugurated the new 'Mar de Cortez International Airport' (symbol PPE) on 5th November. Flights from Phoenix and Hermosillo are to begin soon and the runway can handle Boeing 737 and 757 planes. A ten hour road journey from Los Angeles will be cut to under 2 hours by plane and is expected to make Puerto Penasco an important destination for international travelers and for the cruise ship industry (below). An additional extension from the runway's present 8000 feet to almost 10,000 feet by 2012, will enable jumbo jets to land there. ...>>

Puerto Penasco has enjoyed strong growth, from some 1.2 million visitors in 1998 to 2.35 million last year. Currently there are some 6000 rooms available in the city (compared to around 1000 in San Felipe) and that is expected to rise to 40,000 by 2025. Over 60% of current visitors are in the age group 31-50 years.

A new coastal highway connects Penasco with the Yuma/Mexicali region so people do not have to drive on the old route 2, and a proposed tollway will make the journey from the city to the Arizona border (and connections to Interstate 8) possible by road in about half an hour.

A large cruise boat terminal has previously been discussed and is expected to be in operation in around three years. Holland America, which already operates service to Guaymas, will extend cruises around the Sea of Cortez with boats being home-ported at Puerto Penasco..>>

Meanwhile, in San Felipe this past weekend, the annual Shrimp Festival was held under pleasant skies and warm temperatures. Many stands offered a shrimp taste for around 20 pesos and Tecate was supplying beers for 15 pesos each. Some smaller hotels in town had special deals on rooms for 450 pesos. Crowds were good on Saturday evening and a lot of local people, plus snowbirds, came out to sample the dishes. It is clear, however, that the tourism picture has changed a lot since last year. Many more people were here from Mexicali and other parts of Baja, and far fewer Californians came for the weekend.

Tuesday 3 November

The following kind letter appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper on 31 October:

‘I left my purse in a Tijuana taxi...’

My husband and I were in San Diego last weekend and decided to take the trolley to the border and do shopping in Tijuana. We have visited some very nice shops there before and know that many shopkeepers have quality items and care very much about tourists having a safe and positive experience in their city.

Well, imagine my desperation when, while standing in the jewelry store of Jorge Espinosa, I realized that I had a bag on my right shoulder but no bag on my left shoulder (the one with handbag, wallet, passport, camera, etc.). Suddenly, we realized I must have left it in the yellow taxi which had dropped us off nearby about a half-hour before.

Espinosa immediately jumped to our aid. He closed his shop, and drove us in his own car to where we had gotten the taxi. As my husband and I were looking at dozens of yellow taxis and their drivers, Espinosa spoke to drivers, found a supervisor who radioed around, and within five minutes we were told that my bag had been found. In three more minutes, our taxi diver pulled up with my bag, completely intact.

I could have left a bag in a taxi in San Francisco, New York or any of a dozen cities and not had an outcome like that. Tijuana has many fine, honest, hard-working people who are suffering from a combination of the economic downturn and bad press.

We went on to do our shopping and walked back to the border, had an easy crossing over, and rode the trolley into San Diego. I was still shaking my head at doing such a boneheaded thing as leaving my bag in a taxi, but I was full of gratitude for Espinosa's help and the honesty of the cab driver, Guillero Lizarraga Alvarado, Driver 3164, and the company's staff.

COLLEEN McAVOY
San Mateo

 

Monday 2 November

Today I am including a summary of news articles from around Baja.

From Mexicali:

The Mexican Army has been conducting weekend searches of both California and Baja California vehicles in the lines of traffic headed north into Calexico at the downtown crossing. Both the regular line and the SENTRI line have been targeted. The apparent interest is in drug smuggling and trained dogs have accompanied the troops on duty. Both Mexican and US newspapers have reported that the Mexicali-Calexico border crossing is one of the most active smuggling routes for drugs.

The "Paisano Program" is now in operation at all border crossings from the USA into Mexico. This program, which runs from 1st. November to 10th January 2010, raises the "franquicia", or border entitlement, from $75 dollars to $300 dollars per person for merchandise brought into Mexico by returning Mexicans. In addition, vehicles imported to Mexico during this period qualify for special tax rates. Details are at the special government website http://www.paisano.gob.mx/

The winter Snowbirds season for Americans and Canadians is now well underway in Los Algodones. The primary market is for medical, dental, optical and pharmecutical services, in addition to liquor stores, and some 4000 visitors per day cross from the Yuma area for these services. Most people park on the US side of the border and walk across. They return to their mobile homes in the many trailer parks surrounding Yuma before dark. Busloads of visitors also come for day trips from the Coachella valley region. This snowbird activity is one of the most profitable in the state of Baja, bringing in some $20 to $30 million dollars during the season. The local Comittee on Conventions and Tourism (COTUCO) is planning a welcome festival for these visitors on Saturday 5th. December. For details, call COTUCO at +52.658.517.7755 For those people traveling from San Felipe for a days outing and stocking up on cheap medications (there is no mention of free food), the events start at 8 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. so that the seniors can get home before dark. The announcement and program is here..>>

From Tijuana:

Tourist spending along Avenida de la Revolucion, the primary tourist destination in town, has dropped precipitously over the past year. The Tijuana Tourist Dealers Association says that the exorbitant rents charged by greedy landlords ($500 to $3000 dollars/month) are killing the small business establishments and curio stores that are not able to keep employees and also pay the rent in these difficult times. Instead, many new bars and adult establishments have sprung up in the past year and are big deterrents to promoting "family tourism" experiences. Tijuana used to be the heart of the economic engine for tourism in Baja with thousands of visitors crossing over from San Diego to shop and dine. Now, a good weekend is if a few hundred people come to town.

The new SIAVE automatic vehicle inspection system for cars crossing into Tijuana is now fully operational. Traffic jams on the highways leading to the border are now commonplace in San Diego. The worst times for crossing into Mexico are from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. and delays of up to 90 minutes have been reported on Friday evenings.

From Ensenada:

The Carnival Cruise Lines survey of passengers making the trip from San Diego reveals that spending by tourists going ashore in Ensenada has fallen significantly. Average spending per person is only $30 dollars, and only about $6 of this ends up in the curio stores and local restaurants. Most of the remainder is spent on taxi transportation.

 

previous months news - summer hurricane season, border regulations, customs, duty, turtles, high tides, chinese drywall, Punta Colonet, cost-of-living, flu season, roadworks updates.


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